From YINKA FABOWALE and LANRE FADAHUNSI, Ibadan
Mr. Jimoh Adebayo, Group Managing Director, O’odua Investment Company Limited, was in his traditional agabada and sokoto ankra outfit when The Sun team arrived his office for this interview.
As expected, the Industrial Psychologist and former Deputy Managing Director at John Holt Plc., who left to take up the O’odua appointment, fielded questions on how he has been able to transform the group, since coming on board in 2005. He spoke on a wide range of subjects bothering on his vision for O’odua conglomerate.Excerpts:
Well, Adebayo Jimoh was in John Holt Plc., a private sector environment, working with the British multinational for 23 years. I joined as management trainee and rose to the highest rank that any black man could get to. I was No. 2 in John Holt. I could have been the managing director because the day I was leaving, the chairman called me to say the managing director’s position was vacant, but I told him: “I need to serve my people.” But I think I enjoyed my exposure in John Holt. It was quite a school for development and all that we were taught was to always see challenges as opportunities. We were taught visioning and strategy; we were taught to always be courageous and, more importantly, we were schooled in the art of ethics, and also faced reality. We were also taught to make sure that we had good dreams.
Rationale behind Ekiti skill acquisition programme
That’s quite ingenious of you. It was deliberate, in the sense that we did a kind of skill needs assessment of the Yoruba nation and also looked at her poverty index. This is because we believe that the strength of every country is not just measured in terms of population or GDP size, but by the human poverty index. We really looked and identified that there are more poor youths in the Ekiti axis yearning to acquire skills, but because industries are far away from those people, coupled with the fact that the agrarian nature and capacity of that area, Ekiti land, is also diminishing. We discovered that those that used to farm in the cocoa plantation were no longer there. And the youths were yearning to acquire skills, other than just reading, writing and going to formal school. So, we saw that need gap and promptly intervened, as part of our corporate social responsibility.
And I will tell you that the Governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, was very delighted. He became passionate about it, considering that he also identified the need to at least get those youths off the streets and get them into areas where they can be trained within a short period to acquire basic skills that would now be the foundation of small and medium scale enterprises. No nation has developed technologically without incubating the small and medium scale enterprises. That needs gap took us to Ekiti. You are right…Ogun, Osun and Oyo states are closer to opportunities and they are Yorubas too. We invested on a PPP with one agency created by Governor Kayode Fayemi, called ‘Job Creation Agency for Ekiti’ and ‘Enterprise Development Agency for Ekiti’. So, the three of us came together and developed the curriculum, which I picked up during a programme at the London School of Economics. I saw that in the UK, they still take the training and acquisition of vocational skills by their youths very seriously. Not every white man goes to school. They get basic education, but they don’t have to go to the university. They acquire skills and live very well. The quality of life after acquisition of those skills is better, most times, than those that went to university. So I borrowed that concept from the UK Entrepreneurial Development School of the London School of Economics and modeled it, based on our needs gap in that part of the country. We identified fitting electrical and rewinding skills and carpentry, painting and artwork, repair and computer hardware assembly. We also identified hotel management and catering, fashion design and beautification, and we advertised and students came up and registered.
The joy of it all was that the two hundred students that came for those skills six months ago, graduated, and you cannot believe the level of skills they have been able to acquire. They exhibited all products that they can now make. It was in an effort to make the transition from training level to entrepreneurial level, that the Governor of Ekiti State gave out soft loans with a period of six months, which is being managed by FCMB, and they gave each of those students some fund and took up grants to acquire tools. He enjoined them to “Please go back to your local government and establish vocations.”
I remember that a day before the graduation, I did a random sampling interview of the students, and there was none that said, “Sir, I’m looking for job.” They said: “We’re prepared to establish our own vocation and employ people, because we can do things with our hands.” That is the empowerment, which is what this country needs. And one of the areas O’odua is intervening in. We started by nurturing programme of youths and giving scholarships three, four years ago. We have students that have now graduated with first class! These are poor students that would have dropped out of school, but for O’odua. So, some of them that went for industrial attachment out of those skill acquisition students already have jobs from hotels. The question is ‘what would have happened to all those 200 youths if this intervention programme hadn’t come up?
Plans for other O’odua state youths
Now, during the last O’odua Governors’ Meeting when we brought up this idea, some governors said they needed such programmes in their states and I told them we are available to give the skill. O’odua will support state governors in tackling their unemployment problem. As we speak now, we are putting up a skill acquisition centre in Samonda, Oyo State, but that will be targeted at the women because, in Oyo, we already have the Farmers Academy in Awe, where we are training youths in Agro-allied programmes. Just recently, I got information that Osun State has approved the allocation of 500 ‘O-Yes’ youths to train at the Awe Farmers Academy. We want to train them in the art of planting of fresh vegetables, animal husbandry, fishery and general crops management. At the same time, we are also going to train a lot of them on agro-mechanization maintenance, because the subsistence farming practice can no longer sustain this country. I believe that some states like Ondo and Ogun already have some skills acquisition schemes in place, but I can assure them we are available to support any of our O’odua states.
