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Attitude and Passion is as Important as Certificates— Adenike Adebola

Adenike Adebola is the Marketing and Innovation Director (Guinness and Spirits), Guinness Nigeria Plc. In this interview with Kemi Lanre-Aremu, she talks about her career and other related matters.

What does your job entail?

It entails looking after our brands in terms of strategy and profitability, in winning with the consumers, our portfolio, innovations, and how we win from a marketing point of view to ensure profitability of our brands. I have been with Guinness for almost 13 years in various roles but in this position, almost a year. I find marketing extremely stimulating and most of all, I look forward to the rewarding feeling of fulfilment and pride that comes with seeing our brands win as a result of the choices that we make as marketers every day.

Why did you consider a career in marketing?

I started out in UAC as a restaurant manager in Mr. Biggs. I did a couple of years there, then I got pulled in as brand manager because there was an opportunity at that time for brand management and I fell in love with it. Three years after my National Youth Service Corps programme, I went back to school; I did an MBA. I might have felt that I needed to do that at that time but in reality, when I reflect on my journey in marketing, it has not really been driven by going back to school. It is driven a lot more by the appetite that I have for juggling things, because as they say, marketing is a science as well as an art. For me, going back to school was helpful but beyond that, it exposed me to a lot of things. Like I always say to my friends that marketing is just like nursing a child and watching the child grow. As long as you are committed to that child and understand what happens in the child’s life and making the right decisions for that child, that child will grow up and flourish. This really is brand management.

What did you study at the university?

I studied Food Technology.

In essence, are you saying that passion is more important than a certificate?

It is a matter of opinion. I feel that the certificate helps but they say attitude and passion takes you the distance. At the end of the day, where you get to is up to you. Apart from your passion and certificates, what other things did you put in place to ensure the attainment of your career goals?

In the end, where you get to is up to you. This is what I believe in personally and that is how I was raised. I was raised by a dad who had six girls to look after by himself at that time. I am somewhere in the middle and I think that is where I got a little bit of my fight from because a lot of people tell me that I am trouble. More seriously though, I was raised by a military man in a house full of girls and my dad always taught me and my sisters to carve our own path. So, as I grew up, I learnt early on that you had to stand up for yourself. I lived in the barracks where it was very common to go out and play and engage in fights with other kids but my dad was not the type who would partake in fights like other parents who would get into fights on behalf of their kids and then it becomes a family fight. He never did that. If you go out and have some issues and run inside, he will send you back out to go and deal with it before coming back in. He would say, “if you go out and they beat you, next time you shouldn’t go out there or if you beat the person; next time, the person won’t try it.” That is how I grew up. I think that fundamentally, you have to carve your own path; you have to set goals for yourself, but beyond that, it is really about the challenge that you face and how you are bold and courageous enough to fight for what you want.

Do you have mentors who played a major role in your life?

My dad for sure! Also, while I was in UAC, I had a powerful mentor, Larry Ettah. He really made a big impact on me at the time before I joined Guinness Nigeria. Even here in Guinness Nigeria, there are so many people who have impacted me. In Guinness, we actually live out our values and some of them really drive me. One of them is the freedom to succeed. This is very real; it is not just lip service. For someone like me who believes in charting my own path, to be in an organisation that allows you to be you is a very great privilege. Your voice doesn’t have to be correct but it should be heard. For me, that is one of the things that Guinness Nigeria has really helped me with and a lot of people really played roles in my success. I had some wonderful managers who believed in me and gave me that freedom to explore, test, learn, fail and reassure me that I had something to offer. So, yes, Guinness Nigeria with the values it stands for, has really been helpful.

You work in an environment that is considered male-dominated. Have you had to work extra hard to prove your relevance as a woman?

The truth is this – we live in a man’s world. In some developed markets, they will say that is not the case but it is the case everywhere, whatever you are selling. This is my personal opinion and I am sure many may challenge it but it is my opinion.  Being relevant as a woman for me feels like you have to first acknowledge and come to terms with this.

How did you come to terms with it?

It is just a fact but it is not a barrier. In reality, it is true that we live in a man’s world but what you do with it is what counts. I work and push harder because you have to earn respect. I have heard colleagues say to me that “I have someone like you in my kitchen.” So, it is a reality and it exists around us. This, however, means that you earn respect if they know that you are strong and bring something unique to the table. You can’t afford to be lazy. You have to earn respect by delivering your performances and letting your voice be heard by pushing a little harder. But after a while, it becomes a way of life and it is not hard work because that actually is what gives you the edge as a woman in a man’s world.

In Nigeria, we find out that we don’t have too many women in senior positions. Why is this so and what can be done to correct it?

I have the desire to see women be the best version of themselves. This may not be a popular opinion, but I do think many times, we women, are the ones that discount ourselves. Sometimes as girls, perhaps through circumstances or otherwise, we may believe that we need to settle for less or maybe we have been shut down once or twice and we think it is a reflection of ourselves; so, we don’t want to try again. But actually, it is a matter of opinion of that one person. We should reach out and push harder and just keep going further in spite of this. Of course, for companies, some organisations are just traditional and feel that women will go on maternity leave and have sick children, etc. They forget that the children were born by one man and woman. They also discount the many verified case studies that prove that companies, with a more diverse and inclusive leadership and culture, perform better in the long run. I think things will change as more companies begin to wake up to this reality. For us in Guinness Nigeria as an example, there is a deliberate effort to ensure that we embed diversity and inclusion right across our organisation, from sales to marketing to supply. We understand that this plays a huge part in getting us to our ambition to be the most trusted and respected company in Nigeria and we are committed to it.

People say women don’t make good bosses because they are difficult to get along with. What kind of leader are you?

I don’t know, my team will tell you. I think with some of my guys, it is a love-hate relationship. But I know one thing for sure, they know my intention is good. I may be tough sometimes but they know that it is coming from a sincere place. Some of my bosses, on the other hand, have said that I am too soft on my team, but if you ask those in my team, they will tell you the direct opposite. I think it is a tale of two halves. I like to push you beyond what you think is your limit, because I realise that if some people are pushed, you will be amazed at some of the things they will achieve. But most of the time, people don’t want to do that because it is not comfortable. I can be demanding but at the same time, I am quite nurturing. That is why I call it a love-hate relationship. Some people have said to me that it is too challenging to work with me, but I think overall, my team knows that I am tough but it comes from wanting to get them to give the best they have in them.

Have you ever had any discouraging time in your career?

There have been lots of it. An instance is the pressure of work and balancing it with the home. Someone was asking how I balance my job and family. I said I am always a work in progress. I have been married for 23 years and I still consider myself a work in progress. Even when my husband complains about something, I tell him that I will try harder. At work, there are times when I don’t get the outcome that I want and I feel that it is not happening quickly or maybe at times, when I and a boss don’t agree on an issue, those times I try a little to understand them and speak their language. As women, we juggle a lot because this is what we do for a living. We juggle 10 balls at the same time, which actually helps us to be successful in our careers and to manage some of these things because we have the capacity. For some people, it is a disadvantage and they will say the person is distracted but actually it is a tool of the trade.

How do you like to relax when you are not working?

I love music and sports a lot. These days, I try to walk in the morning and since I got into the leadership team, I found out that the pressure is a different type, so, I realised that I needed a lot more time in my own head than I can afford in real time. I wake up early these days and I just take a walk for 45 minutes around my estate while playing very loud music and taking in the environment. It allows me to be in my own head, hear myself and think about the things I am having challenges with. I find that very helpful; it helps me to relax. I used to sing in the choir and I am planning to go back soon. That is one of my ambitions for this year. I also love going out for social events.