•Says non-innovative organisations’ll struggle, die
By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor
Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Sujimoto Group, Mr. Sijibomi Ogundele, in this interview, speaks on economic challenges posed by Coronavirus pandemic and how companies can recover in the post-COVID-19 era.
The billionaire real estate mogul also gives reasons for mobilising top young business leaders to raise funds for the fight against COVID-19.
You recently led some business leaders like yourself to raise money to support the effort of government in the fight against COVID-19. What drives your philanthropic agenda?
Generosity for me is a fundamental obligation and not a Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR, strategy. I always say that if your neighbour is hungry, your chicken is not safe. I have experienced first-hand what it means to have nothing to eat and to live in squalor. My experiences have taught me that there is no nobility in poverty. A rich man amid 20 poor men is a pauper.
Therefore, we need to learn to lift each other and flatten the poverty curve. Also, I am of the school of thought that while government is trying, it can’t do everything. The COVID-19 fight is our fight. If government fails, everyone will be affected. Therefore, individuals and corporate organisations need to also show support whichever way to ensure we contain the spread in our nation.
Do you see Nigeria recovering quickly from the recession occasioned by coronavirus pandemic?
To understand the present, sometimes you have to take a look at the past. It is true that we dealt with the last recession and bounced back after a while but the big question is: how do you hope for the recovery of a patient who is in a coma and you can’t tell when the patient will get out of the coma? Hope is good, but hope is not a strategy.
The Coronavirus pandemic is affecting the world economy and the Nigerian economy is not left out. However one thing is very clear, Nigeria is handling this even better than some developed nations and we are hopeful that the curve will be flattened in a short while and people would resume their businesses and regular activities. If this doesn’t happen soon enough, then it would take a while to recover as you can’t revive an economy that is on shutdown. Things have to return to normalcy for the economy to start looking up again.
However, as a country, we need to diversify our economy from crude oil. I have often said that the greatest asset this nation has is not in its natural resources but its human resources. China is thriving today because it realises the power in its population and they are leveraging on it. We cannot just be an oil-dependent nation only. It is not sustainable. We can’t keep doing the same thing over again and expect a different result. This is the time to start diversifying our economy and build other portfolios of resources that are sustainable.
How do you see the world economy after the COVID-19 pandemic?
The human race has faced several pandemics in the past and we came out of it stronger and better. This, in my opinion, won’t be an exception. However, I have to state categorically that COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way we do business globally, forever.
More than ever before, more businesses are beginning to realise that having an online presence is not irrelevant and it goes beyond branding and marketing. It is a necessity to compete in the market of the future.
This experience has opened the eyes of a lot of entrepreneurs to the potentials and opportunities inherent in the online space and I see a lot of ingenious ideas and businesses springing up as a result of this. Also, I see more businesses and transactions being done online in the post-COVID-19 world. Therefore e-commerce and e-payment platforms should get ready for a major rush. In the post-COVID-19 world, businesses that are not ready to innovate will struggle and eventually die.
Do you think Nigeria’s current economic model and its drivers can engender recovery of the economy?
Leadership is a position of growth. No one was born a great leader. You keep getting better as you keep learning from past mistakes.
One thing I like about the current administration is that it has made a significant difference in reducing the gap between the rich and the poor. However, I want to encourage them to do more knowing that our most treasured resources are not in oil but our people.
I want to encourage the government to revise the educational curriculum to ensure poverty is tackled from the foundation. We must refuse to be a nation that keeps losing her best hands. We can’t continue being a nation where there is one physician to 1000 citizens. A lot has been done, but there is still so much to be done.
I am passionate about giving. Generosity for me goes beyond Corporate Social Responsibility. It is an obligation. I learnt very early in life that when your neighbour is hungry, your chicken is not safe. Giving for me is a lifestyle and I am committed to helping not just the poor in our society but also young entrepreneurs who are desirous to build sustainable businesses.
For instance, just last week, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, myself and a group of young eminent business leaders from different parts of the nation, under the auspices of The New Leaders WhatsApp Group, joined other prominent corporate and individual business leaders to donate towards assisting the federal government in her effort to mitigate the expected impact of the pandemic in Nigeria.
