Mike Adenuga: What I saw
By Suyi Ayodele
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MY first and only physical encounter, at least at a close range, with the Great Guru was on Tuesday, August 3, 2004. I had gone through two stages of interview for a job in his Globacom telecommunication outfit. The message came on Friday, July 30, 2004, that the final interview with Mr. Chairman was slated for Monday August 2 at 4.00pm. Monday came, and another message came, postponing the interview to August 3. There were about 23 candidates. We waited at the Saka Tinubu HR Department of the company. It was one of the longest waits for me. By 6pm, we were told that the interview would be held at the Oko-Awo office of the Chairman. We moved there. It was around 10.30pm, when the HR manager came to school us on how to sit, and speak when called in. “Once you enter, sit straight with your hands on the table and speak loudly”, the man said. By 11.17 pm, I was the first to be called in. I entered the office, which was like a cold-room because of the air conditioning system. Seated at the head of the table was the Man Himself. He was going through a newspaper and had the first two buttons of his top loose. He looked fresh! I sat as I was told. Then he turned and asked: “Yes, tell us about yourself”. I introduced myself and my hometown. At the mention of Ekiti, he dropped the paper and asked me: “Ekiti man, how many PhDs do you have”? I responded that I had no PhD but “a master’s degree with a PhD grade.” He laughed and everyone laughed. I blamed myself. Not done, he turned to one white woman, whom I later got to know to be the Head of Customer Care Services, Maria Svensson, and said: “Oyinbo pepper, do you know Ekiti? Oh, you need to go to Ekiti; they don’t ask you what you want to eat. They ask you which soup you want because they assume you want to eat pounded yam. Three things spoil Ekiti people, and the three things start with letter P, Pounded yam, PhD and Petition.” He laughed again and others joined him.
I was just quiet, wondering if I had made a mistake. He turned to me and asked again: “What can you do for us?” Yes, this is the time, I told myself. I answered: “Sir, in the course of the interview, I was made to understand that I would be coming in as a Regional Public Relations Manager….” He did not allow me to continue. He clapped his hands again. “Gentlemen, I like this young man. He likes titles.” He continued: “He has created a title for himself, (making an arch with his hands in the air), Regional Public Relations Manager’’. The laughter almost drowned me. He turned to Mr. Bode Opeseitan, then Head of PR, Globacom, and asked: “Bode, what is the designation of the young man we engaged some three months ago” Opeseitan answered: “Media Relations Officer sir”. The Chairman responded: “Good, if we eventually engage this young man, that is the position you will give to him…” He spoke about one or two other things, asked questions about Edo State and the session ended. That was the beginning of my 16-year journey with the Globacom family.
There are two songs we use to celebrate elders in my native Ekitiland. One of the songs is esoteric; the other social. I sing the social one here today for the man popularly known as Mr. Chairman, Dr. Mike Adenuga (Jnr), the Chairman of Globacom, who turned 70 years on Saturday, April 29, 2023. The song goes thus: “Agbu lu we me hi da, hoora Baba agaba lu we me hi da, hoora Baba” (You are getting old, hello old man, you are indeed getting old). Reaching age 70 in the Nigeria of today, a country ruled and ruined by merciless locusts we have as leaders, is no mean achievement. Life expectancy for Nigeria in the preceding year 2022 was put at 55.44 years. This is why it is understandable that people who have had dealings with Dr. Adenuga (Jnr), one way or the other, rolled out the drums in celebration. The goodwill messages have been very huge.
