My experience and passion will lift the NIMN – Tony Agenmonmen, former Senior Manager, Nigerian Breweries Plc

Tony Agenmonmen, a celebrated marketing professional retired recently as Nigerian Breweries’ Senor Strategy Manager. By the time he retired, he had put in a cumulative 32 years in the services of the brewing giant and has held numerous positions in which he performed varying duties. A man of excellence, known for excellence and one who has written on the subject of excellence started his career with NB in February, 1984 as Marketing Assistant, becoming Brand Manager in 1988 and Senior Brand Manager in 1993.

At his last duty post as Senor Strategy Manager, Tony led his team on strategic projects aimed at realizing new business opportunities for Nigerian Breweries Plc. The key focus area was to explore and provide new insights to the business and broaden perspectives to further drive value-based growth in the increasingly competitive market. As was always the case with him, he delivered excellently!

An untiring professional that he is, Mr. Agenmonmen is taking a shot at the Presidency of the National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria, NIMN. He is currently the Institute’s First Vice President and has, once, contested for the post of President. In a recent interview with journalists, the veteran marketer, erudite scholar and industry activist per excellence espouses his vision for re-shaping the NIMN and putting it on its deserved pedestals. Excerpts:

Tell us about your 32 years of working experience in Nigerian Breweries?

Working with Nigerian Breweries for me is 32 years of active marketing that I enjoyed. I enjoyed it and I enjoyed it thoroughly. If I have to live my career life again, I will most certainly do marketing. There were great challenges along the way but I think I also had fun. It is exciting when you are involved in building some of the biggest brands in Nigeria, with all the challenges that come with it, it also comes with a lot of fun. I have leant a lot and I think that I have also contributed quite a lot to the growth of these brands. The whole of the 32 years look just like yesterday. I remember the great work that we had to do on STAR and keep it where it is today; I remember the great work that we had to do on Legend, to take it from where it was to be a big challenger in the Stout market and then so many other brands that I worked on. I remember a lot of the activations, the merger jams, the Gulder Ultimate Search and all the challenges that we talked so much about, it was fun, it was challenging but I enjoyed a lot of it, I have benefitted immensely from the experience and I think I have also made a little bit of contribution.

At a time you are supposed to retire, here you are again, preparing to lead the National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria (NIMN), what informed that?

Yes, when I retired from the Nigerian Breweries, I think I made it pretty clear to my friends that I was not going to be sleeping. Now, coming into the National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria to head it is not sudden, I mean it is something that has been a burning desire for quite some time and it has been there for quite some time because here we are, I have spent 32 years of my life in this profession, and you actually want to be proud of the profession that you belong to and the umbrella body for the marketing profession is the National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria (NIMN), which incidentally apart from being a professional institute is also chartered by the Act of parliament to regulate marketing and make sure that all those who call themselves marketing professionals are actually marketing professionals. I am sure you know pretty well the history of the institute; it has not been what it supposed to be.

Today, I don’t think that so many of the people who ought to identify with it are happy to be called members of the institute. Indeed, when they hear of other professional institutes, they kind of grieve with envy, so it has been my burning desire that look, if you really want to be recognized, you have to be in the champions league; we are currently not playing in the champions league and I believe that with the few things that we have been able to do for our brands, when we were working in Nigerian Breweries and for the company, I believe that we can bring that experience to bear to bring the National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria (NIMN) to play the champions league, and so that is just a simple desire.

What new things are you bringing on board if elected as the president of NIMN that is going to separate you from what others have done?

Actually, there is no board, so it is like we really want to start afresh, just like you have rightly noted that the National Institute of Marketing today is, if I were to put it in a proper marketing narrative, the equity is very weak. I think that summarizes everything about it, the equity of the National Institute of Nigeria putting it in marketing terms is very weak but all the great marketers will know that, that in itself is not something for you to throw up your hands in surrender; it means that you bring in your marketing skills, your knowledge and everything to build the brand. The brand is there, we have the people, we have the resources, it is just for us to actually do the kind of things that we have done for our brands.

