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Amy Klemm Verbos, Joe S. Gladstone and Deanna M. Kennedy Inclusive Virtuous Circle

Native American Values and Management Education: Envisioning an

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1University of South Dakota, Vermillion, SD, USA 2New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM, USA 3University of Washington Bothell, Bothell, WA, USA

Corresponding Author: Amy Klemm Verbos, Beacom School of Business, University of South Dakota, 414 E. Clark Street, Vermillion, SD 57069, USA Email: Amy.Verbos@usd.edu

Native American Values and Management Education: Envisioning an Inclusive Virtuous Circle

Amy Klemm Verbos,1 Joe S. Gladstone,2 and Deanna M. Kennedy3


Circles are symbols of interconnectedness. Behavioral circles can be vicious or virtuous. Many American Indians are caught in a vicious circle of exclusion from the purported benefits of Westernization, entrapment in its negative elements, and the ongoing undermining of their culture and thus their identi- ties. Yet Native Americans, along with many indigenous peoples the world over, are holding fast to traditional values. Indigenous knowledge systems include spiritual orientations that, in the face of the social and environmental issues facing humanity, may provide an alternative set of values for generating life-enhancing business behavior. The authors introduce management educa- tors to Native American values generally and specifically to four traditional Lakota values: bravery, generosity, fortitude, and wisdom. Management education might move toward to an inclusive, virtuous circle through respect for Native American values as an equally valid alternative to dominant management values.

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Native American values, American Indian values, vicious circles, virtuous circles, diversity, indigenous perspectives


The greatest principle the circle symbolizes for me is the equality that applies to all forms of life . . . we are all part of a larger com- munity, the largest of all: the Circle of Life. (Marshall, 2001, pp. 225-226)

Circles symbolize relationships, interconnectedness, and are a positive part of cultural and spiritual Native American traditions (Marshall, 2001; Mattern, 1999). Virtuous circles explicate increasingly positive human behavior in social systems, whereas vicious circles explain pathological negative spirals (Maruyama, 1963; Weick, 1979; Wender, 1968). Unresolved historical grief attributable to past traumatic events, including genocide through warfare, massacre, and disease, loss of homelands, and cultural genocide, holds many American Indians in a vicious circle of dependence, poverty, substance abuse, and hopelessness today (Juntunen & Cline, 2010; Yellow Horse Brave Heart & DeBruyn, 1998). A Native American temporal perspective encompasses past, present, and future (see, e.g., Verbos, Kennedy, & Gladstone, 2011), so historical traumas hold present meaning (Jervis, Beals, Croy, Klein, & Manson, 2006). As a result of this vicious circle, American Indians have fewer formal qualifications, lower employ ment rates, lower incomes, and higher poverty rates than the overall U.S. population (Cornell & Kalt, 2007; Ogunwole, 2006). They share these unenviable characteristics with indige- nous peoples the world over (United Nations, 2009).

Indigenous peoples demonstrate a remarkable resilience in the face of generalized devastation and a determination to thrive with their unique iden- tities intact (see, e.g., Denham, 2008). Together with many other indigenous peoples, Native Americans express a deeply founded spiritual relationship to Earth. In fact, reestablishing American Indian identity and spiritual practices are key to healing multigenerational grief and its consequences (Gone, 2009). Importantly, traditional Native American spirituality holds that all creatures and natural phenomena are animate, connected, and worthy of respect (see, e.g., Garrett & Garrett, 1994; James, 2004; Verbos et al., 2011). These sys- tems of knowledge may hold crucial insights toward more sustainable and

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12 Journal of Management Education 35(1)

humane global business practices countering myopic tendencies in manage- ment toward values neglect (Swanson, 1999).

Once almost the sole domain of critically oriented management scholars, there is now a more widespread call for change in management education most explicitly articulated in the United Nations’ “Principles for Responsible Management Education” (http://www.unprme.org). Critics assert that pre- vailing values in management education perpetuate self-interested and uneth- ical behaviors (Ferraro, Pfeffer, & Sutton, 2005; Ghoshal, 2005) and are, to some extent, complicit in the challenges facing humanity, including human rights violations, labor exploitation, environmental degradation, and corrup- tion (see, e.g., Adler, Forbes, & Willmott, 2007; Delbridge & Keenoy, 2010). At the time of this writing, BP’s catastrophic environmental disaster unfolds in the Gulf of Mexico. A New York Times article implicates BP’s corporate cultural emphasis on low-cost production and high profits (Nocera, 2010). This profit-at-any-cost dictum comports with dominant values in manage- ment education but is contrary to Native American beliefs that human inter- actions with natural systems must be brought into balance.

Values such as balance may hold key insights for global application. Economic development initiatives consistent with tribal values are finding success in Indian Country1 (Cornell & Kalt, 2007; Reyner & Eder, 2004). Although a number of these values appear common among indigenous peo- ples the world over, we emphasize that even Native American tribal identi- ties are unique and quite diverse. Native American adaptation, resistance to assimilation, and work to preserve endangered cultures and languages are testament to the resilience of the people who uphold these values in the face of intensifying Western economic rationalism.

America’s indigenous people are virtually invisible in U.S. management education and literature. Native Americans are the smallest and most under- represented minority group in business schools (Diversity PipelineAlliance®, 2007; Ogunwole, 2006). We suggest that inclusion of traditional Native American values may contribute to a virtuous circle to be developed for management education. As a contribution to the greater inclusion of indig- enous wisdom in the education of management students, we explain how traditional Native American values may open a door to different business ideas and practices by shifting underlying business assumptions about what is good and right vis-à-vis interconnected others, creatures, and ecological systems. We direct attention to specific examples from some well-known tribes. For instance, Billy Mills (Lakota and 1964 gold metal Olympian) travels widely and speaks about Lakota values, including how living these values in business will benefit the Earth and all its peoples. Lisa Little Chief

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Verbos et al. 13

Bryan (2004), a Lakota entrepreneur, colleague, and friend of the first author, further elaborated on these values in business. We have been touched and inspired by them. Also, writings by Lakota authors may be more widely available to management educators interested in reading more about spe- cific values.

From Vicious to Virtuous Circles For thousands of years before contact with Europeans would change the tra- jectory of their destiny, hundreds of groups of people who inhabited the landmass now known as the United States of America had their own names for homelands and themselves as peoples (Brown, 1971; Stuckey & Murphy, 2001). For our kin, these names were Bodewadmi, Pikuni, and Aniyvwiyai (also known as Potawatomi, Blackfeet, and Cherokee, respectively). Today the words indigenous, American Indian, and Native American conflate more than 500 unique and diverse groups of people across the United States. “American Indian” is a socially constructed racial category. It originated with Columbus, who thought he had reached the Indies (Stuckey & Murphy, 2001). His appellation was one of myriad misunderstandings that fol- lowed. “Native American” is used somewhat interchangeably with American Indian and generally appears in diversity literature. The word “Indigenous” is used in a global context for original inhabitants of a particular place. For example, the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the call for papers to this Special Issue refer to “indigenous” peoples in this way.

