•His 50th Birthday Interview
•Reveals How He Got His Break
It is not often you get to read a Charles Otudor interview. This is because he very seldom talks about himself or his work on the pages of newspapers. It’s not just because, as the CEO of Adstrat Brand Management Consultants he is an extremely busy man, truth is he prefers to let his work speak for him. And oftentimes, it does. And that’s where he gets his greatest sense of fulfilment from. Like any other professional, it gratifies him to no end when he gets a call from a prospective client telling him they love a particular job he’s done and they would love to come on board and join the Adstrat train. And this is largely how the Charles Otudor brand grew. Profoundly grateful clients have gone on to help him blow his trumpet and expand the Adstrat family. Today, after almost three decades in the business, the brand master, Charles Otudor and Adstrat, have never been stronger, they have remained two of the phenomenal names you couldn’t possibly ever ignore in the Industry.
Let us tell you a bit more about Charles Otudor.
Charles O’Tudor is Africa’s Premiere Brand Strategist and Engagement Consultant.
Over the years he has enriched the branding landscape with his innovative approach to brand building across all sectors of the economy. He is an alumnus of the University of Jos, Nigeria and the prestigious Wits Business School, South Africa. He is the Group Principal Consultant of ADSTRAT Brand Management Consultants, a firm renowned for its out of box approach to brand strategy and engagement. He is an accomplished author, public speaker and thought pioneer. His scholarly thoughts are caught in two of his publications [Brands Arise- The Nigerian Brand Renaissance and The Charles O’Tudor Personal Brand Guide [ Volumes 1.0 and 2.0 ]. He is convinced that entrepreneurship is the future of African economies.
This has influenced his investment in entrepreneurs through his #COBMC series [ CharlesO’Tudor Brand MasterClass ] that has held consecutively for over four years, the fifth season [ Season 0.5 ] is still in process and scheduled for the 3rd quarter this year. He is passionate about strategy, brand building and engagement.
But the big news currently is that Charles has hit the golden age mark. He turned 50 years a couple of weeks ago and he’s had a small but classy private get-to-together to celebrate the milestone. Last week, the City People team led by the Publisher, DR. SEYE KEHINDE, Senior Editor, WALE LAWAL (08037209290) and Videographer, LAOLU OGUNTOYINBO paid Charles a visit at his cosy GRA Ikeja office and he was gracious enough to grant us a 50th birthday interview. It was vintage Charles Otudor. The interview was as enriching as it was exciting. Here are excerpts.
As you turn 50, what are you thinking? What are your thoughts at this time?
The same thoughts I’ve always had. You know, I think I’ve been ahead of my time. I’ve always predicted the future. I’ve always talked about the future of branding every year. This year, I already talked about branding trends ahead. I sent it to you. I circulated a lot of it. When we started Brands Arise, we went to most of the campuses. It’s more of social emancipation for me, adding value to life. For me, it’s not about who you are and how much you have in your pocket, it’s about how many lives you can touch. And it’s not about how many cars you drive or the kind of house you live in, once your children can go to school, they’re not out of school, and you ensure they’re well brought up with the right values and there’s food for them, one or two square meals guaranteed a day, that’s all. If at the end of the day your values are based on the world’s values and you train your children that way, when you can’t afford it, they will go the other way. There was a time I had drivers taking my kids everywhere, but after a while I said to them, let’s find the other way, because if I’m not here these drivers will not be here. But when they have the right education, the right values, they will work their way and they can earn well enough to get even better vehicles, better homes. I’ve always talked about values, that’s why I set up COBMC (Charles Otudor Brand Master Classes) and it’s been running for four years. And it’s free. This young man (pointing to his P.A.) is a product of that programme. Lots of young people have benefitted from it. We’ve not done the one for this year. When we’re finally ready for it, it could be a paid one, I’m not sure yet. So, for me, I’ve just been driven by adding value to lives. When you touch lives, God will touch your life. It’s automatic. And I’m not doing it because I want God to touch my life, no, I’m doing it because that’s the right thing to do. Because if it’s for personal reasons, you might not get your results and get frustrated. For instance, some people go into mentorship, they want to meet a mentor and they start asking and asking questions, the mentor gets turned off and then you go and say dem dey do you for village. You’re the one doing yourself, no mentor wants you to come into his space. He already has his own issues. He also has a mentor he’s chasing. There’s a long ladder to climb and you’re just at the bottom of the chain. So, you just come and assume you can access and at the beginning, it’s when you serve that you get served. So, I’ve just been serving.
