Mr. Kachi Onubogu is one of the young men doing his generation proud. A new breed without greed, the 41-year-old graduate of Physics, from the University of Jos, was recently elevated at Promasidor Nigeria Limited, makers of Top Tea, Cowbell, Onga, Loya Milk, etc as the Executive Director, Commercial. Husky-voiced and handsome, humble and humorous, the focused and fantastic soul ushered YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, into his office, on Plots 3A & B, Cowbell Way, Isolo, Lagos on Thursday, March 6, 2014, with this soothing and infectious smile. Narrating how it all began for him and where he’s headed, it was indeed a beautiful session with the father of three whose darling wife, Chinwe is a lawyer…
Can we meet Mr. Kachi Onubogu? Just a brief profile…
Well, my name is Onyekachi Onubogu. I’ve just been appointed Executive Director, Commercial, for Promasidor. I’m married with kids, I have a first degree in Physics and MBA from South Africa and from US and I like keeping a very quiet profile, then do my job well.
How did your path and that of Promasidor cross?
I joined Promasidor in 2010. Promasidor is a fantastic company and in my previous job, I used to be a private equity investor in Nairobi, Kenya and one of the companies we actually were looking to invest in, because of its spread of brands, especially in the Nigerian market and its growth opportunities, was Promasidor. So, I was looking at it from an outsider’s perspective, from an investor’s stand-point of view and the more I looked into the business, I realized more and more that it was a business with huge opportunities and so we got talking. First, as a director. But they asked me to come in and help them take the business to where we hope to get to and that’s how I started with them and today I’m here.
You’ve just been elevated to the position of an Executive Director. What and what did you do to clinch the position?
First of all, I think the elevation is from God. So, I don’t believe it’s because of how hard working you are. It’s just God’s grace and favour and mercy. So, I want to give it to Him. But yes, in the last three and a half years that I’ve been in this company, we’ve done a lot in terms of transforming the corporate vision of this company. If you look across my desk, you will see a plethora of awards we’ve won from different organizations. And I don’t just mean awards that people buy, but awards that are coveted by Corporate Nigeria. We’ve grown our brands fantastically. Loya is the fastest growing milk brand in the Nigerian market today and it has grown in significant double digits in the last couple of years; we’ve grown our Cowbell brand fantastically; we’ve done a lot of work on Onga. We’ve put a huge investment on Onga and we are launching our Onga cubes today. We’ve transformed the corporate image of this organization. It is one organization that people have not given the great respect it deserves. We have grown our revenues, we have grown our bottomline and topline. So, we’ve done a lot to reposition Promasidor as a business and invest in training and developing people. We’ve grown our brands significantly. Hopefully, and with God’s grace and favour, that’s why I was elevated on to the board of Promasidor.
What are the mistakes that anybody who wants to climb the corporate ladder must not make?
The first mistake is to be aware of how you manage pressure, because it’s lonely on top. Whether you like it or not, that is what it is –lonely on top. The more you grow in any organization and in any sphere of life, the more visible you become. So, the more you grow, the more people see you and it’s not everybody that will like you. It doesn’t matter what you do – good or bad – there will be people who look at you and feel they deserve to be where you are or you have no right to be where you are and they will not like you and so, there are people who consciously wanna discredit you just because they can and I’ve seen them a lot in Nigeria. In fact, it’s something you need to worry about. Two; there are the social challenges, because you are now news. The higher you grow in any organization, you are news and you and I know that bad news sells. I was reading through the dailies yesterday and somebody said oh, Dangote was announced as the third richest man – he’s an idiot, it’s our money he stole, bla, bla, bla …and I’m like, it’s just beef. Dangote, for all you like, he’s working hard and interestingly, he doesn’t sleep. You won’t see what he does, but you are the first to condemn him just because you have some issues with him. Whatever it is, it has happened to me. I think one thing is – not to get arrogant or cocky about where you are, because the same way you got up there, you can get down. But more importantly, it’s not so much about your hard work, it’s about God’s grace on you and how He pushes you.
That’s one. Two are the issues around integrity. Nigeria has more challenges and I think we have to work on it and you have a lot of pressure to do things that are not consistent with your values and what your company stands for. Everybody assumes that because you are X in an organization, you can give them jobs or give them money to feed their families. So, your friends will come, most school mates will come, in laws will come, brothers will come. Everybody will want something from you and people tend to forget that you are just one person. You can’t assist everybody. Also, never forget your family because at the end of the day, when all else goes down, when everybody ridicules you, they are the only people you can run back to who will know who you are. Those are the things. But you need to work hard, work hard, work hard and pray hard and hope that things work out the way they should.
Most people have nice things to say about Kachi. Why is this so?
