On Wednesday, we went to Unilever Head Office at Oregun. We had a leadership session with the Managing Director, Thabo Mabe. He told us how he finished school and went straight to work for SAB Miller. However, he had to leave them six months down the line because despite all the great perks like a free car and fuelling, he felt he didn’t have a well-defined job. So he joined Unilever. With over 20 years at Unilever, he has seen the sweet and tough of running a global business and he has worked in various sections within the business and in different countries.
In all his years, he has realised that “doing good is good business”. This, he says, defines their actions and products at Unilever. That’s why the Ideatrophy competition is there to build leaders for Nigeria. With better leaders, we can have a better nation.
He went on to give us a few more tips on leadership. He advised that we should “have a little humour” in everything we do. We need to be a little human. We need to be humble and modest. We need to “be comfortable with being uncomfortable.” We also need to ask ourselves, “why do people want to be led by me?” We need to give people the respect they need.
He challenged us to do new things, because the last time we did something new was the last time we grew. Everybody in the room shared the last time they did something new. A lot of us had presented in public for the first time at the regional competition. It seemed Ideatrophy was doing a lot in building communication skills for the finalists.
Thabo Mabe challenged us to keep doing new things; to push the boundaries.
Williams (Lifebuoy Musketeers, ABU Zaria) asked him about his biggest challenge. He responded that it was bringing the home care business back on track. We learnt that the home care business at the time was about 60% of Unilever and it had been continually falling for 5 years. Different people had tried but there was no change. When his friends learnt he had accepted to run it, they thought it was a suicide mission. His biggest challenge there was to make the workers to believe that they “can”. He was finally able to gently begin to lift the business once he got his people to start believing.
After this session, we visited the Oral Care factory. We saw how different Close Up packs were filled in and packaged. The machines were pretty cool. That’s why I’m studying electrical engineering, so I can make cool stuff like that. I and Pamela were reminiscing when we took control theory in school and imagining how it was applied to these machines. The dance of the various parts of the machines got my mind into a lot of engineering fantasies.
We visited the Mass Skin factory where Pears products were made. This one was slower than the Close Up factory, maybe because the containers were bigger. There was a lot of rolling as opposed to the dancing of the close up factory.
After our visit to the factories, we were back at Protea. After lunch, we met with Prof. Pat Utomi for a leadership session with him. Wasn’t it great to meet one of Nigeria’s finest minds? What struck me was that despite his reputation and list of achievements, he was so simple and spoke just like any other. No air of superiority. I felt myself reach out to touch his achievements as we all sat together on the same floor.
He told us that two things determine good leadership: knowledge and a sense of service. The reason why Nigerian leaders are not effectiveness is that they lack these qualities, especially the sense of service.
We learnt of his earlier days when it was more fashionable to go to the United States to train to be a pilot, then come back and begin to live big. He too dreamt of doing the same. However, a certain elderly friend advised him to first go to university, make friends (because, according to him, the university affords you the chance to make lifelong friends), before going off to flight school.
He did just that. He went to UNN, but he was about the most unserious student there was. After all, he was there to make friends. As the Director of Socials of the student government, every party had his stamp on it.
However, when his department started looking for who will take care of the departmental library, he was challenged to do so by his classmates. After the civil war, Nsukka lacked enough librarians to take care of its libraries. So students used to help out. He had accused his classmates of not having the sense of service to do such a noble thing. His classmates retorted, asking why he couldn’t do it, since he was the one talking of service. His head of department reluctantly gave him the keys. He had little choice, no one else was willing to do it, save this notoriously unserious boy.
Realising that he had a lot of responsibility now, his time became structured. If he wasn’t in the library, nobody could use it. He had to become more responsible now. As he spent huge amounts of time in the library, he had to keep himself busy by reading the many books there. That’s where he got hooked to books. He planned to make friends but after discovering what was hidden in books, he became doubly serious. At graduate school, he took 15 credits, against the 9 credits normal people took, or even 12 which “strong” people took. His resolve was made even firmer as he lost his father during the time and he couldn’t bear disappointing his father’s memory by not completing his programme.
On returning to Nigeria after graduate school, he began criticizing the policies of government. At age 27, he was made special adviser to the president, because they wanted to put this small boy wey dey cause wahala make dem see wetin e go do.
He gave us additional leadership tips. He advised us to defer gratification, to always be accountable, to imagine the impossible and make it possible. We need to determine how many people go away enriched by the fact they crossed our paths. He spoke of the importance of being authentic and of hard work.
We learnt that if there was something we had a clear conviction for, but is not popular, we shouldn’t give up. We may still be vindicated later.
To buttress this point, he told us a story of when he worked for Volkswagen Nigeria. He advised against a made in Nigeria car, as it will be uncompetitive. He advised the government to develop an industry in which we had a competitive advantage, such as rubber. It would be better we built the industry to the extent that it could be said that a certain large percentage of rubber parts used for cars worldwide were sourced from Nigeria. Unfortunately, we didn’t do that. Not long ago, someone called him and said that the reason why China is succeeding today is that they did what he advised Nigeria to do long ago.
The session with Pat Utomi was packed with a lot of good stuff.
Next, we had a session with David Okeme, Unilever Brand Manager. The topic was Building Brands for Maximum Impact. He explained that brands are created by comsumers. In making a brand, we have to answer the question: “what experience am I packing into this brand?”. Lifebuoy brand promises total hygiene/ total protection.
A brand has to satisfy all the elements of the marketing mix: Product, Proposition, Packaging, Promotion, Place and Price. A good brand can be described by the following: consumer experience>satisfaction>repeat purchase>loyalty>
We learnt that brands must be built along propositions an individual would want to buy into. He further explained that at the heart of marketing is segmentation. This involves defining each market. We would notice that companies may have the same product but different brands. Each brand serves its purpose. And finally, brands do change the world.
Wouldn’t you agree with me that day 2 was packed with riches?