It is no secret that Nigeria has been dealing with recession worse than ever before. The reasons for this are also well known to include the crashing oil prices, the weakening currency, the increasingly disturbing security challenges, and a host of other socio-political issues. Fortunately, in recent times, it has not been all bad news. It appears that experts have hope that things will begin to turn around in 2017, with a prediction of a 1.3% increase in economic growth by the end of 2017. However, it is rather difficult to match such optimism with galloping inflation, the widespread threat or reality of retrenchment, decrease in purchasing power, and the worrying rate of unemployment, with this supposed optimistic outlook.
The question weighing precariously heavily on the minds of many Nigerians is: how do we cope? Well, where there is a will – and Nigerians certainly have this in spades – there is a way. Granted, with almost all goods and services costing nearly double, and conflicting need to contract spending for many, it has become a daily struggle to make ends meet for the mass public, let alone think of ways to survive or thrive. However, all over the world, it has been proven that in the depths of recession, many big and successful businesses have been borne, simply because they provided the much-needed solution to a shared problem.
Here are 5 examples of companies that started during an economic crisis and are thriving today:
During the 1973 – 1975 recession, Bill Gates started a company that develops computer languages, including MS-DOS that powers IBM computers. Today, Microsoft Windows and Office have become such a huge part of all out lives and the company is making more than US$77 billion per year in revenue.
FedEx also began operations in 1973, when Fredrick Smith determined that a company devoted to fast delivery to cities of all sizes would be a true value add to the society, and it was. Starting with only 14 aircrafts and 389 employees, the company now has 628 aircrafts, over 90,000 delivery vehicles, and more than 300,000 employees.
This one was founded in the depression of 1873 by the creator of the incandescent light bulb – Thomas Edison. Where industries were shutting down left, right and centre, Edison opened a small laboratory in 1876 that has now become today’s General Electric with more than 300,000 employees globally and a cash hoard of more than US$88 billion.
Now one of the biggest cosmetic companies in the world, this company was started by Charles and Joseph Revlon in the 1932 Great Depression, when they introduced their opaque nail polish to the world. This business went on to become a multi-million-dollar establishment only 6 years later. Today, the company generates over $1 billion in revenue each year.
This one seems to be the most shocking, but Jay Pritzker did open an upscale hotel in the middle of a recession in 1957. Surviving a recession that lasted two years, the Hyatt Corporation now operates 524 properties in 46 countries of the world, with over 50,000 employees.
All these companies have gone on to gain global recognition, even though they were founded in less than ideal conditions. What’s more is that they all inadvertently helped build their countries up to get out of either the depression or recession. The same could easily apply here in Nigeria. Think about it for a minute: if you were told to start planting tomatoes in 2015, you may have found a way to wiggle your way out of it; but if you had the power to look ahead and see the tomato scarcity that eventually materialised in 2016, perhaps you would have made the decision to give up everything else and start planting those tomatoes.
We cannot sit by and expect the economy to correct itself in our favour. Yes, the government has a huge role to play in creating an enabling environment for economic growth and development, but the responsibility also lies with us to create value and boost productivity, as hard as it may seem. You might be wondering: where do I begin? Fortunately, there are several industries that have been identified as crucial to strengthening the economy, and these boast good opportunities as follows (note that this list is not exhaustive):
- Agriculture, forestry & fisheries
- Mining & mineral resource development
- Information & Communication Technology
The challenge, therefore, lies with each one of us to ask ourselves what unique skills we can bring to any of these markets that will create real value and solve real needs. This need for products and services that solve problems was a uniting subject with all the speakers at the recently held Vantage Forum, organised by The Elevation Church. In a point that was raised by SystemSpecs’ Managing Director, John Obaro, he made it clear that SystemSpecs has reached its current level of greatness because it sought first to solve its own problems, and then commercialised those solutions for others to benefit from. This point was also reiterated by Country Director, Nigeria of Andela, Seni Sulyman, who urged all entrepreneurs to ask themselves, “What problem is this innovation or idea solving?” and “Who is willing to pay for this solution?”
Summarily, the onus lies on us to see the opportunities in these trying times, and to capitalise on them to create value, not only for ourselves, but for the economy. Where we already have businesses, this is the time to consider redesigning your solutions to meet needs in industries that you have not considered before; for those who are looking to start, ensure you create a value adding product or service that will allow you to create a niche for yourself.
Yes, Nigeria is still experiencing some hard times, but with the right attitude tailored towards productivity, we have a better and quicker chance of turning things around.