By Morenike Taire
You have worked with four multinational companies; was this part of your career plan or it just happened that way?
I was just focused on the particular job at hand but I have been fortunate to come across opportunities to work with these reputable companies and organisations, such as British Council, Procter and Gamble, General Electric and now Coca Cola.
What are the positive and negative impacts the multinationals have brought to the local FMCGs?
Impact could be negative and it could be positive depending on the company. Some of the positive impacts are in the areas of technology transfer because when a new technology comes into a country, people are trained on using that technology; so that is expertise being built.
Another would be on employment because there is always an impact on local employment.
There is usually the initial capital outlay no matter what industry. Sometimes it’s capital investment like a factory, sometimes, it is investment in local sourcing, services and people. But those investments are important for a country and have a snowballing impact positively on whatever industry the multinational comes into.
For example, when a multinational employs someone, they may work with them for their entire career or they may move to another company. Many companies have programmes around leadership development or technical development that such employees would have benefitted from. These skills are transferred with them to benefit other companies, thereby elevating the overall industry capability and transferring the skills even further to other people.
Another thing is when a multinational comes in and makes profit, it pays taxes that benefit the country economically.
Different companies operate in different industries. What FMCGs could do to stay on the positive are; ensuring that there is local technology transfer, ensuring that they are developing a local supply chain which won’t happen overnight. A company should have a plan in place that sees that the local industries are contributing to whatever products they make.
Even while they may have some expatriates, you want to see increasingly that local talents fill in those leadership positions; that they have strong succession plans. Sometimes, because of certain areas of expertise, you might not have someone locally.
What you want to see over a period of time is that multinationals are also exporting talents from the country to other sites because they have developed these talents to the point that they are able to contribute significantly in another country and in another business outside of the country.
So, it is a give and take.
General Electric and Coca-Cola are very different industries. How do you hope to acclimatise in your new role? Is there a nexus between the two?
Before GE, I worked for Procter and Gamble which is a consumer product company. The important thing about the kind of roles that I play is in understanding a company, understanding how a company intends to grow and being able to communicate about that company, being able to engage with stakeholders including government and others on behalf of the company. It is being able to work through strong sustainability plans for the company in Coca-Cola’s case.
Regardless of whatever type of company an executive finds themselves in, once you have the right technical ability, it becomes a lot more about leadership and about transferring those skills into the new company with a strong understanding of the new industry.
Coca Cola is a century-old organisation. Are you not intimidated by the prospect of sustaining the brand?
Absolutely not. Coca cola has an absolutely strong reputation all over the world. It is easier to deliver on reputational work or stakeholders’ engagement work when you are working in a company that already has a strong track record.
I should also point out that coming from GE which is almost two centuries old and 120+ years in Africa, it’s not new for me to work for such a company. The same thing for Procter and Gamble. These are companies that are over a century old and are companies with strong reputations.
My hope and aim is to build on that reputation and translate that commitment to Africa to show it from the lens of an African. I’m not intimidated at all.
Corporate organisations seem to make it a point to be engaging women on their boards these days. Is there a business case for that?
There is a lot of research around the fact that companies that have women on their boards are more profitable. Several reports have shown this. Having diversity of thought in general has been proven to have a correlation with profitability of a company.
Before, people saw it to be a nice thing to have because you want to show your commitment to diversity but today, it’s actually a commitment to the success and profitability of a company when you have more women on your board.
How do you hope to influence government policy in such a way to benefit Coca-Cola and the industry generally?
I don’t believe my role is focused on influencing government policy like a lobbyist, but Coca Cola is committed to this continent and to Nigeria as a country and we should look towards a way of working with the government that is mutually beneficial to the country and to the company.
What is your job description?
It is heading a team of professionals that are leading media relations and government affairs, and creating sustainability initiatives and corporate social responsibility. It’s all communications with employees, stakeholders’ engagement and managing this for Coca-Cola across Africa.
Of all the corporate organisations you have worked for, which one has the best Gender Policy as far as you are concerned?
It is by design because it’s one of the things I look for while joining a company. I have been fortunate to work for companies that have very strong policies that accommodate and promote diversity.
I see the same in Coca-Cola providing an equal platform for both genders to thrive. All these organisations I have mentioned have very strong programmes encouraging women to thrive in leadership positions.