IN line with the mission of this column as a platform where personal experiences are told to positively shape humanity, this encounter with renowned entrepreneur, Churchill Oladuni leaves many beneficial takeaways. It is an account of focus, decisiveness, and growth narrated to Charles Kumolu&Chris Onuoha by a man, whose desire to build a personal brand has seen him getting involved with the high and mighty beyond the shores of Nigeria. He heads top-notch organisations like the Big Church Foundation, King Andre Realtors, a real estate firm, and Big Church Haven, an ICT firm.
With CHARLES KUMOLU
Who is Churchill Oladuni?
I am Churchill Olakunle Oladunni, the chairman of Big Church Foundation and its subsidiaries. We are into agriculture, mining, consultancy, real estate, ICT, entertainment and a philanthropism. I also have an NGO, the Big Church Foundation that reaches out to the needy in the society. I have a real estate firm called King Andre Realtors, formerly Big Church Properties.We also have Big Church Haven that focuses on ICT . I am a straight forward person. I don’t like trouble because I am very meek and mild and optimistic person.
I was raised by my grandmother, Reverend Dr. Wuruola, a pastor, philanthropist, and a Principal of Schools for 27 years. She is a disciplinarian and a hard working woman. She hails from Ondo and currently lives in London. In my early days, I spent most of my time with my grandmother. I also spent most time at the boarding house. Whenever I was out of school on vacation I spent much time with my grandmother wherever she may be. It could either be in Lagos or elsewhere.
I went to military schools, Nigerian Navy Primary School in Lagos and did my Secondary School at Apata Memorial Secondary School, Isolo. I completed my senior secondary at Nigerian Navy Secondary School at Abeokuta, Ogun State.When I left secondary school, I had an option to enroll into Nigerian Defence Academy NDA to become a military officer but I eventually changed my mind to study Information Technology. I have always loved Computers since I was a kid and that led to my love and passion for ICT. I researched deeper in the study of computer and developed programmes. Right now I am a Computer Scientist.
You have sustained a business that is fast growing. How did you get started in business?
I started my business with real estate. It was made possible by my original profession, ICT and now I have a group of companies that spans into agriculture, mining, oil and gas and an NGO called Big Church Foundation. However, real estate and ICT gave me the major career push. My start-up money came more from the real estate business. The agriculture business I run is based on E-Agric. It is an online E-learning platform set up to develop agriculture in the modern era. Besides the E- agriculture, we also have physical farms in Abuja, Ondo, and Akure and we are striving to have it in all the 36 states of Nigeria. That’s how and where the 36million youth empowerment initiative originated. We have a project synergy with Microsoft that is empowering 1000 youths in Nigeria. ICT is taking care of 500 people below 20 years of age. It is for students in primary and secondary, who got registered through our online platform. The criteria for participation are based on online examinations. Results and selection are done online. The essence is to enlighten the students to know more about computer and at the end, we issue certificates based on the performance of the participants. Among these participants, some are given scholarships. The selection is strictly based on an assessed passion for ICT. There are other courses we run and they are all ICT related. We will launch the empowerment scheme September 14, 2017, at the Civic Centre. I also have a school where we pick about 500 students to train on E-Agric platform.
How did Big Church Foundation come to be?
From the beginning, it had been my dream to own an NGO. When I was much younger, I used to look up to people like Bill Gates. People do marvel at them when they give out some percentages out of their income to the needy. People would always say ‘Are these guys serious?’ I was trained by my grandmother, who is a philanthropist. She adopts people from the church, the streets, and various places. She formerly owned an orphanage home called Wuruola Orphanage. You know charity is a thing of the mind. That largely informed my passion for giving. This is one value my grandmother built me up with. Even when I was about 16 years, I was the big boy among my friends because I was the only one that took them out to have fun. So, at 2, I was still the big boy among my peers. Nobody gave me money or bought things for me, rather, I give out more to friends around me. I never had a rough start and it was by the grace of God. Everything has been rosy and friends flock around me because of my giving spirit.
