Visitors have accessed this post 1384
Memories of the 90’s and early 2000’s Cadbury Nigeria: An Oasis of Excellence
Sometime 1989. Arts Theatre. The University of Lagos, Akoka.
My mind flashed back to student days in the same venue. The Arts theatre was a fun venue. But that
day, the Arts Theatre was an exam battleground as, along with a thousand other
job applicants, I wrote the aptitude test for recruitment as a Management
Trainee into Cadbury Nigeria (CN).
That day, the Arts Theatre was going to be a theatre of
dreams (apologies to Man U fans) for some, and a theatre of nightmare for
others. There was tension in the air and sweat on hand palms.
‘What is the opposite of legerity?’ I smiled to myself wryly. I
didn’t know what ‘legerity’ meant, not to talk about what its antonym was!
That was an appetizer to my journey to and through CN. I
scaled that first test, and after one more test which included group case study
discussions and extempore speeches followed by interviews with larger-than-life
board directors, I started my Cadbury life in July 1990.
There I met the venerated Managing Director/ CEO and later
Chairman, who in CN’s style of initials was formally known as ‘CK’ but
informally behind his back as ‘Baba’.
During my first encounter with CK, as I listened to him
speak in his Queen’s English diction, excellent elocution and wisdom, I felt yes,
I am in the right place to start my career. CK spoke about CN values that
resonated with me: integrity, excellence, being the best version of yourself.
CK was inspirational and the progenitor of a high-performing team.
1990 coincidentally was the 25th anniversary year
of Cadbury in Nigeria. A new slogan, ‘in pursuit of excellence’ was crafted for
the company. Excellence was an ethos,
like Aristotle said, not a one-off event, but a habit deliberately cultivated.
The bar was constantly raised. Good was not good enough. And it was not just
talk; you had to walk the talk. Dot your ‘I’s and cross your ‘t’s.
Premises were spick and span, punctuality was second nature and
integrity was taken seriously.
Innovation and creativity were encouraged and Cadbury
Nigeria led the market in many respects.
The company launched innovative products in the late 80’s and early
90’s such as Poundo Yam, Dadawa cubes, Cheff peppersoup cubes and Tomapep. Some
would argue that the Company moved way ahead of consumers, but it is a
compliment of the foresightedness of the Company at that time, that a product
category such as poundo yam is now a branded staple food 30 years on. In processes, the Company developed and
patented the first ever Cereal Conversion Plant.
In brand marketing, Cadbury Nigeria built several category
market leaders, notably Bournvita and Tom Tom and delivered several firsts such
as: Pioneer sponsor of the Professional football league by Bournvita, the
Bournvita Soccer Awards, Bournvita Teachers Award, and Bournvita Magic Flight.
It also innovated with Cadbury’s Breakfast Television and
Bournvita Sports Special on radio, which spawned today’s 15-minute radio sports
Being posted to work in the Sales and Marketing function, despite having
degrees in Biochemistry and hardly any knowledge of marketing reinforced my positive
perception of the Company as a broad-minded and forward-looking company ; the
fact that it wasn’t just about your degree, your aptitude mattered as well.
I got my first real baptism of fire on the job 6
months after being posted to Marketing when I was appointed Marketing
Executive-Chocolates, with direct responsibility to manage brands which were struggling
in the marketplace; you could say I grew my milk teeth in Marketing on this
The immediate challenge then was to limit the
potentially high write-off of unsold finished product.
18 hours after being moved to manage the chocolate brands,
being queried at a team meeting by OOO in CN parlance, then Sales/Marketing
director, how come I hadn’t come up with solutions!(By the way, the 18 hours
were between 2.00pm Monday and 8.00am the next day).
OOO was a perfectionist with deep intellect, wide
reservoir of knowledge and a prodigious capacity to multitask. As CK’s successor, he led CN to new heights.
Some would ask, so what happened on his watch at the end? My short response here
would be that lessons have been learnt.
There were many other great people in CN across
People like VB, an Indian who came on secondment as
Sales/Marketing Director, and today is one of the most respected business
leaders in India. It was from her that I first heard the profound question:
‘There might be a gap in the market, but is there a market in the gap’?
People like MAJ, creative marketer par excellence
who showed by example the power of imagination and boldness to take calculated
People like FOB, BTF and BOC who gave me latitude to be myself, yet
gave appropriate guidance; from them I learned to let people I work with be
themselves whilst aiming to help them
fulfill their potential. People like TOA,
tenacious and driven.
On his retirement as CEO, CK gave a farewell address that
defined who a Cadbury Nigeria person was: Conscientious,
Confident, Caring, Careful, Character, Committed, Competent.
Those were 7C’s we all strove to live to. And I dare say, many of us still strive to live up to despite having left the Company for several years.
Author – Lampe Omoyele