African Business Leaders Visit Florida Southern for Training Seminar
Business leaders from Malawi, Nigeria, and Zambia visit the Barney Barnett School of Business & Free Enterprise
Hoping to glean information, ideas, and inspiration, 14 men and women from three African nations visited Florida Southern College in October as part of a training program intended to help boost businesses and economies in Africa.
The US-African Executive Business Training Seminar was organized by Dean Bill Rhey of the Barney Barnett School of Business & Free Enterprise at FSC, with the help of FSC Trustee Robert Scharar. Mr. Scharar, who is president of FCA Corp., in Houston, Texas, a wealth management, financial planning and investment advisory firm, sits on the boards of several international corporations, including NICO Holdings Ltd., an insurance and banking company with subsidiaries in central and southern Africa. He and NICO Holdings supported the program financially and recruited the participants, who are from Nigeria, Zambia, and Malawi.
The program was initially held in Texas and has been transferred to the FSC campus under the direction of Dean Rhey.
“We want to do this every year,” he said. “And we have discussed coming to Malawi to bring training there.”
The whirlwind 12-day program exposes the visitors firsthand to American political and business structures and procedures. They were addressed by FSC faculty members, including Professor of Economics Carl Brown, Dean Rhey, and Associate Professor of Political Science Bruce Anderson. They also heard speakers from Lakeland city government, including Mayor Gow Fields, and visited local businesses.
The participants, representatives of private companies and government agencies, say they have been impressed with the degree of close cooperation between local business and government in the United States.
“I’ve seen the spirit of free enterprise,” said Sangwani Hara, Group Finance Minister for Global Tea & Commodities Ltd., of Malawi. “What is interesting is to see the link between the local community and local investors. In my country, the investors are mostly from the government.”
Alick Mutambo, Financial Controller for NICO Insurance Zambia Ltd., said the level of decentralization was new to him as well.
“It really impressed me how independent the local government is and generates its own income. That is lacking back home. Everything comes from the central government,” he said.
Managerial practices were also a topic of discussion. Supo Sogelola, head of Corporate Distribution for FBN Life, a company in Lagos, Nigeria, said he noticed that business owners were not detached from daily operations.
“The owners of the businesses are directly involved, and that discourages corruption,” he said. “I intend to use some of these principles in running my team. I have learned to strategize more.”
Each of the countries represented by the visitors faces unique challenges. Malawi is one of the poorer nations in Africa, but Mr. Hara said there is political stability and a new government’s policies have inspired hope for a better economic climate.
Mr. Sogelola said Nigeria has welcomed foreign investors, and the economic outlook is positive.
“Utilities and power are the main problems. The national power company was recently privatized, and I believe the problem will soon be a thing of the past,” he said.
In Zambia, the economy is experiencing 6 percent annual growth, but there are infrastructure and power problems, as well as the difficulty of managing the country’s resources, said Mr. Mutambo.
“We have natural resources. We are a big copper exporter. There is a desire to shift to an emphasis on agriculture,” he said.
The visitors also had time for leisure activities, including a visit to Disney and the beach, and a new activity for them – trying their hand at baseball batting practice.
“I can now say I know how to play baseball,” said Mr. Sogelola with a laugh.