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We Have Turned Around The Fortunes Of Champion Breweries For Greater Productivity – Patrick Ejidoh


MR PATRICK EJIDOH is the Managing Director of Champion Breweries Ltd, A renowned Sales and Public Relations Expert. He speaks on his candid efforts to turn around the fortunes of the rising Breweries among other salient issues in this interview with our EDITORS. Excerpts.
Three years on the saddle as MD/CEO of Champion Breweries Plc, May can you tell us about the journey so far and your modest efforts at changing the fortunes of the Company.
The situation has been very challenging because I came into a company where I was mandated to improve productivity and the products. First we started with the issues of recasting, revisiting the mission and vision of the company so that they can propel everybody towards positive direction.
The next imperative was the people, which is the greatest resources we have. They are the ones who will help drive the vision, mission and values attached to the organization. For our people, we look at their capacity, level of training, experience, knowledge and so on. Then we commenced aggressive training to bond them, improve communication and dexterity on their various jobs. So in terms of capacity building and development, we have done a lot, and we can see it helping us to witness our current development. We have also involved the culture of “WE”. We call it the “WE” culture because looking at where the business is coming from, it is as if people work in silos and don’t believe in one another. We also drive the kind of objectives we want and it became necessary that everybody must work together. Everybody must understand the reason why we must work as a team.
In addition, we look at the issue of health because previously, people were just given some stipends monthly for health services. But since health is paramount to any worker, we have to bring in a new innovation. For instance, I’m here but my family is in Lagos thus if there is any health issues, they will just visit any of our chosen hospitals for medical care. We have to arrange this kind of health insurance, which is adopted for both our workers and their family members.
It has really helped them very well. Recently one of our staff had an accident with brain damage which took a whooping six million naira at Ibom Specialist Hospital to get him back to his feet. Upon return, he was full of gratitude to the company because he would not have raised N2 million on his own talkless of the N6 million the company paid.
Again, we have a better canteen facility now. Before monies for lunch were part of salaries and people eat from roadside food vendors during break periods with its attendant health implications resulting from such foods like cases of diarrhea. So we have to relaunch the canteen and start giving them three square meals a day and it has greatly helpedthem. Sometimes you go to the canteen, see people eating extra food with delight, and then return to their duty post. The new arrangement is far better than the days of the roadside meals.
Now let us look at what we offer the public, which is our products, champion larger beer for instance used to be in very old bottles, which no longer appeal to consumers, we immediately rebranded the bottles at enormous costs, that is an investment the company desired for growth and it was done last year July. The Champ Malta too is on the line for rebranding, we are planning to change the bottle too to further boost the market penetration.
Then the stakeholders, we have the regulatory bodies, government, and others, and we try to comply with all necessary directives and levies demanded from us. Again the financiers who are the owners of the business, they have seen the efforts and progress we are making that from an inherited debt of about N9 billion, we are making progress today. Again, the competition is very tough presently but we are optimistic and wearing proactive look on our faces to fight on amidst the stiff competition.
In one of your previous interview, you talked about the tremendous cost of diesel in powering the Factory as one of your challenges. How far, has power issues been addressed in the company?
On the power issue, we have been proactive because the cost of diesel is quite high and continued to militate against our profitability. But like I said, one of the ways to manage your cost is to look at areas you can cut costs. Gas is far cheaper than diesel and it is cleaner for the environment. So as it today we are operating on gas 100% we are quite happy about that.
The marketing base of the company appears to be expanding as your production volume increases. Can we know the extent of your market spread and where you hope to be in the near future?
We are gradually expanding but what we have done is to carve a niche for ourselves in our stronghold.We are currently operating within the South South and South East region of the country. We will make sure that we are able to harness our opportunities well in these areas before we begin to expand to other regions. Otherwise, if we rush it, we may have challenges. It is a gradual process; in the future, we will create the platform for expansion.
In the last two years, Champion Breweries Plc appears to have posted some profits after tax. Does that signifies that shareholders will soon be enjoying dividends?
Definitely profit is the main thing. The moment the shareholders begin to get dividends, it will project and propel the company and put them in an enviable position. For us it is part of our driving force. we want to make sure that we declare reasonable profit, which will enable the company to pay dividends. We are very hopeful that shortly the owners of the business, the shareholders will be able to get some dividends no matter how little.
We gathered that Champion Breweries Plc do produce Legend, Amstel Malta etc. Why is the company not producing its drinks in cans as well as table water as done by NB Plc and others?
You know for a company that is just rejuvenating, coming back to life after a long challenging period, we don’t need to carry everything at once. Producing in CANS is expensive.For you to get the machine, you need about N2 billion naira for the canning line. Yes we have that aspiration to do it but we are going to plan it, but we have to make sure that all facets of the business are set to take such an investment the people must be ready, I mean the right people, because you can’t afford to mismanage such a huge investment.
For example, we now run on gas, which is an advantage if we want to introduce it because we have the power but all facets of the business must be ready, and in the right frame before such heavy investment that will cost so much money.
