WHAT are the 7 best business, management, marketing, and strategic leadership decisions of Dr. Mike Adenuga (Jr.) GCON, the Forbes list billionaire and Africa’s entrepreneur extraordinaire who turned 67 on April 29, 2020 in this miserable year of coronavirus, the “invisible enemy” that must be finished before it finishes the world?
While remembering the dead and praying for those struggling for life in ICUs across the globe, let us celebrate life. Let us celebrate the man who cherishes life and sees birthdays as worth celebrating and thanking God for. Let me start by saying a man’s decision determines his success or failure. Success is a journey needing God, knowledge, wisdom and gut instinct. In the case of Adenuga, his parents’ dream was for him to follow his brother Demola’s footsteps to study at the University of Ibadan but he had the American Dream. Unknown to his parents, he was making moves to enter an American university. By the time the admission letter came, Mama had no choice but to let him go.
Going to America was Adenuga’s best decision#1. There he was taught by Prof. West, a marketing guru who influenced Adenuga’s intellectual evolution and marketing savvy evident in the success story of Glo.
If going to America was Adenuga’s first best decision, then returning to Nigeria after his studies was best decision#2. Femi Akinrinade, Adenuga’s one-time business partner from their American days attests to this: “The best decision that I ever took and I encouraged Mike to take in those days was to come home. I am glad we did come back when we did. Because life was much easier then. And up till today, whatever we are doing, it is due to the good foundation we laid in the ‘70s and the ‘80s. More than 90 percent of us came back home and we have those who got stranded there up till today.”
Best Decision #3: Starting a bank. At age 35, Mike Adenuga was already making waves silently in Nigeria’s corporate world even though to the world at large, he was relatively unknown. It took the advent of the telecoms brand Glo(bacom) to bring him into national and global limelight. In my research, I came across the portrait of the young Mike Adenuga in a Guardian On Sunday editorial-like profile of July 21, 1991 which reads: “For a 37-year-old to sit on a mountain of fortune and without recourse to dubious means is no mean achievement. For Adenuga (Jr.) who at 35 became the moving spirit of DEVCOM Merchant Bank as the chairman, life surely begins before 40 and he has no regret.” The paper adds: “That his name does not ring a bell instantly or arouse an instant interest except in the financial market may not be an understatement. He is not even listed in any who’s who—local or international. But those who are close to him would just not concede that he is virtually a public property (although he is a private businessman) ‘because he has tended many lives.’ But for a man who is the epitome of excellence, Michael Adeniyi Ishola Adenuga (Jr.) is practically living the saying that ‘The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.’”
Best Decision#4: Adenuga venturing into oil exploration and becoming the first Nigerian to discover oil in commercial quantity. That was the game changer. He could have sold the licence to multinationals like other Nigerian tycoons did but thanks to Adenuga’s audacity, wisdom, faith and vision. He even defied his mother’s advice to sell the licence because oil exploration, “is kalokalo.” “It’s the biggest casino on earth, it is like throwing money on a bottomless pit,” she said but her son’s faith paid off one Christmas Day of 2005 when he struck oil miraculously at the OPL 113 using the oil rig Trident VIII on the waters of Okitipupa.
Best Decision#5: Deciding to take a loan from African Development Bank to support his oil exploration. He wanted $10 million from ADB. He didn’t need the loan per se. All he wanted was to establish a loan repayment and business transaction record with a multilateral financial institution. He had anticipated a time when he would need to borrow from a foreign bank to support his projects. By then he would have had a track record as someone who borrows and pays. He wanted to build a good credit rating with the international financial institutions. He knew that to access big loans which banks in Nigeria might not be able to syndicate, for future businesses, he needed to show evidence to such foreign banks that he has a record of borrowing and paying back; that way, it would be easier for them to trust him and do business with him. He repaid the $10 million in record time, not defaulting.
Best Decision#6: Going into telecoms. From the beginning, Adenuga knew this was the future. He seemed to have a deep insight into the enormous opportunities in the telecoms sector waiting to be tapped. The GSM was a cash cow which many Nigerians were not so attracted to either because of the high technicality of the sector or because of the fear of the capital-intensive requirement for a sector so many had only a smattering grasp of. It was then both a mystery and a testimony to Adenuga’s corporate wizardry that he appeared to know what others didn’t know, to have a deep insight into the sector, even if not the technical know-how of how to operate a GSM business. In his visionary eyes, he saw the prospect of GSM business growing even bigger than oil business. Oil and gas are finite. They would dry up one day. But this is a resource that is infinite, because people would continue to talk and use data as long as there is life. There would be money to be made. How come not many people thought of that then? In his autobiography, banking guru Jimi Ovia regretted not going into telecoms when Adenuga did: “At the time, I did not think a GSM licence would worth the cost of $285 million, but I soon realize my assessment was wrong, because the profit levels of these GSM companies were astronomically high. By the time I changed my view about the desirability of acquiring license, it was 2008—putting me seven years behind the original groups. There was going to be a lot of catching up to do.”
Best Decision#7 which is my favourite: Adenuga’s marketing coup and wizardry in causing a paradigm shift in telecoms with his per second billing and crashing the price of SIM card to almost zero. He did for telecoms what Henry Ford did for the car industry—making cars accessible to the masses through mass production. Glo top shot Mike Jituboh told me while researching the Mike Adenuga business biography: “At the time we came into the market, the SIM card price had dropped a bit from what it started with, but it was still about N2000 or N3000. Then we had this promo where we just took it down to one naira. It was crazy but it was a brilliant move. I remember then we had lines stretching from Saka Tinubu all the way to Awolowo Road with people all trying to get the Glo SIM card. And with so many people coming on to our network competition had no choice but to quickly fight to connect us. If not the people would leave to join us so that they can reach their own people.”
On that note, I say happy birthday to the Guru! May God protect you and protect us all from this monster that spares no one—rich or poor.