There are those in life who want to see you fail. They take a special perverse pleasure in waiting for your downfall. If instead, you should succeed, they will try their utmost to engineer your failure. That’s no situation to find yourself in when it takes place among your social circle, but when it happens in the workplace, you can find yourself on a collision course that is impossible to avoid.
This sort of problematic behaviour from a work colleague is especially disconcerting when it’s coming directly from your line manager. I’ve experienced this kind of issue twice in my work life, and on both occasions, I found myself deflecting the sexual frustrations of white women who were invariably fun to have a drink and a laugh with down at the pub, but who in the office were a real nightmare.
“Look at me when I’m talking to you,” she screamed; slamming her fist against the desk and throwing her voice across the office with all our junior colleagues sniggering. We had been in disagreement for the past few minutes. It had started at the line manager’s desk, but now, I had returned to my own to continue with the task she had set me. But she was still angry. This stressed-out woman whom Ghanaians called “The Wasp Queen” had the gall to speak to me in a way that not even my mother would have dared much-after my sixteenth birthday.
A Clash of Personalities…
I turned to look at her with such slow, deliberate scorn that I saw her visibly shiver, while desperately trying to hold it together. “What?” I said. “I told you I would speak to the client as you’ve asked. But I don’t see the problem, and I’m not going to pretend that I do see a problem when I think you’re clearly wrong.
I brought in new business to the company. I can’t force the client to change their budget constraints because you want them to pay us in December to boost the annual figures you must send to head office in Paris. The client will pay us next month, in January, in the New Year. That’s not my fault. No need to be screaming at me across the office. I brought in new business; a new 30-second commercial, which I sold to the client myself. Wrote the script myself, and produced on a shoestring budget right here in Ghana, without any help from anyone. What more do you want?”
She looked exasperated, and then tongue-tied as if she was thinking something in her native Finnish that she couldn’t quite translate into English. “Have you finished?” I asked, waiting now for permission to look away… to get on with my work. She turned away instead to get on with her calculations without as much as another word. But I think that was it. It all fell apart at that moment. We had reached the point of no return. She had decided there, and then, that I was to be expendable. A woman who revelled in “breaking men’s balls” was about to attempt to break my spirit. She was wrong. She had tried to shame me to the group to disguise the fact that she was wrong. And I had told her to her face that she was wrong, and in front of everyone.
She called me at home later that night to apologise. However, she and I already knew the damage was done. “We’re both strong-headed,” she had quibbled.
I thought, Yeah…You may come to Ghana and speak to these people in their own country as if they are ignorant children. But I am nobody’s boy. Both of my parents are long deceased. And even today, at nearly 50 years old; I would never dare speak to anyone sixteen years my senior in such a rude and obnoxious tone. I wouldn’t speak to my gardener that way.
What I actually said to her was this; “I don’t mind you having a go at me since you’re supposed to be my manager. If you feel you have something to shout at me about, I’d prefer if you took me aside and said it privately. Like, ‘Look, Paul, this is completely out of order, etcetera, etcetera and so on.’ Instead of shouting at me across the office with all the junior staff giggling. I don’t appreciate that at all. I’m not a child. And I don’t expect to be treated like one. As long as we understand that, then you and I will get on just fine.” But I knew then my words were futile.
Redundant in the Motherland
It was already too late to be patching things up, of course. I had seen the fear in her eyes. A few weeks later, the new CEO called me into his office to say that they were making me redundant. “The clients don’t want to work with you,” he said.
“Fair enough,” I replied. I’ve only got two, and the Vodafone people have already told me that I’m too direct. I’m cool with that.”
“You can either leave today, or you can work until the end of the month, which is next week,” he continued.
This man I could barely look at. I had never met a more rude and obnoxious person in my life. The creatives called him Count Dracula, and the South African accent didn’t help you warm to him at all.
“If it’s all the same to you,” I said, “there are a few things to finish off on Mitsubishi campaign. So, I’d prefer to work until the end of the week to complete handover to a couple of the other guys.”
“Fine,” he said, and I went downstairs to tell the team that I’d just been made redundant. It couldn’t have taken me any time whatsoever because I saw a few of my colleagues smirking in the background. Within minutes, I was in the back of a taxi heading home.
