SUNDAY AKINTOLA: HOW MUSHIN HOME BOY GREW MULTI-MILLION NAIRA BUSINESSES IN MUSHIN, LAGOS

SUNDAY AKINTOLA is specially proud of beating all the odds as a home boy growing up in the densely populated Mushin area of Lagos State to become a successful owner of business chains that span micro finance and telecommunications. In this interview with GOKE OLUWOLE, and TAI ADEWALE SHOFELA, Chairman of Sovereign Micro Finance Bank, AKINTOLA shares his journey to conquering the litany of challenges that littered his path to business success.

How would you describe yourself?

Yes, by His grace, I am Sunday Akintola, a gentleman who happens to be one of the lucky entrepreneurs whose company is positively impacting on Nigeria in the area of poverty alleviation. I am the Chairman of the Board of three companies; Covenant Perazim Investment Limited, a multi-facetted company established to operate in the Oil, Gas and Agriculture sectors, Sufi Enterprises Limited, which is a company involved in the sale and distribution of GSM companies recharge cards, and Sovereign Micro-Finance Bank. I am a graduate of Accounting from the University of Lagos. I am also an ex-banker having worked with one of Nigeria’s fastest growing banks Zenith Bank Plc.

Briefly, can you tell us the background to how you grew this multi million naira business empire?

Most big businesses always start in small ways. This multi-million business concern, like you rightly said, is a business that was registered first as Covenant Perazim Investment Limited in November, 2003 while I was still in service with Zenith Bank. It was then the thought occurred to me on what I could do to change my life and touch the lives of other people around me. I thereafter initiated the venture, but we started operation with four staff which included my wife and my brother in-law in a shop here in Mushin from where we sold telecoms recharge cards.

I resigned from my banking job six months after we commenced operations, to be precise, July 1, 2004, two days after securing the NCC dealership licence. In fact, I got my licence on a Sunday and I put in my resignation the following Tuesday, and by August, 2004, I was already able to raise the mandatory N5 million to join the recharge card dealership community of the then V-Mobile Network with Sufi Enterprises Ltd.

All these while, my colleagues, some in the banking halls and some from other companies like Chevron, Exxon-Mobil and other multi-nationals, were greatly disturbed about my decision to go into business; they asked if something was wrong with me and how could I leave certainty for uncertainty; leaving the bank to go and sell recharge card. For them, it sounded absurd. But I told them I wanted to go and develop my business.

Things started to crystallize for us because all we were doing then was to get some money to buy and sell recharge cards until we had our breakthrough when in 2006 the V-Mobile Network started seeing us as a serious business entity, and in 2007, we won the best dealers award of the V-Mobile Network. That same 2007, we were among the 25 dealers selected in Lagos and promoted to the status of big dealers. However, as part of the requirements of that new status back then, we were also expected to have our own building as office complex. On the back of this, we decided to build our own building. Thankfully, by the end of 2007 we were able to build our own office complex.

Personally, how had your background influenced the development of your business?

I am a proper Mushin boy, born and bred in this community where people have the notion that nothing good can come out of the community. While we were in the secondary school, those of us from Mushin were seen as boys from homes of hooligans and thugs but to God be the glory, we came out very disciplined, because I am fortunate to have very responsible parents who gave us good up bringing.

Can you believe that as far back as 1963, my Dad refused all discouragement from others not to send my elder sister to school; he sent her to the only private boarding school then in Abeokuta, the Baptist Private School, Idi-Aba, Abeokuta. People were laughing at our parents for sending my sister to the boarding school. Ironically, I had to attend a public school, Odo Abore Primary School in Mushin. I guess my brilliance then impressed the school management such that they made me the school’s senior prefect.

After finishing at Odo Abore, my parents preferred that I schooled out of Lagos State, they rejected my preference for the Nigerian Model College at Idi-Oro, a suburb of Mushin. They sent me to Baptist High School, Saki, in Oyo State. From Saki I proceed to the Lagos State College of Education, and later, to the University of Lagos where I studied Accounting. I also taught in a primary school for two years before I joined Zenith Bank in 1993 where I spent 11 years before quitting in 2004.

