Mike Adenuga: What you don’t know about this man

  • Tuesday, March 20, 2007 - By Mike Awoyinfa and Dimgba Igwe
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Dr. Mike Adenuga
 Dr. Mike Adenuga
 
Take how he single-handedly bankrolled a foreign coach for Nigeria. Take his sole sponsorship of the annual CAF Awards. Add it to the recent Senate verdict that he is not guilty of the PDTF fund controversy for which he was being hounded by EFCC, and what you get is the story about the rise and rise of the billionaire Dr. Mike Adenuga.

A forthcoming book by Mike Awoyinfa and Dimgba Igwe, titled ‘In Search of Mike Adenuga, The Man and the Brand,’ explores the mystery of a man whose life is a mixture of myth and reality.

The idea for writing a book on Dr. Adenuga was broached in the United States during a visit. We had gone to present our two books, 50 Nigerian Corporate Strategists and Nigeria’s Marketing Memoirs to a business school in New York, when an American asked about Dr. Adenuga and wondered why we had not thought about writing a book on this Nigerian business titan.

We took up the challenge, knowing it is going to be an uphill task—knowing Dr. Adenuga jealously guards his privacy and rarely grants interviews of any kind.
Our strategy was to employ our investigative journalism skills and talking to friends, relatives, associates and employees of his company with a view to getting a proper picture of the man.
Dr. Adenuga got wind of the project and surprisingly agreed to grant us an interview.

Among the Nigerian icons interviewed on the Mike Adenuga they know are Nigeria’s former head of state, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka who even did a testimonial TV ad for Globacom which was aired many times on the CNN to reach a global audience.
President Kufuor of Ghana also had something to say about the never-say-die spirit of Adenuga and the new wave of Nigerian entrepreneurs currently trying to establish their businesses in Ghana.
“Mike has been my friend from as far back as the 1970s,” says General Babangida whom many think is one of Adenuga’s mentors.

Babangida went on memory lane, saying the relationship between him was as close as his relationship with the late businessman and politician, Chief MKO Abiola’s who died in the course of the June 12 political struggles.
“We were just growing up at that time,” Babangida recalls. “That relationship is like MKO Abiola in 1970, 1973 and Mike Adenuga more in 1980s. Since then, we never parted ways. We meet, we talk.”
On his business links with Adenuga, Babangida says: “I have one policy that governs my relationship with friends that are very close to me. Whether it’s MKO Abiola or whether it’s Mike Adenuga and probably five or so others, I don’t get involved in their businesses. You can go and ask them.

“To further buttress that, I will tell you a story about MKO Abiola. Initially, a lot of people thought that there was something, there was a business deal between us, but there was nothing. I used to tell him. I used to say: it doesn’t matter if, through me, I peddle some influence and you get a job. What I like as a person, is to be able to come to you and say, ‘Bashorun, I beg, I’m broke. Give me this.’ If he gives me, fine. I feel satisfied. I don’t want you to feel because there is a business deal between you and me…That destroys the whole essence of our friendship.

“All my friends understand this and they have been very, very loyal. When I left office, a few of them honestly stood by me and I remain eternally grateful to them. Mike is one of them. Another man who doesn’t want his name mentioned any time I speak on this issue is one of them. They remain my good friends.

“What I like about them is this: they appreciate whatever little effort you did for them, and so they don’t abandon you. Some people will tell you, ‘Ah, when I was in office, a lot of people used to come to them. Now I left, you don’t find anybody.’ That is Nigerian factor for you. But these characters remain close and I honestly remain grateful.”

On the popularity of the brand Globacom and Mike Adenuga, Babangida says: “One thing stands out uniquely about it: it is the brain of a Nigerian. He is really trying to make it the leading telecommunication outfit, not only in Nigeria but also in Africa. Adenuga is a very serious businessman. And he is not a flamboyant businessman who goes to sleep, folds his arms, saying his business is doing well. No, he works very hard. I think he is worthy of emulation.”

On whether he or his son owns 24 percent of Globacom as it was being alleged, Babangida said: “To the best of my knowledge, there is no such thing as owning 24 percent of Globacom. If there were, it wouldn’t be difficult to find out. I don’t own anything. As I said, I don’t get involved in my friends’ businesses.”

On whether he instructed Bank Paribas in Paris to give Adenuga loan, Babangida said: “Okay, let’s put it this way. Paribas is a French bank. Can anybody in his right senses imagine that anybody could walk into a big French bank and say: Do this? I mean it’s basic common sense.”
An angry Babangida said: “I was told some people went to them to find out if I have a bank account with them. It’s so silly. It’s so stupid. Common sense. But I know it’s not so common because I used to have a teacher who said if you have that uncommon thing called common sense, then…How? How on earth could I have done that?

“In 1989, they said I owned a street in Paris. A whole street with 98 flats. If I do, I’m ready to sign it off for anybody who may want to go and take it. It only exists in the fertile imagination of the people. There is no such thing quite frankly.”
On his part, Professor Soyinka describes his relationship with Mike Adenuga as “very scrappy, but I admire his drive a lot.”
“When I say my relationship with him is very scrappy, that means I may not see him for months. I can’t remember when last I saw him or spoke to him,” Soyinka explains.

