Felix Ohiwerei – Apostle in the marketplace
He is easily one of the best known corporate icons in Nigeria and beyond. Like a colossus, he has bestridden the corporate world being at various times the chief executive officer or chairman of leading bluechip companies. The roll includes Nigerian Breweries Plc where he rose to the position of executive chairman; Unilever Nigeria Plc; Virgin Nigeria Airline, and New Nigeria Bank Limited – where he served meritoriously as chairman.
Even in retirement, Felix Ohiwerei, born January 18, 1937 is a much sought after board chairman, locally and internationally. He has served and still servers variously as chairman of Fidson Healthcare Plc, Asset & Resource Management Company (ARM), Bankers Warehouse Limited, eTransact International Plc. He also served as chairman of Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC) and Pro-chancellor and chairman of the Governing Council of the University of Ibadan – his alma mater.
A man with a midas touch for turning around the fortunes of challenged and performing companies, Ohiwerei is best celebrated for his sterling character, integrity, honesty and dedication. Other corporate titans describe him as a man of impeccable character, uncommon integrity and a role model. In a 2012 biography on him – “Winning by His Grace,” authored by Emmanuel Emeyonu, a United States-based Nigerian professor of International Accounting, the first Nigerian chairman and managing director of UAC, Dr. Chris Abebe, described Ohiwerei as “very conscientious and dedicated. His integrity is unimpeachable.” Another boardroom veteran and former CEO of Unilever Nigeria Plc, Dr. Michael Omolayole saw him as “an embodiment of the highest standard of integrity which any country in the world can boast of.”
In the same biography, Mr. Thom de Man, the President of Heineken (Africa and Middle East) noted that Ohiwerei’s career “will most likely be used as a business case role model at Nigerian universities and beyond. In Felix, we see a man who rose to the highest level by rising through the ranks, knowing the facts, and at all times maintains the highest level of integrity.
Ohiwerei’s sterling qualities reverberate beyond the confines of the corporate commercial world. He is a leading light in Christian endeavours. Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye – one of the most influential preachers in the world – whom he gladly calls “Daddy,” describes him as “simple, yet profound, a man who is transparent, a man who is solid; when you talk about integrity, you cannot see many like him. He is a rare breed. He is someone that I can recommend to anyone, anytime.” He serves in various capacities in the Redeemed Christian Church of God under Pastor Adeboye’s leadership.
His Christian service dates back many decades. As a leading member of the Full Men’s Gospel Fellowship, he has been a teacher, counsellor and mentor to professionals across the globe some of whom have never had a physical contact with him. Yet, they draw inspiration, encouragement and support from a man they have come to know as a role model. As a philanthropist, he lends discreet but vital support to many pro-family and character-building publications and projects in the proverbial manner of the right hand not letting the left know what it is doing. He is a benevolent giver to the needy and sponsor of indigent students. He frequently, yet discreetly, attends to innumerable distress calls over outstanding house rents, school fees and hospital bills.
Beyond his boardroom exploits and Christian service, he is a consummate husband, father and grandfather who learnt early in his career to strike the right balance between family and work. Even in the days of intense work pressure, he found time to pick the children from school and have lunch with the family. He never took files home. He encourages professionals of all callings to create quality time for their families. He is a man for whom the statement stands true that “charity begins at home.” His wife, Janet, is a quintessential model of the Virtuous Woman of Proverbs 31 and epitomises her husband’s values of humility, integrity, steadfastness and love for all – the same virtues that are visible in their children and grandchildren.
Though a man of superlative accomplishments in all spheres of life, Ohiwerei is averse to any form of self-praise. Even when others seek to praise him, he would deflect the focus from himself and may swiftly change the subject matter. He would rather give the glory to God. No wonder, the only biography on him which he reluctantly consented to is so titled: Winning by His Grace. As Dr. Christopher Kolade, one-time CEO of Cadbury Nigeria Plc and former Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, notes in the forward to the book, Ohiwerei “prays about everything he does, as we are convinced he must have done in choosing a title for his biography. We are not surprised, therefore, when his successes seem to remind us of Biblical Joseph, about whom we learn that ‘the Lord was with him and gave him success in everything he did.’
When given the opportunity, Ohiwerei would rather sing about his heroes, notably his father and elder brother who tutored him on the timeless virtues of good character and dedication than himself. He speaks of his late father, Pa Samuel Ohiwerei, a nonsense Anglican Catechist with passion. He recalls his valedictory counsel to him and the other children: “You are my wealth. I am leaving for you a good name. Handle it carefully. A good name will take you where money cannot reach. Treasure it.” His elder brother, Late Justice Joel Ohiwerei, who died some years ago, upped the nurture of the young Felix, seeing him through the tertiary educational institutions.
Ohiwerei also has fond memories of his alma mater – the Government Secondary School, Owerri – where the character moulding continued and firmed up. He attests to the positive influence of the school on him and fellow students.
With a focus on character, the school’s motto was:
Work Hard, Play Hard,
When wealth is lost, nothing is lost;
When health is lost; something is lost;
When character is lost; everything is lost.
What is the value of boardroom successes and material accomplishments without a positive influence on others? Ohiwerei is most certain to answer “Nothing”. The real value of anyone is discovering God’s purpose; fulfilling it and helping others fulfill theirs through positive influences at home, in the church, in the marketplace and the society at large.
As Kolade also noted in the forward to Winning By His Grace: “What is not in doubt is that FOA (Felix Omoikhoje Aizobeoje Ohiwerei) is playing his part in being what his Lord asked him to be – ‘salt of the earth and light of the world.’
Happy Birthday to the quiet, humble, unassuming, albeit, effective Apostle in the marketplace.
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