Mike Adenuga: 70 times a genius
This is a celebration of an exceptional African business icon and enigma from an insider perspective. I have interacted with the billionaire founder of Globacom and Conoil, Dr. Mike Adenuga Jr., for over three decades, 16 years of which I worked for him, often at close quarters. This is an unrestrained chronicling of his unique attributes; with anecdotes and perspectives you probably have never read elsewhere.
It was one of those activity-choked days when his meetings lasted till very late in the night. He had, a few moments earlier, closed his last meeting for the day with senior managers in his signature style. “Well, everyone to himself, God for us all,” he said with reverence, yet commandingly and reassuringly. With everyone released, he treated the remaining files on his desk, passed them to his secretary and crossed over from his Oval Office at the golden building to his palatial residence, which he fittingly christened Bellissima on the waterfront. Bellissima is an Italian word coined from bella, which means gorgeous, while issima, is an absolute superlative. Bellissima, the name, absolutely complements the gorgeousness of the immaculate white buildings at the Adenuga villas and their coral-coloured roofs. You would think, at that wee hour, he was heading straight to bed once he got home. No Sir!
Dr. Adenuga is genetically fortunate to require only about three to four hours of sleep a day. The influential Wall Street Journal calls his kind the sleep-less elite who need just a few hours of sleep to function normally. In that mold are the likes of Tim Cook of Apple and former American President Donald Trump. Sometimes, he would make a few calls to give some follow-up instructions or review some aspects of his last meetings. Then, he would pour himself a glass of one of the smoothest cognacs in the world, relax and journey back to the past couple of hours to dissect his previous day, reflectively.
That, for Dr. Adenuga is a spiritual voyage of sorts where he tries to set matters straight between himself and the people he had encountered. Meditatively, he would ask himself, ‘Was I fair to him? Was she fair to me? Is there any additional value to explore and get a better result beyond the ideas the various teams from Globacom to Conoil Producing, Conoil Plc, Cobblestone Properties & Estate and others presented? How can we optimize our assets?’ He could be at this for up to three or four hours before calling it a day. That is how the genius mindset of Chairman Adenuga works. Upon deep reflection, if in the previous day there was anyone the Chairman felt he was unfair to, he would make amends, often not in an apology but in voluntary compensatory actions. If there was anyone he felt was unfair to him, he would also take corrective measures. As generous as he frequently is, he doesn’t spare the rods when he needs to make people account for their misdeeds. Where he acts the fastest is on any matter that could stimulate business growth. He takes whatever action is required to get results, particularly where the opportunity is hot and fresh, even if it requires a trip to the most distant part of the world. There were people in the Mike Adenuga Group who had travelled to the US, Europe, China and other parts of Africa and had no clue they were travelling as close as four to 24 hours before they boarded their flights. No other business leader I have known can match his mettle when it comes to pulling all the strings to get a difficult result. That perhaps is the strongest staying power of an icon his admirers call the Great Guru.
HOW HE PRESIDES OVER MEETINGS
Dr. Adenuga is a strict disciplinarian who runs his organisations with traits of the command-and-control structure of a military hierarchy. A perfectionist, he expects his officials and consultants to be prompt, organised, adequately prepared and conform to the rules of his office. “You can’t do that here. This is the Office of the Chairman”, he would thunder and remind anyone stepping out of line. He is irritated by tardiness and unintelligent responses. A voracious reader and intellectual explorationist, he ceaselessly brings himself up to speed on the latest trends in the businesses he is involved in, from oil exploration to the downstream, banking to finance, real estate, hospitality, road construction and telecommunications. You cannot pull the wool over his eyes. One moment he is discussing the network configuration management system for Globacom with his technical team, the next moment, he is discussing the result of geological surveys and offshore/onshore drilling of oil with his Conoil Producing management team. The same day, he is getting feedback from his representatives at Julius Berger, where he has controlling shares, and Cobblestone, the multibillion real estate company which has luxurious properties spread across the land. This is just a snippet of his regular undertakings. He probably would have slowed it down by now.
