Nimi Akinkugbe is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Bestman Games Ltd, a leading African games company and the African distributor of customized Hasbro games including the world-famous Monopoly board game. The City of Lagos Edition of Monopoly, launched in December 2012, was the first African city edition of Monopoly. Bestman Games seeks to harness the medium of gaming to engage, entertain, empower and educate.
Prior to establishing Bestman Games, Nimi enjoyed a successful banking career spanning 23 years. She rose to the position of General Manager and Head, Private Banking and Director, Stanbic IBTC Asset Management Ltd at Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc. Subsequently, she joined Barclays Bank Plc as Regional Director (West Africa) for the Wealth & Investment Management Division and Chief Country Officer for Nigeria.
Nimi seeks to harness financial literacy and inclusion as tools for youth empowerment, entrepreneurship and economic development. She provides frank, practical insights to create a greater understanding of personal finance and wealth management issues, encouraging Nigerian families to save and invest for long term financial security. In January 2019, Bestman Games Initiatives in collaboration with the Lagos State Ministry of Education introduced Financial Literacy School Clubs as an extra-curricular activity in Lagos State Schools.
Over 60 school clubs have been set up thus far. Nimi holds a Bachelor’s Degree from London School of Economics (LSE) and an MBA from Lagos Business School. She also has a Piano Teaching Diploma (ARCM) from The Royal College of Music, London. Nimi serves as a Non-Executive Director on the Boards of many companies, including Standard Chartered Bank Nigeria Ltd, House of Tara International and The Play Pen (Child Development Centre). She is a member of the Artistes Committee of the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON) and the Institute of Directors (IoD) She is an Assistant Organist at Our Saviour’s Church TBS.
She was recently appointed to the inaugural board of Nigeria Exchange Group Plc. In her spare time, Nimi is a keen orchid gardener, loves boating, writing, travel and playing the piano.
University, Science or Arts?
I was inclined towards the arts from my early years and struggled with physics and chemistry. In my 6th form I had a brilliant economics teacher who brought the subject to life for me and was instrumental in my final choice.
My father worked for UNESCO for several years covering East, Central and South East Africa and brought many discussions about international relations and politics home to us to dissect in numerous informal family discussions. That early exposure motivated my interest and I toyed with the idea of working in an international organization or the foreign service. That informed my decision to combine my Bachelors degree in economics with a special focus on international relations.
Biggest lesson you learnt in University?
University is definitely a life-changing experience that broadens your horizons no end. In many ways what you learn at university is far beyond the academic subjects that you prepare for. It really is a glimpse of the real world.
I attended boarding school from the age of 13. This meant that I had grown accustomed to that regimented way of life that comes with being locked away behind the school walls and conforming to the rules of a small closed community. I studied at the London School of Economics (LSE), which is in the heart of London with numerous possible distractions. University is entirely different because you have the freedom to choose and decide how you will spend your time; you also face the consequences of those choices. That is where many of the values and behaviors that have been instilled in you from your parents and home come to bear to guide you. I learnt about being independent, networking and so on. By far the best part of my university experience was building great relationships some of which have endured till this day.
My parents ensured that we had enough for what we needed but money was never excessive. I learnt how to live on a strict budget and to make my money stretch further. Those skills and a frugal mindset have been a solid foundation for my money behaviour today.
In University, as in life, there was so much to juggle, between study and social life and exploring interests and passions through clubs and societies. Those interests beyond academic studies are so important in life as they help you to build a much more rounded and fulfilling existence.
The main thing you learnt from your first job?
I lasted just 2 days in my very first holiday job where I worked as a waitress in a café in Brighton! I was a little spoilt and just didn’t make any effort and walked away with no lessons at all!
For my NYSC, I worked with Wintrust Limited, a boutique investment and stockbroking firm. This experience opened my eyes to the world of investing. Even though my parents had already instilled in us a culture of savings by giving us pocket money and allowances and encouraging us to work during the holidays, this experience introduced me to the world of stockmarket investing. There was a strict culture of discipline and excellence.
For a period as a young mother, I gave piano lessons receiving my pupils at home. This was a godsend as it meant I could be at home with my children as I earned an income.
