By LADI JADESIMI
Like the rest of us that knew him, not to speak of his family, I’m still to quite get over the very sad news of the passing of Seyi Bickersteth. He was in many ways a unique and extraordinary man. I first met him when as a young man he was one of a very select few that joined us at Arthur Andersen Nigeria as part what can be best described as the founding ‘faculty’ of the firm in 1978.
The few that were admitted to the faculty had to meet very exacting international standards indeed to make the grade because, of the big eight accounting firms of those days, Arthur Andersen was the only one that was truly a single global entity and was run as such with uniform standards of recruitment worldwide.
This ensured that the quality of personnel and service delivery at the Lagos office was the same as in London, Paris or New York.
Richard Kramer was country managing partner and I was his partner. Even though Arthur Andersen was then the biggest of the ‘big eight’ accounting firms in the world, it was the last to enter the Nigerian market.
Suffice it to say that the spectacular success of the firm in Nigeria was assured by the caliber and character of the Nigerians that through the decades have been part of the Arthur Andersen, now KPMG story.
In my view, the handful of Nigerians that formed the founding faculty set the tone and built the solid base on which the firm was grown.
I interacted with Seyi much more than with most because I found him to be an unusually engaging, open and curious young man with an all encompassing interest in and knowledge of all manner of subjects under the sun from phylosophy to history, the arts and the latest scientific developments and exploits. Accountancy just happened to be his profession of choice but most definitely did not describe him.
For example I well remember being bemused by his very keen interest in what we now recognise as Green issues, decades before it became the received wisdom. I remember, for example, his being very much against motor vehicles because of their polluting internal combustion engines, burning fossil fuels and propelling global warming- and this was in 1978! He was of course very smart and intelligent but much more importantly he had an original mind. We kept up this warm and engaging friendship right up to his early and much lamented demise.
Seyi naturally embodied the ethos of Arthur Andersen including integrity, hard work, loyalty and absolute professionalism in everything he did even before he joined the firm. He was an uncommon Nigerian in his outlook, his thinking and his values.
When Arthur Andersen split into two separate entities, one to focus on accounting, auditing, tax and related business services while the other became a top notch business consulting outfit, Seyi took charge at Arthur Andersen, Chartered Accountants while Dotun Sulaiman headed Accenture, the business consultants. The rest as they say, is history.
Entirely predictably, both of them did spectacular jobs. Dotun Sulaiman, who was an outstanding and brilliant member of the Arthur Andersen founding faculty, did a very commendable and exemplary job as the first Chief Executive of Accenture Nigeria and handed over to his successors on his most meretoriius retirement, arguably the number consulting firm in the country.
Seyi successfully managed the transition from Arthur Andersen to KPMG with consumate skill and aplomb such that when he handed the baton to his successors on retirement it was that of the most successful and respected accounting firm in the country notwithstanding the fact that we came in last. That he was around at the very commencement of the firm’s journey in Nigeria and had played a key role in the huge success achieved by the business must surely have given him great satisfaction and a justifiable sense of professional fulfilment.
He remained very active in a number of business and charitable endeavours after retirement as he felt he still had plenty of vigour left to continue making contributions to society. His was very much a case of being retired but far from tired. He impacted countless lives positively and no doubt served as an inspiration to huge numbers of young people. He made many friends and earned the respect and appreciation of both his peers and others in society at large.
Seyi was much much more than a most accomplished chartered accountant. He represented the very best that we could be and need to be as Nigerians if we’re ever going to make any meaningful socio economic progress. His passing was as premature as it was completely unexpected and utterly shocking.
My deepest condolences go to his immediate and close family. They should take comfort in the knowledge that he lead a most successful and impactful life, that he left an indelible legacy of service, that he left behind a good name, which is something that is beyond measure. We all love him but God loves him more.
It’s not for how long but how well and meaningfully one lives that truly counts.
And the gardner said who plucked this flower? It is I said the Lord. And the gardener held his peace.
Requiescat in pace.
- Chief Oladipo “Ladi” Jadesimi is a founding partner in Arthur Andersen Nigeria, where he serves as an Independent Financial Consultant. He is an oil businessman and founder of the Lagos Deep Offshore Logistics Base, where he serves as the executive chairman.