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My books of the year: ‘I didn’t think GSM was worth $285m’

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I bring you New Year greetings. May God who gives the power to make wealth bless and make you a winner this year. Because winning is everything. Continuing from last week, Mike Adenuga, and Jim Ovia epitomize winning and achieving. Adenuga’s words on marble read: “Achieving is a thing of resolve and persistence. It is the state of attaining success as a goal through sustained consistency. The achiever is a leader; a winner, all the time, not just once. Achieving is an attitude. Leading the pack is the only worthwhile resolve of the achiever. There is no room for second place.”

Tale of Two Corporate Caesars
And Ovia says: “My business philosophy had always been to be a market leader, not a follower.” Both agree that entrepreneurs are passionate. “If your motivation comes solely from financial profit, and not the heart, you cannot engage the passion that will take the business from good to great,” says Ovia. “Cultivate a sense of passion in everything you do, from business to hobbies, and value that trait in others. Entrepreneurial passion is crucial for the success of any enterprise.”

Adenuga personifies passion. His business is his life and soul. “You must have passion for whatever you do,” he says. “For me, Globacom is driven by passion. I am passionate about the project to succeed.”

For a business to succeed, Adenuga says: “You have to build a brand and nurture the brand. I love this process of gradually building a brand and the brand growing into a bigger, global thing.” Like Adenuga, Ovia says: “Brand matters. Take time from the get-go to think through every aspect of your brand. With enough foresight and strategic planning, a powerful brand concept can be the single deciding factor for the success or otherwise of your business.”

The two men wear entrepreneurship like a badge of honour. It’s what defines them. “I am an entrepreneur, which in the very simplest terms means that I look for opportunity everywhere, and that I have an uncanny knack for finding it,” says Ovia. “It is a quality I was born with, which means my becoming an entrepreneur was an absolutely natural function of who I was and am, just as a fast, powerful, and competitive person might naturally become an athlete. Just like an athlete takes pleasure in being physically active, I take pleasure in engaging my mind in entrepreneurial ways.”

Adenuga too compares entrepreneurial success to “performing as a great athlete” in an Olympic arena which you don’t enter by luck but where “you match your wits against others, with your entire constitution springing into action. Every fibre, from the innermost recesses of your being, to the fore becomes combative in a synchronized zeal to achieve. With this strategy, you’re never going to come off the arena a loser.”

Entrepreneurs rely on gut feelings, writes Ovia: “If your gut tells you something is right, listen to it. Everyone has gut instinct, or feelings. The difference is that while some take those feelings very seriously, others are fearful of relying on them… What determines whether a great idea can ever come to fruition is the initial will to act on instinct—and will is powered by a deep belief in the credibility of what you feel in your gut…My career could be plotted on a graph as a series of gut decisions that propelled me further and further ahead of the pack.”

But one time gut instincts failed him was when Ovia missed the earliest opportunity to invest in telecoms along with MTN, Econet and Glo who paid $285 million each to acquire the licence. He was man enough to admit: “At that time, I did not think a GSM licence would be worth the cost of $285 million, but I would soon realize my assessment was wrong, because the profit levels of these GSM companies were astronomically high. By the time I changed my view about the desirability of acquiring a licence, it was 2008—putting me seven years behind the original groups.

There was going to be a lot of catching up to do.” In contrast, Adenuga was visionary enough to see GSM as the next big thing, hence ordered his bid team not to return without the licence.

The two corporate Caesars get involved in hiring at the senior level, believing that clever strategies and advanced technologies amount to nothing without great people. So they interview every top executive coming into their organisations. Ovia says: “I always made it a priority to personally interview the new professional staff, no matter how young they were. I sought to identify that extra spark that would drive their passion for embracing the Zenith culture.”

In Adenuga’s case, being a marketing guru, he takes special interest in people coming to work in marketing capacity. He asks technical questions on branding, positioning and what they have done in their previous jobs.

He may not ask many questions but observes to know whether you are aggressive enough to work for him. Intuitively, he can spot a bad candidate. Femi Ekundayo, the pioneer MD of Adenuga’s Devcom Bank recalls the case of a gentleman who spent three-quarters of the interview emphasizing that he could be trusted with money. And Adenuga’s blunt response was: “My friend, I would not mind you stealing ten percent of my income, especially if you can improve my income by fifty percent.” But then with the checks put in place, it is difficult to steal Adenuga’s money.

“He would fight you to a standstill,” Ekundayo says. “Beyond that he doesn’t believe in somebody coming to sermonize to say he is a saint. He is more interested in performance.”

The history of modern banking in Nigeria cannot be told without Adenuga and Ovia’s pioneering and innovational inputs.

Adenuga may not be a professional banker like Ovia but he understands banking from the customer side and brought that to bear, making the customer king. They both believe in real estate and the mantra: “location, location, location,” and have magnificent signature towers located on prime locations—The Mike Adenuga Towers and Ovia’s Civic Towers.
Each has a foundation and gives back to society through philanthropy. One even has a school named after Hope! They both initially hoped for the American Dream and ended with the African Dream.

They are both self-made entrepreneurs with the Midas touch.

Indeed, they are both giants of Africa and among global corporate Caesars worth studying for their leadership, management style, wisdom, strategies, tenacity and can-do entrepreneurial spirits in the tough but promising business environment of Nigeria our Nigeria. The two are my “Books of The Year.” I pray more Nigerian captains of industry write books, like their counterparts abroad

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