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Profiles

Ibukun Awosika: The journey from chemistry lab to board meetings of First Bank of Nigeria

This week’s Founder’s Profile features an amazing woman whose achievements and career has been dominated by many firsts.

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Ibukun Awosika

Ibukun Awosika is widely known as the Chairman of First Bank of Nigeria – a remarkable feat for a woman in the corporate world, even by 21st century standards.

A versatile woman, she is different things to different people – Businesswoman, Author, Founder, Corporate executive, Actor, amongst others, but became popular to the millennials during the Dragon’s Den programme in 2008 and recently in her stellar role in the 2020 movie Citation.

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She was the only woman amongst five Nigerian entrepreneurs to feature in the first African version of Dragon’s Den, where entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas in the hope of getting investment finance. She also hosts a T.V programme called Business His Way.

Nairametrics Founder’s Profile beams its searchlight on this brilliant woman with an eye for opportunities, which she says can spot an opportunity 10 miles away.

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Early years and career dilemma

Bilkisu Abiodun Motunrayo Omobolanle Adekola was born on December 24, 1962, to a Nigerian father from Ibadan and a Cameroonian mother – Mr Abdulmashood Adekola and Hannah Aduke Adekola.

She attended St. Pauls African Church Primary School, Lagos and Methodist Girls’ High School, Yaba, and later bagged her first degree in Chemistry from the University of Ile-Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University).

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Ibukun said she was unsure what career path to pursue. She went from wanting to be an Architect as a child to choosing Accountancy and later Law. While studying Chemistry at Obafemi Awolowo University, she desperately tried everything to get into Law.

“Did I enjoy my university days? No, because I didn’t even like Chemistry. In-between that, I wanted to be a lawyer. I put in a lot of effort to make the Dean of Law to accept me into the Faculty of Law.

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“But I have to fail chemistry for Chemistry department to release me to Law, and Law wanted me to pass with the best result in order to accept me into Law. It was all confusing. By the end of that year, I changed my mind about wanting to become a Lawyer.

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“I decided to be an Accountant. So, I started taking a lot of electives in the department of Accounting from Part Two to Part Four,” she recounted.

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After graduation, she served out the mandatory one-year National Youth Service Corps service at Akintola Williams & Co. (now Deloitte) as an Audit Trainee, in the hopes of taking an accounting examination later and going to work in a bank.

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However, this one year was enough to show Ibukun that though she loved figures, she hated the idea of moving from one company to the other going through old dusty files.

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She said, “I didn’t need anybody to tell me this. I was too restless to just keep following certain procedures that are laid down. I was so restless and I needed to be able to express myself, as there was no room in the Auditing process to do that.

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“At the end of my service year, even though they offered me permanent employment, I turned it down.”

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She then returned home and took up a job as Showroom Manager with Alibert Nigeria Ltd, a Lebanese-owned furniture company. Ibukun only lasted three and a half months with the company.

In that short time, she rediscovered her love for architecture, and came up with amazing ideas of how she could design and create furniture to play around with space.

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Founding Quebees

Still in her 20s, Ibukun took a brave leap to establish a furniture manufacturing company called Quebees Limited, to give her room for expression.

The company evolved into The Chair Centre Limited and later SOKOA Chair Centre Limited, following a venture merger with SOKOA S.A and Guaranty Trust Bank in 2004, after 15 years of its existence.

The merger became necessary to facilitate successful local production, after the federal government banned importation of furniture.

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Awosika is the CEO of The Chair Centre Group, an umbrella for several companies – The Chair Centre Limited, SOKOA Chair Centre Limited, Furniture Manufacturers Mart, TCC Security Systems, and Cubes and Boxes Limited. All of which firms have earned a space in the competitive global industry.

Quebees is a company Ibukun is particularly proud of, especially for the quality of products the company provides its customers.

READ: The economy may end up weaker if inflation rate is not controlled – CBN report

“I love to walk into your home and say, ‘I sold this chair to you 10 years ago’ and my clients affirm that it is still functional. The CEO of Stanbic IBTC Holding Company, Sola David-Borha, once told me that a sofa I made for her in my first two years in business was still in her possession.

“The sofa is about 26 years old. So, when we celebrated our 25th anniversary, we went to shoot the sofa in her home, because we were documenting some of our products.”

The Challenging early days

Ibukun recalls that as a young girl in her twenties and with no business experience, no bank was willing to loan her money, and she got frustrated because of inadequate machinery to meet the needs of clients.

With some support from her parents and others who believed in what she was doing, she raised sufficient money to buy used machines from some furniture companies, which were shutting down at the time.

From scratch, Awosika built the company around her personal values and virtues, refusing to cut corners to make quick money because she wanted to create a business that would outlive her.