Going through all the accolades and encomiums poured on Dr. Adenuga (Jnr) in the last one week or so, I came to one conclusion that the man has been very lucky. He is lucky because he has succeeded in beating our age-long saying of “Eniyan kii suwon laaye, ojo ti a ba ku ni a ndi ere (A man is not revered while alive, it is when he dies that people make an aesthetic statue of him). From within and without, Mr. Chairman has been painted as a good man, a perfect human being and the best humanity can give, by those who through announsorials, write ups and what have you, chose to celebrate him. Like he himself would ask: “Between you and me, what do you think?” How do I answer this? Permit me again to quote the man on how he feels whenever people call him a good man. He says: “…The day everybody likes me and calls me a good man, this business is finished.” That is the man’s attitude to kind words, flatteries and patronizing comments about his character. Every man knows his strengths and weaknesses. Dr Adenuga (Jnr) surely knows his. In one of his interactions with his retinue of staff, he said this; “Gentlemen, I have always known my strengths. One of them is to look through people and identify talents.” And indeed, he has one of the most penetrating minds and assessments of people and business environments. Little wonders that he has succeeded this far in life. I have no doubt that given his personality and his tendency to pay attention to the minutest details in any memo or presentation made to him, he would have sieved through all the encomiums and judged each accordingly. I say this because he once affirmed it to his Executives thus: “…Things don’t escape me. What I do is, I keep these small tabs, and I come back to them. That is the way to do it, gentlemen.”
Dr. Adenuga is like the proverbial elephant meat. Each eater comes, cuts any part, tastes it and describes the venison based on the type of meat he thinks he has eaten. For many, Mr. Chairman, otherwise known as the Great Guru, is the best man ever. He is the most generous to those who have benefited from his open-handedness and to those who have seen his other side, they also have their tales to tell. What this tells us about the man is that in life, there is no perfect human being. We all strive to be good and leave impressions in the minds of those we encounter in our daily activities. I was in the employ of Dr. Adenuga (Jnr) for good 16 years. Based on my experience, all I can say is that it is not an easy task to pin him to any character trait. He has his high moments with people, and he equally has his down time too. That is why he is first human. This is why, as recorded for him, in some meetings, he volunteered: “Maybe I am the one that is wrong. What do you think?” While the attendees responded with: “you are right sir”, “Chairman cannot be wrong”, and “Chairman is correct sir”, the man understands that as a human being, he cannot be right all the time and so, once in a while, he tries to let those around him to note that he is not God.
What did I find out about the man and his business empire while my stay lasted in Globacom. The first is that Mr. Chairman is in full and total control of his business empire. His work philosophy is “We must build a ring of protection around the business. It is absolutely important.”
Hear him again on what the business means to him: “If I have worked so hard to put the money together, I will not allow anybody to rubbish it.” As said earlier, he has a very penetrating mind and probably, through experiences, he has found out that many would abuse power if given unfettered permission to run things. In an instance, when an overbearing attitude of one of the executives came to his knowledge, he upbraided the fellow thus: “Did you write any exam to sit on that chair? And yet you are doing big man for nothing. Humble yourself and learn to work better with others.” Such admonitions help in whipping those who would have built an empire within an empire back to line.
The man sure has a good sense of humour. And, oh, he has a way with words! He can be equally acerbic and unpredictable. Take for instance, the occasion he sent one of his close men on an errand and the man came back and sent a short text message to him. He responded thus: “Bros, this message is too short. There is no information here. Can you give us full details please!” A week or so later, the same executive was also given another assignment and when he came back, he sent a lengthy message to Mr. Chairman. This is what he got in response: “Awe o, this message is too long. I am no longer a schoolboy! Make it short.” In another case, a very long memo was presented to him, and he responded thus: “Shouldn’t you know I’m the Chairman? I don’t have the time to read through all this. What are the current issues? Please revert.” Confused? Then hear this. At a presentation session, one of the senior guys was trying his high falutin prowess and he was cut short thus: “I can’t have you practice your English on me. What is this ‘upping the ante’ all about? Ante! Ante!! Ante!!! I am not your mate; I am the Chairman!” If you were in that situation, what would you do? Those who experienced such took it in their strides because the next moment, the same Mr. Chairman is cracking jokes with them. One of the ‘Chairman’s boys’ once told me this of the man’s attitude: “The Baba once told me that before he goes to bed, he takes notes of all that transpired in the day to determine if he was fair to some people, or he was justified. Those he felt he was unfair to; he reached out to them. This is why it is possible for you to have a bad day in a meeting with Baba and the next day, you have a lunch appointment with him”.
