After 32 years in Nigerian Breweries Plc, Mr. Tony Agenmonmen bowed out gracefully recently as the brewer’s senior strategy manager. In this interview, he shared his experience and his determination to replicate his successes, if elected to lead the National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria. Raheem Akingbolu presents the excerpts:
You spent over three decades in Nigerian Breweries, what was the experience like?
From any angle one chooses to look at it, I will say it was exciting and challenging. If I have to live a work-life again, I would love to live a life of a marketing man, the challenges that come with it notwithstanding. Obviously, working in such a big company and building some of the biggest brands in Nigeria comes with challenges and fun. I remember the great works we had to do on Star to bring it to where it is today; same with Legend that was taking from where it was to be a big challenger in the stout market. I remember a lot of activations such as Megajams, the Gulder Ultimate Search and all the attendant challenges. It was fun and challenging, I enjoyed a lot of it because it was fun and I benefited immensely from the experience.
At a time when you were supposed to retire to your home, you have decided to take up another challenge by vying to lead the National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria, NIMN. What inform this decision?
When I retired from Nigerian Breweries, I made it pretty clear that I was not going home to relax finally. Coming to the National institute of marketing of Nigeria to head it is not sudden. It is something that has been a burning desire for sometimes now to contribute my quota to the development of the institute. I believed the few things that we have been able to do for those brands could be replicated in repositioning the institute.
The institute appears to be a bit colourless not only in terms of its role but also in reckoning in the league of other professional bodies, What plan do you intend to bring to bear to change that perception if you eventually emerge to lead the institute?
I must confess there is really nothing on ground per say. We really need to start afresh. If I were to evaluate the situation using the proper marketing language, I would say the equity of NIMN is weak. But all the great marketers know that that in itself is not something for you to throw up your arms in surrender. The brand is there, same with the people and the resources. All that is however required is to replicate what we did in turning some product into great brands in the institute. At least we have managed brands into greater height. I remembered that at appoint star was in the number one position. So, if we can turn Legend which was nowhere to a big challenger in the market, turning the institute around for me with great professionals around us, for me is a piece of cake. I don’t see anything stopping us from achieving that dream. What we need to do is to find out what has been lacking, particularly with the quality of people around who are vying to contest in the council, I am sure that in no distant time, you will be very proud of NIMN.I can sure by the time we finished, we would not be talking about an institute that is not known. We actually really want to play in the “champion’s league.”
You are coming from a private sector background where things seem to work differently, how prepared are you to contend with a system that seems to be driven with a public sector mentality?
It is important for me to dwell more on the equity challenge .I think part of addressing the equity challenge of the various stakeholders is to look at whether each of them have anything they can look forward to in the institute today. For me, the answer is no. Let us start with the students in various tertiary institutions studying marketing. We have not offered them anything. We don’t give them any assistance in terms of training. We do not organise programmes where they can come in, listen and learn. From experienced marketing professionals. If I looked back, when we were in the university, the most attractive thing we used to talk about then was to say, this is my association. Each department in our various institutions has their own and you are very happy to be part of it.
Today, I don’t think that sense of pride exist among marketing students. So, we want to build that pride back into the system. We want to do it in such a way that they are proud to be members of this institute. Besides, look at the million of marketing professionals working in different sectors of the economy, what are we giving to them? The answer is we are not giving anything. We want to restore the glory such that our AGMs become a sort of carnival where professional from different part of the country come to witness. But if people don’t believe in the institute, they would not come. If you have to travel from far and wide to attend such function, it has to be worth a while. So, we need to give them a value proposition.
In the past, the backbone of the institute used to be corporate organisation, if I may ask, what are we giving them? For me, I think we should be at the forefront of delivering quality marketing professionals. And for those of us who have long around, if you ask what is the most difficult challenge affecting companies is getting quality marketing hands to work on their brands. For me, NIMN should be at the forefront of driving professionalisms with that experience and we intend to do that. Coming to the issue of civil service mentality, I think it is about change management. I think the people that would probably be most affected are the staff that are used to the old ways of doing things. However, what I keep telling people is that would you prefer to come to work every day, sitting down reading newspapers and at the end of the month, your salaries are not paid .Or you wake up in the morning, looking up to a great day at work. At the end of the day, your salary is paid and you are happy. I am inclined to believe that there is nobody who just wants to go to work and lazy around. We are going to bring an attitude that would engender both challenges and fun in the institute.
How do you intend to tackle the challenge of other agencies that appear to be usurping the powers of the institute most especially the lottery board?
For me, my attitude to such issue is not about any confrontation. You don’t win battle like that by just sheer bravado. I think we will need to sit down with them, because I believe most of the issues they are raising are borne out of misunderstanding. I remembered that at a time I was also involved when the lottery board said consumer promotion is lottery. To get it clear, consumer promotion, all over the world, is a basic marketing function. For me, we need to sit the lottery board down and educate them so that they will know what it is all about. I will ensure that the issues are resolved such that our member companies can embark on consumer promotion without any fear of molestation
Now talking about making changes in the institute, it is important to state that I have been an integral part of the institute for many years. You would recalled that I contested for the position of president few years ago .Even though I lost, I was called upon to contribute my quotas in some of the committees. And when the position of the Second vice president was vacant, I contested and won. Since then, I have been making my input.
I think at the national level, marketing can also be embraced if we follow the principles and get marketing ideas into the consciousness of our political leaders. If they can run a few of their programmes with marketing consciousness, the country will be better for it. But on our part as an institute, we need to get our act together before we can get into relevance of any national discourse.
What is the philosophy behind this campaign?
For me, transparency and integrity will be watchword. In the next two years, we intend to take the institute to greater height in what has not been witnessed before.