With a career spanning almost three decades in several key positions, from Guinness, Coca-Cola, Cadbury, Samsung, and now the L’Oréal Group, reputed to be the world’s largest cosmetics and beauty company; Idorenyen Enang, fondly called ‘Idy’ by friends and colleagues, has a wealth of experience in several areas. This includes Brand Management, Marketing Management, Strategic Planning, Business Strategy and Development, Sales Management, Organisational Redesign to Leadership Development.
Currently, the Managing Director, L’Oréal Central West Africa, Enang, a formerPresident of the Advertisers Association of Nigeria (ADVAN), is without saying, a corporate titan. At a point, he ‘walked out of a fantastic job’ to start up his mentoring outfit, Corporate Shepherds Limited, which he said was his own way to ‘mentor a generation’.
A marketing guru with an MBA in Marketing and a B.Sc (Hons) in Economics, Enang was, until his appointment at L’Oreal, Managing Director, Samsung Nigeria. His towering resume also includes holding several key positions in Coca-Cola North Africa Division, and Coca-Cola Southern & East Africa Division. He was also once Commercial Director, Cadbury and held key positions in Guinness Nigeria Plc.
In this exclusive interview, Enang sheds more light into Africa’s business and corporate future, and calls for the development of the continent’s talents in different fields. He also shares insights into what he calls the three M’s – money, marriage, and ministry, and how it works for him.
Sam Umukoro Interview: Despite having a degree in Economics, as well as an MBA, you could have gone into any sector, why did you choose marketing?
Idorenyen Enang: It’s a bit ironic actually, because I didn’t set out to be a marketer, that’s the honest truth. I stumbled into marketing. I thought I had a flare for banking and I assumed that one day I would be a merchant banker or whatever. So, I was looking at the likes of IMB as a possible place to hold my career. When I finished my NYSC, my first job, I think it was more divine, turned out to be from Guinness and it was marketing. Incidentally, I had two other offers, from Shell and International Merchant Bank then, but I chose to go with Guinness. All three offers came in 1990 and 1991. That was how I stumbled into marketing and I got into Guinness as a management trainee and they sent us out there, trained us, and then I found my home, and from that point in time, I got into brand management, and marketing became my forte. But I think I probably had one of those innate qualities that helped me.
Sam Umukoro Interview: From your rich experience, what are the qualities you think a leader should possess?
Idorenyen Enang: I think the first thing is respect. Some take it for granted, but it defines everything. The second quality, which I believe is tied to the first one, is integrity. Integrity is who you are when nobody is watching. You must be able to tell yourself – and also have someone that will always tell you – the truth. So, integrity is very key factor for any leader because your word must be your bond. The third one is having a sense of responsibility and accountability. These three go together. When you respect people, you are accountable, and responsible, it’s a pathway to give you integrity. I found that out in my career and it has helped me so far.
I’m not afraid to say ‘be bold’ or ‘dare to be different’, because at the back of my mind, I know that I’m not doing it for self, but because I want things to change.
Nowadays, some folks lack a sense of responsibility. As a leader, people won’t just listen to what you say; they are also going to watch what you do. It’s a body language and it comes in different forms. This knowledge has helped me. Also, what has helped me most is (having) the fear of God. Any leader that doesn’t have the fear of God is dead because that is the only person that can humble you. Humility comes from a deep understanding of that fear, that regardless of what power, position, influence one has, it takes one snuff and that breath goes…
Sam Umukoro Interview: As someone who has occupied top positions in several companies, do you think attending a business school is necessary for entrepreneurs?
Idorenyen Enang: I think it’s great but not expedient. Going to a business school gives you a holistic feel but it doesn’t do ‘it’ for you. It’s more for the network, not actually the content, because after that you need to apply (the lessons), and you find a lot of folks cannot do that. I didn’t have that privilege of going to a top class business school, I attended ESUTH business school. Then ESUTH business school was kind of prime, even over LBS, at that time, but it was very challenging. You find out that folks go to business school even before they think about going into a business. So, when they get in, there’s a big challenge and disconnect, because most of the professors are going to tell you theories. I’m just going to digress a bit, in July, we were in Oxford, and it was a top leadership of the L’Oreal in our Zone, my boss the president, and my other colleagues were in Oxford and the professor that was taking us said something and my colleagues and everyone in the room kind of went quiet, and I raised my hand and I said sorry, what you are giving us as a management philosophy doesn’t work in a company like Coca-cola, I’ve seen what we did there, in X,Y… He felt I challenged him and he asked why and I gave him reasons. He apologised afterwards.
Business school is great, but it’s good to take that side by side with a good company. If you are an entrepreneur, the better for you but it doesn’t set you up on its own alone because the art of going through a proper organisation or corporation is a business school. If you go through the right organisation, the fortune 100 companies, that’s your business school, every other thing is just an icing on the cake because you will get it.
Sam Umukoro Interview: What do you think about the craze about having a foreign degree and employing foreign graduates over home-grown Nigerian graduates?
