00:32 - Let's meet you, Serge
12:44 - How did get your scholarships?
20:03 - Did your mom eventually come to terms with your profession?
24:34 - Can you give us a glimpse of your career journey between 1998 and 2021?
34:39 - ...and how did you manage working in several industries?
37:50: Corporate law or litigation? Your honest opinion on which is the best career to choose.
39:46 - What interests and skills gave you an advantage in your career?
45:43 - How would you describe corporate law in tech compared to finance, manufacturing, government and every other industry you've worked in?
53:19 - What other skills did you have to learn to become exceptional in your career?
59:02 - What are the current trends in corporate law and tech that we have to keep up with?
1:05:57 - How can tech companies and innovators navigate regulations in Africa?
1:15:22 - What other interests do you have outside practising corporate law?
1:18:54 - How do you maintain work-life balance?
1:23:38 - How do you stay productive?
1:27:25 - After 28 years of practising law, what are your future plans?
Serge Ntamack: Becoming a lawyer was not a, I'll say, the end in itself. It was just for me a means of being just someone with the freedom to be able to help others achieve some dreams and do what is right. As much as possible I could have been something else. But I just felt that law was maybe what I sensed was the best way for me to be able to do that and also discover the world.
And I was very curious, I would say I was very curious about discovering the world, hello, everyone.
Kolawole Oluwanifemi: Welcome back to Expert and African, where I share the stories of African tech specialists and how they climb the ladder to become experts. Every week, you get to learn valuable insight about different African experts in different industries, and you get to have an insight into what goes on in those industries. Get recommendations. If you're planning to start a career in those industries, so just general inspiration on how to get better in any career you've chosen or any tech career you've chosen. Today, I have an interesting guest on this podcast. His name is Serge Ntamack. He is a Cameroonian policy expert, and he has been in the field for over 17 years.
But particularly he spent almost 15 years at Microsoft. Leading compliance, policy, legal affairs. That is huge. And that is the part of the conversation I can't wait to get into. Up until December 2021, he was the Head, Corporate, External and Legal Affairs at Microsoft. Initially, he was leading legal affairs for Francophone Africa.
But at some point, he started covering MEA. So without further ado let's meet Serge. I'm happy to have you here today.
Serge Ntamack: Hi, Nifemi, pleased to be invited. My pleasure. Thanks.
Kolawole Oluwanifemi: So let's get into this conversation. “Let's meet you, Serge” is a very good conversation starter, but I don't want you to get lost in that. So you can just start with where you grew up, how you started, your academic background, how you got into law to have a legal background. So let's start with that.
Serge Ntamack: It's a very interesting story to tell, very interesting. My parents were both working in banks.
So I moved a lot when I was very young. If I recall, actually I didn't spend more than two or three years in a single place. I didn't really make friends when I was in high school or before that I was moving a lot around Cameroon, I spent the majority of my life growing up in the capital of Cameroon. It's a very hilly place.
It's a bit of how Abuja is in Nigeria. It has a very good climate, very quiet place, very administrative world I think, everybody wearing ties and looking serious, but it's very different from the other big cities in... So I grew up there the only boy in the family of women, sisters. I used to read a lot, still a very avid reader.
I can read at least two or three books per week. I use to read more than that, but to date, so probably to read two books every week, but I'm trying to keep up that rhythm. So I was always been interested, but very curious.
And I remember that dad used to travel quite a bit as a banker. And he was reading his newspapers every day and once he drops the newspapers, I always take them and read them. And he was always chasing me. "Where are my newspapers in this house?" I know one person who is always taking my newspapers. It was very interesting. It was like a game between him and I. I was reading a lot.
So I got interested in politics, in foreign countries, foreign cultures. I don't know where that came from. Maybe because my parents were bankers, I don't know, but I always had that sense of justice and things had to be, there are principles you have to follow principles.
And I remember once at school, one of my neighbors, I think, he was basically cheating. So I wrote a note on a small piece of paper. I sent him saying, “stop doing that. If you get caught I will not be the one that defend you. But now I've seen it. So please stop it.”
And he shot back and said, “Yeah, on one condition. If you help me.”
So, a sense of justice. If you want, right and wrong. But very interestingly, my parents, especially my mother, She didn't want me to get into law. She was, of course, as most parents, she was dreaming of me being a doctor or being an engineer.
I think I have very conventional parents. So because I'm more open with my kids, “do whatever you want, as long as it pays you a good salary and gives you some sort of a structured life.” But my parents were like, “you don’t have to be a lawyer, so you have to be a doctor because that's very prestigious.” And something in me is always fighting them. Everything they told me…say, my mom was like, I want you to be a doctor. I say, okay, I'll do everything not to be a doctor. So I became very less interested in mathematics, and physics, and I'm more interested in literature and she was very disappointed.
And then she said, “Okay then, I want you to become a professor, okay?” And that's where I started dreaming of becoming a lawyer because I thought it would be. I think that sense of justice in me would be maybe just an opportunity to help people and also gave me some sort of freedom.
Because I am a very open and free person. I hate boundaries and things like that. And I told myself, “look, being a lawyer, it's very fascinating, because then you can define what you want, what you do. You can define who you can pick up as clients. You are basically free of doing whatever you want.
And my mom was like, “no, I don't want you to be a lawyer because then you go to defend criminals. You get into trouble, we don't want that.” Then I told her, “look, if you want me to become a lawyer, then I would get into politics.”
She’s like, “no politics!” It was a very interesting conversation. I got very interested in getting into that for all those reasons. And basically, becoming a lawyer was not the end in itself. It was just for me a means of being just someone with the freedom, to be able to help others, achieve some dreams and do what is right.
As much as possible I could have been something else. But I just felt that law was maybe what I sensed was the best way for me to be able to do that and also discover the world. I was very curious, I was very curious about discovering. And I also felt that being a lawyer would be a good opportunity for me to do that. That's how I got into law.
