By Olayinka Ajayi

Kayode Oluwasona, a frontline advertising practisioner is the MD/CEO of Rosabel Leo Bunett, a renowned integrated marketing communication organisation in Nigeria. In this interview, he shares his experience on how vision and determination paved way for him to the top.

Courageous beginning

I started life like every other child, but I was able to quickly gain focus and start the pursuit of a clear vision very early.  I was also blessed with parents  who challenged and motivated me towards responsibile and good ambition in life. I am the first of the five children of my parents, was  born in Abeokuta but I grew up in Ibadan.

It may interest you to know that all the schools I attended have been public schools, from Primary to tertiary.  I was enrolled in a primary school at the age of five. I attended Ibadan City Council (ICC) primary school, now Ibadan Municipal Government (IMG) Primary School, Mokola, Ibadan.

This was between 1973 and 1978. The head mistress at the time I entered that school was Mrs. Fagunwa, wife of the renown Yoruba author, the late D. O. Fagunwa. I still have vivid memories of certain events from my day one in that school till I left five years after. I recall on day one, how I was accompanied by my mum to the school.

I led my class in academics, particularly as I approached the higher classes, and I was loved by many, including my teachers. I was the class captain of primary five C in school ll.  Towards the end of my stay in primary five, and when the primary six pupils were about leaving school, I was named the head boy of the school. I however didn’t wait to do primary six as I gained admission into a secondary school from primary five, after successfully writing the then National Common Entrance primary five was Mr. Sola Oluwakiyesi.

I started secondary school in 1978 at Baptist High School, Iwo, now Osun State.I was 10 years old at this time, and I was in the boarding house.  It was a tough period in my life.  I had a cousin, who was in Form 5, who was supposed to be my ‘Guardian Angel’.  I won’t mention his name here.  He delighted in beating the hell out of me at every opportunity and I had to be taken out of that school after a year by my parents.

I then joined St Patricks Grammar School, Orita Bashorun, Ibadan to continue my secondary school education.  I wrote the West African School Certificate (WASC) Exams in May/June, 1983.  Unfortunately, I did not do too well, and could not proceed to a tertiary institution.

The turning point came when, against what anyone would ordinarily imagine, I opted to retake the WASC exams in the same St. Patricks Grammar School.  I enrolled again for the exams in the school, putting shame aside, got back into uniforms and went back to the classroom with my juniors.

Some of my juniors made disparaging statements and enjoyed mocking me and a few of my classmates who also joined me to retake the exams in the school, but at that time, all I had in my head was success at the next WASC.  I ended up making six papers, Mathematics and English inclusive, at the next WASC examinations in 1984 and was able to progress in my education.  I’ll like to pay a major tribute to a neighbourhood friend of mine, Adeniyi Amori.

He was my Mathematics teacher during that ‘second Form 5’ year.  Deniyi was a childhood friend.  He was in another school.  He was very good in mathematics and I wasn’t, so I chose to sit with him every day after school for mathematics tutorials.  He taught me better than my teacher in school.  It was Deniyi I owe my success in mathematics to, after God.  Thank you, Deniyi.

After crossing the WASC/GCE hurdle, I was to go back to Baptist High School, Iwo for the Higher School Certificate (HSC) programme, pending the time I would be able to secure a University admission.  I recall saying to the principal, Deacon Durodola in his office that I was discontinuing the registration process.

After a long discussion, he told me ‘tell your dad you are the one who declined’, and I said, ‘Yes sir’.  My mind was on JAMB.  I needed to face it whole-heartedly.  For the next one year, 1984 to 1985, I did nothing but stay at home to read for the JME.

It paid off, as in 1985; I passed the exams and was admitted to the University of Ife in 1985, where I did a degree course in Economics.  I came out with a Second Class Upper Division degree in 1989.  I was back at the same University for my MBA programme in 1997.

I was among the first set of MBA Executive students of the institution, and travelled from Lagos to Ife to attend lectures every weekend during the two-year programme.  I took the lectures very seriously, and could count the number of times I missed classes for totally unavoidable reasons.  I graduated in 1999 with a GPA of 4.32 out of 5, missing the distinction class narrowly.

How were you able scale through

As you can see in my sojourn through academics, two critical factors seem to have been recurring.  They are vision and determination.  I took certain decisions that were almost beyond a lad of my age at different times, and each time, it paid off.

After school, I did two management traineeship programs – the first at Leventis Motors and the second at Lever Brothers Nigeria (LBN), now Unilever Nigeria. Pride was nothing to me; all that mattered was my destination.  I have God to thank for this, because in my moments of reflection, I ask myself ‘how were you different from your other mates, who never saw or did what you saw or did’.

Beyond vision and determination, also are people.  I have been blessed with helpful people along the way.  I have had great friends, good teachers and mentors.  If I begin to mention names, the list will be too long.

I cannot rule out the impact of good training at home, school and work. I was well trained by my parents.  I hold what some people will term as ‘old school values’ very dearly. Values of ‘respect’, ‘integrity’ and ‘hard work’ are important to me.  At the very beginning of my professional career, one of my  friends advised me to be hardworking in whatever office I find myself.

He added that it would not matter if it does not pay me in any one organisation that I should continue because somehow, someday, it will speak for me.  I can never forget that admonition, and I can tell you categorically that my  friend was right.  The only thing I know how to do at work is work.  I do not engage in politics or other unwholesome practises, and it has always paid me. My professional career has been full of ‘action’.

I have always had to work in the toughest of work areas.  I have worked with the toughest of bosses.  In fact, I have been trained by the toughest of teachers. But today, I thank God for all these ‘tough’ people, who have moulded my professional life.

While other people hate tough, no-nonsense leaders, I appreciate them for making me who I am today.  I can never forget the late Mr. Pierre Claver Mutambuka of the Department of Economics in Ife.  I learnt so much from him, even beyond academics.

He was my course adviser all my undergraduate days in the University.  On a lighter note, you will agree with me that it is only a few tough people that can survive crossing from the client side to the advertising agency side in Nigeria.  I made that switch twelve years ago, and I have never looked back.  Rather than run away, I have been enjoying it.


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