It was when I was around 23 years that I had a rethink about how I spend money with friends, going to parties and having non-stop fun. Unfortunately, it is the same friends who dine with you that will turn around to betray you. I weighed the character of good and bad people around me and discovered that the bad people stay longer in a relationship than the good ones. I then decided to channel my money, time and effort on the charity work since my kindness is sometimes used against me.
I started my business in Ghana where I had the first feel of real estate business alongside the ICT Company. I built my first duplex and when I raised some money, I constructed other semi duplexes in Ghana. That was how I started making money. Gradually, I built up a formidable company.
For my charity works, from the onset, I made a pledge to God that I will set aside 10 percent of my income from my business for charity works. I never took the promise serious but I was surprised that it worked. For me, it is like setting out a ten-year programme and seeing it materialize in less than two years. Within two years of making the pledge, I built a formidable foundation called the Big Church Foundation. It happened so fast like God’s blessing and from there we expanded. Every million I make, 10 percent of it goes to charity. Out of curiosity, people always ask why I spend too much money on charity, and my answer has been,”that’s the way God wants it”. The truth is that all these philanthropic gestures are what I picked from my grandmother.
Apart from your grandmother are there other people behind your success?
I grew up knowing my grandmother as a Christian and disciplinarian and a cheerful giver. Another person I always look up to is Bill Gates. His life, beliefs, and ideology inspire me and fortunately, he runs a big foundation which also is in the same line of thinking with my desire to have an NGO. Other people, I admire so much are these entertainers, John Legend and Beyonce. They have good hearts. These are people, who can organise a concert to raise money for the poor and needy in the society. They are doing things that touch life.
What are those values that shaped your life?
My greatest value is my time. Time is precious to me. I value it more than anything else because that is the only thing that can occupy you when anything or everything negative comes your way. For instance, if you are driving on the road, someone decides to block your way probably to waste your time, you then decide to jump out and move on with another car in front. That is what I call time value. Also, time can be used to win targets. When you are aiming for six targets and you got two out of six, you have succeeded unlike investing your time in one thing which you are not sure of even getting at all. So, why don’t you aim with time wisely and consciously?
Big Church Foundation has come a long way no doubt. What achievements can you point at?
Achievement to me or for us at Big Church Foundation is simply defined as giving out to make people happy.That is what see as an achievement. Meantime, we have given out a large number of ambulances, hospital equipment, and other materials to people.
We have also visited homes and identified with the vulnerable in the society, gave succor to indigent women, and children. When all these people are happy and smiling, we call it an achievement. Achievement for us is not all about money, so many buildings, industries or even buying flamboyant automobiles. Touching lives positively is embedded in the organisation’s mission.
Life is not a bed of roses.
There must have been some low moments. Can you share lessons learnt?
In life, I don’t regret anything because if something does not happen to you, you will not move on in life. If you are not being disappointed, you are not living. Everything happens for a reason. If this does not happen, maybe it may cut your life short. That’s my perspective on life. I am just a natural person. If I have a Lamborghini car, that’s what God wants for me. It is not that I am the best but the grace of God made it possible. However, I am human and that translates to say that despite having a fine start in life, dull moments existed. I understood that those dull periods were meant to take me higher.
Passion, discovering dreams
What works for me might not be what will work for another person. Real estate or ICT might not work for another person, but there must be something that an individual is interested in that will work for him. It is all about passion, discovering your dreams and pursuing it with all vigour is important. Forgiveness and charity are also important. You don’t need to have money to do charity. Charity can start with N10, 00. For instance, sweeping and cleaning the chairs in the church in preparation for Sunday service is charity. Doing something positive that can impact peoples’ life is charity. It doesn’t have to be money because when you change the mood of people that are down emotionally, you are doing charity.
My goal is to spread more and be everywhere globally. Lifeis funny. Even where I am today, I don’t know I will be here. We are going places. Scandals are either from the people that want to pull you down or destroy you entirely. So, you just have to sit up, know the angle they are coming from and tackle it. It should not stop whatever you are doing in life. You have to get going. If you are not great, the scandal will not come your way.