•DEBBIE LARRY-IZAMOJE, The COO Explains
The business environment in Nigeria is kind of harsh and worst hit is the media. But the Larry Izamoje-founded Brila Sports Media has been able to weather the storm. It recently celebrated 20 years in business and the company rolled out the drums in their own small way. How has business been in the last 20 years? How has the company coped with the ever-changing digital environment? These and many more were the questions City People’s Contributing Editor, IYABO OYAWALE asked Debbie Larry-Izamoje, the chief operating officer. For those who don’t know, Larry Izamoje successfully passed the baton of leadership in the company to Debbie but he’s sill the chairman while his wife, Bridget is the Executive Director. Read more for excerpts of the interview with Debbie!
Congratulations on Brila’s 20th year anniversary! How does this make you feel as the COO?
It’s a big deal, honestly. Like turning 20 for us in-house, even apart from the chairman, the E.D; it was a day to celebrate not just the company, but even our founders, that is, the E.D and the chairman for their resilience and that they were bold enough to not just start Brila but to keep the vision alive.
So, it was a day of mixed feelings also, knowing that the terrain is changing and Brila, as people know it, would have to change to talk about digital and all that stuff. It is actually a great thing to know that we are a 20-year-old company.
There is something called “Generational Wealth or Generational Transfer”. Both the E.D and chairman have been able to do that. What do you have to say about that?
Now that I am in a place of leadership, I respect them a lot more and I understand them a lot more. It’s not a joke; it is not easy to run a sports media house in this country. To have a media house and to try to be relevant in changing times? At the time when they started Brila, I was not really into sports, but even then from being keen and seeing how sports has changed over the time. I don’t even know how they did it but, I am grateful that they kept the dream alive. It is such a good thing that I cannot but respect everyone including the pioneer members in the sports house. I thank those who started this journey with them, the friends of the house that my father had introduced me to that is still helpful to me. So, it’s a great thing, I think we are surrounded by good people.
So, how are you guys celebrating?
Err… (Laughs). On the 1st, we had what we call, ‘The Spirit of Brila’ and The Spirit of Brila is fun, young, and vibrant. So, when the spirit of Brila comes alive, even when we are interacting with founders, once you hear any of our OAPs, you will know that we are energetic in-house. The Spirit of Brila was everywhere during the celebration, and we had fish, drinks, DJ, something tiny to celebrate the hard work that goes on in-house. We really didn’t do anything for stake holders, at least not yet. But, it was just an in-house celebration to also give back to ourselves. This is because it takes many people to build a mansion; it is faster when you have many hands. So, for management, it was in order for us to celebrate the people that put in the work daily.
Wow! Does that mean you guys will have something for stakeholders much later, may be your fans?
Yes. So, we did something tiny for fans on that day. We had giveaways on our digital platforms and on radio, it was also a good time for us to get feedbacks from fans. For the first time since I joined Brila, we opened our airways to ask fans what change do they want to see? We are already doing something with their review. I have even heard some of the reviews and we are keen on giving fans what they want us to do.
But in term of Stakeholders; that is our clients, they are the bigger picture. Maybe there will be plans, maybe not but I think we have celebrated the two major people: the fans and the members of the team.
Now, the giveaway, is it airtime or what?
Yes, we did airtime giveaway, cash giveaway. I think we did about N5000 to 20 people. We did recharge card also on our digital platforms, so that’s about it. We are also working on something for the new year where we would have have Brila Merchandise for our fans so that when our fans see each other, they can recognize each other from the outside. When people see Brila fans, they are able to recognize that your goods, the merchandises are all from Brila. So, that’s what we are working on.
Hmm! Something like a store where they can buy your stuff right? Like T-shirts?
Yes! Hand bags, school bags, etc. Also, we realized that it is what this new generation wants, and I think that’s the importance of sustaining your business for 20 more years. You have to listen to each generation and tailor your brand into how you can fit the new generation. So how we are trying to sell Brila to the new generation is with a vibrant and a very young vibe.
Even for our 20th anniversary, we tried hard (which was almost impossible) not to focus on the past 20 years. So, most of our conversations were about moving forward. You know, “what do you want to see in the next 20 years?” To make this possible, our hashtag for the day was #20YearsYoung because we wanted to ensure that people see that Brila is still a young brand. A 20-year old person is a very young and vibrant person. That’s what we were trying to sell. We didn’t want to sell “old” because we have been in existence for 20 years.
We wanted to sell, “We are 20 years, we are vibrant, we have knowledge of the industry, and we are going to be here for another 20 years.”
Awesome! Can you please chronicle some of the major achievements of this media outlet over the last 20 years?
I think the big achievement has been our involvement in Sports development. With what I am most proud of, it is what I met here when I joined the team as an intern. Brila has always been at the forefront of sports development conversations from the grassroots up. We are partners of the Nigeria Football Federation, Women’s Football in Nigeria; we are also partners of LMC, a local league here and we ensure that we tell the story of people before they “blow”.
Most people in the world are focused on those who have “blown”, “this person is so popular now. But, what we have done in 20 years is to pick out talents before anyone in the world ever gets to know of the greatness they possess. There are some people that I know of now, they were just joining the company in the last 6 years. So, some people I know of now were people I’ve heard interviews of when they were just starting out. That’s what I am most proud of.
I am also proud of how we harness talents, and shape the future of journalism, I mean sports journalism. Most media houses that you’ll go to, anybody that is doing sports there has either passed through our system, or they know about the system. This is something I am very proud of as well. I am very proud that my father has played a big role in that, even myself, just like being well taught about sports journalism.
We also create contents for the young people on the digital space with our Brila app and our website. There are so many achievements, I could talk about people that we have brought in from abroad to Nigeria but the names would be endless.
I feel like for me personally, what I am most proud of is that we have been at the forefront of developing sports in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.
Wow! Now, what are some of the traits that have kept this media house going when all others are struggling or fallen by the wayside?
Number one, my father is a very smart businessman, and it’s hard for you to work with him and be a big spender. He has taught us the wisdom of doing business in the 21st Century, so we are not very carried away with frivolous spending. To stay in business, you need to have Cash flow. We spent money on important things like maintenance, our people and other necessities; but not spending on frivolous things just so the world can know we have. This is a key thing I have learnt from our management, that is the E.D. and the chairman.
To be very honest, it is the ‘God-factor.’ I don’t know if other businesses have it, but I know that even myself; anytime that I have been at my weak point that ‘how are we going to make it this month?’
God has always shown up, no matter how business in the country is like. I strongly and truly believe that Brila is a product of grace. God has a way of making things fall in place in a number of ways that we cannot recount. Whenever we’re like we can’t make it through or that a partnership will not come to be, He surprises us. He just never fails us.
Number 3, our people; we have very fantastic, valuable people. For us, we look for value; others look for degrees; some look for institutions. That’s good and fine but what we look for is the love for community, love for the future of sports, and what value you can bring in.
The culture here is about getting value and ensuring that we are also giving back value to others.
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