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“Seun Lawal Is (Not)Your Friend”

A time there was when my CEO, would call me over the intercom when he received a call from Seun Lawal, Brand Manager – Gulder, Nigerian Breweries Plc. He would want to know if I had ‘offended’ Seun Lawal, either personally, in my interactions, or professionally, in the discharge of my duties. He wanted to have a defence or an apology in the instance that I was guilty. Many times, I racked my brain on what I may possibly have done that may have earned me a prime spot in Seun Lawal’s black book.

I usually pleaded for a bit of time to reflect on what may have warranted Seun Lawal to call my boss. Whenever I reported back to my boss, I was never confident – whether in reporting my wrong-doing, or right- doing. My boss would then put a call through to Seun Lawal. During this period, my heart skipped several beats. Not until I get a revert from my boss will my heart be at rest.

You can choose to view Seun Lawal from the glass cup being half- empty or half – full. From my observations, he makes no pretence to being a nice person, either to someone he has just met or people he has known for a long time.

The first time our paths crossed, I sat on his chair, at the behest of another Brand Manager. He had no qualms telling me to ‘Please get up from my chair.’ This was a year and a half ago, so I really cannot remember if he even said ‘please’ before asking me tersely to move. I vividly recall he made no eye contact.

We have had several professional interactions over several months which have been good, bad and ugly – like most Client/ Agency interfaces. I dare not say which of the three ranks highest in the event of a ratio.

After getting several flaks for what he termed mediocre performance on a particular project I was working on, my team delivered excellently during the course of the project. I approached Seun to gauge his level of satisfaction on the execution of certain aspects of a brief. Let me add that it took me about an hour to summon up the courage as we waited at the departure lounge of an airport to board the same flight.

“Seun, see what we have done” I said, showing him a copy of a newspaper where one of Gulder’s brand activations was given prominent mention. “There are several mentions in other publications” I added. Seun’s eyes remained firmly affixed on his phone, neither acknowledging my presence nor attempting to look at the newspaper which I was trying to show him.

His reply (still busy with his phone): “But I have not written you. If I write you, then you know there is a problem, but if you have not heard from me, then you should know there is no problem.” It was not exactly the reply I was looking forward to hearing, but it still sounded positive anyway. Over the months, I have learnt that Seun is very prudent with his time, being an economist. So I compress my notes and thoughts when we have meetings. Our formal interactions have lasted from 2 minutes to an hour. Sometimes, he would offer you a seat, sometimes you would remain standing. But give it to Seun to always ask if you are clear on what both parties have discussed. He does not voice it out, but the implications of failing to fully implement agreed deliverables are grave.

After making sure he was in a good mood, I once asked him why he was so hard at times. He explained that agencies have had his hands burnt on several occasions, thereby depicting him as incompetent when they failed to deliver on agreed terms and conditions. Then he explained that “pressure from above” could get so intense, sometimes, prodding him to put the heat on agencies when they don’t deliver.

He also confided in me that he has particularly stood up for me and absorbing the heat, when some of our agreeable deliverables were not met on time. He showed me proof. That particularly made me feel guilty and I realised, for the first time that Seun had human blood and empathy running through his veins. But that does not stop him from screaming when the scenario warrants.

We have had moments of beer binges which have lasted several hours. In Awka early this year, the drinking spree lasted from 8pm to 4am. Even at that, the barman had to practically ‘chase’ us out of the bar.

At short notice, I once invited him to my CEO’s birthday party, and he honoured the invitation with a drink to honour the ‘elder.’ After the successful completion of Gulder brand activations, Seun is a completely different person. A rumour once went round that Seun actually congratulated Mediacraft for a job well done on one of Gulder’s big ticket projects. My colleague told me, but I doubted him. My CEO mentioned it, but I took it with a pinch of salt. Even when Seun told me himself, I stood dumbfounded and shell-shocked. A commendation coming from Seun Lawal was like President Jonathan himself giving me a shout-out!

Seun also showed he possessed the milk of human kindness when he showed genuine interest in my welfare over the interest of working on Gulder Ultimate Search 9. At the end of the project, he not only encouraged me to ‘have fun’ almost all my requests to him, were granted.

Of all the Nigerian Breweries Brand Managers I have sent Facebook requests to, he is the only one yet to accept my ‘friendship’. This is why I have not bothered to even ask for his BlackBerry pin. I do not know his birth date almost 22 months after our paths crossed.

By the way, Seun is my namesake. But I suspect the fact that we bear the same first name has no meaning to him.

As I wish him a Seasons Greetings, I strongly suspect he’ll report me to my boss over this write-up. He may choose to query me directly.

But there are three simple tips which have worked for me in my professional and informal interactions with him.

  1. Surpass his expectations
  2. When he is angry, keep away. Sometimes, it is safer to stay out of sight.
  3. Think deeply before you answer his phone calls on whatever you may have done wrong. When guilty, don’t pick his calls. Call him exactly a minute later and utter: Good Morning Mr.Lawal or Good Afternoon Mr.Lawal (depending on the time)
  4. If he commends you, celebrate. If he doesn’t, still celebrate. He is a man of very few words.

Is Seun Lawal my friend? I think it depends on his mood on the spur of the moment!

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