Elvis Abuyere, CEO, Skyewise Group: Striving to Leave a Legacy of Building people and businesses

To many, especially job seekers, the banking industry is one of the most attractive to work. It was probably so for Elvis Abuyere, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Skyewise Group, before he joined the defunct Sky Bank in 2007. But his experience at an interview for recruitment into First Bank in 2010, one year after he left Sky Bank, made him to have a rethink of the hope of a flourishing career in the banking industry.

At the interview, he was asked if he had any question to ask. It was a question that afforded him the opportunity to ask a question whose answer would change the course of his life. He asked the man how long he had been with the bank, and was shocked by his answer. “He told me 28 years, and I saw the car he was driving and he told me where he lives, and I said to myself, ‘if this man has stayed in the bank  for 28 years and this is the kind of life he’s living, and knowing the fact I have so much dream I want to accomplish and I want to give back to society, there’s no amount of time I’m going to invest or work in this bank that will give me the kind of life that I want to live in order to affect people.”

He took a decision on how long he was going to work with the bank, even before he got the job. “I wrote down my mission statement – ‘I’m going to work for the bank for five years and after five years, I will resign.’” He spent five years and six months before resigning to set up Skyewise.

Abuyere has a passion for empowering people. This passion stems from the fact that he does not like seeing people who should be engaged in productive ventures remain idle or redundant. He loathes a situation in which people appear not to have a sense of direction in life. He knew what he wanted to do, even as a banker. He wanted to empower people, while at the same time running a business that would stand the test of time. But he found out, upon leaving the bank, that he wasn’t going to be spared the common challenge of takeoff funding. He knew that sourcing for the finance to kick start the journey into entrepreneurship wasn’t going to be a stroll in the park.

Many a fainthearted new entrant into the world of business would have been forced to chicken out by the bitter experience Abuyere had raising money to finance realization of his dream. But he remained undaunted.

“The first three months was hell for me,” he recalls. “When I left the bank, I pulled off few of my friends, and said, ‘this is what I want to do and I need some funds to establish the company’. They gave it to me; I was able to access up to N10 million from few of my friends. In less than few months when I got into the business space, I lost everything and I was back to square one. My friends were chasing me all around with police, with EFCC and so on, but because of the youthful entrepreneurship spirit of never giving up, I put myself together, summoned courage. I went to a microfinance bank and asked them for credit, and was able to access N4 million.”

With the money, he bought two Toyota Corolla cars. He used one to operate an Uber taxi and gave the other to his friend for the same purpose. He was able to repay the loan within one year, which enabled him to reduce the debt burden from the money he borrowed from his friends.

A book by Michael Leda taught him about the capacity of other people’s ideas and resources, and how to leverage on them. As he began the process of building his own company, he wrote a book, titled, “Run with the Challenges of Life”.

“I have realized over the years that challenges of life have access to everybody, but do not have control over everybody,” says Abuyere. “And for me as a person, the challenge of life that is pursuing me every day does not have the capacity to withstand or stop the vision that is driving me. So, what happens to me in the morning does not have the capacity to affect where I’m going to in the afternoon. I don’t see challenges; rather I see opportunities. When challenges come, I know they have come to take me to the next level of my life.”

The tendency to see opportunities in challenges made him to establish his first company, Skyewise Travels and Tours, in 2013, which became fully operational two year later. This was in spite of the initial difficulties he faced pulling together resources to get his dream business off the ground. This mindset of not seeing challenges has defined Abuyere’s journey in the business world, such that in a period of barely eight years, he has grown the business from one travel and tours company to an Octopus, with tentacles in investment, automobile, real estate and empowerment for youth development. Rather than see himself competing with others, he sees himself as the target of competition from others.

The weather forecaster

A smart businessman with the eagle eyes of a weather forecaster, Abuyere has the uncanny ability to read and understand changes that occur in the business environment, and to devise strategies to stay ahead of competition. For instance, with the advent of smartphone, revenue from ticket sales for Skyewise Travels and Tours dropped drastically when customers started buying tickets using their phones. To contain the challenge, he added tour packaging that involves taking tourists to different parts of the world.

