From peasant farming to conglomerate: The Doyin Story
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. For some, this axiom is nothing other than a slogan. But for others, it’s a mantra of life, a chant to be repeated as often as possible, to fire the imagination and ignite a determination to find solutions to life’s myriad of problems.
Prince Samuel Adeodyin, proprietor of Doyin Group of Companies and patriarch of the Adedoyin dynasty, belongs to the latter group. He proved the correctness of the axiom all by himself, at an age when his mates were literally spoon-fed by their parents. The determination to overcome the circumstance of his birth and achieve big in life came to him at the tender age of 11, when children relied on their parents to navigate for them the turbulent journey in the sea of life.
It was the age at which he took the step of faith to leave his birth place of Agbamu, in Kwara State where he attended school up to standard four, to join his father in Lagos, in the latter’s trading business at Ebute Meta. He made the store at Enu Owa his sleeping place.
Risk factor in business
Adedoyin understood, quite early, that success is for those who take risks, even if such risks meant attempting to travel abroad as a stow-away in a ship, for the proverbial Golden Fleece. Not even the setback of getting caught in Ghana, on the ill-fated trip to the United Kingdom, could deter him.
The young boy must have been encouraged by Nnamdi Azikiwe’s similar but ultimately successful venture to the United States, to believe he could find himself in Her Majesty’s country without having to go through the rigours of securing an international passport and obtaining a visa for that purpose. But he wasn’t so lucky.
Every disappointment is a blessing, so says another maxim. His arrest in Ghana and his plea to an immigration officer to allow him work for him (the officer), rather than being sent back to Nigeria, turned out to be a blessing. He could not afford to come home in that condition, having taken his father’s money to embark on the unsuccessful trip without his knowledge.
He secured “independence” from the immigration officer after working for two years, to begin life as a trader in Ghana. And having made some little money from his accidental sojourn in the West African country, he returned to Nigeria to show himself to his parents. He returned to Lagos after a brief stay at Agbamu, this time, to begin to fend fully for himself as a young man.
Adedoyin’s towering success, with very little education, is testimony to the veracity of a popular local proverb that says there are many ways to kill a rat. He didn’t have access to education, but with sheer determination, he has made good use of his brain to become one of Nigeria’s richest men.
The name, Prince Samuel Adedoyin, may not ring so much of a bell in Nigeria. But nobody can say the same of Doyin Group of Companies. With over 14 subsidiaries under its umbrella, products and services from the Group’s stable are scattered all over Nigeria, some beyond the shores of the country, to as far-flung a place as Gabon, as well as Niger and Togo, in such areas as household items like detergent, soap, toothpaste, food seasoning, bottled water, fruit juice and soft drinks, aswell as areas like hospitality, real estate, auto sales, pharmaceuticals, packaging and agriculture, among numerous others.
Necessity is the mother of invention. Adedoyin’s lack of access to education meant that he had no other choice than develop a sharp business sense, if he wasn’t to end up a failure in life. If he could not make it through education, he could certainly make it in the business world, education or no education.
Sharp business sense
It is for lack of a better way to describe him that one could say he has a sharp business sense – an uncanny ability to see business where others see something else, or nothing at all. For instance, what turned out to be his big break in life was when he saw business where others did not see, even when he could have been considered relatively successful for his age.
It was the time when Hong Kong-made holiday bags were in very high demand in Nigeria. With 48 pounds that he had saved from the small agriculture business he operated from his father’s farm at his village, he began trading in the bags and found it quite profitable. His curiosity made him to buy one of the bags to tear it to see how it was made. He found that it was made from tarpaulin and thread. In a jiffy, the idea to make the bag came to him. The young man was no longer thinking like a seller. He was thinking like a manufacturer.
With the money he saved from trading on the bags, he set sail to the United Kingdom, this time not as a stow-away, but as a legitimate businessman. He bought four Singer sewing machines and returned to Lagos to begin local manufacture of the popular holiday bags at the back of his house. Needless to say, the venture was a huge success. The success in bag manufacturing spurred him into manufacturing of umbrellas. That, too, was a success.
