Few days back, Otunba Seni Adetu, delivered a powerful message on how to be a successful leader, at the 50th birthday of Rtn. Micheal Effiong James and his installation as the President Rotary Club Ikeja South.
Otunba Seni Adetu, a former Managing Director/CEO Guinness Nigeria Plc has over 30 years of sound private sector experience garnered at the highest levels working with multinationals such as: John Holt Plc, Coca-Cola International and Diageo Plc in different countries within and outside Africa.
This successful man spoke about 6 qualities a leader must have to be very successful. The message wasn’t just motivational, but was highly impactful and educative. Below are his messages and practical experience he has garnered over the years.
“Today, I want to talk about winning in a corporate world, and the reason I want to speak on this is that, the celebrant today has shown he is a man that believes in leadership and governance. I met him for the first time in Dubai, about a year ago; at a mutual’s friend birthday party. He was there with Hazuh Arinze and I just got to like him as a very authentic person. Though, I committed myself before I knew today was our wedding anniversary, but I still said I would go ahead and honour today. So I am more than delighted to be here.
Very quickly, I am just going to speak on 6 things, that I believe speaks to leadership.
I want to talk about 6 things that would help you shape your leadership. The first thing I say to people is that, you have to own your destiny. You have to be deliberate about who you want to be, how you want to do it and what governance you put in place to measure whether you are doing well against what you have decided to be. Some people call it a vision and all that. All that is grammar. What is important is that, be very deliberate on who you want to be.
Let me tell you, in Nigeria today, if you don’t conciously shape your destiny, circumstances around you will shape it for you. How many time have you listened to an armed robber and they say to the armed robber how did you become an armed robber? And he (the armed robber) says, I was living with a step-mother that was beating me. So one day I ran to the street to stay under the bridge and I met some friends and today here I am.
Circumstances around you will shape your life for you. And in some cases the outcome you get out of that would not be what you would have desired to create. The first thing to do as you go into the leadership position is to be very deliberate about what you want to create.
Many of these companies you hear about like Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola had it first bottle by John Stith Pemberton, that went out in 1886 and 133 years after they are still standing because of the governance I am talking about.
As a CEO of Guinness Nigeria, we went out do survey one day, so we were asking people when you hear about Guinness 1759, what does it means to you? And many of them says that is very easy. 1759 means one minute to 6pm, and what the company is trying to say is that, you can start drinking Guinness from one minute to 6pm. I laughed!. 1759 was actually the first year Guinness bottle came out to the market. And they have been there for 260 years, and that speaks to the need about what you need to do and have the governance to manage what you are doing.
The second is that, as human being, we tend to do too many things. But my offer today is that less is more. A few things could actually deliver much more impact than trying to spread yourself. As CEO of Guinness, everytime I went round and I see people writing 7 things they were going to do for the week, I laughed. What happened was that, on Monday they started on one and because they are running late and realise they still have 6, they abandon it and went on to the second one, and at the end of the week they have not done one out of the 7. I used to say to them, what if you only have two things for the week and make sure those ones are off your plate.
So, less is more. I will tell a story around that. How many of you know Buba Marwa? When he was knewly appointed Military Governor Lagos State. He was sitting with my MD at Coca-Cola and I was Acting Manager at that time. The name of my MD then was Ilan Riyad, and he asked Buba Marwa that, now that you are the Military Governor of Lagos State, what should Lagos State expect? And Marwa said to him, Lagos has a myriad of problems, and I am not going to try to address all, but 2 things I would do for Lagos and I hope they would remember me for those 2 things. He said first, I am going to fix the road and that was huge at that time because the governor before him said there was no bitumen. He also said he would fix security. Those were the days thieves would come to your house in Surulere, armed robbers would ask you to pray for them, prepare food. Security was really bad. What did he do? He started Operation Sweep and then he started finding bitumen to fix all the roads. Just 2 things. Less is more.
I was in Abuja when former President Jonathan lost transformational plan: 14 points agenda. Maybe because I am not smart, I can’t even remember any of them. But I remember the 2 Buba Marwa did in 1996. So, less is more.
The third thing is that, focus your energy on what you can change. A lot of time, Nigerians complain about everything. It’s time we stopped the blame game. Try to be a student and not as a victim of your circumstances or experience. You should accept the things you can’t change. Even some of us have even gone beyond accepting, we now celebrate ourselves. So when I see someone who is 6 feet tall and struggling on a plain, I just said to myself, look at him he is too tall. I am celebrating myself in saying that. So, we must learn to celebrate ourselves. Focus on what you can change, don’t spend too much time complaining on things you can’t change.
