From Dreams of Music, Football, & TV, a Media Executive Sets His Style

As Paramount’s Country Director for Nigeria, Bada Akintunde-Johnson wants to model a new mode of business and creative leadership. “You can’t exert the highest possible positive influence on people without connecting with them on a deep personal level,” he said in this extensive interview — the first in our Leaders of Industries Series.
Bada Akintunde-Johnson.

Bada Akintunde-Johnson. Supplied.

From Dreams of Music, Football, & TV, a Media Executive Sets His Style

When he was a boy, Bada Akintunde-Johnson had two dreams: be a musician or a footballer. The first, he pursued with some success. He and two of his friends started a group called Nature and got a deal with a small label in Lagos. In university, he started a gospel group called Friends of God, and an acapella group called Vessels of Honour. As the years passed, as his own plans to be a performer changed, he became co-owner of a record label and talent management company, Peaceville Entertainment.

His dream of football, though, proved tougher to scale. But it took him into TV presentation, while he maintained a day job writing adverts. In the years that followed, he worked across the breadth of the entertainment scene: as creative manager at HiTV, as creative director of Globacom, and, five years ago, he became Paramount’s country manager for Nigeria, overseeing its MTV, BET, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central reach.

Akintunde-Johnson, now 41, is a fixture on event panels, where he discusses Paramount’s work in African culture industries and the creative potential of the continent’s youth. It was on one such panel, at Lagos State’s EkoYouth Conference, that we met. Having recently then left my role as editor of Folio Nigeria, then CNN’s exclusive media affiliate in Africa, I liked his approach, found that we shared an understanding of media.

“We have to learn more about ourselves,” he said in this interview, “about our people, about how to impact them, how to get them to believe, how to inspire hope in them, how to get them to trust in education, in self-improvement, in self-development, and believe that if they keep working on themselves and on their craft and on their talent, they can be as good as anyone else anywhere in the world despite the challenges.”

And it is, ultimately, a question of leadership, which led him to an MBA in Communication and Media Studies at Berlin School of Leadership. “I believe there’s a leadership model that a lot of people, especially within the entertainment and media space were unaware of, which is that creativity is not the product — creativity is the process,” he said. “It’s how you lead to achieve the end, so the end-product becomes what you sell, becomes a natural, should I say, culmination of the way you are on a daily basis, of how your people are on a daily basis. So, I thought that the business space would be the right place to demonstrate that kind of leadership with a view to transition it down the line to society.”

Akintunde-Johnson has an MBA in Communication and Media Studies from the Berlin School of Creative Leadership, Steinbeis University, and a BA in Communication and Language Arts from the University of Ibadan. In this extensive interview — the first in a series with industry leaders — he takes us through his professional journey.

You started as a backup singer. When was the first time you discovered music, and when did you think it was something you wanted to pursue creatively?

I grew up around music. My father was a big collector of those vinyls and he would play music in the house loudly and dance around, and my three sisters and my mother would sing. We were also very active in church. I think I started to, if you can say, own my music talent from when I joined the choir, because my sisters were there. They put me in an all-female soprano because my voice hadn’t broken, so I sounded more like a girl than a guy. So that’s very funny looking back now. I was there until I became conspicuous, a guy singing a female part, and had to beg the choirmaster to let me move to tenor.

But that was when I started to take my music seriously. I became the church lead vocalist for about five-six years, and down the line I started my own choir and denominational choir, because I wanted to break away from the confines to work with other singers from other denominations.

I grew it, I think, to a 50-man team, and was performing from one gospel concert to another, and then I started recording with two of my friends. Our group was called Nature, we got signed to a record company back then in Iyana Ipaja called Blessing Records, and so the journey went from just singing as a hobby, singing in church, to understanding that this thing could be commercialized. And that went on until I got into university and it became, sort of, a distraction, and by the time I saw my first semester 100 level results — I wasn’t bad but I was seeing a couple of 40s in there and that was quite worrying — I had to scale back a little bit.

I chose gospel music on campus. I had a singing partner; we were called the Friends of God (FG). And then I started another acapella group called Vessels of Honor, which still required me coming to Lagos but with lesser frequency than when I was doing secular music.

