Boss Of The Week

I’m Looking Forward to My Ph.D Degree Before My 50th Birthday – Tolulope Onalaja

By Eric Elezuo

She is a combination of brains and beauty with a solid dose of entrepreneurial skills. She is Mrs Tolulope Adelaja, the vibrant Executive Director of Revolution Plus Properties. The woman, who many has said posseses the proverbial Midas touch, revealed her very essence and those intricacies that make her thick as a wife, mother and business development executive in this exclusive chat

Kindly give us a brief detail of your background

My name is Tolulope Onalaja. I was born into the family of six. I am the only girl and have three younger brothers. I came from a middle-class home and went to Our Ladies of Apostle Private School, Yaba, Lagos. And that’s actually the first private school in Nigeria before going to Methodist Girls High School, Yaba. I went to University of Ibadan because I got tired of Yaba axis where I graduated from Faculty of Education, as Counselling Psychologist. I practiced for about three years at the Federal College of Education, Coker as the School Counsellor.

Afterwards, I obtained a Post-Graduate Diploma in Management from the University of Calabar and followed it up with a Masters in Business Administration from the same university. And for the sake of self improvement, I did several professional courses. I am looking forward to having my Ph.D before I clock 50.  I am an alumnus of Pan-Atlantic University and Lagos Business School and also a member of Nigerian Institute of Public Relations.

I joined Revolution Plus in 2016 after a 13 years professional stint in other organisations including Dry Cleaners Limited, one of the biggest facility company in Nigeria where I worked for 10 years as the Chief Operating Officer. I joined my husband’s business when it was gathering momentum and needed more hands.

I graduated at 21 and served at 22. I entered the labour market at 23 (2003), got married in 2004 and gave birth to my first child in 2005.

I have two children, and married to Mr. Bamidele Onalaje, the MD of Revolution Plus.

Was growing up among 3 brothers made you a tom-boy?

Honestly, I was a tom-boy all through my school days. I still exhibit traces of a tomboy, and it is difficult to let go. I don’t do what most ladies do like selecting body cream and others. I have that carefree attitude like boys. We all use the same body-cream, hair-cream, and all. Till now, my mannerism and behaviour still betray me. You rarely see me gossip, and keep female friends. I have more male friends than female friends. I have more male traits than female traits.

You just celebrated your 40th birthday. What does it feel like to be 40?

It feels like normal. I am still young, but sometimes, when I look at my children; it reminds of my age. Nevertheless, everything looks normal.

If everything looks normal, why was it necessary to have an elaborate celebration?

This is because it is a landmark. For me, I have a lot of things to thank God for at 40.

Your husband claims you are the brain behind Revolution Plus, how would you describe this?

Real estate is my husband’s thing because he is passionate about it and once worked in the Mortgage Industry. It was from there he developed passion for real estate and affordable housing. He is so passionate about real estate that if you ask him what he want to do in ten years’ time, he will tell you real estate. One day, he brought the vision that he wants people to own homes and that government cannot do it alone; and I just supported.

My support in the business occurred because I have sat on several boards and been top management staff of several organizations; so, I have a lot of management skills which has helped the business tremendously. Basically, I handle all the management skill.

Maybe another reason is because, when we were about starting, we had a lot of challenges and my husband was about giving up after no one agrees to support his idea. One day, I remember he came home unhappy and I comforted him; telling it is too late for us to give up and I told we should a fast and pray for seven days with the belief that God will speak to us. On the third day of the fast, I told him the Holy Spirit ask me to tell him we should meet my uncle, Dr Boye Olusanya. He objected at first because he doesn’t like meeting family members for help but he said if it is the Holy Spirit who told me, He would go ahead of us. So, I called him. He is the immediate past Provost of Federal College of Education, Akoka. He died last year. He was the person God used to start Revolution Plus and he was the first person that invested in this business. And I remember he gave us N3 million. Maybe that’s why my husband will always say that I’m the brain behind the business.

So, what is it like working with your husband?

People do say it is very difficult to see husband and wife working together because of fights and misunderstanding. But our working together has been fun as we have our strengths. He handles the sites and land grabbers while mine is to manage all the offices; employment of staff, administration, and all management functions. This makes us work seamlessly, since we know what Managing Director and Executive Director is in-charge of.