So I studied in Cameroon initially, I got a law degree in Cameroon. Then again, I move a lot. I moved between three universities in Cameroon. Again, because of my family moving around a lot. But it's not bad actually, because it gave me a fairly good exposure to my country.
I think I went to a lot of places in Cameroon. I know the country, I was able to interact with people and knowing the local language has helped a lot. I can tell. So, yeah, I did my law degree in Cameroon. Then, I started working. I started working after my law degree because I wanted to be independent from my family financially.
I started working after my degree. I started working as a lawyer in a bank surprisingly. My parents were both bankers. For the first job I got in a bank as an associate, a legal associate. And then I moved…
I was lucky enough to be recruited by a prominent organisation in Cameroon. Which is the African Intellectual Property Organization, we'll come back to that later, perhaps. At least, I spent two and a half years - three years there. And then I went to do a postgraduate in South Africa, in Pretoria. Again that hunger of discovering the world, and Nelson Mandela is one of my favorites. He's actually one of my role models when it comes to life.
So I was always dreaming of visiting South Africa and hopefully meeting him. So I actually applied to law courses in South Africa, and was admitted to the University of Pretoria.
And the good thing was that it was a dual degree. So it was actually a joint program with University in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. I got a scholarship for that. So I did my master's degree in South Africa. Part of it is in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
And then I finished that part of my life by spending six months in Switzerland. And as part of the law degree I did a few months at the World Trade Organization, it was more of an internship/consultancy. So that's basically how I became a lawyer and my legal journey as a student.
Kolawole Oluwanifemi: How did you get your scholarships?
Serge Ntamack: That's a good question actually. I think three things. You’re right about hard work, but it's also luck and the ability to seize the opportunities. Seeing the opportunities and seizing them. When I started to work as a banker, it was 1998, things were very much manual at that time. If you can recall, Internet in 1998, especially in Africa, was accessible to only very few people. I remember my first email account, I think that operator doesn't even exist anymore.
But when I landed the job, at the African Intellectual Property Organization in early 2000, late 1999 I remember when the HR team was doing a tour, was showing me the facility and my desk, etc. The HR director told me, “this is your computer. You have access to the Internet.” and I asked him, “Hey, hang on. So you're saying I have access to Internet? 24 hours a day?”
He said, “yeah, It's always connected.” I was like, “what!?” And I sensed that it was like my window to the world. That is something that I can do with that access to the Internet and I'd say it was something that became a defining moment in my life because then I started working there and being able to have access to the Internet.
Back then in Cameroon, you could easily have access to 30 minute Internet connection for close to what? $10. It was quite expensive. And I had it like 20 hours a day. So I thought to myself, ‘look, Serge, this place is actually your opportunity. Your window to the world. So you need to find a way to maximise the opportunity.’
And what I did was like, okay, let me just work and just work hard while I’m here and see. I was looking for opportunities to grow, because okay, this is an entry point in my career. I was already thinking about the next step. And that's also something, I think, that defines me.
I'm always thinking about what’s next for me. Maybe because it's a very interesting comment from a friend of mine that said “you get bored easily, that's why. Maybe that's why you are always thinking about your next move.” But I tend to think that it's more about ‘how do I assess the next opportunity?’
So I started looking and said, okay, I have a law degree. I graduated among the best in the university. I have a good job in Cameroon, getting international exposure, working in an international organisation. But there is something else that I missed out. My law degree, I had it in a university that is almost entirely Francophone. It was in French.
I speak fairly good English. Why not have a postgraduate in English? That would give me an edge career-wise. The job market was really sensitive, frankly, I didn't have any conversation with anybody at that time. I just felt there was something that I needed to do on that front, to have advantage.
So I started looking for postgraduates in Africa and Europe, and anywhere that pretty much matched my profile, and I started applying. And I remember that between, I think year two of when I started working to my departure, I probably applied to like 20, every three years, like 20 universities.
Yeah, I sent 20 applications to universities for two and a half years. Yeah. I was admitted to, I think, six or seven and I picked Pretoria because there was that joint program and it was the first program and it came as a scholarship. It was not the most prestigious at that time, I would say, but it was one that I really felt that would give me not only… because I had a dream of going to South Africa, but also I just felt that ‘cause it was a new program.
We have some sort of first-mover advantage. You actually define the program by yourself. So I applied and then I got this letter from Pretoria and Amsterdam, and got admitted into the program. And I think what made a difference? I think the first was my profile.
I was a professional already, more than half a year's experience in an international organization, I was recognised. And then the second thing was that I spoke both French and English. I was bilingual. And I must say that I was the only one in that intake, in that promotion that was actually bilingual.
And I've actually discovered it has been an advantage for me throughout my career to speak both French and English. Especially working in Africa. And then thirdly, I think I prepared for the interviews and the application process quite seriously.
I actually researched extensively and I think that's that time that I actually started working. Every time I want to do something, applying for instance to a program or writing something, I do extensive research on the Internet. In fact, I've now gotten so used to doing research on the Internet, I actually forget to do manual research.
So I think it's really researching intensively doing my homework quite a lot. So I think I got prepared. I was very prepared and attentive. And yeah, I believe these are some of the things that played in my favour.
Kolawole Oluwanifemi: Did your mom eventually come to terms with your profession?
Serge Ntamack: Yeah. She's passed away unfortunately, but I think she was. She was proud of me, when I started working, when I started travelling for work. Interestingly, she dreamt of being a lawyer herself when she was young. But then she had to change the course of her professional career.
So she was proud, she was proud eventually. She understood why I didn't want to be a doctor eventually. She was happy for me. And we used to spend hours on the phone talking about statutes and legal records. She was - she became quite interested in it.
Kolawole Oluwanifemi: What are the lessons you’ve learnt from travelling wide and practising corporate law?
