Prince Adedoyin: My Life, My Pains At 80
It was a struggle catching up with the 10am appointment on a weekday in the heart of Victoria Island. Luckily, I was at the reception a few minutes shy of the hour and was so surprised to be ushered in immediately to the expansive but conservative office of the quintessential billionaire, Prince (Dr.) Samuel Adedoyin (OFR). The man, popularly known as the ‘Doyen of Industry’, was a combination of wisdom and youth, displaying an impressive power of recall while the interview lasted, and tackling every question with measured response. Born in Lagos, he is a native of Agbamu in Kwara State. An apostle of industrialisation, Prince Adedoyin is a philanthropist and a diligent, shrewd and innate businessman, who commenced his exploits with petty trading, but has now expanded into manufacturing, real estate, hospitality and energy, among others. Today, he holds a special thanksgiving service to celebrate his ascension into the club of octogenarians.
Congratulations, sir, on this milestone. How does it feel to be 80?
SOMETIMES, when I talk, people will hardly believe me. But I still feel as if I am 30 or 40 years old because I work even harder than when I was in my 30s. I thank the Almighty God for giving me the health to be able to enjoy what I am doing and life at 80.
What was it like growing up?
The story of my life, in summary, is God’s favour. And if I have to start talking about it, we may not leave here today because it is God’s favour, blessing, protection, wisdom and guidance that led me to where I am today. I was not born rich. I am not educated and I have never gone to any lesson to learn anything about education or business. The journey at the beginning was very rough. But by God’s grace, it is much better now.
What is your daily routine like?
When I was young, I shared a shop; and the owner comes to work at 10am. But when I was able to rent my shop, I started going to the office at 8am. I have continued to do that till today: resume at 8am and go home at 4pm, to rest. I take my dinner at 6pm, then inspect my hospitality business and building projects and close around 8-9pm. I enjoy doing it. It is God that has made it possible because if one were not enjoying good health, it would not have been possible. I know a lot of people whose health start to deteriorate as soon as they get close to 70. But God has been kind to me.
How do you unwind when you close at 4pm?
There is nothing much I can say. My life is full of work. It is through working that I unwind and nobody can blame me because working doesn’t kill. If work could kill, I would have been dead a long time ago. By His grace, I have great grandchildren and I am still working. I enjoy doing so.
What is your diet like?
I still, surprisingly, will tell you that my best-loved food is pounded yam. I eat it every afternoon. In the morning, I take fruits. Every 6pm, I take a light meal and assorted fruits and its good for me. It is what is keeping me going.
Besides your avowed faith and belief in God, where do you get the inspiration and drive to pull through in business? What other things keep you going?
God first and no other. For other factors, I can’t say. Maybe, because of the way we started and the sufferings we encountered, my policy is to make my environment and the country much better than I met it. That is my motto and my vision
Looking back, have you had any regrets in one or two decisions you took?
Definitely, I have had cause to regret, both here and internationally, some setbacks, but God has allowed the successes to be much more than the failures. I don’t think there is anybody who will not have a challenge in life. There are times when things would be hard and times when things go according to plan.
For instance, you know, I established City Express Bank. For whatever reason, by the time the CBN took over, we were not distressed. They rushed to the media and first of all said I was owing N13bn, later they said N10bn and later still N2bn. And even for the N2bn, I have taken them to court and we are still in court, nine years after, to prove the N2b, which they have not been able to. We still went to court yesterday, which they adjourned. We are pressing for judgment.
Not everybody would partner with government to establish industries. That is why all our products, we don’t need government approval to sell. Because I cannot go and be begging government officials, so I look at products like toothpaste, seasonings, noodles, detergents; things that can be made without going to beg the government. That is the policy I follow and it gives me pleasure and peace of mind. I have not been to Abuja for over two years, even though I have hospitality businesses and some properties there. Some people run it. I love what I am doing, here, and I am enjoying it.
Are you hopeful that if you win the case, your bank would bounce back?
I won’t want to go into the banking industry again. I said I sued them for wrongful takeover of the bank. Those are areas that government controls everyday and I want my independence. My other investments are the ones that are not government controlled. I am not going back to banking.
How did you venture into business?
I would say my life is God-given. I have only passed Standard Four. I have not attended any school after that and I have not worked for anybody. I would say God gave me the foresight and vision of what I would be doing at each period of my life. And He still does. It was last year we started noodles when people were saying that a certain brand has covered the market. I have always known that nobody can cover glory. We started; and we are selling Doyin Noodles.