Though my parents were not rich, I remember that they always struggled to pay our school fees then. They thought us about God and, my mother, especially, taught us the principle of prudence and wealth creation. All these contributed to my success today, but the secret to my business success is God. There is nothing we do in this office that we don’t ask for God’s favour, He is our Alpha and Omega. In this office there is nothing we do that we don’t tell God; we pray in the morning and we pray to close each of our day’s operations.

As a major player in the telecoms recharge card distribution and marketing sub sector, how would you describe the industry?

Yes, the industry is full of illiterate and semi illiterate people, but with the new policies from all the companies, I expect that the situation will finally change. I believe that there will be a lot of changes because it is only in the telecoms sector that some illiterate people will buy something at the rate of N400 and sell it for N250, that is about 80 per cent less than the cost price. But now, the business is getting more exciting, interesting, and rewarding than what it used to be.

What prompted your interest in establishing a microfinance bank, which is seen as very risky commercial engagements, or do we reason that you preferred this because of your banking background?

It wasn’t my background in banking that inspired me to establish Sovereign Micro Finance Bank, rather, it was due to my interaction with the people at the grass-roots of my immediate community here in Mushin while I was operating the telecoms business. The economic plight of these people rekindled my interest in empowering the people in my immediate community. You know when we were doing the telecoms business a lot of people always came to us for financial aids in form of soft loans, but there was no way we could be able to solve all these needs, so we now saw the opportunity to serve and empower our people when the CBN came out with the guideline and licensing procedures for establishing micro finance bank, that was the vision.

Again, there was this experience I once had while I was trying to establish a friend in the recharge card business in Abeokuta. I then realized that what most people need is micro-credit, soft loan, when you don’t help people within your neighborhood they will be the same set of people that will make life difficult for you. Do you know some of those my friends who thought something was wrong with me when I left Zenith Bank today are now begging us to be part of what we are doing. But we shall adopt them provided CBN reviews its policy on the board membership; we are also looking for a way to involve them through our forthcoming private placement.

Don’t you think it is easy for Nigerians to abuse the concept of micro finance banking just like the earlier banking and finances houses of the past?

The establishment of microfinance banks and transformation of community banks is a thought in the right direction by the government, it shows the government knows what the needs of the people are; forget about the bastardization of the earlier finance houses, I can tell you the impact of the micro finance bank vision is already showing on our economy. As I am talking to you now, we are highly regulated, every MFB has a CBN supervisor attached to it and every bank is mandated to do a monthly return to CBN. They will trace and check all the loans you disbursed that month, so there is no way you can give all the loans to your family like in the era of finance houses and commercial banks of the past.

You can log on to the CBN’s website and check the full list of the MFBs as they are arranged alphabetically, this is also part of the effort to showcase them (micro finance banks) and for you to know the ones you can deal with, I can assure you there is no MFB that will like to go under because there are lots of opportunities in the micro financing business

Of all the MFBs in Lagos what do you think stands your Sovereign Micro Finance Bank out from the rest?

We believe so much in God, and this is the anchor of our own business philosophy… to be the fulcrum of creating financial independence for the people. You see, all these area boys, some of them have great talents but what they mainly want is financial empowerment. One of them approached us about three months ago that he wanted to have his own bus and I told him to go and start saving, that if he can save N50,000 out of the N450,000 he needed to buy a Faragon Volkswagen Bus, we will fund it.

He jumped at the offer and each day, he deposited N1500 with us out of the N3000 of his daily income from the transport business. We also work with other professional groups on how to empower their members. All these are parts of the ways to eliminate criminality from their minds because if someone has a wife and kids and a job, his approach to life will be different. He will not be thinking that he wants to die because he already knows he has a stake in this world.

What gave you the impression that Mushin people deserve another micro finance bank despite all the commercial bank branches that populate the roads?

I don’t think there is any other community that I will want to serve than the Mushin community; these are the people that deserve to be uplifted and empowered financially. It is the rural people who need micro-credit or micro-funding; our vision in Sovereign MFB is to empower all these so called area boys, and since I grew up in this area, I understand the economic philosophy and psychology of the people.

