When Victor ‘Gbenga Afolabi (V’GA) joined Evans Medical Plc in 2003 as a medical sales representatives, one would think he’s got his career well cut out coming from his pharmacy background. But like most radical social entrepreneurs, his journey detoured into disassociated sectors, mounting one success on another in a fruitful chase after deep value creation across marketing and communications, technology and investment.
For those in integrated marketing communication sector, V’GA is a famed brand, owing to his exploits with GDM Group that have disrupted the traditional approaches to brand and marketing communications. Afolabi’s first business foray after exiting 9-5, Generating Demand Management (GDM) Direct and its overwhelming successes quickly shot him into national and international prominence. For a Serial Value Creator, the rewards that accrued only became inputs for yet another mission, Hazon Holdings, a diversified business holding company now reputedly worth about $500million.
Victor Afolabi, backed by Hazon Holding, initiated the Eko Innovation Centre in 2018, working with the high performing Lagos State Government to drive innovation across 60 industries and achieve the digital transformation objectives of Lagos State. Like GDM, Hazon and other things V’GA has been involved with, this initiative is fast getting traction, the scale of which is projected to be worth several billions of dollars in societal impact.
In this report, Freelanews takes an insightful look at the entrepreneurial journey of this radical 45-year old, extrapolating character traits, practice and patterns of the gentleman in business, in a build up to a possible development of a V’GA Business Success Cheatsheet for aspiring entrepreneurs and young business owners.
From ABU to GDM: Beneficiary of Networks
V’GA holds a B.Pharm from the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and kicked off his career in the medical/pharmaceutical world, though on the sales, marketing and brand communication front. While with the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods, FMGCs, he cut his teeth with IMC and then after, built a business that propelled his fast raise into mainstream Nigeria economy-movers club.
As brand manager at Nestlé Nigeria Plc, Afolabi’s effective relations with core marketing communication agencies became a formidable arsenal when he started Generating Demand Management (GDM) Group, one of Nigeria’s foremost 360 marketing consulting firm. A client side experience gave GDM the blind spot view of Below-The-Line marketing communications and the entire IMC services spectrum soon began witnessing innovative disruption, as brands’ expectations grew with the new possibilities as offered by GDM.
In our study of the several chronicles of GDM’s industry disruption and the other expansionary business advents of V’GA, we construed some unique character traits that holds the secrets to his success below.
1. Layered vision architecture
In software engineering, one of the most popular software architecture patterns is the Layered Architecture, whereby (in basic terms) the functions and services of the software units are built as independent layers and then connected to communicate with each other. The most critical telecommunications and computing systems rely on this model, because of its modularity, simplicity, maintainability, flexibility, scalability, portability, robustness and implementation stability.
Reviewing Afolabi’s business practice, Freelanews deduced that he applies this model in his visioning. It is true that the vision is a propellant for success, but we have seen many organisations with the loftiest visions (in writing and practice) either not making anything of it nor attaining success in good time. The layered vision approach of V’GA comes to play in the manner by which he was able to painstakingly groom his startups, gain traction, consolidate, rapidly scale and then repeat tools in new interests.
For every venture worth Victor’s effort, he takes outputs from his current venture and deploy them as inputs into his next, only after consolidating the successes of that phase. There was V’GA, the highly successful brand manager in FMCGs, his credible experience was implored to kick start GDM on a courageous industry disruptive path. After consolidation, the business acumen garnered was deployed as inputs to fire-up Hazon Holdings. The time-to-success for Hazon was faster by a large factor, because he had optimized his system for resource management and also mastered marketing and communications in practice.
This is a major success key Freelanews alludes to, knowing that it is not commonplace in Nigeria business sphere to wait-out and midwife visions to self-sustaining levels before hopping on to the next big thing, particularly when you have the kind of networks V’GA controls. His visions are layered and each business construct that carries a phase of the vision is built for independent functionality, and the experiences in doing so is deployed to activating the next phase. This approach benefits from the ability to granulate, easily maintain, flexibility, portability, robustness and rapid scalability.
2. Focus on measurable value creation
Victor as reported by in Brand Communicator, the leading marketing and brand communications magazine in Nigeria, wrote about the Unique Value Proposition of the GDM Group. It affirmed that his background working for a greater part of a decade as a manager with a multinational FMCG company opened his eyes to what the needs of companies are.