We have managed great brands that were at one time or the other troubled right, and we brought them back to limelight. If you know the history of STAR, at one point in this country, STAR was in number three position in the 80s but we brought it back; Legend was nowhere but you know where Legend is today. If we can take a brand like Legend, for example, to be a big challenger to the leader in the Stout market, then turning the National Institute of Marketing around with the great professionals that we have in the country, for me, is a piece of cake but I think what has been lacking is the right leadership and I think that is what we are going to offer and with the quality of people that also want to contest in the council. Then, with that kind of team, I am sure that in no distant time, you will be very proud of the National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria. Like I said, we actually really want to play in the champions’ league and you cannot play in the champions’ league if you are weak and you know what that means.

You are coming from the private sector to contend with those people who are coming from the public sector. When you look at those who have managed the institute, they seem to have that attitude of the public sector, how do you get to manage this if eventually, you become the president?
Let’s look at it this way; I think I even need to stress it a little bit when I talk about equity challenge. And then I will come back, if you like to those who are used to the civil service way of running an organization. I think that addressing the equity challenge of the institute today will require asking some salient questions like: when you look at the stakeholders, is there anything that the institute is giving to them today? Is there anything that they can look forward to the institute for? The answer to such questions is No.

Let’s start with students. I am talking of students who are in the Polytechnics and Universities who are reading Marketing; obviously, that should be the foundation of building the membership of the institute; today, we don’t offer them anything, there is nothing to be proud of, we don’t give assistance in terms of training, in terms of funding, we are not organizing great programmes where they can come in and listen to and experience marketing processes. If you look back to when we were in the university, I think the most attractive thing each student want to do is to say, this is my association, I mean the Sociology students have their own, the History students have their own but today I think that sense of pride is not there. So first of all, we want to build that back into the universities and the polytechnics so that when they are proud, they would want to be identified as members of the institute. We want all of them to come in.

Leaving the students, look at the millions of marketing professionals who are out there working, what is being given to them? The answer, again is Nothing. I mean, let’s put it this way, even if you are not doing any other thing, I mean we are doing AGM in Ibadan next month for example, that should be a carnival where all the professionals should meet, even the networking opportunity alone is something but if people don’t even believe in the institute, they are not going to come. If you are going to meet a handful of people, you won’t want to travel all the way from Abuja or from Enugu, yes those of us in Lagos and Ibadan, we can drive there but if you have to travel all the way from Abuja to Ibadan, it has to be worth your while. So, we need to give them the value proposition.

Now, the back bone of the institute used to be corporate organizations. Again, what are we giving to them? I believe we should be at the fore front of delivering quality marketing people and for those of us who have been long enough in marketing, if you go around and ask the marketing directors and managers today, I think one of the biggest problems that companies have is getting quality marketing people to work on their brands and the National Institute of Marketing should be at the fore front of driving professionalism, driving that experience and we intend to do that.
Now, coming back specifically to your question about working with civil servants, again I think it is about change management; the people that will probably be most affected will be the staff there and the way they used to work but what I keep telling people is that for me, and that is the question I ask them every day, would you prefer to come to work every day, sitting down reading newspapers and by 4:30pm, you have achieved nothing, maybe your salary is not even paid or do you really want to wake up in the morning and you are looking forward to going to work and at the end of the day, you get your salary and that makes you feel that you are a proud employee. I mean, when you give them the reason, I am inclined to believe that there is nobody who just wants to go to the office and sit down because there will be so much happening, so much excitement, so much fun. Remember I told you that when I was in Nigerian Breweries it was tough and challenging, yet I had a lot of fun, we are also going to bring that attitude to bear in the institute. So, people should work and people should also have fun and once you have fun and mix it with your hard work, I think that is great.

We want you to talk about some of your value offerings for the stakeholders?

