Victor Asemota: The rich man   (Part 1)

An unintended tribute to Olorogun Michael Ibru.


Shaq is rich; the white man that signs his check is wealthy. Here you go Shaq, go buy yourself a bouncing car. Bling-Bling . . . . I ain’t talking bout Oprah, I’m talking about Bill Gates. OK!. If Bill Gates woke up tomorrow with Oprah’s money, he would jump out a …window. I’m not talking about rich, I’m talking about wealthy—Chris Rock

“I’m no genius. I’m smart in spots — but I stay around those spots.”
– Tom Watson Sr. — Founder of IBM

This is a long-a__ post that has been in my drafts for over 20 months. This was not meant to be a tribute. It was an introspective post about great men who had affected my life over the years. One of them died (Sept 6) even before I published it. I decided to just go ahead and publish it in his honour.

It is about some of my past experiences and thoughts about wealth. It is not about capitalist ideology but an explanation of how viewpoints can change with age, exposure and circumstance. It is also not a guide on how to get rich. Sorry.

Prelude — “Harvard LNV”

The LNV (Launching New Ventures) course at Harvard Business School I attended in 2013 was simply “awesome”. The faculty and participants were probably the amongst the most accomplished people on earth sharing the same space, thoughts and experiences for one week. It was within that intelligent and talented group of people last year that I met some individuals who fundamentally altered (once again) my thought processes and some future decisions about life.

The first of those people was Noam Wasserman the bestselling author of the book “Founder’s Dilemma”, an awesome book I would recommend any day to all entrepreneurs old and young. The next and probably the person who had the most profound effect, was Joe Fuller. He was the founder of the mega consulting company Monitor Group now part of Deloitte’s.

The overall encounter altered my perception of the value creation process and would most definitely impact my entire future.

Before I explain how those individuals changed my views, I would like to go back a decade or more to other pivotal experiences that also made me do previous course corrections.

Olorogun — “Sell Fish”

Chief Michael Ibru is the founder of the Ibru Group of companies and without any doubt one of the wealthiest Nigerians ever. Chief Ibru is fondly referred to using his Urhobo title; “Olorogun”. Our paths crossed while I was working with the team raising the mega licensing round of close to $300m for Econet Wireless Nigeria, the company that is now known as Airtel Nigeria.

We had dinner at his Ikoyi residence at the request of his wife Mrs Cecilia Ibru who was then the CEO of Oceanic Bank. After dinner, Olorogun Michael Ibru kept on staring at me then he pulled me aside to talk. This is how it went.

Olorogun: Young man what is your name and what are you doing with these people?

Me: My name is Victor Asemota Sir. I work with Bromley

Olorogun: So what exactly do you do?

Me: I am a consultant; I am supporting the HSBC Capital team working on the EWN project.

Olorogun: Do you think you can ever get as rich as I am doing what you are doing?

Me: (laughing) I will try sir.

Olorogun: (looking at me straight faced) No. Let me tell you for free, you will not.

Me: (A bit ruffled and staring at him with the realization sinking in) Why do you say that Sir?

Olorogun (continues) I made my money the old fashioned way, I sold fish. Everybody eats fish. Go and sell fish. (then he suddenly falls asleep)

That conversation haunted me for a while. It was even more troubling as I used to be a hydro-biologist (fancy name for a trained fish farmer) in my past life. I was wondering if Olorogun was divinely sent to let me know that I was on the wrong course.

I researched the fish business in Nigeria and found out that in spite of Chief Ibru’s efforts, there was still a huge demand for fish and the country at that time was still importing over $50 Million dollars of fish annually. I still was not ready to give up consulting because I really loved what I was doing. I believed that the “old fashioned way” was not necessarily always the best way. I however still did not have a proper plan to get to Chief Ibru’s level of wealth.

I told the story to my cousin Lateef Bello-Osagie and he agreed with Olorogun. He reiterated: “You will never become a rich man by putting your chest out and saying that you know everything”. He was an investor in some of the earliest VAS plays with Nigerian GSM companies and he too was a rich man. He also was speaking from experience. His logic was simple: it was best to invest in people who knew better than you do instead of selling the fact that you knew better than others. The first part is scalable and second part is harder and almost impossible to scale.

Esama — “50 Million Cash”

One of the people I admire for his wit and sense of humor is Chief Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion, “The Esama of Benin”. A genuinely self made man who did not allow lack of education stop him from becoming very wealthy.

I had the opportunity to seal a real estate deal with him on behalf of my Principals. While I was waiting for him to get a pen to sign a copy of the banking instrument for the transaction, he had gone to the bank to verify that the draft I gave to him was genuine and done a transfer to his own account.

He came back to sign it and asked me how old I was? I told him I was 29 at that time. He asked if I already had 50 Million Naira of my own? (The value of the deal) I said no, but….. I was trying to start talking about valuation of my business and he stopped me. He said, “I am asking about cash, raw cash”.

He then told me that, if I did not have that amount of money then I am wasting my time doing whatever I am doing. He said that by the time he was 30, he already had that much cash and he just sold an asset he had forgotten about, for the same 50 Million Naira.

He may probably have been talking for the benefit of his son Fred, who took me there, but I got the message. From that day, I had a new target. 50 Million Naira cash in one year and I was in a hurry.

The Colonel — “Carpets”

“The slogan get rich or die tryin” is actually one of the stupidest and most misguided statements that has led to the doom of many young people of color. I did not realize it at that time but my incident with “The Colonel” left a mark in my subconscious. It activated when I fired everyone working with me before pressing the reset button, AD 2000.

Colonel Mike Okwechime is an enigma. A Biafran war hero and prominent member of the Catholic Church in my hometown Benin City. We were all part of “Zone A” of St Paul’s Catholic Church and he was our Zonal Chairman.

I had the opportunity to sell to him a modem and an ISP account, while I was an agent for an ISP where my sister worked in my rampant hustling days. At that same time, I was also selling petrol products, rain boots and computer hardware, etc.

After trying to get my attention for weeks, he laid ambush for me at home at 8pm by blocking my gate with his car. He told me only four words — “My office, 8am tomorrow”. I got there at 7am.

When I met him, he asked me to sit down. Then he told me that he was thinking of changing the carpet in his office and asked how he could get the old carpet out of the door? I was flustered and wondered if the old man had lost it. He sensed my bewilderment and made the question simpler — “will it be better for me to fold it carefully from one end before taking it out or to gather it from all corners?”

I told him that it would be easier to fold it but I did not sell carpets. Then he said; “your life is like this carpet, and you are currently trying to get it out of that door to progress by gathering it from all corners”.

I did not know until that day that he was one of the oldest friends and trusted advisers of General Olusegun Obasanjo, the Nigerian President at that time. He needed Internet access to communicate privately with the President.

Austin — “Disk Jockey”

Starting a product company was partly by accident and partly inspired from seeing what my big brother Austin had done when he founded a startup called “Trupak”. He made us realize what was possible. He left Trupak in Nigeria and moved to England for personal reasons. Even though he was a medical doctor by training, he left Medicine and had become a top technology consultant.

After firing everyone in 2000, I had basically failed and I tried to get a job. Austin asked me to first do a CV. I drafted one and gave it to him to review. He looked at it then he said, “It looks like a Disk Jockey’s CV”. Too many gigs, too many tracks and no focus. It was actually a hustler’s CV. It was that day I decided to give up hustling to focus.

To be continued…

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Victor Asemota is the CEO/ Principal Consultant of Swifta systems and Services. He tweets @asemota

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