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Biodun Shobanjo… 75 hearty cheers for czar of marketing communication

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Biodun Shobanjo

“The Apprentice Africa: Isaac, You’re Hired!”

That was the closing shot of advertising magnate, co-founder of Insight Communications and chairman of Troyka Group, Biodun Shobanjo, when Isaac Dankyi-Koranteng, a 31-year-old Sales and Marketing Manager from Ghana, won the first season, surprisingly, the only one at that of The Apprentice Africa, an African version of the American Reality TV format, The Apprentice, hosted by Donald Trump, who is now the president of the United States of America.

This is one of the attributes that have marked the marketing communication expert out.

The dapper and sartorially elegant man of style, at 30, dared to disagree with tradition. He had risen to the post of Deputy Managing Director of Grant Advertising and was already in line to become the managing director when he quit the company. Very unusual in a country where ‘stay putism’ is the culture. However, everything was quickly fixed and from there, his life completely changed.

As a result: 1979 will be an unforgettable year for him.

He told the world the truth about success — you just have to believe in yourself.

Every detail of Shobanjo, thereafter, has been a success: he not only co-founded Insight Communications (now Insight Publicis), which has today grown from the initial 18-man strong team into an advertising behemoth.

Under his watch, Insight grew from a humble beginning to become one of the biggest players in the Nigerian advertising industry. He is today chairman of Troyka Holdings, Nigeria’s largest integrated marketing communications group. Today, aside from Insight Communications, other companies which make up the Troyka Holdings include The Quadrant Company, a Public Relations Consultancy; Halogen Security, an asset protection and security services company, two Media Independents — All Seasons Mediacom and Media Perspectives—and Optimum Exposure, Nigeria’s leading out-of-home advertising company, and Black Onyx Properties, a real estate company.

The group is currently one of the largest employers of labour in the country with a staff strength that is well over 7,000 Nigerian men and women.

What could have made the difference?

His fierce determination to succeed and a steely can-do attitude.

He puts his faith in professionalism and bears witness to human capital development as purveyor of growth.

“I was young when I left Grant Advertising and young people are very daring. So, it didn‘t cross my mind that I wouldn’t make it. Again, without meaning to be immodest, I really have never failed in my life. If you‘re not used to failing, you don‘t even contemplate failure,” he had said in one of the interviews granted the media.

He had gone on to list four elements essential for success: “The first is professionalism. The other is honour. The third is integrity. The fourth is passion. They come in any order, but if you have these four things, chances are that you‘re going to succeed.”

Born Abiodun Olusina Shobanjo on December 24, 1944, in Jebba, Moro Council of Kwara State, to a civil servant father.

The Shobanjo family’s journeys imbued the young man with a cosmopolitan worldview and his early experience as a broadcaster prepared him for life as an advertising agent.

He attended St. George’s Primary School and Odogbolu Grammar School for his primary and secondary education respectively. He was also at the College of the Institute of Marketing, Cookham, Maidenhead, England where he obtained the College’s Certificate in Marketing.

Shobanjo commenced his communication career with the former Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, now Federal Radio Corporation, in 1964 as a studio manager. By the time he left seven years after, he had risen to become a Producer.

In November 1971, he joined Grant Advertising, an American/Nigerian-owned Advertising agency, as an Account Executive Trainee. Five years later, he was appointed as the Deputy Managing Director. He stayed on as the DMD and member of the Board until December 1979 before bowing out to co-found Insight Communications in January 1980.

As a believer in people, his business style has favoured a mentoring ambience, which has spawned protégés who are leading lights of the advertising and marketing communications industry in Nigeria.

Today, the CEOs of the top 10 advertising and marketing communications outfits in Nigeria are proud alumni of what admirers love to refer to as the ‘Insight University.

On his 75th birthday, President Muhammadu Buhari formally acknowledged and saluted Shobanjo’s pioneering efforts in marketing communications. The presidential exaltation was contained in a statement issued by media adviser to the President, Femi Adesina.

Buhari congratulated him for his years of lofty achievements, recognitions and awards, adding that advertising had become an integral part of Nigeria’s economy, even as it had been creating jobs, equipping many with skills for start-ups and attracting the global spotlight.

According to the statement, the President hoped that Shobanjo’s wealth of experience and knowledge would continue to inspire more people into entrepreneurship, especially in the creative industry, which has turned more dynamic and vibrant with many opportunities for those who are bold enough.

Buhari noted that Shobanjo had carefully and painstakingly explored advertising as a profession and business, and diligently mentored many to follow his steps by creating a learning hub and supporting academic institutions with ideas and facilities.

Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) recently conferred Shobanjo with an honorary Doctor of Letters (D. Litt.) Honoris Causa at the school’s 44th convocation. At the same occasion, Troyka Group, a conglomerate owned by Dr. Shobanjo, announced its commitment to building the School of Media and Communication Studies in collaboration with OAU.

While conveying the University’s Governing Council’s approval, to the honoree, the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Eyitope Ogunbodede, “the conferment of the honorary degree on you is in recognition of your outstanding corporate achievements, unique contribution to the media and communications industry, humane social activism and passion for the development and promotion of ideals, vision and mission of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.”

An elated Shobanjo, while thanking the University, particularly the Governing Council for finding him worthy of the award, said, “I cannot express to this University how grateful I am for this incredible honour that has been bestowed on me.”

While seeking to inspire those graduating from the University, Shobanjo stated, “knowledge alone is not enough. Except you are very passionate about what you do, very visionary, and can discover new grounds, knowledge will not be able to make you impact society.”

He also counselled them that, “irrespective of all the years spent in the University, you have to be able to bring it to bear on society. Textbook knowledge would not suffice, without impacting on people and society daily, because what society will remember us for is what we have been able to make a difference at.

“As partners in the project, Troyka Nigeria Limited will be supporting the construction of the Media School, which will also house a television station,” Shobanjo was quoted as saying.

Earlier, he had donated a three-storey building as a multi-media centre of excellence to the University of Lagos in 2014, named after its founder, Dr. Biodun Shobanjo.

He said the late UNILAG Vice-Chancellor, Prof Adetokunbo Sofoluwe, inspired him to donate the project, saying the late VC approached him to build the structure.

Shobanjo is a fellow of the Advertising Practitioners’ Council of Nigeria (APCON), a fellow of the Commonwealth Journalists Association, a past president of Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria. He is also a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, London and a chartered member of the British Institute of Marketing, member, International Advertising Association.

Shobanjo was adjudged Nigeria’s advertising man of the 20th century by Weekend Concord in 1999, and was honoured only on November 14, 2014, with the award of the Most Influential Personality in Advertising in 2014 by the African Development Magazine in Ghana.

A quiet philanthropist, Shobanjo was inaugurated in 2010 as the first Ambassador-General of mass medical mission of National Cancer Prevention Programme.

When the Diamonds Awards was established in 1992, Mr. Shobanjo served as a pioneer judge. He has also been a longstanding sponsor of the Radio Commercial of the Year (Consumer Goods). Today, Mr. Shobanjo is the recipient of the DAME Lifetime Achievement Award as a worthy testament to a life of enterprise, commitment and achievement in the marketing communications sector.

In January 2018, Shobanjo shared the stage alongside politicians and thought leaders at the inaugural Nigerian American Business Forum in Tampa, Florida, figures such as; senator Mohammed Shaaba Lafiagi, senator Ben Murray-Bruce, (NSE) chairman Abimbola Ogunbanjo, motivational speaker Fela Durotoye, former governor Peter Obi and Award-winning technologist Ade Olufeko.


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