Everyone who has worked with Mike Adenuga, founder of telecoms giant Globacom tells you that one of the critical success factors of the company is the highly intelligent manner its promoters deployed branding to sell the intrinsic values of the brand. And the man behind it is Adenuga himself—a man so intellectually imbued with the capabilities to take a brand from nowhere and nurture it into stardom, a man I have studied like a book, from cover to cover as his biographer.
Even when he went into banking and owned Devcom Merchant Bank as a young man of 35, and later added Equatorial Trust Bank, the key was Adenuga’s expertise and intellectual capacity to use marketing and branding to maximum effect. Femi Ekundayo, the pioneer MD of Devcom Merchant Bank recalls: “He was prepared to go with you to market the bank. He is a man of great ambition and integrity. If he could take all the customers of the banking community 100 percent, he wouldn’t blink an eye. There is something you cannot take away from Mike Adenuga and that is marketing savvy.”
David Maji, a technocrat who heads Globacom’s Retail Division, marvels at Adenuga’s intellectual depth and boundless energy, particularly when he is discussing pricing, marketing and branding. Maji said the guidance, leadership and expertise of the Chairman have been the impetus propelling the Sales force to excellence.
Advertising leaders who worked with Globacom have lasting impressions of Adenuga. Insight and Troyka chairman Biodun Shobanjo recalling his agency once working for Glo says: “For us at Insight, it was more than mere business proposition. We needed to support Mike’s dream. It was now the turn of Nigeria and Nigerians to make a point. Mike is a Nigerian who wanted to do monumental things. So, from the beginning, we were there for him…Looking back, I think it was the most exciting period of my life. He is an incredible human being. Extremely intelligent. Very generous. I have never met anybody who works as hard as that man. What amazes me is his capacity. Mike would talk telecoms in one hour, he switches on to his banking business, he would talk intelligently for an hour, he would talk his oil business—upstream and downstream—for two hours. I mean, give it to him. I love that guy. He is quick to recognize talents.”
Ikechi Odigbo, Vice Chairman, DBB Casers and President, Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria says: “Mike Adenuga understands branding very well. He combines very strong entrepreneurial instinct with a good sense of what works in the marketing sense. His gut instincts are spot on. He doesn’t need all the highfaluting strategy charts. His mind is configured in such a way that he knows instinctively what would work and what would not work.”
In Nigeria, many entrepreneurs see branding as a dispensable luxury but for Adenuga, marketing and branding are the main course, not the dessert. They are the most effective ways to let the target audience know about a brand’s uniqueness, which in Globacom’s case includes network quality, products and affordable pricing.
Adenuga’s older brother Otunba Ademola traces his interest in marketing to his university days in America, revealing: “While studying in the United States, he was influenced by a professor in marketing by name Professor West. He tells me Professor West taught him so much about marketing and how to build brands. Even though he has professionals working for him in the areas of marketing and advertising, he originates most of the ideas. He spends a lot on marketing communications, on billboards, on Point of Sale Materials, on adverts and everything.”
Globacom’s entrance unleashed Adenuga’s marketing genius. It revealed a General who saw marketing as war and led his troops in an aggressive bid to take over the market. In his summation, Adewale Sangowawa, a director at Globacom, said Dr. Adenuga could rightly be described as Globacom’s Creative Director. “He is the genius behind the company’s creativity”. In addition to Adenuga’s creative prowess are his strength and passion. Recalling the marathon meetings held at the beginning to birth the brand, Sangowawa tells me, “It was from such marathon meetings that I started respecting Dr. Mike Adenuga more and more. He is a well-to-do person who did not have to work after 6p.m. but he would be there in the meeting past midnight, all trying to provide the leadership, the guidance, and it was encouraging for all of us.”
Mohammed Jameel was then the Group COO of Globacom. The first day he met Mike Adenuga, Jameel was impressed with his big dream, the ingenuity of his ideas and passion: “He was planning to launch the brand Glo. I saw in him a lot of passion, commitment and vision. He wanted the brand to succeed. And the kind of figures he was talking about in terms of subscribers, putting in infrastructure and all that did surprise me. At the first meeting, I was convinced that the brand was going to cause a revolution in the telecoms market. Whatever he says, he is determined to achieve it. He is very passionate with the business and the brand. Even things like branding the street, he goes into details to get things right…If not for his vision, strength of character and passion, Globacom would not have reached the height it has reached today. He is passionate about the brand, passionate about the country, passionate about the people of Nigeria.”
I ask what marketing lessons he learnt from Globacom and he replies: “The biggest marketing lesson Globacom has taught is that if you have a desire, will and passion to conquer a market with a product or service, don’t look at where you are coming from. Don’t look at the huge competition facing you. Don’t look at the market already dominated by players in the market. Be aggressive and go to the market and do your best.”
In recruiting senior people, Adenuga would be on the panel asking technical questions. One senior marketing personnel recalls being grilled by Adenuga for a top marketing position. “I thought I was just going to come and he would ask me topline questions but I was shocked when he was asking me questions that border on real marketing—things like brand positioning, value proposition and things as an entrepreneur, I thought he would not have time for. I saw a thorough man who has eyes for details. I also discovered that he likes people that talk bold and have strong convictions.”
Maria Svensson, Glo’s Customer Service Director recalls when the news went round the world that a Nigerian was singlehandedly starting a telecoms business, it was greeted with incredulity with people laughing and asking: “What does he know about telecoms? But he proved the world wrong. The entire country should be proud that Globacom has become such a global success story. It is unbelievable.”
In building brand Glo, Adenuga opted for a consortium of reputable marketing communications companies in Nigeria, UK and South Africa to create a strong brand driven by simplicity, creativity and a smile. You can still see it in the current Amebo “talk-talk” campaign which delights with its simplicity and hilariousness while creatively passing on the message narratively.
The way Adenuga came up with the winning name for brand Glo is another indication of his deep vision. The Chairman and some top officials of his company had just finished a strategic meeting in Abuja on the need to adopt a compelling name for the new telecommunications company, preparatory to launch, when he got the inspiration and named it Globacom. This later evolved to Glo, a brand name Adenuga would later use to galvanise Nigerians to glo(w) with pride and excel in different fields of human endeavour.
Indeed the story of how Adenuga, the Marketing, Communications and Sales guru built a globally respected brand in Globacom from the scratch, is a master class in brand building. We look forward to many more years of Adenuga’s immense contributions to global creative juices.