Mr. Ehi Braimah is the CEO of Neo Media & Marketing. He is also the owner of Adna Hotel, in Ikeja GRA, Lagos. A father of three and Mathematics graduate of the University of Benin, he enlightened YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, on how most people kill their businesses without knowing it. From a humble background, he also shared with him how he conquered poverty as well as where he’s headed next and more. Enjoy…
What makes a good marketing communications practitioner?
The ability to identify a niche for what you are selling. Because, in marketing communications, basically, we are selling, using different channels. These channels include but not limited to both above-the-line and below-the-line. Creating awareness for a product and in the process you build credibility and third party endorsements. So, all of these things aid selling, marketing. Some people have confused marketing to be science, to be art. But it doesn’t really matter; what is important is that they are able to communicate the values of a product or a brand as the case may be to the target audience so that they can believe; because the reason to believe is very important. So, you need to identify that niche to be able to sell and for the audience to believe.
What does it take to succeed in your line of business?
You see, the simple secret of success cuts across every profession, every discipline. It’s the same standard. It’s like a car. A car cannot run without an engine, whether it’s a truck, whether it’s a motorcycle, whether it’s a saloon car; you just need an engine. So, the same thing in any business. You need to know the subject, you need to develop yourself; training. To succeed, you also need to have the discipline to succeed. Most people don’t have the discipline to succeed. That’s why I say to a lot of people that there’s a thin line, there’s a very thin line between success and failure. And I think a lot of people also take things for granted and assume. They just assume because A is doing it and he’s doing it well, they can just jump into it, without doing a proper feasibility, without doing a proper research. Before I started this hotel (Adna, on 28, Ladipo Bateye Street, Ikeja GRA, Lagos), I had never done a hotel business before. But the same discipline I’ve employed in Neo Media &Marketing (his marketing communications company) is what I’m using here; is what I’m using in the other businesses. Everything has its own model and rules. If you don’t deviate from them, you will succeed. But if you breach them, if you compromise them, you will not succeed. That is the truth.
Why do some people attain success in what they are doing and find it difficult to sustain it?
It’s because they never aim at the big picture. They always see the small picture. It’s better to aim at the big picture. Business is not a sprint, to answer your question. It’s a marathon; it’s a long distance race. So, most of those people who can’t succeed, it’s because they see success as a business and the opportunities that come as a short distance race. In another way, you can also say that success is not really a destination, it’s just a journey. So, you must make the distinction. The second point is that some people get carried away when they just make some quick money. They never plan for what we call the rainy day, they never set aside some part of that money; and I think the bigger challenge is that most people don’t know how to invest what they have earned. Like in my office now, let me give you an example; most of the staff, I don’t owe them. But I’ve discovered that if you give people any opportunity, they will abuse it, so there is nothing like I.O.U in the company, there’s nothing like draw down or asking for loan because we have made the relevant provision to take care of all these things. So, if you are still not okay with what you are getting, then it means you are not managing your personal finances properly. Beyond that, we have also taken the step to encourage them to invest in mutual funds, because most of them will save up money, they will go and take the money; then you have not saved anything. If you keep N5000 in just 5 years, it’s N360,000, without interest. That is the way it grows. So, you grow your nest egg. Simple secret. When a chicken is laying the eggs, they are together. Do you know why God made it to be so? When you see one to two, two to three, there is an encouragement to do the fourth one, to do the fifth one. It’s the same principle with creating wealth. I have kept money in some investments for 10 years without touching the money. So, that is what I’m now encouraging the staff to do. They might grumble now, but they will see the benefit later. So, those people who can’t sustain success, it’s because – one – they get carried away; two – they are not seeing the big picture; and three – they don’t know how to invest their money.
What is the costliest mistake that anybody can make in your line of business?
If you don’t have a vision for your business. I’m doing hotel today, I can decide to go and start a printing press tomorrow, I can decide I want to start a media – buying company tomorrow. In these areas, I don’t have the core competence, but as an investor, as an entrepreneur, I know what it takes for a business to succeed. So, you must get those ingredients together…
What are those ingredients needed for a business to succeed?