Names often carry dire consequences. According to Johnson (2006), racial categorization serves to stratify people so a dominant race can oppress others. In the context of American history, claiming all Indians as an alien threat has justified massacres and forced removal to reservations (Brown, 1971). Subsequent government policies overtly attempted to destroy indigenous cul- tures and to force people to assimilate into a largely hostile foreign culture that viewed them as inferior (Prucha, 1986; Stuckey & Murphy, 2001; Ward, 2007). Deep bonds to land were severed by removal, enforced assimilation, “and by almost total eradication of an economic relation to it as a material provider of sustenance” (Pommersheim, 1995, p. 33). Many American Indians engaged in agriculture and trade prior to forced geographical confinement to reservation lands held in trust and managed by the government (Brown, 1971; Prucha, 1986). Without freedom to live or move about on their own terms, they became dependent on the U.S. government for an inadequate subsistence living. Further losses ensued. Trust lands, for example, were allotted to

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individual Indians and sold as surplus lands to non-Indians under the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887, eroding tribal land bases from 138 million acres in 1887 to 52 million acres in 1934 (Pommersheim, 1995; Prucha, 1994). Conflating tribes into a single category obscures their uniqueness and facili- tates practices against their flourishing.

For policy makers, officials, and even in various tribes, deciding who is an American Indian is complicated. U.S. government agencies officially recog- nize 562 Indian tribes (U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, 2007). Descendents from tribes terminated under federal law, how- ever, are not recognized. Blood quantum criteria originated in federal Indian policies based on race are not an indigenous practice, although some tribes making per capita casino profit distributions prefer blood quantum standards for tribal enrollment (Kalt, 2007). Such a blood quantum standard creates an intergenerational racial separation by excluding future generations from the tribe. Moreover, individuals with a multitribal heritage may be ineligible to enroll in any tribe. Other tribes base enrollment on ancestry, favoring inclu- siveness. Neither standard is perfect since subsequent generations may have little connection to the community.

For tribal people, “Indianness” is cultural, based on ties to homeland, val- ues, cultural practices, and worldview (Juntunen et al., 2001; Mihesuah, 1999). In contrast, U.S. government policies prior to late 20th century pro- moted assimilation; that is, American Indians would vanish into White soci- ety (DeJong, 1993; Ward, 2007). Historically, government boarding schools implemented “subtractive” education (Reyner & Eder, 2004), forbidding Native languages, tribal rituals, and cultural practices (DeJong, 1993; Grover & Keenan, 2006; Ward, 2007). Traditionally, Native Americans value self-identity including tribal history, ancestry, and stories (DeJong, 1993; Pommersheim, 1995). Some children whose home environment was not nurturing benefited from boarding schools. But children lost cultural edu- cation, care, and acceptance from their extended families during their devel- opmental years (DeJong, 1993). As a result, some Native Americans view “education” with caution or hostility.

Nevertheless, American Indians overall favor schools when the goal is “additive,” including both Native and non-Native elements (Reyner & Eder, 2004). Relational education preserves differences while advancing mutual respect, understanding, and well-being (Pommersheim, 1995). Tribal com- munity colleges provide an essential partial solution: access to culturally appropriate education and support for Native American language sustenance efforts in often remote communities (DeJong, 1993; Reyner & Eder, 2004). Strengthening entrepreneurship education at tribal colleges is an important

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goal pursued by the Gonzaga MBA in American Indian Entrepreneurship (AIE) degree program (Stewart & Pepper, 2011). However, to truly imple- ment a relational solution with mutual benefits, we cannot simply look to tribal colleges.

Today, Native Americans are underrepresented in higher education at all levels, a problem exacerbated by high undergraduate attrition rates (Shotton, Oosahwe, & Cintron, 2007). In the 2000 Census, only 11% of American Indians reported at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 24% of the over- all population (Ogunwole, 2006). Perceived or actual discriminatory treat- ment marginalizes and isolates Native American students in predominantly White universities (Lin, LaCounte, & Eder, 1988; Pewewardy & Frey, 2004). Non-Indian educational institutions, including those in higher education, often denigrate traditional American Indian culture (DeJong, 1993; Reyner & Eder, 2004). As such, Native American students may feel their cultural identity threatened at predominately non-Indian colleges and universities (Buckley, 2004; Lin et al., 1988).

To envision management education as furthering a virtuous rather than vicious circle, we recommend additive, relational solutions. Furthermore, we suggest the importance of bridging differences between dominant values in management education and Native American values.

Contrasting Values Perspectives

We all come from the same root, but the leaves are all different.

—John Fire Lame Deer, Lakota

According to Clegg and Ross-Smith (2003), U.S. management knowledge is constructed with “glacierlike stability” in its underlying cultural assump- tions. Business schools tout their value to students as a path to financial gain (Pfeffer & Fong, 2004) consistent with the norm of self-interest prevalent in Western cultures (Miller, 1999; Ratner & Miller, 2001). Economic theoreti- cal models assume rational, self-interested, and maximizing human behavior (Ferraro et al., 2005; Jensen & Meckling, 1994). Such assumptions are anti- thetical to traditional Native American values as summarized in Table 1. Dissonance theory (Festinger, 1957) predicts that individuals seek to affirm their beliefs and avoid conflicting beliefs (Fiske & Taylor, 1991). Thus, the values that dominate management education may cause some American Indian students as well as others who hold similar values to opt out of business school. Of course, individual Native Americans may differ and cultures are

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not uniform (Worthington, Flores, & Navarro, 2005). Yet more inclusive values may be a key to more responsible management education.

Rational self-interest and individual achievement are inconsistent with traditional American Indian values of humility, modesty, and equality (Badwound & Tierney, 1988; Garrett & Garrett, 1994). Likewise, they do not hold a place in the four greatest Lakota values—bravery, fortitude, generos- ity, and wisdom (Lame Deer & Erdoes, 1972; Pommersheim, 1995)—which provide a different way of living (Marshall, 2001). Four is the most powerful number for Lakota people; exemplified by the medicine wheel, a circular representation of creation, intersected by four lines that represent the four directions (North, South, East, and West), four seasons, and mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual realms (Marshall, 2001; Mills & Sparks, 1990). Lakota values handed down through oral storytelling by elders and cultural advisors are a key to healthy and vibrant Native communities (Little Chief Bryan, 2004).

Table 1. Values Differences

Dominant Values in Management Educationa

Traditional Native American Valuesb

Human behavior Rational, self-interested Generous, modest Individual motivation Maximize self-interest, money,

status Contribute to well-being

of family/tribe; respect and humility

Environment Natural resources to be exploited for profit

Nature as spiritual and practical; maintain harmony and balance

Self-construal Individualistic Collectivistic; respect for elders

Decision making Made through formal authority Reflective, participative Property rights Formal, based on title Based on use or communal Organization Hierarchical; formal (pyramid) Greater egalitarianism

(circle) Organizational goals Efficiency, effectiveness, profits Provide jobs and enhance

community value

a. See, for example, Badwound and Tierney (1988), Ferraro et al. (2005), Ghoshal (2005), Ghoshal et al. (1999), Mintzberg et al. (2002), and Pfeffer and Fong (2004). b. See, for example, Badwound and Tierney (1988), Garrett and Garrett (1994), Juntunen et al. (2001), and Ward (2007).