In terms of value proposition, I’ll like to begin with our member companies. I think there had been some major issues with the lottery commission and all the lotto groups and the rest of them. My attitude to this is that it is not all about fight because you don’t win such battles by sheer bravado. It is to sit down with them because I think a lot of it is based out of ignorance. I know I was also involved at some point. When the lottery board tells you that consumer promotion, which is the basic marketing function that is recognized all over the world, is nothing. I mean, the only thing I have is the need to be educated, the need to explain to them what it is all about because I don’t want to use the word ignorance, but I will like to say misunderstanding of what marketing stands for and because of that, a lot of companies have been harassed here and there. As such, one of the principal things that I will set out to do is to engage these other organizations so that our member companies can do the job that they are meant to do; they can do their promotions and any marketing activities without fear of being molested.

But talking about making a few changes in the institute, if you recollect in the past few months I have been the first Vice President and one of the things that I have already set out to do, again in terms of playing in the champions’ league (pardon my use of that expression, again), if you recollect about two years ago, there was a national conference and a lot of professional organizations were represented, yet the National Institute of Marketing was not there and that was because we were not aligning with other professional bodies at that time. Now, one thing I have done in the past few months since I came in as first Vice President is to drive interactions with the other professionals organizations and I think only two weeks ago, we were formerly admitted into the Association of Professional Bodies of Nigeria (APBN), so that takes us to that level, and these are some of the things that we are going to do in terms of putting the issues on the front burner.
Aside that, what are your other programs or agenda?
Specifically for the students, today we issue certificates that has no value, I mean if you go and hold NIMN certificate, I don’t think any company looks at it or use it to employ anybody or use it to promote anybody, I am already talking to a few of our professionals in the academia; we are going to completely sit down and work on it so that anybody who says he has marketing certificate is recognized. It can be a yardstick to all of us, let’s get back NIMN as a regulatory body to its respectable position.

While we are not going to engage the police to be arresting people up and down, we are going to enforce the provisions in the Act which says that you cannot practice marketing if you are not a registered member of the institute. Like I said, we are not going to hunt people rather; we are going to do engagement. Our first step will be to make people understand what this is all about, tell them what they can benefit from it and then why they must be our members. The extreme use of enforcement will be a last resort which I hope we don’t get to.

Our first agenda, therefore, is to enforce the provisions of the Act; we are going to make sure that the certificate issued by the institute is worth the paper that it is written on. Again, it will be fully recognized, so that when you have it. You know you can talk about ICAN, if you are not ICAN certified or ANA certified, I mean, you can’t be an accountant in any reasonable organization; yes, you can set up your own quack shop and call yourself an accountant but if you are going to be in any reasonable company, you have to have that certification and that is where we are actually driving NIMN to.

Beyond that, in terms of our members, we need to provide them the platforms where they can actually develop themselves. I can’t remember when last we did that. Yes we had a few lectures here and there but the world is such a small village now that we should not keep everything within ourselves. Can you imagine if we bring Philip Coller to Nigeria to lecture, I mean don’t you think that will be a bomb, don’t you think that the sheer knowledge that is going to be imparted to people is going to wake up marketing enthusiasm? So we are going to engage in a lot of platform programmes that will bring a lot of our people together.
Any plan in the area of research because marketing as a matter of fact is driven by research?
Of course, we are not going to go directly into research, we are going to drive all our members in terms of improving themselves, whether you are in research, or in consumer promotion, or direct branding, etc. We could, for example organize from time to time Master classes. I mean those are the kind of things that we can do and to also bring people up so that when our marketing professionals are talking, they can rank with anybody anywhere. Those are some of the ideas that we have.

You are talking about institutional training programmes but today, most organizations go to agencies to source for skilled professionals, how will the institute be able to bridge this gap?
That is why I said that the National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria is not attractive to the corporate organizations because we are not adding value to them, the professionals are not there, training is not there you know. I look back to the days of the late Michael Agbakoba and the rest of them. I mean the national institute was actually organizing a lot of the programmes that I grew up with as a marketing professional, I mean, you don’t need to send people always to South Africa, to Europe to learn marketing; I think that the national institute is suited to provide that platform, to organize programmes or courses that people can benefit from.

