How I became first Nigerian and black GM of Odeon cinemas in the UK, Kene Mkparu -By AZUH AMATUS, who was in the UK

Kene Mkparu

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

established.

 

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

academically.

 

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

background?

 

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

Nollywood.

First published, March 2008.

 

 

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