So the music journey has always been a part of my life. Maybe not as a recording artist, but I still write music, I still sing, it’s still one of the most enjoyable things I do — I sing all the time, really — and I still work within the music space helping young artists’ A&R, their records, just listening and advising on what components, what elements, need to be worked on. I did own a record company on my own for some time, so music is still there. I don’t know, maybe someday I’ll come out of retirement and still record again, who knows. But yeah, that’s been the journey. It’s one of my talents and one that I cherish and I hope to keep for the rest of my life.

Then you got into sports presentation, and then copywriting and advertisement. What was most difficult and rewarding about the jobs?

Growing up, to be honest, I wanted to be a musician or a football player. As I just described my music journey, football was kind of similar. I started watching football actively because my father watched highlight shows from British football: the Scottish League, the English League — way back in, like, the mid-80s. It’s easy to practicalize what you see on TV as a kid, so I went out there trying to be like one of those guys, kicking everything that looked like it could be kicked.

The dream started to build in my mind to become a superstar footballer, and then I joined the Pepsi Football Academy, played there for a couple of years and, I think, somewhere along the line, it became clear that as much as I was talented as a footballer in real terms, the chances of me becoming one are quite limited because the other elements that you required to make it weren’t there, and I just couldn’t see it anymore, I couldn’t see it as clearly as I saw it as an idea, in the fantasy realm. I started to think, okay, what else can I do around football if I don’t play it actively? So all the knowledge acquired following football over the years — buying football magazines, buying every football newspaper I found — needed to, you know, come to use somehow.

I was still in university and I was thinking of a career in media, and I thought, okay, if I became an on-air personality, it wouldn’t be anything other than a music show presenter or a football presenter. So when I graduated, my first job was on TV at Galaxy TV. And I’ve told this story a few times, how we were sent to training by the organization and when we came back we were arbitrarily assigned to departments and I ended up in news, and because of that, I actually wrote a resignation letter.

I was going to leave after two months of training because I wanted to be in sports so badly, and, ultimately, it took the intervention of some much senior persons, particularly Dele Adetiba, the father of popular filmmaker Kemi Adetiba, who himself was a very popular sports personality at the time. He actually went to the owner of the station to say, “This guy knows his stuff; let him do sports.”

That’s how I ended up in sports, and I spent the next 11 months being on football shows, football news segments. By the time I was leaving, I had made such a huge impression that virtually all the independent producers of sports content wanted to work with me, from Hot Sport to Osmi, who back then owned the rights to the Champions League and the Premier League, all these big competitions on local TV. That’s how I found my voice, and I was everywhere from radio to TV, over the next, say, eight to 10 years.

What’s the timeline—when you are doing sports presentation and when you got into advertisement?

It was about the same time. So I got on TV in June 2006, and 11 months down the line, I had gotten tired of doing just that. Because I had followed football all my life, just having to speak about it felt a bit too easy. I wanted things that would grow me, teach me things I didn’t know before. Added to that the money wasn’t great. I think, when I was at Galaxy TV, my salary was N25,000, and my parents were still needing to, you know, augment, give me transport fare to work. I knew that I couldn’t be in that space for long.

Having studied communication at the University of Ibadan — my majors were broadcasting and advertising — I knew the advertising option always existed. I’d always enjoyed, whether it’s a script you’re writing or it’s music you’re writing — it’s all part of the creative process. So I went to a private advertising school called Orange Academy, emerged the best student for the very first set. It was at the final exhibition of the school that I caught the attention of some of the bigger agencies that came, and I got offered a job with, at the time, the most awarded agency in the country, TBWA, who were working for MTN and a couple of other big brands. I joined them as a young copywriter in 2007. So what happened was advertising now became my 9-to-5 and sports media became my side hustle.

Your first time working in film was as creative manager at HiTV, where you led in-house production. Tell me about that time.

I think I worked for TBWA for about two years, and then I met the owner of HiTV. Our encounter was, I would say, maybe divinely arranged. He owned the company that I worked for as an analyst. I was just analyzing live matches on HiTV and working in advertising and there was an advert that I had written which was showing on the platform. So one of those days the ad came on, I mentioned to one of the guys that I wrote it, and he was, like, wow, are you serious? I was, like, well, that’s my day job, actually. So somehow that piece of information filtered to Toyin Subair, the MDCU of HiTV, and one of those Saturdays we were doing live games, he came into the studio and saw me, I think, for the first time.