We’ve already started some collaboration with the professional groups’ trade and artisan associations on how to serve them better, and even the National Union of Road Transport Workers [NURTW]. We hope to set them up with financial backing of our bank.

Our operations here as telecoms recharge distributor had opened our eyes to many needs of the people. We are now able to understand the need of the people of this area, ask anybody here around Mushin, if they know Sufi Enterprises Limited, they’ll tell you that they know us very well, it is the goodwill we’ve created over time that is rubbing on the bank.

I have also realized that commercial banks are too big to recognize micro financing opportunities, they will not fund or support your business when you are small, it is always the big projects of billions and millions of big establishments that they will always be interested in funding while the man whose business need just N5, 000 to survive is left to wallow in abject poverty.

Which was the riskiest investment venture you had made?

The biggest investment risk I ever took was the outright sale of my entire investment portfolio when I couldn’t secure a loan to finance this MFB project. A friend at FirstBank just told me point blank that since my office complex didn’t have a certificate of occupancy, no bank will give me a loan and the best, he advised I did, was to liquidate my stock portfolio. That was how I sold all my stocks just as if I was been pushed by a spirit but to God be the glory, I was lucky enough to escape the stock market crash now being witnessed by investors. Up till today, my stockbroker still enquire from me how I was able to escape the downturn in the market.

There is no business that doesn’t have its own ups and downs, tell us the challenges being faced by operators of microfinance banks in Nigeria?

Our major challenge is commercial banks, they are becoming jealous of our achievements, which is why you see a lot of the country’s mega banks transforming into micro banks. They see us as threats, because they know we can go for clearing by statutory order and with this the commercial banks always stalemated us. At present, we have a serious battle with a commercial bank over a facility of N110million we got from a company which the company, the bank and us decided was supposed to be given to us but when the money was ready, they sat on it, denied us access to it because of our capital base. We need more money to service the micro needs of our people. What we devised now is that we have contacted about three to four banks for our clearing, one is in charge of the financing of Okada scheme, one for the NURTW scheme, while we also get another to manage our other schemes because it would be too risky to keep all our good eggs in one basket.

We are currently working with a commercial bank to provide us with an ATM which will soon be installed to serve the people of Mushin. We are going to table most of these problems before the Central Bank Governor at the next conference of MFBs in Nigeria. Maybe the Governor can help us caution the commercial banks.

Another major challenge we are facing, like every other business in Nigeria, is the problem of power supply. Large amount of our money goes to fuelling of generating sets, and mind you, we bought our own transformer at about N1.8million while our 100 KVA generator costs a whopping N2.9million and this we fuel with N8, 000 daily. If we plough these back into our business do you know the number of people that will benefit from our micro finance bank? The issue of multiple taxation, too, is another serious challenge to business in Lagos.

As an entrepreneur what will you say is your greatest achievement?

What I personally see as our achievement may not be too fantastic to you but for a company that started in a small shop five years ago on this street, selling recharge cards, now owns an edifice housing the headquarters of all our businesses which include banking, aquaculture, oil and gas, and telecoms; all these we can boast is valued to be above N100million.

We have about 60 well remunerated staff, with at least over eight brand new Toyota cars for our staff, and in the next three months, we are going to take delivery of another set of five new Toyota cars for our middle cadre officers. Some of our staffers who were employed some years ago with school certificates are now graduates while some are about completing their choice of courses in various higher institutions. While studying, we make sure they don’t lack anything. None of our staff has been involved in stealing and none had left us. We are still one united family five years after we started. Last December, we harvested our fish pond and the return from the investment yielded about N1.5miilion because it is safer to diversify to other businesses to expand our capital base and income sources.

What is your management style?