Idorenyen Enang: First of all, I think the local graduates have given themselves away, they have not articulated a sense of purpose to know what they want to do. I am 100 percent home-grown. I sit with colleagues of mine who attended Harvard and they ask me, ‘So, where did you study?’ and I tell them, ‘University of Cross Rivers State, Uyo.’ And they ask ‘Where is that?’ I say you can never guess, and they ask me, ‘Really, where is that?’ And I say, ‘Uyo in Nigeria.’ The craze is almost like a stamp, to come into a country and go through immigration… That’s what it is to a lot of folks – a stamp, they are like, ‘When I get that, I get the network, I’ll meet some guys and I will be able to get a job.’ I don’t blame them today because of the state of our own education, it was bad then, but it is terrible now. I used to say to folks that even in marketing, if you are looking for quality talents, you won’t get them today; why? Because, asides from (lack of quality) content, people are distracted, by life on the fast lane, they are looking for money and for deals to cut through. The taste for filthy lucre has taken away the need to build some content in them and that’s the unfortunate position we find ourselves. I wouldn’t blame anyone that goes abroad, but it doesn’t mean that we cannot develop ourselves here locally. Today, there are podcasts from Harvard, you can sit down here, be a student from any university in this country and listen to Harvard professors on a podcast through the same devise used to make calls. But how many people know that?
So, there is that part about personal development and laziness. It’s unfortunate that people probably also want to cut corners to make it. We don’t have a pipeline for the future, but we are still going to have a lot of folks come back to Africa to work. But they always have a problem when they come back, they can’t last here, it’s tough. Africans should help develop Africa. My son is schooling abroad now for a reason. He will come back and work in corporate Nigeria. He knows he is going to come back, but he needs to have that broad mind. I said to him, think about the World Bank, think about Africa, think about how you are going to transform and change Africa. He knows how much I earn, he follows through the negotiations in the companies I’ve had offers… Now I’m bringing a spin which is the parental drive to it. Not many fathers do that but I’m preparing him for the future. Most parents do not even provide the mentorship because they are chasing money and different things. So who turns to be the guardian? That is one of the reasons I set up Corporate Shepherds; it is my own way to mentor a generation. I’ve been running it for the past five years. I can stand before anyone and say it I am what I am by the grace of God. I’ve never made money a focus. What I have made a focus is how I’ve built myself because at the end, the corporations will come… Today, I’m with a different corporation, the number one beauty company in the world. So, the most important thing is, whether abroad or at home, one has to strive for mastery and mastery is what you do when you ask questions, when you want to grow, watch people and follow through with them – that’s what is missing.
Sam Umukoro Interview: What’s the best advice you have ever received?
Idorenyen Enang: It was the advice from my father. He said, ‘Always remember, what makes a man is his word’. He also said, ‘Whenever you give your word, trust God’. That has stayed with me all my life. That’s the best advice I think I ever got because it brings in a sense of responsibility, accountability and commitment to a cause.
Sam Umukoro Interview: What would you consider your greatest achievement in marketing?
Idorenyen Enang: I’ll have to mention two, for marketing. One is when I launched Satzenbrau in Nigeria, and it was a turning point for a new generation of marketing called marketing communications where I had a 360 campaign. We had a teaser campaign; we never used to have teaser campaigns until then in 1995 – billboard, radio, television; the bottle, the beer, the name, the final word? I think that for me opened the way for what you can call integrated marketing across. The second one was when I was in Kenya. We set up a portal when I was in Coca Cola called ‘life in red’ in 2000. Incidentally 10 years after I was asked to speak at the digital marketing conference and five years into that I was still with Coca-Cola and all of them were best practices that were shared from Atlanta. It was the portal that allowed everyone a vehicle to play and do everything one wanted to do on that…. In the end, ‘Life in Red’ turned out to be phenomenon across East Africa, and the Coca Cola Company adopted it from Atlanta.
From the management stand point, I think it was during my time at Cadbury. I joined Cadbury as commercial director at a time when the company had gone down and God helped me raise a team that built it and brought it back. Today, if I ever have the chance and God says to me, I have another assignment for you, and if I have to choose a team, I’d go back to the 140 commercial colleagues of mine at Cadbury Nigeria then, who turned around the company. I took that challenge and I was blessed to have had that team. In 30 months, the company got back to profitability. Then I resigned after 36 months. For me that was a very defining moment.
Sam Umukoro Interview: Do you have that moment of self doubt?
Idorenyen Enang: Honestly, that is actually this job. For example, L’Oreal is about beauty. If it’s about beverages, I can close my eyes and ask you what you want and where you want to place it. Marketing beauty is really different. When I stepped into this role, I was scared at first and said to myself, where would I start? I have never had the word ‘F’ in my dictionary by the grace of God and this won’t be the first time. Nine months down the line, everything feels like a very positive momentum.
