YEMISI MAKINDE is the Managing Director/ Lead Consultant Quant Hub Insights Services Limited. She has over 20 years Post Graduate Work Experience: (6 years Market Research Supplier + 16 years in Knowledge & Insights Application). Yemisi is also highly skilled in deriving and delivering actionable consumer and customer insights to drive sustainable business growth.
We would like to know where you have worked before.
I graduated from University of Ibadan (UI) with a B.Sc. degree in Economics and hold a Masters of Business Administration degree from University of Ilorin. I started my market research career with Research and Marketing Services (RMS) now TNS Nigeria in 1996 as a Trainee Research Executive and rose up the ladder to become the Group Head of the Quantitative Unit at RMS in 2001. In May 2002, I left RMS to join Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited as Knowledge and Insights manager. My role covered West Africa, including Franco-speaking West African countries. In July 2012, I left Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited, having spent 10 years to join Cadbury Nigeria Plc. as Marketing Services Manager. I had expanded responsibilities to oversee both Consumer Insight and Media units, and the two units were reporting to me. Later, Kraft was split into two business entities – Kraft with focus on groceries and a new company that was formed – Mondelez International with focus on snacking. I had varied roles but left Mondelez International as Consumer Insights Manager for Cocoa Beverage (Asia, Middle East & Africa) AMEA in 2017 to start my own company – QuantHub Insights Services Limited.
How do you feel leaving the multinationals to managing your own firm now?
I think it is a rest period for me, even the Bible says it’s not wise to labor and eat the bread of sorrow. I mean there should be a time that you work, which is like the sowing time and there’s also harvest time. I think I have sown. Life is not designed to be a grind that you will have to keep working continually at another person’s pace. I now use my time and energy to drive my own goals and at my own pace.
What are the unique things you have discovered about the Nigerian consumer?
The Nigerian consumer is very discerning. They know what they want. They want quality whether young or old, and even those aspiring for quality products. There are some consumers who cannot afford expensive items but that does not mean they would go for low quality products. In addition, because of the poor economy they prefer to satisfy immediate needs. They usually do not have enough cash to tie down on one particular item. When we were growing up our parents used to stock groceries for future consumption, they would buy groceries in bulk, but now people only buy when they require them. So, it’s more about immediate consumption; when they need it they will go and buy, and as such when you look across different categories, it is the portion packs that are performing very well. For example, milk and cocoa beverages are available in 20-gram sachets, and they are the ones driving the different categories. Same pattern can be found across cereals, detergents and vegetable oil. By this, consumers are able to meet all their needs across different categories. Another thing I noticed about the Nigerian consumer is the use of digital technology – many people now use various digital platforms like WhatsApp and Instagram to connect and also transact business, such as using the status option of these apps to upload different items for sale with the prices for anyone interested in any of the items. So that is the new trend. A lot of digital media is being consumed and it is beneficial for both the entrepreneurs and consumers, even if you are not interested, you get to know what is for sale. The point is, apart from providing information and connecting people, some Nigerians now make money via digital technology.
How do you feel working in the market research industry as a woman?
I feel fulfilled. I think gender discrimination doesn’t come into market research though there is the issue of low female participation at several leadership positions but it’s not only specific to market research, it cuts across different sectors. I just finished a survey on reasons for low female participation in boardrooms. I spoke to working class women, across all sectors (not only in market research) and at all levels – both senior and middle managerial levels, trying to understand what challenges they are going through in this regard. It was observed that women are well suited to be at the board without any limitations. However, the key factors limiting female participation at boardrooms are mainly discrimination against appointment and promotion. Men know how to lobby, through various out-of-office meeting/relaxation places and talk things over, but women believe that their expertise, intellect, capabilities or quality should speak for them. Therefore, it’s needless lobbying anybody before they can get into any leadership position. Interestingly, it is inconsequential to the clients we work for whether you are a male or female. Clients want quality – what are you bringing to the table? Can they beat their chest and say yes this person is well established in what she is doing and she knows what she is saying and she is able to provide actionable insights. That is what they are looking for, gender issue doesn’t come in.
