FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Anthony Sanni
May 23, 2017
He describes his business choice as “the difference between doing something and being something. We get to choose to do something we are good at, or to do something we are great at.” For him, that is speaking and influencing people – his ‘something’ is not typical motivational speaking and coaching; he describes it as "professional speaking and coaching - I actually focus on persuasive leadership and personal growth in my speaking and persuasive presentation skills in my coaching". Move over Tony Robbins, you’ve got Anthony Sanni on your tail …
Rising stars are fun to watch – so often we see people in the summer and autumn of their careers. Sometimes we get to see them earlier on. Case in point, Anthony Sanni. His story is no more or less remarkable than any other high achiever, his path unusual – but what makes him so remarkable is that those who meet him, as I did last year at Toastmasters, are immediately struck by his ‘wise beyond his years’ effectiveness and his seemingly magical ability to capture a crowd, tell a story and move his audience emotionally …
His journey began in Nigeria. He was born and raised in Kano, a major industrial city in northern Nigeria – the country’s second largest (over 3.0 million) city. He points out his people, his lineage, is from Oyo. We shared some laughs as he explained ‘things are different there’ – a country with three primary languages (and about 250 dialects) in addition to English which was his language of school instruction, and of his family. His parents were both in businesses and owned farms. His mother, a serial entrepreneur continues strong, his father passed away when Anthony was in university. Youngest of five children, Anthony did his primary and secondary schooling in Kano, his undergraduate degree at FUT (Federal University of Technology) in Bauchi (B. Technology (Hons.), Industrial Chemistry), and earned his Masters degree from the University of Windsor.
He was, as you immediately realize meeting him – highly social throughout his schooling, not jock, not nerd – and a good student who found school fairly easy. After he got his degree, a year of Youth Corp national service in a bank (he met his wife Amaka there), then a search for an advanced degree abroad. He ran a family farming business for a while. He looked at getting into grad schools in the U.S. but the process together with the immigration process, was both complicated and expensive. He was accepted in the UK but after visiting, he didn’t care for the UK. Then a friend suggested he look at grad schools in Canada. He did, was accepted by the University of Windsor and Canada welcomed him with student visa – lucky us! His first exposure to public speaking was at Toastmasters in Windsor. While at grad school he worked in a car parts plant. After graduating, the government of Ontario sponsored him for landed-immigrant status and provided his first employment.
What led you to Calgary?
“I got a job offer with Golder & Associates. I worked in environmental modelling for a year but got laid off in the downturn. I found work with Shelley Goldbeck’s Accent Reduction Company as Learning Strategist, developing curriculums for people learning to lose their accents. I had been connected with Shelley via LinkedIn and reconnected at WAAMTastic Toastmasters. She had been a recruiter at Golder – but we never connected that way. It’s a small world. I started flirting with starting my own company, motivational speaking – being a public speaker. Tony Robbins and Les Brown were early influences from my mother's library - not with respect to my speaking style, but exposure to them did open my eyes to the possibilities. I started Anthony Sanni Company International. And, my day job – working in curriculum administration at SAIT’s School of Construction. I love my team. I love my boss.”
Why are you successful? “I think success is a process, not a destination. I experience doing things this way. Once you step up, you’re it! I’m grateful. I live in a wonderful country. I’m where I want to be.”
What has held you back? “Procrastination has been and is my challenge, I need more GOYA (get off your ass). Deciding what to do, and getting it done. The more comfort you have, the easier it is to not work as hard.”
How do you see your business – education – going forward over the next quarter?
… in my own business and speaking work, and in my curriculum job at SAIT – either way, I’m in the education business. Right now, my business is growing, and I’m happy with that. In my job at SAIT, things are very positive..
And over the next five years?
… I see my business fending for itself. I see myself leveraging what I know and understand about organizations helping me to be my most effective. In terms of SAIT, the role I play, I see my role growing as more of a ‘subject matter expert’…
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… the way I spend money and decisions – when it’s someone else’s money it is different than when I spend my own. For me, I want the best quality I can afford and for family decisions I collaborate with my wife. Making decisions about people is different; information is not as valuable as it used to be. Skill is valuable, potential for skill is valuable – but the most important quality is attitude.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Anthony Sanni, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… I partner with people. If you want a commodity, I’m not the guy for you. I have skills, attitude, work ethic and the ability to adapt. It’s a sense of partnership with someone, a sense of collaboration, a high sense of excellence – and, delivering the best quality you can afford.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I believe everyone is innocent until proven guilty – and the burden of proof is on the other party. Seriously, people like working with me – they feel at home, and empowered. And my standards are very high.
… there is no such thing!
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… I sleep very well. I’m not much of a worrier. If there is anything I worry about, struggle with, it is about not wanting to waste my time – to use it wisely, and maybe that is a fear of failure.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my chemistry teacher in high school, Mrs. Alawode – she saw something in me, she pushed me more and it paid off. Paulo Coehlo’s book The Alchemist changed my life – that story, and Paulo’s story, convinced me that you can follow your dreams. Emmet Fox’s books have influenced me a lot too. And my mom, my big brother and my wife have been strong influences. But I would say the biggest influence has been my dad’s death, and the words he left me with shortly before he passed, “be strong, embolden yourself, you can do whatever you set your heart to do …”.
… we drink tea at the end of the day – my wife has been the best thing that ever happened to me. Sleeping! I work out a lot – at the SAIT gym and at Goodlife Fitness. And Playstation - I play video games …
What do you read?
… it varies. I read science journalism. I rarely read fiction. I read motivational books. I read books on religion – all of them. I’m a person of faith.
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