Farmers Academy in Osun, Oyo
We usually request for any project we want to do. We send requests out to every state, but those two states came up and said: “Please, we are ready to partner you,” because again our traditional approach is not to do it alone, but we base it on partnership. What we are doing in Osun is in partnership with Osun and the project in Oyo is in partnership with the government. So, the two states quickly responded to our proposal and we are working with them.
Resuscitation of corporate headquarters at Cocoa House
Actually, it was not really magic, but a vision about our belief in leveraging on the hard work of our founding fathers. If in the early 60s our forefathers could build this structure and say this should be the corporate headquarters of Oodua Investment Company Limited and other businesses in the CBD. By chance or through some misfortunes when this headquarters was engulfed by fire in 1985, it does not mean we should run away from it. We should fix it and get back to it, because if you have headache, you don’t cut off the head, you treat it. When I joined Oodua in 2005 and was shown the corporate head office of Oodua, from that day I told them that we were in transit and that we would go back to where we are supposed to be. I had a lot of reservation- the usual no, no-approach, which of course, you expect to have in every group.
Not everybody was positive, but I don’t believe in impossibility, “Oh! people have tried, it is not possible”. I said we would do it. So, I called some consultants to identify what was needed. The first one was need for mobility, the second the sewage system – to treat the entire sewage and plumbing systems. The third was water and reservoir in case of fire. Then the fourth was power. However, at the end of the assessment exercise the board approved a timetable and it costs us N116 million to fix Cocoa House back. We bought two new lifts and introduced the biological sewage treatment plant, which was done by Professor Osho of the Department of Zoology in the University of Ibadan. We bought two new lifts, 850 KVA and 500 KVA new generators to power the place and as we speak, we have 200,000 litres of water reservoir in case of an emergency and our fire protection system has also been fixed. Then of course, the renovation of the offices of O’odua after which we moved in here in October 2010 and we are happy for it. We will be celebrating our second year anniversary of moving here soon. And as I speak, there are only four floors yet to be occupied because all other floors have been taken. I need to state that rentals are more or less considerable. In fact, if you need an office space in Cocoa House maybe in another three months, you might not get.
Growing O’odua portfolio in changing business environment
In the past, we are mainly a company that was focused on trading on the stock market and also depending on revenue coming from dividends from companies we had invested in. But I would say the group had three legs of income generation, including the company shares, revenue coming from companies that we have investment in like WAMPCO, Nigerite, Tower Aluminum. Other companies that we have dividends that we receive and of course, the third being rents coming out of properties. There has never been any subvention from any state government, rather we are supposed to be paying dividend because they are our shareholders. They have invested and they are waiting for interest.
However, in 2008, we saw that the bubble was going to burst and we identified the critical growth sectors of the economy. We looked at real estate as something that was going to be a very important growth sector in the economy. This was so because real estate you need three things which are location, location and also location. Today, there is no company in Nigeria apart from UACN that has the location advantage of properties that Oodua has because 85 per cent of our properties are situated in prime areas. All that we have left undone in the past, which we have started doing is property redevelopment. So in 2008, we brought out a concept called PRP, which means Property Redevelopment Project. I got the vision and said to my people, “This is where we need to go.” We started from Ikoyi where we had a small property on Luggard. We brought it down, redeveloped it into six apartment luxury flats and that was the flagship. Then we came to Ibadan, Iyaganku, we brought down a three bedroom flat on a 5000 square metres land and put 12 luxury apartments and that has been the goal. We are doing the same in Lagos. The big one that is coming up here, which I am going to emphasize on is the Heritage Mall. By the grace of God, this mall would be completed at the end of this year and with the type of tenants that are coming in we might be earning substantial revenue running into millions of naira annually from that property. I would tell you that, that is going to be the programme of sustaining Oodua.
I am looking at Oodua of another 10 years time, when people will have to take over from me and will take over from a lot of us. We will see a real estate, and every property in all our prime locations would be brought down and modern ones and modern ones will be put on them to meet the taste of time. Our second growth sector is hospitality. The hotel, we are not giving up because we want to bring International brand to redevelop and run our hotels, because of the location of the hotels and type of ambience that we have. No other hotel – in Ibadan for instance, can have that type of location. The one in Lagos is also in a prime area, but it is begging for redevelopment. Oodua doesn’t have that capacity and the way we are, coupled with the industrial experience, to run it is going to be on a private-partnership with international brands, but we are going to do it thoroughly and ensure that it becomes a growth sector.