He is also politically and economically savvy. He has unassailable strategies on how to fix the Nigerian economy. I can just imagine how much Nigerian and African leaders can tap from his profound solutions, most of which are a bigger bang for the buck, even without asking to be paid any buck. It’s there just for the asking!
How long or short he spends with every presenting team depends on how much value he gets from or adds to the presentation. He needs only a few slides to decide if a presentation is worth his precious time. Yet, he displays a disarming humility, especially when there are visiting consultants or advisers. He is quick to spot and convert opportunities. He sees the boardroom and an entire organisation like a football team where only the players in good form keep their shirts. “Everyone must fight for his shirt”, he would say. Yet, he shows the milk of human kindness to his people. He gets personal with employees he often interacts with, cares about their welfare over and beyond the benefits they get from the system. Dr. Adenuga is also a powerful storyteller who has shared several aspects of his life relevant to topics under discussion with officials during or after meetings.
HOW HE KEEPS VALUABLE STAFF
Despite his strict regimen and famous quote of, “We may laugh and play together, don’t let the hierarchy be lost on you,” Dr. Adenuga is among the most involved and most caring employers of labour you can ever see. When a valued staff departs voluntarily or is asked to quit over certain developments, the Chairman does not see it as a permanent separation. If there is an opening later and he remembers any of the former staff he rates as ‘livewires’ who can fill the void, he will go after such staff, entice, appeal, incentivize or take any step necessary to bring him/her back. Dr. Adenuga goes as far as speaking directly to the staff or sending emissaries to them to gain their confidence and rekindle their collaboration. Biblical? Perhaps, yes. Leaders can leave a herd and go after a lost or missing sheep. For a business leader who can afford to hire any staff from anywhere in the world, that is a rare act of humility, large-heartedness and pragmatism. About two years after I had left Globacom in 2020, I got a surprise call from the Chairman. “Bode, mo ti’n wa e. Nibo lo wa lat’ojo yi (Bode, I have been looking for you, where have you been all this while)? Then he added, “We shouldn’t be far from each other. I shouldn’t be looking for you when I need you or you, looking for me when you need me. There is no easy way to say goodbye but there can be a pleasant way”. I thanked him for his fatherly admonition, and we have kept in touch ever since. The truth is that the Chairman really does not need me to the point of seeking me out. It is just his nature to be kind to his employees and friends he considered valuable when they were with him.
ROLE IN TURNING WIZ KID, OTHERS INTO GLOBAL STARS
The world today celebrates Wizkid, Burna Boy and other Nigerian music superstars who have become global icons. Dr. Adenuga played a big part in accelerating their journeys into global reckoning. He instructed his management team to engage the fledgling music stars then as brand ambassadors and take them on musical and comedy tours across the country. Many of them had the opportunity to perform in different parts of Nigeria for the first time, courtesy of the Adenuga gesture. Empowerment is one of the core reasons he founded Globacom. He wanted the fish seller in Epe or the yam seller in Aboh Mbaise or the farmer in Dawakin, Kano to be able to reach their customers and boost their trade. When things were tough for comedians, Nollywood stars and musicians, the endorsement and performance fees they got from Globacom helped in no small way to see them through. Many of the beneficiaries are eternally grateful for that deed. His impact was also felt in football across Nigeria, Ghana and at CAF where he pumped millions of dollars to promote and develop African football for almost two decades.
ADENUGA’S EXTENSIVE CONNECTIONS
The Chairman has an extensive network of connections, and he has kept many of them in his closest circle over the years. In the innermost of the circle are the Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Adetona, who is his older cousin, the Esama of Benin, Sir Cabriel Igbinedion, and his son, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, boardroom guru Mr. Bode Emmanuel, General IBM Haruna, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, Dr. Seyi Roberts and Chief Obi Adimora. This list is by no means exhaustive. Another of the elite senior friends is General Alani Akinrinade, whom he met as the big brother of his close childhood friend. He has nurtured a sublime friendship with the Akinrinades over the years. He is particularly fond of General Akinrinade, who was kind to them in those days when the youngsters were trying to find their feet. The powerful list also includes past and present heads of state across the world, Governors, Senators, traditional rulers, professionals, friends and associates. Many thought he would be in a dilemma when two of his friends, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, went head-to-head in the last presidential election. They forgot that he is a boardroom virtuoso who understands the dynamics of leadership contests in Nigeria and would never be caught in the crossfire. His strategy over time is to leave politicking to politicians and stay in his comfort zone, the boardroom and business management.
RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS CHILDREN
Like every caring and doting father, the Chairman loves his children to bits. He spoils them with gifts and finds time to attend to them despite his extremely busy schedule. He prioritises family dinner which could be at least once a week, often after watching movies together at the family’s luxuriant cinema hall. He also comes hard on them when they get on the wrong side of his strict rules. He once told one of his children whom he had to compel to attend a meeting after requesting to be excused, “Come rain or shine, I’m at this desk, working. If I can do that without giving excuses, then you shouldn’t give excuses. The only thing I owe you is to give you a good education. Afterwards, if you want to stay here, you are welcome, but you must adhere to my instructions”. Surely, he cherishes them and will do anything for them, but he wants to train them in his strict disciplinarian way, believing this will strengthen them in sustaining the huge legacy he is bestowing on them. Everyone close to the Adenugas knows that his scions have also fully embraced the ethos of hard work wholeheartedly and they are adept at what they do. He once told me after a meeting at his Oko-Awo home office, shortly before relocating to the Banana Island home, that his wish was to hand over his flourishing empire to his children.
ADENUGA’S LEGENDARY GENEROSITY
Dr. Adenuga’s generosity is legendary. He gives personal rewards like no other billionaire, except for probably a few like Oprah Winfrey. “If God has given you this kind of resources, it is not for you and your family alone”, he would say. That is the guiding philosophy influencing the way he reaches out through his wealth.
All year round, he splashes generous gifts on extended family, friends, associates, staff and the less privileged. The gifts could range from exotic brand-new cars to expensive perfumes, designer bags, designer wristwatches and cash. And during every festive season, he has a long list of beneficiaries he touches with life-transforming gifts; some on rotation, others in perpetuity. He is detailed and exquisitely tasteful, not only in the quality of gifts but also in the manner the gifts are presented. His Christmas cards are not only the best designed but the first to arrive. Recipients have treated them as valuables to be proudly displayed. He is unorthodox in living out his precepts. He does things his own way and the Chairman acts and moves when he wants to. He doesn’t like to be over pressurised.
His company, Globacom, recently revamped and furnished the rundown home of a former national football hero, Peter Fregene, who had been in financial distress. That altruism has the imprimatur of Dr. Adenuga written all over it. He feels a deep sense of inexplicable joy when he sends his team to look for and rehabilitate Nigerians whose predicaments caught his attention. Sometimes, he would send his team to go and enquire about the well-being of a friend and associate he had not heard from in a while and ensure such was well taken care of. He also loves enabling empowerment promotions, using his companies to give out jaw-dropping prizes like houses, cars, hefty sums of money and tools of trade such as sewing machines and tricycles, among others.
HOW HE INDULGES SELF
The chairman enjoys the good things of life and pampers himself in remarkable ways. Yet, he believes that if it is not broken, don’t fix it. At his Oko-Awo, VI, Lagos office, he used the same TV sets for over a decade before finally giving the nod for them to be changed. His car preferences include Mercedes Benz G Wagon, Range Rover, sports cars, Toyota Landcruiser and Bentley. For some reason, he keeps his distance from Rolls Royce.
He also has a fleet of private jets, including the recently acquired Dassault Falcon, a quiet, productive, beautiful and luxurious executive jet built to withstand stormy weather. Named Sisi Paris after one of his grandchildren, the Dassault Falcon is a beauty in the air.
He has palatial homes in Lagos, Ibadan, Abuja, Accra, London and Johannesburg. The Lagos villa is the most extensive of them all with numerous mansions, a chapel, a purpose-built auditorium, an office tower, a general office for his private staff and an executive holding bay for visitors, a residence for domestic staff, a gym, an Olympic size swimming pool, a helipad and a boat dock. The Chairman is a connoisseur of excellent wine, champagne and a power dresser who sets his own dressing standards. Occasionally, he invites special friends over to spend the evening with him and can arrange for top-of-the-range entertainers to tickle their fancy, even if they are just a couple. Sometimes, he also arranges to have dinner or lunch with his best performing staff, often at some of the choicest restaurants in town. Always looking out for the comfort of his people, he would scan the room at regular intervals and nudge those who were not relaxed enough to drink or eat more.