He was, like, “Akintunde, I am so impressed by you, I see you on TV, I didn’t know that you had this other side to you, they told me that you wrote this app commercial.” Of course, it was a big deal for me, the owner of such a big company coming to compliment me, so you can imagine my elation some months later when I just randomly got a call from the COO of the company telling me that Toyin would want a meeting at Silverbird Galleria. I went and he told me that he had never been a fan of companies retaining the services of ad agencies; he always thought that advertisement should be an internal function because it’s comms.

He wanted an in-house ad agency and he wanted me to lead that because he was building a management team of young people. HiTV, at the time, had mostly people in their 20s in the senior management team, so he wanted me to come build my team from the ground up, and also be responsible for other creative endeavors within the company, which would include creating channels, branding the channels, creating promos for programs, and all those things added to my traditional advertising role, and, of course, for a much bigger pay.

I was excited. The most important thing in our conversation was that he trusted me, and for someone who had never worked with me in that capacity before, that was a huge, you know, sort of shot in the arm, a big confidence boost for me. I think I was, like, 25 or so. So off I went to HiTV from TBWA, became creative manager. I was there for three years. I was part of the huge, huge disruption that HiTV was within the media space at the time.

He gave me a lot of confidence. For someone who had two to three years of experience, cumulatively, to be thrust into a manager role meant that I either swam or sank. It built capacity quickly for me because I was leading a large team; a lot of the guys there were either older than me or about my age. In the three years I spent in the company, I think two out of those I was Manager of the Year. That was a turning point in my career.

So you said he “trusted” you back then. Did you think it was because of your talents or personality or behavior?

I think it was a combination of both and more. There were other people out there that were equally talented or more talented. I think he liked my personality, the fact that I was multidimensional. I guess, being that young and being that focused, he would have checked with other people who had had interactions with me. I was sitting in the same studio for hours every weekend with veterans like Deji Omotoyinbo, Deji Tinubu, Fela Bank-Olemoh, current chairman of the Lagos State Sports Commission Sola Aiyepeku. Those were the people that I was kicking it with. Biola Kazeem. For hours. And those were Toyin’s contemporaries from an age standpoint, so I’m sure he must have checked with them. How is he? How does he behave? How does he carry himself? What does he care about? All of those things.

I must have come highly recommended before he called me for the chat, and I guess since then it’s only been, you know, mutual admiration and mutual respect to date. We’re still pretty close. He’s still one of my big mentors and he still expresses how impressed by me he is. So I think I made a big first impression.

Then you became creative director of Globacom. How much of a transition was it from sports and a film company to telecomms? You did study communication, but you hadn’t handled it at that high level.

It was quite an experience, and it was one that also proved to me that indeed impossible is nothing. The Glo marketing communications portfolio, specifically the advertising portfolio, had always been a poisoned chalice. It was a job you took and you got fired after three months, because the chairman of the company is very demanding, always looking for that magic. The gist around town was that the most creative ad agencies had been hired and fired over the years.

It was something that no sane young person was supposed to touch, and to be honest, when I got the role, they were looking for an expatriate creative director for the Glo ad business, and I was supposed to be a placeholder. But as God would have it, it took a while for them to find that person, and I had made quite an impression on the man himself and, by then, he had started referring to me as The Expert. He fondly called me Baddest. Each time I made a presentation, he’d be, like, why are we looking for an expat? This guy is the expert. What else are we looking for?

It was really interesting because he was someone whom many people feared, and one of the reasons was because they couldn’t really pinpoint what it was he wanted. A lot of competent people had come and gone, fired, without them even knowing what it was they actually did wrong. It was pretty interesting, and, you know, he was very fond of me, called me son, picked me up at every opportunity. He was pretty generous to me for every good work I did. There was always a gift, there was always money, you know. So to have that kind of relationship with someone that people feared was pretty humbling.

I knew that it wasn’t so much what I did right, even though there was a lot of hard work, a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of — most of the four years I was in that role I didn’t have a life outside of work, because you worked pretty much every day, every weekend, and for hours. I did overnight writing scripts, I was up at night as a, you know, newly married person, having to bounce creative ideas off my wife who had to be dragged in because of just how intense the job was.

