Guest Columnist

Master of Opportunities (2): Setback Can Lead to Unexpected Opportunities, By Mike Awoyinfa

Mike Adenuga, Master of Opportunities
Mike Adenuga, Master of Opportunities

In the world of business, serendipity often plays a pivotal role in shaping one’s trajectory.  For Dr. Mike Adenuga, Nigerian billionaire and chairman of the telecoms giant Globacom, a missed flight on British Airways which at first appeared as a setback turned out to be a stroke of luck, leading to an unexpected encounter that would catapult him into the world of lace importation and set the stage for his remarkable business success.  It was in his early years when he was yet to own a private jet and had to rely on commercial flights to travel around to do his business.

Adenuga was returning from New York when he found himself facing a frustrating situation.  His scheduled flight on British Airways had left, leaving him stranded at the airport.  With no other immediate options, he reluctantly opted for a Swiss Air flight, unaware of the serendipitous turn of events that awaited him.  Settled into his seat, Adenuga struck up a conversation with his fellow passenger, a man who, as fate would have it, turned out to be the owner of the largest lace manufacturing company in Austria.  This chance encounter proved to be a golden opportunity for Adenuga, who quickly recognized the potential for lace importation in Nigeria.

As the conversation unfolded, it became clear that this chance encounter was a stroke of divine intervention.  The lace magnate was impressed by Mike’s business acumen, passion, and the vision he articulated during the discussion.  Recognizing potential where others might have overlooked, the Austrian businessman saw an opportunity to collaborate.  Through their conversation, Adenuga gained valuable insights into the lace industry and established a connection with the Austrian manufacturer.  The fortuitous meeting marked the beginning of Adenuga’s venture into lace importation, a business that brought in big money.  It was Richard Templar who wrote in his book, The Rules of Work: “Learn to see opportunities as balls—if they get thrown your way you have but a split second to catch them.”  This is how Adenuga captured the lucky break: “I went on a trip to New York and when I was returning, I missed my flight on British Airways.  So I had to fly Swiss Air and luckily I sat next to a man who owned one of the biggest lace manufacturing factories in Austria.  We were talking and he got me interested in importing laces.  I sold laces for a while.”

Mike’s eldest brother Chief Demola Adenuga considers his encounter with the Austrian lace importer as one of Mike’s biggest early breaks.  To him, that Mike converted such a fortuitous chance encounter in a plane into a big business opportunity was typical of Adenuga.  “That is the quintessential Mike for you,” Demola says.  “He can dabble into anything.  He can market ice to an Eskimo.”

Through the encounter with the Austrian, Mike became one of the biggest lace importers into Nigeria.  Demola puts it down not just to his brother’s business acumen, but also to divine hands at work.  “Most of his breaks, you can see is the hand of God,” he exhorts.  “And that taught me a lesson in life.  In all the paths of life, the hand of God is always there.  From him, I have learnt not to envy people, because if I see Mike, I know it is God that has been propelling him.”

As Mike Adenuga himself has often acknowledged, there is a “God factor” in business.  He often recounted this pivotal chapter in his life to say: “Sometimes God uses what appears to be a disappointment into His appointment, into treasures or into a big turnaround.”  The lesson he learned mirrored the wisdom found in the Book of Isaiah 61: 3 which proclaims: “God can make beautiful things out of ashes.”

When you go through the history of entrepreneurship, you will discover that Mike Adenuga is not the only entrepreneur whose apparent setback led to unexpected opportunities.  Richard Branson’s journey to becoming the founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways similarly began with a frustrating travel experience. When his flight to the British Virgin Islands was canceled at the last minute, Branson found himself stranded and disappointed. However, instead of dwelling on the inconvenience, Branson’s entrepreneurial spirit kicked in, and he saw an opportunity where others might have seen only a setback.

Realizing that he wasn’t the only person affected by the canceled flight, Branson took action. He hired a plane, wrote a cheeky advertisement on a blackboard, and offered discounted single fares to the fellow passengers who had been bumped from their original flight. Branson’s impromptu venture proved to be a success, and one of the passengers even advised him to turn it into a real business.

This unexpected encounter sparked an idea in Branson’s mind, and he envisioned a new airline that would provide a more enjoyable and customer-centric experience than the existing options. Thus, Virgin Atlantic Airways was born, founded on the principles of innovation, quality service, and a touch of irreverence.

Branson’s story highlights the power of turning setbacks into opportunities. By adopting a resourceful and optimistic mindset, he transformed a frustrating experience into the genesis of a thriving airline and a well-known brand.  In essence, a seemingly negative event – the cancellation of his flight – became the catalyst for the birth of Virgin Atlantic. This episode illustrates Branson’s ability to see possibilities where others might see obstacles, turning setbacks into entrepreneurial opportunities and laying the foundation for the success of Virgin Airlines.

Steve Jobs of Apple fame is another example.  In 1985, the co-founder of Apple Inc., experienced a setback when he was ousted from the company he had helped create.  Rather than accepting defeat, Jobs went on to found NeXT Computer and later acquired The Graphic Group, which eventually became Pixar Animation Studios.  These ventures not only kept Jobs in the technology and entertainment sectors but also paved the way for his triumphant return to Apple in 1997.  The setback of being ousted turned into an opportunity for Jobs to explore new avenues and acquire skills that would contribute significantly to his later success.

Like all great entrepreneurs, Mike Adenuga has demonstrated a strong entrepreneurial spirit throughout his career. He has shown a willingness to take calculated risks, invest in new ventures, and adapt to changing market conditions. This mindset enables him to spot and seize opportunities that others may overlook. Overall, Adenuga’s ability to recognize and capitalize on opportunities across various industries, his entrepreneurial mindset, his global expansion, strategic partnership and philanthropic endeavours all contribute to his reputation as a master of opportunities.

For Mike Adenuga, what I would call “the mother of all opportunities and lucky breaks” was that while fighting for the restoration of his revoked telecoms licence he was miraculously given a far, far better licence.  Instead of the $285 million for just GSM licence, he was now to pay $200 million not just for GSM but a whole “basket of licences” offering more telecoms products.  How this happened, can only be attributed to a divine connection.   Mike Jituboh, Executive Director, Special Projects at Globacom aptly sees it all as the hand of God working in Adenuga’s favour. “When we think about it now,” he says, “we just felt God wanted us to get bigger licences at a lower cost.  I think it is a way of God compensating Mike Adenuga for all the different things he is doing vis-à-vis Nigeria, his country.”

(Excerpt from my forthcoming book: ‘How To Think Like Mike Adenuga’)Top of Form




Related Articles

Leave a Reply

WP2Social Auto Publish Powered By :