I am a hard working person, and all my staff members know this. I am always the first person to resume here and the last person to leave. Can you believe I live in Alagbado, yet I’m always very punctual at the office? You’ll see me resume here by 7.30a.m. everyday, I mentor my staff, they’ve all imbibed discipline from me. You know, I operate an open door policy here, all my staff are well remunerated. If a CEO is not disciplined, the staff will not be disciplined. Again, let me tell you that yesterday (Friday, 9 January) I was with one of my colleagues way back at Zenith Bank and he was reminding me how disciplined we were then while employed at Zenith Bank. He said it was I who once said that I dreamt that one day I would have my own bank, but we all did not believe it then because of the situation surrounding the licensing of commercial banks. But today, both of us are owners of full fledged micro finance banks; he owns Olive Microfinace Bank on Awolowo Way, Ikeja, Lagos, while my own is Sovereign Microfinance Bank, Mushin, Lagos. What we thought was impossible is now a reality in our lives. God has done it, it is easy now to grow a micro-finance bank into a commercial bank and that is our future because in the nearest future we hope to go public.

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McKinsey Global Survey Results: How companies make good decisions

Companies get a lot of advice about how to make good decisions. Which decision-making disciplines really make a difference?

Do strong decision-making processes lead to good decisions? This McKinsey survey highlights several process steps that are strongly associated with good financial and operational outcomes. In the survey, we asked executives from around the world about a specific capital or human-resources decision their companies made in the course of normal business. We learnt who was involved, what drove the decisions, how deep the analysis was, how unfettered the discussions, and how and where politics were involved. Respondents also described the financial and operational outcomes of the decisions.

The results highlight the hard business benefits such as increased profits and rapid implementation of several decision-making disciplines. These disciplines include ensuring that people with the right skills and experiences are included in decision making, making decisions based on transparent criteria and a robust fact base, and ensuring that the person who will be responsible for implementing a decision is involved in making that decision. Finally, although corporate politics sometimes seems to undermine strong decision-making, some types of consensus-building and alliances apparently can help create good outcomes.

Notes. The survey was in the field in November 2008 and received responses from 2,327 executives from the full range of industries, regions, and functions.

Describing the decisions. The survey covered the gamut of typical corporate decisions, from expanding into new products or services to maintaining infrastructure. More than three-quarters of investments were aimed at revenue growth, and among decisions related to human resources, the majority aimed to improve efficiency or productivity.

A majority of decisions were undertaken at the behest of the CEO or the executive committee, with only a minority (23 per cent) driven by some sort of immediate threat. More decisions were made outside an annual planning process than within one. And nearly two-thirds of respondents say they expected their decision to pay off within two years of implementation. Operations executives had significant influence on only about a third of the most financially unsuccessful decisions, reinforcing findings from other surveys that companies frequently overlook execution when making decisions.

Overall, outcomes for these decisions were good. Among decisions for which the outcome was known, about two-thirds met or exceeded executives’ expectations for revenue growth and cost savings.

Furthermore, strong majorities of respondents say the results of their initiatives met their expectations for speed, implementation cost, and gains in market share or efficiency.

Outcomes are not known for about 20 per cent of decisions aimed at revenue growth and 16 per cent of decisions aimed at cost savings.

What goes into a good decision. For starters, the survey emphasizes that good decision-making involves avoiding some basic mistakes. Decisions initiated and approved by the same person generate the worst financial results indicating the value of good discussion. And decisions made at companies without any strategic planning process are twice as likely to have generated extremely poor results as extremely good ones, more than a fifth of them generated revenue 75 per cent or more, below expectations. This may indicate an overall lack of rigour at these companies.

Furthermore, this survey highlights several elements of decision-making processes that are associated with good financial and operational outcomes, whether the goal is revenue growth or cost savings. One relatively straightforward finding is of strong relationships linking financial success, clarity about who is responsible for implementation, and the involvement of that individual in the decision-making process. Other important findings concern the types of analysis, discussion, and corporate politics that are associated with successful decision-making.

Analysis. We asked about 11 aspects of analysis. Four are associated with financial success, speed of project completion, cost of implementation, and improved efficiency or productivity:

Performing sensitivity analysis and creating financial-risk models

Including comparable situations from one’s own or the firm’s experience

Examining the risks of this project combined with the risks of other projects in the firm’s portfolio

Creating a detailed financial model of the decision.

The survey also indicates that including analogous situations from outside of the organization improves some outcomes, notably expected profitability and revenue growth.

Discussion. Respondents also describe the discussions surrounding their decisions. Of the eight potential discussion types we asked about, three are associated with financial success and with completion of the project in less time than expected:

Encouragement of participation on the basis of individuals’ skills or experiences

Reliance upon transparent approval criteria for the decision

Discussion of this decision as part of the firm’s whole portfolio of decisions.