It’s really about people, and if you focus on the people the result will come. Yes, doubts will come, but every time I ask myself, ‘Can I do this?’ I always remember it’s not about me. My favourite scripture passage is about the little boy with the five loaves and two fishes. They didn’t multiply in the hands of Jesus; it was in the hands of the disciples. So, at any point in time, the little I have, I’ll share and break it and give it to the guys. That’s exactly what I’ve done and by the grace of God we’ve done well. We’ve had a good year, this year is another challenge. It was the same experience at Cadbury. One thing that has helped me is that I always trust God. If He did it before, then He would do it again and that’s the same way I feel for L’Oreal. My goal is to build a talent for Africa in L’Oreal that will take over the world, that’s my goal so in five years, and if by that time there is nothing for me to do, then I would look for the next fun thing to do.
Sam Umukoro Interview: What’s your guiding principle?
Idorenyen Enang: It’s encapsulated in two words – humble confidence. It’s about playing the fool. I will always come into a place as if I do not know, yes, you may know that I know but I will always play the fool; I learn and unlearn because it helps me. What I know, I know no one can take it from me, but what I don’t know, I don’t know. Ultimately, I come out better because I learn something new and I will unlearn what I probably thought I knew on a different way because I met an expert in that field. This is helping me run in the make-up business. Now I see a woman’s hair and I can tell a lot more so far (laughs). I also need my communication manager to teach me. Some of the stylists and technicians we have here are my friends, and they are shocked when they learn of the kind of courses I want to go for, the ones meant for them, because that’s where I’m going to learn. Later on, I’ll still make the decisions. It makes life so easy but many executives just stay that high and think, ‘We are the best thing that has happened since sliced bread.’ But they are disconnected and that’s where the strategy to performance gap is – it’s the execution that is the heart of it. That’s also my management style.
Sam Umukoro Interview: What’s your advice to a young professional who wants to get to the pinnacle of his career but is sometimes worried about navigating the complex web of office politics?
Idorenyen Enang: I think the first thing he or she must understand is that office politics exists and you must play it. If you don’t, then you are a pun on a chess board and you are living in denial. One thing which would help any young executive who wants to get to the pinnacle of a career is developing mastery. Be good at what you do and people will look for you. Even if they are cutting the staff by half, you won’t be the one that is cut; instead you’d be the one that is promoted. That is one singular thing that has helped me in my career because I’ve had to go through several of that in the corporations I’ve worked for, from Guinness all the way to Coca-Cola, it was always happening every 18 months. So, mastery is a very key factor.
The second ‘M’ is getting a mentor. When I say mentoring, the people I mentor do not just meet me in the office, they know my family and my lifestyle, and learn a lot of things from it. Most mentors are long distance; it’s not long distance learning. A coach is someone that you could call and he would give you advice on how to solve a particular problem. One needs a mentor because having a mentor will help you do two things. There are three A’s: you need acquaintances, allies, and advocates. A lot of people waste their time with acquaintances, but you need more of allies and advocates. When you have a good mentor, he becomes your advocate. The people I’m mentoring today go with me to places and they meet certain people, the next time they meet them, they remember Idy, it’s not them but they just say I was with Idy, I came to your office with him, instantly they see the face of Idy and what that does is that it opens up opportunities. But If Idy is not straight, doesn’t have integrity or respect, they’ll push them off. So that’s how it all works.
Once you have mastery, a good mentor, and a coach at the office and then you trust God, that’s it. God is the one that must come through, He’s the one that will teach you what to do in the night season. He’s the one that will locate you and get you to meet the man or woman who actually is your buddy or the one to help you. Without God, nothing will happen. That’s what has taken me to the top and I’m still climbing by His grace, I’m not there yet, I’m still searching for mastery.
Sam Umukoro Interview: How do you achieve a work-life balance?
Idorenyen Enang: That’s a very tough one, to be honest with you. While I also do not believe there is anything called time management, you have to manage yourself in time. I’m blessed to have a wonderful woman as my wife. Work-life balance is if your spouse is totally with you, that’s when the first two will work out and there will be life, otherwise you will lose the balance. In the last two months I’ve practically only been in my home for probably only six days because I’ve been travelling here and there. Which woman, if she has not been a supporter, would allow the home to still stand strong? So the spouse you marry determines whether you are going to have a work-life balance or not. She needs to understand you and be there with you. Also, you have to carry her along all the way to the top. Most men leave them, (but) I make sure mine follows me all the way through; I’m sure of my family.
So, for me, it’s a story of the three M’s: money, marriage, and your ministry. Corporate Shepherds is my ministry, it’s my call by God to mentor a generation; I have my marriage and then my work place – all of these three must have a balance. For some other people, it could be faith and family. So, it’s first my wife before my son, because once I have my wife, then I have my son, that’s it. Thus, I think work-life balance is necessary. Some people would tell you, ‘Oh I try not to pick calls, I try not to do this …’ Forget it, I don’t think there’s anything like that, it’s actually sitting within the ambit and trusting God to give you a good partner because that’s what it is. If your partner is with you as you climb, he or she will grow with you and that’s the best support because at the end of all of this, you go back home, to your partner and family. And if they are not there, there’s no balance. I could be wrong but that’s my own philosophy and it’s personal to me and I think it has worked. Others may have a different opinion, but if you are blessed to have a good spouse, 50 per cent of the work is done.