Chief Michael Ade-Ojo is a man worth drawing inspiration from. With, hard work, Self-assertion, imagination and determination, he has built up the prestigious Elizade Group of Companies. With interests spanning the automobile, insurance, telecommunications, beverage, education sectors, etc, he bestrides the business world like a colossus; greatly impacting on the nation’s economy while playing a huge role in the employment market.
Chief Ade- Ojo hit another milestone recently when he turned an octogenarian, still fit as a fiddle. He was host to the General Manager, Ovation Television, SEGUN ADEBOWALE, and bared his mind on his eventful sojourn into business, life, family and sundry issues. Excerpts
Congratulations on attaining the age of 80. How do you feel spending eight decades on earth, sir?
Well, I have every reason to thank God for how He has helped me up to this point. It was rough at the beginning and I am thankful that God smooth it. Since I was able to overcome my challenges in the payment of my school fees in the University, it has been from one achievement to another.
There seems to be no slowing down for you, even at the milestone
(Smiling) If you know what I used to do, you will know I have slowed down.
Your energetic dance at the Praise Concert seems at variance with your claim of slowing down.
Dancing is my hobby and I still know how to do the steps like when I was much younger.
What gives you the drive, Sir?
A sense of achievement, peace, hope, and gratitude to God for being so kind!
What factors would you attribute to the consistency of Elizade Nigeria Limited for 47 years?
Well, the first thing is that, I realized that to do business, you must have capital. I did all I could to put my little savings together and having succeeded in putting some money together, I also tried to manage it in the most sensible way. If I take any loan, I will not rest until I pay back the loan. One of my bankers said my paying back my loan early was always dis-organizing their plans.
My response was, ‘Is it not better that I pay that money so that you can reinvest it, and loan it to another person rather for one person to hold down two customers?’ So, I try to focus on my business and do it right, that is me. I know where I came from. I was born into poverty and I suffered. I declared that I would not go back to poverty again and was bent on changing my family’s worth, so I held up to my policy, no matter the circumstance.
For a child who wore his first set of shoes at the age of 15, did you ever dream of being this successful?
No, but I was working hard and God was so good that He was blessing me. Today I advise anyone that wants to be successful to be steady and brave enough to face the challenges of life. You should also learn to spend carefully. Before I buy anything, I make sure that I am able to afford that thing at least five times without tampering with my capital and if it involves consumption, I will not buy it. The first time I went to London on first class was the saddest day of flying in my life. The seat was robust and they served me like one quarter of water that I could not consume and other meals. I kept blaming myself because I knew that if I had given that money to someone else to trade with, there would have been some return on investment. So, I stopped flying First Class in 1980. However I changed my mind in 1985.
Why did you change your mind?
What happened was that, whenever we disembarked from Economy, I would see those that I could literally buy disembarking from First Class. They used to make jest of me and I changed my mind since I could afford it anyway.
Why did you pitch your tent with Toyota, knowing fully well it was not the leading brand at that time?
Though Toyota was not popular, it came with some extra accessories like tinted glasses and tools when changing tyres. Yes, it was not popular but as a salesman, I knew the car would become famous in years to come. So, I applied to be an agent and after selling 40 cars in four weeks while I was on leave, I received a commission well above my salary for one year. So, I resigned.
How do you feel taking the Toyota brand to a high and respectable level and also earning the sobriquet, Mr. Toyota?
I feel that God was with me in my decision making process and I am glad for that recognition, at least in Nigeria.
How influential was your late wife to the success of Elizade Nigeria Limited?
She was very influential and the first four letter words of her name ‘Eliz’ combined with mine to form Elizade. I had a very good history with her. She taught at Methodist school and I was a sales man, majorly on the field. I got an office and employed a boy but he was not honest. My wife had to quit her job to join me in 1972 and I was very sure that the office was in capable hands.
So, what memory of her do you have?
She was a jewel of inestimable value, who also had a highly esteemed value in business. She also sewed nappies and baby dresses which I also helped her to sell.
Sir, looking back in time, is there anything you would have loved to do differently?
From what I did, I can’t think of anything much that I would have done differently, because I knew what I was after and I pursued it relentlessly.
How do you relax after your day
Hmmm. I work very hard and most of the time, I just go to sleep but on weekends, I find time with my children and I enjoy myself. I used to play Table Tennis and some other sports.
Considering your remarkable achievements and standards, have you positioned any of your children to seamlessly continue your legacy when you decide to quit?
Yes, I have. Two of the adult ones are running two of my companies. My daughter, Deola Sagoe, is a growing name in the fashion world and the fourth, a Chartered Accountant resides in Canada with her husband and children. The rest are these wonderful little children that are around me, and along with their mother, we enjoy our lives.
How best do you think young entrepreneurs should navigate the business world?
You must be ready to sacrifice and suffer initially, especially if you were not born with a silver spoon and you have no parent to sponsor you or feed you. You must know that you have a time limit to undergo the rigors of life.
What is your favorite food Sir?
It used to be Beans and Dodo but that has since changed to Amala with either Okro or Ogbono . In the morning, I take fruit or bread and groundnut, and also shawarma; in the afternoon, I take ripe plantain and rice. I drink warm water and do not take carbonated drinks.
Thank you very much Sir
Thank you too for giving me this opportunity.