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Generosity is a timeless virtue favored over material accumulation (Marshall, 2001; Pommersheim, 1995). “The false lesson is that he or she who has the most is the best” (Marshall, 2006, pp. 43-44). The Lakota belief in generosity is that “the Earth Mother gives us all that she has” (Marshall, 2001, p. 190), so people must do likewise. Generosity is integral to the every- day operation of an ethical and socially responsible business. Research by Juntunen et al. (2001) found that to Native Americans career success means to contribute to the well-being of one’s tribe, family, or future generations. As a result, many Native Americans reject material gain as a reason to pursue a career (Juntunen et al., 2001). One’s extended family and tribe are stronger sources of identity and worth than career (Miller & Brown, 2005).

Any challenge in life, including a business challenge, invites bravery (Marshall, 2001). Fortitude is strength of heart that helps a person to persevere through adversity (Marshall, 2001, 2006). Native American entrepreneurs exercise bravery and fortitude in starting businesses to support their families and communities (Little Chief Bryan, 2004). Bravery and fortitude in a man- agement context are elements of moral courage and long-term thinking.

Research by Garrett and Garrett (1994) and Marshall’s (2001) Lakota sto- ries attest that Native Americans prefer participative decision making, coop- erative behavior, and a deep respect for elders. Native American business people are less concerned about maximizing profits than about providing jobs and contributing to the community (Garsombke & Garsombke, 2000). For example, Ho-Chunk, Inc. (2007), a successful, diversified holding corpo- ration established by the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, meets social needs as a part of its overall strategy (Begay, Cornell, Jorgenson, & Kalt, 2007). Lance Morgan, CEO and President of Ho-Chunk, Inc., defines success as profits, jobs, and community development:

We define success slightly differently than a non-tribal corporation because we are so much more. We are a means of escaping the cycle of poverty. We are an opportunity for individual growth. We are a chance to put your education to work in a tough and competitive but nurturing environment. But most of all, we are a corporation that cares about people. That is not just some slogan. It is in fact our reason for existence. (Ho-Chunk Inc., 2007).

Wisdom is when a person uses knowledge of what is right and true to make good decisions (Marshall, 2001). Wisdom requires generosity because it is a gift that must be given away (Marshall, 2006). American Indians con- sider people as part of a greater interdependent whole, as opposed to a group

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composed of individual members (Garrett & Garrett, 1994). That “whole” includes nature and the entire circle of life (Marshall, 2001). Traditional Native Americans live in harmony with natural systems and prefer sustainable uses and practices that do not injure land, ecosystems, or are harmful to the balance between man and nature (Garrett & Garrett, 1994). This is because humanity is equal rather than superior to other forms of life (Marshall, 2001). Values work in concert to help a person travel life’s path with wisdom.

Traditional Native American values hold promise as a different lens for viewing business, including how to conduct business in an ethical, sustainable manner. Some examples are that humility and equality promote diversity, whereas modesty and participative decision making promote teamwork. Lakota values support positive management practices such as mentoring, sus- tainable business practices, and attention to stakeholder concerns. Each of these values holds potential benefits in the context of management education.

Envisioning an Inclusive Virtuous Circle

If we listen to each other, we will not necessarily erase difference; rather, we may use it to our mutual advantage. (Pommersheim, 1995, p.199)

A virtuous circle begins with a change that generates positive deviation– amplifying feedback (Maruyama, 1963; Wender, 1968). Within Indian Country, the Indian rights movement culminated in the Indian Self- Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 (Prucha, 1986). Now, tribal governments exercise their rights to promote long-term economic growth and social development (U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, 2007; Jorgenson, 2007; Kalt, 2007). The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development has studied economic development processes in Indian Country since 1986 (Jorgenson, 2007). It focuses on insti- tutional structures and policies that serve as bases for nation building efforts (Cornell & Kalt, 2007). The Harvard Project finds that successful governance and development structures are consistent with a specific Native nation’s culture (Begay et al., 2007). In contrast, unsuccessful efforts impose dominant culture’s ideas or a one-size-fits-all approach to governance and development (Cornell & Kalt, 2007). A thread runs consistently through literature about Native American careers, law, education, and economic development: To meet the needs of this population, it is necessary to develop programs that are culturally appropriate and consistent with traditional values (Badwound &

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Tierney, 1988; Begay et al., 2007; Buckley, 2004; Duffy & Stubben, 1998; Garrett & Garrett, 1994; Muller, 2000; Pommersheim, 1995).

It is a positive sign that a small sample of American Indians report that Indian culture and traditions do not impede business growth and success (Stewart & Schwartz, 2007). Gonzaga University’s MBA in AIE is one pro- gram responding to a need for more entrepreneurial and management exper- tise (Stewart & Pepper, 2011). Non-Native business schools can also meet these needs and increase Native American presence in management educa- tion. Increasing presence will, in turn, increase the relevance of Native American perspectives, expanding a virtuous circle.

As enrolled tribal members with a commitment to the flourishing of indig- enous peoples and integration of life sustaining values in the wider educa- tional system, we call on management educators to respect Native American values as an equally valid viewpoint. Faculty and students alike in Gonzaga University’s MBA in AIE degree program expressed that cultural values present important challenges and learning opportunities (Stewart & Pepper, 2011). We understand that change requires bravery, fortitude, generosity, and wisdom. We suggest four possible ways in which this strategy may enrich management education.

First, it would increase cultural intelligence. Cultural intelligence is a capacity to understand and appropriately interpret interactions with others who differ in cultural values, practices, and behaviors (Earley & Ang, 2003; Lévy-Leboyer, 2007). Cultural intelligence builds wisdom by facilitating broader conversations that critically examine dominant assumptions about business and its key objectives. Cross-cultural benefits were evident as Muller (2000) recounted an experimental class she facilitated at the University of New Mexico that examined how Native American business differed from the mainstream business models. Exposing students and faculty to cross-cultural perspectives can encourage creativity and innovation in organizational forms and management practices.

Second, economic development and processes under tribal law encourag- ing citizen entrepreneurship throughout Indian Country are creating greater business and management opportunities for Native Americans (Cornell, Jorgenson, Record, & Timeche, 2007; Duffy & Stubben, 1998). However, Native Americans report being misunderstood and alienated in universities (Lin et al., 1988; Pewewardy & Frey, 2004). A commitment to respect Native American values will benefit a chronically underrepresented and economically disadvantaged minority group that is, at present, underserved by U.S. business schools. Moreover, increased acceptance of different

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perspectives could go a long way to welcoming all people who appreciate a more inclusive vision of business.

Third, although diversity is an important issue in contemporary manage- ment education, the American Indian perspective is not. Previous research stresses the importance of MBA programs recognizing workforce diversity (Cooper, Massey, & Graham, 2006; Gatenby & Humphries, 1999). Many AACSB-accredited business schools espouse diversity goals and maintain membership in the PhD Project, which has its mission to increase business education for Native Americans and other underrepresented minority groups (Stewart, Williamson, & King, 2008). It was discouraging that Stewart et al. (2008) excluded Native Americans from their study of the PhD pipeline due to statistically insignificant numbers. Ethical commitments to diversity should include respect for Native American perspectives.

Finally, including Native American perspectives is consistent with calls for a paradigm shift in management education and scholarship. A myopic focus on economic rationality may cause good people to self-select out of business careers.

