Quoting the proverbial words of Williams Shakespeare “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. Finding one’s path in the business world and walking through it passionately can only lead to one destination; Greatness. Today’s inspiration Africa interview features Real Estate Giant and business pioneer, Mr Adeyeye Ogunwusi, CEO of Gran Imperio Group, Director, FinaTrust Microfinance Bank and West Africa’s biggest holiday resort, Inagbe Grand Resort.
In this inspiring conversation with Whoot Africa’s Olushola Pacheco, Mr Adeyeye Ogunwusi shares with us on his life as a business pioneer, his interest and passion towards African development via Real Estate.
Here are excerpts from his chat with Whoot Africa.
As an accomplished business person, can you share a little about the history of entrepreneurship in your family?
That’s an interesting question! No one has ever asked me this question before, but I like that challenge of thinking back and piecing it all together. I grew up in a working class family; my father was a civil servant and my late mom worked as an administrator at the University College Hospital in Ibadan; while my dad worked as a broadcaster, and rose to the level of director of programmes in Osun and Oyo state broadcasting corporations. So, pretty much they were very systematic, time driven people, who wake up early in the morning to go to work and are usually back home by 4p.m. I grew up in Ibadan at a time where we had a sense of relationship amongst our peers, and we were taught that relationships with our friends and associates mattered a lot. I was an inquisitive child from the very beginning; my mom pretty much was a businessperson who combined business with being an administrator in UCH Ibadan. So, after work every day we get to support her with her business; my grandmother was also a big time commodities trader in Ile-Ife, Osun State, which afforded my mom the opportunity to learn about business first hand from her own enterprising mother.
My interest in the business world was driven by these two amazing women, who always managed to put things right in terms of their business acumen and business responsibility. Mostly, my mom’s business also supported our education, as I grew older, I developed a strong flare for doing business because, business for me, brings a lot of responsibilities and discipline for someone who wants to be successful.
Providentially again, my career as an accountant started in a commodities trading company, which made me realize I was at home to what I grew up with – learning from my mother and grandmother. I developed a strong passion for it, and always made sure to be the best at whatever I find myself doing.
What drives you?
People, ideas and possibilities! I am very restless and I don’t think I can change that. I am also very daring, I have done very massive projects, that made people question why in the world I would venture into such projects, but I realize one just has to try, everyone talks about Lagos and Nigeria, but I believe we can build another Lagos someday. I get tired of thing easily too and quickly try to move on to bigger challenges, so what drives me majorly, is the passion for what I do as well as people and possibilities. With every day of my life, I ask myself, what have I achieved today? It is very important before I go to bed; I must ask myself that question, what have I achieved today? I came into Lagos as a young man with next to nothing and so far so good, I am thankful for everything and trying to make impossibilities into possibilities.
In my diary, there is nothing impossible and that mantra has worked out for me thus far and I will keep on taking calculated risk, because I am not afraid of failure anymore. I don’t believe in failure; to me failure itself is an achievement, you obviously learn something from it. Trying again is pivotal, look at the Wright brothers who developed the aeroplanes we enjoy today; they tried severally before they got it right, and so many other achievers and pioneers who tried over the years before finally achieving their goals. The biggest threat and achievement of any people or nation lies in their research and development, unfortunately we belong to a nation that doesn’t attach much importance to R&D and that’s the reason why we are not growing at the expected rate. We depend so much on foreign input for almost everything that we do.
Every time I get the chance to do research I am extremely happy (points at furniture in his office’s conference room). Looking at where we are seated right now, I have an input in the manufacturing of some of these furniture; we have a manufacturing line in collaboration with our various partners, as I strongly believe that charity begins at home. I do a lot of backward and forward integration, and knowing I have an input with the various designs that goes into our homes, offices and real estate portfolio gives me a great deal of fulfillment as we set up more factories to manufacture even more.
On what drives me, until one can truly answer the question of his/her existence and what they are living for, finding what drives one will be entirely a difficult task.
As a businessman, you get to meet a lot of people who have the wrong goals and focus, who are living for the wrong reasons and completely forgot about the fact that the essence of living is sustainability and survival. What drives you for survival and what you need in life? In my opinion, everything is hinged on what we were taught in basic economics with regards to the factors of production i.e. land, labour, capital and entrepreneurship; those four things are the keys to the things that brings everybody together. Anywhere in the world, those are things that make anything happen, looking at those four factors, only one thing remains constant that was created by God and he has stopped creating; which is land. Everything else still gets created one way or the other and these things keep multiplying. Understanding this will help drive one in either a passionate way towards success, or just existing every day without a drive or focus. I do a lot of research on how to create commerce around the four factors of production, especially land, you need it in everything.