Apart from the general courses or programmes, we can also run specifically planned programmes for companies that can bring out their marketing professionals; and I think that this is also very important even at the national level because marketing is so embracing and if you actually follow the few principles and get the marketing ideas into the consciousness of our political leaders, they, too, can run a few of the programmes that drive marketing consciousness, I think Nigeria will be a far better place. But before we go into that engagement, like I said, we have to get ourselves in order, once we put our house in order, we will be able to contribute even more in terms of national development, and we can move our country forward economically.

Tell us under which platforms are we looking at your campaign?

You read my book which is titled Excellence. I don’t want to directly link it to that but I always believe that anything you do, you should not talk about half measures, you should not say oh, this is Nigeria, there is nothing like this is Nigeria, I believe that all of us can be at our best, I believe that the national institute can be reformed, I believe that there can be transparency and I think we can talk about that later because part of the problems of many organizations is the issue about trust, the issue about money and the rest of them and what I told my colleagues is that I have done 32 years in Nigerians Breweries and that is by no means a mean achievement and I am not going to stake my reputation and I would like to emphasize that very strongly; when I now get to the National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria, first of all, if it is about money, I don’t see how much money I am going to get there that I have not handled before managing the big brands that I have managed, so there will be transparency, there will be accountability. But in terms of the overall vision, I see us within the next two years (and this is not a mere boast neither is it a political claim), we are going to take NIMN to a level that everybody will be proud. To this end, I have even told some of my friends in the profession and in the institute that they would be working for the institute free of charge.

You would have done some things for the institute before now; can you enumerate some of those things?

Let’s put it this way, as a young marketing professional, I have always been with and close to the institute. I am sure you know about the history that in 2008 we had two contending bodies, one called NIMARK and CIMN, l belonged to NIMARK then and I served actually in the council of the institute up to 2008 when all of us decided to say look, it is enough, we should not be fighting ourselves, we should be one marketing family, and then some of us elected to step down from the council in order that we might have a unified institute and council.

Thus, in terms of scarifies, I was already a council member as far back as 2008. I was already in the council, but we stepped down, some of us in order that we unite and since then I have continued to actively participate. But like you all know things have not gone the way we wanted it to be and that is why in 2014 while I was still actively in Nigerian Breweries, that was when I first ran for the election of the institute, the election was held in Kaduna and the current president won the election and against the expectation that we were going to protest and the rest of it, we embraced the president and then we pledged, not the political kind of pledge, to work with the winner. And, immediately we came back from Kaduna, I started working on so many committees that the president said that I should help with. He specifically gave me the assignment to help use my connection with the private sector to try to bring them back again and I worked on that assiduously until last year when the position of the first Vice President was vacant and I contested for it in Enugu which I won and since then, again he still gave me the additional responsibility of now seeing how we could do this job in terms of feasibility and that is why I said that one of the primary assignments they gave me and which I was proud to accept and execute was that. We are now a full member of the Nigerian professional bodies under the aegis of APBN. It was celebrated a few weeks ago at Golden Gate Hotel. As such, my coming in now to contest is not because I have retired and I have no job to do. Honesty, I have too much job to do because the passion has been there, it has been there since I was a young brand manager, it has been there since 2014 when I first ran for the presidency, it has been there last year when I also contested for the position of first Vice President.

Who is Tony Agenmonmen, your pedigree and profile?