“I am consumed by the fact that I want my business to survive when I am gone, otherwise I would have wasted my life. I started business in my twenties, so why would I work so hard for so many years and not build a legacy?” she asks.

While delivering an address as a Guest Lecturer at the Second Convocation Ceremony of the Entrepreneurship Development Centre, Lagos, she recalled the challenging early days when Quebees had to prove its worth to the market.

The company had made a set of furniture for one of its early clients – Texaco Nigeria, and two weeks after delivering the goods, they were broken due to a failed warranty from a Lebanese company, where the base of the chairs was purchased.

“For a company of our size, it was a big loss. We could abandon the customer and move on. But my name is more important than even money. I chose to maintain our integrity and retain our credibility.

“We replaced them. It was a killer. But I realised that we stood to benefit more if we do the right things at all times. That job produced many other jobs,” she said.

Mrs Awosika gets most of her business ideas when she is on a flight, as this is the time she re-evaluates and takes a lot of critical decisions. “I know my strength and I can see or smell an opportunity 10 miles ahead. I am innately proactive and also an ideas machine,” she said.

Other interests, awards, and recognition

She is the author of The “Girl” Entrepreneurs and Business His Way. Both books are part of her efforts to build an army of strong-minded moguls, particularly in Africa.

She is a regular speaker at the After School Graduate Development Centre, a career centre she co-founded in 2011 to check the high rate of unemployment in Nigeria.

Recently, she received the Forbes Woman Africa Chairperson Award in the Africa Forbes Woman Awards 2020. But she is not new to awards and recognition.

In 2006, she won the FATE Model Entrepreneur Award of The Year, organized by the FATE Foundation. She was also awarded the 2007 Golden Heart Award from the International Women Society Award and the International Women Entrepreneurial Challenge Award in 2008.

She has also been nominated for several recognitions over the years including the 2005 This Day Entrepreneur of The Year award, Success Digests Female Entrepreneur of the Year category of the Annual Enterprise Award, and the Best Female Entrepreneur of The Year 2006 in the Financial Standard and Pan-African Organisation for Women Recognition.

In 2000, when she had already become a successful entrepreneur, Ibukun returned to do a Chief Executive programme at the Lagos Business School, and later to Barcelona, Spain to do MBA Global Executive programme at the IESE Business School – University of Navarra.

She is a fellow of the African Leadership Initiative and Aspen Global Leadership Network, a member of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, member of the board of Nigerian Sovereign Wealth Fund and co-founder and former Chairperson, Board of Trustees of Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WIMBIZ).

She is also a member of IESE’s International Advisory Board and sits on the board of Digital Jewel Limited and Cadbury Nig. Plc, Convention on Business Integrity and the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority.

She was Chairman, FBN Life Assurance Limited, FBN Capital Limited, and Kakawa Discount House Limited. She also served on the board of the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority, as well as the National Job Creation Committee (NJCC).

On September 7, 2015, Ibukun became the first woman to be appointed Chairman of First Bank of Nigeria, following the resignation of Prince Ajibola Afonja.

Ruth Okwumbu has a MSc. and BSc. in Mass Communication from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and Delta state university respectively. Prior to her role as analyst at Nairametrics, she had a progressive six year writing career.As a Business Analyst with Narametrics, she focuses on profiles of top business executives, founders, startups and the drama surrounding their successes and challenges. You may contact her via [email protected]

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Gabriel Gbayan

    December 6, 2020 at 12:38 pm

    This is a very encouraging profile of a woman whom many can look up to for inspirational leadership. I like people who believe in their ideas and carry them forward as their legacies. I am encouraged by your courage me. I will encourage more women to take after Mrs Awosika as the right approach to their dreams. This is a nice piece from the journalist too.

  2. Adewumi Oni

    December 6, 2020 at 1:07 pm

    Is this the full name of Mrs Awosika or an error?

    “Bilkisu Abiodun Motunrayo Omobolanle Adekola”.

    If it is not an error, then the writer should have either included “formerly known” or “born as”. It just leaves one confused as it is written.

    Nice write-up, except for that.

    Thank you

  3. B !Akinbowale

    December 6, 2020 at 1:31 pm

    Reading and learning about Dr Awosika for the first time, has been truely inspiring and worthwhile. I commend her for her brilliant achievements and she is now one of my icon and I believe our young and older generations will model her ideals, steadfastness and will power to try to walk in her she’s worthidly with pride and God overall.

  4. Alex K. Okonmah

    December 7, 2020 at 3:14 am

    Yes,the story of Dr Ibukun Awosika’ entrepreneurial prowess was inspiring.A to learn from her- in terms of business decisions , values she stood for. Her sheer and dogged determination to reach her goals and dreams. Indeed, she was a fighter, which has earned her her place in the business arena globally.Im encouraged.