On the issue of water, the point is that water is not our core business that is why we are not looking at it. Water is essential to life, the products we produce is 95% water, and the purest of water in Akwa Ibom is here. Am sure if we produce water here he will knock off other water companies around but we won’t divert our attention now, we will focus on our core business to fully exploit our area of professionalism and specializations.
The introduction of re-branded Champion beer in a new bottle appears to be part of your innovations to create appeal and a great strategy to make it stand out easily. However, at what cost? In addition,did it stress the company financially to look for loan to achieve this?
Like a key driving force for the success of this business, he have no alternative than to go for it. But we have to do it in such a manner that we do not have to borrow. It is quite expensive to rebrand the bottles but we did it without borrowing or taking over draft. I earlier mentioned that we must get the basis right in all facets so that even if you want to get additional capital inform of loan, it will be such that you can management it effectively and pay back. If you just jump at loans just to show off that you are growing, you may run into trouble. So far we are getting things right and the investment is quite rewarding. We will continue to invest because expanding the market means more bottles and that is why we are going gradually until such a time you develop your sales force in all the area. The sales force will understand the market and you need to test market to know their feelings about your product so that when you want to enter, you penetrate with a bang. Whatever investment you now make, you begin to reap from it quickly.
There appears to be industrial harmony among management and Staff. Is it that there are no workers’ unions in the company or they are suppressed? What is the state of labour relationship?
You know these days everybody is wise, the union must exist but have to co-exist with the management aspart of the business. Here it is not union, management and staff but WE, WE, and We. All the issues must be known by everybody. We hold quarterly town hall meeting.
All issues are tabled before members of staff to ask questions and we give them the state of the business. If they are informed, it reduces communication gap, rumor mongering, and labour issues will be reduced because they already know the true situation on ground.In fact, we encourage them to bring solution to our challenges. Therefore, the relationship is quite good. We are always ahead of them as management. We did not need the union to tell us to provide decent canteen, we did not need them to tell us to bring health insurance. To them they wanted the monies in their pocket, not knowing that there are better things than what they are getting. They have seen the benefits of our innovations.
One of the expectations of any community that has a big company like CHAMPION breweries is in the area of corporate social responsibility, CSR. How far has the firm fared in this area in the implementation of MOU, if any?
There is no way you can exist in isolation of the community. They help to protect this place. So you must relate very well with both the stakeholders and members of the community. For instance, we gave them free water 24 hours a day. We gave scholarship to about 50 members of the community. Last year we donated tables, chairs and desks to teachers and pupils of three schools within our host communities and we are eager to do more for the people.
The compressed natural gas project of the company we gathered is billed for inauguration soon. How has the project changed the fortunes of the company especially the environment?
The gas project has been on test run and we have no reason to go back on diesel. Gas is cheaper than diesel and cleaner for the environment. There is no emission into the atmosphere anymore. The introduction of gas alternative is a double edge success for us in the area of cost and cleaner environment.
We have seen catalogue of awards to the company perhaps for their achievements so far. Where do you see Champion Breweries few years from now?
The Company will soon be of world class and our products are already of international standard. We as you know produce legend and Amstel Malta for Nigeria Breweries and these are world-class products that will tell you that champion and Champ Malta are in the same class. Soonest two other brands will join. When it is unfolded, everybody will see. That will show you that we are at our best. I want to see the company very profitable. That will also change the fortunes of the staff. The products will also hit the entire country soon. Again, I see the company paying dividends. If they make reasonable profits form next year having knocked off all accumulated loss of N9 billion in the past years.
What is the relationship between the state and champion breweries?
The state has 10% share and the company is domiciled here. Akwa ibom has 99.9% of the benefits of the company here. An Average Akwa Ibom man sees champion as his own.
Early last year, champion breweries engaged 10 Akwa Ibom youths all engineers, we want them as mechatronics. We took them to Nigeria Breweries training school in Lagos for one full year. They are back and 10 of them are working here now.
How has Heineken supported the progress you are making here?
You know that Heineken owns 60% of Champion. Heineken has controlling interest in Nigeria breweries that is why Nigeria Breweries is helping Heineken to manage Champion Breweries. Moreover, one of the things Heineken and Nigeria Breweries is doing to support us is the contract production. If they did not start the contract production here, it would have be very difficult for the company to stand on its own. The contract production of both Legend and Amstel Malta is what is sustaining the company until last two years when we became aggressive in rebranding and marketing Champion beer and Champ Malta. Nigeria Breweries has done so much to support Champion Breweries Plc.
For two consecutive years you have adequately compensated your major distributors in two separate ceremonies, why the initiative?
If you want people to help you move your brand, then it is the distributors and customers. So all you need to do is to bond with them.One of the way to do so is to recognize and compensate them and that informed our Annual Distributors Award Ceremony for two year running now. We reward them for efforts made and ask for more support. Therefore, they are essential as the key drivers of the products.

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