• Saturday, July 20, 2024
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The suave advertising chief betting big on the sub continent

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As one of the finest brains in the practice of marketing communications in Nigeria, TUNJI OLUGBODI prepares for the celebration of his life at 50. He meets CHARLES IKE-OKOH at his imposing Lagos office to talk about family, work, leadership and his cross border acquisitions

By all means, advertising chief Tunji Olugbodi could be excused for being outstanding. We meet a week before he actually turns 50 and few days after the company he founded, Verdant Zeal, made a jaw-dropping and widely applauded acquisition in Ghana and the Gambia valued at about N100 million, the first advertising industry foray recorded in Nigeria, thanks to Tunji’s ability to combine the elaborate and the big picture plus his strong principle of precedence.

That alone might make him feel pleased with himself, but it is just less than a week before the Verdant Zeal’s third Leadership Innovation series opens, inspired by the need to understand the science and evolution of innovative leadership in Africa. The series makes Tunji also the only chief in his industry to offer a platform for discuss on leadership whether in the political sense of it or in the private sector setting.

Yet he speaks of his accomplishments with dismissive waves, rather dwelling on the lessons he learnt from his 83-year-old father that set the stage for his trajection.

“He used to say to us that money should never be the currency with which people are measured,” he says. “That again is quite very instructive that no matter who you become, how big you become or how powerful you become you must always remember that you are from somewhere.”

So you are convinced (or I am convinced) that his candour is a vindication of his welcoming behavior, which he displayed when he walked in to receive me at his seemingly ‘art’ inspired office-laced with iconic paintings and group photograph of his now implanted leadership series.

His parents, who helped to a very great extent mold his beliefs, heavily influenced that attitude. “My father started out as a teacher,” he tells me,  “which is quite instructive of the type of civil orientation that he had in terms of discipline, comportment and how you should carry yourself.”

I grew up seeing my father as somebody who is very gentle and considerate and also very generous, in fact often to the detriment of his own family,” he says in his smooth baritone voice and a boyish smile that belies his age.

 “I think that really influenced me. I used to question him in my mind why he is so generous to people. There is also a great deal of industry around us. So, that really inspires me a great deal, in terms of the type of dedication you should have for the family and to that extent the kind of commitment you should have to what you should priorities as key areas to focus in life.”

You would expect then that Tunji who speaks with the good manners and seamless grace with which he creates his advertising copies, would grow up to hold some strong beliefs which also underscores who he his.

This is how he describes himself: “I will say I am an easy going focused, ambitious and a positive individual but all in a positive light. I believe that you should always look at the big picture, I believe that you should always have a vision, I believe that you should always try to establish a roadmap for yourself, I believe strongly in the principle of precedence, I believe that you should try as much as possible to do good to fellow human beings-as much as God has given you the grace, I believe that you can always disagree with situations, with people with circumstances, without being disagreeable, I believe in self development a great deal, that you should always try to be better than what you were yesterday and that you should always be somebody who has innate confidence in the God given endowments that you might posses and use it to best of your capabilities and your abilities–and for the general good of everyone as much as possible.”

And these beliefs have in many ways influenced your life, I guess? I asked him.

“Yes Indeed. I have always tried to do things in a manner that speaks who I am rather than go with the crowd. So, to that extent I always believe you should do your own things the way you want to do it that reflects who you are by principle.”

TUNJI OLUGBODI was born in 1964, to a father who worked in the financial sector with the Central Bank (CBN) for the bulk of his professional life and rose to the pinnacle and to a mother whom he says “did virtually every kind of business you can think of so that 8 children can go through school and go to the university.”

He turns 50 years old this week and he offered me a sense of what it feels like to be 50 years old. “Like I said to someone the other day, being 50-year feels almost like it creeps in on you with out really creeping in on you. Sometimes it’s hard to accept that you are growing old, but yes you are growing old. On the other hand you also feel grateful to God that you’ve come this far. So, be that as it may, I feel very thankful, I feel very privileged, I feel very grateful to God for all the experiences I have had, for the trajectory of my life so to say and when I look back to do stock taking, I am really extremely thankful to God.”

He began his career as a reporter at The Guardian Newspapers eventually heading the sub desk as a sub-editor and later as judicial correspondent. He tells me that he grew disillusioned as a journalist but found joy in advertising. His first job as an advertising man was as a concept copywriter at SAAL advertising agency, now defunct. He later moved on to Promoserve as a client service executive.

