Up&Ap: Gopher Ogembo, the Nokia loyalist leading the re-introduction of the brand in East Africa

He was there when ‘Nokia was still Nokia,’ that is when the premier mobile device brand was still owned by the Finnish parent technology firm. He stayed on to steer the brand when it was acquired by Microsoft. And he has now been handpicked by HMD Global to lead the team working towards the successful re-introduction of the Nokia handset brand in East Africa. Who could have been a better fit than him, considering his over 10 years of association with the Nokia brand? Anyway, here’s the story of Gopher Ogembo, the Senior Business Manager for East Africa at HMD Global…        

QUESTION: Who is Gopher Ogembo? How would you describe yourself to someone you’re meeting for the first time?

GOPHER OGEMBO: I consider myself a very calm and reserved individual but who is passionate about all things technology and how it impacts human lives. As a performance-driven professional I love working with people to bring out the best in the team. I am also a family man who strongly believes in the concept of work life balance.

(TOP: Gopher Ogembo displays the Nokia 6 and Nokia 3310 during the launch in Kenya recently).

Q: Please share with us your career highlights up until this point in your professional life.

GO: My work journey has been an exciting one thus far having evolved around the fast moving consumer goods and technology sectors over the last 15 years or so. I have been lucky to hold various management roles across the sales, marketing and retail functions. I spent the first 4 years of my career at Cadbury Plc as the Key Account Manager before moving to IPS Group, a capital venture group where I was the Sales and Marketing Manager for one of their flagship companies, Premier Food Industries Limited, makers of the ‘Peptang’ brand of products. Another 8 years was spent at Nokia where I held various sales roles within East and Southern Africa region before moving on to Microsoft in a similar role for two years before settling into my current position at HMD global – Kenya.

Q: What does your current role at HMD Global entail and what are some of the responsibilities that come with the position?

GO: As the Senior Business Manager, my day-to-day revolves around managing partners within East Africa. I am also accountable for all channel executions and shopper experience. Being in charge of our field teams, I also manage performance and ensure all are motivated to deliver on our strategies and business expectations. In summary, it is my duty to ensure that the ‘sell in’ of our offering to our partners, ‘sell through’ into the trade channel and ‘sell out’ to the end consumer is achieved in the most effective and efficient manner and as per strategy.

Q: You’ve been involved with and part of the Nokia brand from 2007. What can you highlight as some of the key features and unique attributes of the brand?

GO: One of the key features of Nokia brand is that it is intrinsically human and this is well reflected across all Nokia brand aspects. There is a strong belief in creating a human technology – one with meaning and purpose. Nokia is also known and loved for its commitment to quality, simplicity in distinctive design as well as reliability and ease of use. Our design philosophy, is driven by great user experience in mind. This is one aspect our consumers know and appreciate very much.

Q: The Nokia brand was for some time acquired by Microsoft and you are part of the team which moved to Microsoft during this transition. In your own opinion, did this transition build or destabilize the Nokia brand and why? 

GO: I cannot speak for Nokia, however in this regard as HMD Global – the exclusive licensee of Nokia brands for phones and tables, we are committed to providing our consumers with beautifully crafted, premium quality handsets that are pure, secure and up to date. This commitment you will notice in our new Smartphone range of devices that share many unique features synonymous with the Nokia legacy of quality such as the Unibody Aluminium build and the Pure Android (clutter free) software platform.

Q: You’re re-introducing the Nokia brand and Nokia devices to a market that’s slowly shifting towards other newer and less-costly brands like Tecno, Fero, Oppo and Infinix. How do you intend to make Nokia competitive again in the local and regional mobile device market?   

GO: HMD Global’s ambition is to set a new standard in design, material quality and manufacturing innovation across every tier in the market. We aim to continue building on all the hallmarks of a true Nokia experience and are dedicated to delivering exceptional hardware and unbeatable OS experience with each of our devices.

One such example is the Pure Android approach across our entire portfolio of smartphones meaning that the phones will not have pre-installs or skins. This gives the consumer a very unique and differentiated choice to pick the applications that they want on their smartphones for that personalized experience. This translates into a phone free of bloatware with no hidden processes draining the battery while ensuring a more efficient processor. With further commitment to timely security updates, consumers can be assured of safe, up to date and clutter free devices.