The Gran Imperio Group is a Real Estate development consortium with interest in private estates, tourism and other major projects that are currently attracting FDI’s and interest in the Nigerian business scene, if you had to describe your experience in the business world in a few words, what would they be?
Challenging! Nigeria can be best described as a jungle, a lot of things are not working, just like the jungle; nothing works in a jungle, so you have to survive in a jungle, it’s not exactly a system failure, and we just haven’t gotten there yet in Nigeria. Business is very challenging, very high risk and high returns too; people start business and they get frustrated along the line, but for us we are very resilient as a company, though the business environment is very tough in all honesty, but you don’t need to chicken out, you have to be very consistent, very focused, you need to be known for something, if you stand for something, it’s better for you. I do believe we will get there someday without a doubt; when, and how long is what I can’t say.
The Nigerian Real Estate sector is currently attracting foreign investors, especially with tourism, hospitality and business/retail properties i.e shopping malls etc. How does this influx of investors affect home investors and real estate businesses like yours and do you think there should be laws that put home real estate businesses at an advantage or should it be a fair playing field for everyone?
There is nothing wrong with foreigners bringing in investment money i.e FDI’s; but our administrators in government, need to ask themselves, how well are they putting things together? We need to have very strong laws; a good example is the Petronas Building in Malaysia, this is actually an interesting story that touches me as a businessperson. In Malaysia, they didn’t have the expertise to build high-rises and they had a lot of money from oil and gas revenue, so they invited expatriates with the construction skills, expertise and architects to come support them in these development in a form of partnership, but the Malaysian government knew what it was doing and were very futuristic in their approach. They ensured to use young educated Malaysians to serve as helpers and assistants to these experts, a concept that was meant to benefit the Malaysians via observational learning for a stipulated period of time. After the twin towers PETRONAS buildings were constructed, the Malaysian government ended its construction contracts with their foreign partners, and today those young engineers who served the foreign construction companies are behind the development in Malaysia.
This is a very interesting story and lesson, which the Nigerian government need to wake up to and emulate. Investors are coming to Nigeria to help with real estate development, but when will an indigenous company out here be tasked with the kind of constructions our foreign counterparts are undertaking, and when will we get to that point where local constructions companies can compete for international projects and become global players? An opportunity that looks bleaker by the day, the Nigerian government needs to look inwards and ask, have they created a proper platform for a company like Gran Imperio Group and other indigenous firms like ours to take up more tasking roles in the infrastructural development of this country, or to understand the expertise? The answer is No. At the end of the day are we building our economy or just outsourcing everything in the short run; and what are they also doing to make this happen in the long run?
All these and the lack of it will be obvious in another 30years from now, if we keep outsourcing our development we won’t become a global player; it is absolutely shameful that despite our status as the giant of Africa we have very few global players competing in the global market. As a company and Managing Director, I think outside the box, these are things we are trying to put in place and work out in a more futuristic manner.
Despite the growth and urbanization being experienced in Nigeria, a lot of Nigerians are still under-housed and many can only dream of owning homes which might never become reality considering all the factors involved. As a director of a (FinaTrust Microfinance bank and Imperial homes), what steps are you taking as a major player in the Real Estate business to help reduce the cost involved with owning homes and honestly, do you think there is hope for those who have resigned to the fact that they might never be able to own a home?
I am very passionate about this question; I wear two caps here, I am a director in one of the leading mortgage banks, Imperial homes mortgage bank (formerly GT Homes), on the microcredit side, I am also a director with FinaTrust Microfinance Bank, because I believe in people and possibilities, as it helps one to be closer to the grass root, to the low cadre and I see the way they suffer. In Nigeria, everyone is talking about Lekki as one of the fastest growing Real Estates developments, but the reality is, how many units of homes have we built? The whole of Lekki Phase 1, for about 22 years has in total of less than 300,000 homes and about 2,200 homes in Victoria Garden City which is considerably small; until we get to the level of meeting the millennium goals of housing for all, it’s a tall order, and I am not saying it is impossible to achieve, but it is sure a tall order we are still dreaming about. For now; there is no developer or real estate company that has built millions of homes so far. The real estate sector is one that the government hasn’t focused on, we don’t manufacture homes in Nigeria, we only build homes, and both concepts are different from each other in its entirety. Whenever you build homes, building is a process and it takes a while, but when you manufacture homes it becomes a systemic thing, it becomes very scientific, so you can churn out 2000 homes in 20 days, 5000 homes in 30 days. The construction is focused on the Lekki axis when there’s an expanse of land all around Lagos and this country in general, with needed spread out to where we have comparative advantages. We have little about 10million homes with plans to house 170 million people, which is not adding up any time soon. FESTAC town was built in 1977, but has it being replicated? The government hasn’t done 100,000 homes anywhere, look at Kaduna and Gwarimpa in Abuja, the constructions were developed by private entities; how long will the government look on before getting involved in this sector? The same way farmers are subsidized in England, unfortunately only oil and gas enjoys such subsidy at the moment, we need that soft landing from the government, tax incentives and breaks for building a target number of homes annually, and technologies that can help us further advance this sector, build more homes and give more access to mortgage facilities like that of the western world.