We have gotten some people interested, but they were not able to meet up with the credential request. Golden Tulip was interested, but they were not ready to bring money and we are saying that you have to be financially and technically capable to run it. But we are still talking to some other international brands.
Talking about other sectors
Yes! The other growth sector is the telecoms. In 2003 when Oodua got the license to run a telecom on an original basis, it wasn’t in error. The only error we made was that we did not deploy the right technology and we did not bring in the right people to manage it. So we lost at that point a lot of opportunities. But when we came on board, we redefined that issue and said, “Yes! this is critical”, because at the moment Oodua had invested close to N7 billion on our telecoms company and nothing was coming out of it. Then when I presented a paper to the committee of governors and said; “Don’t shut it down. Let us look for an international partner that will at least run this”. They will find some niche, they will find a bit of area of strength and that is what we have achieved now with the coming in of Concave Communications of Canada, which is running a whole lot now. This company has said its own philosophy is to grow the broadband and data services, not necessarily voice services. And they are doing what I will call the entrepreneurial closer technology; whereby they look at areas where there are huge population, cluster of people and they go there. They bidded with other high-level professionals, at the University of Ibadan. We are now able to get Federal University of Agriculture, Akure and Bowen University. Only two weeks ago they have got a nod from Afe Babalola University. So they have gotten a new model, a business model, which we didn’t see. That is an opportunity. So, at least it is better for us to have minimal level of equity interest in that company, than to throw the whole of the business away. And that’s what O’net is doing.
In the area of agriculture, I want to say, we are not directly going to be actively involved, rather we are going to build capacity. So, capacity building is what we are doing to support agriculture and that is why we have the Farmers Academy, and I’m happy to report that at least two states are really coming up and they have seen the activities of the graduates that have come out of these academies in the past three years and the things they are now doing in their local government areas. I believe that it is the foundation that has to be laid for agricultural transformation.
Property redevelopment programme and banks
Now, we started by taking bank loans to finance the redevelopment project because, we are in business and the bank are in business to lend money too. Our strategy, however, is that any development that we do, we make sure that half of the development will be able to pay up our debts and the remaining half will now be what we will be using as our source of income. Let me give you a specific example. When we built the one at Iyaganku, called Orange Court, which was financed by Intercontinental Bank, we built 12 mortgage apartments. On the day we were commissioning that property, I publicly announced in the presence of the staff of Intercontinental Bank that we were no longer owing the bank any money. On the property we were previously earning N350,000 per annum, in addition to building that 12, being able to pay up for six, each of the remaining six we gave out at the annual rental of one million naira. And I can tell you that it has increased beyond one million now. The result of the annual purchase was used to pay debts, but subsequent ones we have been financing them through our internally generated revenue. The shopping complex in Idi-Ape; we took some loan from Enterprise Bank, but I want to tell you that by the time finished, we would have paid them back all the loan.
About Heritage Mall
We are financing Heritage Mall 100 per cent until recently that we took some soft loan to finish the place. But I tell you, this we will also pay up on the rental income, because we receive dollars at Heritage Mall. The rent per square meter is $120.
Getting high net worth clients in Ibadan
I want to say to you that our vision for bringing up the mall was to improve the quality of life in Ibadan and the neighbouring states. We identified the fact that youths and children usually go to Lagos, for instance, to watch movies in the cinema. I am also aware that there are people who go to Lagos on a weekly basis to procure their needs from Shoprite. And as we speak now, Shoprite has taken close to over 2500 square metres of space. Cash ‘n’ Carry stores is coming on board, Life mate is coming on board. Just recently, I had to meet with Mr. Price, from South Africa struggling to have space. Then the Cinema, the last floor of it has been taken up by people we call the ‘Film House’. If you go there now, they are busy putting their fittings. There are certain things that you don’t see that we businessmen see. I can assure you that, in another five years, a lot of people would prefer to spend their time in Ibadan, because that Lagos-Ibadan expressway will be fixed and there will be a train service that will connect Lagos and Ibadan. Ibadan is a melting port of all Yoruba nations. Every Yoruba man wants to come to Ibadan. Let me give you this analogy. If in the 1960s our forefathers can spot and put Oodua headquarters where it supposed to be, put Leventis where it supposed to be, put UTC where it supposed to be the only thing we can do is a bit of research and find out why they did that. And that was what we did and found out this is a city that has endless and tremendous opportunities. But they are always waiting for somebody to take the first step.