We bring before you Almighty God, the body of your son Sir Remi Omotoso—a father, grandfather, boardroom guru par excellence whom you gave the Solomonic wisdom to sit on the boards of various companies, a corporate leader and of late a key member of the Ekiti State COVID-19 Committee who recently departed from this pandemic-ravaged world of ours after a brief illness not related with Coronavirus. He was aged 75.
Thank you Lord, for the life he lived—a good life filled with achievements in the corporate world starting from Lever Brothers (which later became Unilever) where he was the No.2 and was being groomed to be the next executive chairman of the multinational giant involved in the manufacturing and marketing of soap, detergents and other household utensils. To that effect, he attended courses at Unilever’s famous Four Acres Institute in the UK, was sent to Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in the US, and went as far as Australia as part of the grooming for leadership. But in the end, he was denied the topmost job, a victim of board politics. He suffered humiliation with stoical patience and fortitude until fortune finally smiled at him when another organisation came to offer him the elusive corporate crown. From Lever Brothers, Omotoso moved to the Odu’a Investment Company as the Group Managing Director of the conglomerate set up under the visionary leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and inherited by the states within the old Western Region where Awolowo was once premier.
At Odu’a Group, Omotoso saw a farcical and ugly side to board appointments characterized by politicians appointing to the board people who had no business being on any board other than that they helped the politicians in winning elections. To such people, the board presented an opportunity to share money, an opportunity to “come and eat”, to use a local parlance. From his public board experience, Omotoso had gathered a rich harvest of anecdotes which he regaled me with and which I told in my boardroom book. Anecdotes ranging from frequent government interference, blatant breaches of corporate governance rules and oddities like the case of a board appointee who brought along traditional drummers on the day of his inauguration, turning the whole place into a big, festive bedlam to the chagrin of Omotoso who had to protest and condemn such behaviour.
When Chief Joseph Sanusi, erstwhile Central Bank of Nigeria governor was looking for someone to occupy a vacant seat on the board of Standard Chartered Bank where he was then chairman, his mind went straight to Sir Remi Omotoso, the man who eventually succeeded him as the chairman of the bank. Omotoso was one of the boardroom leaders featured in my bestselling book 50 NIGERIA’S BOARDROOM LEADERS—Lessons On Corporate Governance and Strategy. His contribution is among the best. As a veteran of boards from Lever Brothers where he was groomed for the No.1 position to the Group MD of Odu’a Investment Co. to the chairmanship of Standard Chartered Bank to the chair of Greenwich Trust Limited board, an investment banking company with very vibrant subsidiaries, he defined boardroom leadership with verve and authority. He distilled the essence of boardroom leadership which is both humorous and poignantly ironic. Here are few quotable Omotoso from the book 50 NIGERIA’S BOARDROOM LEADERS:
“The board chairman must not see himself as God. After all, he is first of all a director like other directors, before he was elected a chairman by that board. What would they have seen in him to say he should be a better chairman than any of them? One, he must have a respectable level of experience. Two, he must be a fantastic listener. A great coordinator; a psychologist of a kind; a fair-minded fellow who is prepared to not dominate the board but is prepared to get other people to contribute and is able to synthesize the contribution of those people to form a decision that others will key into and take ownership of. He must be a motivator. He must be firm, but not overbearing. He must have transparent integrity, integrity of thought, words and action. He must be seen as the personification of the organisation itself. A man who earns and keep respect.”
I found this funny: “Don’t be a chairman who goes in and out of the meeting say 10 times. You must regulate your bladder. Go to the toilet before you come to the meeting. It is not good for the chairman to be the one to say, ‘Excuse me, I want to quickly use the convenience.’ The chairman is not the one that will eat most of the snacks in the meeting.”
I found this ironic: “When I chair board meetings, nobody notices that my phone has been set to show me the time. So coming into the meeting, I have already set the number of hours, all other things being favourable, that we will spend in the meeting, so that the session will not be boring and tiring.”
For Sir Omotoso, the quintessential boardroom leader, the marathon meeting of life is over and he is gone. Such a brilliant and erudite boardroom leader with a big sense of humor and conviviality. The reason I write books like 50 NIGERIA’S BOARDROOM LEADERS is for a time like this when death will come and there is a record of the life stories and legacies of great men like Sir Remi Omotoso who may not have left behind a memoir that people can learn from reading his thoughts and life experiences. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
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