Smart, brilliant, accomplished, a gatekeeper, analytical and critical thinker, and is always ahead of the pack. These amongst many other adjectives embody Ikechukwu Kalu, the Managing Director/CEO, Customer Passion Point Limited. In a chat with Adedayo Adejobi, he sheds light on his 23-year-old marriage to his wife, Chinwe, whom he described as an intelligent, very supportive and loving friend, how he met her, the hurdles of being an entrepreneur, and how marriage has taught him patience
How would you describe your stay at the FCMB?
My stay at FCMB was quite short but extremely memorable. I joined at a time the bank was trying to reposition itself in the market. I was hired from Tanzania to ensure the process was successful. I believe the God factor was instrumental to my getting the job despite my being out of the country. I am still very excited about the brand. Each time I walk into any branch and see the new look and feel, I feel accomplished and excited remembering all that went into developing it. It was fun. I had a great team, though young but willing to learn and deliver value. Leadership helped too by believing in the power of branding and putting adequate resources behind it. I am indeed still very loyal to brand FCMB.
Your ideas were believed to have made a difference to the fortunes of the Ecobank revolution across Africa. What is your take on this?
I owe the eventual take off of Customer Passion Point Limited to Ecobank Tanzania. When I ended my contract with Zanzibar Telecoms (a part of Etisalat) as Marketing Director, I was unsure of what next to do. Then the idea of setting up CPPL came. It was very risky being away from home but I took the chance anyway. Soon after, an opportunity came for us to pitch for a marketing communication project at Ecobank. They had issues with visibility and low cost deposits and wanted immediate solutions at the time. We pitched for it, proposed a sales promotional campaign with through-the-line support. This won us the pitch and we developed the famous ‘Win Big With Ecobank’ Promotion.
The Promo was developed to increase visibility for Ecobank in Tanzania as well as increase low cost deposits. It ran for six months from June 2012 through to the end of November /early December, 2012. Midway in the campaign, I returned to Nigeria to join FCMB and to my greatest amazement, the campaign was running in Nigeria. I soon discovered it actually ran across all Ecobank markets for well over one year. It indeed must have been successful for it to be adopted and replicated across markets. Overall, we are glad that our idea made a difference to the fortunes of the bank and we are more than willing to develop such great ideas for both Ecobank and any organisation looking to accelerate their business.
Can you tell us why you left Tanzania for the FCMB job in Nigeria?
Like I mentioned earlier, I was head-hunted by FCMB and the offer was good and the role was exciting. Although it was a two years contract which was later extended by six months, it was time well spent. I set up the marketing team, worked with the sales/retail team to grow volume and value and help to step up the brand image. During my tenure, we did a couple of brand health checks and the results showed progressive growth across key parametres.
On a lighter note, the FCMB job came at a time I really wanted to return to Nigeria. Recall that I went to Tanzania as an expatriate with all the bells and whistles. It was important to me that I returned to Nigeria in the manner I went if not better. Again, FCMB gave me that opportunity.
What made you to take the tough decision to start and run CPPL?
When my contract with FCMB ended, I had to decide between two options- take another job or join my wife to run CPPL. It was a very daunting decision to make, I had registered CPPL Nigeria, before travelling to Tanzania and the idea was that I will eventually run it when I am through with paid employment. I earlier left it in the hands of a friend, and my wife picked it up after we got back from Tanzania. After much deliberating, I decided to run with CPPL. It was a tough decision. My goal was to grow it to become one of the best Africa can produce. The goal/vision is still before me and I pray to achieve it in my life time.
How would describe your experience as an entrepreneur?
The last two years have been like 30 years to me. I have been through a bit and learnt so much. It’s been tough but worth all my efforts. My toughest hurdle as an entrepreneur is that of positioning. This has to do with marketing. I thought that my having been in the market would count and make CPPL an easy sell. But that has not been the case. From get go, I wanted to be known for business marketing consulting, believing that training would be a natural intervention from consulting. But I am seeing and experiencing the complete opposite. It would appear that training is opening doors for consulting. The next hurdle is getting people to believe in what we are doing. I have had to ignore the people who told me it wasn’t possible because they thought market was already saturated.
