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‘From zero capital base our company’s now worth N500m’, MD, Medalion

By Franklin Alli
Mr. Fidel Ikenna Ndubisi is the MD/CEO, Medalion Marketing Limited, Chairman, NACCIMA Trade Fair Committee. He says from a zero capital base, his company’s now worth N500m.

•Ikenna Ndubisi

“I haven’t been a marketer before, I haven’t been a marketing director in any company neither have I worked in any marketing firm, I emerged from nowhere and jumped into the Industry .  I must tell you, the starting was very tough and rough as no company would want to give me their account simply because they said I had no background in marketing.”

According to the Anambra (Ozubulu) State born Chemical Engineering graduate from the Institute of Management and Technology Enugu, a plethora of factors motivated him to go into marketing industry.

Hear him: It all started from the campus. There is a competence I have- I enjoyed talking to people, mounting rostrum and giving speeches.

When I was in school, people knew me as a D-Jay guy, and an organiser of campus events, I was the school’s social committee Chairman.” He further disclosed that after graduation, he traveled abroad in search for plum job.

“I began my career as a trainee marketing consultant with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees(UNCHR) Office in Oslo, Norway. UNCHR is involved in raising funds for refugees all over the world. I was still serving them as a corp member, and it was a kind of volunteer work.

Also, while abroad, I worked with a Norwegian company called Diplomx, an ice cream outlet, and I used to go around a lot, it was very interesting and exciting to me. When I returned to Nigeria, I looked around for job with my Certificate in Chemical Engineering, again, I found myself doing a voluntary job with the Nigerian Society for AIDS, as one of their AIDS control officials. I was involved in a lot of interactions with young people, trying to educate and enlighten them about the killer disease.

Again, I read a lot of books on Marketing, one day, I came a cross a book written by a Harvard Professor, it is called ‘Judo Strategy’. I recommend this book to anybody.  It tells how a small company can take on big companies and survive.

The book also taught me to go and look for your own key competence and maximise it, and create a matchless capability in that area., that once you want to be like the big companies, you can never survive.  Motivation also came from another book I read.  It’s called ‘So much Strategy’- How to be big players and kill small companies.

Based on these, I walked into a company called Sky Bright, they manufactures white detergent.  I told them that I can sell their products through mass marketing.  I told them that I can aggregate sales team(boys and girls) using van and music to sell their products.  They liked the idea.  They gave me their big bus and I set to work starting from Ojuelegba to other metropolis in Lagos.  It was fun and exciting. From thence, I started a company called Fingers Consult with key activities in furthering UNHCR marketing activities in Nigeria.

On how much money he used in starting the business, he declared: I started with a zero capital base.  Believe this.  It was with a lot of challenges, challenges, my brother. I saw challenges, big challenges because we were still trying to break into the market.

The initial challenges was that when we go to companies, the first question they asked is what’s your marketing background, where are you coming from, and things like that, they just looked and dismissed you.”

However, with the need to become more corporate and grow the business, Fingers Consult metamophosized into Datacorp Limited, with a new set of directors and shareholders.

We were then hired to assist in marketing and developing the Flash-me-cash phone-based transaction platform for First Altantic bank. I had also worked as the Chief Marketing Consultant for Mobitel telecoms the premier telecom company in Nigeria between 2000-2004. I also worked as the Marketing and Sales Consultant for IGI’s Monacom Telecom for 12 months, marketing and Sales Consultant to Norvatis Consumer Health makers of Ovaltine. The business started growing with less than N3 million capital base. I divested from Datacorp in 2007, to set up Medalion marketing. Limited.”

He tells how he broke into the trade fair industry: “ I attended trade fairs like the annual Lagos, and Kaduna International Trade Fairs, as an exhibitors carrying companies products such as Ovaltine, as far back as 1994. I saw a gap in the industry that ought to be filled.

One day, I asked myself: “Fidel, you’ve been trying to win big accounts of multinational companies, and writing proposals again and again, however, in the trade fair business there is nobody there, and I asked myself,  how do I break in?. Thereafter, In 2004, I went to Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry(LCCI) and spoke to the guys there.

They knew me as an exhibitor for six years.  I told them that I knew where they have been having challenges in terms of infrastructure, hawkers lose of revenue at the gate, etc.  I told them that I am the Messiah , that I have the solutions to these problems.

They said, well, Fidel, you are an exhibitor, what can you do?   Well, go and write your proposal.” At that time, one of the chamber’s top officials, Chief Solomon Onafowokan, believed in me.  He believed I could handle it.  He said that he likes young people like me who are go-getters.  He asked me again and again, Fidel, can you do it, that he doesn’t want to be disgraced as Chairman Trade Fair Promotion Board, and I replied “Yes.”

