Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, former Chairman/CEO Neimeth International Pharmaceuticals Plc, Lagos, our guest this week, took the industry by surprise in 1997 when he and his colleagues spearheaded the Management-Buy-Out of 60 per cent equity holding of Pfizer Inc. New York, USA in Pfizer Products Plc.
A dreamer and visionary leader, he rose from theposition of a sales representative at Pfizer Inc. to the position of CEO within 15 years of joining the company. He spent 33 years in the Pharmaceutical industry, 18 of which was at the level of the CEO before he retired in 2011. Beyond his work as the CEO of his company, Ohuabunwa also played leadership roles in a lot of private sector organisations, including Chairman, Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria, Ikeja Branch; President, Nigerian Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA); Chairman, Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG); and a host of others. Mazi Sam is an entrepreneur, leader, nation builder, author, lay-minister and social worker, all rolled into one.
Enjoy the insights into his life lessons.
The Power Is in Your Vision.
The overriding lesson I have learnt in life is that with a well-defined vision and a focused mind, you can achieve practically any worthwhile thing you put your mind to. And without a vision, success is not in sight.When I joined Pfizer in 1978, I determined I was going to spend five years so that I could go into business with my uncle. I purposed in mind that in those five years, I would know everything I needed to know about manufacturing in a multinational organisation. In my fifth year while I was getting ready to leave the company, I had an encounter with the Chairman of the company who thought I had been in the company for at least 10 years. When he was reminded that I had been there for just five years, he couldn’t believe it because I had risen to middle management in five years from Pharmaceutical sales representative. That interested him. After that encounter, I changed my mind and decided I was going to continue and that I would like to be like the Chairman. I pasted the picture I took with the Chairman on the wall in my office. Each time I came into my office, I looked at the picture, said a silent prayer and said to myself that someday I would be the Chairman of the company. From that day, it took me 10 years to become the Chairman/CEO of the company in fulfillment of the vision. The major determinant of success in life is vision; determine the end from the beginning.
When we were doing the Management-Buy-Out in 1997, between Pfizer International and the management of the local company, we made a mistake: we thought it was a business transaction between a father and a child. We thought Pfizer was our father, we were the children, and so we didn’t negotiate properly. And those who were negotiating for Pfizer took advantage of our naivety to put a very difficult agreement that nearly stifled our company. That taught me a lesson that you never expect anybody to offer you anything. You probably need to ask or demand before you get something reasonable. We renegotiated the agreement, and we got a deal that was much in our favour. So, I say negotiate everything.
Do not Die in Your Mistake.
If you discover that you are walking on the wrong path, you should make a U-turn and change your situation. I found out that we made a mistake by accepting the terms of that agreement and it was making us to work so hard with very little returns. We were virtually working for Pfizer. We were paying royalties, buyingtheir products, their raw materials at their own price and generally conducting the business as if it were still a Pfizer business when it has actually become a Nigerian business. At some point I took the decision that I was going to break out of the Pfizer agreement, set up our own products, promote our own brands, stop paying royalties for their brands so that we could go to the international market and buy our raw materials at a price that could give us decent returns. So, between 2005 and 2010, we launched a major effort at local products development. It was not easy initially, but over time we were able to develop our own brand. Be bold to make a U-turn when you discover that you have made a strategic mistake.
Develop Multiple Streams of Income
To gain financial independence, I discovered from my personal experience that one cannot rely on one source of income. You need to create and nurture other streams to augment the first. Most people cannot meet all their legitimate needs depending on salary alone, irrespective of their level. The reason most people indulge in funny things, including abusing privileges and disappointing those who have trusted them is simply because their income cannot sufficiently meet their needs. For salary earners, that source may suddenly end or you may have other challenges and you begin to go from grace to grass. So, it is wisdom to create multiple streams of income in your active years.
Most Enduring Investment – Human Beings and Relationships
I can state this without an iota of doubt: the most enduring investment anyone can make is in human beings and in building relationships. The returns are long-lasting and for all seasons. I have made many investments in businesses that have failed or from which I receive no benefits or dividends. I have placed money in banks and financial institutions that have been lost. But I have discovered that most of the investments I have made in human beings have been profitable and have continued to yield benefits and returns. In my active service, I decided to invest financially in a lot of people – family members, friends, associates, and so on. Today, most of them have become the ready sources of help when I need them. Invest time in building relationships and invest in those relationships financially and emotionally.
There Is Great Reward in Service.
In my life, I have had so much honour bestowed on me. I have two National Awards (MON and OFR). I have received uncountable awards from my profession, my community and from the Church. Often I have been elected or appointed to leadership positions and I receive the respect and acknowledgement of my contemporaries and seniors. When I try to find out what it is that I did to deserve all these, I came to two conclusions: God’s extraordinary grace in my life and my willingness to serve and to make sacrifices for the common good. I became Chairman of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), President of the Nigerian Employers’ Consultative Association, (NECA), and so on, even when I ran only a struggling medium-sized business. According to God’s Word, servant leadership attracts honour and the humble is often exalted.
Recognise the God Factor
This actually should be the first lesson. I have found out that there is something called the God factor in life. In business school, they don’t teach you that. They will teach you everything about how to run businesses, how to navigate a difficult business terrain, but nobody tells you that there comes a time when all the rules, all the plans and all your programs can fail even with your best efforts. I encountered that in my career several times and I was like giving up because we’ve done everything that they say we should do in the business school and business books. Luckily for me, I have had the privilege of getting to know the power of God and I have always found that the power could leverage your performance. That power could come at a time of greatest need.
Books that have shaped my life most:
1. The Holy Bible - By God’s Holy Spirit
2. Cry My beloved Country – By Alan Paton
3. The way the Cookie Crumbles – By Ian Fleming”
4. Purpose Driven Life – By Rick Warren
Best Advice Ever Received?
From my late uncle, Mazi D.O. Ochonma, who advised me to study a professional course, like Pharmacy instead of a general course.
Major Mistakes/ Wrong Decisions
1. Not giving my life to Christ earlier. I gave my life to Christ at age 39 and prior to that time, I did many foolish things and took unnecessary risks that almost cut short my life. I wish I had become born again much earlier.
2. The decision to take a foreign currency denominated loan some time in my career without fully understanding the ramifications of the repayment options. While we thought that the loan had a long tenor, it turned out that the lenders had the leeway to call in the loan at a very short notice. And they did. The scares of this transaction still remain with the company till date. So, I counsel people to be wary of taking foreign loans in an unstable exchange rate environment.
3. Failing, with dire consequences, to heed what looked like rumours about the person of the individual I had anointed to take over from me. Do not dismiss rumours and gossips off handedly without a proper investigation, especially before making very important decisions like succession planning.