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OKEOWO: Lessons from my billionaire father who had 3 pairs of shoes

By Charles Kumolu

WITH the lessons learnt from his wealthy father, Managing Director of Environ Technology, Mr. Desmond Okeowo, narrates how he built the third leading internet hardware company in Nigeria. Okeowo notes how he combined the experiences he garnerd from his privileged background with the lessons he learnt from the Chairman of Globacom, Chief Mike Adenuga to achieve greatness as an entrepreneur. Currently, he aspires to be Nigeria’s President.

In the beginning

I am the last son of the late Chief H.G Okeowo, who owned the first engineering firm in Ogun State. My father worked with federal and state governments. He constructed Allen Avenue, Aromire, Oba Akran, Awolowo Way, and Abeokuta/Shagamu Express Way among others. The roads are still valid till date because quality job was done on them by my father’s firm. Since I grew up, I am yet to see the roads in state of decay.

Mr. Desmond Okeowo,

He was a civil engineer during the time Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the Premier of Western Region. My father had me when he was 65 years. I grew up in an atmosphere of excellence. I studied Philosophy at Ogun State University.

When I came back from the UK in 2003, I worked with the only indigenous telecoms firm in Nigeria, Globacom. I worked with Otunba Mike Adenuga, who I learnt doggedness from. I left Globacom in 2007 to start my own technology firm, which I named Environ Technologies. We are doing very well and have about 900 staff. We are not just the first directory company in Nigeria, we are the leading directory firm in the country.  We have been working across the nation since 2007.

Next major influence

After God, my father was the next major influence in my life. His lifestyle was Spartan. I knew my father for 40 years and in those years, he didn’t have more than three pairs of  shoes. And he was a billionaire in the 1970s. One of the shoes was for work, one was for church while the third one was for social outings. That showed the kind of person he was despite his wealth.

We had an extremely big mansion that was well furnished. Mercedes Benz cars took us to school.  But amid that affluence, my father was very frugal with everything. He trained all us in such a way that we must be working at all times. He was a disciplined person, who ensured that we were disciplined any time we erred.

There was a time my maternal grandmother visited us and was cleaning her teeth with a chewing stick. I liked it and asked for it which she gave me. I decided to use it and my father found me doing so one day. He disciplined me to the extent that I thought he wanted to kill me. The greatest sin in our house was to be idle. It is a sin to find someone watching television even though there were television sets in each room. I learnt how to read voluminous books between the age of seven and 10. My father had a library where we cultivated the habit of reading. At the age of 21, I had authored a book. I didn’t stop there as I have written so many books since then. My father made us realise that we have to be productive every minute of our lives.

It was such that immediately anyone in my house left secondary school, the person would get a job. I was paid N200 monthly in my first job while my father subsidized it with N400 monthly to ensure that I did not stay idle at home. It was also mandatory for us to join our church choir. The choirmaster came weekly from Ibadan to teach us. All these, shaped my life because I apply them in my daily life. I have more than 12 brothers who are successful. With such a background, I had no option than to become naturally successful as well.

Ijebu Ode Grammar School

I was sent to a boarding school early in life. I had Mr. M. Adedeji, who was another influence in my life. We were about 400 students at Ijebu Ode Grammar School and he knew everybody’s name.  Ijebu Ode Grammar School prepared many of us for greatness. That is why I am not surprised that many are doing well. It was like a military school with a system that made us responsible.

Leaving Globacom and becoming an entrepreneur

My meeting with Otunba Mike Adenuga was a life-changing one. He is an enigma, a mobile and living encyclopedia of words. He does not believe that there is a mountain that is too high to climb. I studied him for three years. I studied his company and concluded that there is nothing he was doing that I cannot do. But that was not why I resigned. I was the GPRS and Data Manager in Globacom. It was a time when the internet was not common.

We used a technology called GPRS. We were just two GPRS experts in Nigeria and I was the number one expert. I used to train all Globacom staff nationwide. At that time, the internet was gradually registering its presence in Nigeria. I asked myself that if Globacom is deploying internet services, who are the firms that would provide the hardware that people will need to support the internet? After coming up with that key question, I resigned. Before doing that, I had done my feasibility studies and had practised discreetly while I was still working for Globacom. After my resignation, I set up a technology distribution company. We are doing very well and we are ranked number three in the country after Zinox and another company. When it comes to distribution, there is no company in Nigeria that we have not worked with.  We have even worked with the Federal Government to the best of our ability and our work speaks for us.

Excelling within a short space time

The unending hunger for knowledge has been central to our success.  When I left Globacom, I only saved money to buy 10 computers. An uncle also had some money with me which I used. I sold my two cars just to raise money to start the business. I was a big boy in Globacom at that time but I became nobody and was riding Okada for three months.  I did that to ensure that I built a vibrant brand.

I couldn’t have bought another car early enough until I saw that my complexion had become so dark after three months. My face was so dark that I decided to stop riding Okada. At that point, I decided to take some money out of the business to care for myself. I took a taxi to Beger, where I choose four cars. Two were for the office while the remaining two were for the house.  The seller drove the cars to my house on a Friday and I paid on Monday. However, I will say that I have not really suffered in life or experienced difficult times. I am just a product of a disciplined background. When I started my business the economy was good and it made us enjoy rapid growth.

Generational change

My passion for the country stems from the need to awaken the spirit of excellence in us. When I was working in Globacom, our monthly expenditure on diesel was N2 billion. If eight telecom companies were spending such an amount monthly on diesel, it would amount to N16 billion. Such a huge amount of money can be used to fix certain areas in the power sector in order to generate electricity. But our current crop of leaders are not thinking in that direction. With due respect to the President and his cabinet, I doubt if one can sit down with them and have a meaningful discussion on 21-century matters. I am talking about calculus, artificial intelligence and sound computing knowledge that drive the 21 century. These leaders are just there watching as the world leaves us behind. The President is still talking about stolen funds instead of connecting us to the 21 century. People should not die of hunger because the President is fighting corruption. If a man cannot feed his family, he would lose his family which is his pride. We cannot leave the destinies of Nigerians in the hands of people, who are old and are not in touch with 21-century realities.  If we allow our fathers to continue to lead us, we will be left behind because this generation is a digital one. It costs nothing to have an electric train in Nigeria. The basics should be provided by government at all levels the way it is done in other places because there are things that men should not die for. I am referring to the things contained in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

 


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