Would you say this is one of the reasons you have stayed strong and relevant in the industry for so long?
Yeah, it’s one of them.
What are the other factors that helped you?
Managing relationships well. There are clients we’ve known for over ten years who would call us and say, this guy will call you. They refer us to others. Let me break it down for you. One, character, consistency, discipline, focus and then, rigour. When I say rigour, you don’t rely on your knowledge of yesterday, you keep on digging deeper to renew because, see, when you go for a meeting yesterday, by the time you sleep, that your client is already studying that same thing he’s inviting you for. If you go and you’re not more knowledgeable than you were yesterday, he will know. From your content, he will know this one is very shallow. So, when I say rigour it means that you must keep on evolving intellectually. But you cannot evolve by sitting down and saying, God, help me evolve. It doesn’t work that way, you must put in the hours. You read the books, you write, you research. I have a voracious appetite for knowledge.
Charles Otudor at 50, what has changed about you and what has not changed?
What has not changed? My quest for excellence, my quest for extra knowledge, my hunger to change the world positively and that’s why I’m in the school of Politics, Policy And Governance. We have done our mid-term. It has one of the most rigorous entry processes. It’s a hybrid school. I’ll graduate by October. So many have dropped out. I have worked for governors and presidents, but that was raw knowledge. You know, when you’re working for a client, you learn on the job, it’s different from when you go to school, a hybrid school, to understand politics from those that have been there. It’s like going to Harvard. It’s intense, 3 hours every day for the past three and half months. And they’re monitoring you, if you don’t show up in class, they’ll tell you you’re in red, you’re in amber. They’ve removed some people. So, the quest for knowledge, the hunger to know more, remains the same. What has changed? I’m more restrained in my utterances, the way I react to people. Now, I’ve realized that words can destroy. Before I don’t care if you’re a weak man, I will tell you as it is. These days, my words are seasoned with salt. I have seen a lot of people get destroyed by just one word because they’re not strong enough. The strong should protect the weak. What has also changed? My values have changed. I’m more family-oriented, my children, my family are my world right now. Everything I do is for them. After them, the people that work with me, they’re supreme. I will do anything for my team because they are the best in the world. My team are the best in the world and I’m proud of them.
What made you adopt the colour black at that time as your signature colour? Your office was black, everything about you was black…
All our things are still black, but we’re still evolving in this new space, by the time you come next, you will see what’s about to happen.
But what made you come up with black at that time because it really trended back then?
(Reaches out to pick his black bag, his black 50th birthday pack, black jotter, etc) So, you can see they are all black. The black is still there. My Range Rover is still black. I still wear black, you can see what I am wearing right now. My P.A. is wearing a combination of black and red.
But why did you choose to have a signature colour?
Because we wanted to differentiate from the market and let the market know that it’s not about the colour. You can go against the tide and still succeed and it worked for us. And it’s still working because beyond just the brand identity, we also put that into the content of our operational module. From the point where you contact us as Adstrat or Charles Otudor to the point where we engage you and we start working. For us, it’s a bit more of a process. People see the colours and all that, that’s the brand identity, but the most important aspect of what we’re doing is our process. From the point where you contact us to the point where we present to you our strategy, it must be exceptional. Because when you’re coming, you want something that will disrupt your market to improve your bottom line.
So, beyond the brand identity that disrupted the industry, and I think it’s still disrupting it because there’s something else that we’re going to unveil very soon, we spend more time creating the impossible because of our thinking processes. It took months. And I kept on insisting that our processes must be so perfect that even if I leave it will survive. There was a time I left for school, they even made more money in my absence when I came back. And the structure is still working. So, it’s more or less beyond the identity and whatever is trending. For me, those terms trending don’t work in my market. I’m in a very exclusive market. I don’t work for the mass market because they can’t afford our services. We’ve defined our market and we know who can afford us. Beyond the brand identity thing, what mattered most to us then was the depth of our strategy and the execution of that strategy.
