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Mike Adenuga: The Charging Bull At 70 By Keem Abdul

Read Time:18 Minute, 16 Second

Life experiences and, especially upbringing, shape and colour our choices and perspectives. For a man who is a mystery as he is admired, Otunba Michael Adeniyi Agbolade Ishola Adenuga Jr (CSG, GCON) is a compelling instance of how a deliberate upbringing can place one on the coveted pedestal for success –one that can only be braved by the most determined and disciplined of humans. 

Otunba Michael “Mike” Adenuga’s early life is a testament to the power of nurture, which is the most discernible factor in the myriad of influences that interplay to shape us. As the child of a teacher and a businesswoman, Mike was privy to a unique upbringing that instilled the winning admixture of discipline, accountability, and strategic thinking in him. Growing up, he would have been constantly exposed to two vastly different worlds — one of academia and the other of commerce — and this dual perspective has served him extremely well in his adult life.

His parents were active in the oversight of their children and Otunba took their advice to heart, sharing at times with those who cared to listen. Adenuga gained a lot of knowledge and insight from his parents. Their teachings instilled within him a strong work ethic, a thirst for knowledge, and an astute business sense, all of which have been instrumental in his professional and personal life. His father, Oloye Mike Agbolade Adenuga Sr, instilled modesty, tact, wisdom, and forbearance in him. His mother, Omoba Juliana Oyindamola Adenuga, went further in entrenching the lessons he learned from his father. They taught him to cherish humanity and connection. Mike Adenuga’s early life allowed him to develop the skills, mindset, and attitude that have enabled him to develop into one of the most successful leaders of Nigeria’s industry.

How did this work out? Well, it is easy to imagine the discipline and rigour instilled by a father who was a teacher over 70 years ago. This has helped The Bull – as Otunba Mike is fondly called – to stay focused and determined, adversity notwithstanding. The accountability instilled by his mother, a businesswoman, would have taught him to take responsibility for his actions and to always strive for excellence. Likewise, the astuteness exemplified by both parents would later aid his navigation of the complexities of commerce, and the nuances of interpersonal relationships by which Otunba Mike developed a formidable network of allies over the years. 

At the very least, it is obvious that Otunba sees life from a different perspective than his peers, and has displayed the right mix of ambition and doggedness over decades, leading to resounding success in both his personal and professional life. Otunba’s early life provides a testament to the power of parental influence and the impact that it can have on shaping a person’s life. By actively overseeing their children and providing them with guidance and wisdom, parents can prepare their children for success and equip them with the tools necessary to thrive in an ever-changing world.

The Bull, as he is hailed, is a known workaholic who shuns public life to focus on work and family. The panache with which he asserts his privacy, shunning the allure of the media, speaks to his compelling confidence, and ability to develop and nurture the coveted relationships that have seen him assume an enviable position in Nigeria’s oil and gas and telecommunication industries.  Dare we say his focus on work and family is laser-sharp? His children all seem to toe his path of focusing on work and leading quiet lives. It is a unique kind of blessing to enjoy generational grace as the lineage of the Otunba Apesin of Ijebu-Igbo does. Indeed, the values of discipline, accountability, and shrewdness have been passed down from generation to generation, providing a unique kind of blessing that has enabled The Bull and his family to enjoy a high degree of success.

The results of a life well-spent that we see and celebrate today are a testament to the fact that life yields to those who play the pieces they have been dealt the right way. We will neither all have the same advantages or disadvantages in life, nor the same temperaments or talents. Therefore, what we choose to do with the card that’s been dealt, is what matters most and, needless to say, Otunba has multiplied whatever seed was sown by his sphere of influence in his formative years, and there’s been no proof of his willingness to rest on his oars. 

It’s safe to acknowledge the numerous myths and tales that surround this mysterious oil and gas magnate — insert telecommunications behemoth. There have been stories of his steely approach to hiring, interviewing and even firing, and regardless of the twists in these narratives, one attribute of The Bull proves to be the common denominator: he knows what he wants, and that will he get.

Of course, anyone who has lived sufficiently long enough to tone their business acumen with the rigour of innovation, trial and error, and developing the sixth sense of reading people, would have unique and, often, unorthodox perspectives on headhunting and retaining the best talents in the lot. If anyone is in doubt of how effective Otunba’s approach has been, let them take a cursory look at the balance sheets, the sea of employees and contractors whose families have been blessed by his investments – chiefly Globacom and Conoil.