Politics. Corporate politics has a bad name, but respondents suggest that the effect of politics depends on the nature of the tactics used. When executives involved in a decision were primarily concerned with its effect on their business unit rather than the overall organization, for example, financial results and all other measures of success were much likelier to fall far below expectations. Simply put, a silo mind-set hurts performance. In addition, slow project completion times are associated with selective information reporting.

However, the survey results suggest some types of informal alliance-building and horse-trading among executives, may help companies make good decisions. We asked about six ways that politics can affect decisions. Better-than-expected completion speed is associated with executives forming alliances to craft consensus for action across business units and with executives making exchanges across alliances to build support for different projects.

Finally, a word about CEO involvement: Respondents say CEOs tend to have a large role in instigating both the most and the least successful decisions. Perhaps this indicates CEOs are more likely than other executives to place or be able to secure approval of risky bets with big up-sides and down-sides. This result also suggests that thorough examination and devil’s advocacy will be particularly valuable when CEOs champion pet projects.

Looking ahead. Unlike the external risks that accompany most strategic initiatives, the analysis of a project, its discussion, and the management of the internal politics, lie entirely within the control of the top leadership team. Companies not using the best practices identified here should be able to improve their decisions simply by following these guidelines:

Pay particular attention to the risks of the project, examined through a detailed financial model, sensitivity analysis, and the relationship of those risks to the risks of other projects in the firm’s portfolio. Learning from past comparable situations also is beneficial.

Ensure that participants in the discussion about any decision are included on the basis of skills and experience, that decision criteria are transparent, and that the decision is discussed in relation to the organization’s other strategic decisions.

Put organizational goals ahead of business unit’s goals, and encourage efforts to build consensus across business units.

About the Contributors. Contributors to the development and analysis of this survey include Massimo Garbuio, a lecturer at the University of Sydney, Dan Lovallo, a professor at the university and a research fellow at the Institute of Management, Innovation and Organization at the University of California, Berkeley, as well as an adviser to McKinsey; and Patrick Viguerie, a director in McKinsey’s Atlanta office.

Notes Including intelligence about the likely reactions of current and of potential competitors, doing sensitivity analysis and financial models of risk, examining the risks of this projects combined with the risks of other company projects, studying multiple comparable cases to provide a reality check on financial analysis, creating a detailed financial model of the decision, analyzing the potential reaction of capital markets and analysis, studying comparable situations from both inside and outside the firm, including information that would contradict the investment hypothesis, and basing the decision largely on intuition.

Respondents were asked whether the discussion of this decision included the firm’s whole portfolio of decisions, the major uncertainties inherent in this decision, participants determined by their skills and experiences, transparent approval criteria, points of view contradictory to those of senior leaders, and a robust fact base. Also, they were asked whether the decision was made and implemented, at least, as quickly as it would have been by competitors.

The McKinsey Quarterly Special Feature

Financial crises, past and present

Past financial crises had very different effects on the real economy. Although the lessons of the past don’t give much cause for optimism, they do provide hints on how companies should prepare this time around.

By David Cogman & Richard Dobbs

Financial crises occur with surprising frequency—in every decade in the past century there has been at least one big shock to a major economy’s financial system. Judging from that history, the current upheaval will probably rank among the largest, and we face the prospect of a severe, painful recession. Yet comparing the current financial crisis with those of the 20th century may provide some comfort: the impact of past crises on the real economy was by no means uniform, and it depended, critically, on the way governments acted to recapitalize the banking system and to restore stability and confidence.

The boom that preceded the present crisis uniquely combined several leverage-driven bubbles: a residential-mortgage bubble, an associated one in the real-estate market, and a bubble in corporate earnings. At the time of writing, US financial institutions had taken total credit crisis–related write-offs of almost $1 trillion.1 McKinsey estimates that the total eventual credit losses in the United States are likely to be between $1.7 trillion to $2.2 trillion: at best, a rapid recovery would result in losses of $1.3 trillion; at worst, a protracted recession could see losses as high as $3.1 trillion. In addition, the Bank of England’s estimates suggest losses of around $1.4 trillion from debts in the United Kingdom and the European Union.2 The losses will be greater if another major asset area (such as credit default swaps) collapses or if a misguided policy response exacerbates the problems, as it did in Japan during the 1990s. This range of possible losses represents 10 to 15 percent of US GDP.