This has also helped our marriage. We can’t fight for more than 30 minutes because we have many things in common for the business, and we can’t keep malice and achieve results. Even when we fight, something about the business will immediately bring us back. Working together has really brought us closer.

Over time, there have been several revolutions in Revolution Plus. What’s the magic?

Nobody is an island of knowledge, and we can only try our best, and God blesses. If he doesn’t, one will only struggle in vain. We are six this year, and those we met in this industry marvel at our achievements. I will say it has been God. When God sees your heart and genuineness, He just works. Also, our work experiences are core factor, and everything we do there is a consequence of passion, commitment, desire to improve and more. All these have made Revolution Plus.

What can you say life has taught you at 40?

Yes! One of the things I learnt recently is that you need to limit the access you give people into your life. And that you don’t over trust people because the people you trust the most will disappoint you. Aside that, life has been good to me, and God has also been good to me at 40. People do think I am more than 40 because of the achievements and accomplishments.

Sometimes, people describe you as extremely beautiful, smart and brilliant. How does this make you feel?

(Laughs) I am just wonderfully and fearfully made by God. I am one who likes excellence and love having intelligent people around me. I don’t take NO for an answer; I am a goal-getter and a very focus person. Things that don’t go along that line doesn’t resonate with me. I was an A student and I balance it with social activities, but I cut off distractions.

Despite all your achievements, you are widely known for humility. How did you achieve this?

When you remember where you are coming from, it will make you humble. A scripture always comes to mind. And it says “what is man that God is mindful of him?” I know that it is not because I pray or worship God better but because He chooses to extend His grace to me. So, that’s what keeps me humble.

You are a mother, a wife and an accomplished entrepreneur, how did you manage these at your age?

It is natural for a woman to multi-task but how we develop it matters. Naturally, you must be a wife to husband, mother to children and still work. Therefore, learning to combine all is multi-tasking. With all humility, my organizational skill is top-notch. I am very organized. During my child rearing days, if you visit my house, you won’t know toddlers live in it as the house is always well arranged unlike other people’s house that will be scattered. So, this has help me to balance; I know when to pick my children, make dinner for my husband, do house chores, etc. All through my work life, nothing has suffered. Even when my children were growing, I was still working for people.

Aside business, how do you relax?

I relax in two ways. One, when I sometimes close from work on Fridays, I go to the cinema to see movies I have not seen before. I don’t like watching movies at home. Two, I love sun-bathing at the beach side. The beaches I love are Landmark and Hard Rock Café. This brings inspirations into me and that’s how I basically relax.

What sport do you like?

I don’t like sports. I am not a sport person at all. My husband is the sport fan. He always tries to make me like sports. I think I too love books more. Everybody is a Man-U fan in my house because my husband is a Man-U fan; so, he made everyone like Man-U by force. To the point that he took us to Manchester United’s stadium in 2015 to go see the place. We just have to like Man-U by force.

What dish can make you abandon another thing?

I don’t have a best food but maybe I like rice or pounded yam. And my mood determines what I eat; sometimes I might prefer porridge. I don’t like one specific food as preference depends on the environment.

What’s your fashion sense?

My fashion sense is simplicity. I hate anything loud and heavy; like make-up, jewelry, etc. I like to be simple and classy; that’s my style. I don’t buy anything bogus like jewelry, dress, and even to cars. I don’t like going around with big cars but my husband forces me to take it out sometimes. I am just a simple person; very simple person.

As Rotarian, what inspired to join the club?

I am a philanthropist by nature. I love to give a lot. When I have not given, it looks as if something in me is not right. Like other clubs that show their members luxurious status in golf playing, tennis, etc., I realized Rotary Club is not like that. They are meant to help the less privileged. The Rotary ideals go with my ideals in life. Rotary is a philanthropic organization that helps the needy around the world. I joined it while I was in secondary school. I was the President at Methodist Girls High School in 1996. I couldn’t follow up in the university because I was busy pastoring a fellowship. I was also involved in school politics. But when I left school, someone invited me to Rotary Club, and based on my past experience as an Rotaractor, I joined the Rotary Club. And on March 13, 2014, I was the President of Rotary Club, Lagos West. I am a past president in rotary and also a major donor.