Otunba’s doggedness over the years has indeed paid off – not only for his family – but for the thousands who have benefitted from his establishments with myself inclusive. This would have come at a great price, for sure. In braving enterprise,  after a few knockdowns, many have relented and stayed down, lacking the mental strength required for the much-needed rebound to birth their vision. Not Otunba Mike Adenuga; he keeps demonstrating that he can withstand the expected and unexpected difficulties inherent in living and doing business in Nigeria. Otunba, with his sheer competence in building wealth, is a compelling example and role model of how one can build their legacy in quiet, despite the pressure of showmanship that comes with climbing the social ladder in the Nigerian context. 

Likewise, as a role model on how one should build empires that outlive one’s existence – and that keeps giving, Otunba Mike Adenuga keeps enriching the nation through his business exploits, and is crucially responsible for birthing its telecommunication’s national carrier, which was the first to introduce the per second billing to mobile phone calls and, historically, forced the much-needed competitive pricing that quelled the sector monopoly permanently. For a man whose tentacles are spread in key industries, based on merit, it’s no surprise that Mike Adenuga’s achievements and his immense multi-industry portfolio, have bestowed on him the ability to surf the waves of opportunity efficiently and attain the captainship of Nigeria’s leading industries. 

As the second-richest man in the country, he has built an empire that spans multiple industries from telecoms through real estate, and then oil and gas. This feat wasn’t without a few setbacks, the most compelling being the $285 million Communication International Limited (CIL) deal that went sour in 2003. Notwithstanding, Otunba Mike Adenuga has lived up to his nickname – The Bull – by being dogged enough to brave several investment interests, regardless, while tenaciously prospecting gainful products and services through opportunities.  He is a savvy investor with a keen eye for identifying opportunities and making strategic investments that have led to tremendous growth and success. 

As founder and chairman of Globacom, a multinational telecommunications company, Conoil PLC and Conoil Producing, a Nigerian oil exploration company, he also has solid real estate investments in Nigeria. Consequential to the structural changes that have occurred in Nigeria’s banking industry, many may have forgotten that Otunba Mike Adenuga also has deep imprints in the banking industry, having run Equitorial Trust Bank and Devcom Bank, which has since been converted into substantial shares in Sterling Bank. These local investments are a testament to Otunba’s firm belief in his home country, Nigeria, and with impressive results, as his wealth hovers around the $6 billion mark according to Forbes. Adenuga’s rise to success in the Nigerian business world is a story of strategy, determination and perseverance.

Mike Adenuga started making his moves early in life. He showed resourcefulness when, as a university student in New York, he worked odd jobs to augment what he got from home. He returned to Nigeria after his studies to do business and has been credited with bold foraging in the FMCG, construction, automobile and textiles sectors. When Bisi Olatilo interviewed him on The Bisi Olatilo Show shortly after the wildly successful launch of Globacom, Mike Adenuga noted that importing car stereos into Nigeria in 1974, was the point he became firmly entrenched in business.

How did Otunba Adenuga start a business that is ancillary to the automobile industry? The answer is simple: he had a keen eye for opportunity and noticed a gap in the market when he observed the large number of imported cars that were being brought into the country without car stereos. The lack of this basic accessory was further compounded by the high levels of theft of car stereos, likely due to their high demand. Otunba Adenuga capitalized on this gap by importing removable car stereos and quickly gained a first-mover advantage in the market. He attributes the success of his stereo business to two key factors: his foresight and the ability to act quickly. As a seasoned and astute businessman, he understood that to succeed, he needed to seize opportunities as they arose and move fast. This was especially important since he did not need to seek funding or wait for a letter of credit, which would have slowed down his progress. With these factors working in his favour, Otunba Adenuga’s success train gained momentum. 

Industriousness has always been a hallmark of Otunba Adenuga’s approach to business, driving him to continuously seek out new opportunities and explore new sectors. Throughout his career, he has demonstrated a keen sense of when to invest and when to move on, retaining investments in those ventures that showed promise and yielded profitable returns. Starting from humble beginnings in subsistence work, Otunba Adenuga went on to diversify his portfolio to include fabric supplies, soft drinks, stereo equipment, crude oil exploration, petroleum products vending, and finally mobile telephony services. It was his ventures into the oil and telecommunications industries, however, that truly set him apart and cemented his enduring legacy. These investments not only generated substantial wealth for Otunba Adenuga but also elevated him to the ranks of the world’s most elite and powerful business leaders. With his unrivalled business acumen, he has successfully harnessed the full potential of his fortune and continues to drive growth and innovation in his industries to this day.

