Ekanem… marketing communications guru steps out solo
The news of Kufre Ekanem’s resignation as the Corporate Communications Director of Nigerian Breweries Plc. came to many as a surprise. The thinking was that the Akwa Ibom State-native might have secured a plum job with another multinational, similar to what happened five years ago when he left Cadbury to join the brewery giant. But as it turned out, Ekanem actually resigned his position to pursue his childhood dream of becoming an entrepreneur.
Right from childhood, young Ekanem has always wanted to be an entrepreneur, a trait he took after his father. And he began the pursuit early.
Upon graduation from the university in his 20s, Ekanem teamed up with three friends to set up an agency. Though not entirely a successful venture, it was a sort of baptism of fire for the young chap, who was determined to live his dream. But he derived a strong lesson from that first attempt, as he joined the corporate world, moving from one company to another while accumulating skills and competencies that later prepared him well enough for the actualisation of his dream.
What is intriguing about Ekanem’s pursuit of his vision is the fact that his wife, Ezinne is also entrepreneurial inclined. So, while the husband was busy managing other people’s businesses, the wife began the entrepreneurial experiment with Rosemarys, a furnishing company established with an initial capital of N22,000 a couple of years ago.
“She has built Rosemarys up to what it is today with that initial capital. Rosemarys is into interior design and soft furnishing; we more or less carved out the soft furnishing space in the Nigerian market. Before then, everybody would say, ‘I’m an interior decorator,’ but soft furnishing is not a space carved out until Rosemarys appeared 16 years ago. So, she’s been the one moving that.
“Every step of the way, I’ve been supporting; I’m also chairman of that company, while she’s the CEO. It was actually natural that once I left Nigerian breweries, I was going to do this,” he said in reference to Philosoville Limited, his culture, marketing and public relations consultancy company.
Interestingly, the company just staged a reality show, which was centred around hymns and worship. Tagged, Hymnodia, the show produced Kenneth Ekhuemelo as the winner. The grand prize includes the ASAPH, a specially designed award named after David’s chief musician, cash reward of N5 million and a brand-new car.
But what is unique about Philosoville, especially the incorporation of culture as part of its core mandate? Ekanem explains: “Culture is a new area. We think of culture in three perspectives: Corporate Culture, which is the whole essence of how does an organisation work together to deliver on the objectives it is set for itself? You can have all the strategies you want, but if your ways of working, the relationships and the learning culture is not right, you will flop.
“There is also Market Culture, which is finding whether there’s alignment between your product/service and the market you intend to serve. Any area of business you want to be, you need to align with the culture. Sometimes, a product is good but the message gets culturally miss-aligned and then the product falls. So, that’s the space we’ve served a couple of clients and we intend to serve more. The last part is Societal Culture, which is about creating phenomenon that can help the society get better. For instance, saving culture used to be very evident, but now people don’t really think you need to save. The feeling is that you don’t save because you don’t have, but that’s not true. Saving has to become part of the culture. If we get saving right, there will be cheaper fund available in the banks, there will be less dependent people and there will be more money available to entrepreneurs.”
He insists that the mentality Nigerians attach to entrepreneurship has to change, otherwise, solution to massive unemployment plaguing Nigeria will remain elusive.
“Most people don’t wake up and think about entrepreneurship; they think ‘when I’m tired, I will go and rest.’ Therefore, they leave entrepreneurship to those, who are unable to find job. When that happens, the access that they can get at the top level, the young person with his briefcase can’t get it.”
Describing small and medium scale businesses as the hope of Nigeria in particular and Africa in general, he observes, “There are very few dreamers; maybe I made myself the guinea pig in a sense. Yes, there will be challenges; there’s no guarantee of success. On the other hand, there’s no guarantee that you would get to become the MD or chairman of the organisation you are working for either.”
Speaking on Hymnodia, his first major project under Philosoville, Ekanem, who has a certification from the London Management School, explains, “It’s an idea I’ve thought about for 10 years; that’s just one of a box of ideas. I picked on hymnodia for the company because it ticked two to three boxes at the same time. Hopefully, now Hymnodia is done, we will bring on the next one and the next one. Now, if we are talking to people about ideas and executing ideas, they won’t say, ‘you can talk after all you are at the comfort of your big employer and you are sitting there speaking theory.’ No, it’s no longer theory; people have seen that it can be done. Before Hymnodia, people would think that a reality platform of this magnitude would only be done by big organisation with deep pockets; we have killed that myth. It’s been heavy lifting, but it shows that if an idea is powerful, you can find supporters and crusaders, who would be inside to drive it.”
