How Mavin Is Using Women to Defy Industry Norms

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A week after International Women’s Day, about a hundred women flocked into a venue space, looking pretty in their evening gowns. From the videos I was fed, I could barely see any male figure, all women, with two to three ladies seated at each table neatly arranged and spaced around the venue. A small stage was positioned in the front, where three exquisitely dressed women were addressing the rest of the ladies in the mildly-lit room. I wasn’t there, the soirée as it was called was solely for individuals of the female gender. It was an IWD Soirée hosted by Mavin Records.

For a decade in the music industry, Mavin has emerged as a force to reckon with. Year after year, hits emanate from its fruitful roster of artists, unknown talents are onboarded, and months after command the attention of music listeners. Plus, laudable feats pumping out from the company have equally earned it respect from other entertainment giants. You would be right if you say Mavin is a top-notch brand, pushing the envelope as a forward-thinking company.

The company may pride itself as “Africa’s leading entertainment company” rightly so since it plays host to lovable talents who’ve knitted relationships with millions of listeners across the world. But another area where it has left companies in its wake is its inclusion of women. One feat rarely seen in the corporate space, rarely done in a fast-changing industry, is made available by the company — all the three directors in the company are women. With Don Jazzy and Tega Oghenejobo in respective C-suite level positions as President and COO, the next parallel seats of power are the directorial positions. The directors of Operations, A&R and Finance all spearhead the corresponding departments that make up the company. In addition to that, 45% of Mavin Staff are women.

“From my first day here at Mavin, I was made aware of the kind of work environment we were aiming for,” Jennifer Imion, the label’s Director of Operations tells me. Imion left her position at California-based financial services company, Mines to join Mavin in 2019. In her role as Director of Operations, she leads the company’s daily operations and hiring process, also governing its suite of auxiliary service arms including content creation, talent management, and partnerships.

For anyone wondering about the power behind the company’s growth, it is due to the operational structure set up by the operations team guided by Imion. This structure allows its workforce, a fertile environment that spurs creativity. “I realized for us to be a winning brand, we need successful systems and structures to enable people to succeed and grow.” As companies battle with talent retention and efficiency, Imion reveals the secret to the productive workforce Mavin boasts of saying, “We’ve been able to create a good system that is efficient, adaptable, flexible and dynamic. You learn that people are managed differently and you have to build systems that cater to the variety of needs and wants.”

Jennifer Imion, the label’s Director of Operations

Since the transition of Mavin Records into Mavin Global as a result of the partnership with venture capitalist firm Kupanda Holdings in 2019, Mavin’s growth has soared. New artists are unveiled and immediately they’ve shone in an already stocked industry. The label’s roster is like an assembly of superheroes. Each artist is different — different in style, different in sound, changing the soundscape, with each new release as an affirmation of their unique talents. Much is tied down to the artist and repertoire department led by Rima Tahini. Dubbed “the factory”, Tahini affirms that the label’s approach to developing artists has been key to its successes so far. “Definitely signing the right talents has been a blessing. The kind of artists we’ve come across and are able to sign to the label in the last three years has certainly made a difference,” Tahini says.

In previous years, the Mavin roster consisted of Di’Ja and Tiwa Savage — who released two albums and spent seven years at the record label. Her exit raised obvious questions as to who will spearhead the label’s coming years as the flagship artist. However, this inspired a shift from relying on one artist to keep the company afloat. “We focus on launching career artists, artists that have longevity, artists that are here to say and can cut across countries and cultures and continents,” Tahini says. Assuming the position in 2019, she’s seen to the nurturing of raw talents in the label’s famed “academy”, ensuring they’re nourished with knowledge of all aspects of the industry before they’re launched.

Rima Tahini, dubbed “the factory”

Moving into the role of A&R was very challenging for Tahini. Coming from a completely different role as a researcher into an industry that’s “chaotic and people facing” was a new reality. “Demands of so many artists, of so many brands. You’re talking to so many different characters and their personalities. You’re managing them, managing their expectations, managing their emotions.” Tahini however says connecting to artists on a personal level has helped her navigate her challenges. “If you have those interpersonal skills and you’re someone who wants to help people derive satisfaction from that, that’s the biggest quality of an A&R. Other than understanding the music really.”

