It’s common to advise somebody whose dream seems unrealizable not to build castles in the air. But do you know you can actually build castles on the sand and literally turn them into reality? That is precisely what Sijibomi Ogundele, Nigeria’s own version of Donald Trump, the maverick property tycoon who is on the brink of becoming America’s 45th president, did as a child growing up in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
He would leave his low-income suburb of Agege, Lagos, to Bar Beach that provides the coastline for opulent Victoria Island on the banks of the Atlantic Ocean, where he would sit on the sandy beach to engage in his favourite pastime of drawing castles on the sand. No sooner would his uncles and cousins with whom he went to the beach destroyed his fancy houses than he would build another and better one, but not before crying to show his displeasure
It would therefore not be far from the truth to say that his bold entry into the burgeoning real estate market today where he has carved a niche for himself is not a coincidence, but the culmination of what started as a childhood pastime. Ogundele, at the youthful age of 33, is today a major player in Nigeria’s real estate sector – one that cannot be ignored.
His phenomenal ascent on the socio-economic ladder is a practical example of the result that comes with dreaming big and working to realize that dream. At the age of nine, he would leave his Agege home to go sit on the fence bordering the Ikoyi Polo Club to watch a purely elitist game that is the exclusive preserve of the rich and the famous, contemplating his future while doing so, even at that tender age.
The two childhood hobbies of drawing castles on the sand and watching the elitist game of polo unquestionably designed the path on which Ogundele, who wasn’t born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, walked to where he is today. He is a real estate tycoon with a select clientele that belongs only in the upper end of the market. He also wines and dines with the high and the mighty.
It bears mentioning, also, that he had two role models from whom he drew inspiration – his mother, who grew from being a sales girl to becoming one of the top five distributors for Nestle in NIgeria, and Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man, the latter not necessarily because of the enviable position he occupies today, but because of the wizardry that saw him turn N500, 000 into five trillion naira over a period of about three decades.
Entry into real estate
Ogundele’s foray into property business started as an experiment in 2011, in Paris, France. He had bought an apartment and decided to remodel it for sale. But his friends scoffed at the idea, dismissing it as crazy, while he was only out to waste money. They ate their words when he sold the apartment at twice the amount he bought it, to a Qatari friend. The little boy who built castles on sand barely two decades earlier had found a gold mine. He would never look back. He closed all other career paths, leaving only one open – luxury real estate.
His first major project in the sector was the building of 16 town houses of four-bedroom apartments in Accra, Ghana, which he christened Lincoln Avenue. This was followed by the Medici Luxury Towers, comprising of seven units of terrace houses of four bedrooms each on Milverton Avenue, Ikoyi (Where else, if not the area where he used to sit as a child to conceptualize his life?), and Lorenzo, the tallest luxury residential building in Lagos and the first automated building in Africa. The Cosimo Project, conceived to stand on 15 floors with 100 rooms on Bourdillon Road will, when completed, change the Ikoyi skyline. He has seven properties listed in his name in Ikoyi, where is a member of the landlords association.
Call it destiny and you won’t be wrong. What else could have brought a young and ambitious Nigerian in contact with someone in a far-flung country like Japan, whose words of advice and encouragement would change his life forever? Ogundele had gone to the Asian country in search of opportunities in the new business frontier that had just opened to him, and ran into a man named Sujimoto Koga, a professor in a Japanese university and renowned philosopher. The university don lectured him on self confidence and encouraged him to believe in himself and what he can do. He told him that the only difference between him and the Japanese he was meeting lay only in skin colour, nothing to do with intellect or capability, and that the ability to reach any height of his dream lay within him.
The man not only made him to change the way he thought, but also made him to understand that success is a game with rules that must be understood by anyone that wants to be successful.
The pep talk was all that Ogundele needed to return to Nigeria to rouse the lion that lay asleep in him. He owes his success to the Japanese professor. And what better way to show his gratitude than to name his company after the Japanese.
Today, the Sujimoto Group comprising real estate, finance and energy companies operates from some notable cities of the world, like Paris, Madrid, Dubai, Riyadh, Accra and Lagos. The company has established an international network of partners that has enabled it to play in the world’s biggest property markets.
