UGO GERI-ROBERT (Mrs.) HEAD KANTAR – MILLWARD BROWN NIGERIA is an accomplished Marketing and Management Consultant with a difference; known for her passion to help companies develop both their brands and marketing communications, she makes this come to life in a simple yet effective style. She has over 20 years’ experience in coordinating and managing all aspects of marketing research with expertise in qualitative research, along with a healthy dose of quantitative research competence. She is also responsible for managing all of Kantar Millward Brown activities in Nigeria & Firefly’s research in West Africa Ugo has worked on projects in a wide array of categories, but has particularly strong experience in FMCG, Financial, Telecoms, Pharmaceuticals, Social Research as well as New Product Development from concept to market launch. She has played key roles in the birth of several brands and products in the Nigerian market place; she is also demanded by clients that need strategic advice on how to best provide continuous value in the Nigerian market place. She holds an M.Sc (Marketing) degree from the University of Lagos and has attended several international management development courses in Africa, Asia and Europe.
HOW DO YOU FEEL WORKING IN THE MARKET RESEARCH INDUSTRY AS A WOMAN?
Market research, I think, is a woman’s job and well you know that market research has been my work for a very long time and it was not as if I knew about market research before I came into market research. For me, I stumbled into market research and I will say that it was made for me. Once I stumbled into it there’s no going back and I know a couple of women too, very good ones, who did not stumble into it by the way and it’s good all the way.
BEFORE YOU STUMBLED INTO MARKET RESEARCH, WHAT OTHER WORK CHOICES DID YOU HAVE AND WHAT INFORMED THE CHOICE THAT YOU MADE AT THAT TIME?
Well , when I left school after my master degree in Marketing at the University of Lagos, I actually became a graduate assistant because I always thought that I was going to be a professor, a lecturer maybe that is why I like market research. Even when I was in school I thought I was going to end up in tertiary institution and so I already had plans to go and do my masters and I already started the one year M.Phil just that I didn’t think it should be a full time thing and I was looking for a part time work to support the work I was doing in the school and so that is how I came into market research. I was already doing a graduate assistance work but by the time I left the school world when I thought that’s not okay for me. I actually did a bit of advertising, management consulting and what we were doing was actually doing some sort of training for organizations which I can also say it’s a bit aligned with the work I do now, so those are the areas I touched before I settled in market research.
HOW HAS MARKET RESEARCH BEEN ABLE TO MEET YOUR ASPIRATIONS IN LIFE?
When you say aspiration, well beginning with career, I will say market research has done a good job and market research is so deep. It’s not like the market research I knew when I came into the industry. This market research, of course you know technology has touched everything and you also know that with the advent of tools and solutions means that the traditional rule of the thumb died a long time ago which makes market research as interesting as any other career. I will say that market research has met my aspirations with all the dynamism. Market research is not the kind of work you will do and say you are bored, how can you be bored when you are touching different things every day? People say variety is the spice of life so I believe in market research we have all the varieties that you need both in the solutions we are providing to our clients or in the kind of problem area we have to deal with, or is it the robbing mind with clients and all kinds of people.
WHO IS MARKET RESEARCH JOB MEANT FOR?
You see market research means people that are detailed and market research means thoroughness, dedication. If you ask me, I can tell you that these three things that I just mentioned are women qualities. Women are strong when it comes to eye for details, thoroughness. I believe that women seat well and so every woman you find in market research who really takes it as a career usually makes a success of it because I think they have what it takes, they have it all to make market research a career.
IN MANY AFRICAN COUNTRIES, UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENTS AND RESEARCH INSTITUTES ARE OFTEN LED BY MEN WHO ALSO OCCUPY KEY LEADERSHIP POSITIONS OF RESPONSIBILITY. WHY IS THIS SO?
It’s a man’s world. Is there any place that men are not occupying and taking all the places? It’s a man’s world and I guess that was the beginning of the journey. But having said it’s a man’s world, I am not going to tell you that by 2025 or thereabout that it’s still going to be a man’s world. The women are coming. They are not always there but the women have started coming and they are coming up very strongly and you and I know that everything women touch they touch it well.
