The Lunch Hour

The Lunch Hour, Andrew Nevin, Chief Economist at PwC Nigeria

Dr. Andrew S. Nevin gained admission to the University of Western Ontario, Canada to study Computer Science and Mathematics at the age of 13. While studying for a PhD at the University of Harvard, he took a break to study for a MA in Philosophy at Balliol College, University of Oxford with a Rhodes scholarship. His career began at McKinsey & Company where he cut his teeth as a management consultant, working in the Toronto and Paris offices. His professional experience has spanned private equity and business strategy consulting. Andrew has also been President of the first international hospital in China where he lived for ten years. He is currently Partner – Financial Services Leader and Chief Economist at PwC Nigeria; he arrived Nigeria in 2012. Andrew is very well integrated into the fabric of Nigerian society, contributing passionately to debates about economic policy and growth. He is Founding Governor, Financial Centre for Sustainability Lagos (FC4S Lagos), a body founded to promote sustainable finance in the capital markets across West Africa, Founding Director of the Africa Institute for Leadership and Public Administration, a professional training institution founded to provide skills enhancement to managers, policymakers and leaders in Africa, Member of the Advisory Board at Lagos Business School (LBS) and Co-founder of Binkabi, a blockchain-enabled trading platform trying to increase the incomes of the 500m farmers in developing countries. Andrew was named Strategy Consultant of the Year for 2010 by the Management Consultants Association in the UK in April 2011. 

“A great holiday will be one with my wife, my older brother and his partner, especially if it included a tennis tournament. That will be great because I am really close to my brother who was really good to me when I was younger. When you get older you appreciate things like that more”.

What influenced your career choice ?

It will be erroneous to say I have pursued a particular career path. I think my story is one of a series of accidents. I went to university very young as a 13-year-old. I gravitated to the “hard subjects” as a computer science and mathematics student. After graduating at 17, I had a desire to explore the world, so I shifted to economics and then went to Harvard to get my doctorate degree. In the middle of my PhD, I then went to Oxford to study philosophy, an experience that left me no longer enamored about mainstream economics but fueled my desire to work in the world. I then joined McKinsey & Company with a plan to be in the working world for a few years and then move back to academics.

As it has turned out, it has taken a lot longer to achieve that goal. But I think after about 34 years out, I have now achieved that objective of knowing a lot about the world. I have been a strategy consultant, private equity investor, I have run 6 companies of various sizes, started a number of companies and come back to play the economist role. I have also had the privilege of doing all of this on a global platform, working for at least decade in 4 different continents (Asia, North America, Europe and now Africa). This has helped me transit to doing a lot of work with policy think thanks.

The biggest lesson you took away from the University?

I was fortunate enough to attend Harvard and then won the prestigious Rhodes scholarship at Oxford. Oxford was a defining experience. I went there to learn Philosophy and when I was done, I felt I could not go back to standard Economics. I think it simply influenced my thinking about the subject. Also, many of my closest friends today are people I met at Oxford.

If you could go back in time, what is the most important career tip you would give a young Andrew Nevin?

I think in my case, I have learnt that we often put too much pressure on ourselves that can be counterproductive. Early success can create a lot of expectations. You do not need to succumb to them all the time. I will tell my young self that since you will be working for so long, be comfortable taking things slow. I think my first wife and I put ourselves under too much pressure. This sort of pressure  doesn’t lead to the best relationships, or performance. I will say “have a little bit of patience, it is a long game and treat yourself kindly as you go through the journey”.

Talk about your first job and the main thing you learnt as a young employee.

It was a privilege to join McKinsey & Company at a time that it was still large enough to be very globally meaningful but small enough to maintain its values. I learnt professionalism, discipline and a habit of logical thinking that still serves me well today. McKinsey was such a disciplined environment back then. I learnt so much from my teams and clients.

Andrew in his Lagos office, sometime in 2019.

Things that you have learnt in your career that are not taught in the classroom?

I think as a consultant, sometimes you do not recognize that your clients are people and not organisations. However, everyone has issues that they are dealing with, from family life to health issues. I have since learnt that it is so important to appreciate clients in this way and to develop an interest in what they are going through or interested in outside the workplace.

Additionally, I have learnt that organizations are political and that if we want to make changes, we need to engage the political process, however that plays out in the work environment.

Influences from home?

My mother was a particularly strong influence. She was a remarkable woman who later in life became a Buddhist. She organized my acceleration in school and supported me through difficult days.