By historical standards, that is substantial. In the past century, it was exceeded only three times: during the banking crisis that inaugurated Japan’s “lost decade” in the early 1990s, the Asian financial crisis of the late ’90s, and the Great Depression. In the first two, the afflicted banking systems recorded total losses of 15 and 35 percent3 of GDP, respectively. Losses in the Great Depression were around 20 percent of GDP in 1929, but this occurred in a very different industry environment from today. Due to a combination of runs on deposits, high levels of bank leverage, progressive deleveraging of the economy, and limited ability of the Fed to intervene,4 this quickly became a protracted economic downturn in which more than 9,000 financial institutions either went into bankruptcy or sought governmental assistance, and the economy experienced massive deflation.

From a company standpoint, the critical issue is the impact such shocks and subsequent downturns can have on the availability of credit—and the impact of a credit shortage on the real economy and on consumer and corporate confidence. The downturn after the S&L crisis of the 1980s and ’90s, when bank write-offs equaled some 4 percent of GDP, lasted about two years. GDP ended up about 4 to 5 percent lower than it would have been given the pre-crisis trend line. After the bursting of Japan’s asset bubble, the country’s economy grew by less than half a percent a year in real terms for a decade, and GDP ended up around 18 percent lower than it would have given its pre-crisis trend line. We estimate that the present credit crisis will cut real GDP by around 3 to 7 percent from trend growth. If the US economy were to follow the same path it did in the more severe crises, the total lost GDP could be two to three times greater than that estimate.

But the fallout from the past century’s two worst crises did considerably more damage. In the countries hardest hit by the 1990s’ Asian financial crisis—Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand—GDP shrank by an average of 8 percent in 1998 in local-currency terms. Since their currencies halved in value, on average, in US dollar terms the damage was catastrophic—bankrupting many companies and causing widespread social unrest. And during the Great Depression, from 1929 to 1933, 28 percent of real GDP was lost.

As of December 5, 2008, US unemployment stood at 6.7 percent.5 That is slightly above its level during the 2001–02 recession but still some way below the level associated with the oil shocks of the 1970s (8.5 percent) and the S&L crisis (nearly 10 percent). It is far short of unemployment during the Great Depression, which conservative estimates put at around 25 percent.

How long it takes an economy to emerge from a downturn depends heavily on what kind of cleanup and stimulus package governments employ—especially in repairing the banking system’s ability to provide credit efficiently and restoring confidence among companies and consumers. On average, countries have needed two years to emerge from past recessions after banking crises6 and up to twice as long to return to trend growth.7 Only in two cases did a downturn last substantially longer: in Japan during the lost decade, as a result of counterproductive government policies, and in the Great Depression, when the government was far less able to mount a coordinated response than it is today.

Equity markets are the most visible and dramatic indicators as crises unfold. At the end of October 2008, the S&P 500 index had fallen by 46 percent from its peak a year before (October 9, 2007, to October 27, 2008). By late November 2008, the US equity market had given up almost all of its gains since the 2001–02 dot-com bust. Although nobody knows if the market has reached bottom, the fall so far isn’t unusual by historical standards. Japan’s Nikkei 225 fell by 48 percent from peak to trough (December 29, 1989, to October 1, 1990) during the banking crisis, though the market has subsequently fallen still further; at the end of October 2008, it retained less than 20 percent of the peak value reached in 1999. During the Asian financial crisis, the equity markets of Indonesia, South Korea, and Thailand fell by 65, 72, and 85 percent, respectively, in local-currency terms. In the United States, the S&P 500 index fell by 49 percent from March 24, 2000, to October 9, 2002, after the tech bubble burst.

