Mr. Udeme Ufot
Managing Director of SO & U Satchi and Satchi, Mr. Udeme Ufot, who recently received the Fate Foundation Model Entrepreneur Award 2012, says that Nigeria is replete with people with intense entrepreneurial spirit and stresses that these people hold the key to the emergence of Nigeria as a great nation. He spoke to Crusoe Osagie
Do you think there are true entrepreneurs in Nigeria today in the light of subsidy thieves and those who take business loans from banks for non-business related purposes, who were initially recognised as distinguished entrepreneurs?
My first answer to that is yes, there are still true entrepreneurs in Nigeria I am one and I believe that my former boss, Biodun Sobanjo is an entrepreneur. I believe that the founder of FATE Foundation, Fola Adeola is an entrepreneur. I believe that my friend Aigboje Imoukhuede, who moved from Guaranty Trust Bank to Access Bank and turned it around, is an entrepreneur. I could go on and on but the fact that certain individuals have chosen an odious path and called themselves entrepreneurs does not in any way take away from the fact that we do have entrepreneurs in this country.
The challenge for us as Nigerians is the need to re-evaluate our values. Who do we see as our heroes? There are too many people parading the corridors of power and just because they have money people celebrate them no questions asked as to how they amassed their wealth. In our own cycle of friends, we are inclined to ask, ‘Ok you have money, where did the money come from?’
Nigerians should be able to impose social sanctions on the rich in order for them to disclose their sources of wealth as it is done in some other parts of the world.
How can support be channeled to true entrepreneurs because it seems that those who mostly get business opportunities and support are the pretenders?
True entrepreneurs are neither looking for handouts or for subsidy, rather they are looking for opportunities to put their ideas to play. They are looking for an enabling environment to thrive.
The basic requirements entrepreneurs need include a friendly business environment, a business person wants to know that if he pays his tax it goes to the right people and he gets what he is paying for.
Entrepreneurs need good infrastructure especially power and policies that will protect their interests, ideas and investments.
How do you feel about your model entrepreneur award from Fate Foundation?
I feel very elated and grateful to God to be recognised and I must say that I receive many opportunities to be offered various awards and I really cannot count how many I have turned down because so many of them are spurious and others have pretended to be honourable.
Being recognised by an organisation like Fate Foundation is really a commendation for what SO&U stands for and what the company has achieved in the last 22 years. It is also a validation of the decision we took to delve into entrepreneurship.
It was not an easy task to venture into entrepreneurship it even looked stupid at the time leaving our gainful employments and if some people I respect tell me that I have made an impact in entrepreneurship after 22 years and consider me a role model to entrepreneurs then I have to be grateful for that.
How would you rate the impact of Nigerian enterprises beyond the shores of the country starting with SO&U?
Nigerian entrepreneurs are adventurous people and also they are hard-working, many enterprises have made astounding impact in the continent. As at the time we did our last review SO&U with our partnership with Saatchi and Saatchi was the best advert agency in Africa, Aliko Dangote has redefined entrepreneurship at the highest level. Even in the banking sector, Nigerian banks have been singularly instrumental in transforming the banking landscape in Ghana and other African countries.
A lot of people will like to know the story behind SO&U
SO&U is an acronym for Sagay, Oku and Udeme, we started the company in my guest room and with N60, 000 of my life savings at a time when creative people were only supposed to play behind-the-scene roles. I was a creative person, Gbemi Sagay was an art director and Julia Oku was a copy writer. So in the first instance setting to establish our own business was an anomaly in the industry and some people laughed at us that we did not really stand a chance of succeeding.
However what I discovered when I did a research was that the most successful advert agencies in the world were founded and run by creative people. Those trying to discourage us did not count on was our determination, focus and a very simple strategy which we developed because we understood that people appreciate value when it comes to services so we quickly set out to ensure that we made a mark in our calling by leaving lasting impressions on people through our work.
Our simple strategy from the beginning was to deliver our work at values higher than what we were paid by our clients for example if we were given a N10 job we deliver a N20 job and most times we take up briefs even without being paid we deliver outstanding jobs and the clients is then only too happy to pay for it.
Beyond that we also put our people through intensive training because we believe that one can only produce as much as one is skilled so the agency became an environment for continuous education.
We also set a goal for ourselves to make the business succeed within two years and God on our side we gained much recognition for our excellence and after 18 months we were winning bids ahead of older agencies.
What are clients really looking out for?
Clients want to get their messages across to their audiences and gain acceptance, they want to open their warehouses and sell their products. A client is not interested in whether he sold yesterday and is not selling today, they want fresh ideas all the time and once you can deliver that then you can stay on top of your game.
Today we are experiencing what we term fragmentation in the industry, 25 years ago an agency will take up a campaign for a client on holistic basis doing everything from the PR, Direct marketing, Press releases to events handling in fact the entire gamut was handle by one agency.
