Mo Abudu, the founder of EbonyLife TV, has become quite a sensation for her outstanding media productions and several entertainment deals secured with international partners.
Described by CNN as “Africa’s Queen of Media who conquered the continent,” practically all her film productions have been major cinema hits, holding down records years after their production.
She oversees all five divisions of EbonyLife Media – EbonyLife TV, EbonyLife Films, EbonyLife ON, EbonyLife Studios, and EbonyLife Productions Limited (UK); and has been described by Forbes as “Africa’s Most Successful Woman.”
This week’s Founders Profile focuses on Mosunmola Abudu, the woman who has successfully turned the tables and provided a platform to tell African stories to the world
Early years, early stardom
Mosunmola was born on 11 September 1964 in London, the first of three girls born to her parents, and had much of her early years and education in London, even though her family roots are in Ondo town, Nigeria.
After losing her father at age 11, she worked her way through college. The situation got her off to an early career start and at age 19, she had already become the brand ambassador of AVON Cosmetics for the African market.
She later bagged an MA in Human Resources Development from the University of Westminster in London.
Bold move into uncertainty
Abudu worked as a Recruitment Consultant in 1987, but left the United Kingdom for Nigeria in 1992. She took up a prestigious job as the Head of Human Resources and Training at the Starform Group, ExxonMobil.
After almost a decade on the job, she quit to become an Entrepreneur, a move that her family frowned at.
“Scary thought at the time, but I knew instinctively that I wanted to do more. On reflection now, I understand why some friends and family were worried about my decision. I had a great job, was paid well, the sky was the limit and I walked away from it all,” Abudu recalled.
She joined the train of full-time entrepreneurs. In 2000, she started Vic Lawrence & Associates Limited (VLA), a privately-owned specialist HR development company, and shortly after, she developed an executive training centre at Protea Hotel Oakwood Park.
Four years into this, she started Moments with Mo, and broke her way into the media industry, without any prior experience as a Presenter.
The syndicated daily talk show covered topical issues from lifestyle, politics, culture, health, entertainment, tradition, music to inter-racial marriages, and it was an instant success.
The show attracted frontline personalities like former First lady and then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Fashion designer, Diane von Furstenberg; Nigerian Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka; President of Rwanda, Dr Paul Kagame.
Also, others like former Managing Director of IMF, Christine Lagarde; former Nigerian Presidents and Heads of State, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, and General Ibrahim Babangida; African business mogul and philanthropist, Mr Mo Ibrahim, amongst others, graced the show.
“When I first approached DSTV with the proposition that Africa was ripe for its own Oprah Winfrey or Ellen DeGeneres show, I had already planned for a global TV channel opportunity.
“I explored channel possibilities with SKY in the UK and knew that I needed a big platform to project Africa in a different, more positive light. This was what incited me to start thinking of establishing Ebonylife TV and take African Stories to the world,” she explained.
Into the murky waters of film production
In 2013, Abudu took a step that would later earn her Forbes recognition as the “First African woman to launch a pan-African TV channel.”
She plunged all her investments and savings to launch Ebonylife Television, the first fully Nigerian-owned entertainment channel to be carried on the South African Pay TV platform – DSTV.
In several interviews, she said it was all about creating a more positive narrative around Africa and Ebonylife became the platform to achieve this.
Ebonylife TV acquired the rights to “Dynasty” and “Melrose Place” from CBS International and airs in more than 49 countries across Africa, as well as in the UK and the Caribbean. It has also been ranked among the top 25% of the most-watched channels on the DSTV platform.
“There are so many African stories that are yet to be told… Let’s take these stories to the world now, that’s the journey we’re on,” says Mo Abudu.
Achievements like a movie
From being Africa’s first global black entertainment and lifestyle network, Ebonylife went on to become a class act in film production.
Abudu has launched a string of series over the years including The Governor (about Nigeria’s first female State governor); Desperate Housewives Africa (based on Disney’s original series); Sons of the Caliphate (about the rivalry between rich and powerful families in Northern Nigeria); and Castle & Castle, Africa’s first premium legal series, amongst others.