If I wasn’t presenting on Banana Island to him, I was out in Cape Town, or Manchester. I was traveling the world, filming commercials. It was intense. I recognized the opportunity to grow very quickly, because all of that work was tremendous opportunity to build capacity, to build network, to be exposed to the real world of Hollywood directors, Hollywood-level DOPs, shooting commercials with the Manchester United first team, meeting people like Wayne Rooney, Van Persie, Angel Di Maria, filming and having conversations with the commercial director of Manchester United. It was a different level. I loved every minute of it.

In my journey, there are certain milestones that sort of emboldened me. This one was one of those. At a business that had a history of hiring creative directors every three months, I was creative director for four years. I quit on my own terms. I quit when I thought I was done. Like, everything I wrote down to do, I had checked, so there was nothing else I aspired to do in the role. And I remember my conversation with Dr. Mike Adenuga, the chairman himself, when I announced that I was leaving. It still rings in my head till tomorrow. He expressed great pain and did everything to keep me, but my next level was already defined.

Yes, it was a big jump, but it was a jump that also accelerated my growth as a person, as a man, as a professional, gave me an opportunity to do a lot of stuff that had existed in the realm of imagination and fantasy. I guess, also, it happened at a strategic point in my life where I had the opportunity to be that free. There were no kids yet and I had — still have — a very understanding partner who allowed me to be that intensely involved in my career. It could have impacted our family negatively in a different circumstance, of course.

Bada Akintunde-Johnson.
Bada Akintunde-Johnson. Supplied.

Joining Paramount, known then as ViacomCBS, as Country Manager for Nigeria must have felt like a natural summation of everything you worked for, a place where all your experience would be needed. Did you apply for the role? Were you scouted?

I think I was scouted. They had been looking for a country manager for a bit. I believe someone I had worked with when I was creative director at Glo — he was marketing director for one of the leading telco brands then — had mentioned to the company MD that he might have found them their man, based on what he knew of the guy. At the time, I had a record company and had been trying to work in the entertainment space.

I’d been a creative leader for some time, still, I wanted to get into business leadership badly because I believe there’s a leadership model that a lot of people, especially within the entertainment and media space, were unaware of, which is that creativity is not the product — creativity is the process. It’s how you lead to achieve the end, so the end-product becomes what you sell, becomes a natural, should I say, culmination of the way you are on a daily basis, of how your people are on a daily basis. So I thought that the business space would be the right place to demonstrate that kind of leadership with a view to transition it down the line to society.

I didn’t mention earlier: one of the most important things that happened in my life was that, in my early 20s, I came to a place where I found my purpose and I first understood who I was, and then I had a great connection with my purpose, who I was supposed to be in the world, and so I want an opportunity to demonstrate leadership capacity within a business set-up with high stakes, and prove that creative leadership does work, demonstrated as an alternative to the kinds of other leaders that we’re struggling with in society, family, and business, and then be able to take that on into the future in different capacities and spheres.

So I wanted that opportunity so bad when it was mentioned to me. I was actually speaking to another pay-TV company about joining them as, I think, content director, and conversation was going pretty well. And I had just gotten investment also from a French company in my private company. Everything was going to plan on multiple fronts for me.

So when the Paramount opportunity came, I wanted to understand what the problems were and what we were looking to achieve. I had that meeting with them in Johannesburg, on my way to the Durban Film Festival in 2017, I think. They were clear that, yeah, there were a lot of challenges, which is why they hadn’t had a country head. Though impressed with my CV and my person, the Africa MD felt like I might be too nice for the kind of job that needed to be done. I didn’t maybe cut the picture of the hard guy they wanted to do the hard job — I was still, you know, fresh-faced, young. So they took their time. I took my time as well. It took months of negotiation, of both parties getting convinced. It’s been five years.

Let’s talk about being nice. It’s different from your skill set, but I think part of why your role is able to affect people that you talk to is because it’s not so much about being nice but about accessibility of personality. You’re not just talking facts and figures, you’re sharing your personal story in a relatable manner. If you took that other kind of approach, you still might have succeeded with your targets, but I don’t think you would have had the same level of intangible value in the way that you present the company.

I think you’re not far from the truth. I think, fundamentally, the concept of leadership is influence-focused. You can’t exert the highest possible positive influence on people to achieve organizational goals in a meaningful way without connecting with them on a deeply personal level. It’s like my favorite leadership maxim: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. So, it’s about understanding that people are not tools, they don’t exist to be used by organizations to achieve goals.

You can say that again.

