Pride Magazine Nigeria’swoman of the month for August, 2020 is the exceptional Ifeoma Agu. Ifeoma is a seasoned marketing professional and a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants with over a decade experience and outstanding proficiency in brand management, trade marketing and sales strategy. She is currently the Senior Brand Manager leading the Premium Non- Alcoholic Portfolio at Guinness Nigeria Plc.

We met up with her for a quick chat to discuss work, family and balancing it all in the new normal.

How would you describe yourself?

I like to describe myself as a dogged optimist who sees only possibilities and this shapes my purpose in life which is to inspire people to trust God and be limitless in being the best they can be, hinged on a legacy of self-belief, optimism and a hunger to succeed. I am a highly principled, self-motivated and innovative marketing professional with over ten years’ experience and outstanding proficiency in brand management, commercial strategy and trade marketing. I am very passionate about managing people for success, wielding amazing relationships and building great brands. 

Can you give us a brief history of your life’s trajectory so far – where were you born, education and career?

I was born and raised in Lagos. I attended Junior Strides Academy Primary School in Lagos Mainland and Our Lady of Apostles Secondary School, Yaba. I later graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Botany from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Prior to obtaining my university admission, I enrolled in a computer school to study a six-month course on Desktop Publishing and excelled at design using CorelDRAW. As a result of that, my instructor at the time recommended me to a firm and that marked my first job experience at the age of 17 in an advertising and marketing training firm – Zus Bureau Ltd. I was introduced to the tenets of advertising and marketing at Zus Bureau and from then on, developed a flair for marketing.

Being an undergraduate with some work experience in the corporate world, I was eager to pursue my newfound passion. This inspired a self-commitment to pursue a career in marketing and leverage every long semester holiday to work in a different company and garner more marketing experience. Before I concluded my bachelor’s degree, I had already worked in four different companies in different roles related to sales and marketing.

I furthered my education with several courses in Professional Marketing from the Chartered Institute of Marketing UK; Digital Branding and Engagement – a edX course from Curtin University, Western Australia; and a Global Business course from Harvard Business School Online. Over the years, I have garnered so much expertise and positioned myself as an exceptional marketing professional within the industry with several recognitions and awards to attest to the professionalism and responsibility I bring to my work. I was awardedFellow of the Institute of Management Consultants (FIMC) in 2019, and won the prestigious African Achievers of the Commonwealth award in 2018. I am also an Associate Fellow of the Institute of Certified Professional Managers of Nigeria (ICPM), a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing UK, and a member of Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON).

I have worked across various industries in notable companies: FMCG (Guinness Nigeria Plc), banking (Guaranty Trust Bank), telecommunication (Visafone), advertising (Zus Bureau), and media (Daily Independent Newspapers) with a proven track record of consistently delivering great performance having led innovative and transformational business projects with record-breaking results. I am currently the Senior Brand Manager and Portfolio Marketing Lead for Premium Non-Alcoholics at Guinness Nigeria Plc – a position attained after several roles across sales, customer marketing and brand management in the company.

As a dogged optimist who strives to focus on possibilities, what are the business and management lessons you are gleaning from the ongoing coronavirus crisis?

Change is a fundamental phenomenon we must always be prepared for. COVID-19 has definitely brought about a lot of changes that have impacted both individuals and businesses with the promise of a “new normal”. More than ever, the need to be agile, flexible and speedily adaptive to these changes has proved to be one of the biggest lessons from COVID-19. 

Businesses are learning to set short-term KPIs and targets – more like quarterly KPIs in response to the VUCA period we are in i.e. to consider volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. This helps to keep a short-term focus on business targets while also keeping an eye on the longer-term strategy, ensuring necessary tweaks are built in to keep them relevant for a fast-paced dynamic world/market. Also, businesses would be seeking more long-term plans to secure local sources of raw materials – this should have a positive impact on the supply chain and economy with the collaborative effort of the government and private sector if well harnessed. 

Another lesson borders around debunking the myth of unproductivity as a result of working from home. Prior to COVID-19, the idea of working from home especially in Nigeria had been frowned at and deemed impossible. All that has changed now especially for non-factory workers or non-consumer facing employees. A colleague helped to demystify the overwhelming feeling of frustration during the first weeks of lockdown when everyone was working from home, he said, “working from home is not fun when every other person is working from home” – that actually put it in perspective. We may have craved the idea of working from home but definitely not with everyone doing the same especially during a global pandemic. With schools shutdown, the new normal has parents learning a new kind of patience and multi-tasking as they double as executives and homeschool teachers. Bottom line is, some businesses have learnt the upside to working from home and it may become one of the “new normals” that has come to stay.

With constraint comes creativity; businesses are spending a lot less on their marketing campaigns during this pandemic, however this constraint has propelled a lot of creativity in the industry – this is what I call “agility marinated in creativity”. The digital communications of brands are being sensitive to the pandemic yet connecting and staying relevant to their target audience. Businesses are remodeling their route to consumer models and adopting e-commerce platforms; brick and mortar dominant businesses are adapting quickly to serve their consumers online and provide home deliveries. I dare say the pace and agility in turning around business strategies to adapt to the changes have been remarkable within the industry. 

Another management lesson can be taken from a popular quote: “For scientific discovery give me Scott; for speed and efficiency of travel give me Amundsen; but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.”— Sir Raymond Priestley, Antarctic explorer and geologist.

Reflecting on Ernest Shackleton’s most famousEndurance expedition, which began in August 1914 when the team left London for Antarctica, he had one mission – “To get all his men home alive”. He and his men faced great dangers and hazards as a result of a sea that was literally ridden with ice floes and they got stuck for several months. Through those trying periods on the frozen sea, he created mental medicine – managing the energy, outlook, engagement and particularly the cohesion of his team.

He was committed to the idea that his leadership and management will involve constant adaptation, suppleness, improvisation, flexibility, and a deep commitment to abiding with the mission – “I will get them all home alive”. Tapping from the leadership style of Shackleton who achieved that grave mission of getting all 27 men home alive, it is pertinent for management to adopt this type of leadership style during turbulent times to create the mental medicine for their teams in driving engagement and team cohesion through several virtual activities to sustain their energy levels and commitment to deliver the business goals.

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