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For Olugbodi siblings, entrepreneurship runs in the blood

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Diamonds evolve from the very raw gem that they are and go through the furnace to become beautiful piece of jewelry. For the Olugbodi siblings — Tunde Johnny, Kolawole Alexander, Olatunji Joshua, Oladapo Olumuyiwa, Akinyinka Gbolahan, Akintomi Akinyemi, Oyeniran Roy, Oluseun Akintoye and Romoke, all children of Chief J.O. and Adunni Olabisi Grace Olugbodi — success is a combination of inspiration, Divine grace, proper upbringing, hard work and self-motivation.

As rare gem a peculiar character of every newly born at birth, the furnace in the case of the Olugbodis happened to be their entrepreneurial mother, who inculcated in them the value of entrepreneurship, which has helped them to carve a niche for themselves in their various career paths in addition to becoming a force to reckon with in the Nigerian business space. There is, in their narratives, instruction for those who desire to build a business dynasty.

Johnny Tunde
Tunde Johnny is the first of the nine children of Olugbodi. Born on October 23, 1957, he is the Managing Consultant/CEO of First Divine Swivel Training & Development Consultancy, which is based in Abuja.

Prior to setting up his outfit, Tunde worked with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for almost three decades and retired as Assistant Director, Capacity Development. He started his career at the Ministry of Economic Planning and Land Matter, Lagos before he later moved to the National Population Commission.

‘Olu Decker’ as he was fondly called in school distinguished himself as a human resource professional with versed experience in learning and development. He is a graduate of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). He attended Baptist Academy and was the senior prefect in his set. He also won laurels as the boxing champion for the school.

Tunde attributed the entrepreneurial spirit in the family to their mother, Adunni Olabisi Grace Olugbodi. He said, “Growing up, we knew our mum to be entrepreneurial and enterprising. The first job we knew her with was seamstress, which is today generally referred to as fashion design.

“She had quite a number of customers. And because she had enough time, she became a distributor of 7UP along the line. All of these happened while we were at Tejuosho Street. She added plate selling to the business and with time, she got involved with Nigeria National Supply Company, supplying many things. She moved on to many other businesses. Even at 76, she is trying to build a poultry to add to her goat farm and fishery,” he added.

On his career trajectory, Tunde said he joined the CBN as a senior supervisor on February 1, 1991. His father had wanted him to be medical doctor but after series of attempts to cope with the science subjects — Physics, Chemistry and Biology, he was allowed to choose his career path in the arts, and therefore, studied Sociology and Anthropology.

“I have this flair for business,” he recalled, adding, “When I heard about Forbes, Getty I told myself I wanted to be like them. At Ife, the departmental authority thought I would come back to take lecturing job due to my academic excellence, but I knew where my passion leaned towards. I registered as a student with the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria (CIPMN) and I was already chartered before my graduation. So, the year I finished I was employed at the CBN and this is providential because it was an exactly 10 years after my father had retired from the bank.”

Kola Alexander
Born on August 6, 1965 in Lagos and christened Kolawole, is the MD/CEO of Background Check International (BCI), Nigeria’s first exclusive and broad-spectrum background check organization. It specializes in thorough educational certificate verification at tertiary, secondary and elementary levels in Nigeria, West Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa.

According to him, “it is not as if everybody sat down and say we are not going to work for anybody, let’s just do our own things. When I left Ife (Obafemi Awolowo University) in 1988, I worked with National Population Commission. I was posted to Abeokuta, Ogun State, while my elder brother, Tunde Johnny, worked in Oyo State. Mind you, this was not planned but providential like he earlier said.

“From the first day that I started work I knew I was not going to stay long; I knew I was not destined to be a civil servant. I was just looking for when I would just opt out and do my own thing.

“I can tell you that that was what happened to virtually everybody; we all started from somewhere. Even Tunji (TJ) that felt he was comfortable where he was needed somebody to tell him that what he has is worth more than where he was,” he stated.

