As consumer habits are drastically shifting, the urge for creativity span across all facets of life. In the pre-Internet entertainment business era, access to the public was everything that an average entertainer wanted. There were only a handful of gatekeepers who decided which media content people would have access to and which they may not. Today, not only is it possible to get your media content in front of millions of people, but the public is actually determining which creative works succeed. These development and conditions in the entertainment business has left most entertainers and entertainment companies struggling.
However, there are still endless opportunities in the entertainment business. Today’s technology creates distinct opportunities in the entertainment industry that only the insightful businessman can identify and exploit. This is the idea behind Entertainment Management Company (EMC), a brain child of Sam Onyemelukwe.
Sam is the Managing Director of Entertainment Management Company (EMC), exclusive representatives of Trace Urban, Trace Sports and FAB Media in Nigeria. The accomplished businessman with a creative background has a BA in Fine Arts from The University of Southern California and began his career at Walt Disney Television in Los Angeles, California. The spirited entrepreneur who holds a dual Masters degree (MBA and MS Information Systems) from Boston University, spent over a decade between the worlds of fashion and music, producing and directing TV shows and events, grooming talents, as well as crafting advertising campaigns. And until recently, he was the Business Development Manager for MTV Networks in Nigeria. Sam’s rise to prominence in Nigeria began with the stint he shared with members of KUSH, a popular R&B group that rocked Africa in the early 2000, as the head of the group’s record label, DKG. He often describes the group as the first Nigerian music group to really garner international acclaim.
Today, Sam continues to provide winning platforms for the Nigerian creative industry to reach the international community through EMC. His business mission is simple – to harness and exploit the entertainment industry across Africa. “The entertainment industry in Africa is growing” he says. “However, there are numerous opportunities that are yet to be harnessed and fully maximised in the industry. Africa is ready for this ideology but there is a vacuum that needs to be filled. The industry needs companies that have the capacity to extensively maximise the merchandise value of our creative works and that is what EMC is about”. With his expansive global experience, Sam is bringing international expertise and standards into the local entertainment industry, by providing the much needed international exposure for Africa’s creative minds to thrive. Sam grew up in Ikoyi, Lagos in the 70’s and had a very happy childhood. His father had worked first at ECN (currently known as PHCN) and then began his entrepreneurial adventures which had a major impact on Sam as a child and through his teenage years.
His father ran an engineering firm. Sam had no idea what that meant at the time, but recalls he would work for a long time and then suddenly announce to the family at the dinner table that he had a new big deal. It was the human element stories that accompanied each project that fascinated Sam. Often, his father told tales of how he would create circumstances to give himself the upper hand in a negotiation, or impress the other party.
By the time he was in his early teens, his father’s business was taking him around the world more than half of the time. His mother, an American, who had been in Nigeria before Biafra, Nigeria’s civil war, decided to go back to the U.S. to get a Masters degree at Yale University and he was forced to leave Nigeria. ‘’That may sound funny to some but I wanted to stay, probably because I saw things through rosy glasses based on the upbringing my parents were able to provide.” Growing up, Sam always wanted to be a visual artist. He drew all the time and actually obtained his first degree in Fine Arts. “In secondary school, I didn’t know it but my entrepreneurial ways started when I began selling stuff to my friends, I still wanted to be an artist. But during my art degree, I noticed that some of my friends were extremely talented (some even make their living as artists today). So, I got more interested in computer graphics and business in general. He started his first business, a clothing line with some college friends barely a year after he graduated and had almost $1Million dollars in revenue by the second year.
