In this interview with MoneyIssues, Steve Babaeko, CEO, X3MIdeas shares ideas on building great brands in Nigeria, his business and motivation.
At what point in your career did you decide to start your own business?
I think if I look back, honestly, it was when I turned 40. At that time, I just felt there has to be more to life than what I was doing at that time. At that point, it just became very compulsory for me to take the lead and just go and try something else.
How did you coin the name X3M Media?
I was looking for a name that will stand out, that will help me put together an agenda for the kind of culture we are going to imbibe. I think the name X3M came to be because I just felt look, something on the edge. If you ever call yourself extreme, it is something you have to live up to. And that name continuously challenges us every day. We must be able to live up to the expectation that name actually built for us. It has turned out to be a good thing.
How many brands do you handle now?
We handle about eight brands. Etisalat, Access Bank, DSTV, Oando, Dangote Cement, Chivas Regal, Martell, among other brands.
What is a good brand?
A good brand is not really what they say they are. A good brand is what the consumer says it is. At end of the day, being a good brand is not entirely in the hand of a brand. Most brands face the same kind of challenge. Brands will tell you we are good. But is from their own side. Interrogate the consumers; what are they saying about you? That determines whether you are a good brand or not. But there are certain fundamental things that a brand must have in terms, brand positioning, corporate social responsibility, the integrity of the product, all these, you can check all the boxes for them. But if the consumers still say we are not feeling you, then you still have a lot of work to do.
How do you handle a brand that has issues with the consumer?
The consumer is not asking for too much; they are not even terrible judges of brands. What they want is that look: you promise me something, deliver it. You can say we are the best brand, tell your advertising agency. But the consumer experience will tell you whether that is right or wrong. At the end of the day, the consumers are just asking: ‘the brand promise you have made to us, deliver it.’ Now the consumers have power, they are going to go on social media to talk about you and they are not going to be nice. It is either you are prepared to deliver on your brand promise, and where the consumer is still not satisfied you go there and engage them and be able to make good, be a part of the conversation and tell your own side of the story.
What makes a good CEO?
There are a couple of criteria required. One is discipline. Discipline to be able to keep the shape of the enterprise going. As CEOs we are human beings first and foremost. Unfortunately, no matter how many business school you go to, nothing prepares you for being a CEO. Most CEOs will learn on the job. Secondly, that piece of inspiration to be able to motivate your team to follow you. How do you get your team motivated? You have created the vision; how do you get your team to key into that vision. It is not only you that is going to do this job. You need your team to achieve the corporate goal.
How did you choose your team? How do you decide who works you?
For me, I follow my guts a lot. If you are the most talented person in the world and you do not have the right attitude, I really don’t want you on my team. The guy who has the right attitude without a lot of talent can be trained and can be mentored and coached to expert level.
Can you tell us your daily routine, as a CEO?
My daily routine I have no closing time. I wake up as early as possible. Most of the time, I wake up around 4am. My earliest meeting, if it is a Monday, is 9am. If I am lucky I am able to go back to sleep may be 1am. And then by 5am the next morning I am up. I am not big in the sleep department. I actually believe that when we die, we will have enough time to sleep. I don’t sleep much. I make the most of the time I have to spend.
Talking about travel destination, which is your favourite?
These days, the older I grow the more I am compelled to think Africa. Zanzibar is probably top on the list as my favourite travel destination have always thought the African economy needs my money. UK or America don’t need me. I believe I can contribute something to the over one million in Africa. I love Zanzibar and Cape Town.
What kind of books do you read?
Now I try to read books about people who have walk down this road before me. I will read books by late Steve Jobs, Jack Welch. Mostly books about leadership.
Which book are you currently reading?
‘Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow’ is what I am currently reading. It is part of the reading list recommended for me at Stanford. I try to improve myself by going for a programme every year since I started X3M idea. I go for a programme in any Ivy League school abroad. I tell my team, we are not just giving you a job, the vision is to create the next generation of Nigerian entrepreneurs. How can you start up a business, manage it, motivate a team effectively?
Where do you see X3M Ideas in the next five years?
Part of the five year rolling plan is to be able have an office of our own which we have done already, and to be able to remain in business. Part of the plan is to move into the west coast. I feel we would have acquired more agencies for the group. We need to scale up really fast. We want to be the first agency to go public and get listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. I don’t know how soon that will happen but we have that ambition.
How long have you been wearing dreadlocks?
I just like to be different. Before I started wearing my locks, I will introduce myself to the same person four five times. But since I started wearing my locks, they see me once and remember who I am. At first it was difficult because it was something new to the corporate environment. But now they see it as part of who I am. What I have done is to take my dress sense to a new level. To contrast with the dreadlocks and my look, I had to make sure that I am well dressed.
Black has always been a fascinating colour for me. The older I grow, the more pro black I am. All my focus is on Africa. I am trying to contribute to this continent more than ever before. Black represents strength, endurance, perseverance. If you look at what the black race has gone through in the history of mankind, it is a lot. Yet we are still here breaking boundaries. Those are all the things that capture my fondness for the colour black.