Last week, I said “goodbye” to Oxford & Beaumont Solicitors, the law firm I started in a tiny office on the twelfth floor of Heritage Tower in Accra’s Ridge Ambassadorial Enclave on Monday April 10, 2016.
Following a merger with ENSAfrica, Africa’s largest law firm, Oxford & Beaumont is now ENS Africa | Ghana, the Ghana office of ENSAfrica, a 100-year-old plus law firm with over 620 practitioners in 14 offices across Africa, providing specialist advice in all commercial areas of law, tax, forensics and IP.
African domination was the furthest thing on my mind when I started Oxford & Beaumont. My pre-occupation was survival. When I walked out of my job – for personal reasons the previous Friday- I left a good salary, generous perks (including company car) and the prestige of a high profile position in corporate Ghana (Head of Corporate Services & Legal at United Bank for Africa Ghana Limited (“UBA”).
Oxford & Beaumont really was my best alternative to unemployment. I decided to start a law firm because in my prior role, I had instructed a number of law firms and figured there was scope for at least one more. I also wanted to start a business that did not require much financial capital: I started with fifty million old Ghana cedis, the equivalent of about $5000 then.
After paying rent and buying a laptop, I couldn’t even afford internet of my own. For the first month or so, I was glad the office was directly under that of my good friend Kwaku Bediako who let me tap into his wireless network.
I then focused on finding people I liked with shared values and a high ‘D’. ‘D’ is for dissatisfaction with the status quo. Someone who has a high D is never satisfied with the status quo and always wants to tweak something, to better something, to improve on yesterday today for tomorrow.
Given how smart and talented the team I recruited were, they had many options. I unfortunately had limited resources so I sold them my dream – the vivid description of the future I envisaged for myself and them and then articulated our shared values and the culture we’d develop together.
I learnt quickly that if you put a bunch of smart alecs on a bus and insist on a high D, one of two things could happen: chaos; or magic.
You avoid chaos and get to the magic only if you listen.
This was initially the most difficult part of managing my team. I’m not a natural listener and it’s not always easy for me to check-in my ego at the door.
It’s not easy to listen when it’s your dream. When you are the leader.
But when you do listen, you really create magic by crafting a strategy that’s unique to the people on the bus and which no one else can replicate.
You also create a certain level of buy-in and motivation that no compensation package can achieve.
Two heads they say are better than one. How about ten, twenty, thirty or in the case of Oxford & Beaumont, almost 40 heads?
Having seen first-hand the magic that occurs when I listen, I’m now a proponent of a leadership model I call ‘Leadership by listening’. It’s the most powerful and certainly the most cost effective management tool that I know of. I’ve also learnt to check-in my ego at the door. To listen, you need to create a culture of talking.
Given how in tune I had become with the aspirations and dreams of my team, I knew that relying on organic growth alone was never going to be enough to meet our collective dreams and aspirations. That’s why I persuaded my partners to consider a merger as an option. I felt strongly that the best way to leverage the enormous potential of my team, take advantage of wider African opportunities while still preserving our sanity was to become part of a much bigger whole.
We started with a blank sheet – open to merging with a local, regional or global firm. We researched over twenty or so possibilities. I personally met and courted almost over ten law firms from all around the world. But it was ENSAfrica’s compelling proposition that appealed to my partners and me the most. We particularly liked their ‘In Africa, for Africa’ idea and found we shared many values. We also believed the only way that a merger of this nature could work was if it was a truly integrated merger, which is consistent with the ENSAfrica “one firm” approach.
Thankfully, when I approached the ENSAfrica team, they were as keen to consider it. After a long process of courtship and due diligence, our two firms decided to merge and we now have.
So although I really did say goodbye to Oxford & Beaumont, the spirit of Oxford & Beaumont remains in the new firm ENSAfrica|Ghana. Our vision, values and our people (in Ghana) have not changed. But we have changed our perspective, horizon and Africa reach in a way that I know Kwame Nkrumah would thoroughly have approved of.
The writer is Chairman of ENSAfrica│Ghana (previously known as Oxford & Beaumont Solicitors) and author of Kuenyehia On Entrepreneurship, considered a groundbreaking resource on Ghanaian entrepreneurship. Follow him on twitter @elikemkuenyehia.