Whatever the case may be, entrepreneurs believe in themselves, forget what other people tell them and make efforts to find out the facts of the market for themselves. Even if you may be duplicating what others are doing, you can make a success of it if you apply your heart and bring some innovation into the way you deliver your services. Start with the end result in mind, then you’ll know where you’re going and you’ll be better able to ensure that the steps you take are appropriate and in the right direction.
How long have you been married to your wife, Chinwe?
We have been married for 23 years and still counting by the grace of God. We are blessed with four very healthy, intelligent, focused and God-fearing children. If I’m to marry all over again, I will settle for Chinwe Afra. She is the love of my life.
We have had very sweet and memorable experiences and we believe two things are responsible. Firstly, we are both born again Christians, got saved about the same time, sat under same teaching and have been serving the Lord together. Second, we both know that we are not each other’s enemy. We are friends and allies who understand who our common enemy is and have resolved to fight the common enemy together with everything at our disposal. We have made all kinds of mistakes but we have continued to work in forgiveness and support for each other. These have kept us together.
We met in church, The Household of God, at a prayer meeting. Then I was working at Guinness Nigeria Plc, struggling to complete my part time education at the University of Lagos where she was rounding up an MBA. You see what I mean. We were very good friends, met regularly to discuss what we learnt from church, were at prayer meeting together almost every evening and soon became ministration partners in the evangelism/hospital ministry of the Household of God. We simply just had fun serving God and truly enjoyed each other’s company.
And the events of the day led us to eventually deciding for each other. We were very good friends for quite a while despite the difference in our social class at the time we met. The social class thing is a story for another day but the way she received me gave hope to a young man who was struggling and in need of direction in life. We have enjoyed every bit of the 23 years we have lived together.
At what point did you decide to marry your good friend?
We did not date for too long. I proposed to her in September and by April we had tied the knots. But remember, we had been great friends for three and half years before the proposal. We had become confidants. I recall how many times we cried to each other whenever we got ‘a nail’ from relationships we thought would end in marriage. We consoled and prayed for each other. This was possible because we were friends, heard the same full gospel, serving God together. So when it became obvious that we were made for each other, it was natural to say ‘yes’.
How did you arrive at the decision to propose to her?
The decision to propose to Chinwe Afra arose from the teaching we had at a Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship programme in Abuja. It was a weeklong convention and we in the company of other friends. I couldn’t afford it but she had some cash and had to pay for me and one other friend. There were two separate sessions in Sheraton Hotel and Nicon Hotel in Abuja and the topics were around business and marriage.
So what happened after the Business Men’s Fellowship programme in Abuja?
The messages at the sessions were indeed thought provoking but more importantly seemed to address the things to watch out for in the person you choose as either a business or a spouse. When we met after the sessions to compare notes, it became obvious that what we were looking for in ‘Sokoto was in our Shokoto’. We stared at each other and I eventually summoned courage to propose to her. It was hard but turned out to be the best day of my life. Why was it hard? Remember I talked about the difference in our social class? Yes, I thought she had done enough by accepting me as a friend and it would be stupid of me to spoil the friendship by proposing to her. But I was wrong. The good Lord had been sharing some thoughts with her too and my speaking was now a confirmation.
Both of you had dreams before you tied the knots. Cuts in…
When we got married, we both had dreams which we had talked about. We had committed to helping each other fulfill their dreams. We trusted God and agreed in prayer concerning them. We also supported each other. When Chinwe worked in the bank, I dropped her every morning at the bus stop to join her staff bus. I would take care of school run issues while she was on the Island working. She never had to worry about the kids. That enabled her to excel while she was in the bank.
When I wanted to change career from Audit to Marketing, Chinwe was there for me. She never raised any objections, prayed with me till I was able to change departments. It took prayer and faith for that to happen. We had to be in agreement. That is what I mean by support.
You have painted a picture of a chummy relationship with your wife. Does it mean you have never disagreed on any issue?
