Moji Ajele is executive director of BNI Alberta South.
What is BNI and what does it do?
Ajele: With over 260,000 business owners in 70-plus countries around the globe, BNI (Business Network International) is the world’s largest business networking organization.
Our mission is simple, we help our members build powerful personal networks that help them grow their business. Each member is a part of a community of caring, like-minded business owners who are committed to helping each other grow our business and accomplish our dreams.
We have over 500 members in southern Alberta, and over 6,000 in Canada as a whole. One of the things that has helped us be successful is that we measure everything we do in order to insure that our members maximize their return on investment. In the last 12 months, BNI members have generated over 11.4 million referrals resulting in over US$16 billion for one another.
What’s your background and how did you become involved with BNI?
Ajele: I grew up in Nigeria. I entered university at the age of 14, and graduated with a B.Eng in civil engineering and eventually an M.Eng in water resources and environmental engineering. I taught at my alma mater for two years before accompanying my husband to Canada to study for his PhD in mechanical engineering at Dalhousie in Halifax.
When my husband Dele and I decided to home educate our four children, we decided I would be their primary instructor. As our youngest daughter entered high school, I began pondering “What’s next?” Around this time, a friend approached Dele and I to see if we might be willing to purchase her sign company. We took the leap into entrepreneurship in what Michael Gerber calls “a moment of temporary insanity” and purchased the business.
My search for a way to grow that business led me to BNI in 2006. I joined and loved the results I generated for business, but more so, the growth and personal development that I experienced. I quickly learned the BNI system and began assisting with training other members as an ambassador for BNI.
In 2011, when the opportunity to purchase the BNI franchise presented itself, Dele and I decided to take that leap once again. In the past eight years, we have grown from 70 members in Southern Alberta to over 500 highly-engaged business owners working hard to help each other generate new business.
What is your sense of the mood of Calgary business owners when it comes to their business?
Ajele: There is no doubt that the mood is sombre. However, Calgarians are resilient by nature, and many of our clients are optimistic that we will emerge stronger from the current downturn as individuals and businesses.
Incidentally, many of the individuals who were let go from their corporate jobs have decided to go into business for themselves and with the support of the rest of the business community, a good number of them are experiencing success. There is no doubt that our current economic situation has been a long haul, however there are many great stories of success as well.
What are the biggest challenges you’re hearing that Calgary businesses face?
Ajele: A few issues come to mind in this regard: taxes for one, and another is the minimum wage increase. The combination of these two issues has resulted in the closing of the doors of some great retail businesses in the city and that is a shame.
Many of our clients are small business owners and I think the biggest challenge for us at the moment is the uncertainty and lack of confidence that they can survive this downturn because it has lasted so much longer than any other in recent memory.
What’s the best piece of advice you have for business owners considering the challenges they face?
Ajele: I think business owners need to surround themselves with a network of like-minded people. We are more likely to thrive if we work together through strategic alliances than we would if we try to go it alone.
All things being equal, people like to do business with people that they know, like and trust. This is even more true in tough times.
I also highly recommend a couple of books that greatly impacted me. Disrupt You by Jay Samit and Originals by Adam Grant. These books provide insights that can help us re-invent our businesses to thrive regardless of the economic climate we are in.