Ayodele Adeboye was born into a monogamous family in 1968 to a father of very modest beginnings, who by workings of divine favor, was opportuned to study and receive a doctorate degree from the prestigious Harvard Business School. He went on to serve as an Anglican priest. Speaking of early influences, he was able to observe his father live his creed, instilling in the young Ayo a respect for people who consistently live a life of integrity. Ayo will also tell you that life with his father was not so rosy while he was growing up. He had to pass through the fire of constructive criticism and discipline. He recalls his boyhood days in Loyola college, Ibadan, when at the end of his first year, he placed 8thin a class of 150. His father who was then a director at the Nigerian Institute for Social and Economic Research (NISER) discerned a serious discrepancy with his reckoning of Ayo’s academic abilities at the time, and moved him summarily to Command Secondary School Kadunato repeat the year. His father’s intuition proved spot on, as by the end of year, he placed 62nd out of a class of 150 students. Recounting his travails in Command Kaduna Ayo humorously said, “I hated my father for making me repeat the year; there was a lot of fagging in the school, and I blamed my father each time I had such an experience at the hands of students who should have been my classmates”.Amazingly the experiment worked, as Ayo passed out as One of the top 5 students in his set and the first in the school to score an A in Additional mathematics. In our interview with him,he said, “I look back and I see two things: the role of a parent in making difficult decisions for their children and the impact of impact of effective decisions on the destiny of children. That year I repeated in Command Kaduna stabilized me and delivered me from a lifetime of mediocrity on my journey of self discovery”.
Ayo went on to study Industrial Engineering in University of Ibadan, graduating with a first class degree in 1989. The hard discipline from responsible and timely parenting was still paying dividends. He worked afterwards for a year in African Petroleum under a brilliant, hardworking boss who however, didn’t inspire such excitement and confidence in Ayo as to look forward to an engineering career. That restlessness that separates a leader from the pack was already stirring in him. He subsequently saw the young men and women of Arthur Anderson looking dapper and smart, self assured and in command during an interview at the erstwhile firm and decided he would rather be like them in the next five years. When he was eventually offered a job in Arthur Anderson, he took it even though it meant leaving engineering behind to become an accountant.During his ten years at Arthur Andersen he trained to become an accountant and passed the professional exams of ICAN and rose to become a senior manager before joining Econet Nigeria as the first head of finance.
Ayodele Adeboye is rather self effacing when you engage him but he comes across like vintage wine; a product of generations of right thinking and breeding. He is also together with a few notable names, a prototype of the transfer of values and competencies engineered by Dick Kramer and his team at Arthur Andersen on whose shoulders truly lie the course of Nigerian social and economic restoration. However, he will be quick to remind you that without God, we can do nothing, and the good part is that this generation of leaders has also found spiritual empowerment in the gospel of Christ, making them as it were double edged swords for the task ahead. We leave you with his deep thoughts below:
Question (Q): Have you also pursued other career choices or has it always been telecommunications for you?
Answer (A): I started out studying Engineering, but eventually went on to become an accountant. My decision to join Arthur Anderson then, a firm of consultants was informed by the impression I had of the young men working there at the time. They appeared smart, well dressed and had an air of professional confidence about them.
Q: Did you envisage this level of success when you started out?
A: [laughs] Success? Well if you say I am successful glory be to God. What I can say is that if any young person would commit to working hard along a chosen career path, success is guaranteed. One thing I know from my understanding of God is that He is an unlimited source of blessings and is not constrained by our human notion of scarcity. The fact that a million people have made it before you does not reduce your chances of becoming successful or prosperous. And so I attribute my success to the grace of God.
Q: Did you always have this mindset?
A: When I joined Arthur Anderson, my motivation was to be like the well dressed, articulate, confident young guys I saw working there; I didn’t do much research on the prospects. I was just drawn by the aura of confidence exuded by them. Looking back however, I realize that the values systematically instilled into us in Arthur Andersen was foundational to success. I realize now that one cannot achieve success in anything without integrity and hard work.
Q: Speaking of values, who were your role models and how did they shape your values?
