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The Ben Bruce story

My success is driven by passion to make history

By Ogbonna Amadi, Entertainment Editor and  Lolade Sowoolu

What started off with a capital of N20, 000 has today grown into an empire worth
several billions in Naira.

This is the story of Benedict Murray-Bruce, the starry eyed youth with the lofty dream of becoming the number entertainment company in the world.

Thirty years after he ventured into entertainment business, the Silverbird group has grown  to become a conglomerate.

As the group celebrates thirty years of business we asked the Akassa, Bayelsa born business administration graduate of  University of Southern California if he has realised his dream to be number one in the world.

This is his story

How has the journey been in 30 years?

It’s been fun and its being great. I’ve had a great time and I’m grateful to Nigerians for the support even all across Africa over the last 30 years.

Have you been able to actualise the dream?

No, not yet.

What is the dream?

For me, my greatest dream would be wealth creation in the entertainment industry. It would be for me to see artistes, producers, directors dominate the economy of Nigeria; that is my dream. If I did that in my life time, then my work will not be in vain.

And have been some of the challenges?

The challenge is being in an economy that at a time did not appreciate the art.

Ben Bruce

The money we make today versus what we made yesterday and you can see a movement all without government effort. All hardworking Nigerians whose fathers and mothers were selling plantain on the side streets, some had no parents but they made it.

Now you can see the transformation in movies, for instance is Ije which has grossed over a quarter of a million dollars in Silverbird here. There is the one that grossed twelve million Naira six months earlier, by Stephanice Okereke.

The change is significant because if we grow at this spate and the government gives its support to the art, we’ll wake up one day and the average artiste will be a multi-millionaire in dollars.

Anybody who takes a position that does not change overtime is a fool. People must change; they must evolve, people must develop. I cannot be the same person I was in 1980. I cannot be static.

What informs your direction of change?

An artiste, a creative mind is a lot of different from a lawyer, accountant or banker.
So if you ask me what direction I’m going, I don’t know. How do I know where I’m going?

I have no idea but I’m going some place and I’ll get there. I am a dreamer. I have blind faith in myself and my ability. I’ll grow, develop and I’ll take my people with me. That’s the point, I really don’t know what direction I am going.

Is there a link between dream and gambling?

I’m a dreamer and I’m a gambler. I gamble with everything because I have faith in my ability to deliver. When you have faith, you tell yourself, I’m going to build a radio station.

And when I build the radio station I don’t want to copy anybody, the competition is fingle but I don’t want to copy or imitate anybody. I don’t care if there hasn’t been one in thirty years. I’m not interested in softing targets that could be done by people before me.

What would be the purpose? If I become an ordinary guy, what will I tell God when I get to heaven. That I came into this world, I was an ordinary guy I did not leave my footprints behind and I died.

What is the stimulus that keeps you going?

I’m not worried about being discouraged; It is irrelevant to me. I am never scarred of falling down. If I fall down, I get right up and I walk again. I have never been bothered by criticisms or what people say.

I have an understanding of my value and who I am. I know I am very focussed, so if you criticize me, I will look into your eyes and I can tell if you are lying, if you are telling the truth, if you are flattering me or if you are a psycophant.

And if you are a psycophant you can never be my friend. No, psycophant can work with me. I tell my staff when you come into your meeting, you tell me the truth, if you lie to me, that is the day you stop working for me.

My wife and kids don’t flatter me, I encourage them to tell me the truth and when you tell the truth, I can look myself in the mirror and say what I did yesterday was selfish. I need to improve. I take disaster and catastrophe as a stimulus to complain.

Do you consolidate on your achievements?

Yes I do. We won Miss World, we want to win it again. We haven’t ever won Miss Universe, we want to win that for the first time. You can never get tired of winning; you can never get tired of being number one. We have been No.1 every single year since we started.

We love being No.1. We’re No.3 in Africa in Entertainment. My goal is to be No.1 in the next two years in the whole of Africa. So really what you may misperceive as losing interest is because we’ve so diversified you have not seen me on pageants, so you think I have lost interest.

I haven’t lost interest, but I have fifty other things I am thinking about. Maybe two years ago I had two things I was thinking about; now I have fifty. The company is larger and I have people doing

In the face of a dwindling economy, where do you get all this energy and positivism (optimism) from?

If you complain and tell the government how useless they are, you accomplish nothing.  If I criticize the government, for what they have done wrong and I will give them alternative solutions or what I think should be done. If they don’t take my advise, that is up to them.

For instance, I will never support tricycles on the streets of Lagos or any part of the country. Any commissioner who decides to bring tricycles as a policy of transportation for Nigeria, should ride the tricycle himself.

Why. You have something against it?

Yes I do. How do you bring to the 21st century something that was developed in India, 150 years ago in Nigeria. Why didn’t you bring in electric cars, bydrogen cars, prams.

Why is he not going into the future? We are going into the past to solve transportation problems? You have to be incompetent to do so. If I was minister of transport or commissioner, and I propose tricycles for my people, I will be the first person to ride it.

And if I cannot ride them I will never propose that a fellow Nigerian use a tricycle; its an insult.

So what do you make of motorcycles?

I think motorcycles should be banned. That motorcycles are on the street is because transportation policy of that state has failed. They are filling a void. I’m not blaming the Okada rider; Will you have an Okada in London?