Adedoyin’s humble beginning, which saw him leave school at an early age to take to farming, guided every step he took in all his business ventures. That is to say, he always starts small and, with the aid of Providence, ends big. For instance, after his trip to the UK was halted in Ghana, he took up a job as a newspaper vendor there, and was able to save two pounds with which he went into trading, making as much as 52 pounds – quite a lot of money at that time.
“I returned to Nigeria with the 52 pounds, and when I got home, everyone was scared, because they had assumed I was dead, since I was away for several years without any contact”, he recalls. “I also had to pay my mother’s debt with the 52 pounds I came to Nigeria with, leaving me with nothing. My father did not believe in me, or that anything good would come out of me. He assumed I was a useless and lazy boy, which made me more determined to prove myself”.
Sowing seed of Doyin Group from accidental maize farming
Adedoyin was not new to starting from the scratch. With nothing left of the money he brought from Ghana, he returned to the farm, planting maize in a vacant parcel of land he found in his village. He made 54 pounds from the maize farming business, out of which he bought two pounds worth of clothes for his father and used two pounds to transport himself to Lagos, with 48 pounds left for him to start a new life. It was the money he used to start trading in the Hong Kong holiday bags.
Many have recorded milestones at different stages of their lives. Not many milestones can be compared to those attained by Adedoyin, if one considers the ages at which he attained them. At the age of 19 he was a landlord, with a 24-room house that he rented out to tenants. At 24, he was the owner of many properties scattered around Lagos. At 25, he was counted among Nigeria’s millionaires. At 28, he had 300 workers on his payroll.
It is hardly possible for any human, especially one that has advanced in age, to look back and not find what he did that he should not have done, or what he did not do that he ought to have done. In other words, there is nobody without regrets in life. Adedoyin is not an exception.
“Definitely, I have had some regrets, both here and internationally, some setbacks, but God has allowed the successes to be much more than the failures”, he says. He admits, quite humbly, that there are some actions he took in the past that he feels today, with the benefit of hindsight, he shouldn’t have taken. One of them was his decision to jump on the bandwagon of banking, when the sector appeared to be the most attractive in the early 90s and first few years into the 21st century. It was the period of the banking boom that would ultimately end in a burst that nobody forsaw.
In the wave of the banking consolidation that the Central Bank of Nigeria instigated in 2004, many banks that could not meet the required N25 billion minimum capital base to remain in business went into mergers with more financially solvent banks. Some got swallowed by the stronger banks, while some were taken over by the apex bank that considered them distressed. Adedoyin’s City Express Bank fell into the last category. But the man believes the action of the CBN was not only hasty, but was also unjustifiable.
“For whatever reason, by the time the CBN took over, we were not distressed”, he argues. “They rushed to the media and first of all said I was owing N13 billion. Later they said N10 billion, and later still, two billion naira”. And even with the alleged debt pegged at two billion naira, he still went to court to challenge the action of the apex bank. “I am still in court against government for wrongly taking over my bank and selling the assets of the bank without proper due diligence on the assets”.,
Adedoyin’s decision to go into banking was an aberration, considering that he had made it a deliberate business policy not to get involved in any venture that would require government input in whatever form. The reason is that he cannot stand the bureaucratic bottlenecks that have been the bane of the country’s economic development for decades.
“Not everybody would partner government to establish industries”, he says. “That is why all our products, we don’t need government approval to sell, because I cannot go and be begging government officials. I look at products like toothpaste, seasonings, detergents; things that can be made without going to beg the government. That is the policy I follow, and it gives me peace of mind”.
He urges the government to put deliberate policies in place to protect indigenous businesses. “A lot can be achieved if there are government policies in place to protect indigenous firms and small and medium scale enterprises”.
Failure to get listed on stock exchange
A major criticism that has continued to trail businesses established by Nigerians is the failure or, rather, refusal by their founders to list on the stock exchange. This has accounted for the death of such businesses no sooner than their owners died.
