Relationship-building skills are key in African business

Ayodeji Balogun started his career working in the family business. After seven years, he wanted to expand his professional opportunities and decided to start an MBA at Lagos Business School. He finished his MBA program in 2011 and is now the Chief Executive Officer of AFEX Commodities Exchange. He tells us about his MBA journey and explains why interpersonal skills and business relationships are the key to success when studying and working in Africa.

In short

The power of relationships and community

A theme that surfaced again and again throughout our conversation with Ayodeji was that relationship-building in African business is key. 

First, Ayodeji met and developed close relationships with professors and lecturers throughout his MBA program. They were “very very influential in [his] life and in shaping [his] career, but also even in life post-MBA,” he says. (02:43)

He still considers one of his professors to be “a very strong mentor and ally in [his] post-MBA days and until tomorrow.” (03:07) He also still regularly reaches out to another one of his lecturers from business school for guidance.

Ayodeji also explains that his peers at Lagos Business School form a community that’s always willing to lend a helping hand. He tells us, “When I need connections or other people from my class or other classes need information within the sector, you know, we’re always just a message away from each other. So, it’s been extremely useful for me.” (03:40)

Last but not least, Ayodeji points out that strong interpersonal skills are a must once you enter the workforce and are trying to get a business off the ground in Africa: “It is a very relational market. So, relationship networks are very very powerful.” (08:40)

From working in the family business to completing an MBA

Ayodeji didn’t take a “typical” MBA path. He explains that “[he] started his career very early in the family business and managed that for up to 7-8 years before [starting his] MBA.” (00:18)

Even though he gained a lot of practical work experience through his family business, he wanted to further enrich his knowledge because he “felt like the family business lacked the capacity to build something that was greater than itself.” (00:39)

Indeed, one of the biggest driving forces for Ayodeji during and after his MBA program was asking himself, “How can I go into a position where I’m able to help businesses not go through the same things that I went through with my family business?” (10:58)

The skills you need to succeed as a professional in Africa

Ayodeji breaks down some of the top skills that professionals working in Africa should have: 

First, he explains that “policy change is quite frequent in Africa,” (07:10) which makes for a dynamic and highly changeable market. Owing to this, Africa needs professionals who are able to “manage that sort of dynamic equilibrium, knowing that next year will be very different from this year.” (07:36)

He also comments that data is not currently used much in the African business world. This is partially related to the fact that many African businesses are transactional in nature. Nevertheless, he says, “companies that have built systems that can capture and build their data, and have intelligence data…will definitely have a strong competitive advantage.” (08:23)

Last, he stresses the importance of business relationships and good first impressions in the African business world. Those hoping to succeed need to be mindful of the relationships they cultivate, the networking they do, and how people perceive them on a day-to-day basis.  


If you want to talk more with Ayodeji about relationship-building in African business, get in contact with him via his personal MBA Ambassador page.

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