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The Making Of A Wonder Woman

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The Making Of A Wonder Woman

Lanre Solarin

As the Marketing and Innovation Director at Guinness Nigeria, Adenike Adebola is an accomplished marketer with a proven record in marketing strategy and business leadership. Her creativity at work proves her innovative idea generating process. In this interview, she takes us through her ideation process and her successful climb as a leader.

Q: Your first job was as a Syrup Room Assistant at Seven up Bottling Plc. You were about starting life as they say, entering the marketplace. How was your first work experience like?

Adenike: Okay that was my NYSC placement job. I was excited about getting out of school, doing something for myself and being responsible for something. I studied food technology. It was really all about getting a chance to bring everything I learnt from school to life, so I jumped at it. I was very lucky to be working with people who were very supportive. My role was very simple back in the day, I was in the syrup room and all I was required to do was ensure that we had the right recipe. I made sure we followed the standard in terms of making the batches of Pepsi and 7UP at that time in Ibadan. I do not think it was really something that I planned out, I was just so happy to be out of school and doing something for myself, getting on with my life. So I dedicated myself to it fully, made friends and learnt as much as I could.

Q: You seem to have a passion for the Food and Beverage industry looking at your career path. How has this journey been for you?

Adenike:  Before school, I wanted to be a medical doctor; that’s what my dad wanted because I was a little brainy. I tried to get into university but my first trial with JAMB was not good enough for medicine. However, I was determined not to stay at home. I applied and was admitted into the Federal Polytechnic at Ado Ekiti to study Food Technology and though at the time it was a stop gap for the year, somehow, I loved it and stayed with it. That was how Food Technology became my path. Leaving school, it was important to stay with the Food industry because I studied and nothing more. I started first at UAC in the fast food business as a Mr. Biggs restaurant manager. I was about 24 years old when I joined UAC. I had about 25-30 people working in my team and reporting to me. It was quite a daunting task. Nothing really prepared me for that. I was on that job for three years. My experience at Mr. Biggs made me more resilient with the drive to survive, to do well and excel.

In the early days, I struggled a little. The people on my team at the time were older and you know how that can be. However, I respected them, learnt from them as quickly as I could, while leading the team at the same time. The biggest challenge I remember having was first; adequately accounting for the money after each day’s sales. Second was the challenge of maintaining standards which was very important to Mr Biggs. I did not leave anything to chance, I had this “Nothing can beat me” attitude. I was managing Mr. Biggs at the AP Filling Station on Oba Akran Road, Ikeja. I remember as a 24 year old walking from Ikeja bus stop to my outlet, psyching myself up every morning as I walked down the road to the office, reassuring myself that I needed to be a firm no nonsense leader to be successful so that by the time I got to work I was in the zone and ready. 

Now, thinking about those experiences, I laugh but truly, they shaped and prepared me for greater challenges. In the course of doing my work, I got lucky and was spotted by the MD. I got additional responsibilities as Training manager and was required to recruit for Mr. Biggs outlets as the brand started to expand across Nigeria.  Later on, the Brand Manager’s role in UAC became vacant and I was appointed into the role.  That was the beginning of my journey with marketing. I left UAC in 2005 and joined Guinness Nigeria as a brand manager for Guinness Smooth and that was fun.

Q: You have created campaigns such as “Let’s Delight Them” for Mr Biggs and also been responsible for different projects. You have a very creative and innovative mind. Can you run us through your thinking process? How do you generate innovative ideas?

Adenike: I always like to start by asking “what is the problem?”, “what am I trying to solve?” In the end, it is all about the outcome. Sometimes, the answer to the problem is so close to you but you may not realize or recognize it because you are not paying attention. Once I have painted that bigger picture, I get on with it. I tend to navigate by it nonstop, but I like to always get to a place of conviction on the insight and therefore what must shift. For example, “Let’s delight them” was about shifting customer complaints and getting the team to care about their role in delivering that.  The greatest ideas come from trying to solve the problems that we face every day. I have been quite fortunate with the brands I work with. Malta Guinness Street Dance was also similar and it delivered very strong results for the brand in terms of equity.  

Q: Your climb to leadership has been very progressive, what were the challenges and barriers you experienced rising to leadership? How did you reach your level of success?

Adenike: I have been privileged to work on amazing brands and also with amazing people on my team. These individuals are not just my colleagues but friends, and we have done great things together. However, it is not always rosy. At times, we fail and sometimes it feels like we are not making enough progress. Because I keep pushing, my colleagues sometimes ask me about where I get the energy. For me, I treat each day as it comes and I do not bother myself about yesterday. I give each day everything it needs for me to succeed because I believe strongly that you have to be proud of everything you do. I do not believe in half measures and I do not believe in throwing an opportunity away or throwing a moment away. 

