I became chairman of Punch newspa- per accidentally. First was the death of founding chairman of Punch, the late Chief Aboderin who died at the age of 49.
I refer to him as the founding chairman in the sense of having the highest number of shares at the founding of the company. There were other shareholders at inception. He was an accountant by training and a businessman. He became friendly with Sam Amuka, a journalist. The idea of publishing a newspaper probably came fromAmuka, but he didn’t have the money. Aboderin didn’t also have most of the money. So he invited some other shareholders. He died in February 1984.
After his death, Chief Moyo Aboderin came in to rescue the company. It was very well run but still needed morecapital. Hepouredin some money because he was wealthy. HewasmuchwealthierthanOlu. He brought in money as loan. By the time the loan was being repaid, the value of the naira had plummeted. There was no interest attached to it. The loan was repaid. His intervention at the time was critical. Unfortunately, Chief Moyo Aboderin also died three years later in January 1987.
I came in as chairman in February 1987. Ihadjoinedtheboardasfar back as 1984, shortly after the death of Chief Moyo that I was appointed by the board to be the chairman.
We were siblings—Moyo, Olu andI. Chief Moyow as the first male, Chief Olu Aboderin was the third and I was the fourth and youngest of four males of the Aboderin children—that is our mother’s name. However, Iam not an Aboderin. We had the same mother,butdifferentfathers. Because I was Olu’s brother, the board sort of respected me and gave me a freehand.
I had been the managing director of Niger Insurance Company since April 1974 and had been running the company for 10 years by the time of Olu’s death in 1984. Though not an executive chairman, I was able to take a lot of executive decisions, especially in the early years. The only decision I never took was writing the paper. I left those who were in charge to do it. But I took deep interest in the hir- ing of professionals. I was a financial expert. I had considerable interest in finance, meaning I had a strong financial background. I had a managerial background, having been managing Niger Insurance Plc. I have competence in English. So along with the management board, we tried to agree on things we needed to do to move the company forward. Some key de- cisions were taken. One of these was to trim down the workforce considerably—we more than halved the staff strength. We knew that was not the final solution, and that we might have to recruit some new ones when we got some level of stability. Punch had close to 500 employees at the time. By the time the main staff reduction were finished, we were left with 240 staff.
There were people on the board whose knowledge and contributions were significant, especially Dr. Lekan Are. He was a shareholder from the onset and part of the management board. His presence enabled me to get certain difficult issues discussed and settled at board level, which I wouldn’t have been able to present at the board level due to the politics at the board, because it would seem as if the chairman was the one always raising the issue. When he raised those issues, they were seconded and up for deliberation. My niece, Lola Aboderin, was also on the board. Also very instrumental, we came onto the board at the same time. She is the daughter of Chief MoyoAboderin, anconomist with a strong accounting background. The three of us came in immediately after the death of Olu Aboderin. Wale, the son of Olu Aboderin was to come in at the time too, but a family dispute delayed his appointment for some years. Hence, he came in much later.
We needed to save Punch and its estate at the time. Olu had used all his personal properties and that of the company as a mortgage for loans which if not serviced would lead to foreclosure. The bank that granted the loan wanted to seal Punch. It was a very serious issue those days. This prompted us to take key decisions at the board, to pay the loan and keep the company going. The problem was a personal challenge to me. I felt as a mathematician, I should be able to find a way out of the problem and move the company forward as chairman. We all wore our thinking caps. What I could not do on my own, I got he board’s approval to get it done.
The board was kind, especially when Punch was proscribed by the Babangida regime—we had three stoppages and two proscriptions. When one of the proscriptions came out, I went to the major bank that Punch was using at that time to transfer all the money in the company’s account into my personal account which I opened newly. It was an act of precaution: In case the account was frozen, Punch money will not be stuck in a frozen account. Chris Okolie’s magazine was proscribed a week earlier and its account was fro- zen immediately. I consulted one or two board members before I took the step. If they had objected, I wouldn’t have done it. Eventually, the paper was proscribed.
THE NEED FOR A BOARD
Boards are necessary for many reasons. Businesses are usually started by one person. Look around you and you would see that most organisations were started by one person. There must have been a time in his- tory when there was no board. But the bigger a one-man business grows, the more necessary it becomes to delegate some power of the business to management. Later on, it will become obvious that even management is not enough. As the owner, you need some people around you who can make decisions with you; or you need to bring people from outside to help you in taking decisions, even if the ownership is still small.
(For the full story of Chief Ajibola Ogunshola’s PUNCH turnaround, see 50 NIGERIA’S BOARDROOM LEADERS—Lessons On Corpo- rate Governance and Strategy: [email protected])