In 2014, Mo Abudu took a deep-dive into filmmaking with Ebonylife Films, with several record-breaking movies.
One of her productions, Fifty, was acquired by Netflix in 2015. It starred Nse Ikpe-Etim, Ireti Doyle, Omoni Oboli, and Dakore Akande, and was Nigeria’s highest-grossing drama and number 1 film in 2015. It was also the only Nigerian film selected to screen at the 59th BFI London Film Festival.
In 2016, she was co-Executive Producer of The Wedding Party, a blockbuster movie directed by Kemi Adetiba, which broke the box office record of 2016. After it was premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016, it became the highest-grossing title of all time at the Nigerian box office, before it was acquired by Netflix in 2017.
The sequel came in 2017, when Abudu was also co-Executive Producer of The Wedding Party 2: Destination Dubai, directed by Niyi Akinmolayan and featuring the original movie’s main cast. The sequel broke the records of the original movie in terms of domestic and international revenues, and became the highest-grossing Nollywood film of all time.
The Royal Hibiscus Hotel was produced in 2017, directed by Ishaya Bako and featured many A-list actors. The movie made its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2017, the only Nigerian selection and one of only three African features in the Contemporary World Cinema category.
Since the Toronto International Film Festival only beams its light on 48 of the best new films worldwide, it was an ace in the hole when the film festival described The Royal Hibiscus Hotel as a “Hidden Gem.” It was licensed by Amazon Prime in 2018 for audiences outside Africa.
Other productions by her include Chief Daddy, a star-studded film directed by Niyi Akinmolayan, which became the “Official Number 1 Nollywood film of 2018” and the third-highest grossing Nigerian film. It was acquired by Netflix in early 2019 after some weeks in the cinema.
Her most recent production, Oloture, is a feature film to expose the shady business of human trafficking in Nigeria, and the movie is set to create a whole new record at the box office by the end of the year.
The movie was directed by Kenneth Gyang and features Sharon Ooja, Omoni Oboli, Blossom Chukwujekwu, Omowunmi Dada, Kemi “Lala” Akindoju, Wofai Fada, Bukola Oladipupo, Pearl Okorie, Ikechukwu Onanaku, David Jones David, Sambasa Nzeribe, and Omawumi Megbele.
Speaking about her interest in African stories, Abudu said, “I have said it time and time again, the continent (Africa) has remained creatively silent for centuries, our stories are never told. Meanwhile, there is too much of the same in global storytelling.
“The world wants more, and because we are now able to provide a variety of stories told against a backdrop never seen before, we now have a seat at the table. Our stories are being accepted because they are authentic and relevant. Of course, most recent is the clarion call for Black Lives Matter and Black Stories Matter.”
Abudu’s knowledge of Africa’s creative and entertainment industry makes her a highly sought-after resource and she has spoken at the Wharton School of Business, Cambridge University Judge School of Business, and Harvard University.
She received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters (Honoris Causa) from Babcock University in 2014. In recognition of her outstanding services to broadcasting and enterprise in Nigeria, the University of Westminster also awarded Mo an honorary degree of Doctor of Arts in 2018.
Her name has made it into several recognition lists including the Hollywood Reporter’s 25 Most Powerful Women in Global Television in 2013 and 2017; and The Powerlist 2018, an annual list of the UK’s top 100 most influential people of African and Caribbean heritage.
She was appointed a Director of the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the organization responsible for staging the world-famous International Emmy Awards. She was also nominated in 2018 to serve as a member of the Advisory Group on Technology and Creativity for Nigeria.
Abudu was one of four recipients awarded the 2019 Médailles d’Honneur in Cannes at the Marche International des Programmes de Television (MIPTV) in April 2019.
Ebonylife Sisterhood Awards
In September 2014, Abudu launched the Ebonylife Sisterhood Awards on her 50th birthday to “empower women to work together to accomplish great things, and seek to celebrate women who have excelled in laudable achievements.”
The event was themed – “Mo @ 50, Celebrating sisterhood,” with awardees recognized based on their demonstration of excellence, commitment, innovativeness, integrity, and national impact.