Management education is driven by, and drives, such ideas of efficient, free-market, rational, profit-maximizing organizations, where relation- ships and intersubjective meaning are powered by a dominant dis- course of hierarchical power relationships. Management scholars are rarely cognizant that they do so from an ideologically driven basis. (Pitsis & Clegg, 2007, pp. 410-411)

Ferraro et al. (2005) contend that this worldview, institutionalized into management education, creates a self-fulfilling prophecy to our detriment. This view also constrains management education from achieving its full potential to teach critical thinking skills and instill a value of lifelong learn- ing (Pfeffer & Fong, 2004). Business schools need to broaden their appeal to improve management practice (Ghoshal, Bartlett, & Moran, 1999; Mintzberg, Simons, & Basu, 2002).

Native American values provide a basis for creating wiser organizational structures and management practices. Values are why we do what we do and are critically important to developing wisdom (Fukami, 2007). Wisdom as a Lakota value comes from life experience. Wisdom is “absolutely critical in the conceptualization and execution of one’s life and work” (Kessler & Bailey, 2007, p. xvii). We may teach with greater wisdom if we critically

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examine how to expand values in management education beyond the domi- nant paradigm.

Concluding Thoughts Our brief foray into history provides only a glimpse of devastation wrought by naming America and the vicious circles that remain. Indigenous people the world over are in similar straits. To honor our elders, their wisdom, and resilience, we present Native American values as a different perspective to generate a virtuous, inclusive circle within management education. This circle may increase cultural intelligence, benefit an underrepresented minority group, fulfill commitments to diversity, and contribute to wisdom in man- agement education. Respect for these values in management thought may lead to better decisions. Imagine, for instance, if society, and by extension, BP decision makers, held an animate view of the Gulf of Mexico. Perhaps society might have truly moved “beyond petroleum” by now. At a minimum, reflecting on these values will help educators to better understand the United Nations Principles of Responsible Management Education and businesses to follow through with the promises in the United Nations Global Compact. We encourage readers to reflect and consider business exemplars of bravery, fortitude, generosity, or wisdom for stories that will teach students to value more than efficiency and profit in business—to “manage” flourishing in the circle of all life.


We are grateful to Lisa Little Chief Bryan for inspiring us to examine Lakota values, sharing her unpublished work, and providing valuable comments on the manuscript. We thank Maria Humphries, Dale Fitzgibbons, and three anonymous reviewers for their supportive, constructive comments. We thank the Management Doctoral Student Association of the PhD Project for bringing us together. Finally, we acknowledge our respective tribes: the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, and the Blackfeet Nation and Nez Perce tribes.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests

The authors declared no conflicts of interest with respect to the authorship and/or publication of this article.


The authors received no financial support for the research and/or authorship of this article.

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1. Indian Country is a general term used by American Indians to refer to their social spaces, whether geographical and physical, cultural, or psychological.


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18 The Art and Ethics of Business: Through African (Yoruba) Lenses Kemi Ogunyemi

18.1 Introduction

A traditional African understanding of the way to do business has contributed, and still has a lot to contribute, to the running of business today, especially with regard to the practice of management. This contri- bution, as one would expect, is multifaceted, not least because Africa (and each of its countries) is vastly multicultural and multicontextual. Each of its countries (54 fully recognized territories and 10 non-sovereign territo- ries) has its own numerous and diverse stores of time-honored knowledge. Given the impossibility of the task, this chapter does not attempt to touch on all aspects of African wisdom. Rather, it offers the reader selected insights into traditional management philosophy from the Yoruba ethnic group of Nigeria,1 thus providing an example of the role of adages and wise sayings in communicating and developing values (Fasiku, 2006). Esusu (a cooperative financing model)2 and a few other traditional structures and concepts (leadership; mentoring and people management and development; the importance given to family and relationships) are also touched upon, but only very briefly, to ensure the chapter has a clear focus.

The face of business has changed enormously over time. The earliest trade involved bartering goods and services, for the sake of immediate and foresee- able future needs of the parties and based on a high level of trust. Bartering still exists, its inefficiencies smoothed out and complemented with modern trimmings. For example, at times large Nigerian firms trade the provision of community infrastructure for land equal in value. However, money and its more sophisticated proxies are now the standard medium for transacting business. Enderle (2011, p. 232) has identified three challenges to business

The author would like to express heartfelt gratitude to Mrs. Mary Arulogun and Mr. Charles Oriade for their invaluable help in the process of writing this chapter.


R. J. Blomme et al. (eds.), Another State of Mind © Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2014

Kemi Ogunyemi 231

and economic ethics in the coming years: ‘(a) a rich and comprehensive understanding of wealth creation as the purpose of business and economics; (b) the guarantee of securing all human rights to all people; and (c) the active involvement of the world’s religions in meeting the challenges of creating wealth and securing human rights.’ The three are related, and perhaps it is time to return to traditional wisdom to find ways of building a sustainable world.

Traditionally, the wisdom of the Yoruba is preserved in proverbs, adages and storytelling passed down orally through the generations (Fasiku, 2006; Fayemi, 2010). In the two case studies in this chapter, some of the wise say- ings from this part of Africa are illustrated as they pertain to managing a business successfully and sustainably. It will be immediately clear that the values expressed in the proverbs and wise sayings combine the determina- tion to create wealth with a sense of respect for others’ rights and a strong sense of religion. Many challenges to business in Nigeria today derive from a loss of regard for such tenets of traditional wisdom.

While traditions vary across each country on the continent as well as amongst the countries, businessmen and women who have had interactions and operations in several African countries have commented that a good number of the underlying values are the same, even when expressed differ- ently.3 In section 18.2, we offer brief preliminary reflections on the purpose of business and on the character of a manager. This is followed by a discus- sion of wise sayings, grouped according to the values they propose. The case studies are then presented, relying on quotations from interviewees inter- spersed with comments that highlight how the wise sayings are supported by the qualitative data. Following this, some other African management practices are briefly described.

18.2 Tradition, the purpose of business and the person of the manager

Material and spiritual wealth

Business is often regarded as being aimed simply at providing material wealth. At the same time, because it is a profession that human beings undertake and because human beings aim to find fulfillment in their daily work, business can be regarded as one way to attain fulfillment for those who engage in it. This is expressed in various ways: people are happy to produce and distribute goods and services that respond to the needs of others; peo- ple are happy to go out of their way to help customers and colleagues even when there is no financial benefit to themselves in doing so; people are, at times, happier to work in organizations that have attractive core values or lofty ideals while making money than in others that are merely focused on profit.

232 Creating the Right Conditions

Private and public wealth

Businesses can provide both private and public wealth, in the sense of serving the common good and well-being of everyone around them. They contribute to the economic growth and development of individuals and of entire nations. Traditionally, this has also been the case: farmers produce food for the whole village; welders produce and sharpen the implements; hunters go out to get venison for everyone; and there is a sense of service behind the work of each artisan.

Sustainable wealth

In earlier times, communities faced fewer challenges concerning the sustainability of the wealth generated by business than they do at present. There is much more complexity now. However, this should not lead one to lose sight of the need to ensure that created wealth is distributed equitably among the present generation and lasts beyond it.

Positive personal values, which can also be called virtues when they are habitual dispositions, are important for managers. According to Nedelko and Potocan (2011), changing the personal values of managers influences the way an organization embraces innovation. Cirnu and Kuralt (2013) similarly found that personal values influence managers’ attitudes toward sustainable development. This could also apply in the case of moral values, in the sense that the moral values held by managers go a long way in determining what kind of people they are and what kind of companies they run. African wis- dom has always emphasized positive personal values, through proverbs and stories. Sets of values or virtues that have been given great priority among the Yoruba include those laid out in section 18.3.