A: I would say my role models in my early working years were first, Dick Kramer, and also people like Kunle Elebute, and Bisi Lamikora. Dick Kramer conducted the final interview for our recruitment into Arthur Anderson and he was the man we looked up to. He not only talked the talk but he walked the talk. He would tell us then that one cannot enter a partnership with a man that cheats on his wife because he would also violate the partnership. Himself and his wife Wanda, used to host yearly parties at their residence for staff and their spouses. A lot of guys would come to the party without bringing their girlfriends along because, as they explained, if one brought a different girl the next year, the person would be considered frivolous and that could have career limiting implications. This got us to think differently as young men and women. Again at Arthur Anderson, religion, educational or family background didn’t matter. Everyone was judged and promoted based on merit.
Q: What attributes did you cultivate earlier in life that helped you make it to this place?
A: I am not comfortable with the phrase ‘make it’. Nobody makes it. It is people that give one that impression that he is somewhere. I just live a day at a time. I would say that the singular most important thing that happened to me if I am deemed successful is that I met Christ and at some point made the commitment to follow him. I had answered the call to give my life to Christ while in the University but I was not very committed then.
Q: What attributes helped you as a Christian to become successful since quite a number claiming to be Christians haven’t made much impact?
A: First let me respond to what you just said about a lot of people not making impact as Christians. People may claim to have met Christ but I can tell you that if you meet Christ and do not change then you haven’t really met Christ. If anyone truly meets Christ, it forces you to make a decision and that is the point. When I was in the university, I answered the call but because I didn’t join a community of believers, I could not distill the values as espoused in the bible. So beyond answering the call, there is a life to be lived, and it is a discipleship/apprenticeship system. What you behold is what you become. If you don’t have a good model to look at, there will be no change. For me the attributes that propel me include faith in God. I have learnt faith in God can achieve the impossible and turn things around. I have learnt to have hope. When you have hope, it keeps you going even in adverse circumstances. When you have a vision it pushes you but even when you can’t see anything encouraging, you do not despair because of hope. I have also learnt about the integrity of aligning your beliefs and the things you say with consistent action.
It was my lovely wife who brought me to the point of rededicating my life to Christ. When I met her she invited me to Church but after one attendance, I warned her to let me be, since I preferred my orthodox style. But after observing her lifestyle, and auditing her actions, I could not explain her character outside of her faith.
Q: Speaking of faith, was there ever a gray period when you felt the road was not leading anywhere?
A: There were bumps on the road. After about five years, I had some issues with some of my senior colleagues and it seemed my career growth was limited and was heading nowhere. I considered leaving and I remember speaking with my father about my intent to resign but his response was that no man took me there and no man should make me leave. Later an opportunity arose to move to another group where there was an opening for me to be promoted to managerial level. So I moved to the tax group and was made a manager after six months and things came back on track.
However when I left Arthur Anderson in 2001, it was because an opportunity came and not because of issues. I was invited to a wedding by family friends and my friend who invited me offered to share his lodging with me, which had been arranged for him by Oba Otudeko. On Sunday after the wedding, I suggested to my friend, Bolaji that we ought to go and thank Oba Otudeko for providing the lodging. While at his place, he asked Bolaji to give his view on the prospects of mobile telecoms in Nigeria as he had been offered a license. Bolaji then launched into an exposition on why telecoms was the next best thing after oil and gas to happen in Nigeria. I chipped in a few things. While we were about to leave, Oba Otudeko invited us to join a group he was meeting with on the prospect. So we joined the brainstorming and the rest is history.
That was how a turning point came about in my career; from attending a wedding to becoming a shareholder in one of the first GSM companies in Nigeria, even in today’s Airtel. That is how God orders the path of his children.
Q: What are the many challenges you have faced in dealing with government institutions and the Nigerian business community?
A: The singular challenge is the lack of integrity in men and women who hold significant positions in government offices. The trend is that while you are pursuing an objective, the person is thinking of how to make money for himself. And when purposes are not aligned there are always crises and conflicts. In terms of private enterprises, I believe that people are in most cases not properly trained on the job. They do not invest in developing themselves; neither do their employers provide the platform. When you employ a person without training him, he cannot fare much better than the level at which he started. There are no channels for transfer of skills and values. Again if you are in an environment where integrity is not rewarded, there would be no commitment to integrity.