Deals and partnerships
In 2018, Sony Pictures Television (SPT) announced a three-year deal with EbonyLife TV, that would include co-production of The Dahomey Warriors, a series about the legendary Amazons who took on French colonialists in a 19th-century West African kingdom.
This deal marked a first-time collaboration between an American TV production studio and a Nigerian production company – a milestone in Nigeria’s film production.
A similar partnership came in January 2020, when American entertainment company, AMC Networks announced its partnership with EbonyLife to produce Nigeria 2099, an Afrofuturistic crime-drama.
In the middle of the COVID-19 lockdown, Ebonylife signed a multi-title deal with Netflix to create two original series – a film adaptation of “Death and the King’s Horseman,” a play by Nobel Prize winner, Wole Soyinka; and a series based on Lola Shoneyin’s best-selling debut novel, “The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives,” along with multiple branded films.
It all started as a gamble
Ebonylife TV has taken another step towards independence after leaving the DSTV channel 165 in July 2020 for its own Ebonylife ON app platform. This will provide subscribers with unlimited access to contents and series on the app.
In December 2019, Abudu launched EbonyLife Place, a luxurious lifestyle and entertainment resort, with a boutique hotel, restaurants, 5 luxury cinema screens, an event hall and meeting rooms, in the heart of Victoria Island, Lagos.
“It all started as a gamble,” Mo says about her achievements. “I took a gamble, but I heard God whispering to me, ‘Mosunmola, go out there and live your dreams,’ and so I did.”
The Nigerian economy is increasingly dollarized but there is a way-out
Nigeria’s overdependence on Oil has brought about high dollarization in Africa’s biggest economy.
For managers of the Nigerian economy, it was a huge sigh of relief when the National Bureau of Statistics reported that the country had surprisingly exited a recession in the 4th quarter of 2020. Contrary to most analyst expectation, the Nigerian economy grew by 0.11% in the 4th quarter of 2020.
Despite the return to growth, albeit tepid, a dark cloud of uncertainty continues to hover over the minds of millions of Nigerians as the broader economy remains in a fragile state. A key factor that remains a bellwether for the economy is the exchange rate, which is always perfectly correlated with the price of oil and the resultant dollar related export earnings.
Data has repeatedly shown that the country of over 200 million people is affected by the volatility of crude oil prices in the international market, particularly in the exchange rate value of the naira. Without oil, the Nigerian economy in its current state will collapse.
Data from Nairalytics, a data-sharing portal, reveals that the oil sector provides for 85% of Nigeria’s export earnings and 55% of its government revenues, making the nation highly dependent on the dollar for its survival. It appears a lot of financially savvy Nigerians now this already and are increasing their dollar positions.
According to Silas Ozoya, Founder/CEO of SUBA Capital LLC, in an exclusive interview with Nairametrics, a growing number of Nigerians are getting more attached to the US dollar due to high inflation and low purchasing power of the naira.
“Many Nigerians are beginning to dollarize their spending, investment and asset holdings to hedge against the ever-increasing inflation rate and our strong economic romance with recession,” Ozoya said.
Nigeria, Africa’s biggest crude oil producer, has been heavily impacted by the plunge in crude oil prices following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the nation’s authorities adjusting the naira twice in the year 2020 to deal with the pressure.
Besides the drop in foreign exchange revenues from crude oil export, diaspora remittances, which made up about 5% of Nigeria’s GDP in the year 2019, also experienced a significant decline in 2020, again due to the impact of the pandemic and the economic challenges faced by many nations across the globe.
Uwa Osadiaye, a financial analyst in a leading merchant bank, in a note to Nairametrics, revealed that the Nigerian apex bank had made great efforts to reduce the country’s high dependence on the dollar. He advised the nation to increase its Agricultural production.
“The central bank has tried to do this with little success but I believe that beyond administrative measures, the key could lie in increased domestic production of things we consume that aren’t commoditized internationally for a start, such as food crops,” Osadiaye said.
Temitope Busari, CFA, in a telephone interview with Nairametrics, said that it was time for Nigeria as a country to diversify.