18.3 African wisdom and values for the modern manager

Honesty, integrity, truth-telling, good reputation

Integrity is respected as an essential attribute of a good person and, hence, of a good manager. A person who does not have integrity cannot lead him- or herself, nor lead or manage others. Such a person would not have the respect of followers and, therefore, would be unable to inspire the confidence required for others to follow where he or she leads.

Eni to gbin ogorun ebe, to ni oun ghin igba, to ba je ogorun isu tan, aa je ogorun iro – ‘If a person plants a hundred yams and claims that he planted two hundred, when he has eaten the hundred yams, he will have to eat a hun- dred lies.’ ‘Truth will out,’ as is said in other cultures, or, deception never pays. The person who tries to deceive others will end up having deceived themselves and will eventually have to confront the truth.

Bi o laya, ki o se’ka; bi o ba r’iku Gaa, o o s’ooto – ‘Be wicked if you dare to be; when you experience Gaa’s death,4 you will have to tell the truth.’ Yoruba

Kemi Ogunyemi 233

traditionally abhor deceit and wickedness. This is a warning that Nemesis will catch up with wrongdoers.

Ohun ti a ba se loni, oro itan ni b’o d’ola – ‘Our actions today become tomor- row’s stories.’ We create and build our reputation and brand with what we do today.

A kii ni otito n’inu k’a gb’awin ika s’orun – ‘One who is truthful cannot take delight in evil.’ One must be consistent in making good decisions.

Perseverance fortitude patience discipline willpower

Yoruba are aware that many enterprises fail because of the lack of patience on the part of their owners or because they lack the discipline to run the business properly. Hence, they advise that business owners and managers exercise a great deal of fortitude to continue going forward despite the challenges they will surely face.

Eni t’o ba maa j’oyin inu apata; ko ni w’enu aake – ‘One who wants to feed on the honey that comes from inside a rock cannot falter for fear that the axe will suffer when digging it out.’ It takes effort and perseverance to achieve a good objective.

B’o pe titi, akololo a pe baba – ‘Even if it takes a long time, a stammerer will succeed in saying “baba” [father].’ Perseverance will yield positive returns.

Prudence circumspection

Businesspeople must be cautious in their investments and also in manag- ing the people with whom they work and with whom they do business. Supervision and control is important both in the private and public sphere. For example, the old Oyo empire had management systems that were quite sophisticated, with a number of controls and checks and balances on the Alaafin’s power,5 and on the vassal states.6

Eni ti o l’oluranlowo kii ru eru s’oju ona – ‘One does not deposit one’s load by the roadside if one does not have a helper.’ In other words, one needs to calculate the means and resources before adopting a plan of action.

Gbogbo alangba lo d’aya de’le; a o mo eyi t’inu nrun – ‘All lizards lie flat on the ground; one does not know which of them has a bellyache.’ One has to give trust cautiously and look beyond appearances.

Alagbata nii soja d’owon – ‘A [sales] agent can make goods expensive.’ This recommends the close supervision of agents, warning that an agent sent to market goods can easily charge a higher price to prospective buyers and pocket the difference; or insist obdurately on high prices, pushing customers toward competitors in situations where an owner could have discounted the price.

Hard work, competence, objectivity, astuteness sense, of responsibility

Everyone is encouraged to work hard humbly and to expect the same from others. Most traditional businesses had apprentices rather than employees

234 Creating the Right Conditions

and therefore pushed them hard to learn the business and to set up their own afterwards. Hence, owner-managers would ordinarily (and expectedly) be very demanding of themselves and everyone working with them.

Ma koja mi, Olugbala; kii s’orin akunleko – ‘ “Do not pass me by Savior”, is not a song that one sings kneeling down.’ One has to work hard and not rely on handouts to succeed; in order to get help, one must first make a move. The idea here is that while a person is kneeling down and singing, rather than actively running after the savior, the latter would have long passed by.

Epo alaimo. kan ni gbogbo eniyan ma nto. wo loja – ‘It is the palm oil of the fool that everybody tastes at the market.’ One must have the common sense to avoid being cheated or taken for granted when negotiating.

Eni a bat a ka fi r’atupa, t’o loun eni ajitannawo – ‘The person who should be sold in order to buy a lamp thinks he or she deserves special regard.’ This mocks a person who pretends to be important when they are not. This saying highlights the importance of being a competent and hardworking person who is of value to the community to which one belongs. It also emphasizes the need to be objective in evaluating oneself.

Nitori ojo it omo ba maa daran ni o se ni oruko tire – ‘Each person bears a unique name so that he or she can be identified when committing an offence.’ Clearly, this emphasizes personal responsibility.

Ore nj’ore, ora nj’ora; eeyan kii dupe mo ta opo – ‘A gift is a gift and a sale is a sale.’ No one thanks you for selling at a loss to yourself.

A kii fi’ni joye awodi k’a ma le gb’adie – ‘One who is accorded the sta- tus of a hawk must be able to seize a chick.’ One should live up to one’s responsibilities and not negate the legitimate expectations of those relying on you.

Collaboration, cooperation, non-discrimination

Even though competition is clearly understood as one of the challenges of business, traditional wisdom dictates that competitors are not seen as enemies to be fought to the death. This was apparent in the attitude of businesspeople and in how the industry worked, and was also appar- ent in the way differences were settled. Family meetings, village meetings and industry meetings were called to settle disputes and grievances. These still exist today as variations of ‘town hall’ meetings held within Nigerian organizations to promote interaction, goodwill, frank speech and ownership.

In Yoruba culture, women are expected and greatly encouraged to go into business and also to succeed in it. In fact, historically, women were very involved in business management and public administration and both spheres were usually headed by female chiefs – the iyaloja and the iyalode respectively.

Owo otun la fi nwe t’osi – ‘One uses the right hand to wash the left.’ Working together leads to success.

Kemi Ogunyemi 235

Abanije nba ara re je – ‘He who destroys other people destroys him- or herself.’ One who deliberately harms others becomes a worse person him- or herself. In defaming another’s character, one destroys one’s own.

Owo omode o de pepe; t’agba o wo keregbe – ‘Whereas a child’s hand cannot reach a high ledge, that of an adult cannot enter a gourd.’ Each person has a role to play and something to contribute; more can therefore be achieved by collaboration than by each on their own.

Apeepo l’ehin agba, agba ohun nbo wa kan o k’awon omode r’ohun pa – ‘One who strips off the bark behind an elderly person will have the same done to them when they grow old.’ A person who insults his or her bosses will, in turn, be insulted by subordinates.

Spirit of service, generosity, people development

Perhaps one of the most striking attributes of traditional wisdom in busi- ness is the idea of serving the community. This idea is lost when capitalist businesses become so focused on their profits that they are ready to harm others and destroy the common good. This is one of the areas where going back to the roots of a nation in Africa can help to remind businesses that they should create wealth for everyone (even if to different extents and in different ways), respecting the rights of all.

