I recently had the rare opportunity of interviewing Kriss Akabusi MBE, who is a former sprint and hurdling athlete having achieved gold and silver medal positions at the European Championships, World Championships and the Olympic Games. Since then, he has moved on to become a motivational speaker, television personality and businessman. I must admit, I was completely “wowed” at the thought that I was speaking to someone who had achieved the things Kriss has done in his lifetime, and even more “wowed” at the fact that he hasn’t stopped going for gold, which you will read about later on in this post. Kriss himself sounded like such a down to earth and friendly guy, so any nerves I had were quickly put at ease. Please read on to hear more about his inspirational story in an interview which I feel reveals a lot more about Kriss than you can find out there.
For those who do not know you, who is Kriss Akabusi?
I am a 53 year old gregarious man to the outside world, but on the inside in my own private life, I am really an introvert. I was born in 1958 to Nigerian parents who were studying in London. They went back to Nigeria when I was about four and a half years old and left me and my younger brother in the care of relatives until we were fostered in a children’s home shortly afterwards. As soon as I was old enough to make a move, I left and joined the army. The reason why it is important for me to share this side of my story is that I would like people to understand my nurture. I grew up in the UK, so I have a Greco Roman mentality. If I was born [and had grown up] in Africa, I would have seen the world differently. However, in nature, my roots have a far reaching grasp and I find myself acting instinctively as my forefathers have. This is a dilemma that 2nd and 3rd generation Brits of African descent would face.
Wow! I identified completely with what Kriss had just said, having been born and raised in Botswana to Ghanaian parents. He went on to explain that although we are global citizens, we all have that corner of the world where we have an undeniable sense of belonging. I couldn’t agree with you more Kriss.
Well Kriss, how are you enjoying the London 2012 Olympics?
It has been a very busy time for me, but I have to say it is great to see the country come together in the way that it has.
You have enjoyed a great sporting career, could you give us a run down of how you transitioned into motivational speaking?
After having won 2 bronze medals in the 1992 Olympics [not to mention 2 golds in the European championships and gold in the Commonwealth Games of 1990], I retired from sports and was quickly introduced to the world of television where I presented on shows such as The Big Breakfast and various quiz shows. What I also found was that there were a lot of requests for Olympic medallists to speak at schools and clubs and through this I had built a good base of stories. By 1996, this had developed into a tangible business.
And how did you get The Akabusi Company off the ground?
At the time I was a part of the Professional Speakers Association, a self help group which enabled me to further develop the craft of motivational speaking. I got a lot of support from this group and together with the help of my PA, we simply learned the ropes of business by necessity and got The Akabusi Company started.
You have also founded TACT (The Akabusi Charitable Trust). Could you please tell us more about it and how we could support this?
First and foremost you could send money in support of our Woman2Woman micro finance project. It is very difficult when women lose their husbands [especially in the African context]. With a small grant of £100, you can make a huge difference to the life of a widow in Nigeria and her family by enabling her to start a small business and become economically self sufficient. It could be 1 woman donating £100, or a group of 10 women each contributing £10 for the £100 grant. We also do a lot of capacity building to develop women’s businesses. We have helped women in the areas of farming, pharmacy and even one who runs a cafeteria. TACT provides training for young girls aged 14 to 19 who might otherwise be drawn into prostitution. We develop their skills as seamstresses and enable them to enter the fashion industry by providing a £25 grant to start a business. TACT also supports a mental health facility in Nigeria as there is currently so much fear and stigma attached to the illness.
There are other things you could help us with. Volunteering, getting involved in our events and promoting the website. Please give our office a call if you would like to get involved.
I recently read a publication that you have now embarked on pursuing your MBA. What inspired you to do this, and is there an age limit?
There is absolutely no age limit. If you are breathing, you are learning. I believe in life long learning and continuous professional development. I have been a speaker for 20 years and would like to differentiate myself from other speakers and ex-sporting champions. I want to understand business from the strategic point of view. I want to work with bridging the gap between retired athletes and company CEOs. In 10 to 15 years, I really want to engage in international business with the global reach that the MBA provides. There is also a subliminal side to this from my point of view. I would like to be able to advise the Nigerian Government in wealth creation. I need to have that [professional, academic] edge if I am going to relate to Nigeria. It is OK to remain the way I am in the UK, a motivational speaker, but in places like Nigeria, without robust credentials, you just won’t cut it. I even like the idea of being Dr Akabusi PhD in 10 years time. There are other things I would like to achieve such as making a social contribution; actually being a part of something much greater than myself. Employee engagement is one area that stands out to me. In the UK, we have over 1 million youth aged 16 to 24 who are unemployed, and I would like to do something about this.
Kriss, I know you have put your sporting career well behind you, but do you have any thoughts on sports development in Africa?
As a bare minimum, I can only really relate to Nigeria. I remember when I visited my village and engaged with the youth. I had to sprint my hardest just to compete with the children. Unfortunately my views on this subject are negative. There is nothing to encourage sports development over there. They lack the sporting infrastructure, coaches, encouragement, support, administration, officials and the finance to support all of this. I have no doubt you could find over 10,000 Akabusi’s there for sure. But without the support they need, they have not got a chance. I know for a fact that had I grown up there, I would not have had the opportunities to be who I am today. Could I imagine Abuja or Lagos hosting the Olympics? No! Just as an aside, I love the idea of being their sports minister but this would require the appropriate level of remuneration. Sporting ministers and officials in general are compensated very well, it is a given. They really need the right sort of infrastructure and support systems, but in a place where the mismanagement of funding is rife, I just cannot see this happening.
Kriss did not mince his words when he touched on the subject of sports develpoment in Africa. He did express it is regrettably negative, but it is a stark reminder of the fact that funding often finds its way into the wrong hands and is not put to use purposefully. We still have a long way to go in Africa sports development.
Kriss, you are a celebrity, you literally are the Akabusi company, make a difference in Africa through The Akabusi Charitable Trust, are now pursuing an MBA and I have no doubt the list is going to keep growing. Do you have any advice to share with anyone who might be thinking of launching their own business, social enterprise or charitable endeavour?
Absolutely! You are only as good as the company you keep so build a strong and reliable team. You need to have a big vision and always surround yourself with people who are better than you as you can tap into their talents when you need them. Be professional. Be a leader at what you are good at and recognise what you are not good at. Most importantly, you need to keep good company.
That was a thoroughly enlightening and inspirational interview and I am very humbled that Kriss Akabusi MBE devoted some time to speak to us here at Africa on the Blog. So for the rest of us, what are we waiting for? Get your lists out and begin your plan of attack for there is much to be achieved in being a part of a greater thing!
Part of Africontheblog’s series on inspirational African people.