At 35, Dr. Mike Adenuga (GCON) had amassed enough fortune to last a lifetime and beyond but he never stops searching for new business challenges and opportunities. Thirty years after, he is still searching, still moving, still walking like the Johnny Walker “Striding Man” brand, not sitting in the boardroom “drinking cognac and thinking about the past,” if I am to borrow from the South African entrepreneur Adrian Gore, “the smooth disruptor” whose inspiring story I read on the cover of Forbes Africa magazine.
In going into the three critical sectors of banking, oil exploration and telecoms, Mike Adenuga the wizkid now wiser with age says at each point of his achievements-laden life, he “needed fresh challenges…looking for that business opportunity that will be very challenging and an opportunity that will address that particular segment of the population where there are some deficiencies.”
It was this love for challenges that endeared Adenuga to the hoary hirsute Nobel laureate hero Wole Soyinka who says in our forthcoming Mike Adenuga biography simply titled THE GURU: “Mike Adenuga is a young entrepreneur I have come to admire. I like his drive. He sought me out when he was about to begin his Globacom business…Globacom being a Nigerian brand owned by a Nigerian who loves challenges, I decided to support him.” He decided to support him by appearing in high profile Glo advert campaigns exhibiting the pride of Nigeria on CNN and other global media platforms.
Long before the rising Nigerian pop star adopted the name Wizkid, Adenuga was already a wizkid in the Nigerian corporate world doing his business quietly until Globacom came and turned him into a folk hero and a disruptor who turned the Nigerian telecoms industry on its head by bringing telecoms to the doorsteps of the poorest of the poor. It was the architect Isaac Fola-Alade who in his memoirs first referred to Adenuga as “this rare enigma of a whiz-kid” because of the impressive way he executed projects awarded to him as a 24-year-old businessman competing and beating hands down foreign construction companies involved in road constructions and building of barracks in 1977 under the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo. The Guardian on Sunday of July 21, 1991 equally trumpeted Adenuga’s feats as a wizkid in the following words: “For a 37-year-old to sit on a mountain of fortune and without recourse to dubious means is not a mean achievement. For Adenuga (Jr.) who at 35 became the moving spirit of DEVCOM Merchant Bank as chairman, life surely begins before 40 and he has no regrets…His admirers say he is one strategist who is always in the quest for identification with excellence, and he never wavers once he is into a project.”
Today, in our new series “Leaders On Leadership” which features Nigeria’s best minds in all fields to be compiled into a book, we bring you, in his own words, the business philosophy, leadership ideas and the winning mindset of Mike Adenuga, the Guru who will be 65 tomorrow on April 29, 2018. How time flies! That is why we are documenting the achievements and “labours of our heroes” past and present which in the words of our national anthem “shall never be in vain.” For entrepreneurs like Mike Adenuga and Aliko Dangote, there is more than one book to write. In the words of Dr. Mairo Mandara, these two men “should be studied in our universities and higher institutions where students can learn from their business acumen. We don’t need just one book, we need different kinds of books on them to be read even at secondary and primary schools.”
My Business Credo
I believe in hard work. The secret of my business success is hard work. Hard work and God’s blessings. Any business I want to go into, I try to know the business, because without knowing the business, it is easy to be hoodwinked. To get into oil business, I had to go and understudy an oil company in the United States and learn about their operation. That meant going into the oil rigs with the engineers. I like to be familiar with the operational details of any business I am involved in. I also had an oil teacher in the person of Chief Adelu who taught me a whole lot about oil exploration before I got my oil block. He was the Deputy Director at the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) before he retired. Another philosophy is not to shy away from what I love to do. When we lost the $20 million in the CIL GSM saga, some people were urging me to walk away from it all, but I felt that walking away is the easy part to it. The question is: If I walk away, who will do the job? And that is the driving force. That is my business philosophy: the willingness to take challenges that would in the end benefit our people. We must be here, we must develop the country and add value to the lives of Nigerians. And some of us must spearhead those things so that other Nigerians will also be able to do the same thing.
Yes, people say I am a slave driver. I believe that for you to achieve success in life, you have to drive hard. There are no two ways about it. Then you must have passion for whatever you do. For me, Globacom is driven by passion. I am passionate about the project to succeed. It is a gigantic project with long gestation period. You have to take a long-term view of it. It is not a business you go into and you start making money from day one. For you to start making money, you have to talk of economies of scale. 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. I also believe in synergistic businesses; that is businesses that have direct linkages. In Consolidated Oil, we are Upstream. Downstream, we have Conoil PLC. There is a relationship between the two. If one is producing oil upstream, the other is selling it, adding value to it and moving it to the petrol stations. Upstream is where you take all the risk. Business is about having the courage to take calculated risk. I have to first go out there and acquire a block, do my evaluation, interpretation and drill. By the time I do all those things, I could have spent $50 million to S100 million and I may not even find a drop of oil. So, having gone through the risk of searching for oil, finding the oil, shouldn’t I add value to and then get it to the customer through Conoil PLC which is the downstream company? So, I believe in synergy. We went into banking because it is a catalyst for economic growth. In those days, we used to be major players in trading when we used to import all sorts of things. And when the opportunity to own a bank came, we also went into the bank business as a catalyst. When you talk about your business, they are sophisticated businesses, but there is a linkage. Over the years, we have been exposed to international finance and there is an opportunity to be able to go into a very sophisticated business that requires a lot of managerial expertise and finance. If we shy away from it, who will do it? I believe strongly in adding value. If I can be seen to be adding value to Nigerians, then I would be fulfilled. If you can add value to the lives of Nigerians, if you can contribute to making Nigeria a better place and making Nigerians do those things which were hitherto believed could not be done by Nigerians, that is fulfilling for us. And that is the driving force. Everything I have achieved in life, I give glory to God!
Next week: How to acquire the status of a Guru.