This sense of service is also apparent in the idea of ‘people development,’ or mentoring, that permeates African businesses. As already in the subsec- tion ‘Hard work, competence, objectivity, astuteness, sense of responsibility’, businesses used to take on people as apprentices and not employees. Appren- tices were part of the family in a certain sense, and therefore the employer was wholly responsible for them, including for their character development. They were, in essence, grooming the next generation in their trade, or their industry, and they had to teach them to be good professionals in every sense. Today this is called mentoring. While it was once expected, today people have to make an effort to put such a system in place because of changes in mentality and circumstances. A great deal of informal mentoring that goes on in Nigerian workplaces is owed to this legacy of taking responsibility for others.

A kii lahun ki a n’iyi – ‘It is not possible to be both stingy and respected and honored.’ Someone who is selfish cannot expect to inspire admiration or respect in others. A manager must be a generous person in order to be able to lead people and/or work with and through them.

Solidarity and community

An interest in making people feel welcome and important is an African trait. Across the continent it is remarkable that guests are warmly received and are offered a meal or at least water in the poorest of households. Within the con- text of management, this translates into making employees and customers

236 Creating the Right Conditions

feel important and comfortable, not because of what one wants from them but simply because they should be treated that way.

There is also a strong sense of family. Families marry, rather than individ- uals. One’s brother/sister/son/daughter’s problem is one’s own problem and burdens are to be shared. With respect to management, when there is an issue that threatens the organization, the proper response is not to look for someone to blame and sanction, but to come together to bear the organi- zation’s burden and nurse it back to health. Because the organization looks out for its people, they also look out for the organization.

Ti a ba so’ko loja, ara eni la a ba – ‘If one throws a stone in the marketplace, it may strike one’s relative.’ One must treat others well, because the reper- cussions of negative or thoughtless actions may come back to haunt you by harming your family members. The idea is to avoid anything that may cause harm to others, even if at first glance it does not appear that there is any personal disadvantage in taking such a step.

B’omode l’aso bi agba, ko le l’akisa bi agba – ‘A child may have as many clothes as an elderly person but will not have as many rags.’ The experience of those who have gone before is an important source of knowledge for those coming after.

Gratitude, appreciation, loyalty

A common African belief is that you should not bite the hand that feeds you. Such expectations of loyalty include not poaching the clients or customers of one’s employer. In the past it was expected that apprentices would set up similar businesses, having been certified as competent and of good charac- ter by their masters. The apprentice/employee was expected to protect the relationship as best as they could, knowing that there would be plenty of alternative and worthy avenues to make money.

Eni ba dupe ore ana, a ri omiran gba – ‘A person who displays gratitude for yesterday’s good deed will have the favor repeated.’ It is more difficult to do good to someone who has been ungrateful.

Ibi yiowu ki omi gba lo, ko le gbagbe orisun – ‘No matter the route a river takes, it cannot forget its source.’ Gratitude and appreciation are owed to all who contribute to the success of a person or enterprise.

Equity, respect for the environment

Business does not exist in isolation; it operates within an environment that is dynamic rather than static, and sometimes its interaction with its sur- roundings generates mutual obligations. Traditional wisdom emphasizes the need for corporate responsibility toward society and the environment, just as farmers have to respect the land which yields its fruits to them.

A kii ni agbari ka ma ni’pako – ‘One who has a forehead must also have a back to their head.’ There are two sides to every story; one must hear both sides.

Kemi Ogunyemi 237

Iya n jesin al’o njo – ‘The horse is suffering and we claim that it is dancing.’ One should not close one’s eyes to the damage done to others, or ignore their suffering.

E je ka pajuba sile de isu olo; e je k’a je oruko to dun sile d’omo – ‘Let us prepare the barn for the new yam; let us bear a good name to leave it behind for our children.’ One has to live in such a way as to leave a legacy for future generations.

18.4 Discussing insights from two entrepreneurs in Yorubaland

Case 1: Iya Olu (IO)

This was a microbusiness in the 1950s, in Sabo, Ibadan. It was run by the owner, with her children, family and apprentices. The greatest number of employees at any point in time was six – the owner, her ‘sister,’7 two daugh- ters, a second cousin and an apprentice. Like similar businesses of the time, it was as big as it needed to be to support the family and supplement the income of the father, no more. Its aim was to sustain the family, not to make profit for its own sake. The business lived as long as its owner. In 1988, she left Sabo and moved to Mokola, continuing the business in front of the house there, as Sabo was too far and transport by car was not an option at that time. It was understood and accepted that the business would continue until IO could no longer move around, as her mother had done before her.8

As she grew older, she gradually ‘liquidated’ the business by giving gifts, espe- cially to her children and relatives. This was typical of her contemporaries: ‘Once they no longer need the proceeds for their sustenance, the business would become more of a hobby that enabled them to give to others.’ ‘Chil- dren would come with friends to pick up things – tins of beverage, and so on.’ The idea was that it was going to be their inheritance anyway. ‘What else would be the purpose of the business?’ (awon na ni o gba; kinni mo nta?; owu mashini iya, o si wa n’le d’isin yi).9

The business, as for most other itinerant traders, was highly diversified, out of prudence. The main item stocked was textiles. However, mats sourced from Badagry, scarves which the Hausas in Sabo liked very much, knives, sweets, groundnuts and other items were also sold. These would all be dis- played on the ate.10 Profit from the auxiliary items would be invested in the main business, in this case that of buying and selling textiles.

Very often, the startup funds come from the family, who contribute to buying the initial tools; for example, a sewing machine for a fashion designer, the goods to put in a shop, tools for a window-frame setter. They might even sell family farmland to start the person off. This partly explains the involvement of family in business decisions that one would ordinarily expect to be taken solely by the owners.

IO and others around her engaged in business to provide sustenance, not merely for the sake of doing business and making a profit. ‘Nkan taa je, taa

238 Creating the Right Conditions

mu’11 – once that was covered, they were content. ‘Community and family consciousness’ was thus important in business. They worked at it in order ‘to cover the needs of the family.’ IO thus paid for the ‘schooling of all her children and they lacked nothing.’ ‘Even for her funeral – some money was taken from her own tins to cover the initial expenses.’ ‘Later on, support from children reduces the need to support oneself and the business takes on the characteristics of a hobby.’ ‘New needs – real and created – have done away with the simplicity and sufficiency of those early businesses – a whole plethora of new and varied foodstuffs, convenience items such as wipes, and so on.’

Competitors united to get supplies:

By 1974, IO would buy a carton of fish for 6 naira, and share it with her neighbor, a Jamaican, Iya Yemisi, and both would sell them to interested buyers. One of them would travel to buy the bundles12 of material that were their main merchandise (calico and satin)13 for both of them. In fact, in Sabo, perfume sellers worked in groups. For example, five people would contribute to sending one person to buy stock and then they would split it. For the next purchase, weekly or fortnightly, someone else would go to buy the stock.

Thus, they practiced cooperation instead of absolute competition. Business was sensitive to the community’s needs. Thus, markets did not

fully operate daily even if the location remained a permanent marketplace. Usually, they would open every five days in the same square, for example in Ijaye Orile.14 Every farmer knew the ojo oja and even Christian pastors would have to make a special appeal to get their congregations to go to church first if it fell on a Sunday.15 This provided a regular opportunity for buyers to have greater variety and choice and sellers to have more customers.

For IO and her contemporaries, a strong orientation toward people pervaded business activity.