A GENIUS LIKE NO OTHER
As a business icon, he reacts to issues in a manner totally different from many other business elites. No matter the storm, he is always calm. Dr. Adenuga has spent a substantial part of the last two and a half decades of his life nurturing Globacom to the giant brand it has become. He built it all from the ground up, spending thousands of painstaking days and nights with his team. In the process, he has been celebrated locally and globally, at times maligned and a few times persecuted. He has stepped on toes; others have stepped on his toes. Sometimes, he would get his team to defend his honour, at other times, he would let it slide. He knew he could not please everyone and he endeavours to fix his shortcomings. In later years, he developed a thick skin to extreme critics. When he sees a profound gesture or publication celebrating his exploits, he reaches out to express his gratitude, sometimes personally. He likes to keep his head under the parapet, as he loves to frame it.
Dr. Adenuga has never confronted any government in power. He would always devise his own ingenious way to co-exist harmoniously with the government of the day. He believes he has too much at stake to take on any government. He uses diplomacy, tact and rapprochement to reconcile differences. The most vindictive government for Dr. Adenuga remains the Olusegun Obasanjo regime, which even forced him to go into self exile. From various reports, Obasanjo wanted him (Dr. Adenuga) to implicate General Babangida and lie to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that the General owns Globacom. ‘Once you confirm that to Nuhu, everything will be fine’, he was instructed. At that time, Nuhu Ribadu was the Chairman of EFCC. Adenuga couldn’t understand why anyone would want him to lie against himself over his own business. Adenuga refused. He was hounded out of town and the rest is now history. For General Babangida, that was a commendable act of courage by Adenuga for refusing to accede to a trumped-up charge to implicate him (Babangida), ruin his reputation and then possibly give his traducers the weapon they need to prosecute him.
HIS LOVE FOR SOYINKA, MAITAMA SULE, OJUKWU
Dr. Adenuga is a master strategist. When he launched Globacom, he chose Glo with Pride as the payoff line. It was a rallying call to the entire nation to be proud of our heritage and accomplishments. To ingrain the brand in the heart of fellow countrymen as a national hero to treasure, he sought out the support of Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka; one of Nigeria’s finest diplomats, Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule, and the Ikemba Nnewi, Dim Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. They all had one thing in common. They were elder statesmen who were respected vastly in their spheres of influence. After some convincing, they agreed to do it to support a young man who was making the nation proud. Professor Soyinka was a tough nut to crack. He made it categorically clear that he wouldn’t do brand endorsements. Dr. Adenuga counted on the poet’s closest allies such as Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi to convince him to support the vision on the condition that his (Professor Soyinka’s) message would not be used for product endorsements. When the messages were launched on national television, they became an instant hit across the country. As the first fully owned Nigerian telecommunication brand to be launched after two foreign brands in the same category had enjoyed a two-year head start, Globacom needed such a tremendous intervention to stand a chance. It complemented the Per-Second Billing narrative and propelled Globacom to become the darling of the nation.
LET THE CELEBRATIONS BEGIN
To all fond admirers of Dr. Adenuga worldwide, it is an extraordinary moment of inestimable joy to see an icon of this magnitude clock the ripe age of 70 on April 29, 2023. This is not the moment to nitpick about his life or start documenting his shortcomings. This is a period to soak ourselves in unadulterated joy as we commemorate an exceptional national asset, father, husband, uncle, mentor, visionary, philosopher and juggernaut. Wherever you are on April 29, please fill your glass and let us toast to the good health and longer life of this incredible achiever who holds the highest national honour of three major countries, including the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) in Nigeria, Companion of the Star of Ghana and Commander of the Legion of Honour in France.
Opeseitan is a social commentator, consultant and global business developer.
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