Kola’s success is considered more remarkable when you consider the difficulties he faced growing up, as he was diagnosed with polio as a child, precisely at age two.

“I’m over 50 years now, I had polio when I was two, and that means that for more than 50 years of my life I have had to cope with disability, which of course left a big impact on my life. I felt I could not do what everybody else was doing. I felt I was limited, even in terms of the courses I could do in school and the places I could work,” he said.

“I got over it when I was 10 years old. We went to the village during Christmas, and I was with my siblings to watch a masquerade festival. The masquerade came out of nowhere and scared everyone and everybody took to their heels. I wanted to run as well but unfortunately, my legs could not move as fast as everybody else. I called out to others to help but nobody would come. From that time I made up my mind that if I was going to make it in life, I needed to depend on myself,” he added.

To achieve his dream of self-reliance, Kola as he is fondly was enrolled at Atunda-Olu School for the Handicaps for his primary education from 1971-76. For his secondary school education, he started at Baptist Academy, Obanikoro, Lagos in 1977 but finished at Ede Baptist High School, Ede, Osun State in 1983.

He gained admission into the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife in 1984, where be obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Demography and Social Statistics in 1988. He observed his service year with the National Population Commission (NPC) and he was retained by the Commission as a Population Statistician immediately he concluded the programme in 1989. He left NPC for the North South Bank (NSB) in 1992.

“While I was in the bank, the entrepreneurial spirit in me constantly asked why should we stay in the bank from 7.00a.m. to about 9.00p.m. everyday? Can’t we leave the place by 5.00p.m. Without anybody telling me, I studied bank’s operational procedure and I discovered where the problem was, and it was always with the people at the cage.

“I told the management that if we work on the people at the cage, we could actually leave the bank at 5.00p.m. But they never believed me until they said I should go inside the cage and work out what I had been telling them. The first day in the cage was my longest time; I was there till about 7.00p.m. The second day it dropped to 4.00p.m. By the time I was spending a week, by 3.00p.m. we were already done in the bank. They were surprised and they asked how I did it. I had to teach other members of the staff.”

He noted that those days, there were no computers; everybody would wait until they had no more customers before they could start posting into the ledger. “I discovered that sometimes, those in the cage had five minutes respite and I asked why they couldn’t post during that short respite. With time, everybody adopted the innovation and we all started going home at 5.00p.m.”

Kola became an entrepreneur immediately he left NSB in 1995. He noted that the loopholes they saw (in their places of work) and their quest to know why nobody was blocking the loopholes sparked the entrepreneurship in them.

“That is what has been happening to us as entrepreneurs. With all our differences, we see it in different ways. Seun and I are more into security and partly human resources; Johnny and Yinka are into human resources and human capital development; Tunji is into media and communication (advertising); Muyiwa is into real estate, Roy is into entertainment, while Romoke is into events management and decoration. We all discovered what our strengths are and where we think we can easily fit in,” he explained.

According to him, he wanted to be a medical doctor but he realized that if he would not do well after spending seven years writing JAMB when he should have graduated.

“I’m thinking of going back to study medicine now but the challenge I have is that I will be a poor doctor because people who come to hospital and if they don’t have money I will treat them free of charge,” he said with humour.

Kola’s first stint at entrepreneurship, selling stationery to offices failed. He tried buying and selling, which he discovered he was not cut out for, and the business went under. Later on he discovered that it is not everyone that is cut out to do trading business, saying, “some of us were cut out for services and not products or commodities.”

Olatunji Joshua
Indeed a household name in the marketing and communications sector of the media industry, Teejay as he is fondly called is the Executive Vice Chairman/Group Managing Director of Verdant Zeal, an advertising and events management agency. He is also chairman BYTOL Group, BCI, TBI, and Epicenter Global Events.

Born on March 25, 1964, Tunji began his education odyssey in Lagos at the Salvation Army Primary School, Surulere. He later proceeded to Ejigbo Baptist High School, Osun State, where he obtained his WASC and later his Higher School Certificate from Ede Baptist High School, Osun State in 1983.

He obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Ogun State University, now Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, where he emerged the best graduating student in that department in 1987. He has a brief stint in Journalism before veering into advertising.

For the creative guru, the family success is a combination of inspiration, God’s intuition and self-motivation. “It is inspiration because of the stories you have heard around, especially about our mum; God’s intuition because at the end of the day, unless there is a certain conviction or you are fully persuaded, when you attempt some of these things and you do it half heartedly, it is already over before you get started. And when you talk of self-motivation, it comes from those first two things — inspiration and God given intuition. With these, you know that you have everything you need to be able to step ahead,” he said.

According to him, “there are no guarantees in terms of absolute success, and I don’t mean from the negative connotation but from the fact that what you are stepping ahead into is with a sense of adventure. I think this is a story that maybe common to every entrepreneur.

“Kola started background check, Yinka started team building and I have worked in an industry for a long time with companies that I have made success, and one key question that I ask myself was, with the success that has happened where I was, can it be recreated. That basically held me back, and I said to myself don’t even try leave where you are; just do your bit.”

He moved, through divine intuition that his time was up, to set up his own business despite the fact that he was doing fantastically well where he was, running everything and implementing them from strategy to full execution.

“I saw everything that could be a problem, including the fact that everything that I had as comfort at that point as a senior executive was going to be taken away from me, and I mean everything including such basic thing as a laptop, in a place that you had worked for 16 years. Your official car that was eight months old and was four years delayed before they gave it to you.

“All these were happening because you said you were leaving after 16 years of building the company from scratch to the enviable height it was. I knew those things were going to happen and it made me to even determine more to say that first, ‘I wasn’t going to undo what God has used me to build. I was Client Service Director and I was the one that knew all the clients and the accounts; I could have gone with the accounts but I determined that I would not leave with any account.’

“Secondly, I determined that I was not going to leave with anybody, of course, you have your favourites among the staff but I told myself that I was not going to leave with any of them. So, I was basically starting from nothing, contrary to the notion they held that I was leaving because I was familiar with the big accounts.”

Tunji continues: “Amid all of these, a word of knowledge came to me loud and clear that I should not do anything that any man would share in God’s glory, so that when it happens, there was no way anybody would say I was the one that did it and that was exactly what happened.”

According to him, it was widely rumoured that he left because he wanted to become one of the big boys in town. Eventually, when he became a big boy, they said he was just lucky.

He remarked that there is nothing like luck, instead it really about rolling up your sleeves and enter into the trenches, adding that like the bible said, ‘daily carrying your cross’.

“For me, I think really a great deal comes from the values we have acquired over the years, especially from our parents and grandparents. Also personal value because some of us acquire values that we don’t believe in but only use them in a very selfish sighted manner. Personal values matter a great deal, and like I always say to people, what takes you there does not keep you there.

“So, entrepreneurship for me is a means to an end and not an end in itself. It is means to an end in the sense that the material comfort that you draw from it is only incidental, it cannot be an end in itself.
“Entrepreneurship has taught me that your relevance is really a service to other people. So, when you are designing solutions or looking at the commercial value, yes you will get validation from the material perspective, but more important is what does that do for the rest of the world. Everything is the value proposition that you bring to the table in a differentiated manner,” Tunji stated.

Akinyinka Gbolahan
Akinyinka Gbolahan is the Managing Consultant/CEO of Team Building International with experience in HR practices, organizational development and executive training and development.

His experience of over 20 years has seen him work in various managerial capacities with the hallmark of being pioneer staff in most organizations that he had worked, including Multichoice Nigeria, Access Bank Plc., as group head human resources.

As an entrepreneur, Yinka unveiled Teamspirit, the first global team-oriented social network services that provides avenue for people with diverse backgrounds to connect and interact through the team-based platform.