HOW DO YOU FEEL WORKING IN AN INDUSTRY PERCEIVED TO BE DOMINATED BY MEN?
I feel good. Why do I feel good? I feel good because I am a capable resource. I have worked with the big boys. I have worked with men and it’s amazing that I always occupy management position. So that means there must be something I am offering even in the man’s world. In all the places I have worked, I always manage to get to the top, occupy it and do well.
WHAT ARE THESE THINGS THAT MAKE YOU THICK ?
I know that I am very passionate. I have been told and you know passion takes you a long way. When you have the kind of passion that I have you travel far, my passion is infectious, it means that you will never give up and with that kind of passion it means no matter the difficulties, challenges on the way the story will be in spite of all. I am a very strong person and I have drive and it is that drive that keeps me going year and year, job and job, different people. What I mean is drive and passion of course and not drive and passion in a vacuum. Drive and passion are working for me because even when there’s a new solution in market research , it doesn’t take me time to move around it and why I am successful in market research is because I genuinely love people and you know for now one person can’t do market research. When you see one person doing market research you will know that is a one man thing. One man show in a market research is tantamount to small size. I am a good leader because of my passion, drive and genuine love for people. I don’t do it alone and when I enter, I don’t block road so whosoever want to travel it depends on you. Maybe my love for people has helped me to go a long way because when you have love for people it also means you have a team you can fall back on and I have been blessed so far because everywhere I have gone, I always have a dependable team I play with.
HOW DO WE ENCOURAGE MORE WOMEN INTO MARKET RESEARCH?
I will use the example of my own organization. When I joined market research, we joined it as young people. It looked like it was a profession for the old people and then when we tried to recruit, people did say market research was not fun and one of my staff a long time ago would say market research was a thankless job. But all that has changed today and no one can accuse market research of not being fun. In my own organization, its work and play and because of this culture of work and play, we are able to attract young people and ladies. When ladies come to the organization for example when they see people like me and other management staff who are ladies, they are a kind of encouraged feeling since we were able to make it, they will also make it. I think we have made the environment more enabling. It is no longer about school work, very serious where you can’t raise your head. Any other thing you can find in any other organization you can find it in market research and it is working and then another thing; I encourage ladies because sometimes family duties occur- whether it’s the children or the husband. I think that this is time market research has become a lot easier and then they should allow them to have work life – balance. For example I know there is maternity leave for everyone now even when you come maybe a nursing mother in market research we try not insisting you travel when you have a three month baby. We have relaxed some of these policies to make the policies work for people and not people always working for policies. . Just to encapsulate it , that may be because we are making the policies always work for people not the other way round so this development has made it easier for women to come on board, and besides because there are a number of successful women in market research I think that one is helping other women to join because they have seen this thing is working, so is making other people to come.
WHAT OBSTACLES ARE WOMEN IN MARKET RESEARCH FACING AND WHAT DO YOU THINK CAN HELP TO OVERCOME THEM?
Okay, in every male dominated environment you will always have a bit of male chauvinism. You are a woman, are you sure you can lead me? You often hear men say, “ I have someone like you at home”, those things they say all the time. Even when you go to the clients that we are working for at times they may not take you serious because you are a lady, there’s tendency to look at you and think that you did not get up the ladder by the ladder may be there was a circumventing. I think this one has to do with women generally, women think just because you are a female that the role has to be released for her and when it’s not released for her she feels bad. So I think the way to overcome some of these challenges is that when you join an organization you see the competitions there and you throw yourself in not thinking there is one role for the male and another role for the female. Once you address your head and you know that it is an open field of play and you go in, that one already cancels some of those mindset that make you not to be at your best because sometimes women think that we are the weaker vessel and that everywhere they go not minding that it is an official environment they still want to have a softer role. Anyone looking for such role will not be taken serious and already you have put a cap on how far you can go.