“He is a young entrepreneur I have come to admire. I like his drive. He sought me out when he was to begin his Globacom business. I thereafter made enquiries about him. I was actually told by somebody whose judgment I respect that Mike Adenuga is somebody with enormous drive and ideas. And he said I should give him as much help as I could. I checked him out and I discovered that he likes challenges. He has the drive to deliver.”

On why he agreed to do a testimonial advert aired on CNN for Globacom, Soyinka said: “I wasn’t doing the advert for Mike Adenuga, but for an efficient communication system which you and I require. I did the project because the advert was about an imaginative theme. And I like people who use imaginative theme or creative ideas in business, and the question was that. What is it that makes you glow? Adenuga was targeting important people and the idea was that he was trying to use people with high profile to launch a challenge against monopolists in the GSM business.

“Monopoly being enjoyed in the business then by some operators who are from outside the country was scandalous. And Globacom being a Nigerian brand, owned by a Nigerian who loves a challenge, I decided to support him.”
Soyinka says this was not the first time he is involving himself in business and marketing communication. “I had a businessman friend by name Femi Johnson who I used to help design his business card. Every year, he always wanted a new theme and he would harass me until I pick pictures and other materials for producing the card. So I wasn’t doing something new for Mike Adenuga at all.”
On the message he was trying to convey, Soyinka said: “Adenuga was the one who had a message to spread. I actually backed the idea of a strong Nigerian communication company. I thought it was a great idea doing the advertisement for him.”

Asked to assess brand Globacom, Soyinka said: “All I know is that I see Globacom advertisement everywhere. I also know that Adenuga supports sports, especially football. I wish he could do more for the arts. I have sat him down once. I told him: ‘Listen, you have the money and the enthusiasm, but we have the ideas. Let’s sit down and work together and let us do more for the arts. He would agree, but I said, he would then disappear. He has this vanishing habit. My wish for Globacom is that they would do more for the arts. I feel envious about the amount Globacom is committing to sports. I wish I could get his attention sufficiently to do even half for the arts. If Adenuga is reading this, he should stop running away. He should come and sit down with me so that we can do something for the arts.”

Stanley Ebochuku, the editor in chief of the influential Business Day was so thrilled to hear that a book on Mike Adenuga was being written. “Mike Adenuga is a phenomenon,” he says. He is somebody one would call an enigma. You can’t see him, if you want to see him. If you call him, he can’t take your calls. But if he wants to see you, he would see you. And if he wants you to see him, you would see him. Most businessmen tend to behave that way, because of the fear of people.

“If you are getting very, very rich, you become more careful of people. So that is sensible. One area that is not quite clear to me is his management style. He’s been away for some time now and the company is running. But that wasn’t the impression we had. The impression we had was that the guy was a hands-on man. That he signs every document and if he is not there, the business grinds to a halt. I found that funny. Because, how can you sign every document? The chairman should be the chairman. He should put his money to work for him. Take a guy like Richard Branson. He does not know what is going on in Virgin Nigeria. Managers should be made to do their work. So, he, we were told, was too involved. Now that he is not around, the company has been running.

“They have been doing their promotions, they have been expanding their network, they have been carrying out marketing campaigns and so on. It looks like we hear the wrong things. Maybe he is not what we thought he was. Maybe. But, Mike remains an enigma. When he begins to grant interviews and tell us about his style and his philosophy, we can then unmask him. But right now, he is like a masquerade. I would need to learn from people like him, because business is exciting. Everybody has his style. Branson style is very exciting. He says he knows what will fetch him money. And he goes for it. And he puts the right people there. He doesn’t have to be there. That is what it should be. Rupert Murdoch has that kind of style. He was into media. He was buying up papers and putting people there. It’s all about style. Some businessmen are like superstars. They write books to tell us their life stories. Nigerian businessmen are not that sophisticated. They should be able to tell us what makes them tick. We need to know. It’s good for young people who are growing up, who are also aspiring to be like them. They should tell us their stories. Mike should tell us his secrets.

“Nobody can say for sure where he is getting his support from. Although he said it himself that it was Bank PNB Paribas but that’s him. Somebody else believes that the money would have come from somewhere else. He allowed too much speculation. In journalism, if you don’t give us information, you are encouraging speculation. If you give us too much, you are encouraging boredom. He didn’t give us information at all. But I believe that eventually, people would get to know him. The story would be told.
“Nigeria is a virgin land. Because nothing is yet happening. You can see potentials. You can see business everywhere. You can see opportunities all over the place.

So, if you have the money, if you have the capacity, you can spread yourself as much as you can, provided you can cope. Mike Adenuga is all over the place. Dangote is all over the place. He is into so many things. To the admiration of IFC, World Bank and a number of international development agencies. They love his style and he is into areas that matter. You can’t go wrong with cement. You can’t go wrong with food. He doesn’t go into anything that is not profitable. And apart from being profitable, it has a long gestation period. Of course you can make money from the next 30 years in that area. That’s where to go. That’s where to be.