In many African countries, university departments and research institutes are often led by men who also occupy key leadership positions of responsibility. What do you think is responsible for this?
Like I said, it’s not only peculiar to the market research industry where you have men dominating, it cuts across all sectors. It is a trend that we see even in the private and public sectors. In fact, in the research world, when you consider the gender of the people in boards, you’ll notice that out of nine people there will be an average of three women, meaning that there is still a gap in terms of gender equality at the board level. I think it’s a journey. I know some companies are working to close this gap, especially the multinationals. They are mandated, as part of their key result areas to ensure that they recruit a certain number of qualified women in senior roles. However, I don’t think it’s the same thing with the private companies because the private companies need to work and sweat a lot, they want people that work like jackals and you know men only have one role – go to the office and come back, but females have dual roles – we have the home responsibility and the office one. So one of the factors apart from the discriminatory appointments and promotions that I have mentioned to you is that we have family responsibilities limiting women especially young working mothers. This is usually challenging, so for some, after trying to juggle between work and family, and if job performance drops, they may have to resign because to them, family comes first. Ironically, such may be more intelligent and of more value to where they work than their male colleagues free from such pressures. In some cases, men ask their wives to leave their jobs while undertaking to provide solely for the family. An example in the public sector is the National Assembly where the number of men outstrips that of women. So it cuts across all sectors like I said. I think the government needs to take responsibility by legislating to ensure equal opportunities for women across all sectors. To some, it has to be a deliberate effort but I am not saying because it’s a deliberate effort, women should not build themselves to increase capability. This means that women should be ready when the opportunity comes, not because you are a woman is the reason for getting a role but because you are qualified. Women need to work for it and this was the talk I gave on the International Women’s Day organized by Nielsen for women in the market research industry. The fact that you are a woman doesn’t mean that everything has to come to you on a platter of gold, you need to learn and re-learn, to build capability. So you can’t use the excuse that you juggle home with office work and you don’t want to develop yourself. It is not an excuse, we all want the MD role but you need to be qualified and to work for it.
Do you think it’s a cultural thing?
It’s cultural and religious as well. The two go together so we have the cultural thing that when men are talking women are not expected to talk and it’s more prominent in the North but not like that in the South East and South West where we have more women that are working. You will see a woman that graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering, she is Hausa but she stays at home and doesn’t go out to work. So she is not contributing to the development of herself, the family and the community at large. They depend largely on their husbands to provide everything but as for me, it’s not fulfilling. Culture is there but you have to try to understand that you sent this lady to school and she has things to offer to improve herself, her family and the community at large. There was a day they talked about empowerment of women at the House of Representatives and one member from the north was saying that if they give equal rights to women, the women will become their husbands. So there is that fear, lack of security among the men that the women could perform better.
At this time is there any organized movement in Nigeria for women empowerment?
I am not sure except when we are celebrating International Women’s Day. We try to encourage more women to come out and be the best they can be and live their dreams.
How do you feel working in a sector that is perceived to be dominated by men?
I don’t know whether it’s really dominated by men but I know many women in key positions that are in the industry and they’re doing well. I don’t think they are intimidated. They are few but are they fewer than men? I am not intimidated and I worked with female leaders when I started my career.
How would they cope with deadlines?
Technology helps to improve our work load with a mix of some ingenuity. For example, as you are about executing the research, you try to figure out the report template – what it is going to be like, so the template is already there and when the data is obtained, you just plug it in. It saves time. I think it’s about time management as well and the fact that you are not committing unrealistic timeline to your client. Let me give you an example, you commissioned me to do a project and I have sent you the questionnaire and you approved it. The next is to know whether I should move ahead and you are sitting on the questionnaire for one week and I am chasing you around. The moment I start field work you are pushing me and you want the result delivered. Unfortunately what most agencies do is just try to please their clients by agreeing that they would deliver when they know that they won’t be able to do so. The next thing they would do is to keep apologizing for their inability to meet up with the deadline. But if you agree on a very realistic timeline, then there will be a peace of mind. You won’t be in a pressure cooker 24/7, 365 days. So, it’s about time management skills and how to juggle so many things at the same time. Don’t over commit because if you get one project commissioned and you don’t meet up with the deadline, and all you do is to apologize when it was obvious that you won’t be able to meet the deadline, and it is recurrent, you are projecting a wrong image of yourself/company to the client. So I think we should step back as market researchers and look at how we can commit to more realistic timing. Therefore, it’s very important that we learn how to manage our time and clients so that it doesn’t result in serious health issues from unnecessary pressures, which may end up in spending money in the hospitals to take care of yourself, then what is the gain?
