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Out of Africa

11.09.2009

 

This year I had the opportunity to conduct a couple of searches in international locations that never would have been on my radar. Well one city in particular...Lagos, Nigeria. When I met with the client, a global energy company, to discuss the search and heard "Lagos" I thought, "Yep, this is why they called me." We discussed the strategy to find this person, a Vice President & Global Controller, and I suggested "expat" to which my client quickly responded "We would not have called you if we wanted an expat as we could transfer one of our own people." (Imagine bringing that nice nugget of information home to your family.) So, my objectives were established: local accounting executives in Lagos who matched my client's qualifications.

When I met with my research team to talk about what we were looking for, the silence was deafening. "Lagos? You're kidding!" Although Nigeria and West Africa have been major locations for E&P companies for many years, most companies transfer their own people to Lagos on an expat assignment. After a considerable amount of time identifying local companies and U.S. companies with major operations in the area, making calls at all hours, posting contact information on blogs, establishing a network with accounting firms in the region, and contacting embassy officials, we identified an outstanding slate of candidates.

Next step, travel to Lagos to interview our candidates. "Not a problem," I thought - get a visa, buy a plane ticket, reserve hotel. Done. Well, not really. It's a good idea to make sure your immunizations are up-to-date and obtain the recommended vaccinations for travel to Nigeria. Easy enough...six shots
(three in each arm) later. Once there, catch a cab to the hotel or rent a car. Um...no. I was informed that to go anywhere in Lagos, it is highly recommended that you go with an armed escort because Westerners are often kidnapped for ransom or stopped on the road and robbed at gunpoint. Got it.

After I landed at Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos (a 15-hour flight), I was met by my transportation team: a driver and two guys with machine guns. Wow! I was taken to the Sheraton, which looked like a fortress, without incident. Some candidates came dressed in strikingly colorful native dress (the equivalent to business attire) while others wore suits. The Sheraton is outrageously expensive and in dire need of an update. In addition, there were frequent power outages throughout the course of my interviews. However, the Sheraton is the only "secure" hotel in Lagos, with armed guards stationed on each floor. Over the next few days, I conducted interviews without ever leaving the hotel and headed home the way I came: in the dead of night, armed escort and all. My client subsequently interviewed and hired one of the candidates I identified.

Success in search depends on a number of things. An important part of the process is being resourceful and becoming comfortable with the unknown. At the beginning of the search, it seemed like it would be challenging. And while the search posed a set of unique challenges, it actually turned out to be educational and sort of fun. I never thought about doing a search in Lagos, Nigeria, but I find myself hoping for another unusual search experience. 

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