MY LADDER TO THE TOP
Maggie Ireri, Managing Director Synovate Kenya was voted one of the Top 40 under 40 women in Kenya. SAMMI NDERITU spoke to her about her job.
To many people, the word Synovate (formally Steadman) instantly brings to mind opinion polls and more specifically, opinion polls on elections and politicians’ ratings. That is a label Maggie Ireri, the managing director of Synovate’s Kenya office always smiles about – a good thing because Synovate is known as the defacto Kenyan pollster. Maggie has been MD of Synovate for one year now having previously worked in the same company as the Pan Africa business development director.
As the MD, she is aware of the immense responsibility and expectations that comes with the job. “When you are in a less senior position, your decisions may only affect a few stakeholders. However, when you are in a higher position, you are faced with greater challenges. Therefore, your decisions should balance the expectations of all stakeholders,” she says.
Maggie has over 13 years’ experience in sales, marketing, field operations, and market research. She has set up new offices in Uganda, Nigeria, and Mozambique as well as revamped the Zambian office when Synovate was considering shutting it down because it was not making money. Her brief in Zambia was to ensure that the additional investments she had asked for to turnaround the Zambia business would be recouped; “In one and a half years, this was realised,” she reminisces.
For Maggie, climbing to the top has meant hard work, discipline, dedication, and sacrifice. She was appointed as the MD of Synovate Uganda when she was 29 years, a position that came with immense responsibility. “I had to grow up fast, run with the vision and meet the goals the company wanted. This meant spending many hours in the office working and as a result cutting back my social life,” Maggie says.
Later on, when she had to oversee operations in other Synovate countries in Africa, it became a challenge to manage work and her MBA studies due to the frequent travels and work demands that affected her studies. As a result, she took a year longer to complete her MBA.
Maggie was recently among the Top 40 under 40 women in Kenya. The ranking profiled young, successful and rising females who are tipped to dominate the corporate and professional scenes in the next couple of decades. “I believe I made it to the list due to the experience that I have in market research. Furthermore, since I did not nominate myself but the people around me, I believe they identified that I have had a positive impact on them, and hence the nomination.”
Maggie is an ardent believer in coaching and mentoring those that she works with, a majority of whom are young, commonly referred to as Generation Y. Coaching them involves giving clear delegation or task briefing and outlining the expected results, while at the same time conducting progress reviews.
She also believes in giving performance feedback as well as motivating employees’ performance. “Studies have shown that Generation Y employees have a strong desire for taking on additional responsibility and often yearn for a larger role in decision making. Hence, this means that Generation Y workers are far more willing to challenge their managers and are undeterred by traditional hierarchy. Therefore, the best thing is to provide them with an environment opportunity where they can express themselves,” she advises.
On the importance of research, Maggie says it (research) is a critical activity not only in business, but also in many other areas adding that Kenya has awakened to the need and use of survey-based research such as opinion polls. “Africa is being transformed by opinion polls into an information based society, with leaders in the government moving their attention to what the public wants and using research based data for decision making.”
From her experience in market research, Maggie notes that many large companies including government are heavy users of survey research for decision making such as new product launches, advertising testing, customer service evaluation, feasibility studies, among others. For small and medium enterprises though, there is limited usage of research due to the misconception that it is expensive. “I like to liken research to the medical profession. The cost of drugs depends on the disease. Similarly, the cost of research depends on the research problem and the ideal methodology to address the problem,” she says.
Knowledge of your products
Sun Tzu, the Chinese military general, while referring to warfare, said; “If you know your enemy and know yourself, you will not be imperilled in a hundred battles.” Similarly, in business, Maggie advises that knowledge of your products or services and those of your competitors is vital as having the relevant knowledge will enable you to surmount obstacles and stay ahead of your game.
Maggie says for a company to benefit from any research, it is important to have a clearly defined description of why it needs the research and what it intends to do with the results as “this will allow the researcher to understand the key issues and the wider context of the project. In addition, the company commissioning a (the) research needs to define its target audience as this will guide the researcher in identifying the potential respondents.”
There are many sceptics who question research – a fact Maggie is much aware of. She says the secret of dealing with them is by predicting an actual event through a survey, which is the real test of research. “There is a lot that is said about opinion polls, but it is important not to forget the positive. Opinion polls have had a lot of positive impact in Kenya!”
“When you do polls in Uganda, people are less expressive whereas in Kenya, they want to say something. In politics, opinion polls have given an opportunity to Kenyans to voice out their opinions because they know they will be published and will push leaders to take action. These polls are a voice to the ordinary people.”
Maggie notes that opinion polls have reached a point where they have converted people to begin doing polls themselves including media houses, politicians, and others. She says that through these polls, people can most likely tell what is going to happen in future and hence, politicians can start thinking of what political strategy to implement. She calls the recent attempt by some Members of Parliament to ban opinion polls in Kenya as “very archaic and retrogressive.”
Opinion polls are done through tested scientific sampling methods and Synovate uses the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics’ data to draw a nationally representative sample of Kenyans. In sampling, households and respondents are selected randomly through use of a thorough quality control measure to ensure data validity.
Time is a precious resource and Maggie manages her time by keeping a to-do list. She sets goals of what is important and what she wants to accomplish. “If something is not important or does not add value, I remove it from the list, and focus on what is important. This has enabled me to work smart,” she concludes.
Photos by: SAMMI NDERITU