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The Guardian’s Special Focus on Nigeria’s 100 Most Proactive, Result-Driven CEOs in 2020-Part One

Even before the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the outlook for the world economy - and especially developing countries like Nigeria - was fragile, as global GDP growth was estimated to be only 2.5% in 2020. Based on this unanticipated and unpleasant reality, the consequences have been devastating and enormous on business organisations, whereby a…

Even before the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the outlook for the world economy – and especially developing countries like Nigeria – was fragile, as global GDP growth was estimated to be only 2.5% in 2020.

Based on this unanticipated and unpleasant reality, the consequences have been devastating and enormous on business organisations, whereby a number of them have resorted to downsizing and laying off staff in order to cut down costs, improve operational capacity, and effectively deliver on set target.

However, despite the daunting challenges and dire outcome on the fortunes of many, some result- driven Chief Executives have been able to
navigate their organizations to optimal operational effectiveness, efficiency, and visibility. These they have made possible through the application of ingenious management practices, prudent management of resources, as well as excellent, proactive and innovative solutions and ideas in achieving set goals and objectives

While they defy the apparent harsh economic environment by piloting the affairs of their companies to profitability, these exceptional men and women deserve recognition for their out-of-the-box innovations and enviable CSR interventions. Indeed, they deserve laurels in their efforts and contributions to the stability and growth of the nation’s economy, as well as modelling other upcoming businesses.

In this Special Annual Series, The Guardian features some of the selected CEOs of excellence in this outgoing year, 2020.

Noah Ibrahim: passion for value addition, providing sustainable, eco-friendly housing

As early as the age of 25, he had already charted a veritable course in his life journey. Even before he concluded his undergraduate studies in Mechanical Engineering at the prestigious Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Noah Ibrahim had ventured into business starting a clothing brand, and just immediately after his degree, he veered into footwear design and production with up to 20 workers.

While recalling the passion that brought his career to life, Ibrahim said after much struggle with managing the brand, he diverted into Real Estate sales and marketing, where his salesmanship attributes came into play. Eventually, he went on to launch his real estate development firm, Novarick Homes & Properties Limited which has become today one of the fastest growing real estate companies in Nigeria.

He noted that the most important trait or mindset that kept him going was his passion for value addition. That is, being able to provide people with something of value, in exchange for money. According to him, the positioning of Novarick Homes is unique, and this came about while looking into the factors affecting the real estate industry.

From then on, the company has launched three estates and one green building project, working actively to develop truly-affordable housing projects with our foreign partners, and we are well in shape to bring the Novarick vision to life

Ibrahim noted that “the magic behind the phenomenal growth and significant strength of the company is in the “Value” which is the root of our vision to build greener communities in Nigeria and Africa. Most developers will just build houses and sell. Although, that can significantly reduce the housing deficit, but Novarick wished to do more in putting up sustainable and eco-friendly structures, saving water, saving energy, reducing the carbon footprint of properties, and also actively bringing development to underdeveloped areas.

Our Ruby Apartments project is a testament. We are working with the community and local government to construct a 450M road in the heart of Lekki. The road that will be beneficial to the community that has not seen such development in its history – that is true value addition. Secondly, the power of the people behind Novarick Homes, an exceptional team, and loyal customers have set Novarick Homes on the path to greatness.”

Concerning his experience in the sector, vis-a-vis the two disruptive events of COVID-19 and recent civil unrest in Nigeria, the Novarick Homes boss said “It is been tough, investors have lost trust in the system, and more people are looking to domicile their funds in other currencies asides from the Naira. The price of building materials has gone up, and projects now have cost overruns. This will further the stretch buyers who do not even have enough disposable income to make purchases due to inflation and other factors.

The real estate industry however is a very stable one, and I foresee a faster come-back for it, as it is currently the only industry that has a better hedge against inflation. I believe this is the time for real estate developers to look into real affordable housing for the masses, while other industries look to stabilize things”.

He said raising funds for projects as a greatest challenge, especially with the financial institutions not ready to help except private investors.

Concerning government’s policies to protect indigenous companies, Ibrahim believed this starts with access to funding, providing good infrastructure, encouraging local production, and reducing reliance on importation. These will help alleviate unemployment, improve the GDP, help grow the Naira.