Dr. Adenuga (Jnr) is an enigma, no doubt. He sees only those he wants to see, while those who want to see him don’t get to see him. It is pretty much easier to get the proverbial excreta of the masquerade than to see the man who calls the shorts from his Banana Island palatial home cum office. The reward package in his system is not the most perfect, but it is equally not the worst. The man believes in the element of luck in life. And truly, luck plays a good part in his life. As an Ijebu man, he makes a nonsense of the notion that an average Ijebu man is miserly. Adenuga can be too generous to a fault. His largesse, tagged “stoning” by staff, comes in different forms and that makes him more like the mystery man. I recall here that sometime in 2010, he “touched base” with some of the PR guys in appreciation of a project well done. But he left out the three of us. A week later, our Head of Unit went to thank him on behalf of everybody. He told the head that he did not give money to everyone and asked if our boss wanted him to extend the gestures to the three of us, to which the man responded in the affirmative. Guess what he did. Instead of what he gave to the earlier beneficiaries, he doubled what he sent to the three of us. Again in 2012, after we finished the Ofala Festival in Onitsha, the team lead went to go and give an account of how much was spent and what was left. “Share the money with the boys”, was what Mr. Chairman told him. I was in Owo, driving to Akure, when the information came that the man asked us to share the leftover money. As I got to the B Division area in Akure, I got a call from our boss. I picked the call, and this is what he said: “Suyi, Mr. Chairman asked me to give you a cheque of…” I thanked our boss and put a call across to a colleague to find out what happened. What I was told was the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe, Agbogidi, while thanking Mr. Chairman for making the year’s Ofala Festival colourful, also praised the Globacom staff who came to activate the Globacom end of the ceremony for doing a good job. Pronto, the Chairman called the team lead and asked for the list of all those involved in the activation and sent a significant amount to them.
Dr. Adenuga does not use the word, “sack”, whenever he wants to yank off anyone from the system. What you hear is like: “Shouldn’t we ask him to go home?” “Can we ask him to excuse us?” “Can you please put a paper in his hands” or, “Can you let him feel the weight of a paper?”. Such euphemism! His philosophy, as espoused in the quoted piece above is “There is no excellent way of parting, but there are many good ways”. Many indeed left the system in very pleasant circumstances and many others in not too good ways. Interestingly, Dr. Adenuga (Jnr) never closes doors on relationships. There are many people who were made to “feel the weight of papers” only to be invited back when the needs arose. The man behind the wheels knows that he cannot have it right with all the people, hence, he philosophizes thus: “Some people have affection for me; some hate me. I know.” Whatever attitude one may have with Dr. Adenuga is based on what one experienced while working with him, or, for him. Globacom is an institution and anyone who passes through that empire must have lessons – to learn.
Now the Great Guru has clocked the Platinum age of 70. What can one wish for such old age rather than celebrate him with the old folks’ song above. At 70, Dr. Mike Adenuga has become an Eegun Agba (Elders Masquerade). My people say “lero lero ni eegun agba ma njo (The Elders masquerade dances gently). Mr. Chairman should slow down now and rest more. The Great Guru is one of the luckiest Nigerians and it is gratifying to note that he is giving back to that same society that made him like no other person in his grade. His passion for Nigeria as shown by the existence of 90 percent of his business concerns on the shores of the country speaks volume of his personality and remains inimitable. Whatever may be his failings as a human being, we can only ask for God’s grace upon him like every other creature of the Omniscient. On this note, may I wish our Chairman, Dr. Mike Adenuga (Jnr) long life and sound health. Happy birthday to the true O si Na Nwanta Buru Ogananya!