(Laughs) –I believe in one thing – I do what I must and so I believe in selfless service, I believe in integrity, I believe in being able to look people in the eye and tell them the truth, even if they don’t like it. But also making them realize that you got their back. You are not doing it to condemn them, but to help them become better people. I believe in investing time to grow people and people think investment is always about money. No! It’s about sometimes listening; it’s sometimes about advice, it’s sometimes about counseling, it’s sometimes about giving your own money. But I believe in people development. I believe that we need to invest as individuals in our society in pulling everybody along. I really believe that. And I do my best and I am transparent and I try not to be arrogant, I try to be open, I help where I can and where I can’t, I will tell you I cannot help and that’s what it is.
What do you like most about working here?
I like the people, I like the brands we have, I like…This organization is one organization that gives you the leeway to do things, to grow, to challenge the norm and it doesn’t ramshackle you by corporate bureaucracy. You know, I can decide on an activity today and go ahead and do it, I can decide on a brand that meets consumers’ need and the company gives you the leeway and latitude to go ahead and get it done. The execution of stuff in this organization is flawless. We are launching the Onga cube brand today from conception to building a new factory in under two years. There is no company in this country that will do it. I like the fact that our company consistently invests to improve the lives of Nigerian consumers. It’s not just about making money for the business. No! The foundation and fundamental principles, values of this company are about giving affordable nutrition to everybody. Affordable nutrition, and that’s why we also do the cheap stuffs in sachets and all that. Not because it’s easy to do, but the basis of why we exist as an organization is to give affordable products to the Nigerian consumers and to improve the lives of Nigerian consumers and that value seems to be my own personal beliefs and values also and I love that.
What don’t you like about working in Promasidor?
Sometimes I don’t like the fact that some people don’t know Promasidor. Sometimes people come to me and say who is Promasidor? Or they sell cheap brands. And I tell them no; we sell quality affordable brands because we want consumers to live. There’s no need only the rich people in Nigeria enjoying and the poor people are not enjoying. It will lead to social unrest and calamity. But if you look at it in real terms, even the rich men, the big men, everybody, when they come back home, they drink our Cowbell milk. That is the joy of every Nigerian. They can afford it. In fact, I think we give more social service in Nigeria than most people give us credit for, because if a company like ours doesn’t exist to support kids in football, to support paralytics, we will have more social problems in this country. So, I don’t like it sometimes when people talk about us and they go oh, who are they? Sometimes I feel bad because they don’t appreciate the work that this company is doing in Nigeria – providing jobs, providing affordable nutrition. Today, everybody is selling N10, N20 products. But it was this company, Promasidor, that transformed the entire landscape, so that you can buy cheaper things. Before, if you didn’t have money for big things, you cannot buy. But now you can buy cheaper milk, cheaper drinks and even imported Digestive biscuit now has the two-in-one pack. It was led by this organization, but sometimes it upsets me when people don’t see what we are doing to transform Nigeria as an organization and offer nutrition to everybody.
You’ve worked on a lot of brands at Promasidor. Which of them did you enjoy working on most and why?
I’m a very passionate person and wherever I go, I try to I give my best. In all the brands we work on; not just in Promasidor. I’ve worked in different companies and I’ve enjoyed myself. Speaking truly, I enjoy what I do and if I don’t enjoy it, I won’t give my best. So, I love Loya milk. I think it’s one brand that is beating the big boys in the market and I like the fact that we are winning. From 2010 and since we launched that brand in this country; we launched it when I came into this country and in 3 ½ years, when you call Loya, the guys who were the ogas shiver. I love what is happening. I love what Onga is doing in the Nigerian market and I know what we are gonna do with Onga in the next couple of months. We are launching Onga cubes today and co-incidentally, I heard that the big players are already doing creative strategies on how to counter it and I keep laughing and say well, they can try, but we will do our thing. I love Onga brand, I love our Loya brand. They are fantastic. Two great brands. I love our Cowbell brand. I think that we have shown that Cowbell is our milk. It’s one brand that signifies everything that should be good about us as a nation. It’s our milk. We should be proud of our country; we have all manner of problems, but we should be proud of it. And it’s one thing I really wanna push and that’s why we are still with Nigeria. I think all of us should be proud of it. It doesn’t matter what the problem is. We have a lot of issues to worry about. But we have a responsibility as a people, as Nigerians, to love our country. It is not debatable, it is not whether you want to, it is not whether they didn’t give us visa when we were going to America, it not whether we don’t have work, it is our country. We have no other place. If you don’t love yourself, you can’t be loved by anybody. Do you think that by condemning Nigeria, the man in America will love you? You are fooling yourself if you think insulting President Jonathan – and I mean that sincerely – makes you happy; well, good. If your head is rotten, there’s no way the body will be good. It one philosophy that I believe in…
What will you say has been your singular greatest contribution to the growth of Promasidor?
