Godwin Oche, Group MD/CEO of Bogo Beverages Limited, grew up with his parents: his father was a soldier in the public sector and his mother a business woman in the private sector. Comparing the two in his young mind, Oche decided to pitch tent with the private sector. He decided to study and specialize in a course -Chemical Engineering – that would lead him down the route earlier taken by her mother to the private sector.
Upon graduation from Ahmadu Bello University as the best graduating student in his set, Oche worked with a few companies in insurance and the fashion industries, before finally landing at British American Tobacco (BAT) where he established himself as a sales guru.
A few years later, with many awards and trainings under his belt and a prestigious position to boot, Oche felt the need to try his hands on diverse products in other Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) space to see if he could replicate his success with BAT elsewhere. He took a leap of faith and joined the (new to Nigeria) SABMiller. There, Oche did even better, rising rapidly in the sales directorate and, after the integration of SABMiller and AbinBev, he was promoted the Regional Director/General Manager of AbinBev Brewery in Onitsha. He was later made the National Sales Director of the company. In that position, Oche was credited with taking the business from a distant position in the top 10 Breweries in Nigeria to the number 2 position.
With a desire to succeed in all the major FMCG beverage areas and, having beer, malt and other “soft drinks” under his belt, Oche decided to join Monument Distillers in order to add wine and spirits to his sales/marketing portfolio. Again, within a few years, he catapulted their signature wine into a comfortable position in the International Wine and Spirits Report (IWSR).
“I completed the trifecta and proved that my success was no fluke. I have an insight into consumer behavior that is second to none,” Oche enthused. He felt that was the time to apply his over 20 years career experience to create a company that was sure to be unbeatable: he founded Bogo Beverages Limited.
In this interview with a team of The Top10 Magazine, Oche shares the story of his journey in the corporate world so far and his ambition to make the company to be the best-performing, the biggest, most trusted and most respected beverages company in Africa.
Q. Who is Godwin Oche?
A. My name is Godwin Oche and I grew up in Lagos state, Nigeria under my parents, a military officer father (Rtd.) and a businesswoman mother. My secondary school was at the Government College Ikoyi after which I proceeded to Kaduna Polytechnic and ABU Zaria for a university education in Chemical Engineering from which I emerged the best graduating student during my set.
Since then, I have attended and completed various certifications, including an MBA from ESUT and an Honorary Doctorate in Business Administration from the Swiss School of Business and Management.
Godwin is married to the lovely Ebele and the marriage is blessed with four wonderful children.
Q: What informed your decision to work in the private sector as opposed to the public sector?
A: Having grown up with a father who worked in the public sector and a mother who worked in the private sector, I was able to see what was obtainable on both sides firsthand and saw myself more drawn to the private sector.
This informed my decision to read Chemical Engineering as I initially hoped to find employment in one of the many successful Oil firms. Unfortunately, or rather fortunately, that was not to be, as fate pivoted my path into the FMCG scion I have become today.
My path wasn’t the most direct, however, as I started my career in Standard Trust Bank (now UBA). Thereafter, I worked with a few insurance companies, the fashion industry, before finally landing at British American Tobacco (BAT) where, due to my exemplary performance, I found a lot of success.
A few years later, with many awards and trainings under my belt and a prestigious position to boot, I took a leap of faith and joined the (new to Nigeria) SABMiller. The reason for this move was that, although I now knew I was a sales guru, I felt I needed to try my hands on diverse products in the FMCG space to see if I could replicate my success with BAT.
To the surprise of no one, I did even better. After the integration of SABMiller and AbinBev I was charged with the role of the Regional Director/General Manager of AbinBev brewery in Onitsha. I found success in my position and in 2017, I was made the National Sales Director of the Nigerian business. I was credited with taking the business from a distant position in the top 10 Breweries in Nigeria to the top 2 position at the forefront of consumer awareness, a feat which remains evident today.