Today, people like Sir Odumegwu Ojukwu, Henry Fajemirokun, Aminu Dantata, M. K. O. Abiola and a host of others are mentioned only as part of history, because their business empires collapsed shortly after their death. This has been attributed to the fact that they did not deem it necessary to get their businesses listed on the stock exchange, a step that would have seen their businesses outlive them. There is therefore a general fear that the likes of Eleganza Group of Companies and Doyin Group of Companies are simply waiting for their founders to pass on to the great beyond before they, too, become history.
The common thread that runs through Nigerian businesses, which is also the cause of their collapse at the death of their founders, is the penchant to make those businesses purely family concerns, even when brothers or offspring of the funders have little or no knowledge of the business.
Nigeria cannot boast of the likes of Dunlop, Cadbury, Michelin, Heineken, Guinness, McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and other international brands that were established by individuals, but which have outlived their founders, with some, like Guinness, by more than two centuries, because of the tendency to want to own it alone and keep it in the family.
Adedoyin attributes his failure to get his companies listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange to nervousness. He doesn’t want the fate that befell other indigenous businesses before his own to also be his lot.
“I have seen several indigenous companies that have gone into public offers and they are not able to pay dividends to shareholders”, he said. “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 time. So, I jettisoned the idea, and have not tried it again since then”.
Advice to present generation
Despite his failure to acquire education, Adedoyin recognizes the importance of education in the present world. “In any business, you must improve yourself; speak well across the world and hold yourself”. But he also counsels that absence of education should not be a barrier to success. “All I would advise anybody is – use the brain to achieve success”, he admonishes. “Education shouldn’t be a barrier to success. I am not saying you should live in ignorance. Even if you are not educated, you can educate yourself. I taught myself all I knew in business, even without the benefit of formal education”.
He also advises on the need for patience and hard work, two of the important business ingredients that are lacking in the youth of the today. “They want to succeed in life without a plan”, he says. “They look for quick-fix solutions, instead of patiently taking time to learn from others before them. All they desire is to get rich by any means, not minding the outcome in the end”.
He identifies finance as a key factor in business because, “even the Bible says money answereth to all things”. But beyond finance, he advises that every plan of an individual must be followed by the vision and determination to succeed.
Adedoyin does not like to talk about his involvement in philanthropy because, in his own words, “It is not my style to announce whatever I am doing”. But like the golden fish that has no hiding place, his contributions to the society abound everywhere, with his involvement in projects that benefit the generality of the people, like building and donation of churches and hospitals, as well as road construction. Many indigent youths have also received education, courtesy of his scholarship schemes.
“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”, he says of those that have drank from his milk of kindness. “I have those I have trained who are professors and doctors, and are like children to me”.
Adedoyin’s daily routine is one that he has stuck to for more than six decades. As a young man, he would commence work at 10 in the morning in a shop he shared with the owner. But he changed his resumption time to eight when he was able to rent his own. Till date, he resumes every morning at eight.
In a rather curious paradox, the octogenarian says the only way he relaxes is to work. He has cut out a daily schedule that has helped him to maintain good health and a look that could be described as too radiant for his age.
He closes every day at 4 pm, takes dinner at 6pm, before inspecting his hospitality business and building projects till between 8 and 9 when he closes for the day. He has God to thank for the ability to maintain the schedule.
“It is God that has made it possible because if one were not enjoying good health, it would not have been possible”, he explains. “I know a lot of people whose health starts to deteriorate as soon as they get close to 70. But God has been kind to me”.
Adedoyin derives inspiration from God to do the things he has done, which have been responsible for his phenomenal success in life. It is the reason he decided to pay back for God’s mercy and blessings upon him by contributing to the realization of a better society.
“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”, he explains. “That is my motto and my vision”.
He has no interest in politics, though some of his children, being adults who are old enough to make their own decisions, have gone into politics.
Determined to ensure his children did not walk the same path as he did, Adedoyin invested heavily to raise a generation of highly educated children, 13 in number. Today, his investment in educating his children has paid off with many of them grown up as professionals in various fields of endeavor covering health and pharmaceutical field, banking and finance, entertainment, maritime business, accounting, politics, etc.
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