Subsequently, I enjoyed a long and fulfilling 21-year career at IBTC / Stanbic IBTC where customer centricity was a core value; we bent over backwards to exceed the expectations of our clients. It was there that I discovered my special interest in personal financial management and how we could transform lives and livelihoods by understanding our clients’ needs and proffering the best financial solutions for them.
Two or three things you have learnt in your career that are not taught in the classroom?
Sadly, money management is not taught in the classroom, so the onus is on parents, guardians, teachers and other stakeholders, to equip children with this most basic skill that will serve them throughout their lives.
Throughout my banking career, the subject of personal financial management was at the forefront of my roles in treasury, private banking and asset management. This is really where I caught the personal finance bug. I developed a keen interest in money management and could see how much better people fared with financial knowledge and information.
Last year, Bestman Games Initiatives, embarked upon an exciting project to establish Personal Finance School clubs as an extra curricular activity, one school at a time, with the generosity of institutions that identify with our mission. It is important to ensure that the next generation is financially literate, to give them the best chance at future financial security.
Who was the greater influence, Mom or dad?
It’s hard to say who was the greater influence; they were a great team. They were both passionate teachers and enjoyed exceptional teaching careers giving my siblings and I an early foundation of strict caring.
A sound education was the major legacy my father would leave us as well as his integrity and dignity. He was very hands on and involved in our school and university choices and was always there on the first day and special occasions. His career with UNESCO saw him travelling extensively whilst my mother created the support and a solid anchor at our home in Dar es salaam.
She was the perfect hostess and was constantly developing herself; she read widely and embarked on music, art and language classes to support us. She was a talented gardener and cultivated the most beautiful gardens in every home that we lived in. In her fifties, she formalized her interest and obtained a diploma in horticulture and floristry, a talent that she shared gratis, in supporting the parks and gardens committee, her church Sunday altars, as well as for numerous brides. Keeping a garden has become a passion of mine; I collect and grow orchids as she did.
At 59 she established The Play Pen, a primary school in Port Harcourt. The school celebrates its 40th year in 2021, a testament to her dedication and passion in establishing a solid foundation and a legacy that has outlived her.
She was very intentional in identifying and cultivating our talents and passions early and invested in them, encouraging us to take them as far as we could. She was instrumental in my obtaining my Piano teaching Diploma. Her influence has been extremely strong.
My parents were also very deliberate about creating a cohesive strong family bond and relationships. They both had a strong faith in God and were deliberate about family prayers and bible study with absolute consistency at home from our earliest years. This seed that they planted has been a great legacy, influence and support along with the solid moral compass they practiced and passed on. They were a tough act to follow!
As a Pianist, what are your interests in music?;
Following my bachelors degree, I obtained a Piano Teaching Diploma from the Royal College of Music where I was exposed to classical music. Whilst such formal training in a particular area is invaluable, it can pigeonhole you in a way, so it is important to explore other genres. I appreciate so many different types of music apart from classical and choral music, from HighLife, Jazz, Pop, RnB, Hip Hop, Afrobeat etc.
I admire our musicians particularly those that haven’t had any formal musical training and are largely self-taught.
I have the honour of serving as one of the assistant organists at Our Saviour’s Church and love playing the Mander Pipe Organ on occasion. One of my to dos is to try to master that instrument; it is regarded as “the king of all instruments!”
What are you reading now?
I don’t read nearly enough. The lockdown has given me time for some great reading. I love to read biographies. However, I spend much more time reading interesting informative articles and motivational material that educate and empower.
At the moment I am reading “From Third World to First: The Singapore Story” by Lee Kuan Yew. It is a fascinating read about what a leader with intent and ambition can achieve in a relatively short period of time in a nations history.
What does relaxation mean for you?
I work very hard so I am very deliberate about building in leisure as well. I love to spend time in my garden among the orchids and butterflies; it’s a sanctuary, a place to just stop and be. I find much peace and tranquility just sitting and unwinding after a busy day.
Before the lockdown a wonderful form of relaxation for me was sailing on Lagos Lagoon with great food and great company.
Music helps me unwind and I manage to play the piano for at least 30 minutes each day, a little longer at weekends.