DO YOU THINK QUALITATIVE RESEARCH IS FOR WOMEN WHILE QUANTITATIVE IS FOR MEN?
I think it’s still this male and female journey. Even when we were in school sometimes some people see those men that are reading Art subjects and they will feel they shouldn’t be there. We just believe that women can’t cope in those subjects involving hard formulas and calculations. This thing is following us back from somewhere and women are said to be good story tellers and when you talk about qualitative you talk about story telling but remember that when you asked me what made me to be successful and I was telling you about the passion, drive and eye for details. You know when it comes to qualitative research it’s a bit of a personal thing, You need to bring in the person and verve it’s not as clinical as quantitative research and sometimes men tend not to read in-between the lines and if you must be a good successful researcher you must be able to read in-between the lines, to have that apathy for people and be able to see beyond the lips that are moving and I think women are more passionate than the men. I would say because women tend to be deeper than men may be that is why qual is looking like it’s made for women.
HOW ARE WOMEN DOING IN OTHER MARKETS WHERE YOUR COMPANY OPERATES?
Women have done so well in other markets. When I was in Research International I had a mentor and we were into mentoring when they identified a high flyer, they would attach you to a mentor and my mentor was from the United Kingdom and of course it was a woman known all over the world in Research International network because she had made a name for herself. Jane Gwillams my mentor those days was very passionate, helpful and mother like . All over the world female qual researchers is the order of the day and when you find the odd male qual researchers, they are also people that have a lot patience to listen . I believe that women listen more than men sometimes men can’t listen for a long time if you talk too much at a point even although they are looking at you and you think they are listening they are already thinking about Chelsea vs Manchester United.
WOULD YOU ADVISE YOUR CHILDREN TO TAKE MARKET RESEARCH AS A PROFESSION?
Yes, because I think market research is a training field , I am not saying other professions are not . Market research has the ability to build you up, to tighten your loose ends. You can’t be a market researcher and be careless because we are the gatekeepers or custodians of some of our clients’ properties. Somebody wants to launch a product you are testing the product, you are testing the advertising, you are testing the name and other brand properties … you can’t be a loud mouth, or a careless person. The issue of confidentiality is also important. They may start asking you if you have something they can buy for this, but if you are not disciplined and you just want to make somebody happy you could collect from Lagbalaja and go and give to Gbenga but we have been trained and is market research that makes us that way. I wouldn’t mind my children going into market research because it’s serious business and it does make you do some serious thinking even when you are not at work because every day you see so much as you move from one place to the other. So it does make you disciplined and it does have a way of making you a together person.
IF ANY, WHAT IS IT YOU WANT CHANGED IN THE INDUSTRY?
The only thing is that when you have done market research for long as I have done and I know myself worth, I will say that we are not as respected as other functions in the marketing chain. I want to be able to sit with client or whoever is sitting there and I want to be listened to . I don’t want to be judged or packed to one side because somebody has already taken a decision that is already in your heart and so you don’t want to listen. I want to be listened to. I want to be respected. I don’t like the master-servant relationship that exists in market research. There is too much of that where people think that you are in market research because you couldn’t find a job. This master servant relationship can’t work for people like me. It just makes you to be legalistic, to the extent that you abide by what you signed in the papers. The biggest thing I want is for this master-servant relationship to be toned down as it does not make things to flow.
AS A ROLE MODEL IN THE INDUSTRY, WHAT HAVE DONE TO ATTRACT MORE WOMEN INTO MARKET RESEARCH?
Yes, well without blowing my trumpet. Just as I am talking to you now we have a couple of places we do some training. And so now when I am talking because prior to my entering market research like I told you I didn’t know what market research was all about, I thought it was that market research we did in school and that one was not interesting but now when I go out there and I am talking about market research it’s not because I want to unduly convince people but it’s because I believe in what I am saying . Market research opens up your world. Once you are in market research and you make a success of it , you can actually work anywhere because in market research you have to do some extras such that when you go to some other places life is easy because is like you have already been grounded.