After many months of speculations, the delectable ‘unofficial’ face of the Maggi brand, Mrs. Iquo Ukoh, finally took a bow from Nestle Nigeria Plc. She had worked with the nutrition, food and wellness company for 35 remarkable years. Mrs. Ukoh retired on January 22, 2016 as Executive Director, Marketing Services; on the eve of her 60th birthday.
Born to a civil servant father and a mother who is a retired nurse, Ukoh began her primary education in Benin, Edo State; continued in Aba and eventually finished in Lagos State. “It was because my father was working in the Ministry of Communication. In those days, it was common for civil servants to be frequently transferred from one place to another within Nigeria”, she said. She attended Methodist Girls High School, Yaba, Lagos before proceeding to University of Nigeria, Nsukka where she studied Nutrition and Dietetics. After her internship at the Federal Palace Hotel, Lagos, Ukoh worked for a few months at Bristol Hotel on Lagos Island. And as part of requirements for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme, she was posted to the National Institute of Medical Research, Yaba. As soon as her service year was done, she got a job at Nestle where she spent about three and half decades.
“Nestle has been my only real job and I’ve been here for over 30 years”, she once said. And indeed, life in Nestle has been very good to her as she has risen through the ranks to become the first female Marketing Manager of Nestle Nigeria as well as the first female on the Board of Directors of the organisation-“I came into Nestle as a medical representative, going from one hospital to the other to talk to doctors about our infant nutrition products. I had to make the switch because I got tired of visiting hospitals at the time. With my nutrition background, I was later promoted as the Nutrition Adviser”, she said.
In 1990, she started core marketing duties and rose to become the first female Marketing Manager. Ten years later, she was appointed a Director of the company making her the first female member of the board of directors. Currently, she is probably the second most powerful corporate entity in the company behind the company Chairman, Mr. David Ifezulike. During her stay with Nestle, Ukoh was in charge of creating shared value projects, creative /media/research agency coordination, media buying and experiential marketing. As Executive Director, Marketing Services, Ukoh ensured that all Nestlé’s marketing activities were implemented flawlessly, thereby allowing their target consumers interact with their brands. Undoubtedly, one of the most powerful women in corporate Nigeria; Ukoh’s fascination with food ‘pushed’ her into what turned out to be her destiny. “In those days, career counsellors were invited by schools to talk on different professional courses that were available in our universities, thereby allowing us to make informed choices. I remember the Chief Dietician of the University of Lagos was one such person that gave a lecture on this field. Whilst everybody was going for Law, Medicine, Nursing and so on; I thought Nutrition and Dietetics was different and food just held some attraction for me. I would say it’s about me being different. This was how I attended the University of Nigeria to study Nutrition and Dietetics’, she confessed.
She also runs a blog called ‘1Q Food Platter’ designed to share food experiences and other tidbits around food and health that help people create variety and excitement whilst maintaining sensible healthy lifestyles. “I’ve reached a stage in my life that I need to give something back to the society. I carry out some mentoring with young women but as I interact and understand women, particularly the young women, I found out that a lot of them are challenged with the food area. I understand the woman and her family, her kitchen and the food health challenges she and her family could face. Some of them are confused about what they should eat, how to cook it and so on”, she said.
Having some free time on her hands, especially since her children are in University, Ukoh decided to devote time to sow back. “I started the blog to provide a platform for women, particularly young women, to be able to pick up ideas on Nigerian recipes and other information about food and health. For me, it’s not only about the recipe, but it’s about recipe and healthy living”, she added.
As Marketing Manager, Ukoh championed the ‘Maggi’ cause by sustaining the family television programme, Maggi Kitchen menu’. She took ‘Maggi National Cooking Competition’, ‘Maggi Cook for Mama’ competition targeted at secondary school pupils; ‘Maggi Shokoyokoto’ – a cooking TV show targeted at the Yoruba audience with the slogan ‘o l’obe lo l’oko’ (literally meaning that ‘whoever cooks a good soup with maggi will readily keep her man or husband’) – to the next level. She also succeeded in developing a lot of recipes for Nigerian women.
While many attribute her culinary skills to her formal education as a dietician, Ukoh has said it is purely interest and a touch of the Efik genes. “I’ve been fascinated about food and the role that food plays in our lives and how we can use it to stay healthy, instead of taking drugs. Maybe because I have some Efik blood, the culinary expertise of an average Calabar woman, as Nigerians would say, and the scientific aspect of food and the role it plays in health have all combined well for me”, she explained. Owing to her frequent movements during her childhood, Ukoh learnt to speak Igbo and Yoruba languages fluently – a quality that has had a positive impact on her career.
On how a nutritionist / dietician became a marketing guru, Ukoh credits Nestle for that. “Nestle is a company that affords you the opportunity to thrive where you have the best potential. Of course, my background is Nutrition and Dietetics, but I didn’t know I had this creative side, which is an advantage in marketing. Luckily, an opportunity presented itself in 1990 and then I started core Marketing”, she said.
For those who know and have worked with her, ‘Madam Nestle’ has been described as a stickler for time. This, she confessed, is a product of her parentage. “I came from a very disciplined background. There was a time to wake up; there was a time to play; there was a time to do revision and there was a time to eat. So, all this has followed me through life, in terms of discipline. I remember my dad had to drop us off in school before heading for work and if you were not in the car at 6.a.m., you would find your way to school. That was the kind of discipline we had; and today, I have a problem when people are late for functions or meetings. I don’t know African time, even for social engagements”, she said.
Original story culled from: @marketingedge
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