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It Takes Courage To Do Business In Nigeria, Says Olugbodi



Tunji Olugbodi. Image source corporateshepherds

Tunji Olugbodi. Image source corporateshepherds

I understand this company is about eight years old, and it has been wonderful, what does it take to remain in business in Nigeria, in the face of complaints of an unfriendly business climate?

WELL, thanks for the impression. It takes focus, tenacity, it takes some degree of courage, and it requires some element of creativity and ingenuity too. I think all of that rolled together is what people who do business, especially my line of business, must have in common to be able to meet their business objectives, and be able to make profit and remain relevant within the sphere of their own industry.

How has the fluctuating foreign exchange rate been affecting businesses?

It is affecting businesses very seriously, and for us, it actually works at three levels; one level is the general uncertainty of the times, because of the elections. Typically, when an election is happening in Nigeria, there is always a great deal of tension. Whether the tension itself is sponsored or induced, there is always tension. So, the general tendency is for people to reduce scope and level of activities for marketing and services and so on. That is one level. The second level is that the economy itself has been challenged for a while, and I think the immediate cost really, is the price of global oil that fell for a year or so. You could very well see that despite all assurances, we are struggling in certain things, the indices are there. The states and government can’t meet their obligations, in terms of cash fallbacks, payment of salaries and meeting other financial obligations.

The third level is the manifestation of some of the things I talked about, the fluctuation of exchange rate. What that means is that there will be very reduced justification of Foreign Direct Investment. On one hand, it might look like you have the advantage of bringing in hard currency. On the other hand is the inevitable birth and onset of inflation, already as you can tell. The second reason is that the competence in the economy itself that ought to have been displayed through the kind of activities and buying in an organic way for those who run businesses locally, is not there and once that confidence is not distributed, it becomes a problem for prospective foreign investors. They don’t want to show interest or to have enough confidence to say they want to go into it. So, all together, there are challenges now and I imagine it will be there for a while, until after the elections and until we do some kind of restructuring programme, restructure the priorities, value system on a global scale and I don’t think we have anything, big solutions, so to say.

The business environment today is very volatile and with the global crash in oil price, people are now talking about diversifying; what is your take on diversification of the economy?

Most certainly, every economy that had been forward looking, I have looked at the economic survey at one time, they are the ones that have diversified . So they are not greedy, they are not looking at just one or two sources of revenue for what comes to their economy.

Technology plays an important role in many countries today. In our situation, we are clearly trying to do what we should have done 20 or 30 years ago, where basically we are able to look at oil as just an addition to other areas of the economy that we should have concentrated on.

Of course, one is happy that there is a retrace of steps back to things like agriculture, there is a resurgence of creative industry also as one of the state earners ,but you can see that they are baby steps that we are still taking in these areas, because unfortunately, the kind of structure and infrastructure that ought to have supported the initiatives that should help us to diversify were never there, so we are now trying to crawl, walk and fly at the same time. Some of those things have process and procedures, they also have gestation period .

Most of these things don’t happen overnight by just a click of the fingers, that is what we are paying for now. So, yes I agree totally that our economy has to be diversified and we have to inspire that diversification.

The truth is that the price of oil is not going to rise anytime soon. As long as the situation in Iraq and Libya remains what they are it is not going to rise anytime soon. So you had better had a rethink and look at how best to diversify the economy to take care of other fundamental challenges that we have; the creation of employment for our people, boosting the confidence of the economy itself.

Revamp of basic infrastructure and even social infrastructure, all those things are very essential and I think to back this up, there must be a genuine desire as a country, nation or as a people for us to create a real common wealth for Nigeria, and what I mean by that is you don’t concentrate only on oil or other incidental gifts of nature that led us where we are.

One day these things are going to end. What history has shown us is where there are natural resources; there is usually a great deal of conflict. Most of the conflicts in West Africa are based on some of those materials, gold or columbite and so on. So in our situation, most of the problems that we have seen in some parts of the country can be directly linked to the fact that we have major oil issues. I think that is the reason why some people would rather see oil as a curse than blessing.

When you talk about diversification, what do you expect to see?

What I expect is that it has to be a strategic race for the government, and that it should revolve around vision 20:2020, to make the country become one of the biggest economies and some of those initiatives are geared towards it. But somewhere in between the line, there is always a great deal of dissonance between the plan, the progression, the objectives and what really plays out. But the point is, if you ask some of the people today, all the administrative work that was put into vision 20:2020, how many people still remember it? We need to provide a comeback to proper structure that will help us to plan better .

