When the news broke last year that Ntel, the newest entrant into Nigeria’s telecommunication market, was set to begin operations, not many gave them a chance of survival. This is because many reckoned that the existing telecom brands have a firm grip on the market that it would be a mission impossible for any new brand to break into the fold and survive. And that is exactly what Ntel has done. One year after its inception, Ntel has stunned cynics and left everyone in awe as its grip on the market continues to rise, just as its subscription base continues to grow. With these, what other parameter would anyone need to ascertain the firm’s survival in the already saturated and keenly competitive industry?
For those who may not know, Ntel, operating under its parent company, NATCOMS Investments Limited, acquired NITEL about two years ago (they bought the Assets and not Liability) and began operations in April 8, 2016. The brand had come to fill the gap, bringing Nigerians unfettered access to full mobile broadband, both on voice and data services. But what really helped Ntel break into the market and gave it that significant edge over competitors is its introduction of the fourth generation Long Term Evolution (4G LTE) network service. They are the first to be licensed to operate under that capacity. Today, not too many people would claim not to have heard of Ntel and its impressive services and products as the telecom firm continues its drive to push the brand beyond boundaries. One of the individuals the organisation is counting on to help them break barriers in terms of sales and visibility is Mr. Olujinmi Tella, the GM, Sales (Lagos). He is a seasoned Sales man, a marketing guru with many years of experience and accomplishments under his belt. Mention any of the telecom giants you know and we can tell you authoritatively that Mr. Tella has worked with virtually all of them, leaving very impeccable records in each of the organizations he had worked for before making his exit. In truth, his career profile, as far as his core area of competence is concerned, is nothing absolutely short of intimidating. Little wonder why Ntel has entrusted him with the responsibility to supervise and co-ordinate its sales and marketing operations in Lagos. City People’s WALE LAWAL had a chat with this very warm gentleman, who’s also a quiet socialite and member of a couple of elite social and recreational clubs and he took us through a bit of his background and the plans and aspirations of the emerging telecom heavyweight, Ntel.
Give us a bit about your background.
My name is Olujinmi Tella, I am from Ejigbo in Osun State. I was born in the early 60s. I had my primary education in Lagos and, of course, the South-West where I went to The Polytechnic, Ibadan. I did Physics Electronics and, of course, did other Advanced programmes at home and abroad. And I’m happily married with a wonderful family.
Where did you spend your growing up years?
I spent it here in Lagos. I grew up in Lagos, I will always call myself a Lagos boy to a reasonable extent because all my life has been spent here in Lagos. Apart from going to school and coming back for the holidays, all my life has been spent here in Lagos.
What were your aspirations as a young man?
As a young boy, my wish then was to be a medical doctor, but by circumstance and by the way things turned out for me, I found myself, still in sciences, but in the Electronics part of Science. As I said, I did Physics Electronics, and afterwards added MBA in Marketing. And by virtue of my work, I’ve been working for over thirty years. I’ve had Advanced training in the United States, in the United Kingdom, in India, South Africa, name it, I’ve been all over to further advance my knowledge of the profession. Thankfully, one has done his bit in the industry. No regrets that I didn’t do medicine because I’m happy with what I’m doing now. I have done sales job for over twenty years, I mean sales of telecoms and IT and it’s been a very good and rewarding experience for me, I’m proud to be in that sector.
Many people would find it unusual that you actually studied Physics Electronics and then did a complete switch to Marketing, a discipline that’s not even Science related. What were the factors that informed the decision?
Well, truth is, Marketing has been a part of me, it’s a natural flair. I like to talk, I have the flair, I like to meet people and I like to socialise. That was how I was able to build the skills of a Sales man and it’s been wonderful. That ability to socialise, plus my persuasive power and brilliant negotiation skill have really helped me in my Marketing career. And, of course, I’m a people’s Manager, I’m very warm and I’m likeable and these are some of the things that are necessary for you to be a good sales man. A sales man who does not socialise may not really do well. For instance, because of my ability to sell myself and sell my product to people, each time I leave one telecom company for the other, I take people with me. People gladly follow me to work with me because they have trust in my ability to deliver.
Share with us a bit of your career growth, how did you begin your journey in Sales and Marketing?
I did my Youth Service in Lagos with a Computer company called JKK as a Pupil engineer. We were the baby engineers then, that’s how we started. In the course of our job, when we go to ‘pamper’, pamper means servicing, there are situations where we have to tell clients that, ‘look, this computer is getting spoilt, you will have to get another one.’
In the course of that, you have to argue with that person, you have to convince them and make them see reasons why they need to change that part of the system that you’re advising them to replace and also make them understand the possible consequences of not changing it immediately as you have advised. During all of that process, you’re subtly doing sales, you’re encouraging them to buy something they didn’t even have the intention to buy. After I left JKK, I went to Business Network Limited, where I started work as a proper sales person, but I was a Sales Engineer, not an Electronics Engineer.