The Nigerian government’s decision to encourage indigenous participation in the oil industry was a historic moment for the nation. It was a bold move to grant oil prospecting licences to local entrepreneurs, including Mike Adenuga and his Consolidated Oil company. This plan, despite the initial controversy it generated, has proven to be a wise and long-term beneficial move for the nation. By providing indigenous firms with the opportunity to explore oil resources, the government aimed to create new avenues for wealth creation and investment in the country. As a result of this initiative, Consolidated Oil became the first indigenous oil company to discover oil in commercial quantities in Nigeria. The granting of oil prospecting licences not only increased employment opportunities, tax revenue, and reinvestment within the country but also boosted national confidence and pride. Consolidated Oil, now known as Conoil Producing and Conoil PLC, was granted more oil blocs as a result of its hard work and success. Today, the company holds a total of six licences and is listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. The federal government’s decision to grant oil prospecting licences has not only been a wise move for the nation but has also allowed entrepreneurs like Mike Adenuga to further prove their mettle and make a lasting impact in the industry.

In confirmation of his ability to grow and establish successful enterprises, Adenuga seized the opportunity to acquire a telecommunications licence when the Nigerian government opened up the industry to new players. He established Globacom, which quickly made a name for itself as a strong competitor to the foreign telecommunications companies already operating in the country. Despite not being the first in line to offer telecom services in Nigeria, Globacom was able to shake up the market and quickly attract a large number of subscribers. This is a testament to Adenuga’s exceptional managerial skills and strategic business acumen. With two major differentiators — lower prices and localised marketing strategies — Globacom quickly gained popularity among consumers who had previously suffered from the high cost of entry and usage in the telecommunications industry. Adenuga’s solution to these long-standing problems endeared him to the Nigerian market and cemented his reputation as a visionary entrepreneur.

In addition to his successful foray into the telecom industry, Adenuga has continued to expand his business interests. Under the umbrella of the Mike Adenuga Group, which serves as a conglomerate for his various concerns, Adenuga’s portfolio now includes ventures such as real estate development company Cobblestone Properties and Estates. He also takes an active role in supporting the Nigerian economy, investing in firms such as Firstbank, Sterling Bank, and Julius Berger as a shareholder. His approach to business is characterized by a desire to acquire the best resources available, as evidenced by the significant investment he made in the Glo-1 submarine networks, which connect West Africa to the UK via a 9800 km submarine cable that cost roughly $250 million. It was launched in April 2011, with landing points at Lagos, Accra, Dakar, Nouakchott, Casablanca, Sesimbra, Vigo, and Bude. This dedication to using top-notch resources has helped Adenuga to achieve continued success in his various business ventures.

Growing a business is no mean feat; growing stable, big businesses in a country like Nigeria, with its growing economy and huge unpredictability across the board, is even more arduous. The Nigerian business and political landscape experience turbulence frequently enough to sink thousands of new businesses while leaving established businesses floundering. For instance, the economic downturn caused by the fall in oil prices in the 1980s — and the government’s response to it — impacted the decade following it negatively. One could say that the only positive from the economic woes of that era was the liberalization of the economy and the privatization of state-owned enterprises. These changes helped to spur economic growth and attracted foreign investment, with the gains appearing in the 2000s, as Nigeria experienced a period of economic growth driven largely by the oil and gas industry. However, this growth was also accompanied by high levels of corruption and political instability. Several anti-corruption measures put in place proved insufficient and have been compounded by security issues that impact trade and foreign investment. These issues were being tackled when the COVID-19 pandemic nearly brought the economy to a halt. The reverberations of that era yielded such high levels of inflation that have further decimated consumer purchasing power in an economy that was already plagued by huge income inequalities.

Yet, Mike Adenuga has been at it for years, showing relentlessness. From the journey to his first million through his entry into the exclusive billionaires’ club, he keeps exerting the energy needed to achieve his business goals. Becoming an admired captain of industries in an unpredictable economic climate must have bestowed upon Otunba Mike, wisdom and ken that must be coveted by his counterparts in more established, cushioned and regulated economic systems. That he could have pulled such immense success off in a country like Nigeria, through businesses that have survived its turbulent, meddlesome, and often heavy-handed economic system, is compelling proof that The Bull knows his onions. For this reason, Otunba Adenuga is a motivation to millions of young Nigerian entrepreneurs who look forward to building commercial legacies and mastering the art of leveraging opportunities. His entrepreneurial journey firmly ridicules the get-rich-quick syndrome that has bedevilled many youths of today, by extolling the virtues of patience, diligence, and building sustainable networks that birth enterprises that last, through integrity and honest work. For this reason, Mike Adenuga has made an indelible imprint on Africa’s business culture, as an open book to be studied by young entrepreneurs.

