Joseph Omunakwe, HMD Global’s general manager—West, East and Central Africa—is a busy man. The Finnish company, was started last year to write the next chapter for Nokia phones and tablets, including revamping Nokia 3310, their iconic blast from the past.
He has previously held senior positions with Nokia West and Central Africa and also at SC Johnson, MTN Nigeria and UNDP.
He was recently in town. He met JACKSON BIKO at their offices.
What’s on your mind?
Business. We are in an exciting period in the market. We want to take things to the next level because we’ve not been in this smartphone business for a number of years and now we are embarking on a new chapter.
What was the thinking behind the Nokia 3310 anyway? Nostalgia?
People loved the 3310 and what HMD did, collaborating with our partners, is to redesign, reimagine and bring it into the modern space. It was about connecting to that legacy and heritage.
When you think of your teenage days, what’s the biggest emotion that bubbles to the surface?
(Laughs) That’s taking me back in time, right? I grew up in eastern part of Nigeria, a place called Imo State. I was raised by the whole village; I had cousins and uncles and nephews all around me.
I think the way we define life now is quite different from the way our fathers defined life. How important things like money is now is not as important as it was then. Success is also different. I think there has been some change in perception in terms of how we look at things.
You are a father of three now; if you were to juxtapose how you raise your children and how your father raised you, how do they compare?
(Laughs) One day my father called me and said, “look, Joseph, every man has a mirror on his forehead and the man who is poor, is the man who’s mirror is broken.” The mirror is integrity. If you lose it, you’ve lost everything else. So, just trying to connect that back to my children and how I raise them, I think I raise them the same way my father raised me; with integrity.
What do you like about being 49 years old?
Experience. It’s like you’re in the middle of a flight. You look back and you can see, you can reflect on where you’re coming from. Priorities become clearer and there’s a hunger to impact a generation. So based on the journey that we’ve taken and the experience we’ve gone through, we can actually coach, direct, mentor people who are passing through that same journey. Because someone did the same for me as well. You know in Africa we say that what an old man can see sitting down, a young man cannot see it on top of a tree.
What do you know now at 49 that you didn’t know at 39?
(Laughs and sighs) At 39, I wasn’t thinking seriously about legacy because I was trying to achieve some things for myself. Those things dominated my mind. But at 49, I’m thinking more about the impact that I am making.
What shakes you now?
(Long pause) Maybe if I rephrase the question in terms of what could give me worry. It’s my children. My family. Going forward, what happens if I’m not there. I have one child in Canada, I’ve got two children in Lagos, I’ve got my wife.
When did you feel that you are successful?
What success means to me first of all is about impact. It’s not about a physical thing that I have achieved. It’s not about position, it’s not about fame, it’s not about money in a bank account. It’s about impact. Now that I’m leading HMD in West and Central Africa, what impact am I making in the company?
What kind of music is playing in the background of 49?
(Laughs loudly) I’m not stuck on any particular one, particularly when I have children who belong to a different generation. I can go with rock, reggae or Nigerian music. But of course at the end of the day I play worship songs.
Are you born again?
Yes. Since my school days... so we’re talking about 20 years.
What’s the biggest test God has thrown your way?
This was more like an impact, not a test. Losing my child at a very early age was a very painful thing. She was like five- years- old. I was a committed Christian, we prayed, pastors prayed, but we lost her. But it wasn’t a test of faith for me. I think it was okay. God knows everything. He had the power to prevent it from happening and of course the child came from him.
This might come out as a bit insensitive, so forgive me. What hit you harder; the death of your daughter or your mother?
(Sighs deeply) Hmm. (Pause). I think the loss of my daughter. My mother had encountered the journey of life, she had me. I mean, I’m talking about her today. I don’t think they compare. It’s completely different experience. If you take your child to the ground,it breaks your heart.
When were you happiest in your life?
I have always been happy. And here is the thing; I am motivated by success. And success means we set a goal, and we achieve it. I have a fairly positive mind set. Positive thinking is the thing that has helped me lead the team through difficult times. Through rain and sunshine, through gloom and darkness and light. I’m happy because I chose to be positive.
Since you’re just about to turn 50, what’s the gift that someone would buy you that would really impress you?
(Laughs) I don’t know. I feel like I’m in therapy. (Pause) I think maybe buy me a timepiece because time is unique. It’s not about how fancy that timepiece is or even how expensive it is, it’s about the symbolism of it. We have 24 hours a day, all of us; white, black, poor, rich, African, Asian…24 hours.
Someone can discriminate against you, someone may even steal the entire resources of the country and keep it for himself and his generation, but no one can take away your 24 hours and it’s up to you what you do with your 24 hours. Nothing else matters, we all have 24 hours.