I personally like what the Nigerian Mortgage Refinance Company (NMRC) are doing, helping to refinance mortgages and making it a lot easier for people to finance their mortgages and provide more capital for mortgage banks; I think it will work for the first time in this country, I am a part of the sector and I have seen and experienced the way it’s been done and driven by the private sector.
Private sectors drive businesses, while the government should be in the business of support and creating enabling environments. If you give it to government, they will mess it up as we know all over the world; it has always been the private sector driving infrastructural growth. There is still hope right now for housing for all, despite the time gap, but if we are serious we will catch up in the next few decades.
Dubai was built in 20 years, if we are focused and determined there will be housing for all, and reduced cost of building materials and that’s what we are working on as a company; as well as downsizing to serve the lower end of the housing market and working out a payment plan that works.
Real estate is a capital-intensive sector, therefore discouraging for small time players who are interested in joining the sector. What measures do you think need to be put in place by the government and the private sector to lower the financial barricade and encourage these young aspiring investors?
Real Estate as a venture is capital intensive all over the world and not just in Nigeria. I still come back to the issue of determination and how you want your life to be, if you are bullish enough, you can get into any sector, I have just been fortunate to have gotten it right, but there should be some soft start-up and financing means that you can actually acquire, not specifically from FDI’s but from international organizations like DFID, IFC, CIDA (Canada), OPIC etc that can give you a level of seed money if you have a solution for affordable homes. University of Lagos lecturers are currently doing a research on how to bring down the cost of homes. If you are doing something worthy in that area, you can actually get funding to support you in form of grants, but the challenge is; how can we provide housing for the informal sector? The formal sector as we know is not a problem; it is the informal sector that is the biggest critical mass. Like the new Vice President, Professor Osinbajo said, 100million Nigerians are living below the poverty line, how can you service the market when real estate is only contributing less than 4 percent GDP to the Nigerian economy compared to other countries where you are looking at 30-40percent. In fact, campaigns and elections are determined based on some of these factors; the average citizen wants to know how your emergence into public office affects their lives and how much mortgage they have to pay more or less of every other month. Nigeria on the other hand has way too many dead assets and abandoned projects that could help reduce the hardship Nigerians are currently facing.
Let’s talk about Tourism and hospitality: The hospitality industry (which consist of Hotels, restaurants, bars et al) are said to be some of the riskiest businesses, as consumer taste changes, economic changes and insecurity affect these businesses, but Inagbe Grand Resort has grown significantly since you embarked on the project, and is poised to be a major holiday destination in West Africa. Can you tell us what makes this place different from every other destination resort?
Inagbe Grand Resort was a very bullish move we made in building the resort, and it was built out of passion; today I can tell you now because we took a risk choosing to develop a resort in the middle of nowhere and the middle of a so called jungle, the place had its fair share of wild animals and within a year it employed 4000 men (on and off), we were all living there together as a happy family while we were developing the place because one of our greatest strength as a company was investing in a lot of people. With one phone call you can hire 2000 people because construction has a lot of need for manpower and number strength, we also built a good relationship with the community, hence making our work a lot easier and taking over the entire resort to start Inagbe Grand Resort. When we started, we were termed insane, but today it has become one of the best kept secrets of this country. There is yet to be a guest or group of people who haven’t expressed their amazement at such a beautiful place, and we have also enjoyed the patronage of some of the biggest dignitaries and names in Nigeria, captains of industry and foreign guests from the western world and around Africa too. I think the uniqueness of the place is the fact that it is surrounded by two water bodies and a good tourist attraction in this country, the freshness, peacefulness and calmness that the resort has to offer and of course the golf course. We were told our project wasn’t bankable, and just like the telephone revolution today, we have proved them wrong.