“At Cititrust, We Are Focused On Creating Wealth Across Africa” – Yemi Adefisan

Mr. Yemi Adefisan, the Group Chief Executive of Cititrust Holdings Plc has proven through his achievements that his success in life is no fluke. With a background that exposed him to early virtues of humility, hard work and honesty, his exemplary rise on life’s ladder of success couldn’t have been otherwise.

Resourceful and articulate, his career which spans over twenty years has exposed him to business operations across various sectors which includes banking, oil and gas, real estate, manufacturing and logistics.

Fondly called Yemi by his colleagues, holds a MBA in Strategic Management from University of Chichester where he graduated with a distinction, and Post graduate degree in Management Science and Strategic Management from both Ladoke Akintola University, Ogbomosho and Metropolitan School of Business Management, UK. Prior to his appointment as the Group Chief Executive of Cititrust Holdings in 2018, he had previously worked at Seven-Up Bottling Company, Pacific Bank (now Unity Bank), Crystal Microfinance Bank, Skye Bank (now Polaris Bank) and EAIN Capital Group.

According to him, the Cititrust Group which has presence in eleven African countries has been able to grow beyond the borders of Nigeria given its unique business approach which is a mix of brownfield and greenfield investments. He said, “We are passionate about Africa and our strategy has been a mix of organic and inorganic growth. For some businesses, we go in as greenfield investors once we realize the need to go into such businesses and our assessment shows that the environment in such countries is good for us, while we go in as brownfield investors for some businesses through acquisitions. This has helped us in our spread across Africa because it is a unique strategy in the global business space.”

Speaking further, he added that the company through her subsidiaries across Africa have a mandate to increase financial inclusivity among Africans which is geared towards making an average African financially capable irrespective of status or income. “We still have a long way to go in terms of financial inclusion and this is why our products are profiled to meet the needs of Africans, whether resident in Africa or in diaspora but that doesn’t mean we don’t do business with other people from other parts of the world. Recent data in Nigeria shows that there are about 40 million Nigerians with BVN and we have a population which is close to 200 million. Also, there are about 120-130 million accounts owned by those 40 million, this simply implies that some of us operate at least two bank accounts.

“So what we are doing in this regard is to target our services to those in both rural and urban areas because there are people in urban areas who don’t have a bank account, and at Cititrust, we have given ourselves a target of contributing more than 20 percent to the financial inclusion growth in Nigeria. We plan to achieve this through agency banking and we are also coming with a product called ‘Credit Go Africa card’ which works with a mobile application and USSD codes, so you neither need a smartphone nor internet service to carry out financial transactions. We have already gone into partnership with a telecoms firm in other to make this work”, he informed.

A Fellow of Microfinance Association UK, National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria (Chartered) and Institute of Management Consultants. He is also a member of the Nigerian Institute of Management (Chartered), Institute of Directors (IOD) Nigeria, Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) and Honorary Senior Member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria.

To further widen his horizon, Adefisan has attended a number of executive management programmes at various institutions which includes the Metropolitan School of Business and Management, UK, IESE Business School Barcelona, Spain, Lagos Business School, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, USA, The Housing Finance, Canada, and Strathmore University Business School, Kenya.

A financial expert with a penchant for excellence, Adefisan explained that he draws the motivation to do more from his team members who have been very active in transforming the African financial space, which in turn has contributed to the growth of the company. He also informed that as part of the plans of the company to expand its subsidiaries in Nigeria, Cititrust Holdings will soon be filing for a commercial banking license through one of its subsidiaries.

Segun Olatunji: CEO With Uncommon Drive For Excellence

Engr. Nicholas Segun Olatunji, Founder and Managing Director, Tomsey Engineering and Services International Limited – one of the leading Engineering and Safety Services Company in Nigeria, is a Chemical Engineer by training. He is a certified HAZOP facilitator (British Safety Council certified), certified technical safety facilitator, trainer and auditor.

With a career that started at NNPC, where he served for eleven years between 1984 and 1995, Engr. Olatunji later joined Cakasa Nigeria Limited where he was the pioneer manager, process engineering and marketing.