After many successful years at the top, the itch for change set in again. I desired to succeed in all the major FMCG beverage areas. With beer, malt and other “soft drinks” under my belt, all that was left was wine and Spirits. With this in mind, I joined Monument distillers in 2019.
Within a few years with them, I catapulted their signature wine into a comfortable position on the IWSR, with over 300,000 9L cases consumed and many thousands more on their other brands.
I completed the trifecta and proved that my success was no fluke. I have an insight into consumer behavior that is second to none. It was finally time to take all the learning from an eventful Twenty-plus year career and create a company that was sure to be unbeatable. This marked the birth of Bogo Beverages.
Q: How has your knowledge of various beverage categories benefited BOGO BEVERAGES?
A: With the knowledge acquired over the years, it is not surprising that in my first year of operations, Bogo Beverages has launched production for many Nigerian made brands (Trybal, Jigga, Bogo Charger etc.) and it has also established partnerships with big names in the global high quality beverage production space.
Brands like Bottega, Gran Mirador, Expresion and its multiple varieties, Independence/proclamation Irish whiskey, Blue Island, and many more have been launched and are receiving favorable reception from consumers.
Q: What have been the Business set up challenges Godwin has experienced?
A: The name is no stranger to doing business in Nigeria, so some of the challenges are not strange, but I did remark that being in the driver’s seat of a brand-new company means I have to deal with some particularly difficult issues. The number one, of course, is financing.
The need for increased financing informed my decision to recruit two investors to share the burden of putting cash into the teething company. The investors have been a salve, but even that is a short-term solution as there are multiple problems with doing business in Nigeria. In many cases, local companies are left with little or no support to start up operations. I did remarks that they had several issues purchasing equipment and raw materials for their factory due to Foreign Exchange challenges. This is also a continuing issue with the Company’s foreign brands.
Asides, the problems related to governance and Forex over which not much can be done by a private company. I did remark on the problems involved when dealing with new brands as it can often be very expensive to build awareness in a market that already has multiple competing brands.
It has helped, however, that I spent decades building alliances and gaining the trust of many distributors across the country. Many of whom have switched with me across the companies I have worked for. I make money for them; trust, therefore, is natural.
I also exalt my team whom I call “the best in the business.” In my words: “I think in the industry, I have got one of the best teams. I can beat my chest. You don’t get that for a new company or a young company. It’s difficult. A lot of companies, when they start up, start small and then they grow and then they start expanding. But we started well. We invested ahead of the curve in terms of our people. I went for the best in the industry across board. That helped in terms of our planning and that’s the reason why in terms of the competitiveness, we have an advantage because we have good people across all the various functions in the business.”
Q: How would you describe the market penetration strategy adopted?
A: Under my leadership, Bogo Beverages has developed a robust route to market strategy. Before incorporating the company, pooling from my experience, I had mapped out a sales and route strategy. Making sure that all regions were staffed with competent and qualified individuals who could win over and continue to develop new distributors, outlets, key accounts and overall brand loyalty to the products. The team handles distribution to distributors and re-distribution to retail outlets.
Every region has a Head of sales and several cadres of sales team down to the market developers.
The entire operation is headed by a Sales Director who reports and works closely with me.
The variety of brands in the company portfolio has also been an advantage in this area as the company has under its belt both alcoholic and non-alcoholic brands of all categories, so they are able to sell some or all stock to the various states in the country regardless of religious or cultural restrictions.
Q: What is the long-term plan for continued product availability?
A: With my team, I am proud of Bogo Beverages’ ability to look ahead of the curve. Part of the strategy to maintain a steady product supply pipeline is to ensure that at every point, there is available many months’ worth of stock, to make up for any breaks in the supply chain.
Several staff members are charged with overseeing and ensuring that stock is scheduled to be in production, on the sea and at customs at various times. That way, the pipeline has contingency in place and the customer can expect to have their favourite brands whenever they want it always.
I did remark that with local production, this is easier as it is a matter of getting the raw materials and ramping up production.