He recalls his experience before joining Promoserve: “I remember that the first main job I got at Promoserve, there were about 400 of us that attended that interview for just 2 positions and that interview was a 7-level interview, the final one being with the managing director then. I remember that what really stood me out was that I did not write a traditional I-beg-to apply kind of application. I did an application that stood out and, who ever did the short listing would have singled it out after seeing it. Again, this is not in a self-serving manner, but because I believed then that you have to distinguish your self.

During that interview process, I recall that people were spending an average of 15 minutes but I spent over an hour. That was because I had some very strong views already about the marketing communication world, which I can say I knew about enough as a consumer to know how to react to communication messages put out by advertisers. So, earlier on I had been defined by that orientation.”

He says the first year he worked fully in Promoserve, he won the staff of the year award.

“I was shocked because I didn’t suspect that anyone was doing any kind of assessment or evaluation for that matter. Secondly, It wasn’t in my consciousness that I was doing the things I was doing because I will be recognized or get rewarded for it. It came to me as a surprise and that was the first time I realized that people can be watching you and how you do your things. That, in a way, taught me that I have to always stand up for something-you need to always represent something and every little thing you do is really helping you establish who you are.”

Coming back to his acquisitions in Ghana and the Gambia, he tells me of the opportunities he sees in those markets. “I think we have enough in terms of our own experiences, in terms of our own resources and the way we’ve done things in our own very complex market here that we will be able to share in other markets,” he says.

So we see opportunities for growth, we see opportunities for cooperation and partnership, we see opportunities to put Nigeria and indeed Africa on the global map, we see opportunities to develop an identity for the last billion.”

So I ask, how much of global trend influenced the decision? “A great deal,” he tells me. “They have developed stuffs in their market that are quite clearly mind blowing. They have a very deep nationalistic sense of purpose. They are very loyal to what they believe in. I think this is in very short supply in our own environment. I think we are quite laid back when it comes to utilizing the opportunities that are open to us to be able to set a new global agenda that can earn us respect.”

We also talked about the challenges of doing business in Nigeria and his strategies for the challenges.

“It is a big challenge,” he says. “Let me talk first about government policies and the lack of it, which is quite erratic. There are so many things to contend with that you are never prepared for at the beginning of the financial year. So, basically what we do is to try and take as much of that in our stride and to build in mechanisms to take and absorb the shocks.

But there is no full proof way of doing this other than to anticipate that at some point of your planning, you must have to purse to evaluate the environment in anticipation that something might happen. That does help. It is not the best and usual way to do things but in a peculiar environment like ours that is always what we have to factor.”

“Again, the last time I checked, we are already over stretched in terms of taxes and in terms responsibilities to the government and yet nothing comes from the government as a reward for those huge taxes we pay. The same government expects and indeed wants to be reassured that there will be growth in the economy. It is antithetical. At best, the growth will be pyric.”

It is Tunji, who is also the Verdant Zeal’s group managing director, who is also the group chief executive officer and a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, London as well as Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing Nigeria. He was the pioneer Chairman of the LAIF (Lagos Advertising and Ideas Festival) Board and sitting on the board of no less than 8 first class companies as chairman.

His philosophy of life he says is greatly reflected in the work place and in a considerable measure.  “You cannot separate your leadership style and orientation from the way you manage your business. There is as much as you can do to try and hide your character. So I think a great deal is influenced by my personal philosophy and belief. There are decisions that you know in corporate environment which can be taken with a snap of your fingers but which are delayed to take because I am who I am and so would rather go through a season of some kind of counseling or negotiation or persuasion or conversation rather than going straight on it. I believe a lot in relationships and sometimes to the detriment of one’s interest but also think circumstances always dictates how people react to things and to that extent the quality of the decision that you take. And again you are responsible for whatever action or inaction that you take.”

As I near the end of our conversation, I feel the passion he brings to the work place that is also underscored by the zeal the company’s staff delivers on assignments. He leans forward with a friendly stare to my question on what the future holds for his company.

“Five years down the line, I see a real global brand, in the real international sense of it, coming out of Verdant Zeal,” he spoke softly as if relishing the prospect.  “Five years down the line I see us playing a much more dominant role in this market, not just related to marketing communication but also looking at other legs and components. Five years down the line I see us being a power house that would have trained and retrained and continued to attract and dispense professionals who are really kin on building a career in marketing communication. Five years down the line I believe we will also be in a position to influence, not just policy direction of this country, but also be able and in partnership with other people influence the positioning of the country in the minds and eyes and in the hearts of people of the rest of the world.”

It is a benediction of sorts, I suppose. Happy Birthday, I said to him at the end.