I remember when I was in Coca-Cola, I went to the head office in London and I was making a presentation and I was asked why you people aren’t selling in Nigeria? And I said to the white man that, if you see how it’s raining in Nigeria, you will know why we are not selling. And the man just shut me down straight away. He asked me if it didn’t rain last year and the previous year, and did Pepsi not in the same market? Did it not rain? I said it’s raining. So, he said I should stop talking about weather, but I should talk about the distribution you haven’t done. That I should talk about all the operational issues that we have. I don’t want to hear anything about the rain.
Let’s focus our energy on the things we can influence; things that we can change.
No 4, you must be able to measure yourself against the best. You need to decide what your benchmark is. We are so stature-driven in Nigeria. If you see a T-shirt on a Ghanian and you say I love your T-shirt, the Ghanian would say my father gave it to me, go and ask Nigerian the same question , he would say this one, I have 10 more like that. Who ask him? We are so statures driven.
When I went to Atlanta one time, they showed me a Sprite campaign. The Sprite campaign goes thus “image is nothing, thirst is everything, obey your thirst drink Sprite”. When they ask me whether it would work in Nigeria, I said it won’t work and the white man said I was very stupid because we have asked Kenyans, South Africans, they said it would work. And I said in my country, image is everything. And don’t do your competition in a way that you don’t over-do it. Some people don’t know that the fact you have 10 million naira in your account doesn’t mean you can afford a 9 million naira car. Mathematically, you can, but it doesn’t make sense. You buy it for one year and you can’t maintain it.
No 5, learn to inspect what you expect. The easiest way to get disappointed is to not know what you have created. You see a lot of businessmen today they are losing values. I will tell you a story about that. In my work at Coca-Cola then, somebody was coming from Atlanta to visit the market, so I told my guys to go and clean the market, so that when they come they will see Coca-Cola in the market. Unfortunately for me, they told me 6 months before, so some months to the visit I asked my guy if he has cleaned the market. Two months before he came from Atlanta, I asked again, have you cleaned the market? And one month to the visit I asked. So, 4 days to his visit, I called him, he still told me that the market was clean, but his body language didn’t convince me that he had done it. So, apparently on that day after we have spoken, they ran to the market (to clean the market). Of course, the guys coming from Atlanta are not stupid. The guys coming are from the global office of Coca-Cola. So, when they came, they called me as their boss to go to the market. I didn’t inspect what I was expecting. I hadn’t been in the market for few months to get what I was asking for had been done. So we got to the market and the moment we got into the market I knew I was in deep trouble. Everything was looking brand new. Apparently, 4 days to the time was when they realised they needed to do something. So the moment they saw that, I knew they would pick it up. So, what they did was to go to one woman (in Mushin) who was selling Coca-Cola and greeted the women. Everything around the woman’s shop was so new. The table, banner, umbrella was so new. So, they asked the woman, how many crate did she sell last month? The woman said they just brought this one yesterday. I nearly froze and she (the woman) also asked that are you the “Oyinbo” who they said would come?
It was as if they sent that women to me from Shagamu where I come from. But the truth of the matter is that I didn’t inspect what I was expecting.
Last one, you need to learn to take calculated risk. I remember I got my CEO job at mid 30’s. I am not talking about a small company, but CEO of Coca-Cola based in Ghana. Fortunately, those who gave you that job are not Nigerians. It’s all based on who you are, but what I realised that served me well is what I want to share with you. You must learn to take calculated risk. If you don’t take a risk you have no ticket for stardom.
Let me share an example of the risk I took. When I got to a place East African Breweries. Eas Africa Breweries is the biggest company in East Africa, and I was appointed group CEO of that company around 2009. One of my first meetings there I told the Directors I wanted to change a bottle that was called Tusker. Tusket was so big and as at that time it was giving them about 200 million pounds in revenue. The moment I said I wanted to change that, everybody laughed. Apparently, the reason they laughed was that all the MD’s before me had said the same, but nobody dared change it.
For 60 years that bottle had not been changed. So, they told me you better not change it because it’s not only you that would lose your job, even us as Directors we would lose our jobs, and I said okay. I called my boss in the UK and I said I want to change the bottle of this Tusker and the man said is that what you want to do:
And he said if that’s what I want to do it’s my call! That’s another way of saying you are on your own. So, when I took that bottle to my wife, she said that bottle was too dirty and I said thank you, I want to change this bottle. She said it was a good idea, but I said there’s a problem. The problem is that, everybody I have spoken scared me not to take that leap and she said have you spoke to your boss who she knows very well and I said even my boss is against it and she said in that case you have to be very careful; we are still paying school fees. But I went ahead.
I changed that bottle . I brought in people from UK because I couldn’t trust some people on ground and as God we have it, the brand took off like widefire. It was unbelievable. That year, I was awarded Forbes CEO of the Year Runner-Up in East Africa.