In the close to a century existence of Odeon chain of
cinemas in the United Kingdom, Nigerian born Kene
Mkparu, made history over a decade ago, by becoming
the first black to rise to the position of a General
Manager with the revered entertainment company.
In this exclusive encounter with AZUH AMATUS, who was
recently in the UK, and also on tour of the cinema,
Mkparu, bared his mind on a wide range of issues,
especially those germane to Odeon and Nollywood.
You are the first Nigerian and black to rise to the
position of a general manager at the Odeon Cinemas in
the UK, how and when did you join them?
As a matter of fact, I moved to the UK in 1990, after
my youth service and joined Odeon in October 91, while
doing a postgraduate course in Bio Pharmaceutical
Sciences at the University of London, Kings College. I
got a part time job with the Odeon Cinemas while
schooling, at Odeon Swiss Cottage and a few months
into the job, I asked my white boss, a general manger
too, what it would take for me to be employed as a
full staff at Odeon. Also, at that time, the cinema
was been transformed from a three screen to six
screens. Meanwhile, I joined as a customer service
assistant and a team member. I was later made a team
leader when the cinema was upgraded in same 91. I was
later promoted to the post of a Trainee Assistant
Manager and was immediately transferred to another
Odeon cinema at Kensington in 1992. I later became a
full Assistant Manager, but I never liked my stay at
Kensington and wanted to go back to Swiss Cottage. It
was a bit rigid and the General Manager was old and
also old school in thinking and administration.
Luckily for me another opportunity came and I was
transferred back to Swiss Cottage. I later became
tough because a lot of my colleagues who joined Odeon
before me could not believe the fact that a black man
had gone two steps ahead of them in less than two
years, but most of them failed to realize that I
joined Odeon as a graduate and my vision is to
progress in life. I was back at Swiss Cottage from
1992 to 1994 acquiring managerial knowledge about
Odeon and how it operates successfully. So, that same
1994, I asked my boss again that what would it take to
become a general manager at Odeon. I later took a
test and interviews with the executives of the company
and was promoted to the post of a Trainee General
Manager in 1994. Once you attain this height, you
automatically become a property of the company; I was
moved to Leicester Square, which is the flagship of
the Odeon Cinemas because it is in the heart of the
West End. It is also where they organize most
Hollywood premieres with several Hollywood stars in
attendance at Leicester Square, my boss made me work
like a jackal. I also organized several premieres at
Leicester. Months later, I was moved to the Odeon at
Marble Arch where I spent five months, before being
moved again to the Odeon in Manchester, where I leant
a lot from the General Manager there. I was later
moved to the Odeon at Chatham, while there a vacancy
for General Manger was advertised for Blackpool Odeon,
I applied and got it in February 1996, which was when
I became a full fledged General Manager and the first
black man to rise to that position since Odeon was
Looking back now, how does it feel attaining such an
enviable height in such a short period in your career?
For me, it was a mixed positive feelings, because as
at the time I got the job, I was more qualified than
most of the General Mangers that I met on the job
Tell us more about year academic background
Firstly, I gained admission into the University of
Nigeria, Nsukka in 1984 to study Bio Chemistry and
Zoology and really enjoyed my time while studying
there. My original plan was to come over to the UK and
read Medicine after my graduation and probably major
in Toxicology. I later did a postgraduate course in
Bio-Pharmaceutical Science at the University of
London, Kings College. I later went back to school
again, at City University in London and obtained an
MSC in Business Systems Analysis and Design. That also
qualifies me as a professional business analyst.
Basically, my stay at Odeon has really exposed me to
the global world of showbizness.
So, in essence your sojourn at Odeon and showbiz in
general was by accident and not based on your academic
When I was in secondary school I hated the arts, in
fact, I was forced to add literature to my subjects as
a science student, which I passed very well. While in
school, I’ve always had it in mind that I want to
become a manager, be it in a pharmaceutical or cinema
company. And in whatever I do, as a manger of men and
material, I apply the principle of firm, fair and fun,
in order to make the work easier and achieve results.
As one of the General Managers at Odeon Cinemas, what
does your job entail?
As the current General Manager of Odeon Digiplex
Cinema, the Galleria, Hatfield, my job entails a lot.
In fact, it is pretty much general management and we are
fanatical about films. I manage human and material
resources. In managing people also, you are designing,
training and developing them. Of course, management is
getting things done through other people and also
understanding the people you work with and making sure
they deliver the goals you want. We also manage
financial resources and do our budgeting in order to
deliver on your targets. A whole spectrum of general
management is what I do at Odeon. Another aspect is
managing the health and safety of not just your
business, but your product and people. And in doing
all these, you must have business strategies.
In your quest at achieving all of these set aims and
objectives as the General Manager, what would you say
are the major challenges?
