It is widely believed that one of the biggest challenges the continent faces is the dearth of leadership. However, across the continent and of course in Nigeria, there are some men and women in corporate organizations, government, and other spheres of life, changing the narratives and inspiring others to do the same.
On this week’s edition of founders profile, we take a look at Dr. Felix Ohiwerei, a respected and well-known Nigerian boardroom guru. He is a living legend in the corporate world. That he is a successful businessman is not in doubt and among his peers in the business circle, he is held in high esteem.
Early life and education
Felix Omoikhoje Aizobeoje Ohiwerei hails from Uzebba in Owan Local Government of Edo State. He was born on the 18th of January, 1937. He attended St. David’s School, Avbiosi New Site, and Government Secondary School, Owerri, for his primary and secondary school education respectively. He later proceeded to the Nigerian College of Arts, Science, and Technology Ibadan.
He obtained his B.A. in Geography from the University of Ibadan, formerly University College, Ibadan in 1961.
On graduating from the University College Ibadan in June 1961, he worked briefly as a teacher at Remo Secondary School, Sagamu. Ohiwerei later got offers from popular multinationals like Nigerian Breweries (NB) and Nigerian Tobacco Company (NTC). According to Ohiwerei, he settled for NB because he was more comfortable with their products (beer and soft drinks) than those of the NTC which deals majorly in tobacco.
He joined NB in April 1962 as Manager-In-Training. Initially, members of his family had misgivings about him working at Nigerian Breweries seeing as it produced alcoholic beverages, but his father, a catechist, supported him, noting that the training he had received from home would guide him. These words from his father kept him on the narrow path, as he did not want to let the old man down.
Shortly afterward, he was promoted to the position of Field Sales Manager and in that capacity, he served in the West and Mid-West and returned to Lagos in 1965 as Promotions Manager.
In 1966, he was sent on attachment to Elida Gibbs (a Unilever Company in the UK). He returned to Lagos eighteen months later to assume the position of Star Product Manager. Before becoming Marketing Manager in 1974, Mr. Ohiwerei held the positions of Lager Product Group Manager and General Brands Manager.
Board member of blue-chip companies
He was appointed to the Board of Nigerian Breweries in 1977 as Marketing Director, and in 1982 was seconded to UAC Foods Division as General Manager. In June 1986, he went to UAC International, London (a Unilever Company) as a Senior Manager in Nominated African Territories Regional Management.
Dr. Ohiwerei was appointed Deputy Chairman/Managing Director of Nigerian Breweries Plc in 1987, became Chairman/Managing Director in June 1989 and Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of the company in 1997.
He retired from the service of Nigerian Breweries in June 1999, was appointed Non-Executive Chairman of the company in July 1999 and retired from the Board in December 2007. He also served as Chairman of Fidson Healthcare Limited.
Of note was the significant improvement in the financials of NB when he was at the helm of affairs. Before he was appointed the Managing Director and Vice Chairman of Nigeria Breweries Plc, the turnover was N207,476 million, and by the time he stepped down as Chairman, the turnover had soared to N111,748 billion – an increase of 54,284. 9%, while the profit after tax grew from N27,567,000 to N18,943,000,000.
He was also Chairman of Unilever Nigeria Plc from January 1998 to December 2007. He was a Director of Shell Closed Pension Fund Administrator Ltd until April 2009.
Dr. Ohiwerei recently stepped down as the Chairman of e-Tranzact Plc in January this year.
He is also on the boards of several blue-chip companies including Coates Brothers (West Africa) Limited, Jubilee Mortgage Bank Limited, Bankers Warehouse Limited, World Dove Media Plc and Ashford and McGuire Consulting. Currently, he is the Chairman of Asset & Resource Management Holding Company Ltd.
He has an honorary Doctor of Laws Degree (LL.D) from the University of Ibadan.
He is a recipient of the Zik’s Prize in Leadership Award.
The Order of Orange Nassau by the Queen of the Netherlands.
Officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (OFR).
More on his Personal life
Dr. Ohiwerei acknowledges his father as his mentor while growing up, adding that his father’s strong character had a great impact on him.
According to him:
”The very first mentor that I had was my father. He had a very strong character. He was a catechist. He was also a strict disciplinarian and his lifestyle impacted very strongly on me as a child. As much as he understood, he brought us up to fear God. ”
In his career, Dr. Ohiweri mentioned Dr. C.E. Abebe, Dr. Michael Omolayole and Mr. Akintola Williams as his role model.
According to him,
” All these role models stood out because they were achievers and men of integrity. Later on in life, I met a man of God, Pastor E.A. Adeboye. His humility, lifestyle and unimpeachable character challenged me. He is my spiritual role model.”
In his biography, “Winning by his Grace”, he described the death of two of his children as the two worst experiences in his life.
”The two hardest knocks I have had in life are the loss of a daughter at 22 and later on, the loss of a son who was in his 30s.”
At 81 years old, the boardroom titan is an Elder and Member of Board of Trustees of the Redeem Christian Church of God. He attributed his success story to hard work, perseverance, and determination to succeed.
Dr. Felix Ohiwerei is happily married with three children.