By Eric Elezuo
It is often said that what matters in the act of building businesses is not how big one starts, but how right. The truth is told of many who started with the right mentality even with little or no resources, and made it to enviable height. All such people did was dream big, employ determination, and inject plenty of hard work, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
And such is the success story of Nigerian multi-millionaire, Michael Ade-Ojo, the founder and CEO of the Elizade Group of companies, who started with next to nothing and through a dint of hard-work, catapulted himself to the height where only millionaires are found.
He was an early starter who at a very tender age, became a street vendor, and started selling charcoal, food, and firewood to help make ends meet.
Chief Micheal Ade-Ojo was born on June 14, 1938 at Ilara-mokin, a town in Ondo state into the family of the late Chief Solomon Ojo and Mrs. Beatrice Ademolawe Ojo.
Although born at a time when there was little or no financial aid for the less privileged, and parents believed a lot lesser in education, he still successfully made it through high school, and later got a degree in Business Administration from the university.
He attended St. Michael’s Anglican School, Ilara-Mokin, Ondo State, before proceeding to Imade College, Owo, where he stayed between 1954 and 1958, and obtained the West Africa School Certificate.
He proceeded to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) in 1961, and obtained a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree in Business Administration in 1965.
After his graduation, he joined the work force at CFAO motors; a French distribution company. The company paid the tuition for his last two years in the university as a result of his dexterity and commitment to duty.
In 1966, reports had it that while still working as a salesman for CFAO motors, he successfully sold 20 trucks to the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria, but to his dismay, his manager took credit for the sale. In frustration, he protested, but instead of the review of the situation, he was laid off at the end of the year.
He was not the type to suck over spilled milk, and so he moved on immediately after, and got a job at British Petroleum (BP). The quality of good salesmanship is hardly hidden, and his was very prominent. Therefore, within three months of his employment, he increased the sales of his local division by 25%. But like a case of deja vu; just as he was unfortunate with his previous employment, his new boss took credit for the outstanding growth, and this left him aggrieved and lost.
While in Lagos, during his annual British Petroleum (BP) holiday, he decided to take a daring step to approach the RT Brisco Group; an importer and distributor of trucking and automobile equipment. He made them an offer to sell their equipment for a commission on every successful sale.
After careful consideration, the RT Brisco Group decided to give him a trial. In just four months after he sealed the deal with RT Brisco, he sold about 40 cars. The commission earned from the total sales, were overwhelmingly higher than his yearly salary at BP. This motivated him to quit his job, and pursue his dreams.
In 1971, he started the company, Elizade Independent Agencies (EIA), with his wife, Elizabeth Wuraola Ojo. The name Elizade, was derived from both his wife’s name, Elizabeth, and his name, Ade. His company focused on the distribution of automobiles in Nigeria, especially Japanese cars.
He acquired the license to import Toyota Cars, with the name, Toyota Nigeria Limited, and single handedly, made the car brand, the most sought-after automobile brand in Nigeria. He later went on to acquire 100% of RT Briscoe in Nigeria, and subsequently acquired more shares, to make his total holdings in Toyota Nigeria Limited, sum up to 74%.
Today, his conglomerate consists of Toyota Nigeria Limited, RT Briscoe Nigeria, Elizade Auto Land, Classic Motors Limited, Crow Motors Nigeria Limited, Elizade University, Okin Travels Limited, and a host of other investments.
Ade-Ojo is also on the board of several Nigeria banks and other companies such as Ecobank, First City Monument Bank, and SMT Nigeria Limited (the official distributors of Mack trucks, Volvo trucks and Volvo Construction Equipment).
The story of Micheal Ade-Ojo is one of impeccable success. It shows an individual who not only mastered his craft, but also knows when and how to take advantage of opportunities before others start to notice. He stood above obstacles and frustrations and became, not only a great vehicle sales expert, but a man whose big fingers are in many pies, growing them successfully.
Chief Ade Ojo is a recipient of a number of awards both at home and abroad. He was awarded the national honour of Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) in 2005. Chief Ade Ojo has attended several top management development courses including the Chief Executive Programme of the Lagos Business School.
He is happily married to Taiwo Ade-Ojo; a woman he married in 2012 after the death of his first wife, Elizabeth, with whom he began his business empire. Ade-Ojo is blessed with prolific children, among whom is Deola Sagoe.
Today, Chief Ade-Ojo has seen four decades of existence, and was privileged to celebrate his 80th birthday a few days ago with the high and mighty in the Nigerian social and business circle.
In recognition of his support to both the nation and humanity, President Muhammadu Buhari wrote him a birthday tribute, which read in part: “On behalf of my family, the Federal Executive Council and all Nigerians, I write to heartily congratulate you on this landmark occasion of celebrating your 80th birthday.
“We are particularly delighted to share this auspicious moment with you and your family knowing that almost all the preceding years of diligence and sacrifice were spent in service of God, our country and humanity. Indeed, your visionary and entrepreneurial lifestyle has influenced our lives in immeasurable ways.
“As a nation, we remain grateful for your contributions to Nigeria’s economic and social growth, especially the investments in people. Your remarkable interest in inspiring and supporting young people has been reflected in scholarships, grants and the eventual establishment of a university.
“Evidently it has been a worthwhile journey, and as you celebrate this milestone of turning an octogenarian, be assured that we are eagerly waiting to be regaled with the memoirs of your long walk to success with the Elizade brand, and the lessons on entrepreneurship that will permeate generations.”
Sir, for your dexterity, and ability to hold your head high in the midst of betrayals and frustration; building a business empire that can only be envied, you deserve to be our Boss of the Week. Congrats!