Business is not about who had the best tweet two hours ago or who does the best hooting and hollering. Get down on the ground and make money.
In 2021 most opportunities in the energy sector and in business, in general, will go to those who show up and negotiate better deals and get involved in making African resources work for us. Forget handouts, foreign aid and government handouts.
As I wrote in the second edition of Billions at Play: The Future of African Energy and Doing Deals, in 2021, young African dealmakers, negotiators and lawyers will have to embrace a new mindset to win. They will have to mobilise their resources and advocate for important principles of personal responsibility, smaller government, lower taxes, free markets, personal liberty, and the rule of law.
In 2021, African gas projects are going to be in the news. Companies will push to get them going, from Mozambique to Nigeria and from Equatorial Guinea to Tanzania.
If some extremists have their way, none of these projects should happen, and our people should be left in the dark. The question we must also ask is how Africans are going to participate when it comes to jobs and contracts. In 2021, we cannot be bystanders. We all can’t afford to.
Africa’s economic recovery from Covid-19 and our global significance in the era of energy transition and attacks on our energy sector must be driven by the talent and entrepreneurship of its people.
Our continent is still struggling when it comes to establishing democratic and trade institutions, and we must push for more democracy. Democracy isn’t perfect, but it is the best of all political practices, and we must embrace it.
I have a few words of advice for this generation, for Africa’s young attorneys, entrepreneurs, rising stars and dealmakers:
Never lose sight of the significance of your work
By negotiating effectively for African businesses and governments, you can play a huge role in transforming the lives of hundreds of thousands of Africans. Few things in life are more satisfying.
I am proud of the law group I have built, but I consider the work I have done to get justice for and empower African individuals, businesses, and communities among my greatest successes.
I am the first to advise many young people to avoid feeling entitled to anything. No one owes you or us anything. We have to earn it. Our approach and success in oil and gas negotiations stem from our deep preparation and mindset. More of that is needed in 2021.
I have stated many times: you succeed when you look for mentors and let them mentor you. It’s important to have someone who is promoting you when you are not in the room. Next, be stubbornly loyal. Don’t try to pull a fast one because you know more than others! Further, embrace your trials and shortcomings for they teach you to be a better person and lawyer.
I have seen too many young lawyers or rising stars who get a chance to be on a podium, and they tend to spend more time being celebrities than being around colleagues or supervisors.
Many so-called celebrities have not earned a deal and completed one, so avoid having a big head. For me, if you have not closed a deal and are not making money, you need to keep your philosophies to yourself. It is crucial to have a strong focus on building your skills because clients and business partners really want you to be good at what you do. Your writing, critical thinking, commercial mindset and in-depth industry skills cannot hurt you. Most clients want to know who is working on their deals, and they do not care about your race or nationality. They want to know you are qualified and can get the job done.
When you finally get a deal done, and you get your first bonus or check, do not fall in the trap of buying that fancy car or getting into fast life. You will get broke so quickly. Spend wisely even when you think you have arrived where you need to be. Always think there is more and stay hungry. Look at the Texas oil boys, and they are always hungry. They wear their cowboy boots and continue searching for the next big discovery.
Hashtags do not pay the bills, get off your phone
Get offline, social media is nice, but it isn’t everything, we have seen people who prefer to seat on their phone even during business meetings rather than engage in real business. How do you want a deal when you are busy on your WhatsApp group chats? Why have a meeting with someone when you will be on your phone while they are talking? Get out of the room and take the call or send a message. If you decide to work on your Instagram while talking to me, I walk you out of my office or end the meeting. When you don’t get the job or the contract, don’t be so quick on blaming the “White Man” or racism.
I know this will get the young generation annoyed, but it’s real. We need to start having a post Covid mindset and know we will have to engage again. I am not crazy about Zoom meetings, but we have to do it.
Business is not about who had the best tweet two hours ago or who does the best hooting and hollering. Get down on the ground and make money. Do not believe those who tell you money is bad. We know it is bad being broke and we hate being broke. You should never apologise for working hard and making money. To do that, you must be focused and yes, get off your phone.
Commit to work. Pay your dues. Your time to shine will come. Always ask yourself, “Am I adding value to the firm or the company?” Don’t think you are in the firm to be the labour union representative or the head of diversity.
Do not walk around the firm or even a negotiation with arrogance or give off a sense that you are entitled, or that your opinion matters on every subject. You are not owed anything. It is important not to cry over discrimination on every issue, whether it is sexism, racism, or xenophobia.
You beat them with excellence and success. We see it every day, and you will be surprised it comes from the same liberals who claim to love all humans and want to save the world. They will love to patronise you and put you in your place. I have experienced it myself. I just work harder, and success follows.
You must understand that building a successful practice or business calls for something not taught in law school or business school or any school: the ability to hustle and deliver on deals. I have always had run-ins with young lawyers because I can be a tough, goal-oriented taskmaster. I have a fierce sense of urgency that many others don’t share.
Working for Centurion is not for the naïve or the faint-hearted; we don’t tolerate young lawyers viewing Centurion as merely a job. Everyone has to give their maximum effort all the time.
The truth is, I am harder on myself. I am never satisfied, and I just believe I can win bigger and do the deal better. The most important outcome for me is to have people around me achieve more than they ever thought they could.
Lean in and take the heat for your client or causes you believe in, and for Africa
In 2021, you will have to visible, be vocal in defending the African energy sector from those that want to end it and you must capitalise on the opportunities that you see. One of the key things you must do in 2021 is taking the heat for your clients. I have never had a problem being called an ambulance-chaser in the past. Today I am that ambulance that is being chased, and many know I will always stand with them, and I built a strategy of taking the heat for them. Don’t let them push on your client or kill your issue. Develop a thick skin and let them hit you. If I can’t take the heat, I have no business being in the kitchen.
I have been pushed, been kicked, sometimes been spat on, lied on, demonised, talked about and even derided in the media. Its does not bother me one bit, and I always know I am going to outlast my distractors or competition. In 2020, we made more money than any other year with Centurion Plus, our latest on-demand service. I have also been invited to meet with Presidents, Ministers, CEO’s and even Royals. But I never lost my way.
Never take your eyes off the prize. Be patient, play chess, keep smiling, be ready to take a punch and definitely hit back and do it harder. Maybe a combination of Jabs, Uppercuts and Hooks. That’s going to be you in 2021. It will be a fight to stay alive, stay employed, stay in business, stay relevant and stay sane when everything and everyone around you is going crazy.
You are going to be tested. They are going to come after you. Sometimes even your own friends and those who laugh with you then stab you in the back. You will be called a traitor to most of your liberal elitist friends who feel entitled, drink a latte with soy or almond milk. They sometimes cannot believe that this kid who was their darling and their best boo does not buy into their tree-hugging, cry me a river ideology. You and I will have to believe and fight for Africa first, against energy poverty, and for personal responsibility, free markets, limited government and yes we must not be ashamed of being people of faith.
The wisdom and advice my law school mentor and professor John Radsan, who used to serve as the CIA’s assistant general counsel and Ron Walters shared with me hold true for you today: each one of us has the mandate to use our education and skills to impact communities and to promote economic growth and empowerment.
So, yes, seek career success and prosperity in 2021. But, in the end, choose to do good: use your skills to make sure that everyday Africans receive their fair share of the benefits the continent’s natural resources can provide.
NJ Ayuk is Executive Chairman of the African Energy Chamber, CEO of Centurion Law Group, and the author of several books about the oil and gas industry in Africa, including ‘Billions at Play: The Future of African Energy and Doing Deals.’