My Drive Has Always Been To Be The Best At Whatever I Do – Dr. Ikenna Okongwu

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Dr. Ikenna Okongwu studied Medicine at the University of Jos, but his passion led him to an entirely different industry where he has risen to the top of his career. From the little teenager who wanted to study mathematics in the university, to the Medical Officer who dutifully catered for the sick, Ikenna Okongwu is currently the Executive Director and Divisional Managing Director (Operations) for Food Concepts PLC in Nigeria and Ghana. His dream, he tells me, is to retire at 60 and own a chain of coffee shops across the country.

 

“My journey into the food industry began in a roundabout-like manner. I had planned to study mathematics, but my parents wanted me to pursue a professional degree, so I studied medicine at the University of Jos,” Ikenna tells me. “However,” he went on, “after working in the medical field for a few years, I realized that my passion lay in the commercial industry. So, I moved to the United Kingdom and began working at KFC as a Team Member, eventually working my way up to become a District Trainer.”

 

From there, Ikenna pursued a Post Graduate Degree in Human Resources Management and worked in KFC’s Human Resources department as a manager for four years. After gaining experience in people management, he returned to operations and worked as an Area Manager for a year. Shortly after, he worked with a KFC & Pizza Hut Franchisee in Ireland for eight years before moving back to Nigeria and joining KFC as an Operations Leader. In 2015, after a few years at KFC, Ikenna moved to Food Concepts as the Chief Operating Officer and has been here ever since.

 

Q: Why did you leave a globally recognized brand like KFC to work with a local brand like Food Concepts in 2015?

 

A: My dream had always been to work with a local brand based on all the experiences I had gathered abroad. In 2015, the opportunity to work with Food Concepts came up, and after speaking with the new Managing Director (Mr. David Butler) and hearing about the company’s challenges and future plans, I decided it was the right time to make the move.

 

Q: What is driving the phenomenal growth in the fast-food industry in Nigeria?

 

A: The introduction of international brands has helped develop local brands, as many local brands were prompted to wake up and face reality. Additionally, people are eating out more these days due to changes in their eating habits and busy work schedules, leading to the growth of the Nigerian food industry.

 

Q: Much as the industry is experiencing growth, some brands in the industry are in a speedy decline. What makes food brands lose their edge and what can companies do to remain competitive over a long period of time?

 

A: Proper management is key to maintaining momentum and sustaining growth in the long term. In Nigeria, many brands start out well but struggle to sustain momentum because they learn to cut corners over time. In contrast, successful international brands such as KFC, McDonald’s, and Burger King have always had strong management teams in place.

Q: You brought some revolutionary ideas to Food Concepts when you joined. What inspired your thinking, and how did you lead your team to execute them?

 

A: The success of Food Concepts cannot be pinned down to one single individual, as it was truly a team effort. As for my role, I believe my drive to be the best in everything I do, which I developed since childhood, thanks to my parents’ discipline, has helped me stay at the top of my game in this industry. My parents taught me to always be the best at what I do. So even while I was in secondary school, I made sure I did well in my studies. I had a math prize in standard 4, in university, I had a distinction in anatomy, and I graduated among the top three in the class.

 

So, my drive has always been to be the best in everything I do and that’s something I’ve carried from childhood to adulthood. In addition, starting as a team member in KFC at the time in the United Kingdom, I made sure I did my best to be the best even as a team member until I was promoted to the position of Shift Manager, Assistant Manager, and then to Restaurant Manager. Even then, I made sure my restaurant was the best in the area.

 

I also realized that to get these results, you need people behind you which is why I moved into HR for a couple of years in order to understand how to manage people, what makes people tick, and how to really get to the core of people to help you deliver your goals. That sort of helped me all the way through in ensuring that if I had the right people, the results would always flow in.

 

So, I always make sure that I motivate my workers and be there for them when they need me. However, this doesn’t mean I do not carry out certain disciplinary actions when necessary.

 

Q: Do you still see yourself operating in this food industry for another decade and if so, what goals have you set for yourself for the next decade?

 

A: Well, that’s a tough one. I have goals and some I cannot say here. I would like to retire by the time I’m 60 and retiring does not mean sitting at home. I’m pretty sure I’ll find something to do, mostly within this food industry. I may decide to open my own restaurant. But my dream ever since I was 25, was to have several decent coffee shops that open at 6 in the morning and closes by 5 in the evening so I can go home and rest.

 

So, that’s my plan/goal when I decide to retire. I’m sure there might be other things that might come up along the way but that is my goal. For now, the food industry keeps me going and even keeps me awake at night because new things happen every day. Different challenges come up and at the end of the day, it is the people that keep me going.

 

 

Q: What has been your biggest challenge in management and what has been your biggest achievement since you started managing at a top level in this industry?

 

A: The biggest challenge in management again is people. The whole area of people development is great but that is also a big challenge because at the end of the day, finding the right people to do the job is a challenge and I think it is worse in Nigeria because finding talent is tricky. And I think there is a lot of work to be done in our educational system to help the youth understand the nature of working hard and getting results.

 

The biggest achievement, again, I’d say is people. Coming back home from 2012, I’ve seen people I’ve worked with as team members, a number of them are regional managers today. The achievement for me is seeing people grow, not just at work but also in their personal lives. As I said, some people were teenagers when I started in 2012, and some were in their twenties at the time but now you see them grow, settle down, get married, and have families and I am very proud because it gives me great joy to see people grow and as they grow, they deliver the results that the business needs.

 

Throughout my career, my greatest achievement has been being there for people. Supporting them, developing their capabilities, and also a few whips along the line to help them grow.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. I once met with him at kfc when I was a team member where I was recognized as a customer maniac for passing the MOT….. well I now work with food concept and am part of his success chain as I started as a team member now a restaurant manager in food concept…. You are more than just a boss but a leader….Thanks for all you do and the advice

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