A Sales Engineer, selling engineering materials and parts in the ICT world, and that’s how it all started. From there, I worked in other companies before ending up in the telecoms. I was one of the pioneer staff of Globacom. I was the first Dealer Manager for Golabacom in Abuja when we launched. We actually launched Glocacom in Abuja. I was in Globacom for about four years before I left to join Motorola International. I was the Account Manager for Nigeria and Africa and I was there for about three years before I went to Etisalat (now 9mobile). At Etisalat, I was a pioneer staffer as well, just as at Globacom. I spent eight years in Etisalat as the Head of Region,
I spent eight years in Etisalat as the Head of Region, Lagos and South West. I was responsible for Sales in Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Ekiti, Ondo and Kwara for seven years. I left Etisalat two years ago to join Ntel. Ntel is Natcom Development and Investment Company Limited, but we trade as Ntel, that’s the company that acquired the old NITEL. The prefix for our network is 0804, if you remember then, NITEL was 0804. We bought the Assets and not Liability of NITEL. So, we started business and we largely do telecoms, we do voice and data and we’re doing remarkably well. Today, I’m proud to say we have a good share of the market despite that we just came up about a year ago.
Let’s talk about your core area of the business in Ntel. How challenging was it for you to break into the market with your new products and packages, considering that there were already strong existing brands in the market at the time you began operations?
Everything boils down to experience and the experience is there, that’s most important. Another thing is product positioning, you must have the right product and you must know exactly how to reach your target customers out there. Most important thing is to be able to communicate what you’re selling. If you’re selling a good product, it’s not going to be difficult for you to sell, once you have the right distributors and you’re able to communicate effectively to the public the type of product that you have and its uniqueness. And with good product visibility, good packaging, good pricing, and with good product awareness, then you’re good to go. These are basically what you need to sell any new brand and break into the market.
In how many states can we find Ntel now?
I’m in charge of Lagos for now. We have our network in Lagos, Abuja and Port-Harcourt as we speak. And as you will expect, we’re surely expanding, we’re not slowing down at all.
And how has the response been so far?
Excellent. Nigerians have received us very well, the average subscriber is very pleased with us because of the quality of service that we render. Sincerely, the response has been overwhelming.
I know that Ntel has gone down in the record books as the first company to offer Nigerians fourth Generation Long Term Evolution (4G LTE) network service….
(Cuts in) Yeah, we’re the first in Nigeria to introduce the 4G LTE, which stands for fourth generation Long Term Evolution. That’s our switch and it’s the first in Nigeria. We’re licensed to operate in that capacity and that gives us an edge over competition.
Being a first timer in the industry, how easy or difficult was it for you to come up with this package that has clearly helped you break into the market right away?
It’s very simple. You’re coming into a market that is not new, so one would expect that any new person coming into the market will come with something superior to what competitors have and that is 4G for you. The others don’t have it. They’re just building and trying to package something that will emulate 4G, but we came in with pure 4G LTE which is unique.
Going by the response you’re getting from the public, what are your expectations of Ntel say in the next one year or so?
In the next one year, I believe Ntel will be in, at least, half of Nigeria in terms of coverage. We’re really coming up strong and at the pace we’re moving, we will surely be in about half of the country pretty soon.
And how about its position in the market?
The awareness would’ve increased, people who don’t know us would’ve known us more. Areas that we’re not covering at the moment, we would be covering those areas soon. And, of course, we would’ve had a higher number of acquisitions. Our subscriber growth would’ve been stupendous by then.
Let’s slow down a bit and talk about your life as a socialite. You are the chairman of the Darts section of the Lagos country club. When did you become a member and how did you start out as a socialite in the first place?
Well, by coincidence, today marks my 21st year as a member of the Lagos Country Club. As a joke, I joined twenty one years ago, I started a lot younger and I was able to relate with most of the people in the club even though many of them are older than me. But nevertheless, I believe the ability to relate well with elderly men could also be a strength. I’ve been able to manage myself, socialise with them, play the game of Darts and it’s been twenty years of very remarkable relationship with everyone in the club. Apart from being a member of Lagos Country Club, I’m also a member of Yoruba Tennis Club and I’m also a member of Lagos Lawn Tennis Club.
How exciting or challenging has it been as the Chairman of the Darts Section of the club?
It’s been very challenging. We came in at a time when the economy is going through some really bad moments and that has really affected us. There are a number of things we want to do, but we don’t have the financial capacity to execute them now, however, with support from some corporate organisations, we have been able to get this far. And, of course, some members have also been of tremendous help in terms of giving financial support to the section.
We were able to build a gym that cost us almost N2million, courtesy of the sponsorship of Nigerian Breweries and some supportive individuals. My Exco too have been extremely supportive, both financially and morally to the development of the section. Hopefully, before I finish my term, we hope to refurbish the Cool Room upstairs, where members could go and relax and have private discussions.