  5. Jatuwase igbekele

    December 20, 2020 at 7:08 am

    Ruth @nairametrics thanks for ur encouraging writing on mrs awosika to moe others up.kindly update on how she got security doors business,her faith and marri-age or marry-love.

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Exclusives

Bridget Oyefeso-Odusami: The emergence of a marketing and brand communications guru

Oyefeso-Odusanmi has certainly marked her presence in the corporate world of marketing and brand communications.

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Though not everyone can be the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation at the same time, there are women equally etching their names in various industries across the globe. Stanbic IBTC Holdings PLC has one of such women.

As Head, Marketing and Communications, Bridget Oyefeso-Odusami is showing that her 22 years of experience in brand strategy, sponsorships, digital marketing and communications have equipped her in ways a Doctoral degree might not have, especially since Integrated Marketing Communications is hardly offered as an independent course in institutions.

Bridget Oyefeso-Odusami bagged a Bachelor of Science degree in Botany from Lagos State University, and a Post Graduate degree from the University of Leicester, UK, before foraying into marketing communications.

Career journey

She was Marketing Manager of Aero Airlines for 6 months, and was with British Airways for 9 years, serving in several various marketing and sponsorship positions.

Her professional recognition started back from her time managing the British Airways corporate image in Nigeria and other African countries, where she received the highest ratings for creativity, innovation and dedication for functional responsibilities at British Airways Plc, the best of British Airways community volunteering award.

She served as Executive Director at Change-A-Life between September 2009 and June 2010, and was also Head, Sponsorship and Event at First Bank Nigeria Limited for over 6 years.

Oyefeso-Odusami served as Corporate Investment Banking Marketing Manager at Stanbic IBTC for over a year, before assuming the position of Head, Marketing and Communications department in acting capacity. The appointment was confirmed in January 2019.

It was in this position that she emerged winner of the Outstanding Corporate Communications Personality of the Year 2019 at the MARKETING EDGE Marketing and Advertising Awards of Excellence. According to the presiding board, her versatility and inspiring growth in the Corporate Communications sector and performance in the marketing, advertising and brand management environment, had distinguished her among other nominees.
In August 2020, Oyefeso was appointed Non-Executive Director of the Stanbic IBTC Asset Management Limited Part-time.

Professional qualifications

She is a certified member of professional bodies such as Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), UK, National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria, NIMN and an associate member of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR). She is also a member of Women in Business and Management (WIMBIZ), and has taken part in different global business and economic summits.

Other interests

Outside the business of marketing and brand communications, Oyefeso-Odusami mentors women and joins missionaries to reach out to widows in Northern Nigeria. She is also actively involved in a couple of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

She attributes much of her successes to constant self-development, worklife balance, and properly apportioning time to work, family and self.

In an interview, she said, “Stay true to your commitments and give no room for excuses. Having the right support system also makes the balancing act easier. I believe they go hand in hand and flow into one another, with one fuelling the other and giving it room to flourish.”

She also noted that she had been fortunate to work in organisations that allowed her to grow and rise as far as her talent and desire could take her, irrespective of gender, and had the privilege of good career mentors.

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The story of women shattering the invisible ceiling always seem so rosy and inspiring to others, that the years of sweating it out are almost forgotten. Regardless of this, talent and hardwork will continue to separate the best from the rest.

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TY Danjuma: The retired military general who made Forbes richest list

From the barracks to boardrooms, TY Danjuma has built and is leading some of the most notable companies in Nigeria.

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It is not every day you come across a retired Military General who remains in the limelight more than four decades after retiring from active service and for reasons totally unconnected to the military service. This is probably the reason why some might consider General TY Danjuma to be one of the most controversial businessmen and retired generals in Nigeria.

Vocal as he is in Nigerian political matters, Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma is a force in the business environment, pulling weights in some of the most notable companies. Much of his wealth is attributed to his shipping and petroleum interests.

As at 2015, he was worth $750 million and ranked 30th among the top 50 in Africa’s 50 richest list (as compiled by Forbes), until he dropped off the following year due to weak oil prices. His businesses still continues and he remains on several boards still putting his business acumen to use, even in his eighties. The story of his move from the barracks to the boardroom makes for an interesting read.

Birth and education

Theophilus Yakubu was born on 9 December 1938 to Kuru Danjuma and Rufkatu Asibi in Takum, a farming community in Gongola (now Taraba state). Like many other children born during this time, he joined his father to plant yams, rice, cassava, and benniseed.