My name is Tony Agenmonmen as you know. I was born in a little village in Uromi in Edo State. I have been doing marketing all my life and I have thoroughly enjoyed it, I mean, what I enjoyed most in marketing is the fact that no day is like the previous day. You wake up and go to work thinking that this is your plan and you think you have it all set out but the nature of marketing is such that you are dealing with humans beings, you are dealing with variables in the market place that you have very little control of but yet you have to work with all those variables to be able to deliver. Yes, I found it quite interesting and fun to be, especially when you have to manage so many big brands. So, going back to my motivation and I guess if you interact with a few of my colleagues that I have worked with, whether in the company or outside, they’d tell you that my motivation is clearly personal, personal in the sense that I do not look at my own environment to set a standard for me, I set my own standard and I say, this is where I want to be, this is what I want to be doing, and in doing that, it can be a little bit challenging because (and this is not beating one’s chest) the environment where everybody wants to, it can be challenging when you are demanding.
Like I said in the book, in the course of pushing, and asking that we cannot not be mediocre, a lot of people tend to say that you are tough, you are too demanding but, in the end, it is all about achieving what is possible because if we do not achieve what is possible, then we will continue to operate at a mediocre level and I think part of the problem that we are having in our country is operating at mediocre level and not achieving our best. So for me, I always strive for excellence, and that is a primary motivation for me. I believe that yes, we can put what we have done in the private sector into play in changing the fortunes of the institute.
What are the strategies that you have put in place to get to all the relevant stakeholders for the election?
Well, what we are doing is that we are mobilizing in terms of sending our grey messages to all the various chapters, although she does not agree with me, she thinks we should go really big in terms of social media and the rest of them but I think that we should be focused and specific; we know at least those who are our members, whether they are active or none active, I want to target them in terms of letting them understand our message that this is not about somebody else looking for an office to make money, or looking for an office because he has no job to do, or looking for an office because he wants to take photographs with the Governor of Lagos State, but somebody who is looking for an office because the institute is not where it should be and I think where we are is a collective shame for all marketing people. I don’t think it is nice for us to continue to remain where we are. I am aware that everybody is complaining but complaining has never solved any problem and I think it is better to go right inside the kitchen, feel the heat and then contribute to make everything worth the while. That is exactly what is pushing us.

We are making contacts with all our friends and colleagues in all the various chapters and sending our message, the message is the fact that the institute can be where it is meant to be. We are not telling them that Rome will be built in a day, I mean, if you know where we are now, then you will know that the challenge is great. So, if I tell you that in one year or two years, we will certainly be up in the moon, no; I mean that will be just a political talk. But all I can promise is that in two years, every member of the National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria will be proud of the institute and at least we will have a functioning Secretariat which we don’t currently have. I don’t think any of you know the Secretariat.

What are your special selling points that will give you an edge over your fellow contestants?

First, I am going to bring transparent leadership, and that is important. Two, I am going to drive professionalism, and in doing so, our young men and women who are in the Polytechnics and the Universities, they know that once they now have this certification and they go for an interview, somebody is going to look at it with seriousness. I want our companies to be able to know that there is an organization that is ready, willing and able to develop their marketing professionals.

Yes, you can be a brand manager or even a marketing manager but the pace at which knowledge evolves, you need somebody to keep the pace, the National Institute will be able to drive that so that our people are current and topical. I mean a lot of the courses that some people do abroad, anyway, the foreign exchange is so high now, we can actually organize and bring the best brains both within and outside the country to actually deliver them. All this we will do, not I alone, If you remember like I said, I keep saying we, we, not me. We are going to tap the resources.

I was in Port Harcourt two days ago and they were asking me oh, I hope when you get there, you are not going to restrict yourself to saying only people in the council and I said no, the task of rebuilding the institute is not a job for 15 council members alone. The truth is, if I am talking about developing a new curriculum that will make it a pride to hold the National Institute of Marketing certificate, I may not have the right person in council, so if the right person that has the right level of knowledge who has the drive and commitment, if I am going to find him/her in the University of Nigeria Nsukka or at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, or University of Benin, I am going to go there and get the persons and they will be the ones to chair the committee on education.

If it is event, if John (Ajayi) has the time and I say John if you can do award for your company to that level, I want it ten times the quality of what you have done and he says ok, he will be the one to do it. That is the way I am going to work. We are going to tap the collective resources that we have everywhere and that is why I keep using the word we, it is not me. I can’t do anything if I don’t have people that support me.


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