One of such partners is Yazeed Alhaji, owner of the famous Alhaji Group that is reputed to be the wealthiest non-royal family group in the Middle East. The Group is an immensely popular venture capital organization with more than 47 successful business acquisitions and restructurings around the world.
The word, impossible, does not exist in Ogundele’s dictionary, which is why he does not know its meaning. To him, belief in self worth is the key to success. He agrees that the starting point is to dream big, but warns that success does not begin and end with dreaming big. There must be dedication, determination and doggedness to turn the dream into reality.
Reason for going into real estate
Ogundele says his entry into real estate is an effort to satisfy the yearnings and demands by Nigerians for quality. He is on a mission to redefine luxurious living by bringing the world to Nigeria. And if you think this is a pipe dream, he says matter-of-factly that Sujimoto is to architecture what Picasso is to art.
He has virtually traversed the world, visiting more than 40 countries and staying in the best hotels, an exposure that has enabled him to raise his standards and expectations in life. The experience has shaped his life so much that he does not suffer inferior quality and low standards wherever he goes. His sense of style and luxury is evident in his comparison between a Bentley and Toyota car. Both will ply the same route and get to the same destination. But one will offer the efficiency and prestige that the other will not give.
He knows , from experience, the difference between selling scrap and luxury, because the latter leaves the seller with peace of mind and goodwill of the buyer who might become what he calls a “brand evangelist” for the brand. He says the biggest marketers for Sujimoto are the clients, because they can vouch for the company in terms of quality.
Ogundele has transferred his romance with luxurious accommodation to the apartments he builds for those who appreciate the good things of life by giving them houses that can compete with the best in the world. His sense of what constitutes a luxury apartment leaves you in no doubt about the fact that he knows his onions when it comes to luxurious living.
He lists what must be available to make an apartment a luxury one. The apartment must have unobstructed views to let in plenty of light, especially if it enables occupants to have a clear view of a scenery such as river, bridge, skyline or park. It must have a ceiling height that should not be less than 14 feet; an architectural uniqueness that would still make it attractive many years down the line and a good layout to give the apartment enough space for necessary demarcations, like different areas for social events, which could be open to all visitors, and private areas for exclusive guests.
Ogundele says lack of quality has been the bane of housing development in Nigeria, citing rampant cases of building collapse as proof that little consideration is sometimes given to quality. He identifies lack of skilled labour as the major factor hampering delivery of quality houses in Nigeria, contending that good materials do not equate good houses if the manpower is not equipped with sufficient knowledge and skill to use the materials. It is the reason, he says, Sujimoto places a premium on the quality of manpower it engages, since he has zero tolerance for failure.
Flowing against the tide
Ogundele likes to flow against the tide. The common belief is that success has many friends. He thinks differently. To him, success has many enemies and few friends. This is in reaction to the criticisms and rumours that are peddled about him, in relation to his run-away success at his age. Again, in Nigeria, the term, I better pass my neighbor, refers to the smallest sized electricity generating set that is affordable by low income earners, which has just been banned by the federal government. But Ogundele uses the tag to describe the mentality of people who would not see anything good in others that have attained greater heights than them.
He admonishes Nigerians to begin to celebrate the successes of others and see what they can learn from them, rather than engage in the pull-him-down syndrome that has weighed many people down. In any case, he has no regrets for being successful, and would therefore not see failure as a better option just please others. In fact, if he had to choose, he would opt for success with many haters, rather than failure with many friends
Ogundele is not one of those who see the economic downturn in the country on account of falling oil prices in the international market as a bad omen for the country. He is one of the few that see the current situation as a blessing in disguise. As far as he is concerned, there couldn’t be a better time for Nigeria to turn the page in the search for other sources of revenue.
He says with fluctuating fortunes from oil, the only investment that can guarantee adequate return on investment (ROI) is real estate. He describes Sujimoto’s Lorenzo as “the new oil business”, for the double advantage of offering world-class luxury and comfort, while at the same time guaranteeing more than 100 per cent ROI for investors.