The Final Straw
When I came into work the following morning, HR came down to tell me that the CEO wanted to see me in the boardroom. What now?
“I hear you went into the creative department blabbering your mouth off yesterday,” he said.
“Telling everyone how horrible this place is.”
“Excuse me. Who told you that? I said no such thing.”
“That’s not the kind of behaviour I expect from an adult.”
“I had to tell the team that I was made redundant and would be leaving at the end of the week. Whoever told you something different; you can bring them here in front of me, and let them tell me what I am supposed to have said.”
“I can see from your reaction that you never said it,” he went on. Why would someone tell your line manager that you said that?”
“I don’t know. My line manager will tell you herself that people here say one thing to your face and another thing behind your back. Go ask her.”
“I’m fine standing, thank you.”
“Sit down, I said!” he barked.
“Look, mate, I don’t know who you think you’re talking to, but we have nothing further to say to each other. So, I don’t need to stand or even sit here listening to your crap anymore. Have a good day!”
Doing Business in Ghana
So ended the dream job in Africa. I went downstairs, picked up my jacket, and walked out the door. They had given me $12,000 for a year’s rent upfront on a place to live. I had found a pretty decent three-bedroom house among the locals for half that price and banked the balance. There were still three months left on my rental agreement and a severance cheque in my pocket for $15,000 to bank. I could hang around in Ghana for quite a while longer since I’d barely spent any of my monthly salaries so far.
Weeks passed. I getting to know all corners of Ghana better than many Ghanaians. Then one day, I bumped into my former client at Mitsubishi while out shopping at Accra Mall.
“Where have you been?” he asked.
“I’ve been here, you know. Getting to know the country.”
“We thought you’d gone back home to England.”
“Not if I can help it.”
“What’s happening at the agency?”
“I have absolutely no idea.”
“Your two replacements together aren’t worth half of you.”
“That’s nice of you to say so,” said I, a faint smile licking the corners of my lips.
“Maybe you’ll come and see us in the New Year. We may have some work for you.”
“I will. I sure will. Nice to see you.”
“And you, too, Paul.”
Jobs for The Expatriates in Africa
It’s sometimes the little things in life that make your day. That brief exchange earned me over $25,000 a year for the next five years from one client alone. Who would have thought that I would be working less for more money and that something good would have fallen apart for something better to replace it?
“We don’t like what the multinational ad agency is doing,” said the French MD on my visit to their Accra offices in the New Year. “We liked what we were doing with you. Your TV commercial is a big success. Why don’t you set up your own ad agency? We will be your first clients. You could offer you Mitsubishi, Suzuki, and maybe, even Citroen.”
I had relocated from the dole queues in London for a dream job in Africa with one of several multinational ad agencies that have descended on the continent. Like Cambridge Analytica, these large multinational corporations earn several million dollars per year from advertising in Africa. Social media, including Facebook and Google, are an essential part of the tools they use to reach growing numbers of African customers, consumers, and expatriates. People like to talk about “Poor Africa” without ever having set foot in a single country on that vast and diverse continent. All they know is the newsfeed and the begging-bowl messages they see.
Social Media and the Internet Are Changing Africa for Good
Even ordinary farmers in Africa today may use their mobile phones to receive crop prices and other industry-related forecasts, pay bills, and much more. Consequently, a majority of people may still only access the Internet on mobile phones, but Google and Facebook are well-aware of the potential value of a billion or so new African users. That’s why these companies are currently investing in the region in no small measure.
At Paul Boakye Associates in Accra, we used Facebook ads to grow customer loyalty for brands such as #MisubishiGhana or #GTPfashion. In this way, we helped clients to translate “likes” into real sales and growth. The number one site in Ghana is Facebook. The social media giant has millions of page views each day with eyeballs clicking on ads at a much faster rate than surfers do in America or Europe.
Before setting up on my own in Accra, I visited my former employers one last time. The office was deserted. Four more creatives had walked out that December. The office was dead and filled with interns. There was no sign of Count Dracula. He hadn’t appeared for months, they said. Even the Wasp Queen herself was absent. Not a word to the clients, the few remaining staff members said. Nestlé must never know. Hadn’t they already guessed that all the brains had left the building a long time ago?
- Read Part 1: How Social Media Landed Me a Dream Job in Africa