Come Wednesday, August 31, 2011, Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, MON, would cease to be the Chief Executive Officer of Neimeth International Pharmaceuticals. And another experienced staff of the company, Mr. Emmanuel Princewill Bamidele Ekunno will take over as the Acting Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer with effect from Thursday, September 1, 2011.
ENCOMIUM Weekly paid a courtesy visit to the man who led several private sector organisations at his Oba Akran, Ikeja, Lagos office on Wednesday, August 24, 2011, where he told us a lot about his 33 years in Neimeth, how he was able to build it to become a brand his family and much more.
Congratulations on your voluntary retirement from Neimeth.
You worked with the brand for 33 years and served meritoriously as MD/CEO for 18 years. What kept you this long in Neimeth?
I would say that what kept me were challenges. When you’re constantly facing challenges, you will keep working, hoping that you will finish tackling them someday. Again, when you feel you are doing something important, you will have no option than to keep working. But the major reason for my long stay was as a result of the diversion that happened in 1997 (when Pfizer was changed to Neimeth). So, the company almost became new and so, I had to build it. Also, the law allows us to stay till retirement stage. So, I was waiting for that time to come.
What were some of the challenges you faced while in office?
The first one was the situation I met on ground when I was transferred to Lagos from Benin as a pharmaceutical sales representative to an area manager. The sales were very poor – but within one year, I was able to turn Lagos around and it became one of the leading areas. I was also transferred to the Eastern Nigeria (Aha) between 1981 and 1982. And the same thing that happened in Lagos repeated itself and so, I was made the National Sales Manager, from where I rose to become Deputy Managing Director. But the truth is that each new expectation came with new responsibilities. But the major challenge came when Pfizer diversified to Neimeth in 1997. And I was asked to lead the brand. It wasn’t easy but with the belief I have in God, an internal motivation, ‘can-do- attitude’ and love of my family and friends, I was able to weather the storm.
Did you set any target as Neimeth boss, and how far did you go in achieving it?
Yes, I did. I set targets in different ways. First was in the area of vision. I said we are going to be among the leading pharmaceutical companies, which we have achieved today and still working on. Again, I resolved that by the time I’m going to leave, we’ll be working for ourselves. This is because of the fact that after the diversion in 1997, we were dependent on our principal (Pfizer). We buy raw materials from them, manufacture their brands and equally pay royalty to them. So, we were virtually working for them. But by the grace of God, I led a transformation of a licensed brand, a company that was able to produce her own brand. We equally went into indigenous research in order to produce drugs that have not been in existence. They included supplements, medication for managing hypertension, a new anti-malaria and others. Another resolution I made was to continue with all the staffers I inherited from Pfizer which I did. I didn’t drop any of them, even when the company was facing some challenges.
The Neimeth of my dream was almost achieved. This ia a company that is self-dependent, research-based and one of the leading pharmaceutical companies in Nigeria. I equally thought about a company that will not only have its tentacles in Nigeria but abroad. Today, we’re operating in West Africa and even far beyond. To be sincere, I haven’t really achieved the desired dream about the Neimeth. I thought by now, we would have gone far down the road. But so far, I think I have achieved sufficiently about the Neimeth I dreamt of.
What about the best and the worst decisions you took while in office?
I think one of the best decisions was to go in to indigenous research. The next one was to enlarge the ownership base of the company, that is, by inviting more people to buy shares and be part of the ownership. Rather than being a household name, the most important one is by making religious beliefs a core value in Neimeth. What about the ones that I will say are not good decisions? Really, I can’t remember any of my decisions that I will say was bad. Although, some of the decisions I took did not yield quality result but they weren’t’ bad, after all.
How did you position Neimeth to compete effectively with other brands?
The truth is that we had a good understanding of the market which helped us to take a good position. Our pedigree which is a multinational brand equally helped us. We equally have a good market leadership and corporate social responsibility (organising health workshops).
What is the sweetest thing people say about Neimeth that gladdens your heart?
That your products work very well. Again, when a doctor tells me that he saw my rep at his hospital or he saw me in my company’s car, even when I was in office all through that day.
What don’t you like that critics say about Neimeth?
When doctors complain that they don’t see our products or reps at their hospitals. For the fact that I’m a marketing person, I hate people say they don’t see our products in the market.
Looking back at the controversy that trailed Pfizer’s drugs in the North years back, were you not worried then?
I was not.
Because I know it was a lie. I knew that they just wanted to make money out of it. I equally had the belief that the truth will always prevail.
With the benefit of hindsight, where do you reckon Neimeth would be in future?
In fact, the company will blow in the next five years. And more people will identify with the company. And since we are now selling our brands, we are bound to continue making success.
Let’s know your management and leadership style?
I will like to state categorically that I am a servant leader. I lead by service and example. I also lead sacrificially. As regards to management, I’m a democratic manager. I like to involve my subordinates in whatever I do. I don’t force things down their throats. Rather, I make them, especially the managers, see reasons why they should do things in a particular way. So, my management style is consensual and democratic.
You have been hailed as having excellent working relations with your staff and management, can you please comment on this compliment!
It is the reflection of my management and leadership style which is consensual and democratic. I carry all my staffers along and that is why I have a good relationship with them.
How did you combine your responsibilities as CEO with the leadership of various private sector organisations?
There is this drive in me that keep me going. Again, I am multi-talented and multi-skilled. And some of the skills are natural to me. And so, I decided to be using them together with my time to the benefit of other people who belong to these organizations. Again, I’m using the platform of these orgasations to contribute my own quota to the development of our community.
As a successful businessman, what does an entrepreneur to remain in business?
He need vision as it’s one destination that keeps him on the road. He must also have a strategy to implement the vision and then, work hard. Again, he equally needs to be passionate about what he does. And finally, backbone for support.
In what ways do you think government could support entrepreneurship?
First, they need to make our environment economically friendly, provide infrastructure and security. They need to make sure that the law is no respecter of anybody and also bring down taxation. Most importantly, they need to make funds available for people to access.
Being a very busy person, how do you make out time for relaxation?
It’s difficult. I try to make out time for relaxation within my tight schedules. I occasionally walk out of my office to the general office. I consciously invite people to my office to discuss one thing or the other. I equally do a mixture of businesses, from less serious to more serious ones. I also do exercises at home.
How do you make out time for family despite your tight schedules?
That’s another difficult challenge. But I’ve been conscious all my life that I wasn’t giving enough time to my family and so, I try to compensate them during holidays. Rather than fly when going for Christmas, I drive them in a car. I also play with my boys at home. I’m lucky that I have an understanding wife who is always there for the children. But the little time I spend with them, they appreciate it.
Can you let us into your family?
My wife’s name is Mrs. Stella Ohuabunwa. I have five children and four grandchildren. The females Dr. (Mrs.) Oby Rawlings (based in the US), Chinenye Adekanbi (a lawyer) and Hilda Nwosu (studied Accounting but now into HR). The males Samuel Ohuabunwa (he’s studying Medicine in the US) and Chigozirim Ohuabunwa (into IT and works with Zinox).
What are you most grateful to God for at this stage?
I’m grateful to Him that I have a family and I’m also alive to see my retirement.
What else do you want from Him?
I want to serve Him better and walk continuously in His way.
What next after retirement?
I will venture into public service fully and also concentrate on my NGO.
Yes. I regret not giving my life to God earlier than I did.
*This story was first published in ENCOMIUM Weekly on Tuesday, August 30, 2015