His optimism is buoyed by a forecast by Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) that puts the value of the Nigerian real estate sector in 2016 at $13.65 billion.
Ogundele says Nigerians are blessed with five unique characteristics that give them the edge over others at times like this. He says among others, they are hustlers with the can-do spirit to wade through the labyrinth to achieve success, the reason the country’s young entrepreneurs should begin to take advantage of opportunities around them. He wonders how Indians, Lebanese, Italians and Germans easily recognize opportunities that abound in the country –opportunities Nigerians do not seem to notice. His advice for the country’s youth is that until they begin to recognize and take full advantage of the opportunities that abound in the country, success will remain elusive to them.
He said it could be excused if someone living in Burkina Faso or Chad were in the situation in which some Nigerians are, but not Nigeria, the largest economy in Africa with limitless opportunities.
Ogundele attributes his success to the fact that he won what he calls an ovarian lottery – to be born of the gene of the Adebukolas that are known for their entrepreneurial spirit. And no other person physically manifests this gene than his mother, who is both his business partner and mentor. He says his mother broke the norm of ‘no education, no success” when she, without formal education, grew from being a sales girl to a highly successful businesswoman.
He owes everything he has achieved in life to the early tutorials he received from his mother, who not only spoke to him about the principles of success, but also demonstrated it. It was from the mother he learnt, for instance, not to venture into an enterprise in which he knows he cannot do well. He also learnt the principle of hard work from his mother who would leave home in the wee hours of the morning for the day’s toils and return late in the evening.
Ogundele said his mother had the eagle eyes to recognize in time that it was more profitable to sell Bournvita than bread, which she sold at the teething period of her business life, and quickly made the switch that transformed her into a major distributor for Cadbury, and in no time, she was listed among the top five distributors for Nestle.
Despite his current success, he visits his mother at Oke Arin, Lagos, at least once a week for his dose of inspiration. Apart from business principles, Ogundele has imbibed from his mother the need to associate with the right people, recognition of the customer as king, generosity and diligence.
Olajumoke, the bread seller
The principle of giving, which Ogundele learnt from his mother, is evident in the role he is playing in the amazing story of Olajumoke, the young lady who went from being a break hawker on the streets of Lagos to becoming a celebrity. The property tycoon says his interest in Olajumok was stirred by the similarity it has with his mother’s story. He said he saw in Olajumoke a determination to conquer a seemingly bad situation and turn it into blessing, when she saw an opportunity that destiny placed on her laps.
He said Olajumoke’s story could be that of any Lagosian. In a state of about 21 million people, indigenes constitute only between 15 and 20 per cent of the population. The rest, he said, came from the nooks and crannies of Nigeria to seek opportunities in the country’s commercial capital.
Ogundele has ensured that Olajumoke’s life does not begin and end with the celebrity status she currently enjoys; that she doesn’t return to where she came from. The involvement of the Sujimoto chief in the life of the celebrity is to help her discover her real potential and make her stand on her feet. He has secured a befitting accommodation for the erstwhile bread hawker, with plans to empower her so she can afford the cost of the accommodation on her own after the one he paid has expired.
He plans to give educational scholarships to Olajumoke’s children, to enable them to attain the educational heights of their dream. Beyond that, he will empower her husband by giving him proper training to enhance his skills in his business of aluminum fabrication.
Ogundele has put in place arrangements that will see him fulfill all the promises by the end of 2016.
Ogundele lives by what he calls the 80/20 principle – setting priorities and executing responsibilities – using the Blitzkrieg Strategy of holistic warfare that has the element of surprise and speed. He does this by coming up with innovative ideas to achieve the impossible. It’s a strategy that has seen him achieve one success after the other.
Success, as the saying goes, is not the end of learning, but the beginning. Ogundelew demonstrates this aphorism by reading and committing to heart the contents of the book, My Vision, by no less a personality that one of his mentors – Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and Vice President of the United Arab Emirates. He recommends the book to anybody who is willing to dare the impossible. He says it is a book that offers insights into, and shows guides on how to dream big and achieve excellence, using the example of Dubai that rose to international prominence from a regional economic centre.