No. 1, I’ve just said it before – you must know the dynamics of that market. You should go and do research and feasibility. What you don’t know, you appoint people to do it for you. Yeah, I’ve not run a hotel before, but I’m appointing people who know about running hotels and you pay them to do that. But as a businessman, you know what P and L (profit and loss) is. I know that my income must be more than my expenses otherwise the business will go under. So, I am very particular about those things that will add up to the numbers growing. The other thing people compromise is service delivery. Everybody wants value for money. So, as long as you don’t compromise that and you are responsive to your business, to the customers, to the clients, your business can never die. When you take your customers for granted, the business will die. That is one simple secret most people don’t know.
What do you like most about what you are doing?
I enjoy what I do because for me, it’s like a passion. It’s like a hobby. To be honest with you, I can do so many things like Richard Branson and indeed he’s one model. I have practically read every book on Richard Branson, including the ones he wrote by himself. I’ve read Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, all these people. They don’t have two heads, they don’t have two eyes. Even this facebook man, Mark Zukerberg. Those guys are no magicians, they are not better than you and I. If you go and study their success stories; it’s the same principles they all applied. You must be committed, you must have a vision, you must create value, then you must have the discipline to manage money and then separate your personal income from that of the business. The other reason why most businesses die – people don’t know how to separate their own money from the business; they mix the two together. That’s how most businesses die. Here, I don’t touch any money. I have my own account. Even my wife does not touch anything here. And there is what we call K.P.I – Key Performance Indicator. On a month to month basis, to measure performance. And if you don’t achieve it, it means you have failed for that month. So, you do everything possible to drive yourself to success. I enjoy it! And I’m very passionate about everything I do. Don’t forget, I read Mathematics. We are very versatile people. We can decide to go into anything and make a success of it.
What don’t you like about what you do?
Honestly, the stress with doing business. Maybe that’s the question. One – power problem. It’s challenging. Sometimes I feel like just packing my load and running to Dubai or running to England or South Africa where there is steady light. The cost of power…If I tell you how much I spend here on diesel, on this Adna Hotel; I’m ready to give 25 percent of that money to government and with the remaining 75 percent, I employ more people. So, that’s No. 1. No 2, the banks are not supporting businesses. They are just paying lip service. You cannot grow without a bank. Any small business cannot grow without a bank, especially when you don’t have a godfather. That’s another major challenge. The third one-human resource. Big challenge for doing business. But again, that should become like a talent in knowing how to hire the right people. But you won’t hire right all the time. Some mistakes are bound to be made. Some very costly. So, those three issues-power, the banks and human resource! That’s a big problem. Probably the biggest.
What distinguishes you as a businessman?
I like to keep my operations simple. Short and simple. They call it KISS – Keep It Short and Simple. By my nature, I don’t want to be predictable and I like to take things very easy. Very, very easy. Even if I have all the problems in the world on top of my head, you will never know, except I tell you. And I always believe, for every challenge, there’s always a solution. Maybe again because of my background as a Maths person. And no particular problem is entirely new. It would have happened sometime in the past, with some other people, in different circumstances. So, the business owner should continuously get new information, see how things were done previously and seek to improve.
At what point in your life did it occur to you to move from being an employee to an employer? And what prompted it?
To be honest with you, I have always had this knack for doing things for myself. It’s a gift. For most people, it’s actually a gift. Nobody tells you. It’s something that is just there. You activate it at some point; when the age is right. In fact, it activates itself within you. That spirit that will continue to push you to do things for yourself. You cannot put a time to it. Sometimes if you do that, you will make a big mistake…
So, how does one know that the right time has come?
