Cherry Eromosele is the Group Chief Product and Marketing Officer at Interswitch Group. And with over twenty years of experience in strategic marketing and product innovation in varied sectors (FMCG, Telecoms, HealthCare etc.) of the corporate world, it’s no wonder we call her the corporate force. She describes herself in three words – passionate, conscientious and altruistic. She’s all that and more…
Moving to Lagos (the big city is what we called it) from Benin left quite an impression on me. Benin, a serene town incredibly rich in heritage was home for me, I grew up and schooled there. But I had to leave, I’d say I pretty much had a strong desire for greatness, to make something out of my life – even though the specifics only became clear to me as I went along.
My initial desire was to study medicine and become a doctor, but things played out quite differently and I found myself studying Biological Sciences with a slant towards Education. I suppose this seeming disadvantage (considering I fell short of my initial desire to become a doctor) only succeeded in further propelling me to ‘make something’ out of my career, and strengthening my resolve. I joined Guinness (Diageo) in Brand Marketing soon after graduating and have never looked back since then.
Joining Guinness, I’d say was a tipping point – as 1 of 10 successful management trainees out of what we were told were over 2,000 applications from all across the nation was a milestone that shaped my quest for success as a marketing practitioner – It was a very rewarding moment considering again that I was the 1st female to be selected into the marketing stream of the programme. As the number of candidates kept being whittled down, I remember determining within myself that I wasn’t going to be intimidated by the number of folks competing for spaces, and resolving to “fight” to get myself in. I think that was the point at which I got sold on building a career in marketing.
…On Crisscrossing Industries and Personal Development
For me, personal development has been quite critical, based on my own experience from my career moves. Whilst the concepts and functional principles in a field like marketing and communications are largely consistent and transferable, in reality, a professional that is crisscrossing industry lines is faced with a set of challenges which include having to learn the “lexicon of terms” used in the new industry, not having an extensive number of contacts in the new industry, not yet being deeply conversant with products, processes and technicalities.
On the flip-side however, with the right level of personal commitment to learning and development, the professional with breadth of cross-sector experience is likely to be able to bring value-adding lateral thinking and approaches to bear – indeed, I have always seen myself as an intrapreneur within all the organizations I have worked, by challenging status quo and taking hands-on responsibility for influencing and creating innovation to move the businesses to the next level.
…On Challenges in a Male-dominated Industry
In my case, I really don’t think it’s been too much of a challenge, given that I’ve worked closely with not only men but also women, starting out in the industry, and particularly because at Interswitch, it’s been largely a merit-driven, equal opportunity environment. By virtue of the nature of the Industry (Payment/Technology), you do find out that there are more men expectedly, however over the years, I’ve been excited to see a steady increase in the number of motivated, talented and capable young women (many of them even on the technical side) holding out their own comfortably. My belief is that the environment is going to get even more enabling for females, with increasing advocacy and consciousness.
I have taken quite a few, including making a move to venture out of a company (and industry) where I not only cut my teeth, but spent 15 largely rewarding and interesting years, at the point I elected to move into telecoms (MTN) from Diageo. Another memorable experience in this vein, is when many years back, as a young, single woman in my twenties at the time, I accepted a ‘stretch’ posting, having to take primary responsibility for growing market share for one of my company’s newest brands at the time in Northern Nigeria, which was seen as the most challenging market in the beverages space in Nigeria due to cultural contexts.
These were seen as a disadvantage to the brand (i.e. the populace had very strong anti-alcoholic religious sentiments which were being extended to the company’s malt brand just by virtue of its association with the company’s Masterbrand), and again, key stakeholders within the business felt that it would be overwhelming for a female to manage these issues, but I steeled myself and accepted the challenge.
My driving force was the need to succeed despite the odds stacked against me. I told myself I had to rise to the occasion regardless of all the constraints, and fortunately, we succeeded in that quest – something which provided a stepping stone to go on to drive something even bigger and more demanding, the launch of that same brand on a larger scale in East Africa (I relocated to Tanzania for some months to drive this). Again, very challenging, but I took up the gauntlet, and turned out to become a pathfinder/leading light, in a sense for other upcoming young women in the organization at the time.
I moved on to become marketing manager for the company’s flagship brand…this was another milestone, despite inhibitions and reservations from certain quarters which only fueled my drive to succeed in the role.
I also like to think that leaving Glaxo SmithKline (GSK) for Interswitch over 4 years ago is also something of a risk which however appears to be paying off so far! (Laughs)
…On Work-Life Balance
Honestly, my perspective? There’s really no perfect ‘balance’ between ‘work’ and ‘life’. It’s hardly ever clearly cut out for anyone, priorities change with the day, and work and life are intertwined. Think about it – sometimes, for extended stretches of time, we actually spend more time in offices with colleagues than with family at home. As a mother of 2 teenage girls, this makes life even more dynamic. Another truth is that you cannot do everything yourself and from that comes the realization that the balance of life will come as you know and maximally utilize your personal strengths while being very self-aware of those other aspects you are better off delegating and letting other capable hands run with.
…On the Payment Solutions Space, Financial Inclusion and Relevance
In a nutshell, I say without much fear of contradiction that this is the best time to be in e-payments, and the sector is just on the cusp of another huge wave, in fact I believe we are just at the frontier of the phase that would meaningfully crack the long-elusive nut of financial inclusion in Nigeria.
To stay relevant in the fintech industry you have to stay plugged in to trends, research, insights etc. There’s just something new happening in the space globally every blessed day, and these are very likely to have immediate, far-fetched or multiplier effects on the local payments space. There’s also certainly a need, like I’d earlier mentioned to upskill and to continue to do so. I just completed the Oxford Fintech Program at the Said Business school recently, for example.
- It’s important not to stay stagnant professionally; you need to upskill
- The balance of life will come as you know and maximally utilize your personal strengths while being very self-aware
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in The Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.