Otunba Mike Adenuga is a greatly admired man who has given Nigeria a lot of reasons to be proud. The appreciation for his industriousness, grace and the solutions his companies bring to the public have included numerous awards from various industries, chieftaincy titles and honours. He is a Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger in Nigeria, the Companion of the Star of Ghana and Commander of the Legion of Honour in France. These titles are the highest civil order of merit in the three countries, and this one individual has been honoured with them. He is an Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Otunba Apesin of Ijebu, his indigenous home.

Adenuga’s contributions to society and business have earned him numerous accolades and recognitions. The numerous honorary doctorates from esteemed universities are a symbol of the impact he has made, and the high esteem in which he is held. His outstanding achievements have been acknowledged by Western Illinois University, which has awarded him a Distinguished Alumnus Award. This is a clear indication of his impact and the respect he commands not only in Nigeria but also on a global scale. Mike Adenuga is a true visionary, who has been instrumental in shaping the business and philanthropic landscape of Nigeria, and his contributions will always be remembered and celebrated.

Mike Adenuga is widely recognized for his substantial contributions to various social causes in Nigeria. His unwavering commitment to giving back to society has made a profound impact and earned him the admiration of many. In 2020, when the world was grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, Adenuga made a substantial financial donation of ₦1.5 billion to the federal government and the Lagos State Government to help fortify the country against the virus. This gesture of generosity showcased his deep concern for the well-being of the citizens of Nigeria. Adenuga’s philanthropic efforts are not limited to just one-off donations, but instead, are well-organized and sustained. To further his philanthropic endeavours, he established the Mike Adenuga Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on providing support to various social causes in Nigeria, including education and healthcare. The foundation operates to make a positive impact, and build a stronger, more resilient society.

The impact of Adenuga’s philanthropic efforts can be seen in the numerous communities and institutions that have benefited from his support. From supporting schools and hospitals to providing educational scholarships and financial aid, Adenuga’s exemplary and conscientious contributions have helped to uplift the lives of many, and have inspired others to follow in his footsteps. As a man who models the act of using one’s wealth to make a difference, his philanthropic efforts have earned him widespread recognition and respect, and have helped to create a better future for many in Nigeria.

Mike Adenuga has a standard practice of working with celebrities in the countries where Globacom operates exclusively for his billboard adverts, and rewarding their talents with handsome brand endorsements. Globacom is known to work with artistes, footballers and other influencers for their marketing campaigns and, for this reason, he has enjoyed their loyalty and admiration over the years. In addition to significant financial contributions, including large sponsorships, Globacom boasts the highest number of prominent figures in the entertainment industry as brand ambassadors while actively utilizing their participation. Many performers, both well-known and emerging, have greatly benefited from this support and patronage.

The company has also greatly contributed to the development of African football, elevating it to new heights and making it a recognized global phenomenon. Through the Glo brand, he sponsors key tournaments and Cups in Nigeria and Ghana, and is also a sponsor of the UK’s Manchester United Football Club.

His cultural consciousness includes sustaining and elevating festivals around Nigeria, such as Lagos State’s beloved Eyo Festival, the annual Ojude Oba Festival in Ijebu, Ogun State, Warri’s Eleghe Festival and Anambra’s Ofala Festival.

It is worth mentioning that this is not an exhaustive list, and that Adenuga might have supported more causes that are not on this list because he is quite private, even when giving to other noteworthy causes in education, healthcare, and social welfare.

Mike Adenuga’s success story is not only limited to his business achievements, he has also been recognized with numerous awards and accolades for his contributions to the Nigerian economy and society.

He is a true inspiration to many young entrepreneurs, showing them that anything is possible with the right mindset and determination. His story is a spot-on testament to the power of entrepreneurship and a shining example of how one individual can make a significant impact on the lives of so many people. As a prototype of a successful businessman, investor, and philanthropist, there is no doubt that he will continue to make a positive impact in Africa for many years to come.

As “The Bull “ begins his septuagenarian adventures, I join the upwardly Nigerian mobile youths and Nigerians as a whole  to celebrate not only his age but also his incredible accomplishments as a businessman, contributions to the African business landscape and philanthropy. We wish him the best of ideas, executions and excellence in all facets of life.

Happy Birthday In Advance Sir , Otunba Apesin of the Ijebu clan.

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