Running a successful business in Nigeria: My experience (2)




Staff Remuneration and Welfare
When we started and up to this moment, no agency has ever been our benchmark; indeed we targeted the financial institutions by what we paid from the first year. Why did we do this? We wanted to be able to attract some of the finest talents within and especially outside of ad agencies. We also treated this as an investment, assured that it would motivate and drive our people who in turn would work hard to produce great results. We didn’t stop with financial motivations. We introduced other innovations and allowances and it was always a delight the quality of people who were prepared to leave banks, manufacturing companies etc., just to be a part of our modest team. For a long time some of our colleagues used to wonder if we did other things apart from the same advertising.

We treat a category of training programmes as part of our reward system. When we identify high fliers, we put them on a fast track and reward them with specialised and often expensive training programmes. We feel proud to say that many of the staff that started with us in 1992 are still within the group.

Let me add that staff welfare and remuneration need not be expensive. Let me put it better; the fact that you pay a staff so much is not a guarantee that they will stay. I know a gentleman who left high-paying Shell for the then Lever Brothers. Staff welfare goes beyond money and other perks. We make it a rule to treat our staff with dignity and respect and so they feel a strong commitment as a part of the family. I know a few agencies that tried so hard to attract people away from us but didn’t succeed; they could not help wondering, to quote one of them, “What ‘Lolu is giving these people”.

In our group, staff share in the reward of their labour. A percentage of our equity is owned by a registered staff trust and shares in the company’s profits. In addition, the staff also share a certain percentage of overall profits individually. At a certain level and to deserving staff, we also offer equity.

Marketing is critical to the survival of any business, and Advertising is not an exception. In Nigeria, if you are part of the AAAN, you cannot advertise your services except in professional journals or within specific supplements. For this reason, we did not join the AAAN in time. A few weeks after we opened shop, we ran an ad titled, “We’ll Take Your Briefs to Town”, in which we displayed a line of underwears, aka briefs. It was a pun on the word “brief”, which is both an underwear and the instructions agencies receive from clients when a new task or assignment is commissioned. It was a very simple proposition: we entered the market when competition was stiff. We had Lintas, OBM, Rosabel, Promoserve, MC&A, Insight, SO&U, Casers, LTC and a few other strong outfits. We knew if we had to wait for gradual acceptance it would take us a long time. We therefore needed to rudely shock our way in.

Did it work? We ran two double spread, center-spread insertions in the Guardian and the Concord, each one on a Sunday, a day we knew readership was high. The response was unbelievable. Some readers felt scandalised that we would show underwears, and especially on Sunday, a supposedly holy day. Many others loved the cheeky ad and the pun on briefs. Indeed we had to pull the ad after two insertions because we had achieved our purpose of shocking our way into people’s consciousness and generating a buzz.

From that moment, if Prima Garnet was mentioned, people no longer wondered if we were a garment company. More importantly it attracted the attention of the folks at the then Crystal Bank, especially a gentleman known as Otega Emerhor, who was the GM in charge of communication. He was very impressed with this ad, and was assured that if we could do this for ourselves, then we were the right agency to work with in Crystal Bank’s quest to relaunch and storm the market. We won the account, which would later give us an opportunity in 1993 to be the first Nigerian agency to run a financial services campaign on CNN.

Every business must have a marketing plan. It must be constructive and strategic. I know companies that don’t advertise but sponsor popular tournaments. Others get their publicity from their CSRs and similar projects. For others they use a lot of media relations. A company must have a plan to continue to communicate with current and prospective targets.

In addition to this, we also publish and widely circulate our in-house magazine called Le Brief. It has become a part of our sub culture, a means of expression and a strong marketing tool for the agency.

Integrity has been revealed as a major aspect of business success. Being honest, open and transparent with employees, consumers, clients and shareholders will gain you respect and help you retain talented workers and loyal customers. On the other hand, dishonesty can undo the trustworthy image of a company.

Talking of morality and integrity in business is incongruous, well almost. The conventional wisdom is that these cannot, or more like should not go together. One or two undiplomatic people would even tell me to go start a church if I was so gung ho on enforcing morality in business.

The Harvard Business School would however later justify our position when it introduced a major business course on Integrity and Morality in Business, underscoring the need for businesses to conduct their businesses with integrity. In addition and significantly, Michael C. Jensen, the Jesse Isidor Strauss Emeritus Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School would deliver a major paper as part of a term course on the subject. In an executive summary, the erudite professor said the following:

An individual is whole and complete when their word is whole and complete, and their word is whole and complete when they honour their word.

Integrity is a state of condition of being whole, complete, unbroken, unimpaired, sound and in perfect condition. Lack of integrity in an individual, organisation, group and in a nation comes at a huge cost.