Q: How far has Bogo Beverages gone to fulfill its ambition “to become the most trusted and respected brand in Africa.”
A: Having worked for various international companies and travelled across the world, I have come to understand that there appears to be negative connotations and glass ceiling placed on Nigerian companies and, indeed, Nigerians. While in many cases this is as a result of ignorance, regardless I am determined that Bogo would stand apart from the crowd.
Bogo employees emulate their founder in their individual and collective drive for performance. Performance, not based solely on numbers, but built on a solid foundation of trust and mutual respect. This mentality is a thread that runs from Bogo Beverages Nigeria, Bogo Beverages Ghana, and Bogo Beverages Kenya, the oldest of which is less than a year and six months. Such a feat is only possible because the company has at heart a consistent drive for perfection, constant desire to perfect perfection itself.
I and Bogo guide our reputation jealously, preferring to under-promise and over deliver. The goal is to become a reputable multi-national company. To reverse the trend we normally see of foreign companies expanding to Nigeria, and for the first time having a Nigerian, African country expand to the West. It seems like an impossible feat, but with a career littered with impossible feats, what is one more for me to prove possible.
Q: The Nigerian market is saturated with a lot of fake products. How are you dealing with that?
A: As someone who values honesty, I abhor the fake product issue and implore the government agencies in charge to do more to curb the scourge. Bogo invests heavily on consumer education, so consumers are able to easily spot the brand
With the wide spread of the sales team, it also means they are able to flag and point out suspicious products to the team for onwards testing should a case arise.
It is important to note, however, that Bogo has been free from fake products, the brands are still new, and where we feel there is the need to make changes, they would simply do a brand refresh. They have an in-house marketing and branding team that can work around that.
Q: What considerations are given to social responsibility?
A: Right from my days with BAT, I have always been known to be generous with words, advice and financial assistance to individuals and organizations. With Bogo Beverages, there has been a conscious effort to ensure that Bogo’s impact is felt in the lives of those around it. In the environment Bogo operates its factory, jobs are given to qualified individuals from that area. Support has also been extended to the community.
I, through Bogo, also support events, festivals, weddings, etc. with cash and, in some cases, drinks. The goal down the line is to have a foundation, which would be operated with a portion of profits from the company and would be responsible for spear heading the corporate social responsibility aspect of the business.
Q: What rights does Bogo have to its foreign brands?
A: With my experience in the FMCG sector, I know that splitting brands between various importers can, in some cases, be a recipe for disaster. As a result of this, all brands I have brought on board have been on an exclusivity basis for whatever market they are targeted.
I inform the partners that this enables Bogo to be able to go all out in the marketing of the brands as they have full confidence that after the initial investment, they would be able to reap the rewards.
Of course, for the locally made brands there is no issue of potential conflict at all. All the brands are the intellectual property of Bogo Beverages itself.
There have also been “white label” collaborations between Bogo and foreign companies, brands such as – Blue Island and Expression, these brands are also the property of Bogo and Bogo has the sole global distribution rights for them.
Q: What is the export potential of your locally manufactured products?
A: Always with my eye on the ball, I believe that the opportunities are huge. In my opinion, a quality brand would sell anywhere regardless of the maker once you are able to comply with regulatory requirements and get your branding and marketing done correctly.
I further add that currently there are plans to export locally produced beverages to neighbouring countries and even further move to the rest of the world. There is also a big Diaspora market in the west which I keep an eye on as potential future clients for the more traditional-style Nigerian drinks.
Q: Going back to his roots, does Godwin have any comments on Benue state where his parents are from?
A: A proud Idoma man, I believe firmly that there are massive investment opportunities in Benue state. There is a vast amount of raw materials – harvest that lie unutilized and spoiling in farmlands and even farmlands that lie fallow.
I describe the potential of setting up a factory to produce finished products and take them from farm to table, a noble plan no doubt.
