The re-emergence of Charles O-Tudor

The re-emergence of Charles O-Tudor

Charles O’Tudor known for his innovative approach to brand building, across all sectors of the economy through his ADSTRAT BMC, opens up in this inter

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Charles O’Tudor known for his innovative approach to brand building, across all sectors of the economy through his ADSTRAT BMC, opens up in this interview about why he has been off the grid these past few years and what he has been up to.

About 10, 15 years ago, you were (still) the ‘it’ guy when it comes to strategy, personal or business brand building and engagement. You were bursting with so much energy and you were in our faces but all of a sudden you fell off the radar. What happened?
When you start working for bigger brands, you do not compete with them, you step back and let them bask in the spotlight. It is all about them, not you. I was working full time with the Cross Rivers state government, and I was busy doing tours with the governor all the time. I realised that I had to open an office over there to duplicate our efforts in Lagos. But I soon realised that it is not necessary to be in the media especially if you are working for a client that big. If you inadvertently shine either alongside your client or overshadow them, it creates a problem, it is dangerous. I know how many memos I got from the chief press secretary to the governor, complaining that my press releases come out the same day as that of the governor’s and what is more, my own press releases would be longer than the governor’s.

But your duties were different from that of the CPS
It doesn’t matter. One of the things I have learnt over the years is to make money and to talk less. Let the client shine. So I retreated behind the scenes. That is the only reason, nothing else.

What singular incidence made you come to this realisation?
I was working on a small part of the Cross Rivers brand, the Obudu Mountain Race and the press release came out that I had been appointed as a member of the strategic committee team. I was a consultant on the project already. I was also working on Cross Rivers State Signage Agency which I created. So, I was managing two very important projects: the branding, the signage agency. And while I was with the governor in Lagos for an economic stakeholders meeting, the press release from my office in Lagos on the strategic committee team, came out. It was not funny. Everyone around him were not happy. I did not release it, my team did, and everyone was like how I can be putting out a press release from my office on a day the governor was having such an important meeting that I am in charge of.

Did it cost you your job with the governor?
No. I kept on working with him for almost eight years but what it did to me was that it made me smarter, made me more critical, more strategic in terms of my decisions.

What is happening to ADSTRAT BMC?
It is still very much alive and kicking. We are a 129 people working in our Lagos, Abuja and South Africa offices. I am stepping down as the Group Chief Executive Officer soon. I am grooming someone to take over from me.

Why are you stepping down?
I am moving unto something else

Outside of branding or still within the branding space?
It is not yet time for me to let the cat out of the bag. I do think that African entrepreneurs, particularly Nigerians must know when to leave office, know when to walk away, put in place structures that will outlive them. I have been putting in place structures for the past nine years to ensure that if I step down, ADSTRAT will not die. I have been doing branding since I was 23 years old. It is tiring and boring doing the same strategy thing. I have grown an industry so I think I have done quite well in that regard and I do not think it will be out of place to say that I want to move on to other things.

For the benefit of those you have inspired and who look up to you in the branding space, can you at least give out a snippet of what you are unto next?
Ok let me indulge you. I love to see people smile after finishing a plate of food. I want to set up a restaurant. I have done branding for almost six restaurants in Lagos, so I want to buy one, rebrand it and be the chief chef,

Really, chief chef?
Oh yes. I am Efik by the way, so I know what I am talking about. The other chefs will go to the market to get the ingredients while I will be at the furnace preparing the sumptuous meals for clients. Thereafter I will relish in seeing the satisfaction on their faces after they have had a good meal, freshly made African meals, not the one that has been previously prepared and stored in the freezer. These are the kind of things I want to do next while I keep an eye on my branding company. But with ADSTRAT, I want to expand it into something called innovative media, public relations and social media. It is going to be totally different, something never been done before, using Artificial Intelligence.

Is Nigeria really ready for Artificial Intelligence?
They don’t have to be ready. The question is, are we ready in ADSTRAT? Yes, we are. We are not working with the masses; we are working for multinationals because they are mentally ready to adopt it. There is however a challenge with that because it might eliminate some people’s jobs. I am also going to be collaborating with the federal government to re position Nigeria as a brand. Do you know how we look in the media to the western world? I once made an effort in one of the past administrations, but I eventually let it slide because it didn’t look like it would sail through, the way I expected. So I am back at helping to reposition the Nigerian brand.

When you say Nigeria as a brand, don’t you think it is the people who makeup Nigeria that require rebranding, re orientation so to speak?
It is a process. I don’t want to divulge too much because the blueprint of what I hope to achieve with the Nigeria brand is already with them. But yes, we will start with Nigerians.

There seem to be thin lines demarcating branding, advertising, public relations, they seem intertwined. To a lay man, how would you define the three?
No there is no thin line, they are very big lines. Public Relations is external projection of what you have created, it accentuates. Brand management creating the soul of a brand. Advertising on the other hand is when you want to execute the externality of the creation you created using unique techniques to bring attention to a product or service in hopes of drawing attention of consumers.

What is the most important thing you have learnt in life so far?
Authenticity, being true to self, first and then being true to what you are creating. Authenticity is about realising that you have changed mentally first, emotionally and physically. I have gone through a lot that has made me change, experiences have shaped my outlook to life. I grow with the times but unfortunately, a lot of people do not grow with the times, they stay static, stoic. People like to remain in their comfort zone when the world is moving past them, instead of them to catch up. Being authentic means re-evaluating where you are at every point in your life and if you are lucky, having a team around you to help you understand what to do to move ahead of everyone.

What must have significantly shaped you to be who you are today?
Some of the business management lessons I learnt from Deji Doherty, a businessman, politician and a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. He was the chairman of the first company I worked in. I was the managing director of the company but after nine months, I resigned because we could not come to an agreement on a lot of things. He put out a disclaimer on me in the press. However, over the years, we reconciled and when I visited him recently, he said something I will never forget. He said the future right now belongs to those that can create the impossible. So when it comes to business, I learnt a few significant things from him. He is a man I respect a lot.

Do you consider him your mentor?
Of course, no doubt about it

What are some of the challenges you have encountered over the years as a branding expert?
As a Christian, it is tough being a businessman in Nigeria. There are things people can do in business that I can’t do. Many years ago, I could have done them but not now. Another challenge I have is over trusting clients. They pay half of the money when you start out and they won’t pay you the balance and you will start chasing them to collect your balance. Most clients in this country are shifty.

At 53, what would you say has been your greatest achievement in life so far?
I think I have been too favoured by God. So I will say, raising God fearing children of strong character who will never break the rules of engagement. As a parent I am constantly worried about my children and that worry puts me on edge. The second greatest achievement is having a successful marriage.

Why are you obsessed with black as a colour?
Because it is a beautiful colour. It is a prestigious colour, it is different, it characterizes power, success. I have only one outfit that is not black.

You are quite an unconventional person. You began wearing locks at a time it was not fashionable for a Nigerian CEO to wear it. What is the story behind your locks?
I am a natural ‘dada’, I was born this way.

Was there a time you chopped off your locks?
Yes. I woke up one day and just cut it. I had promised God that I will not cut the locks and I reneged on that promise and ever since then, I have not made the mistake of cutting it again. This is almost 15 years.

What informed your decision to lose weight? You look really different 
I just want to be healthier. The older you grow, the more pangs of pain you feel. There are too many issues one has to deal with but we have to be more conscious of our body weight and what we consume. I was feeling very heavy and decided I needed to shed weight.