I think it’s one – driving significant consumer understanding. What we’ve done really is understanding what is really important to our consumers and to focus on the big things. You can’t do everything, but do the big things well. And that’s my principle. I know they say man cannot multi-task; I cannot multi-task, but the one I understand –the consumer and the consumer needs. That’s one of the big things you need to do to drive any business. Focus on them. And if there’s one other thing I’ve brought to this organization, I think it’s to focus on the most important things – consistent single-minded focus and driving the team around one single goal. Focus on it and get it done. That’s what I think. It’s the consistent focus for me.
Some people attain success but find it difficult to sustain it. Where do you think that they get it wrong?
I think when arrogance and pride come in. I think what derails a lot of people are arrogance and pride. Two is the lack of knowledge. You never stop learning. It doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter where you’ve gotten to, consistent learning is what keeps you ahead. The world is changing and we are in the knowledge economy. So, the fact that you are the MD or CEO or Governor or President is nothing. Because there’s a time for all of us. One day, you will leave. And when that happens, what you are left with is what you’ve learnt from there; the experience you’ve gathered and how you will use it to move to the next level of our life. For me, it’s arrogance. And arrogance will bring you down, pride will bring you down. When you stop learning, you will be pulled out. And also forgetting where you come from is something that many people do.
People think okay, every big man became big just like that. No! Some of us were poor, a lot of people had challenges and when you get there and forget where you come from, you surround yourself with the wrong people, wrong friends, the wrong mentality, you are in trouble. The point is, every role is transient. Every role is transient and I say it – Presidency oh; if you like kill yourself, you won’t do more than 8 years. CEO, if they like you, they will give you two terms. Governor, you won’t do more than 8 years. Every role in life is transient. So, if you get there, forget where you come from, you will do that your term and go and after you go, that’s where the problem starts. So, for me, you should always remember where you come from. And those who have contributed to what you’ve become, never forget them. And be prayerful everyday because at the end of the day, na God. Anybody; if you think you are doing it by your power, you are fooling yourself.
Businesses come and go. Why do you think some businesses die? And why is Promasidor still standing?
What do you stand for? What do you stand for as a company? Consumers will want you if one, you provide quality products; two, you provide solutions that meet their needs; or if they understand that you care about them; not that you want to rip them off. These are the fundamentals of life and business. And if your fundamental values don’t align with the values of the average Nigerian consumer or the consumer anywhere in the world, you will fail. Our value is providing quality affordable food products to the Nigerian consumers. It has to be quality, it has to be of excellent quality, but it has to be affordable. There is nobody in this world who understands that that’s what you stand for and wants to give it to him at the best price that will not love you. It doesn’t matter what any other person tells them. That is the fundamental principle on which our business is built and that’s why we’ve survived for a long time. Companies that rise and fall are companies that don’t have a solid foundation; their brands are not built on anything that is important to consumers. The same thing in life. When arrogance sets in, they say those people are small companies, who are they? But we are 20 years in Nigeria today and we are one of the biggest FMG companies in Nigeria. A lot of people have come and gone. But the things we’ve achieved in 20 years are phenomenal. Because it’s built on a solid foundation of providing affordable products to Nigerian consumers and realizing that we don’t know it all. We are learning, we are listening, we are asking consumers, we are watching. Nobody here tells you who are those people, no! We always say we are here o.
Away from work, what do you do for relaxation?
I like to play chess. I picked up tennis recently. I’ve also picked up golf, even though that I don’t have the time to play it. But it is something I like. But I like to be with my family. I enjoy travelling. So, any opportunity I have to get out of Lagos, because it’s always like holiday to me, I do that. And anywhere I go today, I feel relaxed. I love travelling and I like staying with my family and I love movies. I love the arts, so I watch stage plays, I watch comedy shows. I love arts.
Can we meet your family?
I’m married with three kids. My wife is a lawyer. Her name is Chinwe. My children are Chidi, Kamsi and Chimdi. My wife is a lawyer/company secretary. She works in Nigeria for a South African company. She’s also a very quiet person.
At the end of your tenure at Promasidor, what would you want the people you will be leaving behind to say about you?
I want them to say he was a man who did a lot; who did a lot to ensure that the company got better. I want them to say he left this company and the brands better than he met them; I want them to say he was a man who spoke the truth irrespective of whose ox was gored; I want them to say he was a man of integrity, he said what he meant and meant what he said. And I want them to say that he was a God-fearing individual.
NB: First published March 2014