If the transport system was working, those people riding Okadas will be conductors, drivers and mechanics and they will be working in the economy. I have no quarrel with the Okada riders. I have a problem with the government that allowed the system to collapse so Okadas can survive. You understand the logic?

Advising the government?

I had never been in government in my life. If I was to advise the government, I would say all top government officials should do NYSC in private sectors. Permanent secretaries, directors the president should make a law that for two years they should go and work in the private sector and all CEOs of the private institutions in Nigeria should take a leave of absence for two years.

Government would then become more sensitive to the needs of the people. NYSC should not just be for graduates; Let them go and work in the private sector for two years during their life time and see the change in Nigeria. They don’t know the pains of the private sector. When you go to the banks to lend money, or the ministries for your passport or any other thing… They aren’t equipped to run the economy.

Do you really think that the NYSC thing will work?

I don’t think they’re equipped to run the economy (those in government). If you look at the American economy. Look at Regan as an example. He ran the American economy

like corporate America. |He played Golf, hardly went to work, sleeping and having a wonderful time. But he got CEOs of corporate America in his cabinet. He ran America as a private sector company. The president could say Uncle Sam should become Minister of communication, someone else CBN governor…

You cannot change Nigeria by criticizing and abusing people. That is the old way. The new way to change Nigeria is to create the environment to get there. Banks don’t give money to those who need them.

The interest rates are crippling. America is the greatest debtor nation in the world. Americans build on debt with 5% down payment, you buy a house with zero down payment, you buy a car but here there’s no credit.

The banks will tell you there is no credit and if I give you money, you’re a poor man, you won’t pay back. You’re saying “I will not pay back’ but all the trillions you gave yourself as MD, did you pay back?

What right do you have to steal the money in the bank and be somebody, and the guy who needs the money to pay his rent for his family and school fees for this children can not have same money? That is the Nigeria that I want.

But what about the roads?

You don’t need good roads for mass transit. You need trains. When I’m in London, most times I go by train or get on the bus. The Mayor of London goes to work by bus and train, the major of New York goes to work by train. And he’s happy.

He greets everyone, gets his coffee, reads New York Times or Wall Street Journal and goes to work. So why can’t the Commissioner for Transport in Lagos go to work by bus?
You mentioned film production…

Yes I’ll be doing some movies. I am going to produce it. I own a distribution company, so we’ll take care of it.

How has opening up cinemas influenced the movie revolution going on?

First of all, when we opened the cinema, people came to us and said, its not fair to Nigerian producers they don’t do 35mm film bla bla. I told them, I said, ‘you know, you have two options.

You can either aspire to be like me or you can ask me to reduce my standard to be like you. Choose” They thought about it and said, “I want to be like you”. I said, good. Now improve the quality of your movies and then be like me. They started doing that. At first, nobody watched the movies. Then Stephanie came and made 10, 12 million naira.

At present Ije’s made over a quarter of a million naira in Silverbird cinemas alone. In the next two years, a Nigerian movie showing in Silverbird alone will make a hundred million naira. Two, years after that, it will make two million dollars. As we open all over Africa, a Nigerian movie will make ten to twenty million dollars.

Nigerians are beginning to produce the right product for the market. There is a revolution going on.

The point is that with what I’ve started, I’m going to make a Nigerian producer a multi-millionaire. That is my goal in life so that someone can stand up one day and say, “Mr. Bruce, thank you for making me a millionaire.”.

You seem to have a lot of passion for Nigeria, is going into politics an option you’re willing to explore?

It’s only a passion I have and because I’m on the outside, I can tell you the truth. That is what is important. Those in governance need to know that they cannot run government at any level: state or federal, thinking like villagers. This is the problem. A 21st century economy needs a 21st century leader.

And you wouldn’t like to go inside and correct the wrath from inside..?

I’m playing my part from the outside. If you publish this interview now and people read about it, if I’m wrong, they criticize me and if I’m right, tell me I’m right.

What if you’re made a minister of something?

If they make me Minister of Power, I’ll give you light. If they make me Minister of Sports I’ll win the World Cup for sure. I’ll build a soccer pitch in every village in Nigeria.

I’ll move my office inside a village and be playing football with them. You think I’ll fly all the way to have meetings with FIFA and travel to South Africa to have jamborees with tax payers’ money?.

Football is to be played from the grassroots. We don’t need comedians who masquerade themselves as sports administrators.

So when are we taking cinemas to the grassroots?

Cinema is a very very expensive business. We talking billions of naira unless you have access to capital. I have a roll-out plan for the whole of Africa. When I was 23, I was a concert promoter.

Your newspaper voted me Number 1 in Nigeria. To be Number 1 in Nigeria for thirty-something years is good but what is important to me as a Nigerian is to be No1 in Africa, then No1 in the world.

How much did you start off with when you went into business?

We started Silverbird with N20,000. Silverbird actually started thirty-two (32) years ago with my wife. Silverbird was a magazine. I was engaged at 19. The magazine didn’t work.

Two years after, 1980, we started doing concerts. So the first thing I did with N20,000 was have a concert. I brought Miss Black America, a band and we did a couple of shows.

The anniversary. What do we expect?

It’s a celebration. We are having all Nigerian artistes performing. We are very lucky.

Any time we have an event, all the Nigerian artistes in Nigeria honour us. The movie stars, actresses, all beauty queens in the history of Nigeria will be there too. Mr, President, Lagos State Governor.


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