As a mother, wife and entrepreneur, what qualities do you admire in people?

I think because I am a workaholic, I admire people who are hardworking, focused and contended. Anyone with these things would be my best friend. I dislike anyone who doesn’t like to work and prefer to cut corners to get things. That is why to my staff, I am a role-model.

Who is your role model?

My role model is Folorunsho Alakija. She is one of the people I look up to, and people do say we look alike. She is my role model and I aim be the richest too.

Aside not liking people with lackadaisical attitude, are there other things you don’t like in people?

I don’t like people who are not straight forward; people who pretend and are not what they claimed to be. I tell people, I am a Christian and a very devoted one. But I don’t miss the part of grace with the part of work. When you are lazy and you are quoting scriptures saying God will do it, you cannot be my friend. Those are some of the things I don’t like.

Where do you see the Revolution Plus at 10 years?

By then, we would have taken over. You know our mission is to be the number one real estate company in Nigeria and the Sub-Saharan Africa. And we are working tirelessly to achieve this. This year alone, I know the number of states we have visited to open offices. We also have an office in the United States, and planning to have one in Canada. By our 10th anniversary, I know Revolution Plus will be unbeatable.

Who are your competitors and those that threatens your vision?

About competitions, I don’t strive. My spirit doesn’t strive. It doesn’t go down well with me. When I copy other people to do my things, it won’t work for me. So, I hardly look at what competitors are doing; I just do what God asked me to do because once I focus on people, I loose focus of God. I don’t focus on competitors, no one shakes me! Everyone is doing their things. The world is enough for everyone. I know once I do what God asked me to do, I will survive. I will rather focus on doing this and leave the rest.

Since the company started, can you itemize the CSR done by it?

We do a lot of Corporate Social Responsibility services. As my husband and I are philanthropists by nature, CSR shows in our businesses, to our staff and even those who don’t work for us. Some bigger multi-national companies don’t attempt the kind of giving back we do. Every year, we partner with Lagos State government and Access Bank for the Lagos marathon. We have a five years mandate to be the official real estate sponsor for the marathon. This marathon supports several athletes; even disabled. Sometimes, we give them lands. The journalist, Owolabi, who was killed in Abuja was honored by us with a land, and the parents have come to pick up the documents. And we do a lot of event sponsorship like AY Live, gospel concert, and many others. We do a lot of giving back. Sometimes, we go to anywhere our estates are located to give foodstuffs, school bags, etc., and we run stomach infrastructure with our sales and people are given rice, ram, groundnut-oil, cow, etc. People that received bags of rice during Christmas were grateful since it is expensive in the market. I think giving back is just part of us.

What is your prayer at 40?

Since I still have many things to achieve, my prayer is that God will answer all desires I have tendered before him.

Definitely, there were several admirers on your neck before you married your husband. What made you settled for him?

When I met my husband, his salary was be around N30,000, he didn’t really have money. Then, he wasn’t looking like he is now. I think he had two or three shirts because when he comes to visit, he repeats those shirts. And then, I had two other guys who are on my neck who were bankers, with cars and money. But one thing differentiates him; he was God fearing, and I know anyone who loves and fears God will definitely love man. Secondly, he was very selfless. All my life, I have never met anyone like him. He can give out his eyes if another person needs it more than him. It is extreme to the point that I have to put cautions. This attracted me to him because if he was that selfless. Then, he would take me to Ikeja under bridge to buy ‘Bend Down Cloths’; since that’s what he can afford. One day, he took me there and he spent N18,000. I know he earns N30,000 and he bought cloths worth N18,000 for me. This got me thinking, and that means if he has one million, he won’t hesitate to spend 800,000 on me. With this, I made up my mind that he is the person I am going to marry because I know when he has more, he will do more. And he wasn’t doing it to me alone, he does it to everyone even with the little he had. My guess wasn’t wrong, because as he grew bigger and bigger, he was doing better and better. Even for my birthday, he spared no expense. Even when I complained, he shrugged it off.

 

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