One Of The Most Successful Architectural Partnership In Northern Nigeria
Written by Tijjani Muhammad Musa
Arc. Ibrahim A. Haruna FNIA, PPNIA, mni needs no introduction to those in the building industry of Nigeria. But to those outside this very important part of the Nigerian economy, he is one of the earliest professionals the North has produced. A Fellow of Nigerian Institute of Architects, he is also a Director/Partner in Multi-Systems Consultants Kano Nigeria, one of the foremost architectural design and consultancy firms in the country.
He is the man who in 1980 started and sustained one of the most successful architectural practice till date. It is a partnership in Nigeria called Multi-Systems Consultants Kano, which happens to be the consultancy practice that has lasted the longest, 37 years so far in Northern Nigeria. The secret to this success, which has eluded many consultancy set-ups in the construction industry is what we are out to find out with this write-up.
Before we do that, just to let you know our design personality is the first architect from Kano and the only to climb through the ranks of the Nigeria Institute of Architects and become its president. A Senior Lecturer at Ahmad Bello University, Zaria (ABU Zaria) for more than 2 decades now, on a part-time basis, teaching, moulding and grooming young architects for free, as part what he humbly considered his social responsibility service to the society.
Arc. Ibrahim Abdullahi Haruna is an icon in the building construction industry, whose impact has not only influenced professional architects, but engineers, contractors, project managers and many more in Kano, the north, Nigeria or even the continent of Africa, as well as the whole world. This is because of the fact that his services via their consultancy activities in Multi-Systems has been sought after in other continents of the globe.
But essentially, what do Arc. Ibrahim A. Haruna and his partners in the persons of Arc. Adamu Muhammad Tahir and Arc. Mansur Kurfi Ahmadu have and are doing with their architectural practice that sees them succeed where several others before and after their coming into existence have failed? Well, it took us three hours, a tea break and a sumptuous dinner to unravel these highly elusive secrets.
It all started in the garage of his house located at Bashir Maitama Avenue, off Shehu Kazaure, Hotoro GRA Kano in October, 1980. The dream to establish such an architectural practice was however born when Arc. Ibrahim Haruna was a student in the school of Architecture, ABU Zaria. Along with Arc. Adamu Tahir, they nursed the idea of setting up the consultancy when they eventually graduate.
This they eventually did, but not before working for some years with the Kano State Civil Service, in the Ministry of Works and Housing under the tutelage of the principled and no-nonsense Arc. Musa Tanko Waziri, the very first architect Kano State produced way back in 1964. Arc. Haruna as a dedicated civil servant rose to the rank of Chief Architect of the State.
The Architect eventually voluntarily resigned his appointment. Starting from scratch, having only nothing but hope and the will to succeed, he agreed with his initial partner to commence the Multi-Systems project. Testing unsure waters, they planned to play it safe, rather than risk it all. Arc. Ibrahim Haruna accepted to commence the practice, while Arc. Adamu Tahir would remain in his employment until they are certain the venture would work.
Soon enough Arc. Adamu did join the new company, which was originally to be called Sahara Consultants, going by the university dream days. But it ended up being called Multi-Systems Consultants as a result of the multiple nature of the services the company would end up offering its multiple, multi-facet and multinational clients.
After just 2 years of existence, the 2 principal partners felt the need to invite their third partner, who was carefully selected to fill up a niche. Town-planning services kept cropping up in several of their designs and commissions. Soon it became apparent that someone with that knowledge was required on a regular basis and Arc. Mansur A. Kurfi, who was not only an architect, but also a Town Planner was chosen to fill in the gap.
Arc. Mansur Kurfi being the most qualified became the third cornerstone of the Multi-Systems consultancy. The practice in its constant human development drive later sponsored him to obtain a Masters degree in Project Management from the University of Reading in United Kingdom, just like it sponsored Arc Ibrahim Haruna to attend the prestigious National Institute for Policy & Strategic Studies Kuru, Jos in 1991.
These trio or “Three Musketeer Architects” have set an unprecedented record of running the one and only project consultancy firm to have surpassed all expectations, whether positive or negative, to the amazement of many professionals and organizations, both with and outside the building industry. How did they do it for close to 40 years so far without the predictable breakup accustomed to most, if not all of such collaborative journey?
This and many other intriguing questions are what we sought to find out from the former Nigeria Institute of Architects (NIA) President in this revealing, life enriching interaction.
Arc. Ibrahim Haruna started off with pointing out the fact that for any collaboration to work successfully, all partners must of essence be selfless, while at the same time be sincere in their resolve to embark on the journey, together. Then they must wish for each other what they all wish for themselves as dictated by their faith, having the fear of Allaah (God) in their hearts. He said this is a crucial factor to consider, if they truly intend the business partnership to last.
He continued by saying business partnership is akin to marriage and he sees no reason why anybody would agree to marry a woman and live with her for many years, yet fail to agree to work together with someone towards seeking something of mutual benefits to both of them. Whereas the union between a husband and wife is more dangerous, since they spend their most vulnerable times together, but with business partners they are only together for just a part of the day.