The core focus of leadership has to be about the people. How do you get them inspired, get them to do meaningful work that helps the organization to achieve those goals? It’s not the other way around. No. We’re going to connect with people on a deep personal level, where they are inspired to want to do everything to achieve the goals whilst realizing their own personal ambitions and feeling that it’s meaningful work that they are doing.

I’m not sure that I had worked in an environment where the people were the focus, and I wanted it to be about the people so bad. I thought that was going to be a game changer. Speak to anyone that’s worked with me, that’s something that you can’t miss, that’s something that’s clear, I’m very upfront about it, it’s about the people at the end of the day, and when we work, we enjoy ourselves.

You’ve had this extensive experience, but each level, each climb, demanded more, was just on a different scale. From HiTV to Glo to Paramount, how much learning on the job did you have to do? How much did you not already know that you needed to learn and adapt to immediately?

One of the significant differences between the creative setup and business is numbers. Nobody gives a creative guy financial targets, but I had to find revenue in business. We needed to define strategies around how we make the money and create value. I needed to do a lot of learning about how to tell a numbers story. In my previous life, I worked with PowerPoint presentations mostly. Then I stepped into a space where I needed to make profit and loss statements, balance sheets, and depreciation. Even though I had run my private businesses, you really don’t get that detailed because you’re not really reporting at the level that I do now. Being clear about what the plans are for driving the business, how to present the chance together very quickly, how to convince your boss especially when things are not lining up.

I remember 2018, a year before the last election. It had a negative impact on business, because, typically, people don’t spend a lot of money during political season, they pull back. And that impacts revenues massively. And, you know, you are presenting during monthly business reviews and the numbers look grim and you have to give confidence to the company that the operation isn’t going down, isn’t declining, that this is just a temporary blip, and you have to be convincing to explain why it is and putting mitigation plans are in place. When you work for a multinational company, everything is granular, and nobody glosses over anything, you have to account for everything. So, all the discipline to do that, I had to learn very quickly.

It was a massive step up in organizational culture as well when you’d worked for mostly Nigerian companies, and now, you’re working in a multinational, global operation, and you’re in meetings with people from different parts of the world. You have to learn diversity, questions, and cultures — all of those things needed to happen very quickly.

I stripped myself of every distraction. I rented a small apartment. That’s how my first year went: if I wasn’t out there having meetings with friends or hanging out with clients, I was in my house reading books. That accelerated the growth. It was a non-glamorous part of my evolution. I spent months away from the TV set. I started in December 2017, and it was during Russia 2018 World Cup, in June 2018, that I installed my TV. So, like, six months without installing the TV because I just didn’t want to be distracted. It needed that level of discipline.

Paramount’s contribution in the African culture scene goes back to the mid-2000s. You’ve written about how the company provided exposure, world-class training, and state-of-the-art equipment to Nigerian videographers in order to improve the quality of music videos. How did Paramount’s involvement in African music, via the MAMAs, start?

I think that was around 2004/2005 when the founding Managing Director of MTV Africa at the time sold a business plan to the global business and they bought it. Following the launch of the channel in Africa, one of the major problems was that the quality of local music videos wasn’t good enough to sit on the channel. So it’s something that happened from an empowerment standpoint. There were a series of workshops that had international music video directors and DOPs basically just train local guys, expanding their worldview and their capacity, helping them to frame their storytelling a lot better.

What came after was, call it a matching up of the video side of things with the audio. The audio side had always been great and had phenomenal success with the quality of recording as far back as the ‘80s — Fela and Suny Ade were already global superstars. So, in the mid-2000s, that gap was breached, and MTV played a critical role in that happening.

The music video directors understood that they could go and produce serious music videos, and that fed back into the channel because you needed those videos to run an accessible 24-hour music channel. That intervention is one that the company is very proud of. You have to make that move to produce the results for other initiatives like the MTV Africa Music Awards (MAMAs). It has always just been about building capacity first. You can see that it changed the game locally and, today, we are all witnesses to just how great not only the music is but the music videos.

Let’s talk about the record label and talent management company you co-own, Peaceville Entertainment. What else motivated it outside of your love for music?

Peaceville is jointly owned with a partner, Ernest Audu, popularly called Rabbi, and he had run the company, before we met, as a talent academy and management company. It was representing Di’ja when she signed on to Mavin Records. The basic idea was to create a nursery where you identify young talents and develop not just the craft but the character as well. We exposed them to what ordinarily they wouldn’t know out there, like how to build the brand, how to stay consistent with the brand; media training — how to speak to the press, what to say, what not to say.

