Peter Ndegwa, Managing Director/Chief Executive, Guinness Nigeria Plc.
By Onome Amawhe
Power, goodness and communication have long underpinned the positioning of the Guinness brand around the world. Understanding the need to innovate in an evolving market is what sustains brand relevance in its market segment. To understand how Guinness manages its transformations, MEET THE BOSS spoke with Peter Ndegwa about what innovation means to Guinness, the challenges in a constantly changing culture and what it takes to stay competitive
THE competitive nature of the alcohol beverage market has seen companies striving to continuously innovate and invest to stay ahead of completion. What does it take to stay competitive?
For companies to stay competitive, especially in a tough economy like the one we’re in now, they must strive to understand the changing consumer needs at every point in time. Staying competitive is even more challenging these days because consumers want value unlike in the past when ‘one size fits all’.
In essence, Innovation is driver of growth and companies that don’t innovate will not grow into the future. Another significant requirement for staying competitive is for companies to also ensure that they have a business profile that is flexible enough to adapt to a changing economy.
Guinness is now in its 257th year in existence. Having come this far as one of the world’s most famous brands what more do you think is left to be achieved?
Being around for that long period of time gaveusthe pedigree and experience to be well rooted.And we’ve been able to build on the positive aspects of that pedigree and experience with a very forward looking approach in a contemporary sense.
Quality is the biggest thing that comes with pedigree so when you’ve been established for such a long time, consumers trust your brand. As a house hold name, we continue to use that umbrella brand to deliver high quality products because it’s not just about the Guinness name but also about the corporate brand and leveraging that name to adapt and move with the times.
In terms of what is left to be achieved? I think we are launching innovations at twice the rate of our nearest competitor so there’s a lot to play for; especially in Nigeria which, from our growth perspective, is still a young market.
Guinness first made its way in to Africa in 1827. And has remained here ever since. Why do you think the continent has been so good for business?
When Guinness made its first entry into Africa as an imported drink; it was known as the foreign extra stout with alcohol and bitterness.
Alcohol and bitterness
Over the years, Africans have adopted Guinness as their own because outside of providing a premium alcohol brand, Guinness has also been generous to the communities in which it operates . When we established our first brewery in Lagos, we also set up a health facility to cater to eye related ailments. That goes to show that the forefathers that established Guinness had foresight.
Guinness has always connected with communities through various CSR initiatives which cut across health care services and potable water provision. We are also a major promoter of women empowerment as is evident in the large number of our and outlets that are being run by women. We’ve also been significantly influential in terms of the amount of taxes we pay and significant sources of employment.
As a result of giving back in the ways that we have, the society also responded by being good to Guinness and that makes for a win-win situation both ways.
If Arthur Guinness was alive today, do you think he would have envisaged the longevity and global reach of the brand?
I think he would, going by his vision; which was to export Guinness out of Ireland and grow it to become the global brand that it is now. The forefathers actually had real vision about what they could create for the world. And we have seen this with other brands like Johnny Walker whose vision was to create a whisky like no other. That was his vision at the time.
And it was realized many years after he’d passed on. So the forefathers of a lot of our consumer brands really had great vision and that’s why their brands have continued to be the global iconic brands that they are.
What do you see as the role of Diageo in advancing African economic development?
Diageo plays a big role in the economic development of the continent because we look beyond the commercial aspects of business. And this assertion is made evident in our mantra:” Doing good is good for business”.
With local sourcing being integrated into our inputs rather than relying on imported raw materials, a lot of our production is local even though some of the inputs are imported. So, in terms of empowering communities and supporting government to drive positive policies for the economy, Diageo has been and is still playing a big role.
During meetings with ministers, I always tell them what we are trying to do with local sourcing and they always agree that’s the way to go because it’s very connected to what the government is trying to do in terms of diversifying the economy. I have worked in Diageo in other markets and I am proud to note that we keep playing that role with various governments across the continent.
What challenges are unique to leading an iconic brand deep into its second century?
The primary challenge of leading iconic brands is keeping them current and contemporary.
Already, we have never compromised quality which is the centrepiece and base of our brands. But consumers move on and they always want to engage with brands that precurses them in new ways so keeping our brands relevant at every point in time is one of the most significant challenges.
Since you came on board as CEO of Guinness Nigeria, what dramatic growth has the company experienced?
It’s been a tough year across Nigeria. But there’s a saying within our business that it’s important to influence what is within our control. Obviously, we can’t influence Forex or interest rates, but what we can influence is what consumers see from us. That’s why we’ve been driving innovation by launching some of the most successful products in the past year. And we’ve also expanded into categories that we have not been in; resulting in our first quarter result showing growth in revenue, despite the fact that the economy is in a tough place.