Dr. Theodore Okwu Ejike Ekechi, an integrated marketing communication expert is Executive Chairman of Marketing and Media Limited as well as Allianz Media, two leading outdoor advertising agencies with combined billings in billions of naira. In this interview with Ibrahim Apekhade Yusuf he speaks on the prospects and challenges of running a fledging communication outfits among other issues. Excerpts:
Alot of people have stories of humble beginning. Could you share yours with us?
My business career kicked off in the area of supplies, it was one of the cheapest ways to enter into business in those days. All you needed to do was to carry a handbag, print copies of invoices, a letter-head and you are set to make supplies. The first business I ever did in my life was to supply tea cups to NITEL. It was a contract of around N4, 800 and I bought those tea cups around Tinubu area in Idumota for about N1, 200. It was too much profit for me at the time. But one of the things I hated in supply business then was that the level of patronage you get depended on how your face is liked or hated. It wasn’t so sophisticated then, so people were not so concerned about the level of skill you put in place in doing that job. I felt that type of job would not last long, I wanted to do something that would make people look for me on the basis of the services that I rendered. That was how I decided to go into commodity brokerage. I was bridging the supply gap between the North and South. I had this massive store in Mushin, Lagos, even though I had a masters degree and a doctorate degree in waiting, I was joining night buses to Maiduguiri, Borno State, come back with a trailer load of beans or dry fish, offload them at the store I call warehouse and give them to offtakers who sell and bring returns to me. At the end of the day I travel down again to get new stock. I was doing that but a lot of people didn’t see it as befitting for a person like me. However, I was more concerned with the profit I was making. I saw it as the quickest way to raise the capital that I needed to start real professional practice. It was the proceeds from the business that enabled me to set up the outdoor advertising firm, TOE and Associates, which later turned to Marketing and Media. Now there is another company called Allianz Media and I run both with focus on very select client.
Tell us about your foray in the outdoor advertising industry
My breakthrough in outdoor advertising came from Insight Communications. The man who signed off that business for me nearly lost his job. The international investors from Nestle were coming to visit Nigeria and the company wanted to have a strong visibility for their products along the route they were going to pass from the airport. This was just one week before the day, they had all the art work ready but they wanted an outdoor advertising company that could do it. Every company said it was impossible to achieve within one week but I went and told the man in charge that I and my partner then could do it within five days. He took a chance not because he liked us but because no other company was willing to take up the job. Unlike other people, he didn’t mobilise us with even a penny. When the marketing head of Nestle was informed that the job had been given to us, the man almost went mad. I was able to achieve the desired result within four days, it was a breakthrough. The story changed from that point on.
What did it take for you to go independent?
I started this journey with N30, 000; everything that I am today came out of there. It was given to me by my sister and her husband and I was supposed to pay back within a period of time. I paid half of the money back within six months and the rest was written off. But the major challenge was to get people to believe that I could execute projects very well even though I was new in the outdoor advertising business.
How would you describe your business philosophy?
My business philosophy is very simple: you must love what you are doing and do it as if it is your hobby. With such mindset, you will be forced to put a lot of energy into it. I am also someone who does not believe in excuses why something could not be done. Rather, I will be glad to listen to story of what you went through to ensure that the thing was done. This has been the major driving force behind my business successes over the decades. The Nestle job I told you earlier attests to this. The man who gave us the job did not because he loved our faces but simply because more established hands refused to take it because they simply felt it was not possible within the timeframe. But we told ourselves we could do it and we did it. To me, that is the way to go to succeed in business.
Most business owners hardly value their human resources, considering the lack of welfare in most of these organisations. What has been your experience thus far?
It is wrong. Even when machines that could do virtually everything have been invented, you still need human beings to operate them. In those days, you sent letters by hand and worked with loads of documents. Yes, that has reduced. We now use e-mails. But hey, human beings still have to act on these e-mails and implement whatever instructions you have given as a business owner or chairman of an organisation. That is the issue. What this means is that no matter how far technology goes, the role of human resources in any organisation will never be untenable.
How do you motivate your staff?
I’m not boasting my brother. I pay very well and I think it is one of the best ways I can motivate my staff and galvanise them to do more and give their all. They have bills to pay and dependants to take care of. They cannot give their all if their salaries cannot even feed them not to talk of dependants. However, it is deeper than that. I pay very well so that I can also face you and tell you off if you are not performing up to expected standard. I won’t be morally hamstrung if I need to take some drastic decisions to improve productivity or enforce discipline. There was a time I employed some managers and I went out of my way to buy them cars and even added telephone allowances to their salaries. But I also let them know that to whom much is given, much is expected. They had no excuse for failure; I let them know.
Recently, you diversified into publishing. What informed that decision?
You are right. Not too long ago I also ventured into newspaper publication. My stint as Commissioner for Information in Imo State between 2013 and 2014 was a very big eye-opener. It is a place where on daily basis you find around 40 different tabloids on the newsstand and they are all very well patronised because they address the reading needs of the local people. That was the driving force in establishing Sunrise Nigeria which is a gap-filler in the journalism space. But let me make it clear that Sunrise Nigeria is not a local newspaper. It is a regional newspaper but with presence in major cities in the country. It is to give voice to South-east and South-south people but with a national focus. In the same vein, whoever wants to reach the South-east, up to nooks and crannies, has to be in Sunrise Nigeria. We sent agenda for the nation from the South-east and South-south points of view.
What are the major lessons that life has taught you?
One is to always believe in yourself. You must understand that nobody loves you more than yourself. Life has taught me to believe in friendships. No matter the level of disappointment you have met at the hands of friends, still believe in friendship. As much as there are evils, there are also positives of relationships. Much of what I’m today is as a result of the relationship I have with people who are not related to me by blood.
Life has also taught me to always create a positive impression on the first encounter. It is that which sticks much longer in the mind. And lastly I have also learnt that you must treat others the way you would wish you were treated because in life what goes around comes back around.
Source : ThenationonlineThenationonline