On May 28, this year, the President and Chairman of Council, National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria (NIMN), Tony Agenmonmen, stepped down at the expiration of his tenure. In this interview With AKIN ADEWAKUN, he talks about his experiences running the marketing institute and how he was able to weather the storm and reposition it, within four years his tenure lasted. Excerpts.
SINCE you assumed office in 2015 as the president of the marketing institute, how would you describe the journey?
It’s been quite eventful. It has been fun for me, but I can tell you, it’s not been easy. Leadership, as you all know, is not easy as some people imagine it. But I think in these four and a half years, we have been able to navigate the rough terrain of the National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria (NIMN). From where we met it. I can proudly say that we’ve made a lot of progress, though it’s left for you and members to do the full evaluation. But I’m convinced that working with my colleagues in council, I’ve been able to make tremendous progress in all the directions that we’ve talked about.
Could you avail us with a kind of scorecard of yours?
My background is that you always start with your KPI (Key Performance Index). What did you say you would do? And what have you done? What did you achieve, and what did you not achieve? And why did you not achieve them? I’m sure during this interaction we shall look at what was promised and what was achieved. If what was promised was not achieved, then why?
Could you give us a picture of the situation in the institute when you assumed office?
Before 2016, NIMN had a history. It was chartered in 2003, but it was factionalised. In 2008, there was a major attempt to merge these factions together, and there was a merger. We thought, then, that we had overcome all the challenges. But as time went on, some factions, again, started springing up, and that continued to create challenges for the institute, till 2014, when we now had a completely different merger. And this, by the grace of God, we have sustained till now. But, because of the consequences of the unstable past, when we had factions here and there, the institute was not properly structured. And, because there had to be compromises, we ended up with an institute that had 31 employees. Even if you look at all those very big institutes in Nigeria today, I’m not sure there is any that has up to that figure. Though the circumstances surrounding how we got that stage, I understand. Unfortunately, the salary bill, the institute was saddled with, was well in the region of N4 million, every month. Unfortunately, because of the infighting, nobody really took the marketing institute seriously, at that time. And to use the marketing parlance, the institute’s brand equity was almost at zero. So people were not coming to our programmes, corporate Nigeria were not sponsoring. We ended up with a situation where some of the employees were owed salary for up to six months, and a lot of the employees that had even retired were owed gratuities. So by the time we came in November 2016, the rough estimate we met was about N80 million. That’s no joke by any standard, and that was part of the things that we were confronted with. The issue was where do we go from there? When we found out that we were owing, members were no longer interested in the affairs of the institute, due to infighting, and of course when you had this situation, corporate Nigeria’s response was like, ‘well, go and settle yourself, and then you can come back’. So that was the situation we met at the institute, and we thought we needed a major turnaround for us to get out of that situation, and that was why we took that action that we took at that time.
But what actually caused this in-fighting, factionalisation?
Well it’s difficult to say. I can tell you that people could just wake up and say they wanted to form faction, because there was no structure then. So at the slightest provocation, people would go to their backyard and say they were forming faction. But I can tell you that the train of NIMN has left the station. The days of factions are gone, you can’t do it anymore. The proclamation has happened. The minister was there at my investiture to do the formal proclamation of the institute. The institute is strong and solid now. When you look at the members of the institute today, they recognise the progress that is being made, they recognise the benefits of this institute moving forward, and I can tell you anybody who talks about faction now is like wanting to commit suicide. I’m that sure and certain.
It’s quite reassuring to hear that those inglorious days of factionalisation have been consigned to the dustbin of history, but … (cuts in)?
Let me expatiate on that a little bit, so that we are pretty clear. I’m not guaranteeing here that tomorrow that you are not going to hear one voice saying, ‘I’m not happy’. I’m not guaranteeing that. There is no nation or society in the world, where you are not going to have somebody that is not happy. I’m sure you belong to different groups or associations, and no matter what is going on, we will have somebody who will not be happy. Even if we go biblical, with Jesus Christ, we still had a Judas. But the culture we are trying to establish here is that of transparency. So, even if you want to make noise, you are not going to have your way. That is how to look at it. It’s not that for the past four and a half years, we’ve not heard noises here and there, but we are focused. We knew where we were going, ditto our members.
How have you enhanced the membership base of the institute, as promised when campaigning for this office?