Serge Ntamack: Yes, I think I've been lucky as a lawyer. I think I've travelled the world. I can say I've travelled the world quite extensively. From Africa, I think I've probably been to - I would say probably 75% of the countries in Africa frankly. And I've lived in various countries and yeah, I lived in Nigeria for instance, thanks to being a lawyer.
I lived in Nigeria, I've lived in Accra, Cote d'Ivoire, Senegal, Burkina Faso. Bunch of other countries where I've travelled to. And really meeting other people in a different culture. And other lawyers and other legal systems.
For instance, where there are several systems. That's what we call the civil system, which is influenced by the French, by French law. And then you have a colonial system which is by the British, which is for instance, in Nigeria or English-speaking countries. And I've been fortunate enough to be experiencing both, right?
Thankfully, because I was exposed, I travel, I work with people. I work systems in various countries outside of Africa, I lived in Europe. I lived in Amsterdam I'll say is probably my best moment of my life as a student, I was biking to school. I was biking to university.
You know Amsterdam it's a very cute place. It has a lot of water, canals. I was going by bike to school. It was a very nice space. It was very open. So it was very cosmopolitan. I was fortunate also to be in a university where we had a program where we had people coming from very different parts of the world, Chinese or India, say Asian people, European people, African people.
And I learned a lot. I learned them ‘cause it was very competitive. It was very open. We learn a lot about customs because people have different habits, a bit different culture. And I think it probably made me a better person to some extent.
And then after that I went to Switzerland, I worked at the UN. I think it's a good experience working at the United Nations in Geneva, getting exposure to the UN system, meeting people from various nationalities and being exposed also to diplomats. It gives you a very different perspective on what you have when you're coming from the country.
People are actually representing those countries abroad and the way they think is not necessarily the way you think in your country. Yeah, so I think I was fortunate enough to have that. I would say that breadth of experience across various continents, various cultures.
Kolawole Oluwanifemi: Can you give us a glimpse of your career journey between 1998 and 2021?
Serge Ntamack: Yeah, it's quite a long time, that's true, one thing. just before we just get into the date is that our legal system is a bit different. For instance, in Nigeria, you have a law school. So you have to be admitted to the Bar to have to do the Bar exam, to be admitted to practice.
It's a bit different in Cameroon, say the French system, lot of things are changing a little bit in the sense that you don't necessarily need to be admitted to the Bar to practice law, right? For you to appear in court, you have to be admitted to Bar, but for you to work as a corporate lawyer or company, you don't necessarily need to.
So I actually didn't do the Bar exam. I started working right away as a corporate lawyer, writing memos, writing notes, advising. It's been a very interesting journey, I think in the sense that my role as a lawyer has evolved with technology, experience, with exposure of different type of cultures and opportunities.
But even my own approach to law has evolved, and I’ll explain that. 1998 we didn’t have Internet it was non-existent. I was working a bit in banking and then intellectual property. So it was very much about advising on things like employment law, things like contract law. Very simple, I'll say very standard legal issues.
And then Internet came and blossomed and changed everything. So when I went to Pretoria, I did my postgrad in international trade law. Then I moved into Geneva. Then I said, okay, once I'm done, once I’ve moved on there, let me just go back to a career in corporate.
Very interestingly, the opportunities that I got at that time… I was working in the UN in Geneva, but I wasn't necessarily interested in staying there. I wanted to come back to Africa because I really felt that because of the Internet revolution, because of the fact that I thought there would be opportunities for growth will be in Africa, not necessarily in Europe.
And that if I can make a difference, it would be in Africa because there's so much to do. So I was keen to come back. I had several offers and opportunities. And then I decided to go back to Africa, but not to Cameroon. And I went to Senegal actually, and not as a corporate lawyer.
And again, because I was curious to explore new. What happened is… because I studied international trade law, so I was really interested or knowledgeable in, in terms of things like things customs laws, things like, how do you move goods across borders, or what are the laws that apply to that, and how is it being addressed? And more interestingly, the company I joined was actually setting up a production facility in Nigeria, completed it, and they wanted to move goods across West Africa by leveraging regional economic communities like ECOWAS.
So they were looking for someone who can help them to understand the various provisions in the ECOWAS or economic communities and how to take advantage of those provisions or regulations to move their products across different countries with very limited issues or roadblocks.
So I was very interested in that because it was very different from what I did before. It was novel and as a lawyer that's another defining point in my career, in my life. You have to evolve in life. And a lawyer for instance, is not only about the standard law that we know it's really about, how do you adapt to the opportunities and the circumstances to provide advice to your clients? That's what a lawyer is. Different type of roles for me as a lawyer. So, I moved back to Africa, to Senegal. It was my first time living in Senegal, wonderful time, new role, lot of travel, understanding the various structures, the various economic communities.
I really had fun because it was new. It was a new role. It was an entirely new role. And we had to define the rules of that. So I was creative, I was really called to be creative and define my role. So I changed from state corporate lawyer to an hybrid, the regulatory, legal, external relations, PR person.
Because a lot of my time was spent with government officials interacting with them, analysing the various regulations and explaining, understanding and sharing with the team, the company, what is of advantage for them, on what is what is like an obstacle that we need to address and how can we address that? And then how do we engage governments and tell them, “look some of the regulations that you put in place, for example, are not necessarily favorable to business.”
And, for instance, “we've just invested in a huge facility in this country, you cannot create obstacles for us to be unable to export goods. It doesn't make sense because that's not creative.” So it was very interesting getting to that role and do things differently as a whole.
The next step after that is after three or two years there, the institution that gave me the scholarship in the first place for my master’s degree called me and say, “Hey, will you be interested in doing something for us?” We do have an opportunity in a country called Mali where the government is looking for an advisor on trade law.
And we thought you'd be a good fit for that. Okay. And then I said, yes. Frankly they called me and then when I hung up, I didn't think about anything, I didn't think, ‘Okay, how do I actually transition out of where I'm working? Does it really make sense for me to leave?’ I’m like, “wow, good new venture.”
Kolawole Oluwanifemi: ...and how did you manage working in several industries?
