By Ayo Alonge
THE road to success was not rosy for Ayodele Ogunsan. An astute entrepreneur from a humble background, he gradually rose to success in his entrepreneurial pursuit, attributing the feat to hard work, an inner passion and the determination to succeed.
Ogunsan reveals to Sunday Sun how he became successful in the automobile business, higher education training travel and tourism. Ogunsan asserts that he is more passionate about impacting on lives of people, not leaving out the vulnerable in the society. In this interview, the influential entrepreneur also has a message for the Nigerian youth.
Could you tell us about your chain of businesses?
I am the Chairman of Executive Group. It is a group of companies comprising Executive Motors Limited, Executive Voyage and Logistics, Executive Trainers and Executive Education Consulting Limited. We are primarily into automobiles sales and services with focus on Peugeot brand. I am a renowned higher education consultant, organizing training for executives in higher institutions. I collaborate with 14 business schools across the globe. From 2008 till date, I have been engaged in the training and retraining of higher education practitioners. I was privileged to know God very early in life, as early as 1990, and that has been helping me a lot. I’m strongly and passionately driven to achieve greatness. I am surprised as to how far God has gone with me.
How did you come up with your different firms and what vacuum are they filling in the country’s economy?
My first job helped me a lot. I started as a sales manager with a pure water and bottled water production company. I was the pioneer marketing manager of the company. I am very passionate about sales management. One day, I picked up a newspaper and saw an advert for a job in Kaduna by Peugeot Nigeria. Their sales had started dwindling and they wanted young guys to bring up their sales. I at- tended the interview with over 6,000 others and after the exam, 80 people were short-listed and then 64 for oral interview and then the last 21. I was among the most outstanding of the 21 and to the glory of God, I was sent to France by Peugeot and coming back, we were attached to dealers. I worked with the dealer I was attached to and rose to the position of regional sales manager of the company. I transformed the sales of the company. In 2005, I decided to incorporate my own business, because I already had a wide coverage of clients and that was how I started Executive Motors. That was the beginning of the transformation in my life because sales was booming and I was doing very well.
Mine became a name to reckon with in the automobile sector. During that time, I was privileged to be on the entourage of the late president Umaru Yar’Adua during his first state visit to England. I don’t know how they got my address, because I was even abroad when the call came in telling me I had been appointed by the president to be on his entourage. I was shocked and asked myself who was I where all the big names were. That encouraged me when I got there and I was able to network. In 2008, I thought of broadening my horizon so as to have streams of income and that was how I started Executive Trainers. I was at the University of Coventry in England for a training when I wondered whether we ever had a school like this in terms of structures, curricular, students diversity, administration and the like. I came back to Nigeria and investigated who was doing a similar thing, training academics and administrators of higher institutions and connecting schools here with those abroad. I discovered nobody was and all people were doing was just general training. I decided to tap into that. I told a printer to design my first flier and that grabbed the attention of most vice chancellors, rectors and provosts in Nigeria.
They all started calling me. Today, from one Oxford Brookes University, we now have 13 partner universities scattered all around the globe. I run at least two international programs every month. This month, we are going to University of Wolverhampton, UK and Harvard University in the US. I started the training for Nigerian institutions in Harvard four years ago. The fourth edition is coming up this year. Through my partner, University of Wolverhampton in the UK, the University of Maiduguri has been able to have its entrepreneurial centre. Schools abroad now donate books and technology to Nigerian institutions. We can now have a situation where students would start a degree programme in a Nigerian institution for two years and finish the rest two years abroad.
They get two certificates. One from Nigeria and the other from abroad. All these are made possible by our linkages and collaborations. Go to any higher institution today in Nigeria and ask for Executive Trainers, we are not two. For me, I want to advance the course of higher education in Nigeria and I am not losing focus. The other business is the travel agency, which came later. Virtually all the travel agencies would line up here to sell tickets to me to take people abroad but I later saw that as a waste of resources, I can always allow the money flow with- in. That was how we started our travels agency and to the glory to God, we are breaking new grounds.
In what other areas do you empower people, aside employing many Nigerians?
Most importantly, in employment generation process, for 12 years now, I have empowered a lot of people. I tell anyone I employ that five years are enough for them to vacate and start their own business.
When the fifth year is approaching, I support them in setting up their companies and tell them to move. I tell them to move on, because if they sat here for too long, they’ll deprive others of the opportunity to come in like they did. I have em- powered many contractors who supply us a lot of things. It has been a very fantastic experience empowering people. I also facilitate helping the less-privileged. We have sorted out a lot of people and we are still doing our best.
Doesn’t your chain of business- es feel the economic crunch?
Virtually all my businesses are international in their operations, so the present economic situation is affecting us. What keeps me going is courage. I don’t walk by sight. I walk by faith. I don’t complain, I just keep going. Similar companies have folded up. What brought me into business is not about profit making but about touching lives and impacting society. The exchange rate keeps affecting all our businesses. The recession is only an opportunity to think out of the box and see how we can create things locally so we can keep the funds flowing within. I do more of local trainings now and the Peugeot cars I sell are locally assembled. So, I am coping.
Tell us about your background. Were you born with a silver spoon in your mouth?
Oh! I had a very humble beginning. I come from an extremely poor back- ground. I grew up in the jungle. My parents helped us by simply teaching us values even when we had nothing. They managed and struggled to train us. My parents were the best gift God gave me. From SS1, I already started organizing tutorials for my colleagues and made some money to finance myself in school. Those days, my siblings would go to the abattoir to haul beef for others. Those are days I don’t like to remember. Oh my God! Thank God my story has changed completely now. Before my parents passed on, I was able to prove to them that it is good they trained us with the fear of God.
What core lessons can the younger generation learn from your success story, given your very humble background?
First, the youth of our generation should learn to discover themselves. Don’t compare yourself to others. In addition, be passionate about that thing you love. Be focused and resolute, because a lot of people would distract you. I don’t copy people. I evolve my own strategy. When I read books or listen to tapes, I only get to know lifestyles of others, but I evolve my own strategies. Everything I have done hasn’t been done by anyone else. It can be very tasking. I met a great Nigerian in Dubai and he asked me what I was doing in Dubai .I told him I brought about 26 professors to Dubai for training .He screamed. This is a very big man. I came in from that same point. It is assumed that most professors are up there but I came up with the strategy of working with them.
Do you have any regrets?
Hmmm, none at all. I am happy I came in through where I came in through. I am glad that I was not born with a silver spoon. I am happy I needed to go through life the way I did. I don’t regret I’m Nigerian. I have been able to make Nigeria proud in several of my international activities. Maybe I could move on to be a politician one day so as to impact that area too. I have no regrets at all.