HERE comes April, a month of rebirth, the month to celebrate the birthdays of two of Nigeria’s global business icons. One will be 60 on April 10. The other will be 64 on April 29. They are two great men I hold in high esteem and so do many Nigerians.
So, come on Nigeria, let us arise O great compatriots, to celebrate these two exceptional men of excellence who have done Nigeria and Africa proud. Two men, two catalysts whose businesses impact positively on our economy and the economy of Africa. Two men who have put Nigeria on the world map as a country that can produce its own Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and other business titans of the world today. Two men who were the first to break the sound barrier and cross into the exclusive Forbes List of the world’s richest men. Two men who are stupendously rich, but are the epitome of humility, simplicity and nobility. That is what has attracted me to follow their stories and be inspired to write books on them. If they were from the Western world, undoubtedly, writers by now would have churned out dozens of books exploring their wisdom, business strategies, management style, leadership and all the things they are doing right in a country where everything that guarantees business failure is doubly present.
Why am I passionate about writing books and newspaper articles on Mike Adenuga and Aliko Dangote? It is because I want to inspire our youths today into following their footsteps and creating more and more Adenugas and Dangotes, Nigeria’s “twin” business brothers from different parents. Twins in the sense that their commonalities—what binds them together—are more than what contrasts them. Here is a tale of two of a kind. Two audacious men who say nothing is impossible and impossible is nothing. Two dreamers. Two visionaries. Two titans who started from zero to hero, from nothing to something. Two clairvoyants who see Nigeria (and Africa) as a land of opportunities with vast potentials yet untapped. We have only scratched the surface. The Africa that, according to the cement king, Dangote, is “the world’s best-kept secret.” Africa that Adenuga, Nigeria’s telecoms king, urges us to “Glo with pride” and “Rule your world.” Two leaders of enterprise creating value. Two men who are givers and appreciators. Two bridge builders. Two apolitical patriots. Two men who fear God who has blessed them with prodigious minds to make and create wealth. Two good men.
In the two men, we find the actualization and the sublimation of the Nigerian Dream, just like Americans have the American Dream. We find two men with insuperable work ethic. Two men of resilience with the never-giving up spirit. Two athletes forever hungry for success, who say failure is not an option. Two champions unbeaten like Floyd Mayweather. When it comes to fighting on principles or something they believe in, these two can fight. They are men of peace who are not afraid to go to war. Like David, they have fought Goliath and won. Dangote fought a Goliath in the cement industry called Lafarge and won to become Nigeria and Africa’s cement champion. In the same vein, when Adenuga was newly coming into the telecoms market, there were Goliaths ahead of him boasting about certain unachievable feats, but he beat them all with a sling, a stone and the logic of “per second billing.” And they wondered what had hit them. To be king, you have to be truly anointed by God. There is a God factor in business and in anything. Dangote and Adenuga are both propelled by a divine success factor. Theirs is more than luck. Like Adenuga says, “the harder I work, the luckier I get.”
Today, what we have are two business emperors on top of their game. Emperors who don’t sleep, because they believe “sleep is for wimps”—to use the words of Margaret Thatcher. Even when they sleep and you wake them up, they are able to answer questions about their businesses in amazing details which shows they are in full control. Most times, it is when they travel long distances around the world in their jets that they find the time to sleep to the fullest, reclining their seats into beds. If sleep doesn’t come in the plane, then work continues for these two workaholics. The two of them left university and started their careers about the same year. One graduated from Al Azhar University, Cairo. The other from Pace University, New York. They both resisted the temptation to find salary work and opted for business, supported by their mentors. In the case of Dangote, his maternal grandfather Sanusi Dantata, the man who gave him the name Aliko, meaning “the victorious one who defends humanity” and who “poured his business wizardry into me.” Of Sanusi Dantata, Dangote says: “I would not have been where I am today without him.” In the case of Adenuga, his mum, Mrs. Oyin Adenuga, was the mentor who gave him the seed capital and two Peugeot cars to start off in business after giving up an earlier attempt to manage his father’s sawmill business which didn’t really excite him.
The two of them started business as kids. Dangote was selling sweets and sugar at school. “I first became interested in a career in business when I was still in primary school. I remember buying cartons of sugar and sweets and selling them to make a small profit. Even at that age, people told me I had a flair for business,” he wrote in an article for the London Financial Times. On his part, Adenuga and his siblings used to help their mum in selling goat feed. Mama, the all-purpose businesswoman had a contract to supply ogi (pap) to St. Luke’s College in Molete, Ibadan and she made sure her children assisted in the business as part of their morning chores and in selling the waste product as goat feed. It wasn’t for lack of resources that Mama decided to push her children into hawking. All she wanted was to prepare them for the hustle and bustle of business life. The ingenuity of Mike Adenuga’s early business skill showed when Mama returned from England with some trendy ladies’ bags which she made the children to sell. According to Adenuga’s elder brother Demola, Mike sold more ladies’ bags than his siblings and made more profit for himself. In their careers, the two billionaires started as Jack of all trades, about the same time, selling “anything that moves” in the marketplace. You could follow their trajectory and plot the graphs of their rise from one business to another. In the tale of two billionaires, you have one enigmatic billionaire who is extremely shy and keeps to himself. “You will not catch my brother dancing in front of Sunny Ade or any musician,” Mike’s sister, Mrs. Bunmi Adegbola, tells me in a forthcoming biography to be published this year. “He is too shy.” That is where Dangote is different. Dangote is the “owambe” man who shows up at friends’ parties and wouldn’t mind dancing in public even with the TV cameras on. You saw it at the Sunny Ade’s 70th birthday celebration and Obasanjo’s 80 birthday gig. Both Dangote and Adenuga love King Sunny Ade’s music. Adenuga is more into highlife music and jazz. In the two men, you find a strong passion for branding and global exposure. If you tune to CNN, daily you will see brand Dangote proudly beamed to the whole world via ‘Marketplace Africa.’ Same for Adenuga whose brand Glo is known throughout the world via ‘African Voices,’ a programme he sponsors on CNN. Of course, the two are passionate about sports as a vehicle for branding. One is a Man U fan and the other a diehard Arsenal fan, who even wants to buy the club. The story of these two great men who see the world as their oyster and who benchmark against the best standards in the world cannot be finished in a column. “A Tale of Two Titans” is a bigger project for the nearest future. Trust me!