Serge Ntamack: Yeah, it's a different market. That's true. And it was a different role because then I've been working with the government, but as a representative of a company, now I'm going to be embedded in a government working as an expert, sitting there and telling them what they ought to do, and I'm not from that country.
So it was a good experience. And interestingly my boss at the time, the Minister I was advising at a time in Mali, he later became prime minister in that country. So it was a good experience. Working with them, advising the government.
Being part of the Ministry, it was actually great in the sense that I actually learned the mechanics of the government, really being part of the government, it got me to understand what are the constraints impediments for them to work? And some of the dreams are the things they want to achieve, but they do not necessarily have to money for that.
And part of my role was to go and get money from international donors for them. I think, it was fun because it was, it's good to be working and advising the government, sitting in the council of ministers and writing notes for the government and being able to influence legislation because I actually influence law.
Which is very different when you're working with the company where you actually dreaming or trying to influence it from the outside. I was actually inside. And then after a year in that role I got a call from a headhunter almost out of nowhere and asking me, “okay, will you want to work for Microsoft?”
And interestingly, I was in the middle of a meeting, like an executive team meeting. And my phone was ringing consistently, and it rang like three times and then the Minister asked me to step out and just pick up the phone call.
I'm like, “who is that?” “I'm calling you from South Africa.” “What do you want?” “Would you be interested in a role at Microsoft?” “Like you mean Microsoft? Bill Gates? Yeah. Okay. Yeah. Yeah. What do we do? What next?” That one, frankly, I didn't apply to. I didn't look for it specifically.
I think it's probably a testament to what you said, hard work. And then, I went through the interview process, like nine interviews! All of them online, on the phone, no physical interaction for five, six months. And then I landed the role at Microsoft and it was a role that brought me back to Cameroon.
And yeah, that was how I got into Microsoft. It was a role that was not necessarily a legal role. It was more of a project management role for someone who had a legal background.
Because my role was basically to ensure that the company is compliant, for intellectual property. So people who were actually buying Microsoft software that we ensure that we work with governments and other law enforcement to address that. So I did that for a few years.
I did that for Cameroon and Francophone Africa, and then I moved to Nigeria. I did that for Cameroon plus Nigeria and a few other countries. And then I got a promotion for the entire subSaharan Africa for that role. And then, someone got interested in me and I said, “Hey! I have this role as a legal director for Francophone Africa, plus public policy, and I think you'd be a good fit. We want you to join my team. That was when I came back to being a corporate lawyer and a public policy expert for Francophone Africa, and then I moved into a role in Middle East Africa, and subSaharan Africa for Microsoft. So the rest is history.
Kolawole Oluwanifemi:Corporate law or litigation? Your honest opinion on which is the best career to choose.
Serge Ntamack: I will give you a lawyer's response , which is, it depends on your interest. I mean, I prefer corporate advisory, I believe it gives me many more opportunities in knowing people, cultures, et cetera.
And since I'm not a strict lawyer and I'm not basically interested in being a strict lawyer. I like the fact that the boundaries are really fluid, between what I do, law project management, public policy, public relations, et cetera, corporate advisory, that is actually more flexible in that.
Yeah. Litigation, I think it is good. A good lawyer should have some litigation experience. My litigation experience is very limited, but I think it's too hard. And if one is interested in it, because some people like it, they really like that feeling of going to court and fighting that battle, to really drive within that environment.
If they really like it, I think it's my advice to them is to go for it. But personally, I would say, look, my inclination is advisory for reasons that I outlined before, because that's what I like. That's what's very open mind gives us, gave me more perspective in actually going sideways into other areas.
Yeah, that's a lawyer's answer.
Kolawole Oluwanifemi: What interests and skills gave you an advantage in your career?
Serge Ntamack: I think one thing is actually back to the previous question is I believe law is evolving. Even the things like division between litigation and advisory for me eventually will disappear. It's now actually very blurry because technology for instance, is changing so much and the type of skills, and I'll get to that, the type of skills that are actually required now for lawyer or for someone in
the corporate world to operate not be really attached to one particular profile litigator or something else. What are some of the skills that I think that help me to role professionally? I think one thing that I'll say it's it's important
like -actually... I think it's the ability to really be open to change. And when I look at my background and I look at my experience and I think I've done so many things. I work in so many different industries. That I think one thing that you can define is just that adaptability, agility and that, that ability to basically do several things at the same time. That's one thing. I think the second thing that I'll say it's important to have is some sort of discipline.
You have to be disciplined, you have to be focused because ultimately what is a lawyer's role? Its to save clients. We serve clients just as a customer agent etc. Experience. We do serve our clients and we all know that clients are keen. So what you do, you have to be really disciplined. You have to be really structured.
To be able to go to offer them. I think the third thing I'll say I help me is you most of the time when you are a lawyer in a corporate world, even outside people tend, or people turn to you for the expert advice and usually, and have noticed that usually people listen to lawyers and what the lawyers says is usually what people, take go by.
So you have to be you really have to be I would say thoughtful, very analytical. And I'll say you have to be careful with how you are, how you live and what you see when you're giving advice. I think it's a very important attribute that I think consistently with my character was always something that people have told me.
It's like I'm very thoughtful in terms of what I say. I think it's a very strong attribute to being a lawyer. Because ultimately, as I said, it's people who turn to you for advice. The lawyer oversees what people follow. Fourth attribute. There's a long reason, but I think that's one I would give for me is you said it, reading.
I think it's more than reading. I think you have to be a curious mind, you have to be willing to learn. In fact one reason why the world, I don't really, I would say really like the word expert because to me I hear it as something that is like fixed, some sort of a fixed mindset expert.
So now I'm more of a learner. I define myself as a learner who is giving up, sharing, always learning. And I think that's, for me, that's one of the most important attribute. Of course you can tie it to humility et cetera, but you have to be ready to learn more throughout your career, all the time.