One core area Mavin sure knows how to string well is the marketing of its talents. The sound signature “Mavin Activated” which announces the launch of a new act into the industry’s orbit is true in its real sense: the new act ignites conversations on media platforms, gets heavy rotation on radio, and appears on billboards in major cities. Too, the rollout for every product creates this mind-blowing effect on listeners. That, and other “overwhelming” list of activities falls under the purview of Emmanuella Nnadozie, who occupies the position of head of marketing at the label. She joined the company in 2019 during its transition leaving her post as Deputy Head at marketing agency, Noah’s Ark. Nnadozie alludes to a process that’s built around the context and nuances of each unique act as opposed to a one size fits all approach.“No two briefs are the same, no two marketing objectives are the same, no two artists are the same,” she says. “You get to understand your, your product, your artists, each passing day, right. Every day, there’s a new face, there’s a new angle to them, that you get to unlock every day, and it just makes the job interesting.”

Emmanuella Nnadozie occupies the position of head of marketing at the label

The engine room that powers the three departments and the engineers, the smooth running of the company lies in the hands of resilient Ifeoma Okonkwo. Okonkwo spearheads the finance department of the company, responsible for every financial process that occurs daily. Like the other three directors, Ifeoma was poached from the PR and advertising industry. “Everyone knows Mavin, it piqued my curiosity. I’m like why does Mavin need a professional like me,” Ifeoma says of going through the interview process.“ A chartered accountant for that matter, all of those years of experience under my belt. I totally thought they’ll not need my accountant level,” she recounts.

With three years now in the system, Ifeoma’s most proud achievement would be the label’s self-created royalty accounting which was once outsourced to an external party in the UK. “It was so tedious because they were so far away from the reality of the whole thing, how we generate this revenue, how we recognize them, the lag we get with collecting our revenue. It was a whole tedious process. What we did especially with my team is we actually found a better way to have it processed in-house.” Now, the label has designed its software where royalty proceeds can be processed internally.

Ifeoma Okonkwo spearheads the company’s finance department

To some, the decision to have women in all the directorial positions in the company probably looks like a well-worked decision by the company. Maybe to distinguish the company, maybe to gather some impressions. Imion however describes it as an “unintentional process” by the company to hire mostly women. “I believe the success we are witnessing is no fluke and is a direct result of a work environment where merit has no gender,” she says. Tahini also echoes that sentiment of merit. She believes every lady holding down a position in the company, emerged as the best one from the selection process. Agreeing there’s a bias that generally exists when it comes to women in the hiring process as “people often question if women are capable, will she be able to do it?” Those biases don’t exist in Mavin as it’s a level-playing field for all. No favoritism exists.

In Tahini’s words, “It’s not like we’ve purposefully gone ahead to hire women. I was there from the very first day we hired the first person that wasn’t me, Tega or Jazzy. We interviewed men. We didn’t go out of our way to hire women. But we also made sure we entered with an open mind and gave all the candidates a fair chance based on their qualifications and not have a preconceived notion or bias going into it. Me being in the room with Jordan, a colleague from Kupanda when we were making those initial big hires really influenced the hiring culture because decisions weren’t just made by guys and from a male perspective. And we just ended up hiring more women based on qualification.”

It’s also been a cultural shift from a decade ago when women were stuffed out from the upper echelon of music companies in Nigeria. Conference room meetings merely had women. Ten years later, it’s a different outlook in a thriving space like Mavin. All the same, it hasn’t been a smooth journey for the four women. Working in Mavin looks like slotting into a ready-made system and just flowing with it, but Jennifer describes it as a lot of work. Being responsible for signing on creative people and literally being their manager and friend at the same time hasn’t been easy. The transition from the Old Mavin to the New Mavin with the impact of the partnership was quite daunting as well. “There was no blueprint for some of the things we had to do,” Tahini tells me. “You might get lost in the noise, in how much work really goes on behind the scenes. There were challenges in the early stage but being surrounded by strong intelligent women meant we were able to get the job done”.

Establishing the foundation was the core challenge Okonkwo also battled with. It wasn’t smooth, she says referring to the regulations, contracts, and reports she had to interpret. But like Imion, she had help. “I had support and resources, human resources, especially from the board and management. Tega and Jazzy also, who are very experienced with the music business.”

Otolorin Olabode is a Lagos-based music writer with a flair for writing in-depth explainers, penning reviews, and profiling artists. His work has appeared in Pitchfork, Huffington Post, OkayAfrica, and elsewhere.

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