So, what are the personality traits that have kept you going in research all this while?
Number one is integrity. I value integrity a lot and I would not want anything that could tarnish my name because I have worked for that name over the years. I have built a name on integrity and that’s my number one value apart from God. I don’t like to compromise on any situation looking like it. I hold my integrity dearly. Throughout the time I worked as a research user at Coca-Cola, or Cadbury I didn’t request for kickback. All I was after was quality job. I don’t like shoddy jobs or trying to cut corners, it doesn’t work for me and I think based on my platform of integrity because I want quality and quality is not only on project even in my life style, I go for quality . So for me it’s a strong value. Another personality trait that kept me going while I was at the client side was my strong connection with my key stakeholders. I actually identified my key stakeholders – the marketing director and the brand team, and I was able to connect with them. I became the go-to person for them when it came to insights and information. So, I think I am approachable and that’s one of the traits that I have. I love to connect with people and those are some of the key values that my company is projecting. We are ethical, we are responsive and we want to give them 100% satisfaction.
Is there anything you feel that can be done differently in the industry?
All the companies especially the research agencies need come to the recognition of the demanding nature of market research especially for women. Women have dual roles, like I said we are juggling two jobs – family and career, and you don’t want any to suffer. You need to recognize women have family commitments at home. Sometimes you come home from work Monday to Friday and your kids are asleep. You only see them in the morning when they are about to go to school, then you ask yourself what kind of life is that. We need to find a way to help women balance career and family responsibilities. We need to be deliberate on this and not just leave it to chance. In fact for a working mother that is a qualitative researcher, it’s usually a challenge. The reason being that they travel a lot from one location to the other to conduct research. So if companies can help them to have flexible working conditions such that when they don’t have demanding jobs, they can work from home or maybe come to the office three times in a week. Also, companies can make arrangement with service support providers to help them look for good housemaids.
Is there anything you will want to be done differently in this industry?
The number one thing I will like to see done differently in the industry is to discourage/prevent companies giving out research jobs to those that are not professionals. You can find a one-man portfolio with a research brief from a multinational company that is aware he’s not a research professional, yet they gave him a brief to execute, which he couldn’t and he goes looking for professionals to help do the work. Sometimes companies give out research jobs to advertising or media agencies who now subcontract the job to market research companies but they need to recognize us and deal with us one on one rather than going through an unprofessional third party. Let me give you an example, as an accountant if you have accounting need, do you first go through market research person when you know it’s an accounting job? It is not done, so you go directly and engage an accountant to do the work. The same thing is what I will like to see in the market research industry. We need to get to a stage that companies should not just think anybody can do market research. No, they should be engaging the professionals directly. That is something I will like to see happening in the near future. The second issue is that I will like to see improvement in agencies saying no to those that are demanding for gratification. I have heard stories in the industry about demand for gratification to the extent that they even tell you the percentage you should give on a project before they commission the project to you!
What do you have to say to the women in market research industry?
For the women in research, I will say they should keep their heads up high. What a man can do a woman can do even much better. All they need to learn is time management, how to juggle the ball so that one ball will not drop for another. Above all, whether you are a man or a woman, develop yourself, nobody will develop you and when you develop yourself it gives you an edge and no employer will take it away from you when you are leaving.
Lastly, I will like to implore the research agencies to please try to develop their people. It is not only about the salary being paid. The workforce should be developed. Most of the founders of market research agencies in Nigeria are an offshoot of RMS and they passed through this same tutelage. Uncle Tej will not go alone to any conference without taking one or two people along. Some other MDs will attend with their wives that do not have any business in market research and not with any member of staff.