Director of Human Resources, Nigeria Breweries Plc, Mr. Victor Famuyibo spoke to Crusoe Osagie on declining standard of education, and the impact of the information age on human capital. Excerpts:
Can you give us a brief background of how you started off and how you got into the field of Human Resources (HR) that you eventually pursued to this point?
It all started way back in the University of Ibadan where I had been offered admission to study political science and very early in to that, I thought it would be nice to do something with people; understand people, their feelings, their thinking, their motivation and that would be more interesting to me than politics and what political science could offer. And that was what informed my changing my course of study to sociology in my first year in the University.
And I think when I look back there hasn't been any regret really because HR is something that really appeals to me, it is something that fits with my nature, and I wonder if I ventured into politics if I would ever have attained the peak of my career in that area. So looking back these 30 odd years I think the decision was a right decision.
What is your assessment of human capital development looking back from the time you started out and now, what has been the trend of the society's interest in developing people?
I think there has been a significant shift in emphasis between then and now because by the time we delved into HR, we were confronted with having to deal with less literate workforce I don't want to say illiterate. Therefore the issues were quite different; the issues we had to deal with at that time were more bread and butter issues.
Daily needs issues, talking to people who could not relate with you on the same page, so there was that gap. Now what has happened is that the shift has been more towards the use of knowledgeable workers. Therefore the emphasis has shifted dramatically from where people where merely concerned with bread and butter issues to a lot more industrial relations contents.
Now it is more about motivation, how do you source the right calibre of people, how do you build capacity in the organisation, how do you prepare the people to cope with the demands of the business; of course there is still a few bread and butter issues as part of motivation but the emphasis has really shifted to dealing with a more knowledgeable workforce.
And also unlike in the past where every little issue almost immediately led to a strike, or a dispute. Not anymore now because you can dialogue more with the unions and these comprise of people who now understand where you are coming from and the need to move the business forward.
This is in order that everyone can survive and the organisation too can survive, unlike in the past where people where very militant and unreasonable, but now we are more business partnering which represents a significant shift.
How would you say that human capital development has contributed to the growth of this country from your experience internationally and here in Nigeria?
It is no gainsaying the fact that the key strength of our business is our people and I am not just repeating a common mantra. For Nigerian Breweries that is the fact, because without our people I don't think we would be where we are.
We do a whole lot addressing people issues and we take a holistic approach to managing the people issues; so from cradle to grave is our approach. It is not about when we need an experienced hand we go and quickly do a headhunting no, we take greenhorns and we build them up; that is the strength of Nigerian Breweries and which I don't think you will find commonly in most Nigerian companies. We are very patient in developing people and we invest a lot into them.
How would you situate the standard of education in relation to the type of workforce you have to deal with today?
It is true that the quality of education would appear to have fallen, but also remember that in terms of information that is available; the speed of it, the magnitude of it, it is also not comparable to what it used to be, so in spite of the fallen standard of formal education, the informal part makes up for it so you would find kids nowadays knowing a whole lot more than we knew in our days.
Maybe when they go to school and there is no water in the chemistry lab, and therefore there is a problem with their chemistry or the math teacher is not available or teachers are on strike or something like that and therefore all these issues drag down the formal part of their learning; what compensates for that is the one they pick up around them which we did not have and it moves at terrific speed.
So in effect they learn very fast, and there is so much out there for them, so what we (NB) do and I am sure they are other employers doing the same, is to take full advantage of their new situation and that part which we believe that they have missed back in their formal education, we then try to build it up.
And that is why we put a lot of emphasis; about 80-90 per cent of our recruitment efforts is for freshers, people who don't have any baggage, so we don't have to do any debriefing, it's a clean slate and you can write whatever you want to write on it.
We take them straight from NYSC and craft-school (not just university graduates) and put them through our six months back to school programme where everything works as it should and we even bring people from Europe to come and teach them the basics to compensate for all that they may have missed in their regular schools.
And you discover that they pick up so fast, better than we did in our schooling days because of the information available to them so that is how we try to blend it in order to get the best out of today's generation in spite of the present fallen standard of formal education.
Having been on a number of international assignments on the job, if you were to put a typical Nigerian worker side by side his/her foreign counterpart how would you rank them?
The average Nigerian is much better endowed and I say this with every sense of responsibility; we are very intelligent, extremely hard-working, we don't give up until the game is over and that has been my impression working in Europe and also supervising in Africa.
On the continent of Africa, you cannot compare us with anybody else, country or people in terms of result orientation or going for the goal. I think what is missing here really is the lack of social and public infrastructure.
I believe that if all of those things can be put well together, this country will become something else and if I put us side by side our European counterparts it's exactly the same because they are not more intelligent than us. The only advantage they have is that infrastructure is taken for granted; it is there, it is there.
And everything I am talking is about government institutions, about crime prevention and about policing where they have a rule that says do not do this and you do it, somebody will come after you and will get you, where they agree that everybody must meet at a certain time and bring their little part, at exactly the agreed time everybody comes and brings their little part.
And all that is possible because everything is there to facilitate their efforts to perform; there is no power and transportation problem to prevent them or provide an excuse for failure. If Nigerians had the same environment I can assure you that the sky would be their limit.
What would be by your opinion the average required percentage of a company's spending that should be invested in building and developing human capacity?
You cannot have a one-size-fits-all, it depends on the kind of organisation you are looking at, is it a capital or labour intensive kind, because it would differ from organisation to organisation.
But what you can look at is what should be the ideal percentage of labour cost including training, development and wages, salaries, benefits and everything that goes into cost of employment. What should be the ideal percentage of your revenue, some people will argue that anything between 10-15 per cent of your annual revenue should be devoted to people.
