Guest ColumnistLeadership

Dele Fajemirokun: Like Frank Sinatra, I did it My Way, By Mike Awoyinfa

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Mike Awoyinfa
Mike Awoyinfa

One book I would happily recommend to young people of today aiming to go into entrepreneurship is a frank and audacious new book full of business wisdom by Chief Dele Fajemirokun, Nigeria’s business mogul and serial investor who has achieved success in business not through inheriting his late father Chief Henry Fajemirokun’s fortune as some might think but blazing his own trail and writing about how he did it his own way in his new autobiography, THE MAKING OF ME—MY ODYSSEY IN BUSINESS.

This is one book that in my opinion should be in contention for the “Business Book of the Year” written by an uncrowned Professor of Business, a man who has learnt lessons from the University of Hard Knocks and has written a Nigerian version of What They Do Not Teach You in Business Schools like Harvard, Stanford and Lagos Business School.  For anyone buying such a business autobiography, the essence is to read and pick ideas and strategic lessons from someone who has seen it all and is willing to spill his success secrets  in a country where such successful business moguls hardly have the time, patience and the energy to leave behind a book of hands-on experiences.  Reading Fajemirokun’s book, you will be amazed by the avalanche of in-your-face ideas and lessons delivered like action thriller.  According to the author, “The business philosophy that has been crystallized from my four decades of adventure as an entrepreneur is one that is peculiar to me and is not ‘one-fix’ ideology.”  Here are 7 lessons, ideas and words of advice I picked from this unputdownable book:

  1. Failure is part of the journey to success.  Don’t be afraid to fail!    Fajemirokun writes: “Many people see the trappings of success in your homes, your cars and limousines, your jet planes and yachts, but they fail to realize that these are just manifestations of the 1% of successful ventures.  The 99% of failures are not noticed, except by you and your immediate partners and colleagues.  Most businesses are 1% success and 99% effort that never bear fruit.  There is nothing called the Midas touch; everything we do is concerted effort.  If I were to relate the stories of my failures and problems it would scare the living daylights out of my children and admirers.  Suffice to say I have had my own share of downturns and tribulations.  I have had a whole shipload of merchandise seized at the port because the director did not like my face and wanted to see how the legendary Fajemirokun ‘sweats’.  I have had payments for a multi-million supply contract held up for years, leading to the total collapse of my first foray into industrial manufacturing.  I have also had my monies held up with CBN, leading to garnishee of my accounts by my business partner abroad.  Another time, I have had my life put on line by would-be detractors in both USA and Japan, where my drink was poisoned and my life was saved by the geisha who had been detailed to apply the lethal dose.  I have been taken to court on the most whimsical of excuses by business colleagues—and sometimes family—over my father’s estate.  As an entrepreneur, I constantly have to be on the right side of business law in order to avoid untoward incidents that would impinge on my investments.”
  2. Be on top of all the business information and communication that come your way: “Because I do not use a PA or a secretary, I get my information and respond in real time. My response to communications that come my way is legendary; a fact which my managing directors and senior managers will attest to.  There is no time bar as to when I can communicate with people; hence, I cannot deny the fact that I am not a good sleeper.
  3. Another secret of my success has been my capacity to read, digest and query all communications I receive, particularly Board papers. I spend quality time browsing and scanning the Internet for information on topics or issues that enable me to keep abreast of developments in the business world.  Being a student of literature, I have developed a strong capacity to read and digest information, which some ordinary chairmen would delegate to a PA.  I deal with raw information—not filtered information, like most people I know.  Hence, because of the quality of my contributions and decisions at meetings, my colleagues on the Boards I sit on do not dismiss them with a wave of the hand.  In order to be well informed, I also have a retinue of well-paid consultants, whom I would regard as a standing committee to brainstorm on any issue I throw at them, even during unsavoury hours of the night.  My business is not defined by time and space.  Be it in my sitting room, while watching a game of soccer or in the office, and sometimes in my ‘comfort zone’, I am on the go.  This I believe marks me out from most of my peers.
  4. Be decisive: “The hallmark of my business life is the fact that I never shy away from taking decisions, no matter how hard. I once asked a managing director to fire eight top management staff, who had become obstacles to the wheels of progress of the company. After he had done that, he was also relieved of his duties and a new management of the company was constituted, made up of hungry young men who are today driving the company to new heights.  At the time the decision was taken, some of my colleagues thought I was crazy.  But I said to myself, it’s my investment!”
  5. Surprise is the name of the game: “I have mastered the art of shocking people by striking when they least expect it. My resignation from the Board of Food Concept is one instance in which even the likely successor, who was with me the night before the fateful board meeting, did not have an inkling of what was to come.  All I did was to make the announcement before the meeting started and, after the usual state of consternation that such actions generate, I took my leave and was escorted to my car.  Yet, I have my reasons for such action.”
  6. Business is war: “To succeed, I had to view all obstacles as veritable adversaries to be vanquished with alacrity and finality. Every day, there was a battle to be fought and won.  I have engaged in commercial combat on five continents and twenty countries, with antagonists as varied as obdurate individuals and elusive foreigners, multinational corporations and inefficient government agencies.  I have entered all skirmishes with a constant fervor and single-mindedness and have triumphed.
  7. Going where angels fear to tread: “Acts of dare-devilry have permeated my entrepreneurial business activities. You will remember the Bosnian-Serb war, which ensued as Yugoslavia disintegrated in the wake of the passing of the Yugoslavian strongman: Josip Broz Tito.  Well, I won a contract to supply a large quantity of a certain item which could be obtained in the war-torn zone at the same quality—and half the price—than it was obtainable anywhere else.  My poor wife, Edith, tears streaming down her beautiful face, escorted me to the airport in London on four or five different occasions, from whence I flew without a visa into Zagreb.  Naturally, I travelled with my personal supply of excellent whisky, which I enjoyed throughout my expedition.  I knew not even a moment of fear or trepidation throughout the period, and the profits were huge.  Business is about leadership, and leadership is about the courage to dare.  If I was asked to distill the ‘essence of a leader’ into a single paragraph, I would say: A leader must have the foresight to envision a beneficial future, the intellectual gifts to identify a path to that bright prospect, the judgement to assemble the team and equipment required, the courage to pursue the vision regardless of obstacles, and the wisdom to sustain and grow the objective once achieved.

“Each time I remember how far the Lord has assisted me, tears come to my eyes.  I have this song, the lyrics of which encapsulate my life: Frank Sinatra’s epic song, ‘My Way’.  Like the old African-American spiritual, “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen; nobody knows my sorrow; Glory Hallelujah.”

 

 

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