Q: Can corruption be eradicated without achieving prosperity across the working class or do you advocate a more radical approach?
A: Poverty is a consequence just as success or wealth is a consequence. I believe that in dealing with the issue of corruption two things must happen. The first is that we must be committed to rewarding integrity and punishing corrupt acts. The reason people commit infractions of the law is because nothing happens. Even where something happens it is not consistent and the official is often looking to cash in on the situation. Wealth should be an obvious consequence of providing goods and services; the reward for what has been provided. Poverty is of the mind, it shows a lack of values, not the lack of money. One can be wealthy without having money and also can have loads of money and be poor. So poverty and success is not about how much money one has because with a wealth of values, one would inevitably attract the people who will provide the opportunity for one to be rewarded.
Q: Is faith a practical tool in doing business in Nigeria today?
A: Faith is one of the things that have stopped Nigeria from becoming a banana republic. The government has practically failed but we have not descended into anarchy and bedlam because of our faith in God. The reason why I and a lot of others obey laws is because of our convictions not because of enforcement. We are actually under policed and our Policemen are encumbered with private guard assignments to the rich and mighty. The level of enforcement is low compared to the population. It is the values of faith that is actually keeping our society.
Q: Do you agree that being a stickler for those values puts one at a disadvantage, especially when one is unwilling to compromise?
A: Anyone who reasons like that does not really understand what it means to be a believer. As a believer, one has to trust in God’s reward system and believe that his efforts will be rewarded. It may not come in a flash as it does for some others, but it is certain to come. It could get tough, I admit doing business in Nigeria is much harder than in the US or the UK because there is more level playing field and less people are cutting corners. So sticking to values may cost you in the short term but in the long term you will still be afloat when others have gone under. The game of life is a marathon not a sprint.
Q: What should be the priority of business?
A: Every organization is set up with a purpose, for example an oil company to explore and market oil and gas resources. The priority for businesses in my view is to develop a system that impacts your environment, not only in making profit but also in terms of development. To ensure that the community is prospering as you are prospering. Win-win is the only sustainable model in the long term. If one exploits and does not give back, the community will keep coming back to you; but if you train and empower members of the local community, they see you as a partner. It cannot be a zero sum game.
Q: What projects are you working on now?
A: Presently, I am the partner for Econet in their ventures in Nigeria; specifically we have launched KweseTv with me as the Chairman. We are already in twenty two African countries and we launched in Nigeria in October, 2017. We have both terrestrial and free to air transmissions and we partner with DBN in the broadcast of Kwese free sports. We believe sports a unifying factor. We also have cable TV and our own decoders offering up to seventy channels. We have exclusive rights to broadcast the MBA and ESPN in addition to free to air rights to the EPL.
Q: Tell us more about your family
A: My lovely wife is named Oyeyemika and she is currently the finance director of Cadbury, West Africa. We have been married now for 22 years. We have three children, two girls and a boy. My first daughter is studying mathematics and music in the university while my second will be studying pre med. Our youngest, my son is 15 years.
Q: Any hobbies?
A: I like squash. I play twice a week. There is a squash club here in VGC though I also belong to Ikoyi club. However because of traffic I play more at the VGC club. I have been playing since 1986 and my partner Dr. Kayode used to play for Nigeria – so I get a good work out. I am not nearly as good as he is but I keep learning from him every time we play. I also cycle together with my wife.
Q: How do you balance family and work?
A: I don’t see it in terms of balance but rather as of priorities. I have learnt to manage my priorities instead of my time. For me God comes first, then my marriage and then my family. So when there is a decision, it always follows the order of my priorities. For instance I once gave up an opportunity to work in South Africa, because my family was young then and settled in Nigeria. I could have earned more, advanced further with more exposure but not at the expense of failing to raise my children properly.
Cover Story - Merge Magazine Vo1. 2