There is, however, one important difference in the current crisis. In previous ones, market valuations, as measured by price-to-earnings (P/E), hit excessive levels before the crash.8 This time, corporate earnings, which were around 50 percent above their long-run trend line as a proportion of GDP, experienced a bubble as well. Before the onset of the credit crisis, US corporate earnings were substantially above their trend growth (exhibit).

By historical standards, the real-estate market bubble is more worrisome, because of the medium-term impact on household wealth. From the mid-1970s to the end of the last century, US housing values enjoyed average nominal growth of around 5.4 percent a year, according to the House Price Index of the Office of Federal Housing Oversight. There were two major cycles during this period: in the late 1970s and the late 1980s. In both, national average home prices climbed, at most, 5 to 6 percent above the trend line. From 2000 to 2007, however, home prices climbed to 40 percent above the previous trend.

Going into the present crisis, the US economy was more exposed to real estate than ever before. In the run-up to the S&L crisis, the total stock of US residential property was worth around 104 percent of GDP, and mortgage debt financed a third of that property. In 2001, it was worth around 121 percent of GDP10 and more than 40 percent of it was financed by mortgages. At the end of 2007, Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies estimates, the total stock of US residential property was worth $19 trillion, around 140 percent of US GDP, and more than half was financed by mortgages. If commercial mortgages are included, total mortgage debt was $14.4 trillion, more than 100 percent of GDP.

Since the peak, housing prices have fallen by 18 percent, as measured by the Case–Shiller housing index, whose futures imply a further fall of 19 percent from the peak. Losses in the housing and mortgage markets, when realized, could considerably exceed those in the stock market as of early December 2008.

What does the future hold?

Despite the shared features of the past century’s financial crises—usually, excess leverage somewhere in the financial system and then a breakdown in confidence—the recessions following them were quite different. What determined the length and severity of those recessions was how governments responded: in particular, whether they managed to restore confidence among consumers, companies, investors, and lenders.

An economic crisis becomes a catastrophic recession only if it blocks the provision of capital to businesses long enough to generate widespread corporate failures. This blockage is what made the Asian financial crisis so devastating. Net capital inflows to the region, $93 billion in 1996, turned into net outflows of $12 billion in 1997. Local banking systems just couldn’t provide the capital to plug this gap, foreign banks weren’t prepared to extend credit, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) moved too slowly. As a result, businesses couldn’t finance working capital, let alone investment, and failed to obtain the export financing these countries needed given the high share of exports in their GDPs. Once the flow of credit had been restored, the economies affected by the crisis recovered quickly.

Similar dynamics were at work during the Great Depression, when a combination of bank runs and limited federal controls undermined the financial economy. From 1929 to 1933, almost half of the banks operating in the United States before 1929 failed, as a result of falling prices, the doubling of the country’s debt-service ratio, and the default of more than half of US farm debt.11 Even most of the companies with the strongest credit couldn’t obtain long-term debt capital in the years after the crisis. Moreover, capital had minimal cross-border mobility in the 1930s. With businesses starved of funding, corporate investment fell by more than 75 percent from 1929 to 1933, according to Bureau of Economic Analysis data.

Under less extreme conditions, with the right kind of government intervention, economies can weather even sizable credit crises. From 1981 to 1983, for example, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) data show that 258 US banks failed or required assistance. Nonetheless, nonresidential US investment fell by less than 1 percent in all. During the entire 1980s, almost 750 banks failed and more than 1,500 required assistance, as opposed to 35 during the preceding decade. Yet corporate investment increased by an average of 4.5 percent a year in the ’80s.

Today, the nonfinancial economy goes into the recession surprisingly well prepared: US industrial companies had lower leverage and higher interest coverage than they did going into the dot-com bust, the S&L crisis, or even the oil shocks of the 1970s. How the real economy fares will depend greatly on the way the current policy debate plays out over the next few quarters.

What should companies do?

We do not yet know how the current crisis will evolve. The confidence of consumers, corporations, and investors—a key factor—cannot be forecast. Nor can government policy. Yet research shows that in past recessions, companies pursuing a purely defensive strategy fared less well than their more active counterparts.12 As the economy enters what will probably be a difficult downturn, companies should prepare to seize their opportunities.

