Sir Ifeanyi Atueyi is the founder and managing director of Pharmanews Limited, whose flagship publication, the Pharmanews journal, marks 41 years of uninterrupted publication this May. In this recent interview at his office in Maryland, Lagos, the iconic pharmacist and publisher reveals the factors that have helped Pharmananews maintain its leadership position and unbeaten records since inception, as well as what its readers and advertisers should expect in the coming years. Excerpts:
Congratulations on the 41st anniversary of Pharmanews. It seems like yesterday when you marked the 40th anniversary of the journal and your 80th birthday with a special ceremony on 1 October, 2019. Why did you consider those particular milestones worth celebrating?
Thank you for bringing up the happy memories of 1 October, last year. If God has given you a healthy life at 80 years, especially in Nigeria, where the average life expectancy is about 55 years, it is something significant. The celebration was an occasion for thanksgiving and celebration with friends, relations and business associates. That was the second time I celebrated my birthday; the first was on 1 October, 2009, when I clocked 70 years.
On the 40th anniversary of Pharmanews, we had cause to beat drums in thanksgiving to God. I wonder if there is any other periodical in this country that has published regularly without interruption for 40 years. You can check from the National Library of Nigeria. It was therefore a glorious celebration of investment of 50 per cent of my years of life on a record-breaking periodical.
Two significant highlights of the last anniversary celebration were the launch of your autobiography, My Life and Pharmanews, and the presentation of awards to 50 companies. What was the significance of these gestures?
I looked forward to that autobiography because there are certain things about my life and business which I needed to make public before I depart from this world. If you read people’s biography with an open mind, there must be certain lessons to learn.
I am glad that I shared in that autobiography some information about my life that had remained in my heart from childhood. Also, I revealed how God called and anointed me as a pharmaceutical journalist. I shared my own personal business model that caused Pharmanews to be a leader today.
Recognising and presenting awards to 50 pharmaceutical companies at the occasion was something that had never happened in this country. Most of them had been partners to Pharmanews for decades.
The beauty of that event was that all the chief executives of the companies were physically present. Few of them who were represented were outside the country at that time. It was such that one chief executive that was hardly seen at public functions was there personally. Their presence showed the tremendous goodwill for Pharmanews.
How did you feel about the turnout at the event and the goodwill messages you received from well-wishers?
The turnout at the event was fantastic. At the planning stage, we booked an event centre to accommodate 600 guests seated. I considered my connections from different sectors – pharmaceutical (different groups), Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International, church, Okija, neighbours, friends, old boys, university alumni etc. and found it difficult to invite a lot of people. In fact, we printed only 200 invitation cards and used WhatsApp messages for the rest.
Coincidentally, October I was a public holiday and therefore most people were free from work.
Since it was not courteous to say no to people who heard of the occasion and wanted to attend, we only prayed to God to take control of the situation in the management of the space, food, drinks and souvenirs. I could not imagine how God would save us from that predicament but He did it in His own way.
On that day, the thanksgiving service started at 7.00 am in Maryland and the main event at 12.00noon in Ikeja. Unexpectedly, heavy rains started at 8.00am and did not subside till about 3.00pm. The rains therefore provided a natural selection and screening for attendance.
Despite the heavy and prolonged downpour, the hall was still overfilled with guests. The organisation was excellent and many guests confessed that it was one beautiful occasion that brought together the cream of the executives in the pharmaceutical industry and the masters of ceremonies managed the event very professionally.
Forty-one years is not an easy feat in the life of any publication, much less a specialised one like Pharmanews, especially in a country like Nigeria. To what would you attribute the success of the journal so far?
As you know very well, morbidity and mortality rate of periodicals in Nigeria is very high. However, many factors have contributed to the success of Pharmanews. Such factors include commitment of the staff, integrity, hard work, desire to provide excellent service, effective management of resources which include, money, time, materials and also effective leadership and teamwork.
But the number one factor is God – factor.
On 27th December, 1978, God gave me the vision for Pharmanews and I carefully wrote it down. The original manuscript of the vision is still with me and I made a photograph of it and reproduced it on page 178 of my autobiography. If you go through that vision now you will see that we have maintained it. If God gives you a vision, write it down and follow it. Don’t turn away from it because of people’s ideas. Even those who wish you to succeed may unknowingly take you away from God’s plan for your life and business. I don’t mean that you should reject counsels from peers but remember that the Holy Spirit is the Counsellor while others are mere counsellors.
Pharmanews has continued to be the leading pharmaceutical journal in the country since inception, despite the fact that many other similar publications have been established. How has Pharmanews been able to maintain this front line role?
With all modesty, I must I must tell you that Pharmanews assumed leadership of healthcare periodicals in Nigeria from its maiden edition in May 1979. That edition hit the pharmaceutical industry like a thunderbolt. It hit the schools of Pharmacy that were in existence at that time.
At that time, no one had seen a pharmaceutical newspaper in A3 size anywhere in the world.
At the FIP Congress held in Brighton, UK, in September 1979, I carried and distributed more than 400 copies which went round nearly 50 per cent of the participants. Every person wanted a copy because nobody had seen a pharmaceutical periodical like that. From that Congress, Pharmanews became the voice of Nigerian pharmacy all over the world.
At the PSN conference held in November, 1979, in Kaduna, there was a massive distribution of Pharmanews. That conference was like an unplanned launching of the journal. Its debut elicited the admiration of many colleagues while, of course, some colleagues demonstrated envy and bitterness.
After Pharmanews was launched in May, 1979, the World Health Organisation came up with the World Health in 1980. Several look-alikes came up in Nigeria but none has so far survived. There are many reasons why they all failed to survive but that’s not my question here. But one thing I know is that Pharmanews was destined for leadership from its birth and I give glory to God.
Now that 41 years are gone, what should readers and advertisers expect from Pharmanews in the next few years?
By Nigerian standards, a business of 41 years has reached its maturity age. It has garnered experiences from ups and downs of the economy, goodwill and patronage of its clients and, therefore, is adequately fortified for greater services. Pharmanews is still growing and has not yet reached its peak performance. With the advances in information technology there is no limit to expansion of our scope. It is destined to be one of the world’s leading healthcare periodicals. Of course, in Nigeria, all healthcare professionals are familiar with Pharmanews.
As a consummate business manager, who has weathered a number of challenges in the past, what do you think business owners should be doing to survive these difficult times?
If businesses should do one thing to survive these difficult times, I believe that one thing should be effective management of resources. Management of resources is the primary divine responsibility of man. In the beginning, God created man for the purpose of managing His resources. He also created us with talents and abilities to perform the assigned tasks. You succeed when you are a good manager and fail when you are a bad manger.
Before you can effectively manage any business, you must first manage and develop yourself. If you cannot manage your body, time, money, emotions, your economic and spiritual life, how can you successfully manage a business entrusted to your care?
In order to survive these difficult times, business owners must pay attention to their resources. The human resource comes first because there is nothing you can achieve without manpower.
Financial resources, machines and equipment, materials are all important. Identify your actual business needs and source them.
If you bear in mind that all these are God’s resources and you are only a caretaker to make effective use of them to please your Creator and the Owner of the resources, you will survive, by God’s grace.