(L– R: Justin Maier, HMD Global VP for Sub-Sahara Africa; Michelle Wynne, Head of Marketing, Sub-Sahara Africa and Gopher Ogembo, Senior Business Manager East Africa at the launch of the new range of Nokia devices in Nairobi on July 27, 2017. The devices are Nokia 6, Nokia 5, Nokia 3 and the redesigned Nokia 3310).

Q: For young consumers who never had a chance to interact with Nokia devices previously, how would you convince them to choose Nokia over other brands now that they’re seeing it for the first time?

GO: Our market approach will deliberately target the Afrilennials and who research shows are looking for a product that;

  1. Genuinely improves their life,
  2. Is durable and reliable,
  3. Is easy to use and with a long battery life that keeps them connected.

This is in line with our design philosophy that targets consumers who want a product with extraordinary attention to detail, features, user experience and an un-compromised commitment to quality. For us, succeeding with these consumers is more than just delivering a killer product, it is also about giving them a distinct and purposeful brand that appeals and enhances their quality of life.

Q: According to a report by Strategy Analytics, Samsung was the global leader in the feature phone market with 13 percent marketshare last year, followed by Nokia in second place with 9 percent share. Is the feature-phone segment your overall market focus globally or you’re targeting all the segments?

GO: As HMD Global, we believe feature phones meet a crucial need in the market and for this reason, there is still a large appetite for them globally. Even so, our aim is to deliver an excellent smartphone experience to the entry and middle level users in this segment who can now graduate through the Nokia 3, Nokia 5 and Nokia 6 that are already available across East Africa.  Importantly, we bring to the market unmatched quality via durable and reliable phones for all consumers irrespective of budget or geography.

Q: Apart from the new version of the Nokia 3310, can the market expect HMD Global to release other models at below Kshs 10,000 in future?

GO: I may not be able to comment on this outright at this point. However, HMD Global is indeed a forward-looking and innovation-driven organization keen to always deliver mobile devices that will enhance everyday user experiences. In this regard, we recently launched refreshed designs of our popular Nokia feature phones i.e. Nokia 105 and Nokia 130 which enable people across the world to stay connected while enjoying a variety of fantastic features such as outstanding battery life and improved usability.

Q: You’ve been involved in the mobile device industry for almost 10 years now. What are some of the key lessons you’ve learnt along the away when it comes to attracting and enhancing customer loyalty to a brand?

GO: I would have to say consistency to the core brand proposition, what I refer to as living the promise. This core promise should be visible in all aspects of consumer interaction with a company’s products or services – be it quality, customer care, recruitment, processes etc.  Over the years, Nokia has managed to keep alive its promise to manufacture reliable, easy to use, simple and quality phones. These are some of the key attributes that identify our brand to customers and which has built the strong love and trust associated with Nokia Mobile devices. It is also important to continuously keep an eye on emerging consumer needs and use this insight to suitably align the business, create value and great consumer experience.

Q: Your professional life spans almost two decades having started out at Cadbury’s in 2000. During this time, you’ve worked with different kinds of colleagues and reported to all kinds of seniors or superiors while also leading teams. Who has been your inspiration and / or mentor in your career life and why?

GO: Throughout my FMCG and Telco career I have been privileged to work with some of the brightest and amazing people who have positively influenced me in very many ways. I have drawn inspiration from the different types of leadership styles that I have encountered especially when it comes to team and issues management. However, someone who comes to mind is my former boss at Cadbury, Roger Kinyanjui, who taught me the art of knowing when to stir things up and when to let it simmer and most importantly, how to hire the right people for the job. These are lessons that have had a profound bearing on my professional life.

Q: Any parting shot or final comment(s)?

GO: I am quite excited to be part of a great team of passionate and experienced trailblazers at HMD Global who are applying entrepreneurial, technical and leadership skills to grow the new business and bring the next generation of Nokia phones to consumers while enhancing technology to improve the lives of billions of people around the world.


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