MASTER OF OPPORTUNITIES, BY MIKE AWOYINFA
(A chapter from my forthcoming book: How To Think Like Mike Adenuga)
From the bustling streets of New York City to the vibrant shores of Lagos, Nigeria, Mike Adenuga’s life has been a testament to his unwavering belief in seizing opportunities. Immersed in the dynamic spirit of Pace University, whose motto “Opportunitas” echoed the very essence of his aspirations, Adenuga embraced the university’s mission to nurture excellence and leadership.
As he bid farewell to America and embarked on his journey back to Nigeria in the mid ’70s, the seeds of opportunitas were firmly planted within him, ready to sprout into a remarkable success story. Upon his arrival in Nigeria in the mid-seventies, Adenuga’s entrepreneurial spirit ignited, fueled by the boundless opportunities that unfolded before him. With an astute eye and an unwavering determination, he navigated the ever-changing landscape of Nigeria’s business sector, transforming challenges into stepping stones to success.
For a young, fresh graduate just back from America with no capital of his own other than intellectual capital, Mike needed a startup capital. Luckily, his mother, Chief (Mrs.) Juliana Oyindamola Adenuga gave him the seed capital to start a business. She also provided him a free flat out of her two blocks of eight flats in Ketu, an area in Lagos mainland. Then she bought him a brand new Peugeot saloon car to facilitate moving around in the search of business opportunities. His first thought was to go into buying and selling which was what he inherited from his mother. He would import rare and essential goods from abroad and sell them. He would look for ‘opportunitas’ in Nigeria, he would look for missing gaps in the Nigerian market and supply them to make a profit. That was his game plan. He started by cashing in on the world of fashion. It was the era of big afro hair typified by the luxuriant hairstyle of the Jackson 5, James Brown and a host of other American stars. And Nigerian youths in the ’70s were copying by wearing their hair long in imitation of the African-American stars they saw in movies and read about in Black interest or African-American magazines like Ebony, Jet and Essence. So Mike Adenuga took advantage of that opportunity to bring into Nigeria, a hair product called Proline Hair which sold very well. Adenuga’s life story is full of opportunities and lucky breaks.
“Luck,” it is said, “is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” The quote is often attributed to the Roman philosopher Seneca. But there have been different variations of it. One version says, the harder you work, the luckier you get. African-American actor and film producer Denzel Washington puts it this way: “I say luck is when an opportunity comes along and you’re prepared for it.” For the young Mike Adenuga, the first lucky break was the fact that he had returned to Nigeria at an auspicious time. In 1975, Chief Jerome Udoji headed a panel that recommended massive upward review of salaries and allowances of public sector workers. And the money was paid in arrears. The resultant windfall called Udoji Award gave workers so much sudden wealth that it fuelled buying spree and spending orgies by workers who had never seen so much money in their working lives.
Mike admitted that he returned at a time there were ferments of opportunities in the country and these were some of the early lucky breaks he plugged into. “When I came back home from the United States, there were lots of opportunities,” he revealed in a rare interview with Newswatch published in the September 8, 2003 edition. With the post-Udoji Award consumer boom, the demand for cars was also high. Workers had a strong purchasing power to buy anything.
“At that time, a lot of vehicles were coming into the country without air conditioning and car stereos,” Adenuga recalled. “I saw a window of opportunity there and I seized it by deciding to import car stereos. As soon as we started importing car stereos, a new problem cropped up: thieves were breaking into people’s cars to steal the stereos. This problem created a new opportunity for us. We started importing removable car stereos. You can detach the stereos. I had my first major break in business in the area of importing removable car stereos. I was able to bring in the car stereos ahead of competition. And that gave us a strong edge. As you grow in business, one thing leads to another.”
Mike made a lot of money in this business. The demand was far in excess of supply, with the result that people were bringing money to deposit while waiting for supply. In one fell swoop, Mike solved what would have been a problem: the challenge of sourcing for fund from the bank to meet the growing demand.
In anticipation of Mike returning to Nigeria after his studies, the parents had secured a land in Ijebu-Igbo, built a house on it, and started a sawmill business which they were hoping Mike would run. But when he returned, Ijebu-Igbo was the last place on his mind. You don’t come back from the glitzy world of New York, a world bustling with opportunitas only to settle in semi-rural Ijebu-Igbo running a sawmill business. It is not as if Mike had anything against running a sawmill business, he had everything against the location—outside the major city where things were happening. If the sawmill factory had been in Lagos, he would probably have considered it. But being in Ijebu-Igbo, it didn’t interest him. The fate of the sawmill business was eventually sealed after Mike’s father died, diminishing the need to be around Ijebu-Igbo. Mama finally sold off the business after the death of her husband.
In the Newswatch interview, Mike shared an insight into the sawmill business: “At the beginning, my parents had a sawmill business and when I came back from America, they pleaded with me to run the sawmill business for them. Running the sawmill business was not a problem. The problem I saw being faced by the saw-millers was the problem of spares and equipment. I saw another window of opportunity and started importing sawmill equipment.”
In his early years, Mike was a Jack of all trades. He dabbled into every business where there was money to be made. According to Femi Akinrinade, Mike’s one-time partner whom I interviewed, “He was bringing in wine, food items, lace, car radios, aluminum, asbestos, suspended ceilings and all kinds of things which he distributed wholesale. He was into everything. When he goes out and he gets wind of something, he just invested his money on it. He imported things in containers and offloaded them to wholesale buyers. He had a warehouse where he was keeping the imported items for distribution. If anybody is responsible for his success, I think it is God. I think it is just his own hard work and a lovely family backing. They are only two boys and three sisters in the family and they all supported him when he came back, being the baby of the family. I think he is a self-made man with the love and support of his family.”
Mike rationalized his multifaceted business strategy of the early years as inevitable in those days if you wanted to make a headway. “Looking back, any businessman who wanted to succeed in those days had to be Jack of all trades,” he said. “I was virtually importing anything that would fetch me profit. At the beginning, I was importing lace and sawmill equipment.”
(NEXT WEEK: HOW MISSED FLIGHT TURNED INTO BIG OPPORTUNITY)