Six practical lessons learned from the fall of S.T Soap Limited

Written by
Written by

Deolu Akinyemi

I’m sorry if my analysis sounds too simplistic for you. My lessons and thoughts are based on my business history and career background. Let me first clarify where I am coming from.

Here is a little about my background so you can weigh my analysis against it

⁃ I studied engineering, with many extracurricular spices in teaching, counseling, leadership, and volunteering.

⁃ Started out my career in HR as a Recruiting and Training Manager for a Multinational.

⁃ The multinational I worked for had 110,000 employees worldwide and about 300+ in Nigeria.

⁃ I moved on to provide HR and Business Development Support for nine indigenous distributor organizations doing volumes between N200 million and N1 billion as far back as 2005.

⁃ I then went ahead to work as HR Manager, Talent, and Learning for an indigenous airline partnered with an international brand.

⁃ I ventured into Entrepreneurship from there, focusing first on HR and Business Development Consulting.

⁃ I later ventured into Network Marketing, which relied heavily on the same skill sets.

⁃ Then ventured into mass-scale distribution – Distributed a variety of products driving between N100 million  to N2 billion per product category

⁃ I also ventured into Travel, Real Estate, Agriculture, Oil and Gas, Blockchain, and Manufacturing.

⁃ I am currently working with a team of people on building an indigenous Nigerian brand (RIDA) from Nigeria to the world

⁃ I have also experienced multiple failures in the space of doing business, so I know that the things that kill businesses are not exceptions; they are the rules.

So, not only do I have a background that helps see what killed the business, but I also need to learn from others, as these mistakes are very much within the scope of what my organization or many others can make as well.

Here are my thoughts on the clear lessons that can be learned from this company’s failure. I would like to group them into primary and secondary reasons.

Primary reasons

1.  The biggest reason for the failure of S.T. Soap Limited was the capacity of the founder to face adversity. Many things happen to businesses and leaders that they could not have anticipated, but at the end of the day, our success or failure is not what happened to us but how we respond to them. If we fail in a day of adversity, it is because our strength is small. With all that happened to the founder, he could still have pulled through if he had a mental, social, and spiritual framework that made him see adversity as adversity and not the end. The silver bullet that killed this business was getting depressed and out of circulation to respond to adversity.

2.  The next biggest primary reason for failure, I believe, was a lack of personal capacity from a lack of personal development. The founder did not know many management principles and ideologies about people management, performance management, diversity hiring, etc. His business was growing, but it wasn’t very certain that he was growing. This founder is not the first founder to be uneducated, the great Henry Ford was also uneducated, but he was smart enough to surround himself with very smart people, so they could at least rub off on him, or he could delegate to them. Every entrepreneur has blind spots of knowledge; we must continue to grow and continue to depend on others where we lack capacity.

The primary cause of failure of any enterprise is not what happened from outside, as much as what happened from inside. Like our elders usually say, the insect that eats the vegetable is with the vegetable, not without. We don’t fail because of what happened to us; we fail because of our response to what happened to us.

An entrepreneur needs to increase their adversity quotient and upgrade their capabilities. These are two primary focus areas for business leaders, big or small. The Japanese have an interesting definition of an entrepreneur; they say it’s someone who falls seven times and gets up eight times.

Secondary reasons

The secondary reasons are myriad, and we have started taking a stab at many of them already. This list will be very long, so I’ll briefly discuss a few and allow us to populate more of these in the comments section.

1. Recruitment: The market is diverse; this provides a case for hiring diversity. The more employees cluster around unique identifiers like a tribe, and locality, the more trouble can be brewed by them. S.T. played into the hands of the community.

2. Employee Management: Managing a large workforce differs from managing a few people. At this level, the ability to get results is through leaders who provide direction for their teams within the organization. With an organization that big, stratification of staff, performance management, and regular communication and engagement are non-negotiable.

3. Community Engagement: Simply try to imagine the Oil and Gas companies in Nigeria failing in this function, they will not last a year. Every business must learn that it has a duty to the community in which it exists. This community stretches from the street to the security operatives and local leaders and stretches all the way to the police station close by.

4. Solving Employee Unions: Unions don’t just pop out of the blues. The interest in setting them up is a function of bad management practices. If employees are well compensated, feel heard, have a way to communicate easily with management, and there is no sense of threat, surveillance, or interrogation of staff, the idea of unions will be far from them. Fairer and consistent policies, open door policies, competitive pay and benefits, employee trust and recognition are some of the ways to manage the desire for unions.

There are more lessons. These lessons need to be learned, particularly because we don’t have many Nigerian-owned companies that last very long. In order to change this narration, we need to learn and grow. Those who have built businesses we want our children to work in are not angels; they just learned from the past and grew up to attend to what is important.


Kind Regards,

Adeolu Akinyemi.

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