“One outcome of the diversification of the Nigerian economy, and perhaps the most critical one at this time, is the potential to diversify our foreign exchange earnings as a sovereign state. It will reduce overdependence on crude oil, maximize opportunities in erstwhile neglected sectors and project the country as the destination for top-class value creation in other areas outside being an oil-producing state,” Busari stated.
The financial analyst also spoke on the need for Africa’s leading oil producer to invest more in intellectual property and encourage Nigeria’s talent in the diaspora, saying:
“We have produced some of the most brilliant minds in the world evidenced by the ground-breaking successes recorded by Nigerians in diaspora (Medical professionals, Software engineers, resilient small business owners to mention a few), and we must begin to drive policies to retain that talent in-country and make the world pay premium dollar for it.”
Adetayo Teluwo, a scholar at Warwick Business School, said that the narrative seems to be changing as Nigerians are now beginning to embrace homemade goods.
“The Fashion & Style scene continues to boom. From side hustles to globally-competitive websites with options to accept payments from customers all over the globe,” Teluwo said.
Economic experts believe that the way to solve this growing menace is for Nigeria to promote free markets and support large scale exports from the Agricultural, Mining, and Technology sectors. The country should tap into its raw diamond which is “intellectual services” to develop a knowledge economy.
Nigeria can draw lessons from India, which has performed remarkably well in creating an outsourcing and knowledge-based economy valued at over 150 billion dollars per annum. This has put India on the technology map, as a destination of low-cost but high-quality technical services, helping the densely populated nation to generate sufficient economic ripple effect to drive job and wealth creation.
Three things Nigerians can learn from Warren Buffet’s latest letter
Three things we learned from Berkshire Hathaway’s (Warren Buffet’s) 2020 letter to shareholders.
Three things we learned from Berkshire Hathaway’s (Warren Buffet’s) 2020 letter to shareholders.
Warren Buffet (Sage of Omaha) recently released his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway’s shareholders providing a recap of 2020 performance, as well as, giving his general perspective of his company’s journey.
Investors all around the globe fall over themselves to pay attention to what Mr. Buffet says, as well as how his portfolio of companies are performing. Just to learn as much as possible from one of the world’s most successful investors to date.
We at Nairametrics are no different and in this article, we will share some key business takeaways from the 2020 letter.
1. Compounding still makes you rich
Just in case some investors momentarily forget about the power of compounding and consistency in investments, the very first page of Mr. Buffet’s letter serves up a timely reminder.
Specifically, since 1965 to 2020, the market value of Berkshire Hathaway’s stock has grown at a compounded rate of 20%. This is remarkable given that very few companies last that long (55 years) let alone provide such returns in US dollars over such a period of time. Even the S&P 500 with dividends included compounded at 10% (which is no small feat in of itself).
This lesson here is that for Retail investors, SMEs, startups, the power of compounding doesn’t need to be continually reminded, it needs to be a primary focus as you seek to deploy capital.
For context, in 1965 our dear country Nigeria had approximately $240million in external reserves.
- If only 1% (i.e. $2.4million) had been invested in the S&P500 index and kept in a fund, the value of that fund today will be $56.3billion.
- Alternatively, if only 0.05% ($1.2million) had been invested in Berkshire Hathaway stock and kept in a fund, the value of that fund today will be worth $67.45billion.
2. Always focus on your CORE objectives and Key results
In 2020, Berkshire Hathaway earned USD$45billion of which $21.9b was operating income, $4.9b was unrealized gain, $26.7b was unrealized gain partially offset by $11b loss write-down.
Despite the huge unrealized gain of $26.7b, Mr. Buffet in his typical style was dismissive of unrealized gains but rather was quick to point out that his core objectives of growing operating income and acquiring good companies were not met in 2020!!!.
- “Operating earnings are what count most, even during periods when they are not the largest item in our GAAP total. Our focus at Berkshire is both to increase this segment of our income and to acquire large and favorably-situated businesses. Last year, however, we met neither goal: Berkshire made no sizable acquisitions and operating earnings fell 9%. We did, though, increase Berkshire’s per-share intrinsic value by both retaining earnings and repurchasing about 5% of our shares.”