His quest to establish an organization that will provide job opportunities for Nigerians and also outlive him gave birth to Tomsey Engineering in 1999. According to him, the beginning was tough and he had to sell his two cars in other to raise the needed funds to start the company.

A purpose-driven and astute CEO with over 20 years of safety training and partnership with the British Safety Council, Olatunji is a foremost leader in Nigeria on all things safety. He has trained and certified over 1000 professionals in various industries in Nigeria. He is also one of the few TUV Functional Safety Certified Engineers by TUV Germany as well as PHA Certified Facilitator by PRIMATECH USA.

With a vision to be ‘Africa’s leading engineering, procurement and construction company, providing quality services to numerous clients and driven by international standards and specification’, Tomsey Engineering and Services International Limited (TESIL) offers a wide range of services that cuts across several industries including oil and gas, petrochemical, power and energy as well as industrial and manufacturing.

While giving an insight into the growth of the company, Olatunji informed that the company started as a service provider to the oil and gas industry, however, the need to expand its portfolio saw the company providing support services to the manufacturing and power sectors. He said, “Given my experience and exposure as an engineer, I knew we could offer more services, so at a point we started training young engineers in safety procedures. We entered a partnership with the British Safety Council to run their programmes in Nigeria and that was how we became the first Nigerian company to run an international safety certified programme in Nigeria. Eventually, we became a representative of the BSC in Nigeria.

“We also provide mechanical and civil construction services. Our comprehensive technical services encompasses the complete project life cycle: engineering, project execution, project management, installation, and demobilization.”

A fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants, he also holds the membership of a number of professional bodies which includes, Nigerian Institute of Safety Professionals, Nigerian Society of Engineers, Nigerian Society of Chemical Engineers and the Nigerian Institute of Management. He is a visionary leader with the ability to communicate his vision to inspire both internal and external stakeholders. “As a CEO, I believe in my team members and I listen to them whenever they have suggestions on how to improve our services.

This has been helpful over the years because the ultimate goal is for the company to outlive me. By July 2021, we will be launching our safety products which includes boots, gloves and safety overalls”, he informed.

He is presently the National President of his alma mater – Igbaja Baptist Grammar School, Kwara State. A portifolio he hold dear to his heart because it gives him the opportunity to give a little back to the school that molded him.

Oyindamola Lami Adeyemi: Pursuer of Excellence, Focused on Success, Advancement of Humanity

Known as a pursuer of excellence in the Nigerian corporate world, Oyindamola Lami Adeyemi is a passionate entrepreneur and administrator with a focus on success and the advancement of humanity.

Ms. Adeyemi is the Founder, Still Earth Capital Partners Limited and Group Managing Director, Still Earth Group of Companies. An amiable entrepreneur with first-rate interpersonal skills in building relationships with key decision-makers, she currently serves as a shareholder and a board member of several companies in diverse sectors of the Nigerian corporate and business industry.

A graduate of the Harvard Business School, where she completed the Owner/President Management Program, Ms. Adeyemi holds enviable leadership, business, and management qualities from her experiences as a leading figure in several business sectors in the country, such as banking and finance; construction and real estate, as well as oil and gas.

In all her businesses, she has always maintained the attitude of excellence and customer satisfaction, which has led to the conferment of several awards on her.

True to this assertion, Adeyemi explained that “Still Earth Limited was birthed from the need to create international standards and excellence in the construction industry by an indigenous company. The company is not just about adding its significant bit to the construction industry through her unyielding, disciplined and principled high standards but also passionate about supporting and benefitting the communities in which it operates in.

We believe in achieving this not just through the delivery of successful projects which impact on the community, but also by generously employing corporate social responsibility as a means of adding value to those communities and societies.”

In terms of corporate values, the Still Earth boss maintained that “To continue to add exceptional, lasting value in all our activities, be it in our technical expertise, corporate culture and corporate social responsibility to our staff, clients, country and humanity.

Speaking on how she was able to navigate the company through the turbulent times of COVID-19, the board room Amazon stressed that “The health and safety of our staff is most paramount to the management of the company. Therefore, we had to ensure that for the first 3 months of the lockdown, our staff had to work remotely and adhere strictly to the safety guidelines. Also, we put strict internal structures in place in compliance with the COVID-19 government guidelines both on site and at our offices at the resumption of duties.”