That being said, I am of the opinion that these plans would be brought to fruition sooner, by myself and other interested parties when the security concerns plaguing the state are brought under control. Farmers need to be able to return fully to the farm and investors need to have confidence that their investment would be protected.
I have operated and run a business in Benue before, unfortunately I had split attention which meant I couldn’t continue with it. I am desirous to go back and start another, circumstances allowing.
Q: Talking about business environment generally in Nigeria, what can you say about business environment and how government policies are affecting your operation?
A: An advocate of Nigeria and Africa, I would like to see the continent and specifically my homeland Nigeria get better. I would like to see businesses receive much needed support from government in the form of grants and loans with favorable interest rates especially in their earlier set-up days.
I have already commented on the problems brought on by the Forex situation. The rates and their corresponding effects on fuel, diesel and the cost of raw materials make it even harder to plan for a growing business. I lament that the purchase of items can cost the business 30-40% more just on exchange losses. Some economic stability would be beneficial to everyone.
Regardless of these issues, Bogo still has a direct staff strength in the 100’s and looks to expand even more in its second year of operations. The market is difficult, but I and Bogo are determined to succeed in it.
Q: You have mentioned before that you have the best hands in the market. What incentive have you put in place to encourage them to do more?
A: My drive to recruit the best hands was successful because I was able to show how the company could drive positive growth into the lives of its employees. I earned their trust; the office has an open-door policy, and I take a personal interest in ensuring that they have job satisfaction, I believe this is crucial.
I stressed the significance of having a leader whom employees trust and who has a clear vision. I explained that Bogo provides employees with an opportunity to become true co-owners of the business through investment, which was not common in other companies. I mentioned that this approach encouraged employees to take ownership of the business, which was an advantage they had over others, in addition to competitive salaries and benefits. Of course, the remuneration package is generous, but it’s just one of many things done to ensure employees are happy here.
Q: Talking of your name, the company’s name, Bogo, where does “Bogo” come from? What was the idea behind the name?
A: The name Bogo has two meanings. The first one was a combination of the initials B-O, which stood for Brian Oche, my son’s name, and G-O, which represented Godwin Oche jnr, my last child’s name and his namesake.
The second meaning was to mirror the “buy one and get one” promotion, signifying that Bogo offers a combo and provides consumers with more value for money spent. I mentioned that Bogo was committed to delivering value for money, not just in terms of pricing but also in the quality of their products.
Q: What will you say about your point-of-sale branding at relaxation spots?
A: I explained that at relaxation spots, consumers would not see the Bogo company name but rather their brands.
I clarified that they displayed brands like Bottega, Expression and Proclamation/independence to raise brand awareness. These brands were visible at key point-of-sale locations across the country.
Q: Tell us, how do you relax?
A: A fan of the sea from Childhood, I relax by spending time by or on the sea. Although for a man with a budding business, currently, relaxation is a luxury. As running and setting up the company consumes a lot of my time.
Regardless, when I do get the time, I enjoy relaxing by going to the beach, swimming, and using my Jet Ski. I also mentioned my past experience in boat racing.
Q: What will be your parting words to the consumers?
A: I want consumers to be assured that Bogo Beverages promises quality brands and would never compromise on quality.
I advise consumers and budding business people to practice patience, the patience to get things right, the patience also to continue when the path gets complicated. I also urge hard work, discipline, motivation, patience, consistency, always keep your eye on the ball, self-confidence, believe in yourself; people would always have opinions, don’t get distracted, and integrity.
I encourage individuals to be known for their credibility in whatever business they pursue.
Q: Finally, a new government has just been inaugurated. If you are in a position to advise the new government on how to help the business environment or help business people to operate, what would be your advice?
A: I suggest that the government should create a platform for government representatives to defend their performance with clear key performance indicators (KPIs) and monthly scorecards that are made public. I emphasize the importance of creating an enabling environment for businesses, ensuring fair treatment for local companies, and facilitating access to foreign exchange.