As part of activities to mark the 43rd anniversary of uninterrupted monthly publication of Pharmanews, we had an exclusive interview with its founder and publisher, Pharm. (Sir) Ifeanyi Atueyi, who for the first time, gave a hint about his retirement plans. He reflected on the journey of Pharmanews over the last 43 years and expressed his desire to see the vision outlive him. Excerpts:
Reflecting on the last 43 years of uninterrupted monthly publication of Pharmanews, how did you manage to achieve this feat and what business lessons are there for the younger generation?
We have achieved this feat by the grace of God. It is not because of our finances or intelligence or connections. From those angles, we are not better than our competitors. But I believe it is the will of God to establish Pharmanews in Nigeria. We have passed through very great challenges during this period of 43 years but God has remained solidly with us.
One lesson for the younger generation is that no one is created to be a jack of all trades. You must focus on your area of strength and calling to prosper. Another lesson is that you must work with commitment and dedication because it is God you are serving when you are serving men. Really, the business belongs to God and you are working with Him.
Where would you like to see Pharmanews in the next couple of years and what’s your recommendation on how to achieve this?
By the grace of God, Pharmanews has been growing and developing with time. We believe in the philosophy of CANI (Continuous and Never-ending Improvement). We are getting stronger and better. The secret behind our success is that we are focused and committed to our calling or assignment from God. We have continued and will continue to render valuable services to our consumers honestly, in order to remain in business.
At 82, you have continued to steer the ship of Pharmanews from its cradle to the present status as Nigeria’s leading health journal. What are your plans for sustaining the business and its vision?
It is obvious that I cannot continue to be active for much longer. This is natural. But I strongly believe that the vision of Pharmanews will live after me. I have continued to share the vision with my family members and office staff. We all know where Pharmanews is going and how to get there. We know what to do and what not to do. Really, business is about people, the committed ones, of course. Any business that has the right kind people will prosper.
My impact on the business has been reducing gradually over the years. When I started Pharmanews in 1979, I was involved in nearly all the processes. I collected and edited the news, conducted the interviews, took photographs, sought for adverts, planned the pages. I did the packaging of the printed copies, and delivered to the post office. Today, I do not engage in these operations and the business is going on well.
I can afford to be out of the office for months and my absence will not adversely affect our services, especially now that we utilise modern communication technologies. Distance no longer constitutes a serious barrier in business operations. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us the lesson that we can work effectively from different locations. When there was lockdown in 2020, we published online without interruption and then printed the hard copies after the lockdown.
As I said, business is about people. God has put us together as Pharmanews family and everyone is committed to the vision of the company. We have maintained stability among the staff. The staff turnover is very low. As a matter of fact, 40 per cent of our staff have been with the company for more than 10 years. Each staff understands the culture and traditions of the company.
Despite your residence in Lagos, you seem to have maintained constant touch with events and developments in your hometown, Okija. Do you usually have nostalgia for home and as part of your retirement plans, are you looking forward to relocating there?
My people at home need more and more of my presence and services. As a matter of fact, I am now the oldest man (Okpala) in my clan and my people expect me to be physically present at various occasions like burials, traditional marriages and various important meetings. Since it is not easy to travel home frequently, I delegate my responsibilities to my second-in-command and other elders. We communicate frequently by phone. Going home to Okija in Anambra State by road takes about six hours; and if by air, one has to go through Anambra or Asaba airports.
I can manage the challenges of travelling home now but I look forward to a time I will settle at home and enjoy my old age. At that time, Pharmanews will fully run without me. However, the memory of Pharmanews will remain with me for life.
When are you planning to retire?
I have plans which I have presented to God. Proverbs 16:3 says, “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” My confidence is that He has always had very good plans for me. He planted my feet firmly in Lagos in 1964 and called me to establish Pharmanews in 1979. When it is His time for me to move, I will do so without hesitation. I always take His instructions.