Not really. That is not to say we have not had differences. However, when the differences arise, we find a way around them. I have never doubted that I married the right person. I am sure Chinwe feels the same way.
Do you both feel love for each other every day?
Yes, the God kind of love, yes. However, there are days when affections run low because of disagreements. The sustaining love is always there. That is why we are always able to get back to resolution of the issues, whatever they may be. No issue is too big to be resolved.
How do you make your romantic side of marriage?
We do all sorts of things. We go out for date nights often. Sometimes it is just a drive with cone ice creams in the car. Other times, it is a salad dinner. Chinwe loves salads. Or discovering a new joint. Or doing chores together.
Chinwe sometimes creates new meals. Something exciting that just does it.
Sometimes we listen to Old school music together. Sometimes we visit friends. Sometimes we just spend time talking. Occasionally, the movies. Sometimes evenings with the kids just gisting, teasing each other and laughing. They all add up to bringing some verve into the relationship.
As head of the family, how do you carry out your duties?
This has been a bit challenging for me. Being the boss, I tend to give instructions the way I would in normal situations. I am learning to adjust my style in being Chinwe’s boss. She is first and foremost my wife before anything else. It can be tough and I don’t always get it right.
Who offends who the most?
But do you apologise to her?
She does. I make the mistake. She does the apologising. I think she just massages my ego when she does.
How do you settle arguments?
We talk through the issue and agree the way forward. We have always known how to talk through issues. Some issues take longer than others to resolve but we eventually do.
What activities do you engage in as couple?
We met in church serving. We still do a lot of work in church. Then we watch TV, go out, visit friends, the occasional movie, travel and whatever we think up.
What really makes a successful marriage?
Great friendship, selflessness and commitment.
What piece of advice do you have for couples?
See marriage as something that must succeed. There is no point at which you should desire to opt out. Give it your best shot and it will succeed.
If you were to give newly-weds advice, what would it be?
I would give them the same advice. Don’t give yourselves alternative to being happily married. There should be no exit points.
What are the most important attributes of your spouse?
She is intelligent, very supportive and loving.
What do you do as couple to keep your marriage strong?
We communicate. We spend time together. We love and respect each other. We support each other. We never call each other names, ever. We are financially open with each other-no secrets. We discipline our children in agreement. We are in agreement concerning our in-laws.
As a man of many parts- trainer, coach, brand consultant and an ardent lover of Church, how do you handle all of these?
Godly wisdom. It is not easy but God’s grace abounds towards me.
Christians say, ‘most marriages are invalid because people don’t understand biblical commitment’, that it takes more than understanding. What do you think?
I would not say, they do not understand, but life throws stuff at couples and they lack the strength to stand under some of these pressures. Staying committed takes a little more than understanding it. It requires strength, faith and self-sacrifice. People just buckle.
Many ladies wait too long for Mr. Right. Cuts in…
Chinwe and I always keep the faith and we tell young people that Mr. and Miss Right are out there. Never doubt that. He or she may not be ready yet but they are in process and in due season they will show up. I was 30 when I got married and Chinwe was 28.
What is the fondest memory of your 23-year marriage?
I would say when our son Dikachi was born. We had lost our first child and desperately wanted another child. We had to trust God all over again for this one to come. When he arrived I was elated.
I also enjoyed being in Tanzania with my family. It was novel. My office was not far from the house and I got a chance to spend lots of time with my children. There were no maids or relatives around. We did most things for each other.
How do you keep your patience?
Twenty-three years of communicating- it does get easier. I am not a very patient person but marriage has taught me patience. Marriage is a fantastic teacher.
What is the most important thing you remind yourselves?
That you have a common enemy. You must never see each other as enemies.
Is fighting solution to dispute in marriage?
No. Fight suggests a lot of negative emotions and maybe physical engagement. I prefer to use the term disagreement. You can disagree but never let your disagreements degenerate to real fights.
What is the one thing you have in common that transcends everything else?
Our love for God. That is what sustains everything else. We hold it all together in His love.