Tuesday, December 23, 2014 11:50 am
Biodun Shobanjo, advertising mogul, joins the septuagenarians’ club this Christmas Eve
When towards the end of 1979, Biodun Shobanjo quit his job as the Deputy Managing Director of Grant Advertising, the second largest agency in Nigeria, many were shocked, because they thought it was a risky decision. With a few colleagues, he started Insight Communications, a marketing communication company in 1980.
With no start-up capital and skipping of pay days, some of his employees could not bear the challenges. He however trudged on. And from that very modest beginning, Shobanjo now sits atop a multi-billion naira business empire which he has grown from a start-up staff strength of 18 into a behemoth employing over 40,000 men and women with tentacles spread across different sectors of the Nigerian economy, nested under Troyka Holdings.
“If I don’t understand a business, I’ll find people who really understand it. But I must be able to add value. Those are my principles…You won’t see me in telecommunications, because I don’t understand them. But I understand marketing communication,” said Shobanjo, fondly called ‘Shobee’ by friends, contemporaries and even, staff.
On 24 December, the advertising guru will clock 70 and he has not shown any sign of slowing down. His life has been fruitful and colourful. His story is eminently inspiring.
Arguably, no single individual has bestridden the advertising industry like a colossus the way Shobanjo has. He has spent over 40 years of his life building strong pillars for the Nigerian advertising industry. But Shobanjo said people are at the core of his operations and the eventual success of all the subsidiaries.
“I have the foot soldiers that make it happen. It is that ability to be able to see the opportunities and pursue them. All the time, all those things are always in the interest of our clients. There were challenges but what we have done is to learn from them,” he said.
Shobanjo is a study in outward elegance and endearing inner man . This can be gleaned right from his tastefully furnished office, pin-striped suit, designers’ fashion accessorises, uncountable polka dot bow tie and pocket square of various hues. Of course, this style and dexterity came to play when he was made the CEO of that globally-reckoned business reality show, The Apprentice Africa. Joining other business moguls like Donald Trump, Alan Sugar and Tokyo Sexwale, who had at one time or the other played the head honchos on various editions of the reality show, Shobanjo brought his pedigree and panache to bear in interpreting his very critical role as the arrow head of the show.
With no definite plan to celebrate his entry into the Septuagenarians’ club, yet Shobanjo, out of his love for journalism and advertising, recently built and donated a new structure for the Mass Communication Department of the University of Lagos as his personal social responsibility.
By so doing, Shobanjo, an inspiration to millions of youths, said he wants the younger generation to surpass the standard he has set.
“I have always said to young men and indeed the people I have had the opportunity to work with that there is no alternative to hard work. All through my working life and as an entrepreneur, I have never believed in taking short-cuts. The only success that endures is that which comes from tenacious hard work,” he explained.
Shobanjo noted that there are four essential elements for success. They are honour, professionalism, integrity and passion.
He added that he realised early enough that nothing good comes easy and was ready to pay the price, which is hard work.
“It is also important to believe in yourself. Self confidence is something that I see lacking in many of today’s young men. I don’t embark on projects that I do not believe in. I am my greatest critic. Once I have convinced myself about a project or course of action, I keep my eye on the ball irrespective of the challenges that one must necessarily encounter. In my world, impossibilities do not exist. Over the years, I must confess that this attitude has paid off,” he added.
The birthday boy is a complete family man, yet he is not an advocate of family business, hence he has not built his companies in that direction. He believes in building an enduring business for Nigerians and not his family.
“There is nobody that runs any of our businesses that is a Shobanjo or Awosika. We have always made that point that it is not a family business. This business is for Nigerians…So far you are qualified to work here, we will give you the opportunity. I say to my family, even to my children there is no automatic place for you in any of these companies. If anybody wants to work here he or she must have what it takes to work here,” he said.
Born on 24 December 1944 in Zaria, young Shobanjo attended Odogbolu Grammar School, Odogbolu, Ogun State. He also attended Institute of Marketing, Cookham, Maidenhead, England, where he obtained the College’s certificate in Marketing. He started his communications career in 1964 with the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, NBC, now Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, FRCN, as a studio manager and left as producer in 1971. He later joined the Client Service department of American/Nigerian owned agency, Grant Advertising, in 1971. He was appointed to the Board after four and a half years and served as DMD for another four years.