“That gave us some level of experience and tourism gave us some level of income at that point in time,” he said. “So, we reduced ticketing services because it was not giving us some profit. We expanded into tourism and we realized that Nigerians like to work, but they hardly find time to travel to relax and enjoy their life. That is what Skyewise Travels and Tours is presently doing.”

Not satisfied with the relative success of Skyewise Travels and Tours, Abuyere looked beyond tourism to spot a gap in the finance sector that needed to be filled. “I discovered there’s a financial gap in the society, which means that people need money every day for transactional purposes; speculative purpose and precautionary purpose, but the most important of all this is the transactional purpose,” he said. “When people need emergency money for school fees, hospital bills, contracts, finance and so on and run to the bank, the bank probably will deny them these funds because there are processes the bank probably have to undergo for them to meet their demand and at the end of the day, the purpose for which these people need these funds will be defeated because of the timeline.”

That observation gave birth to Skyewise Cooperative Finance, which has over 1000 members.  The company has been able to build people and businesses, and enhanced human capacity development in Nigeria, as well, especially in Abuja and Lagos where it has offices, and is being positioned to operate in the global space.

“Skyewise Cooperative Finance is still bridging the gap, helping people on a daily basis to have access to quick credit, as long as you have collateral,” said Abuyere. “For instance, if you have an emergency, in less than five hours, money will not be a problem. Now, no matter your turnover in the bank, you go to the bank even with your car or with your building and say to your bank, ‘I need N10 million, this is my car,’ and the bank would deny you. But when you come to Skyewise Co-operative Finance, you become a member in less than two hours. We will assess the collateral that belongs to you, which will give you that credit that will serve your purpose. In other words, we have solved your purpose which is the main important thing that the banks are not doing, because we also help you to meet your deadline. When I met your deadline, it means I’m giving you value at the end of the day that will give you profits from the credit we are giving you.”

This unique service has placed Skyewise Cooperative Finance ahead of competition. If three companies that render such services in Abuja are mentioned, Skyewise Cooperative Finance is likely to be one of them. The company is not profit driven. Its returns or repayment percentage is very low.

The third company that came on stream is Skyewise Automobile, which provides luxury cars for high net worth individual and corporate clients that desire the ultimate in comfort. The company has one of the biggest showrooms in Abuja and is expanding into Lagos. It has one showroom in the nation’s commercial capital at the moment. Plans are afoot to open one of the biggest and most modern showrooms in the Lekki Phase 1area of Lagos, any time from now.

There is also the Skyewise Global Investment Services, a company that has been certified by the Securities and Exchange Commission to provide investment services. The company offers opportunities to both local and foreign investors to invest in the Skyewise Group.

With diversification of interests, there arose the need to bring all the companies under one umbrella for easy and properly coordinated management. This thinking saw the coming into existence of the Skyewise Group in 2020. And with it, came greater challenges.

“It seems challenging for us, but the good thing is that we are making waves and we are running with all the subsidiaries, not leaving anyone behind,” said Abuyere. “We are making profits and we’re ensuring that we meet our purpose of being in business. Our core value is something that is driving us crazy in the industry and our vision to be known for a world class company, rendering first class investment opportunities and services all over the globe.”

Legacy of building people

Abuyere set up the Skyewise Empowerment and Advancement Foundation to satisfy a lifelong desire of leaving behind a legacy of building people. This crave for building people is rooted in his tendency to help and support people in need, in whatever way he can. It dates back to his childhood.

As a young boy growing up, he used to help out in serving customers in his mother’s restaurant. If he saw people who were hungry and unable to buy food to eat, he would secretly serve them food free of charge without his mother’s knowledge. Such acts attracted severe beatings on days he was unlucky to be caught by the mother.

“I want to build a legacy, and I’ve come to realize from my past experiences, from people who have gone ahead of me, that the best legacy you can leave is the legacy of building people,” he said. “I want people to be able to withstand and say they became something from nobody. I just want to help people, and I’m not helping them to get something in return. As I speak to you now, I know I’m still young, I can’t count how many people I have helped, people at my age and even people beyond my age; I just support them. It must not be financial all the time, sometimes mental support, trainings, belief system and so on.”