Because things change a lot. For instance, 15 years ago we didn't have, 15 years ago. Yeah. We didn't have it. It was unthinkable in some jurisdictions to have contracts signed online. Is e-contracts or e-equipment. Because I think contracts have to be signed manually because of that.
We have evidence of it now with the stroke of a click. A contract, right? You go to you, whether you buy off online, you do eCommerce, et cetera. It's everywhere, so you have to be able to understand that, dynamics change and be able to adapt to those changes.
And I think, curious, mind you have to read a lot, you have to, to learn a lot, always think about how do acquire new skills, etc for me, that's another very important
Kolawole Oluwanifemi: How would you describe corporate law in tech compared to finance, manufacturing, government and every other industries you've worked in?
Serge Ntamack: I think interestingly for me, I think each of these experiences gave me insights into how the world operates. Let me just elaborate on that. Working in banking, of course, gives you access to how people think about money and investment. It was important for me as a young lawyer because my first assignment for anyone I started was to review loan agreements.
And you learn a lot by reviewing loan agreements about what are people's expectations, experience, and even, so that was one thing moving into government. It is a privileged window into understanding how a state, a government operate.
And what sort of language do you need to speak to the government to make it move? Because one of the things that corporations, people in the corporate world, or even non-governmental find difficult is how do you understand how a state government operates. For you to be able to build connections and make things happen.
What do we want from the government? Want government to, to empower us or want government to build infrastructure, want them to give us the freedom to operate, to help to operate our business. But you need to understand how the government operates itself for you to be able to get what you want from the government.
So having access to that insight and also contributing to creating law, policies gives an entirely different perspective on my professional life. And how do you actually impact people's lives. Working manufacturing was great because it gave me a very good experience on how to ensure I'll say, optimal operations.
How do you optimise operations, to make them efficient? To ensure that the products that you're selling are visible and accessible to our client all the time is brilliant. It's you need perfect execution. You need structured discipline. You need to make sure that people do, everyone knows what it does.
And at the time, because if you don't have the products in front of the client, you're not selling. So you need to sell. If you don't have the product in front of the client, you don't sell. If you don't have the product at a factory that is being produced, you don't have a product. So you have to make sure that your execution is flawless across the board.
And I absolutely love that experience was really a true immersion into how fast moving goods and manufacturing are. Manufacturing, arguably, frankly, is actually one of the providers of growth and jobs in our countries. We need to have factories and manufacturing facilities to create employment for people and to create wealth.
And then I.T. working in the Microsoft software industry was fantastic because then you are on the side of intellectual property. You create in a very fast moving area. Technology. It changes all the time. And hence adaptability. When I talk about adaptability, it changes all the time. From the time I joined Microsoft, when I joined Microsoft in 2007, there was no single word about cloud computing.
Nobody talked about cloud, right? We were talking at that time. We were still using DVDs and CDs and installing systems. Can you imagine all of that disappeared today? It's because where you and I actually were using cloud computing, look where we're having this conversation recorded on the cloud.
Think about it, 15 years ago, it didn't exist. So things changed so much in technology. So adaptability and just being ahead of the curve all the time. I think for me, that was most fascinating. And ultimately I find home in technology. I love technology and I think I will probably spend the rest of my career in technology or innovation.
Because I love changes and I love technology. I love computers and I like a lot of change. So for me, that was, if I can sum it up, those are the know. But when I think about my experience, each industry I work in, brought me a lot of value. I'll say probably for the last 10 years and more, or has been really the defining characteristic of my career.
And I find myself really at home in technology, because of, I'd say that because of the continuous change because of the fact that I realised and back to the point I made, and initially that I wanted to discover the world, I wanted to be. To do good, to do justice. I discovered that technology is actually, one of the tools that we can use to good to do well, to create change, to have Africa, especially to develop without having to maybe to to pay heavy price because we don't necessarily have the money to invest as countries and technology help us to to leap frog just that the, to leapfrog, to some extent with technology, you can actually improve people, productivity or talking about working, remote etc.
Children, they can learn things like coding, they can change their life, can find a job with that. Et cetera. So it was really that, that sort of drive that had technology. And I believe it has the power to change Africa. We're already seeing it in Nigeria, for instance, all the innovation that is coming up in Tech.
For instance, we saw the big operators and we've seen it in Kenya with base change world financial sector in Kenya et cetera. I think technology is, for me, is really the key element for Africa to develop.
Kolawole Oluwanifemi: What other skills did you have to learn to become exceptional in your career?
Serge Ntamack: Good question actually. Yeah. Of course, it's good to have your law degree and in countries where that is required you have your bar admission - prerequisite I think if you wanna be and then as you move and. To hear about myself. There are definitely a few things that you need to consider in terms of technical skills or specialization.
One thing, for instance, that was clear to me is if I'm seeing clients or advising my company, I need to understand the products. For instance, I needed to understand what are Microsoft's product line is to be able to talk about it as an expert. Because it's good to be a lawyer, good lawyer, but good lawyer is as good as his knowledge of his people.
And I will give you a good example. We are using this product for instance, and let's assume that it's having some sort of issue and you come to me as your lawyer and say, okay, can help me cause I'm having this issue and I want to file a claim or I want to fix out. I will not necessarily tell you, file a claim because it's not working, I'll try to understand how it works and how that came to the situation that you are in.
And then I'll be⁰ in a better position to advise you on whether filing a claim is the right way to go. And even if maybe you have additional opportunities to, to get compensation. So I already understand the product. For instance, I did some certifications in Microsoft to be able to understand the product.
That's one thing, the second thing is I did some leadership courses because as a lawyer, I'm back to the point I made earlier, usually we are the last standing in the room, everyone is like, okay, what is the lawyer's advice/opinion? You need to be able to give an honest, thoughtful and credible opinion.
And for that it is important to, I did it for myself leadership courses. To actually understand what it means to be a leader. And really understand the dynamics, how do you operate or interconnect with other people? So that's one thing. The other thing also I'll add to that is, in terms of what it entails, is usually for lawyers, especially when you are a lawyer that - .