As a key player in the real estate sector in Nigeria, how can the known challenges facing the sector be addressed?
When you negotiate the price of greatness, you pay the full price for mediocrity. Our major challenge is the challenge of the mind. There is a need to revamp the old ways of doing things and start replacing our immediate gratification mindset with that of value creation. The potentials of the Nigerian real estate industry have no match.
The capacity to grow is unbeatable. We have not even scratched the surface. Most Nigerian developers lack the currency of patience. Their quest for immediate gratification supersedes the need for value creation. We need to develop the real estate sector and move from the ‘quick fix – quick gain’ syndrome, which will continue to leave us in the backwaters of world-class real estate development.
You cannot change a system by repeating the same mistakes of the past. Someone has to do things differently and I have chosen to be that person by creating the Sujimoto brand with the intent of producing only world-class luxury that offers true and exceptional value. We are here to stamp our seal of excellence in this industry.
You own the famous GulianoBySujimoto. How did you come about it?
To all our critics, thank you for being our biggest motivation.
Without them, we would not have come this far. I started Sujimoto five years ago and it has been the most difficult five years of my life and the economy. Also, because I am doing business in an environment where I didn’t grow up, people didn’t know who Ogundele was. I had to prove myself three times more. I work harder and keep proving myself over and over again. 2016 and 2017 were probably the most difficult and challenging periods of my life.
I had conceived and developed the biggest project in my life, over $90m to build the tallest residential building in Sub-Saharan Africa – the LorenzoBySujimoto. Unfortunately, government policies and bad economy made my Saudi investors pull out.
The economy was so bad and things became very rough that I had to refund hundreds of millions of naira to the off-takers and let go of some of my best hands. On the verge of almost giving up, I reassessed my plans, reviewed all my decisions, identified my pain-point and made the much-needed adjustment which includes letting go of the land for something much better in Banana Island.
Riding on the wings of criticism and media backlash that followed, I conceived the GiulianoBySujimoto project on Banana Island.
20 months after, the Giuliano has metamorphosed from a proof of concept into a proof of product. It was fully sold-out six months before completion. A stone throw away from the Giuliano, we are building the future. It is called LucreziaBySujimoto. It will be the tallest residential building in Banana Island.
It will have four bedrooms, four car parks, two boy quarters on approximately 600sqm. It would be the first building with an IMAX Standard Cinema for its residents and first, to bring the virtual golf experience into an interactive lobby, where you can play on over 2000 golf courses across the world, There would be private crèche for residents, and many more awesome and unique features.
Do you have an interest in politics?
For now, I am 100 percent focused on real estate and meeting the construction needs of Nigerians, who believed in us. However, if there is anyone who has greatly inspired me in politics and has impacted our democracy the most, the person is Chief Bola Ahmed Tinubu. He is a human development strategist and political kingpin. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but if I run, I will run for the presidency.
You are quite successful at a relatively young age. What lessons can aspiring and young entrepreneurs draw from your life?
To succeed in this clime, you can’t sit and wait for the right opportunity. Success is not served ala carte. You have to work for it. You have to create your opportunity. It is called “hustle 101’’. Like the woman who sells by the roadside and is never absent irrespective of the weather condition, because she knows her livelihood is dependent on each day sales, you have to see every day as an opportunity to make a difference and give it your best shot.
Don’t sit and wait for opportunities to come, see every new day as an opportunity to make a difference and take full advantage of it. I have travelled all over the world and realised that Nigeria is the biggest ground for uncommon opportunities.
This same opportunity is what brings foreigners to our land and make them billionaires. Nigeria is the only land where the Lebanese man starts as a trader and becomes an industrialist. An Indian starts as a storekeeper and becomes a manufacturer In Nigeria’s super-fast, hyper-competitive environment.
Success isn’t necessarily determined by your background. The universe responds to innovation and inventions, not merely intentions. If Debola Williams and Linda Ikeji can do it, you can do it too.