We are also into export. Anybody manufacturing in Nigeria must be an exporter to break even. And all Nigerian goods are in neighbouring countries; the only thing is that many of them are not channeled officially. The documentation of export is so much and this scares them away from following official channels. We have a particular product; a Chinese balm we have been producing since 1980. Foreign countries like Niger, Gabon and Togo etc., consume it mostly. They buy it more than in Nigeria.
What is your advice to the present generation? What are your business tips and recommendations to today’s entrepreneurs?
Yes, and that includes my children. I have those who are doing well and I have those I am teaching. I have those who have been blessed that they even buy cars for me and I have those I am still mentoring, to be able to catch up. Having come from nowhere to be where I am, I can’t stop thanking God for His mercies.
Even in America, many successful business owners did not go to universities and yet they hold world power. All I would advise anybody is: use the brain to achieve greatness. Education shouldn’t be a barrier to success, unless you want to be a professor or civil servant. In any business, you must improve yourself, speak well across the world and hold yourself. I am not saying that you should live on in ignorance. Even if you are not educated…I taught myself all I knew in business, even without the benefit of a formal education.
Besides business, you are also very much involved in philanthropy; can you share some insights into this aspect of you?
If you look at the way I was born, the suffering I went through and the education I didn’t have, motivate me to look out for many people in the same situation today that I can help in education and employment. That is beside other big projects, like building churches, hospitals or road construction, to benefit a lot of people, which the government, like my home state of Kwara, is not able to do. I do them for my community and I am blessed for it. It is not in my style to announce whatever I am doing. I have those I have trained who are professors and doctors and are like children to me.
Why is none of your chain of businesses listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange?
It is because of nervousness. I have seen several indigenous companies that have gone into public offers and they are not able to pay dividends to shareholders. I am very much worried about this. At a time, I even wanted to take one or two businesses to the stock market and see how it would be like, but it was about closing at the time. So, I jettisoned the idea and have not tried again, since then.
Your longstanding friendship with Chief Okoya Thomas…
We started together about 50 years ago. In some areas, we collide and we settle our misunderstandings. But basically, the world is large enough for everybody to fly in different ways. And that is what we do. I respect him a lot; he is a very intelligent person. And although I am his senior, we move together as equals and enjoy our friendship. Before Nigeria’s independence, we used to travel around the world for business and we are still together.
What legacy are you leaving behind?
God owns all legacies. Everybody wants to be remembered for good. God permitting, I would want to be remembered for doing best things. I hope I will be able to achieve more.
What are your personal and corporate plans for the years ahead?
I will first of all pray to God for good health and long life and wisdom to do more.
What actually happened when you did a stowaway to Ghana in your early days?
(Laughs) That is almost 70 years ago. It’s an outdated story, which is not worth talking about now. I don’t know whether you know Lenard Shoes. In those days, they used to do mail order, which used to fascinate me. So, I just thought if I go there and tell them, ‘I want to work here,’ they would employ me. So, I took that opportunity. But it didn’t work out. God says my prosperity is here, not in Ghana. And He has made it possible.
Apart from the teething problems of finance, what other challenges do business owners face in Nigeria?
Even the Bible says money answereth all things. To me, the major factor is finance. But apart from that, the vision and the determination to succeed must follow every plan of every individual. A lot can be achieved if there are government policies in place to protect indigenous firms and small and medium scale enterprises.
A lot of your contemporaries have retired and handed over their businesses to their scions, like Subomi Balogun of FCMB, Elizade Motors and Aboderin of Punch. What is your succession plans?
You have answered the questions yourself; you quoted two companies managed by their children. I tried it in the past; it didn’t work. We have established the gradual transfer of power and I pray it works this time. It is not something difficult, but we have to ask God to choose the right people to carry on our legacy. We are training them. I believe we will succeed and our future, even after our demise, will be successful than what we have seen today.
As you sit atop your conglomerate, how have you been able to relate with members of your board and core associates. Is there any time you feel intimidated, given your scant formal education? Are there times too that you felt disappointed, in spite of the intimidating qualifications they have?
(Laughs) Me, intimidated? Never! Many of them are not businesslike. Rather, they are the one that are intimidated because I still teach them a lot of things. PhD does not equate wisdom to run business successfully. Business is God-given, and the vision to want to succeed and never relent until you succeed is not acquired in any university. I am not afraid of any human being and I am not intimidated by anybody. I once employed a director of a multinational, and I was surprised how he was able to get that far to the top because what he was doing when he joined my team was totally unacceptable to me. We groom and train our management staff to be able to hold their own, even without my supervision.
What advice do you have for President Buhari?
We can only wish the President the best of luck; that he will be able to lead Nigeria to greatness. It is not an easy task managing a complicated nation like Nigeria. May God give the new administration the wisdom and empowerment to drive and implement a new industrial policy, especially for citizens of this country.