If you look back over the years, at what point would you say you got your big break enough? It will be nice if you’ll be comfortable sharing with us that big account that launched you on the big stage.
There were many of them. The first one that put us on that big platform was Nelson and Moore. They were husband and wife and they were doing the Romani set of shoes then. How did they come? Through him (points to City People Publisher seated in front of him). We were doing Bevista for many months. These guys came, I think they went to Susan Eyo Honesty and she told them, Charles would not work for you, he works exclusively. We were small then o, but you know, when you’re starting small and you have values, people will respect you. Benny respected that. I never told Susan I was working exclusively for any person, but Susan just told them what she thought was the appropriate thing to say at the time.
So, when she called and told me, I said give them my number, I beg. Then, Seye too called me and that was the first one. We now did a 6-page advert in ThisDay. They messed it up and Nduka ran it again. And that was the beginning. But the strategy was more important than the execution. The strategy and how it was put together was intense, it dwarfed any other competitor at that time in the market. Based on that, Leather World now came. There are some brands that you work for and it’s not about the money, it’s about the values and impact. One of the brands that gave us the biggest impact ever was Leather World till date. Bevista, Rivista, yes. And then, from there, all the other brands started coming. Chartered Bank came. From there we entered the banking sector and we did fourteen banks. GTbank came with a different flavour but the most challenging one was Afribank because they were in the court of public opinion at the time. They were in court over shares, but it was a successful job. They wanted to raise 17 but they ended up raising 37 million naira. Another exciting one is Cross River State. We did four years and they retained us for another four years. We now did the outdoor agency. Creating a PPP, which I’ve never done before, for me is exciting.
Let’s talk about Charles Otudor at 50 being an Audacious brand beyond grateful, that’s deep…
Every year we have a theme for COBMC. The upper-year was spiritual branding, this year was audacious branding but it’s not held. How did it come about? The way the Charles Otudor brand grew and morphed into Adstrat, you know the story, and it morphed and morphed and kept on morphing and became much higher, it will also represent my experiences when you’re audacious. You take risks when you’re audacious. Let me talk about audacious branding from a global point of view.
The world has evolved and changed. Now, even when it wasn’t this bad, I took many risks. I pushed the boundaries of imagination in terms of what we thought could be possible, the initiatives we did to push the brand forward, we did a lot. I was audacious. Before I turned 40, I had achieved 98% of most of what I wanted to achieve then. At a point, I was just seated, what next? I don’t want to sound arrogant or anything, I’m very humbled by God’s blessing. For instance, Covid came, we’re still here, I survived. I did not have Covid. All my kids survived, including the one in Rwanda. My wife did not have Covid. So, we’re an audacious brand as a family. Now, even those that you want to work with now, what’s the future for the brands that want to survive in this new context we are operating? They must be audacious. That means that they must be able to evolve and then be audacious enough to take risks or take steps that will engage the market because the market now has reduced income, more options and they are restricted by movement. Most people cannot move around like before.
They’re now used to shopping online. How do you engage someone that can just pick up his phone and buy whatever he wants? So, you must make an audacious move in terms of your strategy. To survive now, you must be audacious. If you’re not audacious you will not survive in this market. It’s either I buy from you or from him, or elsewhere and you’ll not be there when I decide. You can make all the noise you want to make out there, when I’m taking that decision, it’s between me and my phone. Let’s take this bottle of water, for instance, you put in place all the factors of production, the plastic, the machine, the partners. First of all, you get the finance, without the finance, no bottle will come out from it. By the time you go through all the trouble of producing the bottle and it’s in the market, that’s when the real battle starts. You’ve done all your work, you can’t be in every supermarket, so you have to call somebody like us to create awareness, right? After you create the noise, which is awareness, the essence of the awareness is to create interest in the product. After the interest, this is how it works- awareness, interest, then there is desire. Let me take it from my point of view now. You’ve done your bit to put your product out there, then I, as the customer, there’s awareness so I hear about it on radio or tv. Then, I now have interest and I start moving closer. The next step is desire, I want it. And that is where a lot of brands get stuck because, after desire, the next step is the action where you get me to open my pocket to buy your product and that is where audacious branding comes in. That’s the next step to communicate to people in a way that they will part with their money on any platform.