According to him, mistake in business shouldn’t be considered as mistake unless it is repeatedly done. “Coming from the banking world, I have been one person who has more than two things I can do, I never run out of options. When I left the bank, the next day I went back dropping my business cards to all my bosses and colleagues, and everyone wondered how this happened, knowing we have a very tight work schedule.

“When I left the bank, I started my company in the corner of my sitting room, because all I needed was a laptop, internet and my phone. After a month, I got my entitlement and because I know how it is, I was amazed with what I got because it was three times of what I was expecting.

“The first thing I did with the money was to rent a very big office, spent a lot of money furnishing it and paid for two years. That was the biggest mistake I made. At a point, I had to begin to call people to come and use the place almost for free, as there was no activity going on there. The two years rent expired, I couldn’t afford the rent and so we moved into a very smaller office. Though the step still hunts me, it has helped to advise starters on the best way to handle their businesses.

On how Nigeria can tackle the high level unemployment in the country, the HR expert says, “the university system we have in Nigeria train students to look for job and to work in government establishment using the English curriculum of those days and these has never changed.

“They don’t train us to start a business or look for solutions to problems. So, the first thing that needs to be done is a reorientation starting from with our educational system. Going to school should not be that at the end of the day you are going to look for job but to proffer solution to situations or problems and then find a way of commercializing it. The more jobs we create, the better the economy will be. That is the only way out.”

He insisted that the orientation is wrong while canvassing the need for a change of mindset. “We are not using this medium to blow our trumpet or announce that we have arrived. That is not the motive; we want to inspire and encourage young people that regardless of your background or how you were brought up, you can make it in life.

“God never brought anyone into this world without giving the person all he needs to survive; we all have it in us, but when people come into this world they are looking for it outside.

Akintomi Akinyemi
For Dr. Akintomi, the Medical Director and Chief Executive Officer of Prime Pain Specialists, LLC, an Interventional Pain Specialist Clinic in Pennsylvania, United States of America, the values — fearlessness, bold and never back down from challenge that he pick from his parents — have helped him in the discharge of his duties as medical doctor.

“My dad will say, I don’t care how brilliant you are, you must have character. Efin ni iwa meaning that no matter what, your character will one day show up. I have had hard decisions to make in life, which will determine how much I make, but I just have to choose based on character, integrity and ethics.”

Akintomi combines a unique skill set, being an Internist (board-certified in Internal Medicine by the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria and American College of Physicians), a Neurologist, (board-certified by the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria), and a practicing Interventional Pain Specialists (board-certified by the American College of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine).

“It is good to be nice, but sometime you need to look at people in the face, especially when they want to take you for granted. When people do something awkward, you must tell them their act was awkward. Some patients maybe nice and courteous to the doctor, but before getting to consulting room they have been rude to the staff in the front office,” he stated.

According him, his best historical figure is Winston Churchill. “I love one of his famous saying — ‘To change is to improve’. This literally means that to be perfect is to change often.

On why he left Nigeria for the United States, he said, “My leaving Nigeria is not as a result of the poor economy. For me, it was more of a challenge; I love challenges. I trained as a Neurologist and I was an Assistant Professor at OAU. I was also a visiting physician at the teaching hospital in Ife. One of my patients was my headmistress in Primary School.

“I was very comfortable but at a point, I felt there was nothing more challenging for me there; everything was routine. I became restless in my spirit; I knew I could do better, learn more. One thing led to the other, we (my wife, who is also a physician and I) travelled to the US. Even though I already doing a consultancy in Nigeria, we had to start from the scratch in the U.S doing board examination, trainings.”

Oladapo Olumuyiwa
Founder and CEO, Arrowshots Solutions Limited, a United Kingdom based real estate firm, Dapo is a graduate of Dramatic Arts from University of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo University. He holds an MBA from the Open University in 2010 with specialisation in policy development and implementation. He left for the UK in 1997 after resigning as the Deputy Creative Director at Insight Communications.

