Meet The Boss: Head of Society for Diageo in Africa talks about his journey so far

The Head of Society for Diageo in Africa, Gabriel Opoku-Asare (GO-A) has disclosed that Guinness Ghana, works with over 25,000 farmers in Ghana.

The Head of Society for Diageo in Africa, Gabriel Opoku-Asare

He said this when Business Insider Sub-Saharan Africa (BISSA) interviewed him for its ‘Meet The Boss’ series.

He added that by employing this number of Ghanaian farmers, they also support “the lives of about 175,000 people in Ghana.”

Mr Opoku-Asare also spoke about his personal life, his morning routine and his life principles.

Read the full interview below.

BISSA: Tell us your name and a little about yourself

GO-A: My name is Gabriel Opoku-Asare, Head of Society for Diageo in Africa.

I am Ghanaian, born in Kumasi. I went to Cambridge International School, then to Opoku Ware Secondary School (OWASS) and I went to KNUST. After KNUST, I left for the UK worked in various fields in the UK. I came back to Ghana and started working with an IT company in Ghana called K-net.

My role was Customer Relations and Project Management but we had a lot of government clients. With that, it helped build my expertise around government engagements and relations.

I left K-net and took a job to join the group called Mohinani group which is probably the biggest plastic manufacturing firm in Ghana. I was actually going to join as the head of customer relations for the group then the opportunity came up for me to lead the corporate relations team based on my experience in the past.

I left Mohinani and joined Unilever. It was a great place to learn a lot when it comes to the corporate world and how you go about sustainability, communications and employer engagements. At Unilever, I spent 2 years.

Then Guinness Ghana came knocking. The role was Corporate Relations Director for Ghana. I thought it was a great role so I said why not join Guinness Ghana. Three years in the role we delivered some great work and some have been seen as one of the best across Diageo globally and also in Africa that led me into my new role as Head of Society Diageo in Africa.

BISSA: Your promotion from Ghana to Diageo Africa was real quick. What is your secret?

GA-O: It really tells what a great company Diageo is and the opportunities that you can find as an employee. It tells that we are very much focused on the growth plan of every employee. So it is all about achievement and delivering in the role that you are in. Based on that if the next opportunity becomes available you can get into that role.

I think we are changing the narrative around being in a role for 40 years, 20 years before you move into the next role. We are making it about the delivery of the work that you are doing and how you can impact the next available role.

BISSA: Do you believe you gave your best as Corporate Relations Director at Guinness Ghana?

GA-O: I did some really good job in Ghana. One of the great things we did in Ghana was to help bring together a coalition we called Ghana Recycling Initiative by Private Enterprises (GRIPE) and we need to find solutions to dealing with plastic waste in Ghana.

It is our flagship programme that we are rolling out across Africa and I am leading that project across Africa as well.

BISSA: As part of your new role you are to ensure LRM, how do you do that?

GA-O: One of the biggest levelers of our sustainability and responsibility agenda is through partnerships because most of the problems we face across Africa are not complex but just a lot of problems that require skill and partnership. So we can’t do it ourselves we look towards partnerships with civil society and government.

BISSA: What is Diageo’s endgame for Africa?

GA-O: For us, it aligns with our mission and vision.

Our mission is to be the best-performing. So be a profitable business in Africa within every sector and also FMCGs and as the best business across Africa but the most respected and trusted business as well.

Respect and trust don’t just come, it is earned. So how we run our business ethically, how we comply with local standards ethically is absolutely important to us as a business. For us, we believe in shared value. This means the programs that we are running should benefit us or make us profitable and also should make the communities profitable.

Through the programs, we run we should be able to create jobs, improve livelihoods across Africa and also for the environment we are ensuring that we are not just taking from the environment but rather we are maintaining the sustainability of the eco-system and climate changes in the countries we operate in.

BISSA: Can you grade the company in terms of its ability to ensure sustainability?

GA-O: I think we are doing some good work. If you look at water, we have done quiet a lot. We have provided water to over 10 million people in Africa. In Ghana, for example, we have reached about seven hundred thousand people with water. We have built about 70 of what we call ‘water of life stations’ across Ghana. If you go to Kenya we are investing in afforestation projects, where we go out with our employees to plant trees around river bodies. We do the same across almost all our markets in Africa as well. We believe that water sustainability is critical in every market that we operate in.

If you look at raw material, we are sourcing locally. This involves a lot of work and with that, we are ensuring the sustainability of agriculture in markets that we operate. We are creating jobs in agriculture, we did a study a couple of years ago and we realized that we are working with 25,000 farmers in Ghana and supporting the lives of about 175,000 people in Ghana.

BISSA: How do you expect to impact the lives of these farmers you buy from?

GA-O: We are a partner to the community. We want to see their lives improved and not just buying from them. We are supporting the farmers with seedlings to ensure that their yields are improved.

If you take one farmer, his life should improve by working with Diageo so he can expand his farm knowing we will buy from him and the crop will not be wasted.

We also organize training for women in these communities. Financial inclusion is critical for these communities and we offer training. So we want to see a shift in terms of livelihoods, women empowerment, and gender equality as well and they all align to the SDGs.

BISSA: Aside from giving back to farmers, how do you help young people?

GA-O: I think I’m a testament to the fact that Diageo has great plans for its employees. Apart from roles in Ghana just like me you can get into roles in Africa, get into a global role. For example someone in my team managing sustainability, he is now working in the global sustainability team. So Diageo has great ambition for young people and if you are a young person I will say join us and you will never regret it.

BISSA: Tell us about your morning routine

GA-O: When I wake up in the morning I go to the gym. I usually do listen to the radio before getting to work. The first thing is I always have a to-do-list and I look through it before I start anything. I’m a sucker for planning so I plan everything from end to end. So before I wake up in the morning I actually have a view of what I’m going to do throughout the day.

BISSA: What will you tell young people who want to be like you?

GA-O: Don’t put yourself in a box.

I have this theme; FAB. FAB means Focus, Aware, Balance.

The ‘F’ in the FAB means if you put yourself to something give it 100 percent, give it 150 percent. If you are asked to do a certain job don’t look at it as “oh I just want to make money out of this.” Focus on performance and achieving in your role and growing beyond. So it is not your job description and KPI that you have set but look at things that you can do that makes you go beyond that and it also makes your life exciting.

Awareness is simply being aware of the role that you are in and how it is evolving over time. For example, you can stay in corporate relations and just focus on communication and media relations and all of that. But you should realise that in order to move in corporate relation you need to understand public policy, sustainability because you will go out there and speak on behalf of the company, you need to be very clear on what the communities. You need to be aware of what the external environment looks like, what government policy is in there.

You also should be able to tell 5 years from now is my role even going to exist in the corporate world. It may not exist. So, you also need to be aware of how your current role is evolving and how you move on into the next role. I have been in a role where I have picked up work that naturally nobody in the role will focus on because they think it’s extra work. But those types of jobs really gives you leverage with regards to senior leaders. They see you as valuable to the business.

The third piece that is the ‘B’ is balance. I believe that you need to have time for yourself. If you go onto my Instagram page, I am a different person. I love pictures, I love life, I love traveling. You should have a life outside the corporate work because that reduces the stress that you deal with every day and it gives you purpose as well. So you should have your life purpose with your family, your kids and something that you are passionate about. When you are focusing on work 120 percent and not having anything outside of work, it's detrimental. So you need balance, you need to be aware and you need to be focused.

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