by Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, please permit me to celebrate the life of one of the most distinguished Africans in global business today. The story of Dr Mike Adenuga is one that fascinates me because of its twists and turns. Since 1991, when I first encountered this spirit, as I like to describe him, he has not ceased to amaze me. There is no word in the lexicon that has not been used to describe him in the years that I have followed his larger than life image. Like a ubiquitous magician, he has conquered territories and built impossible bridges.
When banking was in vogue, Dr Adenuga alone owned two, DEVCOM Merchant Bank and Equatorial Trust Bank. When banks were forced to recapitalise, Adenuga merged his two and raised his N25billion capitalisation pronto. He remained the single owner of a bank for so many years. When Hurricane Sanusi came and took his bank away from him, Adenuga fought back quietly and took his bank back, after recapitalising with a cheque of $150m, with a promise to raise more if need be.
When Nigerians were allowed to prospect for oil and gas, Adenuga was the first to discover oil in commercial quantity. This was after his mother; Chief Mrs Oyindamola Adenuga had queried the sense in throwing money into a bottomless pit by investing in oil exploitation under the name of Consolidated Oil. Not many gave him a chance of success but the extremely daring man felt no venture, no conquest. He stuck to his guns and his gamble eventually paid off, and he joined the big league of oil barons.
If you thought he was done with taking risky exploits, Dr Adenuga was soon going to bid for a telecom licence. That bid fell through and Adenuga lost his non-refundable deposit running into millions of dollars. The sheer volume of his loss would have rendered even some heavyweights bankrupt and totally discouraged but not this warhorse who understood how to fight and win battles. The self-evasive man plotted his return away from public glare. He would later catch his enemies off-guard when he pulled a sucker punch and eventually won his bid under the name of Globalcom, or Glo for short. The Chairman did not come in as an Ijebu trader; he came with the instinct of a bull that had to change the reticent system he met on ground by not allowing sleeping dogs to lie.
The advent of Globalcom caused a volcanic eruption in telecoms and Adenuga brought mobile networks nearer to the masses by offering them affordable packages that never existed. He provided endorsement opportunities to our entertainers, young and old, and paid never-heard-of fees to them. Adenuga made Globalcom truly global with his roaming facilities. It remains unknown how Glo signed a roaming agreement with London’s T-Mobile that had hitherto blacklisted Nigeria and Pakistan.
The roving spirit of Adenuga would soon cross into Benin Republic where he secured another Telecom licence. Before you could say Yayi Boni, Adenuga’s men were erecting masts all over the country at the speed of sound. As that was going on, the Republic of Ghana was warming up for the arrival of the Glo magic. Long before Glo’s arrival, Adenuga had locked down some of Ghana’s best artistes and advertising sites and air slots. The intimidation of competitors was total. In just four months, Glo has already attracted two million subscribers in the old Gold-coast.
But the gold-digger continues to dig under the ocean for more conquests. He has achieved the incredible feat of laying submarine cables from Europe to West Africa. The launch of Glo 1 came as a major boost for its blistering operations. The Glo 1 cable runs from United Kingdom across Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Ghana to Nigeria.
Glo’s heavy funding of football in Africa and beyond is unprecedented. It restored old glory to the Nigerian League and promoted African soccer stars through the hosting of the Glo-CAF awards. Adenuga has since been dubbed the new Pillar of Sports in Africa. In just nine years, Glo has become one of the most visible brands in Nigeria. Its ads are world-class. I participated in one of its shoot in Cape Town over two years ago and could not believe the intensity of the work at stake. He spares nothing and demands only the best. By its tenth anniversary, Glo is expected to have docked in other African countries as it spreads its wings all over Africa.
Writing about Dr Adenuga is a daunting task but definitely an inspiring vocation. Reading about him is even more difficult because of the strain of sifting fact from fiction. Those who don’t know him well have embarked on a certain demonisation of the man. I have read many comments about his recent award of GCON and come to the conclusion that Nigerians need to learn more about a man who has done things his own way, almost forever, and is reaping bountiful harvests from it.
