Bigmanism: a canker destroying local businesses


“If anybody has ever believed or still believes in the future of businesses in Ghana, I pride myself of being number one. I am not unconscious to the various uncertainties that confronts the Ghanaian businesses. I am also aware that it’s not exclusive to only Ghanaian businesses.

However, there seem to be a general attitude of the average Ghanaian entrepreneur that threatens the life of businesses more than the external threats we trumpet. It is what I call: ‘Bigmanism’.

To be fair, it is not just a problem with entrepreneurs. I believe that it is a well known Ghanaian phenomenon. Is it not curious enough that a tertiary student, unemployed graduate would be using the latest version of an iPhone or even more than one mobile phone with different sim cards all of which are fed with airtime and data even though s/he can hardly afford two meals a day? They wear all manner of ‘designer’ expensive dresses, watches and shoes just to create an impression on social media that all is well – how sad indeed!

This sense of ‘bigmanism’ I believe is seated deep at the core of our cultural upbringing. In our culture as Ghanaians, we have been raised to make a point to the outsider at the expense of our own comfort in the name of being hospitable. How do I mean?

In the early days of a typical Ghanaian home, there are crockery that are not used until a certain visitor that is considered important visits. Hardly would chicken be prepared to be enjoyed until a ‘supposed’ respectable person comes around – the beginning of impressing outsiders which was termed ‘hospitability’.

This is how the average Ghanaian was brought up (I agree that a lot of changes have happened since then). Therefore, deep within the average Ghanaian is the quest to appeal and make a point to the outsider that all is well when in actual sense all is not well.

Unfortunately, the same attitude is transferred into business by the average Ghanaian – the quest to look good outside. It seems to me that the typical Ghanaian is more concerned about impressing others at the expense of his or her own comfort and even the future. The average Ghanaian loves to look impressively good even though s/he may be suffering inside; there is a carved social mantra for that life – namely; ‘outside gentility, home cry’.

Somebody that started a business three years ago; the business has just started making profit and he is already flying first class; going on holiday vacations and sponsoring partners as well. He is now driving a V8 four-wheel vehicle or classic car with a high maintenance cost.

Even though where he used to live was decent enough, he has now moved to stay in a supposed elitist or upper class residential area in the city paying rent in foreign currency (US$) that could have been invested in the business but seems unperturbed for as long as his ‘bigmanism’ euphoria is satisfied.

Thereafter they buy properties with the corporate resources in same elitist residential areas thus dissipating the same working capital of their companies to impress and keep up with the Joneses and so-called bigmanism canker. He would be conspicuously noticed by announcing himself at every function by spending extravagantly to prove a point of success unattained (success that has not arrived yet).

Sadly, all of these expenditures are usually from the corporate account because they have not yet separated their personal account from that of the company’s. “Many of them do not know that ‘progress’ is not the same as ‘arrival’.”

The fact that you are progressing does not mean you have arrived. I have taken notice of world successful CEOs’ of whom success can be acclaimed yet I am always puzzled at their simplistic lifestyles. Under normal circumstances, they are supposed to be extravagant yet they are as simple as the word itself.

Ghanaian entrepreneurs lack the virtue of patience! The Ghanaian entrepreneur does not acknowledge the truth that at the core of every success are sacrifice and patience, otherwise known as “delayed gratification.”

If you are in a hurry to be rich and noticed; you will never succeed in business. The last desire of the business man is to desire to be rich; rather, desire to be a problem solver with your business. True success does not respond to the desire to be rich but the desire to solve humanity’s challenges and success would chase you pants down!

It is disheartening to know that most at times these supposedly MDs’ and CEOs’ who are living lavishly have challenges paying salaries, operational costs of the business and a host of others.

I had an encounter with a CEO of an unnamed Micro Finance company. The meeting was necessitated because his business was suffocating and needed a bail out. I noticed that on the first day of our meeting, he brought one expensive car. On our second meeting, I saw that he was driving yet another expensive car. I told myself he does not really mean business. I wasn’t surprised that his business couldn’t survive. The CEO was interested in looking big other than saving the business.

Every true entrepreneur cannot and I repeat, cannot live lavishly whilst his/her business suffers. If you understand the calling of entrepreneurship, you would know that your business is your life not a means to your impressionist lifestyles. You would again appreciate that your business is actually like your first child; and you would do anything and everything to protect it and make sure it survives even at the expense of your comfort.

All visionaries of global brands like KFC, Amazon, Coca-cola, Pepsi, Microsoft, Apple and a host of others have one story line – ‘delayed gratification.’ If Ghanaian businesses are going to outgrow their entrepreneurs and become celebrated global brands then the entrepreneurs must learn to do away with the sense of ‘bigmanism’. There is no point proving a point. There is no need trying to look successful when you can actually be successful.

If you have to use a commercial vehicle a.k.a ‘trotro’ use it, if you have to buy from that roadside food vender, please for the sake of your business do it. If you have to fly on economy class, don’t forget that it is the same plane with the same captain and same flying hours. If you cannot afford a vacation now, you owe no one an explanation as to why you cannot go on vacation. Your drive should be the success of the business not looking big.

Don’t forget that if you fail, these same individuals would use you as a case study for failure lessons and some would use you as a teacher-learning material. The future is bigger and exciting than your lifestyle today but your sense of ‘bigmanism’ is getting in the way. Let me leave you with these quotes from these great men of God; “Do not fake what can be real.” – you want to be successful, you can be successful, don’t fake it if you have not become successful yet.

“No matter how fast you run on the wrong way, you will never reach your destination.” – Dr. David Oyedepo. The path of ‘bigmanism’ has never made anyone successful. Running at a speed on this path has only one promised end – failure. “If you don’t know death, look at sleep;” (Akan proverb). Dear Ghanaian Entrepreneur, do not misconstrue your ‘progress’ to be ‘arrival’. Beware, Bigmanism kills!”

>>>The writer is the Managing Director of Credence Micro Credit. She can reached on [email protected].

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