Marriage he reiterates further, is more complicated to dissolve. Since to divorce a marital partner does not necessarily mean both would cease to relate to each other any longer. This is because separation between the parties involved can never be permanent, most especially where what he termed as “indivisible assets” i.e. children are involved.
But within a partnership, Terms & Conditions are often provided for any dissatisfied member to call it quits and ask for division of the company assets, thereby taking his share and moving on. So it is much easier to be in a business partnership than to be in a marriage contract. Yet individuals find it easier to decide on marriages than agree on a business venture. Could it because no formal documents are signed in most cases of the former as are done in the latter?
Fundamentally however, what is most likely to cause the major problem in any business partnership is, money. Some partners fail to sit down from the on-set and agree among themselves about profit sharing formula, subject to each partner’s contributions or role. And how many relationships between individuals have been lost and lives of businesses destroyed due to this very sensitive issue?
Here, often self-centeredness can come into play and misunderstanding would ensue, which could then lead to disharmony and later separation. But, with everything laid out in clear terms in the partnership agreement right from the on-set, you could either choose to be patient, forgive each other and continue or decide to end the journey, if need be. It should be that simple.
Another vital ingredient for a successful partnership is for the intending partners to have known each other for quite a while. It is not advisable for those planning to collaborate in a business venture to just meet each other as mere acquaintances. And just because they fancy each other’s talents and abilities or other factors to decide they want to become partners and initiate the process of partnering.
For Multi-Systems, at least that is one fundamental thing they believe should not be toyed with, most especially towards creating a partnership that works. For instance Arc. Haruna and Arc. Adamu knew each other from their secondary school days way back in 1964, where they started out together as classmates and friends in Form 1 until they finished their West African School Certificate in 1968, and the Higher School Certificate in 1970 all at Rumfa College, Kano.
Thereafter, they again both got admitted in to the Department of Architecture, ABU Zaria as earlier mentioned. After their five years sojourn in the university’s Samaru Campus, they both worked in the same Building Division of Kano State Ministry of Works. It is therefore their strong belief that this could be a possible factor for the success of their architectural consultancy establishment. They knew themselves closely from the beginning.
Also Arc. Mansur Kurfi is very well known to them, right from his admission into School of Basic Studies (SBS ABU ZAria) where they closely interacted too. Here was laid the grounds for their understanding each other very well. Living on campus together, they knew each other’s strength and weaknesses, hopes and aspirations, dispositions, likes and dislikes etc.
So, they were fully aware of their individual potential, temperaments, talents, dedications, tolerance, patience and forbearance. “You just don’t pick someone off the street in one day, just because you like their looks or how they laugh, talk, walk etc and say ‘Hey come, let us start a partnership’. You must know each other inside out.” Arc. Haruna emphasized. That is what they would recommend.
Next most important thing is not to hold grudges against each other as collaborators in a business pursuit. If any misunderstanding should manifest, the stakeholders in the agreement should each shed their pride and ego, humbly sit down and seek to hear each other out. Here, the parties involved should each explain sincerely what wrong they think has been done and by who.
And whoever is found guilty of any act that is contrary to the principles and norms of the partnership should acknowledge his mistakes and accept the necessary corrections suggested. What usually prevents the above from happening is lack of patience on the part of some partners, who would feel their status has not been duly respected as it ought to be, despite the glaring facts and evidences of their wrong doings.
Then of course there are external elements, spoilers, devils advocates etc who would try to poison the minds of the angered partners by evil insinuations, suggestions, bad-mouthing and so on, thereby making the situation even worse. It is very vital to ensure such kind of persons and their bad influences are kept at bay. Arc. Ibrahim Haruna did cite some examples from their experiences over the years to buttress this point.
Another interesting thing to note is that with all due respect and apology, wives and mothers on their parts have their short-comings in ensuring a sustainable business partnership last. This is due to their sympathy and concern for husbands or sons and daughters, to the extent that they tend to be over-protective, rationally or otherwise. They should therefore be kept away from the business. A clear case of “Do not mix business with pleasure.”
He said un-checked family members may tend to interfere with the company interest when they try to safe-guard the interest of their person in the partnership, which is necessitated out of love, care and sentiment. Often without knowing the details of what transpired, they would instigate a reaction from a partner that might jeopardize the well being of the collaboration and often does irreparably too.
Such persons should be given access by partners involved to enjoy the gains and benefits of the collaboration due to them from the business, but should not be allowed to exert undue influence in the decision making of the organization. Members should ensure that they have empathy for each other and should express sincere care about anything of joy or pain that may likely happen to their colleagues.
Continuing with his “science” dropping, Arc. Haruna said partners must never forget to create an exit route in the agreement terms of the business before takeoff. This is necessary so that at any point in time one of the partners feel aggrieved and nurses the desire to quit the project, he or she can very easily do that.
Unfortunately, many would erroneously assume there might not be a need for such a clause in the business terms of reference when they are starting off, only for them to discover their folly too late. What they would advise is; Spell out in clear terms who is who, who gets what, who does what and stuffs like that. This is so nobody is unduly treated or remunerated. This will also ensure appreciation of each other, mutual respect, fairness and justice at all times.
To be continued…