She added that “With regard the effect on the company’s business, like all businesses in Nigeria at the time, we were also affected, but due to proper management and financial structures set by our finance manager, we were able to navigate through the storm, without laying off any staff.

More importantly, it was pertinent to effectively imbibe the use of technology to our daily activities. Our management, site and client meetings were held via tele-conferencing applications like Google Meet, Zoom, Microsoft Teams.”

Concerning the company’s CSR interventions, Ms. Lami Adeyemi submitted that “providing support to friends and families in need during the lockdown and ensuring that Still Earth did not lay off any staff and salaries being paid as and when due, were priorities. We were also involved in quite a number of charity activities to the less-privileged.”

Ade Adebajo: Connecting Skills, Meeting People’s Needs, Creating Values

He started his career as an investment consultant for Lincoln Financial Group – a Fortune 250 company, in the United Kingdom, before moving on to wealth management with St James Place, a FTSE100 British wealth management business, as an Associate Partner, Mr. Ade Adebajo, CEO, UT Group benefited from strong mentorship and personal development ethos at those respective firms.

Through these well-established and well-structured organisations, Adebajo was able to hone his strong financial and stakeholder management skills, which have served him well in his career, especially when he decided to forge his entrepreneurial path. Thereafter, he set up and run several financial-services enterprises over the years across a globally distributed client base.

According to him, “Managing financial instruments means dealing with risk and complex nuances, but the fundamental lesson I have learned is that finance is about people. The ability to connect with, understand and meet the needs of people is where value is created. This concept resonated with me earlier and was arguably the motivating spark that helped drive my career in finance.”

Apart from his highly valued skills and wealth of experience, being an astute manager of human and materials made re-positioning UT Group to the path of phenomenal growth and significant strength so easy. In his words, “this, ultimately, is down to the quality of UT talent that I have the pleasure of working with.

When I took the helms at UT Group, the immense potential was immediately apparent. The fundamentals were good, and we had a strong and talented team in wealth management and property development – some of the best in the industry. It assured me that we had the right core capabilities on which to build a sustainable and scalable strategy.”

He spoke further on his first step which was “to refine our value-proposition and focus on becoming genuinely customer-centric with an unparalleled quality-of-service. The interactions with our customers and industry recognition show that we are on the right path, but we are still in the growth phase of our lifecycle. My next challenge is to grow the business without compromising our operational resilience, unique identity and customer-centric culture”, he added.

In response to industry experience and the disruptive events of 2020, the UT group boss noted that “the FS sector has faced existential shocks in the last few years, non-more than the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it has allowed us to be adaptive and resilient in our approach. For example, we leveraged on the dollar fluctuations to our advantage and restructured our cost-base to give us capacity and reduce pressure on net-interest margins. The pandemic also created some secure-high yielding opportunities that we capitalized on.”

While making the safety of staff and customers paramount through safety protocols and appropriate social distancing measures, Adebajo pointed out that one of the central principles of the UT brand is a unique personal touch with customers. This effort to demonstrate empathy has been amplified by reaching out to customers during the difficult periods.

The personal touch includes client management, loan restructuring and bespoke-service increased demand for investment-placements, and reduced defaults on drawn-down facilities. These measures, coupled with a few more strategic initiatives, gave UT Group reasonable grounds to ride the storm and remain profitable.

Concerning how young entrepreneurs can make it to the top in Nigeria, Adebajo commended the nation’s current generation for “taking bold entrepreneurial steps” and as one of the ways that the country will make its mark on the global stage.

He added that “The recent acquisition of Pay Stack shows the exit potential of Nigerian fintech. COVID has accelerated digital adoption across all FS sectors, so that I can see that space continuing to grow exponentially. Qualities like fortitude, focus and an unwavering commitment to excellence are key attributes needed to succeed as an entrepreneur.

Bootstrapping and proving the business model before approaching capital investment is important, Investors need to see a strategic roadmap and the exit potential. One of the core principles of strategic advantage is not to be easily replicated. My advice is to focus on building a strong moat in whatever business idea, iterate and scale as you learn.”