Its dual purpose was to serve the family’s needs and train young people in a profession and to be financially self-sufficient. In the African tradition, business is a school as well; and its purpose is not exclusively to make money but rather to satisfy the simple needs of oneself and others.

The latter was what wealth meant. In return, a high standard of fidelity and trustworthiness was expected of the apprentice. Most of the time ‘one’s children and younger siblings would form the staff, whether all year round or during holidays. For example, IO’s daughter would come back from the Teacher Training College and get right down to work.’ Even when she was in secondary school she and the other children understood that the business

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financed their education and so they worked diligently beside their mother. This was probably why the proceeds ‘sufficed to train the kids.’

Given the above, ‘people development was a strong part of the business.’ Apprenticeship could last up to two years, for example, in patent medicine suppliers. An apprentice had to watch and learn by doing – ‘f’oju si bi won se nse.’ After a while, they could be sent on buying trips, first with someone who was more experienced and, later, on their own. After the apprentice- ship, ‘freedom’ would be celebrated. In a similar way to graduation, the new professionals would receive advice for starting off and be given gifts – usu- ally tools for the business; for example, a sewing machine for a tailor. The apprentice would also give his or her boss some presents and have a party. They would then receive a blessing from others in the industry for their success.

In relation to initial stocking and inventory-reordering capacity and timing, prudence is required. IO advises that:

if given 50,000 naira to start a business, one should not use it all at once. One should buy a little of everything, spending half of the money. The rest should be kept so that one can replace the stock before it runs out. Otherwise the igba will be depleted before one finishes selling the stock.16

Selling on credit – awin – is a big problem if one lacks the prudence to recognize and manage it. Some products lend themselves more easily to this practice; for example, raw rice and beans would usually lead to credit sales. People would take the product and say ‘I’m coming back now to give you the money.’ When they came to pay for one tin, they would take two more tins on credit. ‘Aa ni roju owo ani rawin. Awin o ni sanwo’17 is the predicament in which a businessperson finds him- or herself when the practice of selling on credit is combined with an inability to say ‘no’ to friends and relatives. ‘An aunt could buy a dozen tins of milk and take an extra two, making 14, for example.’ This could kill the business very quickly.

A lack of prudence might also lead to spending more in advance than the profit eventually made. Contemporaries who did not have clear accounting practices and simply dipped their hands into the till to supply personal needs (‘cooking rice on milk and coke,’18 as IO put it) got their fingers burnt and had to shut down their businesses.

‘Dishonest practices were frowned upon, such as making five extra bags from twenty bags of rice.’ Undisciplined gift-giving (often including both gifts to person present in front of the giver and gifts sent to others through the person) was also discouraged. When this was done imprudently and without regard to profit, both giver and recipients would be happy for the moment, but the business would surely fail.

Aforiti – ‘fortitude’ was one of the strongest virtues recommended to and by IO. Challenges abound. One has to resist the influence of customs that

240 Creating the Right Conditions

would lead to spending indiscriminately; for example, the custom of aso ebi whereby people were expected to m’aso – have a specially chosen out- fit made for every occasion. Another challenge was managing employees, usually apprentices and a good number of family members.19 ‘The owner- manager would have to combine strictness and discipline with understand- ing. At times, employees would steal from the business, thereby eroding the profit (“ke to pa 500 naira, won a ti ji nkan 1,000 lo” – before the business makes a profit of 500 naira, goods worth 1,000 naira may have been pur- loined) by directly pocketing profit or by selling on credit and collecting the receivables.’ Business owners needed patience to deal with such situations and still remain driven and optimistic. ‘A niece teaching in private school wanted to start dealing in oil and flour and needed start-off funding. She got it and started, but she gave up and liquidated at the first sign of trouble.’ The attitude of ‘if it doesn’t work, liquidate,’ demonstrates a lack of aforiti. ‘O se suke suke pa ‘gba ti,’20 said IO – but the strong ones persevere and succeed.

Dimensions of courage in business included the ability to say ‘no’ and resist when necessary. According to IO, one must be able to m’oju kuro – look away from many things in order not to bite off more than one can chew. She called this am’oju kuro: the ability to say ‘No, I will not,’ ‘mi o ta’ or ‘mi o ra.’

People skills were needed to manage staff and staff issues, especially where relatives were concerned, since the whole extended family were then rec- ognized as stakeholders. Family meetings could be convened to solve people problems at work. If there had been a case of theft, the family might promise to pay. They might not actually manage to do so but that would be the end of the matter.

Vigilance and supervision were important – ‘alagbata nii soja d’owon,’ the owner takes the best selling decisions. ‘An agent cannot do as well as the principal in exercising discretion.’ ‘An agent could insist that an item costs 15 naira where the owner might have sold it at 10 or 12 naira, deciding how much profit suffices. Or agents could sell at 15 naira and pocket 5 naira, giving only 10 naira back to the owner.’ This concern is reminis- cent of modern-day efforts to ensure that employees develop a sense of loyalty, to mediate the conflicts of interest foreseen in agency theory due to information asymmetry and gaps in trust.

Case 2: RC

The owner-manager of RC is a vibrant 60-year-old entrepreneur who is hap- pily engaged in his current business interests across four continents – he loves what he does. The two main business sectors are a pharmacy and super- market and a hotel and restaurant, both currently located in Ibadan.21 The combined staff strength is about 100 people.

The business started with a temporary overdraft for 30 days. Some bank managers were doing this because they could, without approval from

Kemi Ogunyemi 241

their seniors or head offices. RC would take 2,500 naira at the beginning of the month, repay it by the 26th day of the month, take another loan at the beginning of the next month, and so on. It meant giving a post-dated check, so that the bank could present the check for payment if the client defaulted. They did not seem to realize that since it could take up to a month for the check to clear, this would be late for them.22

In any case, RC was never late with a repayment, and such honesty could not pass unnoticed. The bank authorities then recommended and processed a proper term loan of 480,000 naira for RC. With this boost, RC went to Ife,23

to start buying cocoa products for export to Europe, which it did for about three years. There were numerous challenges, chief among which was disloy- alty from farmers. RC would advance them money and chemicals, agreeing with them to buy the cocoa at a specified price per ton. However, when har- vest time came, the farmers would sell to the highest bidder. Some would pay back RC the exact amount it had invested; some would not even do this. RC saw the need to get out quickly, though it still maintains a store in the area today, managed by a friend of the owner-manager. RC then went into the business of buying and selling pharmaceuticals. The expe- rience has been that honesty wins the company capital each time. Banks exchange information about people. Several banks continue to court RC, wanting to be a part of the business. Being honest and not giving up in spite of obstacles were thus two traditional traits that helped RC to survive and succeed.

In RC’s experience, the cultural beliefs of Ghana and Nigeria are very close: ‘There is an emphasis on honesty and consistent hard work. Money was not seen as a priority until modern influences eroded the traditional culture. It is now a priority to most people, even professionals such as doctors, and corruption in Nigeria has risen to an all-time high.’

‘Traditional wisdom warned against wasteful spending, imprudence and betrayed trust. People even tended to marry with a view to having the support of a good woman and trusted partner in running their farm or business.’

RC has not found it easy to find ‘honest and good workers; it continues trying, as this is a big problem.’ RC wishes to achieve congruency in its val- ues, and this is part of the reason why the company stayed small, managing its growth in order to avoid perceived ‘dangers in future – human capital is a problem.’