Continuing what we call continuing legal litigation. But I think it's important if you can to have maybe some sort of a degree in business, something like that. I haven't done it. I had actually, like, short courses for instance finance managers, the courses that I did because at one point I needed to advise the finance team, advise technical team, etcetera. And you need to be able to speak the language, again, be able to understand the finance team, how they think, etc. So some of these certifications or courses are very important when you're serving particular constituents.
I think it's important to know. At least to, to understand the language or to take certifications when possible or do a degree in business, for instance, if you can and the job market today, for instance for those who can afford it, are having a board degree, plus an MBA, masters or masters in finance, etcetera, it's very much sought after. Because then you bring additional value to I.T. team, you can speak law, you can speak business.
So yeah, so that's some of the examples that I can give in terms of the additional.
I can maybe just encourage people to consider it, and that is depending on, in terms of your career perspective. For instance, at one point in my career, I was thinking, okay what is the next? And for me I really want to. Again, I say they want to be helpful to society. So I consider joining, just going back to for profit a need to take training on that.
And perhaps after some years of experience, like what I have, people are coming to me to ask for advice, not necessarily in terms of business advice, but for instance, strategic advice. For instance, I am one of the things that I'm doing and I wanted to talk to you after is helping, for instance, start up founders, mentoring them, supporting them.
So being part of a board, for instance of directors, it's a totally different sort of skill that you need to have. And again, so depending on your career profile aspirations, if you want to. Move. I need to consider for instance courses in that, or experience or knowledge of that.
Kolawole Oluwanifemi: What are the current trends in corporate law and tech that we have to keep up with?
Serge Ntamack: Number one is look at there's a lot of changes coming through start ups and emerging companies. So look at technology and the trends to startups. What we're seeing, for instance, is that there are a lot of startups being created in Africa, a lot less time for us, in other continents, but we are catching up at least from I say, statistically, we're catching up and there's money that's coming up to ecosystem. Last year alone, two years ago was more than almost I think it was there, there was close to if I recall correctly, I think there was Nigeria for instance, was a number one market in terms of investment into startups in Africa.
So there's a lot of money that's coming in. There's a lot of things that are happening for startups. So there need to be those sort of things, lawyers and I need lawyers that are different from standard lawyers because they don't first, they're quite fragile and young structures. The issues are really like technology, I'm building a platform, how can you help me with that. It's all about, I have these 10 employment contracts and I want to know what employees, how we do.
Yeah. But it's more, how do you write unconventional contracts for me and how, for instance also, how do you help me to make, for instance, to contract with my investors, cause I'm a startup founder. I want to raise money, I have these investors, best of the best. How can you help me to tidy up and just to make sure, for instance, I can keep control of the company, et cetera.
And these are the new trends that we need to consider. So when you think about the law, intlo this area, you need to consider these things, those are new trends and I believe they're going to be there for work. Because there is this dynamism in that space.
The third thing I know is even in big corporations like Microsoft that are investing, heavily in things like cloud computing. For instance, people may not know, but behind cloud computing you have huge servers, huge data centers scattered across the world where data is being transferred and posted. There is a totally different type of legal area.
How do you monitor, for instance, Privacy? Just making sure, for instance, that people's data is well kept, right? Are not unnecessarily disclosed and protected, et cetera. Data privacy. How do you do that? Not many specialists. Personally, I did a certification of privacy but it's a lot there to be done.
There's also a lot of concerns still on technology about security of our data, when you use your credit card. How do you make sure that it's not going to be hacked or your email account is not going to hacked? Or Instagram account isn't going to be hacked.
There's a lot of concerns about cyber security and it needs people, specialising in cyber security, who can write contracts more on cyber security or can help enforce cyber security requirements, etc. Also, in terms of the things that I can advise people to consider there's a lot, some skills around what I would call you talk a bit about that.
It's soft skills: communications. And if you get into the corporate world, one thing is to do what you're being asked to do, but equally and more importantly is to tell people to talk about what you're doing, because if you don't talk about what you're doing, frankly, nobody will know. And it's very important.
Skill communication is a very important skill. Being able to communicate. And one of my mentors and even one of my managers at Microsoft used to tell me, because for me, it's one of the areas yes. Of improvement, personally. Over Communicate. Don’t be afraid to over communicate. It's better than insufficient communication.
So communication's very important being on top of things. Sending a reminder, connecting with people, asking for opinions, sharing your opinion proactively is super important. You add to that, the ability to present. Of course to present, be able to come to people and just concisely and precisely share a point.
For instance, if you're presenting to an executive, let me tell you they're very busy people, usually. So we don't have much time. So it gives you a little bit of their time, what they expect usually, is for you to come to them and tell them this is a problem, and this is the solution. Let's decide.
They're not expecting you to come and ask them to give you the solution. It doesn't work like that. So you have to be very super concise and very clear. Executive communications are also very important to consider. Yeah. So look there, there are a lot of things to consider, but those are some of the things that I would probably advise people to, to pay attention to.
And again, technology is everywhere. It's for me. It's the defining parameter for employment or professional work for the future.
Kolawole Oluwanifemi: How can tech companies and innovators navigate regulations in Africa?
Serge Ntamack: I think firstly, we need to acknowledge that there's been a lot of progress in Africa, in terms of creating an attractive environment for companies to operate. There are…I think there are very good examples. When you look at, for instance, something, making it easier for people to create, to basically set up a business.
You have countries where there've been laws that provide incentives or specific support for people who are creating startups. For instance, Tunisia, Senegal. And also for the countries, I've done it.
I know few other countries are actually considering what they call the Startup Act. So I think just in terms of the background, it's encouraging, I think we're moving to right direction and I'll add that the African continental free trade area, for instance that countries are negotiating enough countries are negotiating give you it's it's it's meant to provide uniform regulations across the ball and make it easier for companies to trade across borders among members.