The beauty of the background that I have is that I work with facts, I work with KPIs. My campaign leaflets enunciated my key priorities. But I have what I called a scorecard, and I don’t think part of the scorecard was talking about numbers. I never talked about numbers because numbers were not our issue then. If you are talking about number, what we had as nominal members were up to 9,000, but if we had such figure, with a N10,000 subscription, why were they not able to pay salaries? Why were they in Shangisha? Why did they owe N80 million? I don’t really care what numbers they had in the book or what they bandied about, because marketing is not just about number, it’s about the quality of what you are delivering. It is about brand equity. Anything you want to do about your brand is to talk about the equity. If you want to build the equity, the numbers will come. What I promised them was that I would restructure, I also promised to build the brand equity of the institute. The third one is that we would ensure we got proclamation of the institute done by the minister, and I promised specifically that at my first investiture, it would be done. The fourth one was that we would drive enforcement that is the enforcement that marketing professionals will be registered with the institute. Then I talked about a new and befitting secretariat that was specific. I also promise to train and motivate employees, establish Nigerian marketing academy, and then restore the journal of marketing. I also talked about recognition of NIMN certificate. Those were my specific promises, and I asked people to hold me to these promises. And if you are to scrutinise, the only place I can say we had a red in all those promises was recognition for our certificates.
I promised then that we would do our best. But, it’s not for me to sign it. I can’t approve it. Recognition of the certificate of any professional organisation is the responsibility of the National Council of Establishment, comprising the heads of service of the federation and all the commissioners for establishment of all the 36 states. They determine the level at which any certificate, whether for the institute or for polytechnic is going to enter the scheme of things. We did drive that aggressively. We made presentation. At some point, the volume of document we sent to them was this huge.
In the December meeting held in Lagos, the National Council of Establishment was very conclusive that they were not going to recognise any professional certificate from any professional institute. So it’s beyond me, there is nothing we could have done.
Any other unfulfilled promise?
The other one we had a red spot was the training academy. What I envisaged was a formal structure of a training arrangement. We didn’t pursue that, not because I forgot to do that, but because of so many house-cleaning that we needed to do. So that was why it was deliberately stepped down.
You talked about inheriting a debt of about N80million and others. What is the situation now?
The situation now is that you are now in this beautiful building, I’m sure people like you, that interacted with us more, will know what we are talking about. The situation now is that we’ve paid all the outstanding salaries and gratuities of all employees, whether they are still in the institute, disengaged, or retired. The situation is that much of the money that we also owe to corporate organisations, we have liquidated it.
The situation is that the biggest chunk of what we still owe out of that N80 million is the N21 million unremitted pension, but, as at March this year, we had paid a little over N5 million, conveniently. And by the time I’m handing over, we would have paid three quarters of that money, and be left with about N5 million of the unremitted pension, which I believe whoever takes over from me will be able to handle. To be honest, I think we are almost through with the debt. It’s unfortunate, my intention was to clear everything before I leave, but you know what it had been in the past one year. We couldn’t execute many of the programmes we had planned to execute. For instance, the AGM we are having now, we would have had some sponsorship that would give us the amount of money to even wipe off such debt. But you know many of these companies are struggling now. But the debt issue is almost history.
What is the compliance level like among practitioners, yet to register with the institute?
When you talk of compliance our strategy has always been voluntary compliance. Any person who is really practising marketing should understand that you stand to benefit being a member of the institute. It may not be directly financial. But you learn, you interact, you network. Beyond that, this is a professional institute that is guaranteed by law. Apart from being guaranteed by law, it gives you the opportunity to network and interact with people that ordinarily, you would not have been able to interact with. For instance, look at the network of the people we are lining up for our Marketing Conference; how many people would, ordinarily, have the opportunity to talk to the Director-General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises? But he would be there that day to speak, and you will have that opportunity to interact with him when he speaks. Even after the programme, you can still interact with him. That is networking. We provide that networking. Our former First Vice President, Idorenyen Enang, is on radio everyday, talking about marketing and mentoring people (Enang is the institute’s new president now). How many people have the opportunity of interacting with him? The DG of LCCI, and a lot of marketing directors would be there. If I were a young brand manager, I would love such opportunity to be able to interact, with the professionals in the industry. Going to a conference where you are provided networking opportunity, with the crème de la crème of the marketing professionals in Nigeria, I think it’s something that true marketing professionals should embrace. So to repeat, our first priority is voluntary compliance, and at the end of the day, if people don’t comply, voluntarily, then we would be left with no option than to enforce the law. And after two years of persuasion, discussion with ADVAN, NECA and writing the companies, we thought it had come to a time to show them that look this is not about whether you like it or not. It is the law of the federation of Nigeria. Eventually 2019, we started what I can call enforcement drive. And in fairness, many of them responded. Interestingly, the moment the case got to court and was published in the newspapers, I couldn’t rest. Those listed were asking me for the way out. I think just before COVID, we had five that were formally charged to court. But beyond that, the Registrar is compiling the list of people that would be written to next. So, whoever comes in as the next president, will drive that.
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