“The foundation raises people every month; it conducts trainings every quarter, and we also advance them with some little seed capital to start up a business of their own. For three years that we officially unveiled the foundation, we have been able to empower 100 people who are doing well in the city of Abuja, Lagos and across the country. Outside that, we have seen that they have business ideas. We want to reduce unemployment in Nigeria.”

The trainings Abuyere offers pay great attention to refining and changing mindsets, since development must take place in the mind before it can become a reality. “When the mind is not refined, whatever you commit, they will probably misuse it,” he says. “When the mind is refined with a deep sense of belonging, when you commit something and say, ‘see, this is N200,000, they can be able to utilise it. So, the best bet for us is that we are refining the people’s minds to be fully optimized and take the opportunity that is open to Africa, because as I speak to you now, by research, China and Japan are fighting over the industry or market of Africa.”

Part of the effort to prepare youths for entrepreneurship is a programme he has in place called, “Meet the CEO”. It is a programme that involves arranging physical meetings between youths and well known businessmen and women who have succeeded in different areas of entrepreneurship.

The Skyewise SPIRIT

In monetary terms, Abuyere puts the value of the Skyewise Group at over $4million. For him, however, the real value of the group is not financial. The value he wants people to know is the company’s ability to build sustainable investments – a value of integrity that would enable people to do business with the company and go to sleep, rest assured that their investments are safe and secure.

“We are trust worthy, dependable and our core value is SPIRIT, which means that S stands for service excellence. We want to render excellent services because we realise that service is everything when it comes to business. The next thing is P, Professionalism. We want to be professional while we are rendering our services. We don’t want to cut corners. The next thing is I, which stands for Integrity. We have integrity in the Skyewise Group, to ensure that all the workforce, all the staff have integrity.  The next thing is R, respect for others. From the level of GM to the board of directors and the cleaners and security, everybody has respect for other people. The next one is I, innovation.  I tell people that any business that is not innovative will die naturally. You see that COVID 19 came in 2020, and the idea of innovation came up. A lot of companies grabbed it, and others could not, and they died naturally. The next one is T, which stands for teamwork. We believe in togetherness, and that is why we are Skyewise.”

The Group has become a household name in Abuja, Lagos and some parts of the country, with a vision to be known all over Africa, with branches in other parts of the world. “We want Skyewise Group to be one of the leading companies when it comes to providing financial services, assembling of cars in Nigeria,” says Abuyere. “Our five years goal in the automobile industry is to bring Mercedes to Nigeria. We have started establishing that plan, and we have started communication with Mercedes.”

Profile of a builder

Elvis Abuyere is a Nigerian-centric entrepreneur with over 15 years of professional experience in banking and business management. His career spans through Skye Bank Plc and First Bank Plc, where he managed and achieved several business results, in such areas as finance and accounts, marketing and procurement, as well as human resource management.

He is a self-motivated and goal-oriented individual who responds to whatever challenges life throws at him. He uses an analytical style of negotiation, combined with positive thinking to generate effective solutions.

Abuyere is a graduate of Accounting from Dorben Polytechnic, Abuja. He holds an HND in Accounting, and a PGD in Business Administration from the National Open University. He has enrolled for an MBA in Business Management at the Lagos Business School, and is currently studying Law at Baze University, Abuja. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Leadership and Governance, (USA).

His quest for success has been a major driving force that has motivated him to pursue greener pastures in entrepreneurship, strategic management, and business development.

Abuyere has received several awards in humanitarian service and won a deserving award in the category of Excellence in Business Management from Africa Value Awards, in July, 2021. He also won the SME CEO Award by BusinessDay newspaper in 2021, while the Skyewise Group won the Best Investment and Automobile Brand of the Year in 2022.

He is married to Lilian Elvis Abuyere and they are blessed with a beautiful daughter, Michelle Inavheoghena Elvis Abuyere.