Examine the patterns

Although recessions differ, it’s worth understanding how different industries performed during past downturns and what factors determined the speed of recovery. In coming months, as the focus of government policy shifts from fire fighting to economic stimulus, this kind of research will help companies understand the implications for themselves and assess how the evolving macroenvironment will affect them in the next few years.

Overprepare

Most companies already have contingency plans, but few plan as aggressively as they should. It’s worth preparing for the worst—for example, major customers filing for bankruptcy, capital expenditures neeing to be cut in half quickly, or a country sales operation losing access to local-currency working capital. What seems improbable now could become a reality sooner than you expect.

Scan for opportunities

Managing downside risk shouldn’t blind executives to potential upsides. Despite the current turbulence, in most industries it isn’t hard to identify either the companies that will find themselves under pressure or which consolidation and reshaping scenarios might emerge. Instead of reacting to situations on short notice as they arise, invest time now to understand how such forces might affect your industry and what role you want your company to play.

NIGERIAN FOREIGN BASED PROFESSIONALS RUSH BACK HOME FOR JOBS

At about this time last year, the average American based Nigerian professional would not give much thought to a proposition for him to come back to Nigeria and pick up a job. The scenario has, however, changed over the last six months. With massive jobs losses arising from an inclement economic storm that suddenly came upon countries in the highest hierarchy of development, foreign based Nigerian professionals are now becoming more receptive to overtures made to them by Nigerian companies to come back home to work.

The option to come back home has actually been embraced by these foreign based Nigerian that have become victims of massive layoffs in the United States of America especially or are being threatened to be laid off.

The job loss statistics don’t seem to favour Nigerians, the Labour Department had announced that this past October was the tenth straight month of job losses with another 240,000 lost in the preceding month.

Companies that once were the stars of the business firmament were losing their shines and declaring losses. Citigroup announced last month it cut 11,000 jobs in the third quarter, bringing the total number of job cuts in 2008 to 23,000. According to Bloomberg, Citigroup aims to shrink its workforce to about 290,000 employees by next year from 352,000 as of Sept. 30.

Fidelity and Mattel have also announced 1,300 and 1,000 job cuts, respectively just as Ford had said it would cut its North American salaried workforce by an additional 10 percent. General Motors Corp., has also reported big losses and figured to be announcing even more job cuts before long.

Regulators, meanwhile, shut down Houston-based Franklin Bank and Security Pacific Bank in Los Angeles, bringing the number of failures of federally insured banks this year to 19. DHL has also said it would significantly reduce its air and ground operations in the United States and cut 9,500 jobs within the country

Still, the Labor Department’s unemployment report provided stark evidence that the economy’s health was deteriorating at an alarmingly rapid pace. The jobless rate was 4.8 percent just one year ago.

About 10.1 million people were unemployed in October, the most since the fall of 1983. With employers slashing jobs every month so far this year, some 1.2 million positions have disappeared, over half in the past three months alone. Factories, including auto makers, construction companies, especially home builders, retailers, mortgage bankers, securities firms, hotels and motels and educational services, all cut jobs. Private companies cut 263,000 jobs, the most since the country was beginning to emerge from the 2001 recession. It marked the 11th straight month of such reductions.

All the economy’s woes — a housing collapse, mounting foreclosures, hard-to-get credit and financial market may have set a new tone for Nigeria’s gain as some banks and other corporate organizations feverishly woo the foreign based Nigerian professionals.

Just last week, one of the many foreign based that are taking positions in Nigerian banks and other companies resumed at a new generation bank head office in Lagos. He had opted out of Arthur Anderson’s Illinois office for the new job in Nigeria. His reasoning is that business was shrinking for the audit practice of the company because most of the companies on the audit list of Arthur Anderson were more or less folding up.

Another returnee told FORTUNE&CLASS that there is a resurgence of hope in the economic development of Nigeria in the rank and file of Nigerian communities abroad. For this returnee, like another one that spoke with FORTUNE&CLASS the remuneration offered foreign based Nigerian professional to move back to the country are quite better than what their total package in the USA for instance.

Another attraction for Nigerian based foreign professional to start heading back home is the contemplation of his freedom to interact with his or her kith and kinsmen back home in Nigeria.