Asked what could be the secret behind the family’s entrepreneurial skills, Dapo said, “That will depend on what you define as success because success to a lot of people will mean making money and mine won’t depend on that. It is really about being content on what you have and still having dissatisfaction with where you are. I am based in the UK and the social housing sector is not really known in Nigeria.

“After being in the advertising sector in Nigeria for about 16 years, and moving to the UK, I had to learn something new and for me who started at the lowest rank, I had a way of looking at things that people at the top level will not. So, I asked my boss to pay me less, let me work at a higher level so they get value for money. The benefit for me was accelerated experience.

“In the UK, I initially got a job in advertising, recruitment advertising specifically, but after a few months, it was obvious that the life of the UK advertising professional was not for me. I somehow stumbled into the social housing sector in 2000 and again rose through the ranks from being a Housing Assistant to being Head of Housing, which was the role I had when I left permanent employment in 2013.

“One thing I am looking at bringing home, is the care home concept or independent living where people who have retired and have the financial means but want to live in communities rather than go back to their villages and they get lonely and depressed. So, in order to get an enhanced support, they pay for the housing and support, which allow them live longer. I think the ability to do things differently, be content, be innovative and think differently is key.”
According to him in 2013, he registered Arrowshot Solutions Limited, which allows him to contract his services to housing organisations in the local authority, housing association and social care sectors.

Speaking about his career trajectory, Dapo noted that he was a fairly decent copywriter while in Nigeria, working on some exciting campaigns like the NICON insurance big umbrella advert, Indomie, British Airways, and the Pepsi Big Blue concept among others.

On his aspirations and plans, Dapo said: “I am looking into the possibility of bringing the high standards of social housing in the UK into the Nigerian context, especially relating to independent sheltered housing for older people and specialist supported housing for those with learning disabilities and mental health vulnerabilities.

“The Nigerian social milieu is changing rapidly and opening up gaps of need I believe can be filled in very profitable ways by the astute, discerning and hardworking minds,” he added.

Oyeniran Roy
Roy is the seventh of the nine kids of the Olugbodi. He is the Chief Executive Officer of Strange Creatives Audio –Visuals, a photography and cinematography outfit. He is a graduate of Performing Arts from the University of Ilorin.

His passion for photography and cinematography was sparked after he watched a theater group record a movie in Osogbo at age nine. And rather than be in front of the camera, he prefers to be behind.

“At nine, I watched some people shoot a film in Osogbo were we lived and I had a lot of respect for those were behind the camera than the subjects, and I think that was how the inspiration came from. However, I grew up believing I should be my own boss with my creativity.

“My dad wanted me to be a lawyer, but I knew I wouldn’t do well with it; I knew my talent will be wasting away and so I studied theater arts and by the time I was through, I knew what I wanted to do.”

Describing the influence of his mother on his entrepreneurial skill, Roy says, he grew up to “fear my mum and still do respect and appreciate her. If you are sleeping in our house in Osogbo, you have to be home at 8pm or you book a hotel.

“Growing up, I felt my mum was wicked and I wished other children’s parents were mine because they were fair with them. We were raised to do house chores and till date, I still wash my clothes with my hands even though there is a washing machine.

“When you do anything wrong, my mum will beat you like she didn’t give birth to you, and if my dad finds out, he will add to it. So, what we do when we commit an offence is to make sure we are asleep when my dad gets back from work, otherwise, you serve further punishment. Another thing she taught us was to be prudent in spending and so, she got us piggy banks for savings.

“Though I wasn’t religious with it, it has helped me. Seun will have three boxes filled with money before the year runs out, while I am still struggling with one. Today, if you want to keep your money safe, he is the right person to go to.”

Romoke Adebo (NEE OLUGBODI)
The last of nine siblings and the only lady among eight dudes. RMK as she is fondly called is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Epicentre Global Events Limited, a leading corporate event management outfit in Nigeria, with clientele base cutting across major industries such as banking and finance, advertising, oil & gas, telecommunications and education.