Also Read: The Lunch Hour – Andrew Alli, CEO & Partner at Southbridge Group

What type of music do you like?

I am product of the 1980s and 90s pop and disco so I like Micheal Jackson, Police, Sting, Madonna etc. I also like some of the more modern musicians like Lady Gaga and Nicky Minaj. When working though, I like to put on opera and I really missed going to the opera.

Who are your favourite authors?

I really like Nassim Thaleb and his thinking about academics writing about things in the abstract as though practitioners have not been doing them for a while. The idea of ecosystem thinking is a good example of this. His thoughts on not having an overconfidence in academic discipline is something I identify with. I also like to read about things connected to big issues in society.

So what are you reading now?

The Winner Effect: The Neuroscience of Success and Failure by Ian Robertson and The Body: A User’s Guide by Bill Bryson.

Who’s your best boss ever and why?

Roberto Lipson a famous woman that started the first international hospital in China. I became the President of the hospital. Uyi Akpata the current leader at PwC Nigeria is also a great boss because he always does the right thing. He has a value driven approach to decision making and has a very good feel for what he should be doing and what other people’s responsibilities are. He has also given me wide latitude to do what I want to do and what I do well.

What has been the biggest lesson that you have learnt as a boss?

I have learnt that being the boss takes a lot of energy and you need to allow people express themselves. It is also important to be sensitive to what people want to achieve personally. Also, I feel like I have done so much over the years, and when the team know this, I really have nothing to prove and so you can ask dumb questions! Lastly, I have learnt to enjoy being part of the team. There’s great energy from young people and so make the most of that.

What has been the value of the diversity of your experience working in so many continents over several decades?

It is hugely helpful at this stage of my life because I am usually able to offer something from real life experience when I am asked to make recommendations to work and non-work-related conversations. The diverse network that I have built is also extremely valuable as I know people all over the world.

The spread of Covid-19 has inflicted a huge burden on society and the economy. What in your view has been the biggest lesson from this pandemic?

The first one I will say is that there is a need to bring the concept of resilience to the forefront in how we manage everything, including our economies. We need to start reflecting this in how we measure success. The second thing is to ask the question “what are we organizing for?” For example, the purpose of an economy cannot be only about GDP. It has to be a more people-oriented goal.

Things you value the most in a candidate when hiring?

I look for emotional intelligence and you can tell from the way people express themselves. Some people, for example, are too self-centered in the way they answer questions. The second thing will be the breadth of experience that a candidate has. The last is the raw intellect which is always important to get things done.

What are your favourite places in Nigeria and abroad?

In Nigeria, I enjoy Lagos life. I am able to play tennis and I use to play 5 or 6 times a week. As a sports buff, I am delighted to be able to go to a boxing gym that I found. Abroad, it’s a tough choice because I have been to so many wonderful places. Recently, my wife and I went to the highlands in Western Scotland and that was amazing. There are so many great places around the world. I just hope we don’t ruin it all.

Your favourite Nigerian brand and why?

I would say the Nigerian footballers and athletes. I have been watching Leicester City more recently given the success of the Nigerian players there. Nigerian sport personalities inspire me.

Interest in sports?

Tennis, golf, skiing. I have really missed skiing during the pandemic. As I get prepared for retirement, I have been getting into chess. Ice hockey is another thing I love.

Nevin at a golf course in Tremblant resort, Quebec Canada, September 2020

Best use of money ever for you.

Investing in people so education is certainly a big thing. I would add that travel is also a great thing to invest in because it really expands your perspective. Lastly, I would say the investments I have made in sports have always been fun.

Who will you like to spend a holiday with?

A great holiday will be one with my wife, my older brother and his partner, especially if it included a tennis tournament. That will be great because I am really close to my brother who was really good to me when I was younger. When you get older you appreciate things like that more.

Nevin at a family wedding on Christmas Day in Bangkok, China, 2019

Where do you see Nigeria in the next decade?

I am optimistic because I feel the country has no choice but to confront some of the big issues that need to be addressed for it to make a big leap forward. There is so much talent in the country and in the diaspora and I think we have to find a path forward for the country. I want to live long enough to see the big change happen. I remember speaking to the former Arthur Anderson executive Dick Kramer when he was leaving the country after 40 years and I am hopeful that I will be happier about the progress the country will have made when I leave than he was when he retired and left the country.

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