However, I believe that how we handle our moments and opportunities is a choice and we should be deliberate about it. So, make your day count and go as far as you can. I want to enjoy that feeling every day. I do not carry over yesterday’s failures or what I did not manage to get well yesterday into the next; because every day presents a clean slate. That simple philosophy is a big part of how I get my energy. Also, my dad is a big part of who I am today. He trained my siblings and I to take responsibility for our lives and choices. “Do not blame nobody”, he always says. When you walk away from a fight, it is your choice to do so. If you stand to fight, it’s also your choice, so be prepared to accept the outcome, be it good, bad or ugly.

Q: Being the Marketing and Innovation Director of Guinness Nigeria is a huge responsibility. How do you make important decisions and embrace risk taking? Do you have a goal setting process you believe in?

Adenike: When you have responsibility to a team, to brands, or to an organization, such responsibility must not be taken lightly because it is a privilege. Decision making is about a few elements. I would put ‘trusting your intuition’ as number one, and I do not play with that. Then there is data. I do not like to dwell too much on data and facts, I look at it but I look at it really quickly. I know that data plays an important part, but you must get to a stage where you can also trust your intuition and use that to move quickly because things are moving very fast in the world. I like having multiple plans for a scenario. If I am acting out one plan, I have multiple plans ready to go. I also have a few trusted people who I bounce things off because I know I can be very impulsive which leads me to the other very important principle… “To your own self, be true”. If there is someone you do not deceive, it is yourself. Therefore, know your strengths and weaknesses, be accountable to yourself and take responsibility for your actions. Failure to do that is the worst nightmare that you can imagine.

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Q: You have accomplished a lot in your career. What accomplishments will you consider most significant?

Adenike: Honestly it’s difficult for me to answer that question because for me every day is a new one. At every point, whatever it is that I am doing at that time is the one most significant thing to me. It is difficult for me to actually answer that question because first and foremost, it is about family and life. I am quite passionate about my kids and being a role model to them in terms of their outlook to life. I want them to be responsible to themselves, to their immediate environment and generally be good human beings. I am a big believer in changing the world with the little things you do in your small environment. Despite how heavy and challenging work can be at least for me now, it is important to me that I am still a friend to my kids. That is probably the one thing that I am most grateful for. I also feel very proud of the young men and women who I have crossed paths with in the course of work. When I look around me, I see a lot of young people who I have worked with doing so well. I love that! It gives me so much joy and fulfilment to see them flourish in their careers. I just feel so proud to be a part of their story and to have impacted them no matter how small. Don’t get me wrong, not all the relationships on my journey have been that fruitful and sometimes I wish I did more but that is life.

Q: How would you advise other Wonder Women aspiring to build a career like you have?

Adenike: Be true to yourself. As women, we sometimes make mistakes and we are apologetic about who we are. Being “emotional” is not a disease, it’s a strength. It is funny to see that sometimes when men disagree, everyone moves on but when two women disagree, people say they are emotional and cannot work together. Why is that? I believe that we are girls for a reason and there is nothing to be apologetic about. I cry when I feel like crying, I raise my voice when I feel like raising my voice, I shake my head when I want to shake my head and do whatever because that is who I am. I do not have to act like a man, to be successful or make an impact. My femininity is part of what I bring to the table and I rock it because it is a part of how I lead and influence.

Two, push yourself. The world does not make room for girls by default. Do not cut corners and expect that someone would open the career door for you because you are a girl or make room to be extra nice to you and move you ahead. Push yourself, because the one person who will push you has got to be you. Do not come to work and make excuses, be demanding of yourself, not because you are competing with anyone, but because you can be more and do more. Be fearlessly ambitious, there is nothing wrong with ambition.

The third is to work hard but be nice, it is very important. I constantly remind myself about getting the right balance between being driven and being considerate because that can be hard in a performance-driven environment.

In summary be driven, be considerate and be your “emotional” self. I use “emotional” here because that’s what most people call it, but for me it is actually ‘heart’. This balance is often a dilemma for women, but I believe we can find a rhythm and visible authenticity helps to unlock that rhythm. I have to say that my authenticity gets me into trouble sometimes because I wear my heart on my sleeve, but God always helps me wiggle out of it. The authenticity with which you come at relationships will create room for people to trust your intent which helps. Some people say you have to see the future from here, I don’t know about that. I always take things one step at a time and focus on being the best that I can be. I put my energy in right now, right here and I give it everything. I do not overly think about what comes next, who is next or who is impeding my way to the next promotion. I do not waste my time on things I have no control over.  

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