“Among these needs are growing the top-line of the business and generating demand for clients’ products. Unfortunately, BTL as at that time was ‘stereotyped’ to activations, dancing, drumming and other razzmatazz that experiential agencies were known for. To help clients achieve this with very visible and quantifiable results, we came up with the name, ‘Generating Demand’ because it is all about demand generation. Demand generation is the same thing as driving sales and marketing. So, it was sales marketing expertise that was our focus.”
A deep review of this position will highlight his focus on solving the client’s problem and meeting needs that actually matters. BTL investment results were largely vague before the innovations GDM brought into the space. GDM Group reoriented the focus from activities to measurable impact, and this quickly earned it a reputation in the space and a good market share. All major brands quickly jumped on the unique offerings knowing they can get clear Return on Investment, RoI.
A frontline tech venture capital expert, Iyin Aboyeji, recently said,
“Don’t focus on the vision of building a Unicorn (company with a valuation of $1billion and above), rather focus on building the best products for your market and the Unicorn dream will be an inevitable reality”.
This paradigm is seen in Afolabi’s business practice. Taking GDM for instance, the company grew beyond BTL to a 360-degree marketing and communications firm, purely following the trends of clients’ needs and innovating value creation systems around it. The company broke down its marketing operations into seven value drivers or divisions. The seven divisions include engage, retail, creative, analytics, digital, shopper and source.
These capacities came handy in the execution of one of their biggest project yet – the TraderMoni project of the federal government of Nigeria. And far beyond that, the pan-Nigeria and West-African network of capacity, ingenious technology solutions and data-driven operations it boasts of have spiraled the company to leadership position in the entire industry.
3. People-oriented leadership, investment Learning and Development (L&D)
“Victor Gbenga Afolabi is a passionate and visionary leader. He has the innate ability to create energized and consumer-centric culture of continuous improvement, innovation and creative but tailored strategies to ultimately position companies to hit the competitive landscape running, ultimately growing market share consistently whilst sustainably improving bottom line profits. With people management and talent development at the forefront of his core strategy.”
The above is culled from his Linkedin description, which lends credence to his prioritization of people development. Further inquiry into his acclaimed people management and talent development style gave us yet another insight into how he has accomplished so much in a very short period.
Learning and development isn’t much of core business strategy in the African business environment. Business owners often misconstrue investment in human capacity as charity work, whereas it’s the single most important success factor besides sound vision and capital. Afolabi, himself a life-long learner (with two Masters degrees in Managerial Psychology and Business Administration and several other qualifications to show for it), is said to be an advocate and promoter of continuous development for members of staff.
He maintains a culture of trend-compliance in industries of interests and benchmark his people’s capacity against the world’s best. In fact, a second degree is a critical requirement for certain positions within the Group. To match his sincere desire for their progressive knowledge growth, GDM Group for instance, pays 50% of tuition for staff undergoing their second degree. His words on upkilling and continuous capacity development (as culled from Brand Communicators):
“We told our guys to shape up or be ready to be shipped out. Half of our management team have gone back to school. Not going back to school for academic purposes but they have gone back to retool.
“A number of them are currently in the school of media communications. And we are about recruiting more people with strong business management expertise and understanding of marketing operations which is a strong combination of sales, marketing and finance. We believe that a combination of these people make a good business person. Consistently, we have been doing extensive back to back training for top management staff across the business.”
An organisation that focuses on its people and invests in learning and development will:
• attract top talents
• easily reinforce business values and organizational culture
• facilitate great innovation
• reduce attrition and enjoy HR savings (more expensive to hire than to retain)
• improve customer service, satisfaction and hence retention
The above are proven recipes for sustainable growth and development of the organisation.
4. Master of change implementation
Starting from his career switch to marketing and communications, and now venture capital and social investment, V’GA has displayed an incredible mastery of the act of change implementation.
Positive change carries enormous potential for sustainable growth. Though poor implementation can have adverse effects that can affect the survivability of the organisation, the new growth curves a successful implementation provides is a compelling reason for future-forward organizations to adopt change.