So yeah, that's for me, it's, it's just, that's some progress Now in terms of my perspective and investment advice. I think there's always this tension between what the private sector wants. Obviously, as much freedom to operate as possible et cetera.
What the government wants,the government wants to ensure that there is growth, it's investments, there's money for the country, their jobs, very sensitive to Africa, job creation, or want employment, because there's huge unemployment, especially for youth in Africa. But how do you reconcile that? And I'd say, and I think that we need to be very thoughtful.
Both from the government, my own perspective. And even from private actors, let me just elaborate on that. I think governments need to be, I think that we have to move beyond... you can set up a compound in 28 hours in our country and then boom. Yeah. So what is it different? It's good. It's a good starting point, but how is it different from what your neighbor is doing?
We should move to a place where the government will say, for instance, I'm in a unique position. I've invested in indications. I have a well educated speaking style, more French, new English, for instance, I'm just giving examples. And, or I've invested a lot in, for instance, in digital skills. So if you come to my country, you have to find people who can for instance, do coding, things like that, or who are very good.
I.T. support engineers. Or who can be good community managers. Invest in my country and you have those skills available. In addition, I can make things easy for you to set up business, etc. So we really need to move into the direction where countries really think through what exactly are the advantages in a market.
Let's call it the market because countries compete, to offer advantages or whatever. So why me? I have money. I have investors. Why should I come to Nigeria? Yes, the market is big, et cetera. Why should I come to Nigeria? So governments should be really thoughtful about that and I think that's still lacking a bit. That's one thing.
The second thing is on the other side, I think we have to be careful, again, on the side of, we have to be careful about what is perceived. For instance, are big for national investments versus what is this exactly. And I'll give you an example, I've worked in I.T. A data center for instance, is a massive facility or hundred square meters.
But it doesn't actually provide the most, in fact, it's like an empty warehouse. You have racks of service, and usually you don't have a lot of people to man that, because it's, again, it's digital, but a lot of governments love it because it's visible. It's physical, they can come and cut the robots and say, wow, we have this investment in our country's providing no don't to be careful about what type of investment, what we need is type of investment.
What we need to encourage investments that are more capital intensive and in the sense that they bring jobs, actual jobs, manufacturing, etc. And also that can bring technology to countries. So we can actually take that technology, and use it to our own advantage.
That's what we need in those. Now, in terms of the, so startups typically don't have the capacity, like big corporations, to address the red tape or roadblock regulation. And, but the reality is that admittedly, most of the jobs will commonly come from startups and smaller, medium size enterprises.
So governments need to pay attention to the needs of startups and make things easier. For instance, why not invest in research and development. Helping them, for instance, say, "Hey you, I'm seeing that you are investing in, for instance, artificial intelligence to know that we're having issues with climate change", et cetera.
And we are seeing that there's this sort of issue with water and you are seeing, for instance, a young startup that is investing in AI, artificial intelligence, and tools to, for instance, lower the consumption of water. Why not give them, for instance, task credits. And so don't have to pay taxes, what? Five years, and they can invest the money in research development.
Why not help them? In terms of, for instance, posting them abroad in countries where they can actually learn that knowledge and just bring it back home. So we really need to be thoughtful on how we structure and startups for instance, need to look into what are the areas
where we can actually bring value and or we can actually bring value and where there is really a need in the country for us to move in there, so we can provide the right support for it. Yes. We wouldn't necessarily be in a position to change irrigation, although I think that's coming.
But how can we actually get into areas where we go that it's the need, how can actually bring value for that? So there's is really two sides to play. On one side government needs to really be thoughtful about how do you help to enable the environment for business to thrive. Just changing regulations or setting up business 24 hours is much more than that.
And on the other side, private sector, startups, corporations, for instance, need to really think about where exactly. Where to invest money and which sectors that really need value, that you do. I dropped a hint on how to extract some concessions from the government, because as I've said, it's part of my work in terms of bargaining with governments. Hey, we are investing so much, some amount of money.
Give us, for instance access to this and this for me to be better that
Kolawole Oluwanifemi: What other interests do you have outside practicing corporate law?
Serge Ntamack: I like reading. When I was in Nigeria, I was actually a part of the book readers group. I like reading. When I was in Nigeria, I remember I was part of a group of people who got together to share our passions for books.
I love traveling a lot. Discovering like workplaces and I think one of the last places where I went, I was, out of curiosity, was Cape Verde a couple days. It's an island. I don't know if you've heard about Cape Verde. It's an island off the coast of Senegal. And it's a very interesting place because it was actually one of them, it was a transit place for cargos.
On the road to America, with slaves from Africa. So they were used to stop there for refueling or things like that. So I went to Cape Verde, it's a very nice place. It's beautiful. I love traveling, golf, music of jazz. I'm crazy about jazz. I can travel to very bizarre places just because I heard about jazz.
I'm learning to play. I'm trying to learn to play, actually, guitar as well. What else? I think one thing that I love the most, I think, spending time with people. For me it's most of the, it's one of the most rewarding experiences. And I'll just be discussing, just learning, just talking about things.
Kolawole Oluwanifemi: How do you stay productive
Serge Ntamack: One thing I feel I would say about our area now, about our time now is we spend so much time on technology. That's the downside of technology. Cause you heard me talking good about technology and how technology changed - can change Africa. But at the same time, it's a downside that we need to be conscious of it.
We spend so much time in front of our computers, in terms of our phones, etc. And we forget to connect humans. We're losing our humanity. And that's not good. People will spend time on Twitter. We spend time on WhatsApp, etc. And they will not, they'll not greet their neighbors. They won't greet neighbors, but they will chitchat on social media.
But they won't greet neighbors, don't even know who the neighbor is. Knowing how traditional Africans are. It's really why we shouldn't lose ourselves to technology. So we must be careful and keep those emotional connections going. You need to talk to people, connect with people, learn about people because that's how we grow.