Furthermore, Mr. Buffet points out that Berkshire Hathaway’s earnings do NOT factor any portion of the operating earnings of companies which they have stakes in, such that only the dividends due to Berkshire are included in the results.
In other words, he is keen to avoid clouding actual performance of his CORE investment vehicle by avoiding accounting gimmicks which gross-up earnings.
For Nigerian startups, SMEs, retail investors, the lesson here is that a laser-focused approach to tracking CORE business earnings helps provide business owners with clarity about actual business performance. This persistent clarity keeps owners grounded on what are the key areas of focus for improved business performance whilst avoiding reporting superficial income.
3. Avoid business complexities AND always choose the most profitable business path which offers the least resistance.
We previously mentioned, Mr. Buffet’s preference to tracking income from CORE businesses. In his letter to shareholders, he goes further to discuss his apathy to the traditional Conglomerate.
Specifically, most businesses that are acquired are seldom leaders in their sector and often are underperforming hence the need to be acquired. Consequently “Conglomerates” who focus on fully acquiring other businesses will likely end up with a portfolio of “Sub-optimal” businesses.
Turning around the fortunes of these “acquired’ businesses will require management time and effort whilst distracting from CORE operations and creating business complexities.
Mr. Buffet notes that going forward Berkshire Hathaway’s approach will seek to avoid this option of undue business complexity and focus on path of least resistance to profitability. This will be achieved by continuing to find very good businesses and taking a stake in these well run businesses.
- “It took me a while to wise up. But Charlie – and also my 20-year struggle with the textile operation I inherited at Berkshire – finally convinced me that owning a non-controlling portion of a wonderful business is more profitable, more enjoyable and far less work than struggling with 100% of a marginal enterprise.
- “For those reasons, our conglomerate will remain a collection of controlled and non-controlled businesses. Charlie and I will simply deploy your capital into whatever we believe makes the most sense, based on a company’s durable competitive strengths, the capabilities and character of its management, and price.
- “If that strategy requires little or no effort on our part, so much the better. In contrast to the scoring system utilized in diving competitions, you are awarded no points in business endeavors for “degree of difficulty.” Furthermore, as Ronald Reagan cautioned: “It’s said that hard work never killed anyone, but I say why take the chance?”
The lesson here for Nigerian startups, SMEs, retail investors is that rather than always wanting to go alone into new ventures, sometimes you need to seek competent partners to collaborate and execute ventures with. (i.e., successful business isn’t always about who struggled the most).
Finally, (Yeah, I know I said three things, but this is also an important takeaway), one additional point is that consistency pays. We previously stated that Berkshire Hathaway stock has returned 2,810,526% between 1965 to 2020. One way that Mr. Buffet has accomplished this is by being very consistent in his portfolio. Consistency can be seen in the duration of holdings, as well as the general mix of the sectors of interest.
With regards to duration, the three most valuable assets in his portfolio have been held for at least 15years plus.
|GEICO||1951 to date||Financial Services – Insurance|
|BHE (Berkshire Hathaway Energy)||1999 to date||Utilities – Energy|
|BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe, LLC)||2006 to date||Utilities – Freight/Transport|
Even if you then look at the top 15 investments in Berkshire’s portfolio, you notice it is comprised largely of Financial Services, Utilities stocks and Large Tech firms.
The lesson here for Nigerian startups, SMEs, retail investors is that if you find something that you are good at, keep doing it and producing consistent results, stay within your area of competence and aim to maximize value.
Nairametrics | Company Earnings
Access our Live Feed portal for the latest company earnings as they drop.
- Seplat falls into a loss in FY 2020
- 2020 FY Results: Cornerstone Insurance Plc reports a 61.1% decline in profit
- Ellah Lakes increases operating expenses by 33.36% in HY 2020
- 2020 FY Results: Nigerian Breweries reports a 54.3% decline in profits in 2020
- Abbey Mortgage Bank projects N51.08 million profit in Q2 2020.