We used to have development plans, those things worked. They were all about how to get the roadmap from point A to point B; planning can never go out of fashion. Two is that there has to be a moral suasion to all of this, in the sense that, people need to genuinely understand that unless you pull back from the precipice in terms of depending on only one source as oil is now, we are going to get into bigger problems than we already are. So the point then is that we need to accept that and look at the re-engineering and re-education and re-orientation that will help us all to understand that it is a different world and we need new sets of curriculum, we need a new mindset and attitude to be able to support the initiative that makes for diversification.

The third thing ,of course ,is that the evidence in terms of support that is required from the masses needs to be fair, in a way that is structured and that is helpful to the government to fulfill its promises. So I look at the sectoral goals and how the sectoral goals can be empowered to handle this orientation and to also be the platform for which the change, transformation or re-orientation is going to come. What we are talking about is that people need to be educated on what the opportunities are. And we have to be sufficiently confident to be able to put enough muscle behind some of those initiatives; otherwise we just end up doing proposals that sit in shelves in government offices.

There is the word ‘innovention,” is it your own creation; what was on your mind when you created it?

Innovention, yes, it is aspirational, basically it is creational. What they did was to say, this is what characterizes who we are and our essence, so you look at innovation, which is basically about doing old things in a new way and look at invention, someone who is creating something new, capitally or original. You propound this to somewhere in between, because it gives you the opportunity to do things that are different and things that have greater value in terms of its proposition, different market and different services. So that is why we coined the word “innovention” and that is part of our play off.

You’ve been organising innoventional series for the past three years, what exactly did you have in mind when you came up with this idea?

Well, this upcoming event is going to be the fourth edition; our intention is that we can use this as a platform and opportunity to raise the level of discourse in national and global issues. Some of those issues might have to do directly and indirectly with our line of business, marketing communication, because in the past, we talked about branding the nation, changing the perception on how people are unable to do business with us. So it is really an avenue for us to be able to express narrative and help change the negative perception about Nigeria. That is what we are doing. Basically, I don’t want to call it a public service thing. We are considering something that seems more of intellectual development for top leadership.

What have you been able to achieve with the series since its inception?

I will be honest that there is a bit of limitation, but what we are trying to do in this level of discourse is to take it to channels where it can serve as reference, opportunity for people to be enlightened about some specific issues. Some of the presentations have been produced into books. So basically, it is just to advance the course of knowledge generally; I am hoping that this can get better for the interest of different sectors.

With your experience in three countries, how is doing business there different from here in Nigeria?

There is a great similarity, but there is a lot of difference, which is also part of the learning process and the global acculturation process. There are certain perceptions and orientations we have as Nigerians, regarding how we do business. I think that we are generally seen as fast-paced people and boisterous; we are quite upfront about our view and our dealings about the options we are open to. That is not exactly what it is in other places. People are more calculating, maybe, almost reserved, their orientation and perspective of doing business is different from ours. So, I always say to my people, you must have the humility to be able to understand things from the perspective of the markets, because the people and marketing communication reflects what the market is saying. That basically means that you need to be able to come to terms with the fact that, although there might be similarities, the difference is also significant enough for you to learn and understand and to see how you can make things out of it all.

In management, we were told that when you take from the society, you also give back to the same society, how do you exercise this management theory?

Well, for us we have always seen our company and our business more like a ministry of sorts, when I say ministry, I don’t mean like ministry in government. You will find out that most relevant companies are the ones whose focus on understanding profitability is not just about financial terms. It is also about the impact you have on the community and society. So even from day one, we have our initiative called the Good Cheer Initiative (GCI), where we offer support to a number of organisation who in turn offer support to different people within the society and just to mention a few; Spinal Cord Association of Nigeria, we have the children development centre that takes care of children with such development challenges. We have the Wesley school, we have the society for the blind, all of these we offer support to. As of this year, we have made it mandatory that every member of staff must adopt one initiative and you have to participate fully in all the activities of the organisations as part of your continuous assessment and evaluation, so it is also a corporate responsibility for us.

This year’s innovention, who are we expecting to make it thick?

Innovention series this year, we will be looking at innovention itself as a growing discipline to be able to change the agenda of nation building so succinctly. The topic we have is ‘The role of innovention in creating a new agenda for national development’. And we are quite privileged and lucky to have somebody as erudite and knowledgeable as professor Pat Utomi, he is the guest speaker. The chairman of the occasion will be Sir Steve Omojafor, who is living large in our industry and until recently the chairman of Zenith Bank; and also distinguished panel members, from different backgrounds so that it can be a rich discussion.

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