Following his interest in computer graphics, Sam started his first job at Walt Disney Television in the Post Production department in Burbank, California. He had also started a clothing line called ‘Epoch Clothing’ and sold to over 200 shops across the United States and the U.K. including Nordstroms and Urban Outfitters. Starting a complex business such as clothing manufacturing with little or no knowledge forced the business into liquidation. Although their clothes were popular, the stores could not meet the demands of supply with enough profit. Sam also worked at Sony Music in Los Angeles, before joining an independent label which is where he got to sign and promote KUSH. After that, he obtained a Masters Degree, then returned to Nigeria to work at MTV as a Business Development Manager. Sam’s ‘Golden Rules’ in business is to love what you do and always keep your promise. ”Fulfil what you promise. It is the surest way to long-term business that you don’t have to chase every time. Be friendly but firm, people will take advantage if you let them, but no need to be disrespectful or rude to stand your ground. Friendly, because I must have fun when I’m working,” he reveals with laughter. Sam prefers the classic and simple dress mode. Quality is more important than being flashy. So, he prefers a nice pair of jeans, a Hugo Boss shirt. And, “maybe step it up to an Armani suit if there’s enough money at stake,” he adds with bouts of laughter. Happily married to his wife and blessed with two young children, Sam tells us family is very important to him.
Talking about mentoring, Sam believes a mentor or role model is someone that helps and guides mostly in terms of norms and also helps to provide balance in business. He said his former boss, Mr. Randy Bogue was one of the most pragmatic and focused businessmen he ever knew personally. “There are many shining examples that you read about, but Randy showed me how to focus and prioritize every day. His analysis of situations was always insightful as he observed a process.” Sam still talks to him every month or two to get his advice. He believes everyone has to find a mentor who fits his style and much of the mentor’s role is giving you the confidence to trust your own judgment while actively listening and analyzing options.
Aside from classic business books, Chimamanda Adichie’s book titled ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ has influenced Sam’s life the most. His mum and dad were in the same condition with the characters in the book during the Biafra war which really had an impact on his life. On the Nigerian Entertainment scene and on what can be done differently, Sam affirms excitedly that opportunities within the Nigerian entertainment scene are palpable. “The challenges are numerous, but like anything where there is prosperity and achievements to be made, we will find a route to success.” From his perspective, the key problems include a blasé attitude to low-quality output through the creative process. This is exacerbated by pressure from the “users” to pay very low amounts but it is not an excuse.
According to Sam, “The Beatles first albums were recorded on two track tape machines. Of course, that was the technology at the time, but they made classic enduring songs. There are many extremely talented Nigerian creative minds but we sometimes allow mediocrity to pass for creativity. The fact that we attend shows that start two or three hours late; which have long boring gaps in-between the entertainment on stage and equipment failures etc. is a lack of planning and testing, not a Nigerian factor. Producing quality shows is a highly complex undertaking and you have those who just want to be “in entertainment” trying it and failing and keeping the quality low”. Sam believes the users are complicit in this. According to him, when Brands insist on paying the lowest amount to the lowest bidder to sponsor events, in addition to marketing and branding activities, minimal quality should be expected.
“Entertainment is serious business that costs and makes serious money; these are brands and companies that are global names with revenues in the billions of dollars, including NBC, Time Warner and more.” This simple fact makes him confident that the “wannabees” will ultimately leave the Nigerian entertainment industry and the serious players will emerge. “I’m working and preparing to be at the forefront of that trend,” he says with a smile.
Entertainment Management Company (EMC) is a privately owned and operated media and entertainment organization with bold ambition. “My mission is to build one of Africa’s premiere branded media companies with interests in advertising sales, events, content development and distribution, brand marketing consultancy, Television, online, mobile and associated businesses in the same vein as Time Warner”. Sam states with authority.
As Trace Vice President, Sam says the channel has done very well and has been embraced by artists and the entertainment community in general. “Some say we don’t play enough Nigerian music but it is due to the fact that every Nigerian artist wants to be on trace TV and we want to feature them but don’t have enough space for everybody. Also quality control issues stops us from airing a lot of videos”.
Sam’s motto in life is “Do what you promise to do and do it very well and also learn from your mistakes” which reflects in his personal life. And as the stakes rise like a storm in the Nigerian entertainment industry, Sam Onyemelukwe is definitely one to watch closely. Why? This guy is set to rattle the status quo.