That’s’ what I’m saying. It’s spiritual. It’s there inside you and at the right time, it activates itself. I’ve been fending for myself since I was 17 years old. That is the truth. Even as a student in Government College, when I was given bursary by the then Bendel State governor, Prof. Ambrose Alli, from that money, I still paid for GCE (General Certificate of Education) for some of my brothers. Then, did one or two things to support them. As a student in University of Benin, I was making money writing for The Observer (a newspaper), organising summer schools with some other friends. When I say money, good money! Every month! Preparing people for GCE. I was teaching Maths and Physics. And Maths being a compulsory subject, my class was always full. N10, N10 at that time. Big money! I was really making a lot of money. So, that entrepreneurial spirit was already there; had been activated. I’m talking about a man who was just 17. I was a teacher in one of those schools Ambrose Alli set up for 2 years with my HSC. 17 to 19 o! I never reach 20. I entered UNIBEN at the age of 19 and by 23, I was out. As a student, I did all that. I went to Awka for youth service – Anambra State College of Education. That’s the university now. I didn’t need anybody to push me to come to Lagos. I ‘entered’ a luxurious bus, came to Lagos and said I want to see Mitchel Obi, I want to see Sunny Ojeagbase. I didn’t know anyone of them from Adam. Something keeps pushing you. And that’s what I’m talking about. When that spirit of doing things for yourself is activated, you move. After youth service, I was in Benin, but I said no, I have to go to Lagos. I called Ojeagbase. I didn’t have a phone, but that was not a barrier. I went to a friend who had a telephone. The one they used to do like this (demonstrates it). And I called the number – 524220. I can never forget it. That was even analog then, before they made it 4524220, digital. I heard his voice, I introduced myself – I like the way you write sports, from Daily Times to Concord to The Guardian; I want to write like you. He said anytime you are in Lagos, drop by in the office and that was how I started with him in 1988. So, for me, I have never really applied for job in the true sense of the word, but I go for what I want, so to speak. And then with Sunny I was also able to build a network of friends. From Climax magazine, we started doing all the things you guys will always do as journalists – going out, reaching out and all that. And Akeju (Mr. Yemi, of Ideas Communications) said ah, young man, come and work for me. Not married then; with a car, with a driver, with a big flat. My flat then was behind Jabita Hotel, opposite Automania, if you remember Alade Avenue. But I started from a one-room apartment, on Olaide Tomori in Ikeja. Things were not easy then. I used to fly Molue in Lagos, from Ogba to Ikeja, Ikeja to Oshodi, Oshodi to Cele Bus Stop in Apapa. But we thank God today. A lot of water has passed under the bridge.
You started out as a journalist, but along the line you moved into marketing communications, advertising, PR and co, what prompted that?
I’m a very versatile person. Okay, what prompted me into hotel business? I’m using this as a model. Don’t be surprised tomorrow if I decide to build Adna into a brand, as a boutique hotel brand and I do one in Lekki, I do one in Abuja, I do one in Benin. You know that’s the way it starts. You will just be there sometime and somebody will say I like what you are doing, can you do this same thing for me in Benin, in Port Harcourt, in Abuja? Don’t worry, I will bring the money, but we will own it together. And I have nothing to lose. I will rather have 10 percent of 100 billion than 100 percent of zero. So, that is how it starts. When you do something good, it speaks for itself and that is why we say a brand will always create value and then it will attract attention.
You went into partnership that ended on a sour note at TQA, what lessons did come out with there?
I don’t like talking about that experience. It wasn’t something we all planned for. Unfortunately, when Osayande Osunde died, there was a crisis. Let’s just say we have all gone our separate ways and I went to court to protect my interest in that business and the case is still in court. Let’s just leave it like that for now. But talking about lessons, in any partnership, I think it is important to have everything well documented. Partnership is not bad in the true sense of the word. There is nothing wrong with partnership. Look at Entertainment Express (a newspaper). There are three owners – myself, Ojeagbase and Mike Awoyinfa and Dimgba Igwe. So, once there is an understanding, once there is synergy and chemistry, yes, there will be issues from time to time, but not the one that will lead to bitterness or deep-seated animosity. If there is fear of God, people will abide with the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) of their partnership. Seriously! So, I will advise that partnership is good. Two, if you want to go into a partnership, go with somebody who understands the way you do things. I don’t want to say a soul mate, but a very good friend that you share the same ideas, the same ideologies, same world view. Three, have a proper agreement in place. Four, nobody should be taken by surprise. Everything should be spelt in black and white – rules, responsibilities and expectations and how money will be shared. Because what brings the problem most of the time is when money starts to come and before you know it, the story will begin to change.