If Adenuga was born elsewhere, several doctoral thesis and biographical works would have surfaced on him like those of Paul Getty, Aristotle Onassis, Howard Hughes, John Rockefeller, Henry Ford and others. It is the reason we must salute the effort behind the first comprehensive probe of the Adenuga mythology by authors Mike Awoyinfa and Dimgba Igwe. Many have cited Adenuga’s inaccessibility as the reason for frugal information on him. I disagree. All over the world it is our duty to penetrate the impregnable world of this enigma to give mankind a peep into his almost surreal planet.
The summary of my intense probe is that our youths need to know how Adenuga has built a super conglomerate. I will cite only ten examples. The first is hard work. Adenuga is a workaholic. Many of those close to him are forced to share in his amazing penchant for work and more work. The second is his sharp vision. He has his clear sight on any project he wants to embark on. Three, he personally supervises every project because he doesn’t want anyone to disappoint him. He sometimes sends different people on a similar mission to have an effective backup. Four, he’s a risk-taker. Adenuga hates the word impossibility. He does his homework first and once he’s convinced in his heart, he will take the plunge.
Five, Adenuga is brave. He has come to see life as a theatre of war. To win any battle requires courage. Six, despite his massive wealth, Adenuga is a very simple man. I sometimes wonder if he has not turned work into relaxation while relaxation is a difficulty for him. He’s not an extravagant man. He spends most of his wealth on others. Seven, unknown to many, Adenuga is a very shy and humble man. He would bend down to greet most people. His reclusive existence is a perfect façade against invaders of his privacy. He avoids people because he finds it hard to say no to them. Eight, Adenuga is extremely loyal to his friends. And he demands unflinching allegiance in return. If he loves you, he can almost pluck his eyes for you. No amount is too big for him to give away. Nine, Adenuga abhors politics. This is probably his biggest asset. He knows very well that politics can make or mar. Though he has many friends in the corridor of power, he prefers to let them face their job while he faces his. He’s the only man at his level who would not attend political gatherings but he knows how to reach out to his powerful friends. This has earned him great respect from associates and foes alike. Adenuga is not a common commodity to be seen everywhere by everybody. Ten, he’s a mythical figure who strives to attain further achievements as people spin gossips around him. The common allegation against him is that he’s fronting for powerful interests. But his attitude is how could he have been fronting forever? It is like giving exam questions and answers to some people, they may still fail. Adenuga has been in business for too long to be an errand boy.
When the same GCON eluded him last year many had queried why he was not given as a way of rewarding his salutary efforts at creating thousands of jobs for Nigerians and Africans. But he never complained but continue to do what he knows best, keeping more sleepless nights. For him patience is a virtue and respect for constituted authorities is not a minus. His can do spirit keeps him going.
I doubt if there are institutions that teach entrepreneurship as practical courses in our country today. With the current level of mass unemployment in our clime, it has become pertinent to study the lives of those extra-ordinary people who have braved all odds to achieve monumental results in a particularly difficult terrain. I say this with every sense of responsibility because of the new trend where many of our youths no longer aspire to achieve greatness by dint of diligence and toil because they assume that every successful Nigerian did not have to work hard to attain prominence and significance. All manner of conspiracy theories are usually propounded to justify the good fortunes of exceptional geniuses who have created something out of nothing. They often forget that there’s no easy way to the top. And even when you get to the top, it is never a child’s play to maintain and sustain such accomplishments.
Truth is, there’s no alternative to hard work. It could never have been a fluke for a man to consistently turn everything he touches into gold over a long period of time spanning four decades. I have studied the lives of many entrepreneurs directly and indirectly and discovered that what they share in common is the uncommon capacity to stay awake while others are sleeping and snoring. They set their gaze on targets and break down barriers. They hold on fastidiously to their dreams and refuse to be discouraged by merchants of doom. They surmount all obstacles and soar like the eagle. They take every temporary set-back as an opportunity to recharge and attempt a higher altitude.
Such is the superlative story of Dr Michael Adeniyi Agbolade Isola Adenuga, fondly called The Guru by friends and admirers. His travails and triumphs should be a compulsory case-study for all students of Business Administration. I have had the privilege of watching this prodigiously gifted man for 21 years and I have come to the unassailable conclusion that he’s in a class of his own. His style of operations continues to confuse and confound his critics but this has worked incredible wonders for him.
It is doubtful if there’s any other Mike Adenuga on the surface of this earth.