Some of the key concepts also include the following:
*The personal and organisational benefits of honoring one’s word are huge—both for individuals and for organisations.
* We can honor our word in one of two ways: by keeping it on time and as promised, or if that becomes impossible, by owning up to the parties counting on us to keep our word in advance and cleaning up the mess our failure to keep our word creates in their lives.
*By failing to honor our word to ourselves, we undermine ourselves as persons of integrity, and create “unworkability” in our lives.
* Integrity is a necessary even if not sometimes sufficient condition for maximum performance.
* There are unrecognized but significant costs to associating with people and organizations that lack integrity.

For me it’s another very simple proposition. I cannot and will not make any distinction between my life and conduct at home, work, church or anywhere for that matter. I must endeavour to be seen to be consistently appropriate. This whole issue of presenting our pious selves at church or in the mosque and promptly reversing to debauchery when we get to our places of business is simply improper. And you can see the gross effect it has had on our country and the society. We have seen men and women known and even celebrated for lofty utterances on religion and morality utterly misbehave in their private lives or in their businesses. We have seen politicians, business people and their ilk jostling for prime positions besides General Overseers and leaders of religious organisations promptly going back to their executive seats to pillage and abuse the people’s trust and treasury.

And this society has made it very easy, indulgently easy. Someone abuses trust and steals the people’s money and he or she is celebrated, begged and urged by the same people to please remain for as long as possible. The same family that has shown a track record of wanton disrespect for other people’s money is literally worshipped as the “saviour” of their souls. It is also common to hear defamations like, “after all the man is not an angel”, and of course being supported with the meaningless and vexatious overuse of “achiever”. In Nigeria, everyone who can write his or her name on a piece of toilet paper is an “achiever”. We really are a people to be pitied.

And this is the reason we also experience this dishonourable Nigerian phenomenon in businesses. People who should be thankful to God for the opportunity to manage a job are too busy scheming ways to steal from their employers; they are forever seeking an ally in the agency, so that together they can form an unholy partnership. Everyone sees their work place as an opportunity to access a piece of the “national cake”. Listen to this short story and it will underscore what I am talking about.

A couple of years’ back I had reasons to send my car in for repairs and refurbishment, and so kept the company’s pool car until mine was returned. I was on my way out when I saw my landlady at the drive-in. She wanted to know if this was a new replacement for my aging Passat. And so I explained to her it was a courtesy car for a few days. She then went ahead to “advise” me on the need to “do something quickly”, as in her wisdom, and roughly translated, one “ate where one worked”. I was tempted to challenge her, but concluded it would be worthless; she simply spoke the Nigerian mind; in her opinion, she meant well.

And I often scoff at the facile justification that poverty has produced this in us. One, we are not the poorest people in the world, and I know nations poorer than Nigeria but with an uncommon sense of honesty and propriety. Two, what has poverty got to do with highly placed and privileged Nigerians who are engaged in deals and will do anything for the filthy lucre? Is the bank group MD who wants a cut in the ad budget poor? Is the senior telecoms executive who earns millions monthly poor? Is the CEO of the manufacturing company poor? I think it’s just a loss and a major corrosion in our value system, which suddenly has placed a premium on the material worth of an individual, resulting in this mad pursuit of money without any correlating effort at hard work.

There was a time in this same Nigeria when people were satisfied with what they earned and were happy to live within their means. There was a time when if we gave money to performing musicians, it was in appreciation of the good music they played, and not now when people “spray” just to show off. It’s even worse in some areas, where money is simply thrown on the floor and people match and dance on top of our national currency. See how correct we have become!

And until we experience a revival again in our values, we cannot experience any change. Until each and every one of us is prepared to challenge behaviours like these, until we each are prepared to say “no” to the most tempting contract or account which will compromise us, even at a price; until we are able to stand up and be ready to do things correctly, we will continue to suffer the repercussions individually and collectively.

You think I sound too harsh? If you consider the grief this beautiful country has seen, and is being taken through, then you will agree we cannot say enough on the matter. And I do not leave out the band of foreigners who believe the only way to conduct business in Nigeria or earn a living is through bribery, corruption and a flagrant disobedience of our laws; people who believe anything can be imported without paying the right customs charges, who indeed import the wrong and inferior goods and still dodge tariffs and taxes.

As a passionate Nigerian I have a duty to speak about these things; indeed a duty to speak against them. Why? It is central to the reason why I became an entrepreneur and have remained one. I believe some of us should show that we can be in business and service without seeking unholy gain, without mortgaging our conscience, without soiling our fingers. Nigerians are not thieves by nature; neither are we dishonest. We have several millions of very hardworking, very honest compatriots.

Two, in Prima Garnet, we have suffered great and painful consequences for daring to do things differently, indeed for daring to do right. Since when did graft, corruption and sleaze become conditions for running a successful agency and enterprise? This disrespect for doing things right has produced a generation of people who are even more corrupt than their progenitors who brought in the European civil contractors and introduced the regime of 10%. And sadly this practice has stigmatised everyone who dares to carry the Nigerian passport. Only God knows the indignities we have suffered in foreign lands for being identified as NigerianS.

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