We wanted to do it right from the ground up, and at some point, we had the opportunity of working very closely with Universal Music as the Afrobeats genre started to really gain ground. Many artists from East Africa wanted Afrobeats to influence their records. So they would make the records and send them to us to executive produce and organize writers and producers, bootcamps, and we would change the orientation of the entire project.

It was exciting stuff going on. Peaceville had talents like Vector the Viper and Crayon on the management; we had producers like Ozedikus, Altims, and BabyFresh; we also had Selma and Eager Boy, who is one of the biggest producers out there and is a singer himself. So we just wanted a pipeline from where the quality was already prepared, and grounded artists came through. That was the ambition. That was the dream and that still is the dream.

It’s just that it requires a lot of resources that we did not readily have, and the music business is a big business, and it’s also a big risk investment — more than 60-70% of investment in that space are lost, if we’re being honest — so we just wanted to kind of, like, pull back a little bit, get another element in place, and then go again in the future, and this time offer Nigerian talents a more stable pedestal. 

We wanted to create an environment where young people, especially teenagers with talent, can live, go to school, have music education in the same space, have mentorship, and then we would shop around for record labels to take them on. It’s the way you have football academies. So it’s a pipeline for proper record companies; if they are coming to market and looking for ready talent, Peaceville was supposed to be that place they came to.

You have spoken widely about our need to believe and invest in our own creative power as young Africans. There are many creatives who understand this to an extent, but many more who don’t know where to begin as regards the business of it, how to negotiate the worth of their work. Part of the problem, like everywhere else, is access to the rooms where projects are greenlit. How can one get in a room to discuss their projects with Paramount? Do you take pitches from anywhere as long as they are good, or do you have screening criteria?

Getting in the room is quite the easy part. If you want to discuss a project with Paramount you can reach out to them via official means (email is submissionafrica@paramount.com) or via social media, and, you know, I’m sure you can always get a meeting. What people discuss in those rooms and how they present their ideas or make their pitches is where people need to get better, you know, because no business wants to waste its time, and we don’t have all the time in the world to start to help people put fundamental pieces in place for their presentation. So the question is: are you prepared to take full advantage of that opportunity? And that’s where a lot of creatives in Nigeria miss it.

Whenever I’m asked what the solution is, I think of skilling, directly or indirectly. And I’ll explain. You are the creative, you’re just this guy who has good ideas, but you may not necessarily be able to put a pitch together, but there’s some other person who can do that, so why don’t you get a partner who oversees the business side or at least the marketing side, or go on YouTube and watch tons of videos and sign up for a course that allows for you to build capacity in the area where you’re deficient.

People often assume that their creative idea is so strong that they need nothing else. People are always very excited when they meet you, and they tell you about their ideas and expect you to catch the excitement, that you see how they see it. It doesn’t work that way. Pitching an idea, selling a concept, or selling a dream at the level where decisions are made goes beyond just having a fantastic idea. Can you tell a numbers story, a story that makes sense from a financial standpoint? Those are the critical questions. Nobody’s in business for excitement. Yes, we like to excite our fans and audiences, but by the end of the day, the business is profit and that’s where a lot of creatives need to get better.

Understand that your concept is different from what will excite me. If it’s disruptive, fair enough; if it’s unique, fair enough; if it’s exciting, fair enough; but can it, as they say in advertising, can it make the cash register ring? Those are the things that you need to show me and show me very quickly. You can always get a meeting, but what do you say when you arrive at that meeting? That’s what determines whether the conversation carries on.

What are the best lessons you have learned in your five years leading Paramount in Nigeria: personal lessons, business lessons?

The best one is that I took a job that made me fall in love with Africa again on a much deeper level. I’ve always been passionate about Nigeria and Africa’s potential, that we’re as great as anyone else in the world, and about foreseeing a future where we’re super dominant, especially in the arts. I have had the privilege of working for a company that is similarly enthused about Africa and wants to work to identify our gems and project them for the rest of the world.

