At 80, Mr. Felix Ohiwerei, former Managing Director of Nigerian Breweries (NB) Plc, still actively presides over the boards of over five Ivy League companies. He creates time to share the gospel while also loading in many meaningful works to see that the rest of the journey counts. In this life lessons interview, Ohiwerei said that apart from being a product of the grace of God, his greatest secret has been strict adherence to walking the talk. Enjoy the reading.
LESSON 1: Salary should not be the basis of career choice.
On reflection, a great lesson I learnt is that salary should not be the basis of choice of a career; it should be what you have aptitude for, where you can give of your best, where you can be yourself, and not a pretender.
When I look back, I realise that I am actually what I am by the grace of God. It is only His grace that has taken me this far. Then, I also need to add that I had a clear idea of what I wanted to be in life. I wanted to have a successful career and to retire gracefully. Right from the beginning, I made up my mind that I wasnâ€™t going to work for the government; that I was going to work for a company, but which company I didnâ€™t have a clear idea.
At the end of the day, I had offers from the Nigerian Breweries, Nigerian Tobacco Company (NTC), Mobil Oil, and a very strong possibility for an offer from the Nigerian
Broadcasting Corporation (NBC). But for me, the choice was between the Nigerian Breweries and NTC. In terms of visibility, NTC had a bigger profile at that time than NB. The major reason that made me to settle for NB was that I was far more comfortable with their products (beer and soft drinks) than those of the NTC.
One of the biggest surprises I had was the offer from NTC; it came before that of the Nigerian Breweries. I was surprised because when I went for the interviews which lasted for two days they offered me cigarettes several times but I turned down each offer. At the final interview, I was offered a cigarette. But while I was busy answering questions, the cigarette bore a hole on the table of the personnel manager. On realising what had happened the panel members laughed hilariously.
I was thoroughly embarrassed and left crestfallen. I thought I had blown it. But within days, they still offered me the job. I was surprised. They gave me a very good package. Nigerian Breweries offered me a job as well and also gave me a similar package. However, NTC invited me to Lagos for a discussion with the marketing director . As I walked into his office, he said to me: â€˜young man, they said you donâ€™t smoke; donâ€™t worry, by the time I am done with you, you will be smoking like a chimneyâ€™. He didnâ€™t quite know what that did to me. So, when the Nigerian Breweries job came, I took it. When I look back, I can say that I made a good choice.
LESSON 2: Let your work speak for you.
When I joined Nigerian Breweries as a management trainee, I started from the shop floor, did the most menial types of work in the office. That was contrary to my expectation that I would be working as a full manager with people working under me.
I had a boss whom I was not getting on very well with because I thought he was very arrogant and bossy. At a point I thought after all I am a manager like you but only I am in training. A time came when I was given a responsibility to be in charge of an area as a sales representative during my training period. I was asked to go and relieve a representative. I got to the place, started doing the work of a representative which I had been trained to do. My boss came two weeks after to accompany me in my work, at the end of which he expressed dissatisfaction with my work. He complained of all the things that were wrong in the area. I told him it was not proper for him to be blaming me for lousy jobs done by someone else. He said he didnâ€™t care and told me I was the man in charge now and that he would hold me responsible for whatever was wrong. He added that if on his return in two weeks, things were still not okay, and something would have to happen.
He reported the matter to the regional manager, who called me and lambasted me, too. He said one thing that infuriated me. He said: â€œWe know that one day we would have to leave this country, but we want to leave this business in the hands of capable Nigerians.â€ I told him that there are many capable Nigerians around. If you give them a chance, they will do this job better that you can ever do it.
That was a mistake; I was talking to my regional manager. I regretted that outburst later and I started thinking of leaving. But a senior colleague, a manager from Northern Nigeria that came on relief duty in Lagos, took me to a quiet place and spoke to me very nicely, asking me not to leave. He explained to me that these people will irritate you and force you to leave. If all of you come in and leave as some have left, these people will not leave this country. He asked me to stay. That day, I made up my mind that having opened my mouth and made that earlier statement, I have to prove it. So day and night, I worked correcting all those things he complained about.