He salutes the team members and talents that worked on the project, saying, “Hymnodia wasn’t done by just my wife and myself; it was done by a crowd of very unexplainable people. That is it world-class is because of them and their commitment to high standards. People came in from different parts of the country: Zaria, Uyo, Lagos, Warri, Akure, Markudi, Abuja… they were all put in one place. It was a massive operation; we had no less than 150 people at the backend. That’s massive for a young organisation to have pulled through; we were just basically two and half month old when we did the flag-off of Hynmodia.”
Giving insight into the initiative that saw young talents from across the country in a battle of hymns, he recalled, “As someone, who grew up at a time hymns were big deal at home, we enjoyed singing hymns. I think that hymns have kind of nosedived; the love for hymns has gone down. Hymns have become things that we used only for service of songs or during weddings. I felt that was limiting a very critical element of worship. But I felt that you don’t just wake-up and start talking from rooftop on it; you need to create something that gets people to be reminded of the value of hymn; that’s where Hymnodia came from.”
Transiting from paid job to become entrepreneur usually comes with a whole lot of changes; Ekanem’s is not an exception.
“One of the things that have changed is that you have less time. I thought I had little time while I was working, but I have even lesser time now because you are crusading on some things. Secondly, there’s a broader sense of responsibility; you are not just managing one part of a whole; you are managing the whole. So, for me, it’s been interesting. The clients on the PR side want all of you, the clients on the marketing side want all of you and Hymnodia is a very jealous project; it took a lot of you. It’s engaging, but there’s a satisfaction that you cannot quantify from seeing ideas become reality. I think it’s a huge sense of self-satisfaction; we’ve proven this.”
Asked where his confidence comes from, he said, “One of the things I learned way back from my father, my wife also has that traits, is that you can’t wait to know it all before you plunge; you trust the process. I’ve done a lot of things like this in different ways; initiatives that were started when I was working weather it was in SO&U for clients or in Cadbury or when I was in Nigerian Breweries; you knew how it worked. Like I told someone, there’s a difference between confidence and competence; you have to make sure that you have people, who are competent to manage the different segments. So, my confidence was that this was God’s own and I felt He would not let his own down. Beyond that, we had done our homework in different ways; we tried to cut our coat according to our cloth. So, there was no how we could have got things wrong. However, getting the fund to see the project through was dicey, but we found the resources to see it through.”
Meanwhile, Ekanem is one of those people who don’t believe that Nigeria is any different from anywhere in the world in terms of doing business. Even while on paid employment, he held that opinion strongly.
“Entrepreneurship is about looking at the environment that you are in and finding a solution for it. The biggest problem we have is people and financing. Financing in the sense that very few people want to put down money on ideas. Products yes; services, maybe. But if it’s an idea, they wonder how they are going to make their money back. Besides, you don’t have enough people, who are willing to knuckle down and work. Some people just want to do the average work they can do and get average pay they can get. For me, I think those are the two major issues. But I think the bigger issue is that we don’t have people, who are willing to dare enough; the more we dare the better we become. I hope that this inspires others with bigger and better ideas. Just think it through, get ready and push it.”
Though Nigeria is blessed with talents, Ekanem is of the opinion that talent is not just enough.
“We’ve never had a problem of talent, but talent is not enough. It would have been good we have fewer talents; we would have been more hardworking. The average Nigerian believes he would be fine; last, last, we go do am. But we need to go beyond that; the culture of work is not strong enough for where we want to go. You want to be like Japanese, you want to be like Germans, but the work ethics is not there. Some people will say, ‘they don’t pay me salary.’ I agree some people don’t get paid, but it’s either you quit or you work. Work like you are paid twice what you deserve because the day you step out there on your own, it’s the work ethics that will help you,” he admonished.
For the communication expert, relaxing is part of the work.
“I play games; I like listening to music. Sometimes, when it’s tough, I go into a loud music area. I might not even dance much, just sit down and let music wash over you. When there’s loud music, it allows me to think. I like goofing around with my friends; when you see me with my friends, I’m not at all serious. Then, I try to sleep. If I have three hours of sleep, deep sleep. I had to learn how to sleep because if you don’t sleep well, you can’t last the marathon.”