I love to travel (apart from the flight) and always manage to grab some rest when I am away. It can be quite difficult to switch off completely in your own environment.
The economic impact of Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of philanthropy in Nigeria? What’s your view on helping the less fortunate?
Philanthropy should be a fundamental part of every financial plan with or without a major disaster such as the Covid-19 pandemic. This lockdown has uncovered in a very profound way the extent of the inequalities and the vulnerabilities of the vast majority or our people. It has also opened up a vista of opportunity to support one another starting with your own sphere of influence.
It is also a good opportunity to teach children about giving and philanthropy. It is going to take everyone to do their own bit to beat this virus.
Do you think attitudes towards philanthropy will change significantly after the lockdown?
I hope so but in the past we have seen that people’s memories are sometimes very short-lived and everyone just moves on to the next crisis. I think this pandemic is different though, in its sheer scale and impact on lives and livelihoods.
I hope the emerging culture of giving will stay with us as a people as this lockdown opens our eyes to the plight of the most vulnerable amongst us. The traditional social safety net in our society that is often built around the family is simply not adequate and is gradually breaking down along with the extended family social system as we imbibe aspects of western culture and the more nuclear family. As a people we are naturally inclined to share and give but we need to develop a more structured and formal culture of giving. That is the only way that it can be sustainable.
What are some of the biggest lessons for all from the Covid-19 outbreak?
I think the biggest lesson that I have learned from the Covid-19 outbreak is a realization of what truly matters. We lead such busy lives and Lagos can be somewhat frenetic and hyperactive like any megacity. I hope that for all of us, certainly for me, it has been a time to stop, sit and reflect on what’s important.
It has been a very profound experience, considering your spiritual life, your relationships, your health, your business; we have just never had so much time to just stop. I have valued this time hugely as we may never have such extended time again. I hope that this period will be one of reflection for us as individuals and as a nation as this virus has really forced us to look critically inwards. I hope we will all come out of it changed; more compassionate, more resilient and more determined to make a difference.
I have been struck by the fact that in the midst of this pandemic, most nations of the world have followed an “every man for himself” approach which is so sad in a world that has become so intertwined and which the Covid-19 has made such a stark reality.
This is a crisis that no one in the world is exempt from or can run away from, with airports closed and no one is really welcome anywhere, apart from their own home country. I hope a major lesson from this time is that we have no other country, so we must all, every one of us, buckle down and guide her to greatness.
I have so much admiration for our doctors, nurses and healthcare workers for putting themselves on the frontline to save so many lives. Their talent and selfless sacrifice has been total and we are eternally grateful to them.
Besides that, I must say that the environment has been a huge beneficiary of the lockdown. I have never seen the lagoon and the sky this clear and blue. I think we must become more conscious of the fact that our human actions have had a disastrous impact on the environment and I hope that going forward we will be more conscious of this and do all we can to protect it.
On the role of business in society – what should be the focus of businesses apart from making money?
A business has a duty to its shareholders but it also has a duty to make a positive impact on its community. Increasingly companies are coming together; you can make a much greater impact through collaboration.
Do you think Covid-19 will significantly change attitudes to working from home?
Absolutely. I am enjoying working from home and will certainly want to combine remote working with in-office work. For some businesses there may a reduced need for a physical office once you can connect virtually, but others need a physical presence.
Some of the challenges that I am still working through include getting used to a platform that connects us all, maintaining the cohesiveness and sense of togetherness of the team through meetings and calls and the quality of the network. It is so frustrating when connections drop off. But I sense that once all these issues are sorted out one can be more productive with so many man-hours gained without all the lost hours in the commute to work.
Two things you value the most in a candidate when hiring?;
To start with, I will say that first impressions matter a lot to me. Some interviews have ended even before they got started! For example, if a candidate arrives late and without notice or a reasonable excuse, the interview is probably over before it begins. Appearances also matter and I have turned away some candidates that were so inappropriately dressed.
Beyond that, attitude comes to the fore quite early. No matter their skill set, experience, or even a proven track record of success, the wrong attitude can offset all of that and damage an otherwise thriving team.