When the man came back in two weeksâ€™ time at the end of the day, he sat me down, ordered a drink and started taking the points one by one. In the end, he said you have done a great job. I couldnâ€™t reconcile his attitude now with his earlier disposition. Within 12 years of joining NBL, I rose to the position of a Marketing Manager overtaking my two former bosses in the process. To their credit, they collaborated all the way with me.
The lesson I got out of that experience is that you should allow the quality of your work to speak for you. Later on in my life, I thanked them for putting me through that mill. In a National Sales/Marketing meeting, my former Regional Sales boss said: â€œIf I leave Nigeria now, I would leave fulfilled because I had a hand in training this young man who is now my bossâ€.
LESSON 3: A good name will open doors that money cannot.
I learnt this lesson from my father. He told all of us his children that a good name will take us very far in life . He said it would open doors that money could never open. This advice made me to be very careful. When I got the Nigerian Breweries job, my sisters said no way, that their brother would never go and sell beer. My father was a catechist. He told them, â€œleave him, if the training he received from home is of any value to him, he will stand his ground anywhere.â€ I heard it, and it put me on my toes never to let that old man down. What that did to me was that I put name above money. In my generation, there was a time when people were pursuing money. I knew, because of what my father told me that that was a path to destruction. That was my guiding principle, and I suppose I would not have got to where I am without it. To him, â€˜when character is lost, all is lostâ€™.
LESSON 4: Be careful who you trust.
I have seen things in my relationship with people, and my conclusion is that donâ€™t be too quick to trust a man because you really cannot fathom what human beings can do. What I am saying is based on my personal experience in the various companies in which I worked in, (particularly in Nigerian Breweries). The Bible says the heart of man is deceitful and desperately wicked; who can understand it? Before you say I trust this man, be very careful. I had trusted people and I was disappointed times without number. I have come to realise that you cannot say I know this man until you have tested him with a number of things, especially money and power. The way people change when those things come under their control is simply amazing.
LESSON 5: Success demands humility.
If you are successful and you are arrogant, destruction is at the door. If you are successful and you are humble, success will lead to another success. Look at the people you know who are successful and arrogant, where are they today? Look at those you know who are successful, humble, and manage their successes in a very humble way; they go from one success to another. A good example that easily comes to mind is Pastor Enoch Adeboye, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God. He is very successful, humble and meek. That is why I said that when you are successful, to remain successful, you must be humble. Arrogance is a killer.
One of the greatest problems I have noticed in human beings and in their relationships is the â€˜Iâ€™ factor. No single tree can make a forest. No man is successful all by himself. When you talk of an organisation, success is the result of team work.
LESSON 6: You hold your position in trust for God.
Whenever you are in a position, you should realise that you hold it in trust for God. For God to prosper you there, He expects you to do his will, not your will. The moment I came to that realisation, my life changed. If you are a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) today, it is not because you are the best person, but it has pleased God to put you there to do his will, not your will. If you are doing his will and your ways please him, then, you will go from success to success.
LESSON 7: God answers prayers.
When I was about to retire, my wife asked me one day at a dinner, â€˜what do you want to do when you retire?â€™ I told her I want to be a business consultant but not a briefcase-carrying one moving from office to office, but that I will like to be on about six boards and I will be chairman of about three international companies. The good lady took it to heart and started praying about it with the children. The appointments that followed were divinely orchestrated. I didnâ€™t go searching for any of them.
The two hardest knocks I have had in life are the loss of a daughter at 22 and later on the loss of a son who was in his 30â€™s. The daughter was the first born again Christian in the family who enthusiastically got everyone in the family to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. On both occasions Jesus showed up for the family and pulled us out of a dark period of pain and confusion.
The Bible and Christian Literature
a. Pray daily for Divine Guidance
b. â€œDonâ€™t hire anyone you cannot fireâ€.
God gave me my wife. The very first day I set my eyes on her, I felt in my heart that she is for me.
I am blessed with a wife who is very meticulous about what we eat. She is very good at providing balanced diet. Moderation is the word; donâ€™t indulge in too much of anything. Invite God to bless everything you eat and drink.