That was my first track record in trade fair management.  We handled the gate and control hawkers.  I met challenges, and I lost N8 million.  From that point, again, I went back to the drawing board, and brooded: How can I make the next edition of the fair different, I remember Judo Strategy, how can I add competence? I love music , and music is a unifying aggregation, it brings people together, thus I came up with a new concept in trade fair organisation and management.

I called it Brands &Stars, and it was a big idea, I brought brands(products) and stars(musicians) together to endorse companies products and personally give them to visitors to our pavilion.  From that point, I went big, I brought popular stars like 2face Idibia, African China, Idris Abdul Kareem, and other music idols.  I went to big companies, and said, hey, I have these guys coming to play at my pavilions but they say where are you coming from, we don’t know you, I replied, well, don’t worry, I’ll do it for you, just bring your products and brand my stage.

I went to food companies and telecommunication firms, too and told them ‘be on my stage.  I wanted the trade fair community to see big brands.  It was just a cosmetic dressing, and it worked.”

Immediately after the events, Vmobile ( now Zain)   Gave me contract.  I also won Glaxosmithkline’s Lucozade Accounts, and most big brands that I thought would never talk to me, subscribed to Brands &Stars. Since then, we  have organized various events ranging from brand launches, market storms, experiential events, campus storms, road shows and trade fairs in various cities and town across Nigeria. We have worked for these organizations,:

,Glaxosmithkline, ,Zain (Formerly Vmobile Nigeria) , Nigeria Breweries Plc ,Nestle Foods Plc, Twinnings Uk (Ovaltine) ,Dangote Group, Totalfina Elf, Oando PLC (trade fair promotions for Oleum), Globalcom Inclding Oceanic Bank Plc.

Today, as I am talking with you, from managing gates at trade fairs, we now manage the entire events, and this gives me competitive edge .  That’s how I broke into the trader fair sector.  Today, we are not just controlling the trade fair industry in the country with franchises from almost all the chambers of commerce across the country, we have grown the trade fair industry.

As you are probably aware, Abuja and Port Harcourt trade fairs were not on for ten years, we moved in and revived it, and since we took over , Abuja  had been running for five consecutive years now, and Port Harcourt ‘s 6th edition., Presently, Medalion is Nigeria’s No. 1 exhibition organization and management company with medium and long-term franchises ranging from between 1 year to as long as 4 years from major Chambers of Commerce across Nigeria for the organization and management of 10 major International and domestic exhibitions in various cities.

The company has been involved in the organization and management of over 25 International, domestic and specialized fairs.  Some of these are  USA Food And Beverage Exhibitions  in Lagos, Kaduna & Enugu, Lagos Intl trade fair 2004 and 2005, Kaduna Intl trade fair in 2005, 2006 & 2007, PH Intl trade Fair in 2005, 2006, 2007 & 2008), Abuja Int’l rade Fair in 2006, 2007, 2008 & 2009, Kano Int’l Trade Fair  in 2006, 2007 & 2008), etc.
On how the company has grown, he stated.

“ Today, Medalion is  a 500 million naira corporate entity with offices in three key cities in Nigeria. We have capacity and capability in different areas: equipment, capital and human resources. For instance, the company owns large 1250 sqm mobile exhibition halls and smaller stand-alone tents for exhibition and events. These modern stands have greatly improved the infrastructure at the fairs and reduced the construction of ramshackle wooden Stands which has been the norm in the past years.”

Staff: “Because of the nature of the industry we operate,   in a year we employ up to 1000 people, this is in addition to  our core staff of 26 whom I called “egg-heads.”  These are the guys and gals who do the organisation, planning and execution of all our projects from the dreaming of the big idea to the its execution.

So, we are a small team but when we have projects, we expand our workforce.  Within two weeks of a trade fair, we maintain a data base of contracts or temporary staff between150 to 300 people.  They include students, drivers, engineers, ticketing officers, cleaners electricians, security personnel, marketers and other support staff strength.”

Reacting to the “Best Marketing Company in Trade Fair Organisation and Management” Award recently bestowed on the company by the Commerce & Industry Correspondents(CICAN), Fidel said: “The award’s credible because when journalists from different media houses who are covering the sector say “This man, we have seen what you have been doing,”  I’ m so happy  for the recognition, and I know that other recipients, corporate and individuals, felt the same as I do.”

He concluded with the company’s future plans, saying: “Our size is SMEs, and we are going for listing on the floor of Nigerian Stock Exchange, soon.  We have two years plan to be listed at the stock market as an SMEs.


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