Technology is just a means not an end.
Kolawole Oluwanifemi: How do you maintain work-life balance?
Serge Ntamack: Yeah. Look, I think family is important for me. I have two kids and I've always known that it would be... you know the amount of travel that I was doing and. To focus around that. I needed to find some... I don't think that is anything like work-life balance.
we there's an attempt to work-life balance that we were always trying but we'll never get there, frankly. I think maybe we shouldn't call it balance. We shouldn't, we call it more life like matching or I don't know. It's what I try to do. Yeah. Management, what I try to do is spend quality time with people that I care about.
For instance I know I can travel a lot, etcetera, but when I spend time with my kids I make sure that even if it's, very short time we get a lot from that connection. No. I know I didn't. I have a son who loves basketball, plays basketball. I always make sure that I've been at least there when he plays basketball.
If possible, I can even drive him to basketball. I can't do that all the time, but at least I make sure that I'm there when it make - when it matters to him. Because again I think if you think about it, from my perspective as work-life balance, you always, it's always that guilt that you're never quite there in terms of having that balance, because work is demanding.
It's our times, very demanding. And you also need that really need work for you. To be good. So for me, it's like spending quality time. And the second thing that I try to get proper balance and I've been lucky enough is to turn as much of the time that I spent on - at work for using the tools that I have at work for
my personal life. I love technology. So I use technology to do things. I told you about learning to play guitar. I'm doing an online. Actually, I'm using an online tool for that. And I bought a guitar. Okay, let's just use it. So it helped me, because I know that it's, I'll find some time, a bit of time to go and play guitar, but why not using, my computer and things that I have to do it.
So using those tools, and then the third thing, I think the final thing I'll do is I think it's just a deep appreciation. I would say of life. It's working in a high, a very intense environment and national 20 years. I think at one point you don't and I think, look, I was guilty of that.
I won't, I believe you really don't appreciate the value of things. I was very lucky. I say, I don't think I've seen it all, but I was very lucky to work at Microsoft to be exposed to etcetera. So far today to work with entrepreneurs and to help them to grow. And I just, for me, it's just taking a step back from time to time and say, "Hey, what is the-what's the journey?"
And what's next, and if you do that, I think it's, it helps you get that balance that we're dreaming of. Because the reality is that if you keep on running, cause that's how, if you are just running. So like endlessly. The reality is that you've always been forced to play catchup and you'll be frustrated not getting there. But at one point, if you stop and say Hey, by the way, let me just make sure that when exactly is the endpoint, because at one point you don't point.
Because I - wrong point, why really need to go there. Maybe you need to make a change here, then you start reflecting on it and looking at it differently and maybe that can change your perspective and help you to focus on other things.
Kolawole Oluwanifemi: How do you stay productive?
Serge Ntamack: Yeah. It's one thing. The first thing I'll say is I use the technology tools I have for instance I was guilty. I'm guilty of that, but I just won't wanna say it to myself. I need to do it. I put a lot of things in my calendar. Including private things. Usually I make sure that the reality is that I'm not always successful. Battling to do that, but I'm trying to do that all the time. I try to, as much as possible, to plan my day in my calendar.
Okay. I have this meeting with Nifemi after that. I have to, I have this article I need to write, and I put that in my calendar and okay. Even in my personal life. That my guitar classes I put in my calendar, I have to go swimming. I have to read a book. I put it there as much as possible.
That's just, you get back to the discipline of lawyer because there is so much information for us to, that we're getting. And there is so much there's so much that's distracting us. Social media et cetera. That at one point you really need to have, like, structure or I am trying to try to understructure.
I don't always succeed, frankly. I'm not think that I'm the best at that discipline, but at least I'm trying, for the most part. Yeah. So that's one of the things that I would say is look, I, one thing I try to do every day is not, every day, every week, again. I, something I'm trying to achieve. I don't always succeed, doing the better say, let me spend time every week with at least one person that will teach me something, or that will be valuable.
Or that I will learn from. Whether I start entrepreneur or enable that is. Doing something very fancy, very interesting. Or even from my family, etc. But I try to keep that hunger to learn by doing that. Let me have - I have lunch. For instance, a couple of weeks ago, I had lunch with a friend of mine who is a makeup artist.
She's very good at that. She's lived in South Africa. And she - I learned a lot about her business. That's very interesting, and it is. And this week if it's confirmed, probably sit down with a painter, it's an artist's. He's painting. I want to understand his painting and I love art as well, so I just want to understand things like that.
So just spending time like that, I consciously, just really consciously say I want that to happen. And I think consciously about it. How do I make sure that I meet people that are interesting like every week or as much as possible? Otherwise, we default most of the time…we default to our inner cycle or to people we're comfortable with.
And I remember what I said earlier. If we, when you need to continue learning, if you stop learning, frankly, there's no value in life anymore.
Kolawole Oluwanifemi: After 28 years of practising law, what are your future plans?
Serge Ntamack: And look, I'm very open about my future. I have, I think I love what I'm trying to do now with this consulting. I think the wealth of expertise that I'm bringing to the table is, it's one that is valuable for a lot of companies that want to do business in Africa, especially I.T. company. Or want to understand the regulatory landscape and how to navigate. I also love what I'm doing with startups and mentoring and being a business angel investor as well.
I hope to be able to find the next unicorn. One of the next unicorns in Africa and why not make good money from there? But yeah, but I think it's for me, those are the things that I have in my mind. I don't mind going back to corporate. Very interesting, challenge a lot. Because I believe it's the corporations that have that ability to accelerate things because of their size.
I'm looking at the market and looking. Always interested in opportunities, but for now, for me, it's just, how do I deepen this consulting expertise. Helping startups both as a mentor or as an investor. And there's quite a lot to do in Africa. One of the projects that's - for instance is to write a paper that summarises all of it, regulatory challenges that startups face, when they're operating in Africa and what are some recommendations for that?