Today the story is not the same because these various departments have grown to become specialised agencies and so the cake from one client is now shared among agencies with the largest chunk going to media specialist agencies and it does not happen only in Nigeria it is a global challenge.
Today we are competing against ourselves, against the changing environment and against some economic policies of government.
What keeps you going in the industry despite the challenges?
There are two profound incidents which have kept me working very hard, the first one was at the beginning of SO&U I was approached by a young man who I did not know before and he told me that he knew me and pleaded with me to do my best not to fail because many creative people had taken the step we took and have failed, and that young creative people out there were looking for a champion to break the jinx of failure.
The other experience was when I became President of Advertising Practitioners of Nigeria and someone I also did not know called me from my state Akwa Ibom that he was so proud of my achievement in the industry and that it represents hope for the people of my state. So when I discovered that other people were interested in what we were doing it became a challenge for us not to fail because so many people are waiting to celebrate with you when you succeed and some are waiting to laugh at you when you fail.
Do believe that your sector can export services to other countries?
Yes I do and the only way we can do that is when we are following Nigerian brands across borders because the industry is run against the line of managing global brands. The owners of these brands are situated in London, New-York, Paris and these days in shanghai, Korea and Tokyo.
But we also have brands from Nigeria who are exporting their franchises that we can follow as far as we are the ones managing their brands from here. For example UAC’s Mr. Biggs brand going to Ghana or other African countries, Nigerian banks or the Dangote Group. These are just some of the big Nigerian brands that can make the exportation of our services to other countries possible.
But then you also have to bear in mind that advertising is about communication which has cultural considerations the same way that somebody who is not a Nigerian cannot write the line ‘Power of Naija’, ‘Level pass level’, ‘Wetin you carry?’ and so operations sometimes should be left to indigenous directors to craft the appropriate expressions for local assimilation.
So in all fairness all that agencies can do in crossing borders is to give guidelines to local agencies in their markets because consumers must be communicated to in the languages that they can understand.
Is the government taking the right step to boost entrepreneurial development by introducing entrepreneurial studies in our universities curriculum?
Yes it is a good thing, but my view is that the government should first and foremost get the education system right because you cannot build skills on a false foundation. The basic education must be right from primary to secondary school level otherwise how can they put up a sound proposal if they have not been well trained to think analytically?.
Once Nigerians go through proper education, they will be able to think differently for example when I visited my son’s school in London the principal told me that the major challenge Nigerian students have is that they are not trained to think.
Unlike their western counterparts who challenge everything, Nigerian students are trained to read and reproduce what they read. Once we train people to challenge what they read or hear instead of just accepting everything the way it is and I think it is also a cultural problem.
I do not think that there is a lack of entrepreneurial energy in our country all that is needed is guidance and that is where an institution like Fate Foundation comes in because they train people and give them the skills to be entrepreneurs. I am a mentor there and I know what impact mentoring can have in raising entrepreneurs.
In our days in NYSC if anyone comes and says that he graduated from the University of Wisconsin we laughed at him because only people that could not qualify to enter universities in Nigeria went to such schools abroad in those only a handful whose parents were so rich attended Cambridge and oxford.
Government can help by ensuring that budding enterprise have access to soft loans because there are so many people out there who have ideas but those ideas are still-born because sometimes also even in the bid to chase for funds one can lose focus.
If we can turn a lot of Nigerians into job creators we would drastically reduce the rate of unemployment and there is no better time to do that than now.
This country is filled with so much opportunities and it is left for Nigerians to take them because a lot of foreigners have seen these opportunities and are rushing down here to take them.
If you are a young person and you are into ICT the place to be is Africa where you are assured of being rich under five years. And in Africa, the places to be are either Nigeria or South-Africa.
We have so many tremendous opportunities in Nigeria and what I have achieved in SO&U I couldn’t have achieved it in London, Aliko Dangote would not be the man he is today anywhere else but in Nigeria.
Besides the basic education, our people should be assisted with skills acquisition and internship. Our young people should be mentored because mentoring is so important and also it must be ensured that the environment is business friendly and the economy of this country will boom.
What is the relevance of Fate Foundation to entrepreneurship in Nigeria?
I would say that if fate foundation had been around when I started I would have made fewer mistakes and been more successful probably one of the things Fate has discovered is that entrepreneurs need guidance in order not to make preventable mistakes. I am also a mentor with them I facilitate workshops in the area of advertising, promotion and marketing I also support them by sharing my knowledge in the entrepreneurship program. One thing I would continue to do is to make myself available to mentor young entrepreneurs who are being trained by fate foundation, share my experiences with them and open doors of opportunities for them and give them guidance in their entrepreneurial quests. Above all I will maintain my integrity in order to continue to be a role model for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Udeme Ufot is the Akwa Ibom State-born Group Managing Director of SO&U Nigeria Limited and recipient of the Fate Foundation Model Entrepreneur Award 2012 for epitomising a true Nigerian entrepreneur. He graduated top of his class from the Ahmadu Bello University where he bagged a degree in Industrial Design.