I want to show you the money
Olufemi Folarin is Head, Retail and Franchise Operations at Cars45. He has over 15 years of working with amazing teams and achieving groundbreaking successes across trade channels and brands at multinationals that include Philip Morris International, Diageo/Guinness Nigeria, Red Bull Nigeria and British American Tobacco Nigeria. Femi who is a consummate salesman, loves to design and implement game changing ideas that sees him working with a team of people across functions. This has seen him become one of the first professionals to automate trade rewards and delivered consistently double-digit growth. In this interview, Femi dishes on his mission to empower people, his first life as an event activation specialist and his interesting philosophy about life.
What was your first job in trade, sales and marketing and what attracted you to this space?
I didn’t start off my career in trade, sales and marketing. Rather, events and Below the Line BTL activities were my first port of call. I began my career with an experiential marketing agency, Tequila Nigeria back then. The main attraction for me was the fact that I could express ideas in real form — crazy ideas around how to do promotions and stuff, pitch it to a client, client is smitten and then I have the latitude to make it happen. So, I was enamored by the fun of creating exciting campaigns that people can see and feel. Consumer motivation was another factor. I have always had an eye for what the consumer wants, how they think, what motivates their purchase decisions. Taking the consumer from ‘I don’t know where I am’, to holding your products and then consuming it is sweet. So, when you bring these two factors together, the fact that I can point to these campaigns, events, promotions that leave lasting memories and say that I did that has always been a strong attraction for me.
What was the biggest challenge you faced starting out?
Whatever I set my mind to do, the fear of failure is something that motivates me to always push hard. But then it was also a big challenge then for me — I was asking myself, if I strike out there and I don’t make it, what will become of me? Even though events sales and marketing are all different fields, but interestingly on my journey, I have found out that they are all inter-connected. For instance, I use a lot of my experience in events in executing the things I do in consumer and trade marketing as well as sales. Across each point on this journey, these different but connected experiences have come very handy and helpful. So, I pull what I learnt in this space to execute a campaign better in another space.
What is a normal workday like for you in Cars45?
Typically starts at around 5 am and I try to get back in before 10pm. It’s usually very long. I wake up to phone calls from my franchises and dealers. I start up pretty early to do my normal routines. Spend the first 30 minutes to properly plan or replan my day depending on the calls from my stakeholders. Once I get in, I hold regular team meetings, check-in on my dealers, programmes that are running — the results, what needs to be changed or tweaked, or planning meetings with other senior leaders within the business. No matter how long the day has been, I try to carve out some ME time when I unwind and shut the day down.
What are the qualities that you look out for in a salesman?
A can-do attitude is very critical. A salesman without it can’t succeed. You must also be confident in the way that you speak and engage your prospects or dealers. Thirdly, you must be knowledgeable about the products and lifestyle in the industry that you are in. Talking about lifestyles, you have the consumer and trade lifestyles — how do trade members behave, what drives and motivates them, as well as consumer behaviour. I tell every salesman; you need to get into the consumer mind space — how do you present the product to them in a physical space that becomes attractive enough to choose you over other products.
What do you love most about your work in Retail and Franchise Operations?
My work has been all about creating wealth and shared prosperity and that’s at the core of what we do at Cars45. When you look at our model and our ecosystem, it’s designed in a manner that empowers all stakeholders. And we have many success stories that we can share from individuals who were cab drivers, okada riders, students and mechanics who have now leveraged our franchise and dealership network to climb up the social ladder and are doing well for themselves and their community. And so my driving force is how do I create more wealth and independent Nigerians via our programmes and platform that creates value by reducing unemployment, growing small businesses into medium and large scale operations, developing their business acumen and providing the necessary work experience.
What was your motivation for joining Cars45?
Cars45 has also been a new experience for me in the sense of what the business does — automotive trading. I recall all my brushes with Customs and Police when I bought my first car. So, I was attracted to a business that helps me solve this verification challenge. Bringing structure to a fragmented space was too good to pass up. The fact that they carry out their activities leveraging tech was also a big add-on for me — integrating technology into what we thought were basic person to person sales interactions. The business model has been a fantastic learning platform for me.
What is your biggest learning so far in your various roles?
People!!! People over everything — money, products, profit. People and relationships are extremely important. Never underestimate the power of people, be they employees, colleagues, trade members, or consumers. Like I touched on earlier, it’s always important to understand consumer behaviour if you are going to win in the market. For me at work, I oftentimes put myself in the place of the people, and ask myself, if I was the one receiving this message, how would I react? But at all said and done, you need to believe and trust in people.
Do you have role models? Is there a leader that inspires you?
Maybe 2 or 3. Steve Pureell, even though he is in the diaspora now, he used to be my Head of Trade Marketing at British American Tobacco. Locally, I’d pick Okechukwu Agorua, Eddie Bala and Obinna Anyalebechi. These guys push me to be the best every time and are my go-to guys anytime I find myself in a jam.
Can you describe yourself?
Tall, Dark and Handsome.
Can you sum up your philosophy on life in one sentence?
No BullShit!!! I say it the way it is at every point in time. It saves you a lot of headache.
What is the best advice you have ever received in your career that has aided you?
Be very clear on what your goals are and what you want. Don’t muddle it up. Don’t get a new job or a new role because it’s just available. Before you start out, be very clear about what you want to achieve and map your way to get there.
When you are not selling, what do you love to do?
Ha!!! In my me alone time at home, it’s my shots of Gold Label or RedBull and a fantastic book.
What’s your favourite book, movie or TV series?
Not sure I have favourite books, but I do have some favourite authors — James Hardley Chase is somewhere there, Jeffery Archer as well as Robert Ludlum. For movies, I fell in love with Bruce Willis from Moonlighting, but my favourite movie for him is Sixth Sense and maybe Beautiful Mind. I am also a big fan of the Marvel movies universe and then Matrix 1.