Tell us a little bit about your journey to this current position as Group Head of Strategy at Consolidated Hallmark Insurance (CHI). What led you onto this path of Strategy?
I have always wanted to be a strategist because of my passion for finding solutions in difficult situations and solving complex issues. Hence, I always looked out for roles that will give me that leverage.
I started off my career at C2G Consulting. From C2G, I moved to KPMG advisory services, PwC, Phillips Consulting and FMDQ Securities Exchange as the Head of Strategy.
I am currently the Head, Strategy and Corporate Planning at Consolidated Hallmark Insurance Group where I am responsible for driving the business transformation and innovative strategies for the company and its subsidiaries.
That’s quite an interesting journey Ayo, Kindly share with us your thoughts on innovation as it is currently in Nigeria?
We still have a long way to go when it comes to innovation in Nigeria. Although we can see some traction in the technology space, a lot can still be done and this has to be supported with the right policy from the government to enhance local content and create an enabling environment for entities trying to innovate.
“We also need a transformation minded government that can lead to massive transformations in various key sectors, such transformations are needed as strategic enablers for innovation in Nigeria. For example, broadband infrastructure, transport, power, etc.”
What practical solution(s) can you suggest in tackling this innovation problem in Nigeria?
There are about 55 tech hubs in Nigeria, which is just behind South Africa with the highest number of hubs in Africa. I believe Nigerian organizations and Government need to latch on to these increased activities in these hubs for the development of innovative ideas to drive the required growth and transformation in the economy.
There is also a need for a paradigm shift in the thought processes amongst our leaders, as the current thought patterns in the corporate and public space, are inhibiting innovative growth. Therefore, there needs to be increased collaboration/support between the younger drivers of innovation in the corporate world and the older business/government leaders to enable increased adoption of innovation.
What are the major challenges affecting strategy and innovation teams today, and how can these problems be solved?
One of the major challenges affecting strategy and innovation teams today is getting Management commitment to innovation and to the effective implementation of innovative ideas. It is oftentimes difficult to get the management (especially the baby boomers) thoughts to be in alignment with contemporary innovative ideas, as they are more comfortable with conservative concepts.
One of the ways this may be managed is to oftentimes develop ideas that somewhat highlights immediate benefits whilst still stressing the long-term benefits of the innovations. It is important also to ensure your innovations are void of ambiguity and factors the realities of your audience; in order to get their buy-in.
What are your core responsibilities as the Head of Strategy at Consolidated Hallmark?
I am primarily responsible for ensuring the implementation and execution of the company’s strategies to ensure the company achieves its strategic goals. I supervise four strategic business units viz Strategy, Research and Development, Budgeting and Budgetary Controls, Process and Product Innovation to support the company’s growth.
How would you define innovation based on your experiences?
For me, based on my experiences, innovation is about either continuously improving on your products and processes to improve the performance of your offerings to your customers, or totally creating new product classes targeted at new or existing markets that is totally different from what your competitors are doing. Such innovations can be disruptive and be the game-changer for you or your business.
What are the essential tools you use most and benefit from in your role as Head of Strategy?
One of the major tools of strategic management is the Balance Scorecard. Balance Scorecard is the foremost strategy execution framework in the world. That is the framework upon which the strategy was developed and that is what we use to monitor and keep track of how the execution connects with the objectives across the four pillars.
I also use the SIPOC framework for process-related activities and reviews. This tool helps drive process improvement efforts of I and my team; helping us develop robust and quality processes. There are countless other strategy tools and frameworks that I have used and still use in the course of my career.
How do you handle factors that hinder innovation within your organization?
We try to turn every obstacle to innovation, [by seeing it] as an opportunity to think deeply and innovate around the obstacles. We don’t allow any factor(s) to hinder us when it comes to innovating.
“For me, based on my experiences, innovation is about either continuously improving on your products and processes to improve the performance of your offerings to your customers, or totally creating new product classes targeted at new or existing markets that is totally different from what your competitors are doing. Such innovations can be disruptive and be the game-changer for you or your business.”
Do you run sessions for ideation or problem-solving? If so, how do you go about it?
Yes, I run planning sessions with my strategy team where we develop different innovative ideas to solve existing problems. I also conduct periodic strategy war room sessions with management and relevant staff members to assess implementation levels of the strategic initiatives and develop innovative solutions to implementation gaps of some initiatives. I also engage in other ad-hoc problem-solving sessions as some issues arise.
How do you factor your users/ customers as you position for strategic growth at your organization?
Our growth trajectory is built around customer satisfaction, as customers are key stakeholders in our strategic goals, and this is why we place huge premium on constant improvement of our internal processes to deliver quality service to our customers.
Which companies do you admire most for their approach to innovation and strategy? Can you share what caught your attention about their approach to innovation?
GTB (Guarantee Trust Bank) is a company I admire so much for their innovation and market entry strategy that focused on the digital, retail and profitable end of the market and significantly altered the face of the banking industry.
What advice would you give to professionals looking to improve their careers in innovation management and strategy?
Be focused and be aggressive with knowledge and personal development as that is what is going to stand you out and prepare you for the right opportunities. It is also important to put in the hours to work and gain valuable experience.
What #innovationmoment are you most proud of in your role as Head of Strategy at Consolidated Hallmark?
The innovation around performance management, product development and processes we introduced that changed the way we view and report performance on a periodic basis, our approach to product and marketing and improvement in operational efficiency.
It helped stimulate creativity and improved performance among key strategic business leaders. All of these resulted in a 21% increase in the topline in year one, having flatlined for almost five years; and then further increased by another 24% growth in revenue as at Q3 2019, and a whopping 56% increase in profits.
If you could build a company from the ground up, what innovation strategy or design or methodologies would you use to build?
The innovative strategy I will use is a disruptive innovation. I will focus on the low-end of the market as about 70% of Nigeria’s population are currently at the bottom of the pyramid.
To gain market share my innovation will be centered around creating products or services that are affordable and are good enough to deliver quality satisfaction to customers at that lower end of the market. Any innovation that does not address that larger part of the Nigerian population may only be scratching the surface of the addressable market in Nigeria.
“Any innovation that does not address that larger part of the Nigerian population may only be scratching the surface of the addressable market in Nigeria.”