It’s been an exciting journey, discovering talents in the entertainment industry and seeing them grow into global superstars. Lupita Nyong’o, for instance, came through MTV Shuga, and there’s no telling how far a lot of the other talents have come through Shuga, and our other initiatives at MTV Base, can go. For example, Ehis Dadaboy, who was identified during the MTV Base VJ search and worked with us for close to 10 years, is now one of the hosts for Apple Music globally.

And Thuso Mbedu.

Oh, yeah, of course, in The Woman King.

There’s a lot of excitement that you get from that, and it’s a lot you learn that’s different from what the world wants to teach you about Africa, which is that it is a land of no opportunities, a place where you should run away from and escape to the West.

I’m open to people leaving for capacity enhancement and development. Suppose you’re going to school; if you’re going to gain experience at the top level to come back and use those to improve the local space: fantastic. But to completely disconnect from Africa is what cannot happen. We can’t allow that to happen. So we have to learn more about ourselves, about our people, about how to impact them, how to get them to believe, how to inspire hope in them, how to get them to trust in education, in self-improvement, in self-development, and believe that if they keep working on themselves and on their craft and on their talent, they can be as good as anyone else anywhere in the world despite the challenges.

It’s not to pretend that there are no challenges. The challenges are there. But it’s to inspire a different kind of belief in our people that gets them to think realistically that there’s a path to living their dreams. It’s tangible. It’s realizable. If they follow the process of just building themselves up, of improving themselves, acquiring skills, getting better. For me, you know, that’s the biggest lesson that I want every young African to learn, if they don’t already know that.

I’ve seen it on so many levels that there’s no limit to what humans can do, and, you know, we just need that mind shift to make a difference, and, ultimately, if we keep getting better and getting the people around us to get better as well, we’ll keep changing the narrative. It might take a very long time, but that’s the only way we get there. So, learning about Africans and black people in different parts of the world has been my biggest lesson. ♦

...

I joined the Pepsi Football Academy, played there for a couple of years and, I think, somewhere along the line, it became clear that as much as I was talented as a footballer in real terms, the chances of me becoming one are quite limited because the other elements that you required to make it weren’t there.

...

Because I had followed football all my life, just having to speak about it felt a bit too easy. I wanted things that would grow me, teach me a few new things that I didn’t know before. Added to that the money wasn’t great. My salary was N25,000.

...

The most important thing in our conversation was that he trusted me, and for someone who had never worked with me in that capacity before, that was a huge, you know, sort of shot in the arm, a big confidence boost for me. I think I was, like, 25 or so. So off I went to HiTV from TBWA.

...

In my journey, there are certain milestones that sort of emboldened me. This one was one of those. At a business that had a history of hiring creative directors every three months, I was creative director for four years. I quit on my own terms. I quit when I thought I was done.

...

One of the most important things that happened in my life was that, in my early 20s, I came to a place where I found my purpose and I first understood who I was, and then I had a great connection with my purpose, who I was supposed to be in the world.

...

I think, fundamentally, the concept of leadership is influence focused. You can’t exert the highest possible positive influence on people to achieve organizational goals in a meaningfully without connecting with them on a deeply personal level. 

...

The core focus of leadership has to be about the people. How do you get them inspired, get them to do meaningful work that helps the organization to achieve those goals? It’s not the other way around. No. 

...

One of the significant differences between the creative setup and business is numbers. I needed to do a lot of learning about how to tell a numbers story. In my previous life, I worked with PowerPoint presentations mostly. Then I stepped into a space where I needed to make profit and loss statements, balance sheets, and depreciation. 

...

When you work for a multinational company, everything is granular, and nobody glosses over anything, you have to account for everything. It was a massive step up in organizational culture as well when you’d worked for mostly Nigerian companies.

...

Whenever I’m asked what the solution is, I think of skilling, directly or indirectly. And I’ll explain. You are the creative, but you may not necessarily be able to put a pitch together, but there’s some other person who can do that. So why don’t you get a partner who oversees the business side or at least the marketing side?

...

Pitching an idea, selling a concept, or selling a dream at the level where decisions are made goes beyond just having a fantastic idea. Can you tell a numbers story, a story that makes sense from a financial standpoint? Those are the critical questions.

...

We have to learn more about ourselves, about our people, about how to impact them, how to get them to believe, how to inspire hope in them, how to get them to trust in education, in self-improvement, and believe that if they keep working on themselves and on their craft, they can be as good as anyone else anywhere in the world despite the challenges.

Otosirieze for Open Country Mag

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