Someone who is consistent and who really is honest will make it. Such a person will become genuinely rich and have no limits, except those they set themselves. These are people who know how to say ‘no’ when it is good for them. Some are good and honest but lack the strength to say ‘no.’ They keep on working to amass wealth until they have

242 Creating the Right Conditions

health problems or relatives and workers trying to loot and bring the business down.

RC has said ‘no’ to various opportunities in the past, including two big ventures recently, in order not to compromise on values.

RC also believes that an honest reputation ‘attracts capital, including from foreign countries.’ Thus, it sees honesty as a very important traditional value that needs to be preserved and restored. ‘A good reputation means that offers come to the company due to the trust already built.’

‘To have a successful business, one has to face a lot of failures. Forgetting this, Nigerians change from one business to another just because of one failure. A lack of perseverance means the person does not succeed at the end of the day.’ This underlines the need for fortitude and patience.

For a long time, RC’s importation business was not working; the accoun- tant kept complaining about the losses. Now that arm of the business makes two million naira monthly in pure profit [after all deductions]. If RC had not persevered, this would not be the case. Now people even pay part in advance to get their purchases.

According to RC, ‘one has to know when to say “no”,’ explaining that it is not pride or ingratitude. RC prefers to let others ‘take the opportu- nity to grow and overtake them.’ This response would be unusual for most companies that do not have a traditional approach to competition that incorporates a willingness to share the market rather than fight, at times unscrupulously, to control it.

18.5 Traditional business practices

The esusu or ajo is a good example of traditional financing systems. In the past, it helped many small traders save and build businesses. People would contribute money on a regular basis to a common purse, and each month one contributor would have the option of withdrawing from the capital saved to make a large investment in their business or for some other per- sonal or capital expense. In this way, a service similar to the mediation of present-day banks was provided – people were able to save their money and had access to credit facilities thus generated. That the borrowers had to pay little or no interest was an added bonus. Esusu groups, at times with other names, are still in operation today in Nigeria and various other African coun- tries. There are many stories of people who were excluded from formal credit channels, due to an inability to provide collateral or to meet other condi- tions, being helped to realize their dreams through the esusu system. The system relies heavily on trust and it works.

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Leadership is often traditionally set up in a stratified manner, since the chief aim is to gain maximum participation from all stakeholders. Thus, for example, a town could be divided into clans, settlements, even age levels, and the leaders of these subgroups would have a say in deliberations on issues affecting everyone. The leader (the town’s ruler or king) would then make the town’s policies based on feedback received from the king’s Cabinet, which would have received feedback from clan/divisional leaders, who in turn would have received feedback from their different unit leaders.

The importance given to expertise and experience meant that elders would usually be placed in positions of leadership. Rather than this being simply a matter of deferring to age, it was, in essence, an acknowledgment of the person’s wealth of experience. This is not very different from what happens in firms today – the most qualified and experienced employees are promoted to positions of management.

People management practices would include strategies to achieve total employee buy-in. Traditionally, elders’ meetings would be complemented by village square or town hall meetings, similar to present-day boardroom meetings and staff meetings. There was a strong interest in ensuring that everyone had a voice and an opportunity to be heard in person or by proxy.

18.6 Conclusion

As can be seen from the proverbs explained here and from the stories of the two entrepreneurs, indigenous wisdom has a pivotal role to play in the man- agement of business in an ethical and responsible manner. Unfortunately, despite the best of intentions, it has not always been easy for Africans to integrate their traditional values and belief systems into the foreign theories and practices that they adopt in their organizations. At times, this is the rea- son that such theories and practices fail to yield the desired outcomes – both the adopters and the people they interact with may find it difficult to relate to them: apparent incompatibility with the expression of traditional values may lead to such values being jettisoned without being consciously replaced by a coherent alternative system – a clear case of throwing out the baby with the bath water.

The wisdom that characterized the two businesses described in section 18.4 is based on African values that include cooperation, fortitude, service orientation/community consciousness, people development, detachment when appropriate, and hard work accompanied by prudence. These are responsible and sustainable business approaches and paradigms that should be emphasized in today’s business world through training and education within organizations and in universities and business schools.

African proverbs and folktales form a repository of wisdom that can enrich personal lives and organizational entities, whether private or public, micro, small, medium or large scale. Since they are mostly recorded orally, their

244 Creating the Right Conditions

transmission has been adversely affected by many factors, such as the edu- cation of children far from home or the migration of people seeking jobs far from home. The systematic documentation of this wisdom, as a vehicle for the transmission of management philosophy, should be undertaken as it remains relevant and applicable to the world of business today.

The crises occasioned all over the world by firms that have adopted short- term and selfish attitudes toward profit-making, taken as their sole raison d’être, can serve as a reminder that there were, and are, alternative paradigms that should be explored to enrich our understanding of where and what business might be in the near future, especially with regard to its role within society.


1. The Yoruba are the most populous ethnic group in southwestern Nigeria (Fasiku, 2006) and there are also Yoruba in some other African countries; for example, in West African countries such as Togo and Sierra Leone and even in non-African countries such as Brazil and Cuba.

2. All non-English words in this chapter are written in the basic Latin alphabet. 3. Traditional African prose, poetry and literature also support this by emphasizing

these values in their diverse expressions; for example, Chinua Achebe’s novels as they pertain to the management of people and the environment.

4. An infamous historical character in Yorubaland who was much hated for the atrocities he committed against the people while in power.

5. The traditional title of the king of the Oyo empire. 6. As did the Mali and Songhai kingdoms, the Benin kingdom, the Ijebu empire, the

Igbo wandering trader-groups and others. 7. ‘Sister’ or ‘brother’ in Africa does not traditionally strictly mean siblings – this

may have been a cousin. 8. Her mother ran her business from Ayeye, and then Mokola, and in later life,

Alekuso – different districts of Ibadan. In the end she sold firewood in Alekuso. It was typical of the time that people worked hard all their life, even if they no longer needed the money. Work was fulfillment and also an opportunity to give to others.

9. ‘The goods are for their benefit; what am I doing business for? The machine thread being sold by mama is still at home today.’

10. A tray or kiosk for displaying wares. 11. ‘What to eat and drink.’ 12. A bundle was 10 yards. 13. Calico was called teru while satin or white poplin was called mantin and the word

for a bundle of 10 yards was igan. 14. One of the suburbs of Ibadan. 15. The market day. 16. Display tray. 17. ‘ . . . neither seeing the cash nor the receivables; creditors that never pay . . . ’ 18. She asked the rhetorical question: ‘How many crates of drinks does one sell in

a day in order to justify living on the products, spending faster than the money trickles in . . . ?’

Kemi Ogunyemi 245

19. ‘Gbigba omo s’odo’ literally means ‘taking a child to stay with oneself.’ 20. ‘The lady shuffled the business to a halt.’ 21. A town in western Nigeria. 22. Today, this is no longer the case – checks can be tracked and traced immediately. 23. A town in western Nigeria.


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G. Fasiku (2006) ‘Yorùbá Proverbs, Names and National Consciousness,’ The Journal of Pan African Studies, 1(4), 50–63.

A.K. Fayemi (2010) ‘The Logic in Yoruba Proverb,’ Itupale Online Journal of African Studies, 2, 1–14.

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