“Mike’s philosophy of dispersing his businesses is just an opportunity that he found. If you have money, do it now. If you don’t do it, somebody else would do it. Spread yourself, but make sure you have the capacity. If you don’t have the capacity, you are running at a risk. You are going to grow up and come down again. Globacom is one opportunity that came and Adenuga fought hard to make it a reality.”

Management style
Adenuga has a management style of employing highly qualified Indians to man his business. Mohammed Jameel, an Indian who is the Chief Operating Officer of Globacom recalls his first impressions of his boss:
“Two, three days after joining Globacom, he called me to his office. The first day I met him, he was very quiet. And I didn’t want to say anything. I just watched him. Of course, a lot of my colleagues were there. I was very impressed with him. He was planning to launch the brand Globacom. I saw in him a lot of passion. I saw in him a lot of commitment. I saw in him a lot of vision. He wanted the brand to succeed. And the kind of figures he was talking about in terms of subscribers, putting in infrastructure did really surprise me. At the first meeting I was convinced that the brand is going to make a revolution in telecommunication in the market.

What I thought of him from Day One has always been right. Till today, it’s right. Because he has single-handedly driven this business. So my impression of him was that he is no doubt a very, very successful entrepreneur who can turn any venture into good. He is a very, very aggressive manager. He is a very target-oriented manager. He is a manager who has a huge vision. He always thinks big. If you are hearing him for the first time, you would think this man is just joking. But he is not joking. Whatever he says, he is determined to achieve it. He is very passionate about whatever you do with the business, you do for the brand. Even things like branding the street, he goes into the details to get things right. And he doesn’t take instant or spontaneous decisions.

He has to think it across. He doesn’t take decisions on his own. He respects the views of others. He calls all of us and gives us the opportunity to air our views, share our thoughts, share our ideas. He also makes his own inputs to the whole issue and we end up coming up with a collective decision. So that it’s not one man’s decision. It’s a decision of the group. So we put our thoughts, cook it on the table and we are sure that what comes out is an excellent dish. He is a manager who respects collective decisions and he lends his ears and mind to whatever is being talked about, irrespective of whether it is the COO or the person employed in the customer service.”

In Accra, Ghana, the journalist Chief Dele Momodu told an enthralling story about how he met Adenuga in his search to do a story on his private life but as luck would have it, he killed the story. That is how he became Adenuga’s friend. Adenuga and Dele Momodu’s story is a story for another day. He talked about a “spirit who would be sending me huge amount of money, sometimes in hard currency, but I cannot even see him to say thank you.” He revealed it was Adenuga who helped him out financially to escape from Nigeria in the wake of the June 12 crisis and Abacha’s killer gang.

President Kufuor of Ghana recently crowned Adenuga as Africa’s No. 1 businessman. He says: “When you talk about business in Africa, you talk about Adenuga. He has within a short time left his footprint on different areas of business including banking, oil, aviation, real estate and telecommunications. But I am particularly impressed with what he has done in Globacom. In just a little over three years, Adenuga has made Globacom a force, not only in Nigeria but also in Africa’s telecommunications landscape. We are happy with what they have achieved in Nigeria and look forward to having them replicate that success in Ghana.”

From marketing gurus like Chris Ogbechie, Dr Osa Emokpae, Ike Emeagwali and George Thorpe, there are various intellectual analysis of Mike Adenuga and the Globacom marketing strategy in the book. And there are interviews with key Globacom marketing strategists like Chris Ehimen talking marketing—the Globacom way.

George Thorpe, an old schoolmate of Adenuga at Ibadan Grammar School and a highly respected marketing strategist says of Glo: “I particularly like the growing stature of the brand. It came in on the platform of ‘it’s our own.’ More and more, it is maturing into an adolescent, confident, adventurous, Pan-African brand, ready to, not just make conquest in Nigeria but extend its tentacles elsewhere. That is something that we all can be proud of.

I am not sure that any brand can sustain a purely parochial national mystique posture in a globalized GSM world as we have it and survive for long. I think they must have realized that. More and more, you see the new campaign, Rule. Look at the attitude. Look at the avant guard and confident attitude. The brand is saying something like: ‘I might have been a small boy. I was slow off the block. I arrived late. You had all your doubts about me.

I am now a big boy. You have to pay attention to me.’ I like their avant guard, confident, I am in your face kind of brand communication. And incidentally, it seems to me that the network is also delivering. Because it is important. It is not what you say, it’s what you do. People have to match the two. And it seems to me that Glo has done a marvelous job of that. They have been able to enter this market rather belatedly but have grown phenomenally. I hear they are now very strong in the No.2 position, looking at No.1 within their sight. And with the new campaign they are coming up with, I think it is enough to make one or two of their competitors worry enough to say: What are these guys up to again?”

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