When he came of age, he had his primary education at Wusasa, and moved to Benue Provincial Secondary School, Katsina-Ala for his secondary education. Theophilus showed great interest in cricket and became the captain of the school cricket team. This, however, did not detract from his intelligence and he still bagged his Higher School Certificate in 1958, and immediately enrolled at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science, and Technology in Zaria (Ahmadu Bello University) to study history on a Northern Nigeria Scholarship. He barely spent a year there, as he left soon after to enrol into the Nigerian Defence Academy.

Military career

Danjuma was commissioned into the Nigerian Army as second lieutenant and platoon commander, and commenced his military career in The Congo.

He took part in the UN Peace-keeping force in Sante, Katanga Province in Congo in 1963, was involved in the Nigerian Counter-Coup of 1966 with the 4th Battalion in Mokola, Ibadan. He commanded the Nigerian Army’s 1st Infantry Brigade, and also led a battalion that freed Jaja Wachuku, first Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives as well as first Ambassador to the United Nations and first Foreign Affairs Minister, from detention by the Ojukwu government.

On several occasions, he was sent as Nigeria’s representative within and outside the country for several diplomatic missions. He served in active military service from 1960 to 1979 where he retired as a Lieutenant General, and in the highest office in the military – Chief of Army Staff under the military administration of General Olusegun Obasanjo. He later served as Minister of Defence between 1999 and 2003, under the President Olusegun Obasanjo civilian administration.

Business forays

General Danjuma made his first major foray into the shipping business when he founded the Nigeria American Line (NAL) and leased a ship called ‘Hannatu’ to facilitate trade between Lagos and Santos in Brazil. At this time, Nigeria’s bilateral trade agreement had opened the sea routes to economies in the South American markets and so NAL had patronage from Nigeria’s National Supply Company (NNSC) to bring in government goods.

Its client list later grew to include DICON Salt (Nigeria), Iwopin Paper Mill, ANNAMCO and Volkswagen Nigeria. From about 12 staffs in a single location in 1979, NAL grew over the next three decades to almost 300 staffs.

Danjuma also set up COMET Shipping Agencies Nigeria Limited in 1984 to act as an agent for NAL and COMET grew to become one of the largest independent agents operating in Nigeria, handling many types of vessels and cargo at Lagos, Port Harcourt, Calabar and Warri Ports. NAL-COMET acquired a roll-in-roll-out port (RORO) in Lagos in 2005 and became the largest independent port operators in Africa.

He still retains his stakes in NAL-Comet.

Oil business

After 15 years running the shipping business, Danjuma decided to veer into oil exploration and production and he founded the South Atlantic Petroleum (SAPETRO) in 1995 to serve as a vehicle for this interest.

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Three years later, the ministry of Petroleum Resources in Nigeria awarded the Oil Prospecting License (OPL) 246 to SAPETRO, with a bloc covering a total area of 2,590 square kilometres (1,000 sq mi). The company brought in Total Upstream Nigeria Ltd (TUPNI) and Brasoil Oil Services Company Nigeria Ltd (Petrobras) as partners in its oil prospecting.

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The prospecting led to the discovery of Akpo (a condensate field), the Egina Main, Egina South, Preowei and Kuro. In 2004, SAPETRO won a tender process for an oil exploration contract covering 550 square kilometres offshore from the Republic of Benin and this opened the way for other transnational deals.

In June 2006, SAPETRO divested part of its contractor rights and obligations to China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), but Danjuma still remains Chairman, while his wife is Vice Chairman.

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He also owns some real estate and has stakes in Notore Chemical Industries (manufacturer of urea fertilizer).

Other interests and honours

TY Danjuma holds the national honour, General Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON). He also has several other national and international awards and titles, as well as honorary doctorate degrees from different universities, within and outside Nigeria.

Besides the companies he founded, General Danjuma has sat on the board of other companies like the NatCom Development & Investment Limited “NatCom”, (trading as ntel) where he assumed position as Board Chairman in 2016. He also served seven years as the chairman of Agip Africa until 1995 when he left to start SAPETRO.

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He has also been appointed into several committees and councils by the government, like in 2003 when he served as Chairperson for investigative committee on the Warri conflict. Danjuma also serves as Chairman of the Victims’ Support Fund Committee, supporting the victims of terror such as the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping.

Philanthropy

The TY Danjuma Foundation was set up in December 2008 and now partners with several Non-Governmental Organisations across the country to carry philanthropic gestures to the hinter areas and alleviate poverty.

The foundation targets the provision of basic amenities, education for children and young adults, and free medical care for indigent people. Over ₦3 Billion has been awarded as grants to NGOs working related goals in the area. Although the works first started in Taraba, Danjuma’s home state, it has extended to other areas. About 290 projects have been implemented across 31 states and the FCT, with over 8 Million people reached.

Every year since its inception, the foundation calls for concept notes and applications for funds from organisations with projects focused on health and education.

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