If countries like the Seychelles, Greece, France and Italy with no natural resources can survive and make it on tourism, so can we as a country, especially with the fact that we have better topography, altitude, relatively calm weathers et al. If only we would take our eyes and focus off oil and gas.
You are an employer of labour, with many years as a leader, how do you keep people motivated and in line with the vision you have for these various business ventures that you have?
That’s one of my biggest challenges, but I am making progress. The day I am able to conclude on a succession plan for the company; then I am a fulfilled man. I don’t sign cheques on behalf of the company anymore; I don’t run the company anymore, the system put in place now runs itself, if I am not around; no one remembers I am not there. It took a while to put a structure in place and all I do now is guiding and encouraging my employees on how to go about the vision with a power of imagination. I am cloning people like me and I have being able to achieve that, either by the soft approach or by force, as I realize I cannot do it alone; so the earlier I start to clone people of my vision the better for me and the faster I can expand and move on to bigger and more challenging and rewarding roles.
You have worked over the years, from engineering, procurement and facilitating construction deals with some of the biggest development companies both locally and international, if you had to address a room full of young aspiring business people on what success really means, what are those important details about business and success that you would like to share with them?
At some point in my life, I plan to go into mentoring young people; I intend to share my own story and make them understand that my story is enough for them to be convinced that, yes they can. It’s about passion, dedication, honesty, focus; it’s not rosy out there, sometimes I wake up and pray that the dawn should never come because the challenges were just too much, so I would tell them my story and I am looking forward to it, to share my story with the young ones and upcoming business people coming after me. I know my story is very touching and motivating and if that changes someone’s perspective, then my job is done.
If you are passionate, dedicated and focused, you can achieve anything, also you need to stand and be known for something. It is absolutely important to be known for something!
How do you unwind from the cumbersome task of being a global businessman? 2015 is already in its third quarter, what more should Africa expect from the Gran Imperio Group?
I unwind by visiting Inagbe Grand Resort; I have come to love the beauty and warmth of it and I get billed like a typical client who has come to relax at the resort. I make sure to unwind every now and then because I get a lot of inspiration when I am relaxed and I often need a place where I can think, re-strategize and just reboot when the stress of travelling and managing so many projects kick in. I am a big thinker and getting the chance to reflect is vital for every thinker like me, I love to visualize the next 20-30years and just dream about how I can make it better and worth the time and work towards things. I remember the first day I got to the resort grounds; I told myself I was going to turn this around. I am also a spiritual person, and I believe that calm spirit drives me, my thoughts and my actions. Today, I look at videos of the resort and just marvel at the level of craziness and risk taking that went into making it what it is now.
Now, I am not afraid to turn another Jungle like what Inagbe Grand Resort once was into a beauty. We have another resort project in the works; we will keep that under wraps until the right time.
Outside of the press write –ups, accolades and business journals about your business, can you share a little about Mr Adeyeye Ogunwusi, the individual, the businessperson, Real Estate giant and Entrepreneur?
Adeyeye Ogunwusi is a very simple, energetic, much focused driven, and in all very God fearing. I am driven by results and my biggest strengths are research and development. I do things that regular people usually don’t do by virtue of being energetic, which has worked for me over the years and in the course of my career. I invest a lot in people and I believe strongly in people, without people around you, you can’t achieve anything, so my greatest focus has always been to invest in people and possibilities. In my dictionary, I don’t believe anything is impossible, I believe in the power of imagination, it’s my main mantra and above all, I live a simple life. I feel very fulfilled when I take up a big task or cross a big hurdle.
I started out as a businessman at a very tender age, and I have been in business actively for almost 20years, which gives me some sense of responsibility, sense of belonging and has also given me a whole lot of sense of leadership within the confines of the business that I run. Bottom line, I live my life as regular person.
Lastly, 30 years from now, what would you want the world to remember Adeyeye Ogunwusi for when the name is mentioned around the world?
In 30 years? A generation emerges every 10 years, if I had my way, I will adopt as many children, because my biggest friends right now are the younger generation, the older generation don’t scare me as much as the younger ones do. They are young, vibrant, and enterprising and you just don’t know what the future holds for them and what they will turn out to be. This remains one of the reasons why I treat the younger generation nicely, and mentor them with tender nurturing hands. In 30 years’ time, I want to have been able to clone more than 50 Adeyeye Ogunwusi in the business world, who are able to do what I do and are even better at it. That will be my greatest achievement when my name is mentioned around the world.