A Tip: How Nigeria’s Mike Adenuga From A Taxi Driver Turned Himself Into A Mogul

With an estimated net worth of $4.6billion, as of March, 2014, Dr. Mike Adenuga is reputed to be one of Nigeria’s richest men, only second to Aliko Dangote. He is the 3th richest black person and the 325th richest person in the world according to Forbes’ Worlds Billionaires 2014 ranking.

Mike Adenuga today sits atop a multi-billion dollar Nigerian conglomerate comprising telecoms, energy and real estate.

In Nigeria, this married father-of-seven is fondly referred to as ‘The Bull’ by friends and admirers alike. It is because like a bull, he never backs down from any challenge. You could say it is a recipe guaranteed to work because he indeed is very successful notwithstanding that he is a man not motivated by the prospects of wealth. When asked about his wealth in an interview, he said, “I am not interested in being the richest man in the world. If I can be seen as adding value to Nigerians and Africans, it is more fulfilling.”

Who Is Mike Adenuga?

Mike Adeniyi Agbolade Ishola Adenuga was born on April 29, 1953 in Ibadan, Oyo State Nigeria. He hails from Ijebu-Igbo, Ogun State. Adenuga was born to Oloye Michael Agbolade Adenuga Sr, who was a school teacher and Juliana Oyindamola Adenuga, a successful businesswoman from Ibadan. It is believed that Mike Adenuga was influenced by his late mother’s business acumen.

When he was in his late teens, Adenuga left the shores of Nigeria to study Business Administration at Northwestern University and Pace University in the United States. Even as an undergrad international student, the young Adenuga was already exploring ways of earning additional income. He took up a job as a taxi driver and worked as a security guard at night to pay his way through school. After acquiring his business degrees in the United States, he returned back home to Nigeria and inherited a small Sawmill operation from his father, a former schoolteacher who equally doubled as a small-scale entrepreneur.

Adenuga Begins His Entrepreneurial Journey

Adenuga worked at the sawmill but at the same time ventured into commodity trading and the importation of materials. It was through these diverse business adventures that he made his first million at the age of 26, and this was just the beginning of would soon be one of Africa’s largest privately held conglomerates.

In January 2001, the Nigerian government conducted an auction for 5 Global System for Mobile Communications [GSM] provisional licenses and invited bids from institutional investors and individuals. Adenuga was one of the bidders, and through his company, Communications Investment Limited [CIL], he bid for one of the licenses, which cost a steep $285 million. A month later, after paying a $20 million mandatory deposit, Adenuga was awarded a provisional license and was given a 14-day deadline to raise the balance of $265 million. For some reasons, Adenuga failed to meet his obligations and consequently lost his $20 million deposit in that unfortunate transaction.

He was devastated by the loss, but he was hardly broken. He simply waited for the next opportunity to acquire a GSM license while running his banking, real estate and energy businesses.

As chance would have it, a year later the Nigerian Communications Commission [NCC] invited bids for the Second National Operator [SNO] license. Adenuga paid another $20 million mandatory deposit fee for the license. This time around he won the license. Ironically, the SNO licence gave him a broader range of options, as Globacom was given the right to operate as a national carrier, operate digital mobile lines, serve as international gateway for telecommunications in the country and operate fixed wireless access phones.

It is said that Adenuga’s biggest talent is his ability to transform mere ideas into successful and profitable enterprises. Since 2003, Globacom has, through its various subsidiaries, pioneered several innovative services in Nigeria such as Mobile Internet, Blackberry subscription and Vehicle Tracking services.

In an industry dominated by more experienced rivals, Globacom is considered the second largest telecom in the country. It currently has operations in Nigeria, Ghana, Benin Republic and Cote d’Ivoire and is arguably the fastest-growing telecoms operation in Africa with an active subscriber base in excess of 27 million.

In 2010, Adenuga spent over $1 billion on Glo 1 Submarine Cable, an undersea cable system, which stretches from Europe to Nigeria and has landing stations in 16 West African countries. Glo 1 will provide bandwidth to all telecom operators, carriers and corporations, connecting them to all the major destinations in the world.

Other Investments

While most people are only aware of his brilliant achievements in mobile technology, Adenuga’s success in the telecom business is, in fact, oftentimes foreshadowed by his groundbreaking achievements in the construction, oil and banking sectors.

When he was still in his twenties, he ventured into the construction business. Leveraging on his personal relationships with influential military officers, Adenuga was able to corner lucrative government construction contracts, which he executed satisfactorily. He soon built a reputation for quality service and prompt delivery and earned the trust of several top-ranking government officials. It was not long before Adenuga cemented his position as a top government contractor, and bigger contracts followed.

Adenuga In Banking

As his construction business blossomed, Adenuga began scouting for more adventurous and sophisticated business opportunities. In 1989 he applied for a banking license and founded Devcom Bank, one of Nigeria’s earliest merchant banks. A year later, he founded Equitorial Trust Bank [ETB], which has grown to become one of the country’s most successful commercial banks.

In 2005, following a Central Bank of Nigeria [CBN]’s directive that required all banks to raise their capital base to N25 billion, Adenuga merged ETB with Devcom to meet the new recapitalization requirements. The merged banks adopted the Equitorial Trust Bank name, and for a while it was one of the largest banks in Nigeria before Adenuga opted to sell it off in 2011 to Sterling Bank, a commercial bank in Nigeria.

Adenuga In Petroleum

Adenuga is also one of the more recognizable players in Nigeria’s Energy sector. In 1991, his oil exploration company, Conoil Producing Limited, made history when it became the first indigenous company to strike crude oil in commercial quantities at a time indigenous companies with oil blocks were selling off to foreign investors. Conoil Producing is now one of Nigeria’s largest indigenous oil companies with at least 6 producing deep offshore assets and daily production of 100,000 barrels per day. In April 2011 when Shell’s Nigerian operations were divesting their upstream assets in the country, Adenuga acquired the oil major’s most prolific onshore oil block, OML 30 at a cost of $650 million.

In 2000, in the wake of a government-engineered privatisation exercise, Adenuga acquired a controlling stake in National Oil and Chemical Marketing Company Plc [NOLCHEM], a petroleum marketing company which was on the verge of bankruptcy.

Within a year, Adenuga turned around the fortunes of the company. Adenuga subsequently renamed Conoil PLC and it is now one of Nigeria’s largest petroleum marketers. Conoil has over 300 retail outlets spread across Nigeria.

Mike Adenuga Foundation

With a foundation in his name, Adenuga hopes to focus on entrepreneurship development, education, health and rural development. “I have worked hard most of my life and I believe I have been very fortunate; although I must say I am a great believer in the man who said the harder you work, the luckier you get,” he wrote on his website.

Some of the programmes offered by Mike Adenuga Foundation are undergraduate scholarships, postgraduate and research fellowships, to educationally gifted Africans who desire to contribute to the development on the continent, and who have the potential to become innovators and development drivers in their chosen fields.

And so it seems that everything Adenuga touches turns to gold. When he was asked by a news reporter to tell the secrets of his outstanding success in business, the 62 year-old mogul said, “The secret of my success is hard work, God’s blessings and luck.”

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