The best of managers are skilled in effective change implementation, but transformational leaders are masters of it, because we live in a rapidly changing world and competitive advantage can be easily reduced to the ability or inability to adopt change.
In Freelanews’ study of the exploits of Victor ‘Gbenga Afolabi in the IMC industry, we cannot but see his knack for seeking, qualifying and rapidly implementing vital changes organisation-wide. This seems simple on the surface level, but for an organisation with thousands of employees (full time and contract), and presence in all 774 local governments in Nigeria and several African countries, managing change deployment without pockets of non-compliance, revolt and poor implementation is a feat only attainable by a few. And for us, it is yet another factor for his expedited rise in the business and economic sphere.
5. Leveraging technology
This sounds cliché, but the truth is that most business promoters are either not deliberate about technology adoption or bottom-line resistant to it. Digital transformation is one of the driving forces behind long-term growth and success in the modern business world, simply because technology helps expedite numerous processes, automate various operations and manage crucial operational tasks for both back-office and client-facing.
Afolabi’s business operations and technology adoption are both connected to the very last straw. Like Jeff Bezo’s Amazon transformed commerce, Elon Musk’s Tesla is transforming the auto industry, Travis Lakanick’s Uber transformed cab hailing, and fintech is revolutionizing financial services sector of the Nigerian economy, so also has GDM Group’s technological innovations have transformed the marketing and communications services industry of Nigeria. By investing in the development and acquisition of cutting edge software and technology solutions for retail audit, point of sales enumeration and validation, technology-powered distribution support system, with several other propriety solutions that powers the core of their business operations, GDM Group have been able to earn customer’s confidence and redefined the contracting considerations of the industry.
For highlights, let’s mention some recently launched innovative technology products:
• Retailar – Nigeria’s first B2B e-commerce platform to facilitate trade between businesses via an online sales portal.
• Retailscope – an audit platform for studying selected retail outlets performed by brand representatives or retail store employees for the purpose of collecting data about the health of the brand’s products. And providing primary data that can provide insight for critical strategic management decision.
• Alpha Geek – a subscription based solutions platform which the firm has used in the past two years for enumeration, for validation and managing point of sales material for salesmen automation like a Sales Force Automation (SFA) developed for big projects.
Afolabi’s adherent belief in the power of technology has seen him moved from a tech adapter to a tech promoter status, with the creation of the Eko Innovation Centre, which is now at the heart of the drive for the digital transformation of Lagos state.
The initiation of the Eko Innovation Centre, EIC, has further affirmed the radical social entrepreneurial spirit of this Offa-born Lagos businessman and economy reformer. And like his other enterprises, EIC is fast gaining momentum and attracting a lot of attention. Besides giving a renewed attention and impetus to the Lagos Smart City project, leading conversations for devising and designing best approaches to a data-driven economy, EIC is also providing the single largest platform for girl child education in tech, with the recently launched “Girl in Tech” programme that will empower 10,000 girls in the next five years.
The Eko Innovation Centre enjoys the strong backing of the administration of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu. Needless to say, the association between a V’GA and BOS is a foreseeable reality that affords imperative advantage for a future-ready society.
You would recall that GDM Group was a major promoter of the less popular candidate between the two candidates of the ruling party, All Progressive Congress in the last gubernatorial primaries in Lagos State, a role well delivered on with the iconic “Know him, trust him, vote him” slogan.
Sanwo-Olu is also known to be characteristic technology adopter and promoter. He is also an astute people manager and talent investor. Therefore, a synergy between these two is an inevitable profiting venture for the entire society.
In our humble attempt, there you have the five (5) character traits that must have been crucial to the success of the highly respected Victor ‘Gbenga Afolabi and his expedited build of a $.5billion empire without an oil block and the ‘promissory note’ funding advantage of the tech industry.
If our projections are accurate, doubling the Hazon Holding fortune and achieving the Unicorn status will take less than half of the time it took to reach this current valuation.
Get inspired 🥸: Apply the layered vision architecture model, focus on measurable value creation, be people-oriented and invest in Learning and Development, hone your change implementation skill, leverage technology and service relationships with future-forward people like V’GA/Governor Bajajide Sanwo-Olu’s, and don’t forget to look out for more insightful reports on great minds and achievers by Freelanews to cue your world towards a resounding success.