First, at Odeon, like I told you before, we are very
fanatical about films because we are one of the oldest
cinema chains in the world and the first Odeon is
nearly 80 years old.
We would like to know more about Odeon cinemas?
Well, Oscar Deusche founded Odeon, it is also
sometimes assumed that Odeon stands for Oscar Deusche
Entertains Our Nation. But Odeon is actually a Greek
word, meaning amphitheatre. It is pronounced Odeion.
Initially, Oscar Deusche built a lot of these cinemas
and they were all using one screen, but over the
years, Odeon cinemas, which are scattered all over UK,
and even Europe, have added multiple screens. Right
now, Odeon has the biggest market share of cinemas in
the UK, followed by Cineworld. Odeon is also a mixture
of multiplex cinemas, some with ten screens, while
others with 12 screens and even 20 screens. We also
have the traditional sites built by Oscar Deusche, who
later sold it to an organization called Rank, it used
to be the biggest entertainment company in the UK.
Rank later sold Odeon to Venture Capital Company and
over the years, they sold it to a German Company,
which later sold it to another UK Company, who are the
current owners. And part of our vision is to make
Odeon the best cinema in the UK.
As a General Manager with Odeon, what would you say
stands your organization out?
First, we are fanatical about films and every Odeon
general manager has always had autonomy to run and
develop his branch and the business in general. A lot
of the other cinemas in UK here can’t do this. We have
the flexibility to run and grow the business within
the organization’s framework.
Even though you are based and working here in the UK,
you still do a lot for Nollywood and its movies, what
fascinates and drives your passion for Nollywood?
Having been in this industry for so long, I don’t
think a lot of people knew that a Nigerian, in fact, a
proud black man is one of the general managers of
Odeon cinemas. Gradually and around 2004, a lot of
Nollywood film markers started approaching us to help
show their films in our cinemas. During the period, I
also discovered that a lot of these filmmakers know
little about film distributions in the UK, but knew
nothing about its exhibitions here. Upon approaching
me, I started re-educating them on how these things
work in the UK. With their constant approach, I
started knowing more and more about Nollywood. Along
the line, somebody brought Living in Bondage and I
really liked it after watching it. Then that same
year, I ran into a Nigerian called Tony Nwaolisa, he
was in London to premiere a movie titled The
President Must Not Die. I was invited to the premiere,
which held in a community hall, which I was not happy
about. I later made a public statement to the
gathering that no Nigerian movie will ever be shown in
a hall as long as I’m alive and working with Odeon,
which has over 30 cinemas in London alone.
After that, I got more passionate about Nollywood.
Along the line also, I decided to form a strictly
Nollywood Company with my friend Nkem Ajoku called
Film Africa. I also became a Nollywood film Producer
during this period with two movies to my credit. The
Successor, which I produced was the first ever
Nollywood movie to be shown at Odeon Cinemas in the UK
in 2006. In fact, it was released in six Odeon cinemas
immediately after the premiere. Lucky Joe later
followed, a comedy, till date, we have shown over
seven Nollywood movies at Odeon.
What was it like in September 2007, when two Nollywood
blockbusters Mission to Nowhere and Mirror of Beauty
stormed Odeon and Cineworld cinemas in the UK here?
Wow! It was massive, huge and memorable. It was fun
meeting Teco Benson, the director of one of the films,
some cast members and the financier of the films,
Andrien Gbinigie, who is also the chairman of Atlantic
Overseas. I take off my hat for him, because he
invested a lot of money and time into these laudable
projects and also drove Nollywood to a global height,
which is what we need. For two weeks, Nollywood
sparkled in the UK. Nollywood needs the right format
and backing. For Gbinigie, it was not about movie, but
leaving a mark for Nollywood and he has left a mark
for Nollywood. I have a passion for Nollywood and when
I see somebody with same passion and drive, I go all
out to assist. We even added Ireland and Scotland.
Gbinigie, has done what nobody else has ever done, it
terms of supporting Nollywood on the global scene,
even in the UK here.
What professional advice would you proffer to help
revive the dead cinema culture in Nigeria?
First, Silverbird and Nu Metro are trying their best
and we still need more to come on board. These two
outfits brought modern cinemas back to Nigeria.
Sincerely, we have not begun to scratch what cinema
can do for Nigeria and Nigerians as a business. Aside
exposing our films in the UK Cinemas, my biggest
passion is to further help in developing the cinema
industry in Nigeria. I will be coming back home soon
to do that with my partners. I will be bringing back
the Odeon culture soon to Nigeria. With that we will
revive the dead culture of cinemas and make it
appealing to Nigerians, even affordable too. I’m also
coming back with a film distribution framework for
First published, March 2008.