I look for initiative, energy and values. Of course, now more than ever it is a huge plus to have people that are very comfortable with technology.
What’s your favourite place to go in Nigeria and abroad?
In Nigeria, it is Ibadan. It has sentimental value for me. I went to the International School Ibadan. After we got married, my first home was there. I think it is very special and it offers a lot given its rich history. We look forward to creating an Ibadan edition of the iconic Monopoly Board game later this year.
Abroad, it is St Lucia. It is a place that I love and that I visit often as I have dear friends that have become family there.
Any interest in sports?
By far my favourite sport is swimming but sadly I rarely get a chance to swim. My regular exercise is pilates which I practice three times a week. I dodge quite a bit too. If there were a way to stay fit and healthy without exercise, I would probably go for it!
Best use of money ever for you.
Investing in my entrepreneurial venture Bestman Games is something that has given me enormous fulfillment in spite of the challenges of entrepreneurs face in Nigeria. Conceiving of an idea and bringing it to fruition is an exciting experience. I grew up playing the London edition of the Monopoly boardgame, so to have been able to create African editions showcasing our own streets, landmarks etc. has been well worth the investment. I love the fact that through our business model we can impact lives through financial education and gaming.
During this lockdown period, I have had time to reflect more on the simpler things of life and I truly appreciated the beauty I have created around us in my garden. It is a great place to spend time in thinking, unwinding and de-stressing. It gives me peace and it is also great for the environment. I encourage everyone to cultivate a garden. Start with one potted plant. It is a wonderful investment.
Who would you like to spend a holiday with?
As soon as the lockdown is over and the virus is no longer a serious threat, I would love to spend a holiday with my family. It has been difficult being apart for such a long time. It would be lovely to spend time together in the same space.
Tea or coffee?
I love a cup of tea and start my day with a cup and with another tea ceremony at 4pm! I say ceremony as I have a wonderful collection of teapots and it is fun using different ones from time to time. I love the Kenyan Highland Teas as well as some Rwandan teas. I also enjoy herbal teas such as the South African Rooibus and some of our local Moringa teas. But I always tend to come back to good old English Breakfast tea. It has captured our hearts and minds!
If you found Buhari sitting next to you at a restaurant, what would be your biggest policy ask?
Power! Power!! Power!! We need to find sustainable solution to encourage investors and fix power. It powers everything. With technology we have a huge opportunity to fast track progress in education and health care. But technology needs power.
Can I have a second big ask please? We must be more deliberate and focused on diversifying the economy as a matter of urgency. Our staggering loss of income from the drop of oil prices is having a catastrophic impact on our economy. Even before the fall, 70% of our revenues was already going towards debt service.
We have been endowed with immense human and material resources. We have the capability of feeding ourselves as well as others; the food and agriculture sector should be supported. We must also invest in our people through education. There is a pool of extraordinary talent in the creative sector which creates hundreds of thousands of jobs, as well as the technology sector which we seem to have a natural flair for, and which can propel our growth. We need to diversify with the urgency that this “new normal” deserves.
What will be your top policy ask for your sector?
Financial education is at the core of what I do so I would ask that financial education be included in the school curriculum. Financially secure families are better able to contribute to vital, thriving communities, which will foster economic development.
Where do you see Nigeria in 10 years?
In spite of the predicament we currently find ourselves in, I am an eternal optimist when it comes to Nigeria. Everywhere I have been, both here and abroad, some of the brightest and the best that I have come into contact with have been Nigerian, and that’s in every field of endeavor.
We must address the very debilitating issue of corruption, which has permeated almost every aspect of our society over decades. The family can provide such a powerful foundation to build character; we need to invest in our families as that special unit is breaking up. Ethics, accountability, leadership; these should be introduced into the school curriculum. With our vibrancy and energy and our entrepreneurship, we have no excuse for not making significant progress in less than 10 years.
Do you think Nigeria should be modelled after India or China?
I don’t think one can just pick up a system off the shelf whether it’s British, American, Indian or Chinese. Yes we must learn from others, but we also have our own unique nuances within our nation, ethnic groups, cultures and traditions that should be taken into account as a system evolves.
Thanks a lot for your time.