Adebajo concluded that “Initiatives like Public-Private Partnerships and palliative tax-incentives for SMEs, low-rate recovery loans and grants to help bridge businesses affected by the pandemic, municipal subsidies for start-ups and streamlining government approval-processes will help accelerate Nigeria’s economic growth.”

Barrister (Mrs.) Precious Ogun-Michael: Exceptionally Brilliant, Focused Mentor, Result-Oriented Amazon

Early in her elementary education at St. Stephen Primary School, Lagos, she was made the Chapel Prefect. Her secondary education at the prestigious Apata Memorial High School, Lagos, was not any less eventful as she served as the School Assembly Prefect, and graduated with the best WAEC results in her set.

Afterwards, she did a two-year programme in International Relations at the Lagos State University, Ojo through a scholarship from Lagos State Government. Ultimately, her dream of becoming a lawyer came to reality at the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State.

At AAU, she was again on scholarship of the Ondo State Scholarships Board and ODUA Scholarships Board, as she remained the Best Student in her Faculty till her 400 Level. She was awarded the “Dean Faculty of Law’s Best Student Prize” – from 200 to 400 level, and graduated with a CGPA 4.36!

Today, Barrister (Mrs.) Precious Ogun-Michael, legal practitioner per excellence, astute Real Estate Consultant, is the Group Chief Executive Officer at Oxford International Group – a top conglomerate with almost two hundred (200) operational businesses in Lagos, and Nigeria.

While in school – between 2011 and 2015, Barrister (Mrs.) Ogun-Michael, was the Assistant General Secretary, The Lord Advocate and Deputy Presiding Don of The Legal Temple. – a private Chamber. After a brief stint at the A.O Williams Law Firm and Adekunle Ojo Law Firm as a Junior Counsel immediately after graduation from the Law School, she joined Oxford International Group in 2018 as the Head, Human Resource and grew to become the GCEO in 2020.

As a result-oriented, excellent executor, goal-getter, self-motivated and hardworking person, Precious successfully grew Oxford International Group from a N1billion capital base venture to N8billion within 6 months as the Group Chief Executive Officer. The Group also experienced business expansion, not just in Real Estate but also diversified into Agriculture with Oxford Green Farms Limited, Finance with Safeguard Microfinance Bank Limited, as well as international expansion of the business to neighboring Benin Republic and Rwanda.

Passionate about helping people unleash and maximize their full potentials, Precious has mentored over 500 youths in various areas of life not limited to Career, Personal Growth, Relationships and Faith.

According to her, “Oxford Group’s phenomenal growth and significant strength cannot be attributed to magic but a deliberate and systematic approach to come up with a blue print that works.

Today, we are not talking about a company that started out in 2016 as Oxford Commercial Services Int’l Ltd with its core interest tied around Real Estate. In 2020, we have built a conglomerate that has metamorphosed from Oxford Commercial Services to Oxford International Group with interests in about every business imaginable. Oxford International Group as it stands now is arguably one of the fastest growing organizations which has achieved success in such a significantly short space of 4 years of operation!

With all sense of modesty, it is quite phenomenal. Here we have a cliché that we use often:” Taking over the business space”. By our 10th Anniversary, hopefully we should be able to achieve the vision we had at the birth of Oxford International Group. In the history, it is also an opportunity to interact and collaborate with the vision that says “We want in the next 10 years to become number 1.” With the multiplier effect of becoming number one amongst all, the Oxford International Group is a surreptitious brand.

My experience over the years has been awesome. I am filled with gratitude for my attainment in the organization in such a short period of time. Furthermore, I had been blessed with a crop of very bright and brilliant co-travelers on the journey to achieve great things. These comprise our amiable Executive Chairman, Dr. Teniola Babatunde Adesanya, and everyone whose job is to keep the company’s premises clean.

At the beginning of the year, it was a pretty slow start as we encountered a COVID-19 lockdown that lasted for several months. Thus, in the post COVID-19 era, we had to re-modify our Operations, Logistics, other miscellaneous strategies to be able to deal with the effect on us as a business.

Concerning the opportunities for young entrepreneurs, there are no fast and hard rules on how to make it to the top. However, resilience, intelligence, open- mindedness, Godliness, business knowledge, handwork. are key qualities that will make a super smart Entrepreneur.”