But the reality is that most organisations cannot even afford that because you also have to invest in the equipment or in the plant so you then have to really watch your cost because if you come under intense pressure you might have to start looking at how to reduce the number of workers to cut fixed costs.
But ideally you should measure it against your total revenue and anything between 10-15 per cent should be adequate.
How would you describe your experience or relationship with Tom & Associates a human capital development institute and also their contributions in building human capital?
Very focused and I think one of the best local training institution that I have come across in this country, managed very professionally, where the promoters are not just businessmen but trainers and human capital trainers and that makes a difference.
It is different from a businessman that feels he can use his contacts to make money by setting up a training outfit. It is always better to go into human capital development because it is your calling just like Tom & Associates, because now they stand apart from the rest of the pack.
In the industry we know the pretenders and we also know the professionals and it is good that today we (Nigerian Breweries and I) can celebrate their 20 years together as a colossus of good quality in the industry.
Does spending money on training people actually return investments in the workplace?
The only way you can actually test it is not to do it, if you think that the cost of training is too much or that you are not getting returns on investment, then you stop training and see what will happen. Because then you will be investing in ignorance and over time it will catch up with you big time.
And before you know it, it has eaten deep into the fabric of your organisation and you are on your way out. So it is an incontrovertible fact, you don't even need anyone to tell you that because it is a no-brainer so don't even think about it.
Training is so value adding that if you allow me I would double the training budget because when you have a house full of informed employees you can't know the benefits; things just flow very easily in the organisation.
And it has to be continuous, at all levels in the organisation because the knowledge they have today can become obsolete, especially now that things are constantly changing at a terrific speed.
How would you rate the attitude of young employees today working for Nigerian Breweries in terms of passion for specific job careers and the need to make ends meet; which one do you think is uppermost in their minds when seeking for job opportunities?
It is difficult to say because in a country where unemployment is about 40 per cent, anyone who is lucky enough to find a job is motivated by the fact that he can now have some bank transfers at the end of the month and can put food on the table for his family and cater for their needs.
That is the attitude of about 80 percent of those who get employed while the other 20 per cent are like, well thank God it is in a multinational organisation like ours where there will have limitless opportunities to develop their chosen career.
But my generation was very different; in our time even before you left school, employers where hunting on the university campus and you had the liberty to choose where to work but that has now been completely reversed.
In your experience, what brings out the best in workers; rewards or punishment?
Both and every organisation must carefully balance the two; the carrot and the stick. And you must be very strict with discipline as much as with performance; the what, and the how.
What are you supposed to do and how did you do it. The how is the behaviour part; you cannot afford to have a salesman who will deliver targets but in an unethical way. We balance it by creating an enjoyable environment for everybody and at the same time very demanding when it comes to performance.
Do you think that the civil service needs to pay more attention to human capital development in other to become more effective in their operations?
It is not correct that attention is not paid to human capital development in the civil service; they don't train less or give less exposure to workers. The issue of the civil service is about discipline or lack of control.
They are very knowledgeable and very intelligent people there because if you go to the top business schools abroad, if you will find ten Nigerians eight of them would have come from government parastatals.
What role do you think is best for government to play in making businesses more productive?
If you look at economies that have made progress, you will find that their government have taken their hands off business, because government is a social service.
All that government need to do is to create the enabling environment for businesses to thrive. If I am an investor and I want to register a business how long does it take, do I have to keep going back and forth? In some countries like Rwanda you can do it in four or five hours.
Then again what happens with all the other institutions that should support me, are they there in this country or are they here to run against you? Because most of those institutions were set up for good reasons but the way they operate is very unfriendly towards business.
So should government be the ones involved in running business? The answer is no; the private sector should be allowed to do it.
Government should just set up the regulatory body to police everybody and make sure that everybody falls into line, use the courts where necessary to get everybody to the next level of compliance. When people pay their taxes the money should be used to develop infrastructure.
The government should allow everybody to compete because where there is such a competition the general public would be better for it. In a country like Netherlands, that is how it is run; the government is not involved in anything it is all about facilitating, regulating and ensuring compliance.
Apart from work what do you do to relax and how do you also plan to retire?
To relax, I don't do much even if it is a week day, sometimes the agenda of the weekends could be much busier than some weekdays. But generally relaxation for me could be spending quality time with the family, we go eat-out together or it could be riding my bike, a habit I picked up when I lived in Holland.
But my main passion is current affairs because I love to keep abreast of everything happening around me; locally and internationally.
On retirement, I would still be involved in passing on the knowledge to the up and coming professionals because I enjoy doing that a lot so it means I would be able to do more than I am able to do now. I enjoyed that from the older folks too so I feel obliged that I should do the same.
But beyond that I am looking forward to travelling a lot just generally taking advantage of nice weather, because I enjoy going into big cities a lot.
FAMUYIBO'S BRIEF BIO
Victor Famuyibo studied Sociology at the University of Ibadan, between 1976 and 1979. He obtained a Masters degree in Public Administration from the University of Lagos and later studied law at the same university. He was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1996.
Following a 6-year HR work experience in a private company in Lagos, Victor joined Nigerian Breweries in1986 as Personnel Manager, Kaduna. He relocated to Head Office in Lagos to set up a newly created Compensation and Benefits Department.
He was subsequently appointed Industrial Relations Manager and thereafter Manpower Development and Training Manager. In 2002, Victor was seconded to Heineken corporate headquarters in Amsterdam, in The Netherlands.
In Amsterdam, he worked, first, as Human Resources Consultant, then HR Policy Development Officer, Manager-Corporate Social Responsibility and more recently, Human Resources Director, Africa/Middle East.
He returned to Nigerian Breweries in October 2008 to assume the role of Human Resource Director. He is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria.