YEMISI ADENUGBA (FALEYE) is currently the Project Comptroller for Action Plan Int’l. Her mandate is to create a profitable and sustainable business that supports organizations to achieve set and expected business goals and objectives. Yemisi is abreast of consumer behavior, business planning, business process & structure and geospatial intelligence in Africa, having worked extensively in Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Senegal, and Mauritania in the past. She has a great record of accomplishments and her depth of knowledge is apt for tactical and strategic decisions, and the fixing of low-hanging fruits. She leverages her skills, experiences and expertise to drive strategic business growth for her clients due to her very hands-on and versatile paradigm shifting actionable insights. As an employee, she worked for FCMB as the Head, Research & Insight but prior to that, she worked for etisalat where she coordinated the Market Research, Geo-Marketing, Business Intelligence and Planning functions at the early stage of the network. Upon growth, she focused on her turf i.e. Research to provide insights that helped to grow a strong brand Equity for the then etisalat which grew from 0% to 15% market share within the four years of commercial launch. Her long-term goal is to handle and support the business of her clients with knowledge, evidence & insights for competitive and comparative advantages.
WE WOULD LIKE TO KNOW WHERE YOU HAVE WORKED BEFORE AND YOUR LIFE IN THE MARKET RESEARCH INDUSTRY, HOW HAS IT BEEN?
If I cast my mind back, it was kind of tough because at that time we were not as technologically savvy as we are right now. We had to do a lot of things manually and I remember those times that we had to send reports or some updates to the client and the internet was down and the boss could care less what you have to do than to just send that report in. I remember a particular day that I had a report that had to go to a client and the server was down in the RMS days. As at 1am I was in Bariga where I was living then, looking for a cybercafé where I could send the report and Security was really a challenge. So it’s been tough but it made us to learn quicker because you just have to deliver result. Though tough but it’s been good too because we have helped a lot of brands with meaningful insights which gave them both competitive and comparative advantages. Also, they have been able to make decisions that actually impacted positively on their bottom-lines. Therefore, market research has been everything together; all kinds of feelings that you can evoke in a man including Frustration, sometimes joy that your report or proposal received approval and that your report gave the benefit that the client was expecting and you are growing and people are beginning to notice you . You also find out that competitors to your employer are beginning to talk to you, it’s quite interesting, I must say.
How do you feel starting your own company?
When I was working as an employee, maybe due to my background principle- whatever is worth doing is worth doing well. I gave all my best to the extent that sometimes some colleagues felt that one is trying to show off. The truth is, once believe in it, I want to do it in totality. Yes, I might fumble but the zeal to make sure that I deliver is always there. I would do what I am expected to do even when I am been frustrated when people you expected to help don’t show up, yet I would still struggle. The passion, the zeal, the energy and the conscientiousness have actually helped me to set up my own business. I am deploying that same passion and energy which I used to work for others as mine own employer. It is a good feeling to repeat for you what you have done for others. The learning in managing cost is working for me as right now. Unlike in those days that one makes good margins from projects, now clients are really pricing down as they look for cost-benefit especially with a new player regardless of if your feedback/insight is a lot better and much more robust than already made brands simply because you are a new comer. Since you want to prove yourself, you will put in everything including value additions that a bigger agency will not give. The zeal is helping me to grow – clienteles and continuous improvement with the way we communicate and build relationships.
And the other question you asked me where I have worked before. I started with RMS now TNS RMS. It is the Alma Mater for researchers in this country except you have not gone through the way. Those that have 15, 20, 25years experience in the industry probably would have passed through RMS at some point in time either as field staff, freelancer or other capacity. So I started with RMS and from there, moved to CMRG. From CMRG I went on to RI (Research International) and it was from there that I moved to Etisalat (on the client side) and from Etisalat I moved to FCMB. I started my own outfit after exiting FCMB. Fortunately, while I was in RMS I had opportunity to work for RMS outside Nigeria. I was one of the three people who opened the RMS Senegal office. I have had a 360 degree experience so I know what it is to set up, to take a brief from the client or to help client design a brief. When you engage with client you probably would know what the client exactly wants because a lot of the time the client does not know how to put down what they want to do. So when you interact with them you will be able to help them create a brief that you will be able to develop into a proposal which may fortunately be accepted and then executed and then deliver the report. I have a 360-degree experience in research and that’s why Action Plan International is a bit different from other agencies. I have worked across industries. While on the agency side, I worked on briefs to report for FMCG, telecom, technical service providers, consulting, and then Etisalat which is strictly a telecom company before resigning from the banking institution category.
As a woman competing with men in the industry, do you feel you are operating from a disadvantaged position?
For me, I have always believed in what a man can do I will do it better. So I have never been threatened by the opposite sex. In fact what I have seen most of the times, wherever I have worked men actually felt threatened by me that is the truth. I am a risk taker and most of the people in the industry can attest for that fact. I take risks that men will not dare to take. Because I am very adventurous, I want to launch my net in waters that people will not dare to and most of the times God has been faithful and once I have launched, although it may look as if I am not going to catch but at the end of the day I will end up like Peter and Paul catching a lot of fishes that I will have to cry out for help. So men have never threatened me and most people that I know in the industry are actually men. I believe that we are supposed to complement each other although some women are disadvantaged by their own choice because it is what you believe in that you will become at the end of the day. Some women do not bother to venture into male territory and if they do, they quickly reversed. Winners don’t quit you just have to give it your best shot hoping that it will work out.
Who is your role model in the market research industry?
That is a tough question. Actually, I will say the role model I have is Tej. I joined the industry and started working for Tej in 2012. From afar or from a distance, a lot of the time I would get close to him and make complements with what he was wearing just to start a conversation and see how he sees things. A lot of my colleagues were kind of really scared of him to the extent that they wouldn’t like to run into him or meet him on the way. They would rather run into a corner but I have never done that. I would walk up to him because I wanted to see what made him thick. To him, I was kind of like this is a different girl from others. I have not seen anyone who has been able to take the steps that he took and that’s why RMS has been a school.
Really, I just would have wished Tej did not retire to really make market research the function that will have a curriculum handle to it in the university because really what we do is an academic and a cerebral discipline which could actually be set-up properly in the university such that people can get a degree in market research looking at the six function process within it.
So Tejumola Kareem has always been my role model as he’s someone you can actually engage and ask question… He’s one man that sees beyond Nigeria. He was covering 24 hubs in Africa across east and west the only place he did not cover directly is the North Africa. I don’t know why but every part of Africa Tej has there as wherever BAT has footprints, Tej would be there and for me that is what I like most -people that venture into waters that other people will probably not venture into.
In many African countries, university departments and research men who also occupy key leadership positions of responsibility often lead institutes. What is responsible for this?
There was a conference that was held for women on the International Women’s Day. You find out that even in key positions across industries and beyond research we find men there because women have somehow put themselves at a disadvantaged position. This may be the most have been wired to see themselves as the specie mainly useful in the kitchen or who can only get as far as this. Therefore, we don’t equip ourselves with the right skillsets required to take us to the next level in our chosen carriers and we simply shy away when things are happening and say this is the men’s world. Some women don’t have the courage to improve their skills or educational status and intuitively peg themselves to a particular level and see that as the maximum they can reach as women. Who says that is our maximum? In fact as a woman, I believe that God has even given us more tendency to take up challenges and responsibilities than men.
We have that strength to carry on. It’s like we are so stretchable – when we think we are tired, we just need to stretch ourselves and we find out that that tiredness has become strength for us. In the university you find out that it’s mostly men that occupy the key positions because when they look at people who have the right criteria for those higher levels women are probably not there yet, so how do we now put somebody who has not gotten to that level in the next position?
If have more women who would put on that strength that we have naturally to forge ahead, I am sure we can compete very comfortably well. It doesn’t matter if it’s in research or in the academic world or even in the market of selling goods and services or consultancy, we can actually do it better if tell ourselves that yes we can and equip ourselves with all the things that we need.
So as men are growing, we should look for men that will be like a mirror to us and use them to benchmark ourselves afterall when we do research we try as much as possible to benchmark the results. We need to get up and improve ourselves really for us to reduce the number of men against women and the disadvantaged position we find ourselves in.
What obstacles are the women in the market research facing and what do you think can help to overcome them?
A lot, especially the pressure of motherhood or being a wife conflicts with work demands. Nigeria is a very interesting country and the dynamics keep changing continuously and I think the home front would affect a woman’s performance in the work place and by the time you joggle the two options we probably will settle for the home front, thus limiting the height a woman can reach But then we just need to ask for that inner strength in us to come out to help with improving ourselves and make sure that we can match in capacity and in ability with the men.
Sincerely a lot of men don’t even have half of what the women have but they are perceived to be the stronger specie, some of us are just too afraid to challenge some of their thinking.
We can do it if we decide to and some women are already working towards that. I know some women are already working in the background to change the current status and give women chances and you can see it playing out globally even in Nigerian politics, women are being given consideration compared to what used to be. We are saying that at least women must occupy 30% of the positions. Men need to even change their minds even in the offices and start grooming women to step in after them.
Are the women forming a strong body to advance their position?
Seriously without research, without data and information, a country cannot make the right decision. That’s why in Nigeria because of the paucity of data, erroneous decisions have been made are. Government will just come up with a policy that ideally should be backed by right insight which we don’t have that. So we could change all that. Dynamic women, it’s time for us to come together in the industry and form a coalition of women in research in Nigeria that will make people to start thinking and to support us as we begin to do what men couldn’t do by creating a competitive environment without strive and before you know it we will turn things around for good. We can do it but somebody has to make the first move otherwise nobody would.
How do you feel about the perception that the market research industry is dominated by male from what you see around?
We have more male in the industry because even during staff selecting and recruiting, one of the criteria being used at that time was the number of days a typical staff would be available to work. You know a woman can get pregnant and all that, so intuitively without officially briefing the selection/recruiting agency, they are actually looking for males who will have more time for the job. So that’s why t we have dominance of male in the industry. I will not dispute it because I know that when people were recruiting in those days when we were doing manual processes they were looking for male more than the female. It’s only in situations when you have to speak to females in some situations and you cannot use a male to interview female that you see them thinking about female. You see more female in the qual sector more than you see them in the quant. For me, I don’t feel threatened by gender I am happy that I am a woman and I am happy of the stuff that God has imputed in me and I believe that what a man can do Yemisi can do it better, so for me it has never been an issue.
What at are the personal traits that you have that have kept you going in the research business all this while?
I thank God. It is God that gives one power to do all things. I thank God for the grace and my family upbringing – that you can be whatever you want to be. I eventually started working after all those challenges before getting my first real employment. I am very dedicated, if you give Yemisi a task, once she has committed herself to it even if she dies doing it, she will never give up, that is me. There are things that happened, such as a project deadline in view then suddenly the computer crashed. I can’t go back to the client but to still find a solution. I am tenacious, very conscientious. I am a team player but often times, I am always at the receiving end of not getting the kind of support even after given my full support to others. So I have learnt to work and do things by myself. I have that “do it yourself” approach because if can’t do it yourself you probably won’t find anybody that will do it for you. I believe that I can do all things through Christ by myself and I don’t give up. I may take a step back to review what I have done but I don’t give up. That’s why I said I am very tenacious and passionate in what I believe. I have integrity as my yes means yes and no means no; that has helped me although it might look stupid at that time but it’s always at the end of the day profitable. I believe in the truth and like to stand by it even though people may not believe it, I believe that if I tell the truth even though it may hurt me at that time I will gain it in the long run. I will rather stay on the path of truth even to my own detriment.
If you are to model after young girls who want to take a career in market research what kind of advice would you proffer to them?
They should believe in themselves. God has given everybody the capacity that we need to excel in life but how much of it are we exploiting to be able to deliver in that capacity is another question? If you like market research you should believe that you can do it. We should reach out to people that have done that work because experience will always be the best teacher. If you need to walks through the learning curve and experience will determine how far you run that curve.
What do you think should be done for young women to engage in market research industry?
We should start grooming them young. From when people are forming the kind of career part they will like to follow when they grow up. As a professional body in Nigeria we should try as much as possible to reach out to students even at secondary school teaching them or letting them know what market research is all about. In fact, one of the things that the women should do when we come together is to start seeing how we can partner with state schools’ authority to drive market research as a discipline worth pursuing. We could drive it up to the university level as a diploma or certificate course
What do you think that can be done to accomplish?
We have to see challenges as part of life because they will always be there but how well we navigate them is what will determine if we are doing well, so to start with women should believe that we can do it even better with the men who are probably dominating the industry right now. We need to prove that we can do it and we need to equip ourselves with the relevant tools even as we need to develop skills.
When you strayed into market research, what other job choices did you have?
Let me go back in time when I did my first JAMB exams. Of course it wasn’t market research that I wanted for a career, I was not even aware of it then. I was a science student and I wanted to become an engineer because I had passion then back in secondary school in fixing electronics. I used to fix fan, radio. I was a painter, a tomboy. Even with my size you would see me climbing ladder and doing stuffs. So I was like a handyman in the house. I saw myself as either an engineer or may be a medical doctor. However, I didn’t get the required jamb score but I was offered to study statistics and I started asking questions what could I do with statistics. Fortunately, we had a course called statistical computing which allowed us to look into secondary data and to do analysis and probably understand why that data was gathered in the first place and our lecturer would ask you how you did that. That was how I came about market research. I had a friend who I was helping to interpret her data and I became interested in market research and then one thing led to another RMS invited me at some point in time after some years and I got full employment in 2012 after my first masters and then it has been market research all the way. Then market research actually helped me to open up another area like developing business process and structure which is part of the things I do for clients- developing customer experiences framework & measurement, , experiential marketing. Because of the zeal that I have, I have been able to learn and understand other things from market research. Market research is an enabler for me because it keeps my brain working being a cerebral profession. I think once a market researcher will always be a market researcher.
From your 360 degree experience in the industry, what have you found out?
The consumer/end-users, expectation is how those bucks spent on research will affect bottom-lines. How can they justify the spend on research to my stakeholders, what tangible benefit has research delivered to them. . Unfortunately a lot of the researches we are doing have not been able to answer these questions therefore why should they spend for research? Most of the research users simply being rhetorical especially those international brands because it’s a standard practice do it and it’s given but how much of value are they deriving? and this is challenging the growth of research especially in Nigeria because we cannot justify every buck spent by a company relative to the value to their bottom-line – revenue, margin, etc
I have asked somebody this kind of question why are you shying away from research?
Because client can’t justify the value research is delivering. From past experiences before the economic meltdown have not been able see the value of research that they can leverage so when things are hard how will they be able justify spending on research haven’t believe that the investment is a part of their sum total. Therefore, for most, it is only when the economy is good that they need research not understanding that they actually need research more during a bad economy to identify opportunities.
Will you subscribe your sibling or children to choosing market research as a profession?
Sure I will. Like I said, I build my company to be in perpetuity even after I am gone. God help me, I want to be like Coca-Cola one day and enduring from generation to generation. We want to build with integrity and competence and to grow so that we can become sustainable. Once we are sustainable why my child won’t become a researcher.
What are the things you think should be done for a change in the market research industry?
There are quite a few things that need to improve if you really want to have relevance to users or new practitioners or new professionals that want to come into the industry.
We must make it an aspirational profession. Right now it is not something everybody is proud of. I remember one day back in my Etisalat days, an agency contact person took me out to lunch. She came with a younger colleague who was new to the profession. This young person could not hold back seeing the way I was dressed, different from the opinion she held about researchers. She was like how come you are different from other researchers she had met in the industry. In my view, we are too serious in our outlook and therefore we miss out the details. We can change our dress sense, and make our outlook aspirational for new comers to embrace and practitioners that people would like to meet. Some of us have to review our reporting skills. Sometimes there are too many slides in our presentation that bore the customers. Some of us, our proposals are not worth it such that at the end of the day when you look all the proposals together it doesn’t drive any need for one to go with you.
Was that your final word?
My final word: we still have opportunities abounding but we must just look for a way to announce this opportunity to ourselves first for the industry and then for us as players in the industry. We should make our industry like I said aspirational so we can bring in the millennial or people that will actually showcase the strength that we have as professionals that support business in making the right decisions. We should also think of collaboration with location based intelligent consultancies so that the way we collect our sample is more relevant to the segment that client caters to.