The late Managing Director of TQA was a great guy. And I learnt so many things from him. One, he used to say you can never spend money you have not earned, which for me is basic economics. Two, from the late Osayande, I learnt how to always have a full tank in my car. Especially in a country where you can wake up tomorrow morning, you see long queues. He never had anything less than a full tank. Because you know some of us, young men, we will be driving cars and forget to buy fuel and when the tank is now empty, you struggle to fill it. He always had a full tank. Three, his dress sense was just outstanding and then four, he had this way of charming people. And it worked for both staff, and clients. He was just a great guy and for me, I picked some of those things promptly. The TQA experience was fun, I must be honest with you, until what happened, happened.
You work for multinationals like Nigerian Breweries, Promasidor, etc. Which company would you like to work for but have not been able to attract?
Well, one of the telecoms, definitely. I think I should be working for one of the telecoms full time and I know it will happen. Government agencies. I’m beginning to hop into Abuja now more frequent because I think there are opportunities there which I never looked at before. But there’s plenty of money in government and people are making this money. So, I want to have my share of the national cake (General laughter).
You’ve worked for a lot of companies and you are still working for some. Which is the best company that you have worked for?
All the companies are good. What they value most is integrity and our service delivery and quality. Those are the things. See, even if your brother is the Marketing Director in a company and he messes up, you will sack him. Because they have their business code of conduct that he cannot compromise as an individual. There’s a template and everybody must follow it. That is the training you find in all these big organizations. But what they respect is value and top-line service delivery. You meet your KPI’s, then you have integrity. Once you have those three in place, you can work for anybody.
Tell us about your family.
As you know, I’m married. Happily married to my lovely wife, Oluwakemi Braimah. We got married 17 years ago and we have three kids, two boys and a girl. Their names are Osemudiame, Ehiaghe and Omonele. She’s not only my wife, she’s also my business partner.
What has sustained your marriage for 17 years?
As a relationship management person, there are two critical factors that will make any relationship to thrive. Just two. Mutual respect and trust. Once you have those two things in place, chances are that that relationship, be it marriage or business, will succeed. I’m being honest with you. Mutual respect and trust. And for most of those relationships that truly endure, there’s genuine love, there is appreciation. You must appreciate your partner. Nobody is perfect. So, learn to live with those imperfections and learn to say thank you. Women, they want us to always tell them thank you. But don’t just say thank you for the sake of saying it, say thank you because she’s deserving of it. And then, there is honesty, there is some level of commitment. There is fear of God. Very, very important. Because these days, we have this culture of impunity. But I think fundamentally, the values of our society are beginning to affect relationships. The economic circumstances too are also beginning to affect relationships. These things were not there before. But they are becoming real and it’s like we are in the jungle. Survival of the fittest. When the young ones see the way money is shared in Abuja, no student now wants to really sit down and write exams and pass normally again. So, the value system is perverted and affecting the way we live. And there is no way marriage can be isolated.
Away from work, what do you do for relaxation?
I like to read, I read a lot. I watch movies sometimes and I like to travel when I can, when I have the time to do that. I like to play chess too and table tennis. Those are some of the things I do. Then, of course, after work, I come to Adna to share fellowship with my friends (Laughs).
What is the greatest thing that the Almighty God has done for you and what has He not done?
Keeping me alive for the past 50 years is wonderful. Giving me a family, a wonderful family; fantastic! Then, in spite of our economic circumstances, giving me business opportunities, putting food on my table. Baba is the greatest.
What has He not done yet?
What I now ask for everyday is good health and long life. It’s a major prayer point of mine because I believe I can still achieve a lot of things. Things that will be sustainable even after I have gone. That will be my greatest legacy.
NB: First published November 2013