She holds a B. Tech degree in Agricultural Economics and Extension from Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, (LAUTECH) Ogbomosho. She launched Epicentre Global Events Limited in 2008 with the aim to provide full-time event management services to corporate bodies and individuals. But as the years roll by, the company carved a niche for itself as a leading corporate event management company in the country, handling major corporate and special events such as conferences, seminars, product launch, grand openings, company end of year parties, and award events, among others

Asked which is more tasking and fulfilling, being an employee or an employer, Romoke explained that as an employee, you clock in and you clock out, say 8am to 5pm. She agreed that as employee, there are deadlines and deliverables to make, she noted that there is really no personal connection to what is happening to the organization with the employee.

“So I would say it is more tasking to be an employer because everything about the organization is on you. After my graduation I sought jobs and did get offer even with MTN but after my first day at work I told my husband that I can’t cope not just for anything, it is not my thing. Even my big brother Tunji knows that 9.00a.m to 5.00p.m job is not my calling.

“Before now, I used to be a one-man army but I got to a point where I realized that I just could not do more than I could do because God has helped to build the brand to the point that I needed to expand. As event manager, there are lots of intricacies and sometimes I’m just like it is okay, let me deal with these.”

According to her, as an entrepreneur and married woman/mother, there is tendency to work from the home. “So, I structured my time into 8.00a.m to 3.00pm. I discovered I usually have more deliverables to make everyday, so I decided to get extra hands to support me in what I do. At the moment, I have about nine permanent staff and over 50 contract staff depending on the project we have at hand.

“As an employer, the moment the month is getting to 20th, you begin to feel an unusual pressure. Apart from calculating the staff salaries, you are faced with the challenge of power, as you have to buy fuel or diesel to power the office. So, for me it is more tasking to be an employer than being an employee. But I must say that it is also more fulfilling to be an employer, even when there is no project to work on or money coming in. There is this fulfillment within you that this is my own thing, one day it is going to make sense.”

RMK’s biggest aspiration is to create world-class brands and also be in a position to mentor and develop others. “If you say you want conference planner, exhibition planner and corporate event planner, the first name that should come to your mind would be Epicenter Global Events,” she stated.

Oluseun Akintoye
Regarded as the due diligence man, Seun is the Deputy Managing Director at Background Check International (BCI), Nigeria’s first exclusive background screening firm and pioneer of the background screening industry in Nigeria.

He believes so much in values and principles, as well as integrity, which he learnt from father. He notes that without integrity there won’t be business adding that his mum has impacted him in so many ways.

“She was able to identify some traits in me and nurtured them, especially financial management. As a child, when we were going to school, my mum would give us 50kobo and out of it, I would spend 20kobo and save 30kobo. Whenever dad was at home, he would give us one naira, I would still spend 20kobo and save 80kobo. I used to keep the money at the back of the dressing table, until my mum noticed because the coins were always falling to the ground, so she got us piggy banks because she saw that in me and so I have always managed resources, which I have been able to inculcate into our company — BCI.

For the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, B.Tech (Hons) Electrical & Electronic Engineering graduate, the grace of God upon his life and that of his siblings as well as their businesses cannot be over emphasized

“When you are starting a business can change everything because you don’t know where the seeds will go to and those who will be influenced by it. Even the devil understands that having a legitimate business that is thriving, you can solve so many problems for people most especially hunger. It is a principle for me that nobody goes hungry where I am.

Seun explained that to excel as an entrepreneur, it is important to delay gratification, adding that you think of investing first before considering luxury, while another key factor is attitude to problem solving. “My mum taught us to be fearless, face our problems and solve them. These were really important for our mental growth.”

He noted that limiting factor that an entrepreneur should have is self-pity, saying that it is one thing you cannot have around his mother, adding he had also implemented the same value among his staff.

“When I hear my staff complain about being the only one doing a particular job, it gets me angry; it is best to switch to a solution and what you achieve at the end will even work better.”


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