Dr. Kolade and the Image Maker, by Emeka Oparah
A lot has been written and even a lot more will be written about the man, a sage, a living legend, Christopher Kolade aka CK, in Cadbury parlance. So, it is really needless to waste time recounting his well-documented accomplishments in Management and Leadership or his exploits as a Broadcaster and Organist much less his famed era as the Chief Executive Officer of Cadbury Nigeria Plc.
In my 8 years in Cadbury and afterwards, I had many life-changing personal encounters with CK, but I want to recall three of them today on the occasion of his 89th birthday.
The first encounter was during my rookie days as a Media Relations Manager (in Cadbury Nigeria). The company’s AGM had just ended at the MUSON Centre. As Dr. Kolade, then Executive Chairman, made to leave the podium, a barrage of journalists wielding midgets (small audio recorders) went after him. He stopped abruptly and pointed at me trying to make my way to him and said: “See that young man in suit…that is my boss. I will stay right here until he comes. If he permits me to talk to you, I will but if says no, then that’s it!”
I couldn’t believe my ears and eyes. Dr. Kolade? Calling me his boss? He saw the confusion boldly written all over me and quickly came to my aid: “See, in Cadbury, everyone has his duties. Emeka is in charge of Media Relations. So, he’s the boss. I wouldn’t dare do his job or he will be upset with me.” OMG!!! You can imagine how much this declaration did for my MOJO. My confidence soared. I literally acted the boss man right there starting off by telling the journalists he had only 10 minutes and that they must restrict their questions to the AGM. Then CK goes “you see what I mean? He’s the boss. But, I will over-rule him today. I have 11 minutes instead of 10 and I will answer any question you ask me so long as it’s approved by Emeka!” We all had a good laugh before getting down to business.
This experience has lived with me ever since then and has guided me in habitually publicly empowering and acknowledging my subordinates. It does something good to the confidence level, trust me.
The second encounter was during Dr. Kolade’s first send-forth from Cadbury, when he retired as Executive Chairman, became non-Executive Chairman and relinquished the Chief Executive position to Bunmi Oni. 4 years or so later, there was a second send-forth, actually, when he finally left the board upon his appointment as Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the Court of St. James.
So, the company bought him a parting gift, a brand new Mercedes Benz E-240 (with round headlamps), which was then the ultimate, so to say. The car was hidden from him and was only positioned at the Exit Gate when he went for a ceremonial final factory tour. On getting to the gate, he saw a glittering car draped in buntings and rosettes. He looked round at the crowd of staff milling around him and like someone walking away from his house, he shed a tear or two. I can never forget that moment.
Then, he was handed the keys to the car! He certainly didn’t expect it. He showed some hesitation. Then, he spoke a few words of appreciation. Then, he dropped the bombshell: “The only condition I will take this car home is if I leave the other car behind. In my house we have space for two cars-one for my wife and one for me!” Wow! That got everyone, I believe. Well, it got me for sure. I could not believe such a human being existed. Right there and then, his driver of over 25 years, Oga Wale (I believe), went to his old car, retrieved his belongings and transferred them to the new car and they zoomed off! As that gate closed behind him, all I could say to myself was “What a man!!!”
The third encounter was just before his appointment as the High Commissioner to the UK. The CEO had told me the day before that I would be going to Abuja on an errand for the Chairman. Just before I closed, I received a letter addressed to His Excellency President Olusegun Obasanjo! Goodness me! First, I panicked. Then, it dawned on me I was going to Aso Rock-for the first time. It felt good going to Aso Rock to “personally” deliver a letter to the President! Now, let me confess I only delivered the letter to someone in The Villa who then delivered it to the President.
Now, here’s the real gist: As I was getting ready the early that morning to go to the airport for the 1st flight (as instructed), my phone rang and it was Dr. Kolade. He apologised for troubling me by sending me off to Abuja so early. Then, he asked to speak to my wife. He also apologised to her for getting me out of our bed so early without her permission! I’m not sure my wife immmediately got the joke but she was just saying “good morning sir…no problem sir” and so on and so forth. It was in the evening, when I returned, that we laughed about the old man’s call. Believe you me, he didn’t interrupt anything. After all, I woke up early. Ighotago?
So, about a month later, I was back in Abuja for some other business. While chilling in my room watching NTA News, Dr. Kolade was announced as the High Commissioner to the UK. I immediately called to congratulate him. He thanked me for being a party to his appointment having delivered his acceptance letter to the President during that fateful early morning trip to Abuja! Such a man! Here’s someone who hardly laughs or even smiles but has a humongous sense of humour.
Today, I join his family, friends, students and admirers to celebrate a man of knowledge, wisdom, integrity, sagacity and character. I also pray that almighty God continues to keep him healthy and happy as he marches “slowly” to the 9th floor and eventually to the 10th.
Happy Birthday, CK!
Emeka Oparah was a former spokesperson at Cadbury