Dr. Ausbeth Nnamdi Ajagu is only 47 – but he has done very, very well for himself. With a first degree in Political Science (from BENSU), a Master’s in Administrative Law (from LASU) and a doctorate from Californian Coast University, the Nimo, Anambra State born father of three, has always believed in integrity and hard work as his guiding principles. Handsome and humble, creative and credible, he is one of the few Nigerians under 50 who genuinely care about the country. Married to Anuli, a minister of the gospel and motivational speaker, the Oxford Hotels Group, Academy for Entrepreneurial Studies, Nigeria, AES Excellence Club and Goldfish Insurance Limited, all emanated from his fecund imagination. At his exquisite Lekki Oxford Hotels, he opened up to YES INTERNATIONAL! Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, on some vital issues. Come with them…
Business is anything you do on a regular basis; anything you do most of the time. If you sleep 20 hours a day, that means your business is sleeping. If you go to parties, night clubs 10 hours a day or 12 hours, that means your business is dancing. So, it’s good for us to understand what business is all about first. Now, having chosen what your business is, to be a success, to be a good businessman, there are so many variables that interplay each other. Would you want a business that would be lasting? Would you want to establish a business that would last after you’ve passed on? Would you want a business that can grow in leaps and in bounds? Or would you rather want a business that will just hit the roof and collapse the next day? So, it’s for you to decide. If you want the one that will last, and even when you’ve gone it’s still there, you have to first study the business; look at all the people who have gone into that kind of business, study those who have failed in that business and learn the lessons – why they failed; study the people who have succeeded and know why they are succeeding. That’s the first step. Or you do apprenticeship by way of going to serve under someone. Tutelage. Learning the ropes. Learn the ropes and when you come out, you are cooked. So, when you enter, you know all those things to avoid, pitfalls to avoid and you cruise at an optimal level. That kind of business requires patience. Don’t do things because people are doing things. Don’t embark or join the bandwagon. So, you must define what you want to establish, who you want to reach. That is where vision comes in. What is your vision? You have to establish where you want to be. Then, you go to mission – how do you achieve that vision. It’s like saying I want to be the best shoemaker in town. That’s your dream, that’s a vision. How do you achieve that vision? It’s a different kettle of fish. Which pathway will you follow? And that’s where apprenticeship comes in; studying the business comes in. Of course, you have to have what I call a lion heart to be a businessman. I tell people that those who pursue excellent service get money, get even extra and accolades. If your desire is just to make money and unfortunately you don’t make money within the first couple of years, you will be frustrated. But if your desire is to render quality service, even when you don’t make money, you will still stay tight, still pursue your dream and be focused.
What is the costliest mistake that most business people make?
The belief that all businesses can fetch money within a given period. There’s a gestation period. So, if you have a wrong notion that you are going to make money immediately you start, that could be a costly mistake because you will get frustrated.
What is the best way to start and grow a business?
You have to plan. I tell people that luxury is not expensive if you plan for it, because when you plan, you won’t fidget, you won’t be anxious, you will just be cruising; whatever comes you will know you are entitled to it and having learnt how to plan, you already envisage such problems. So, when they come, it will just be a stepping stone and then starting a business, the first thing I keep on telling people is to get your act right; plan and plan and plan. Of course, you have to study the people who have gone through that road before. Don’t just believe somebody is doing it, you can do it better. You don’t know the sacrifices the person must have put towards that; the price the person has paid.
Why are most people reluctant to go into business?
Nature has made it such that everybody can’t be in business. Otherwise there won’t be people that will work for others. Again, the fear of failure is the greatest inhibition to going into business because when you are a salaried worker, whether the company is doing well or not, at the end of the month, they will pay your salary. But when you are a businessman, an entrepreneur, if the business succeeds, you succeed, if the business fails, you fail and remember, you are not going to fail alone. As you are failing, God forbid, you are also paying salaries. Your workers are not interested in whether you make money or not. That’s the predicament of entrepreneurs. So, people are afraid of going into business because they are afraid of failing and it is ripe.
Identify your niche, identify your market. What market are you coming into? What space do you have in the market, what market share do you have? First is to identify the market; two is to know the market share. Are you going to be able to compete with the existing ones? You have to do your analysis, and that’s feasibility studies. You don’t necessarily have to pay somebody, but if you can afford to pay somebody, so be it. But the least you can do is to make some enquiries from those who have been in that business and have succeeded and learn from people who have also failed. Very important!
Why do some people succeed in business and fail in marriage?
Business is slightly different from marriage. You see, in business, good businessmen are capitalists. There’s no emotion in business. There’s no sympathy. I tell people that the greatest marketer is he who will tell you to go to hell and you look forward to going to hell. A good businessman is that person who will sell a spoon for one million to you and you will gladly accept to buy it. But marriage is emotion-driven. Ninety nine percent of the decisions you take in marriage are taken out of emotion. One percent, out of fact. No matter how many times your wife offends you and says sorry, you must forgive, because it’s inevitable. It’s for better for worse, unlike business. If somebody offends you in business or cheats you, you may forgive the person, but your paths may never cross again. You avoid the person. So, they are two different opposite sides. I’m not saying that you must not empathize, but I tell people, if a business man has the opportunity of taking every money in your pocket and tells you bye-bye and you happily tell him bye-bye, he will do it, provided it’s not by deception, nor by fraud, but by negotiation and ability to convince you. Business is not meant for children.
Why is it that most people attain success, but find it difficult to sustain it?
It may not be too difficult to make one million, but very easy to lose one million. No wonder somebody who made 26 million pounds in lottery became bankrupt after three months. First of all, the law of business is that everybody is trying to make money; every business is trying to make money whilst rendering good services. But having made money, for you to sustain that money, you have to invest. That’s where the discipline comes in, that’s where self discipline comes in, because the more money you make, the more problems you have and more opportunities for you to spend money come; the more affluent you want to live, the more ostentatious life you want to live. You want to tell everybody you’ve arrived. So, the greatest challenge, like I tell people when I teach entrepreneurship and leadership, money speaks one language – spend me! I repeat, it speaks one language – spend me! The Holy Book tells us that the love of money is the root of all evil. But the same Holy Book says money answereth all things. That means that money in itself is good, but the love of it is where the problem is. It’s only when you love money, you spend money recklessly. But if you know that money is meant to be sent an errand, you spend it wisely because you will be held accountable some day before God for every one naira you spent.
Why can’t most people do business with integrity?
That is the staying factor. It’s easier, as it were, to make money fraudulently than to make money forthrightly. Remember what I told you when I was defining business, I said what kind of business do you want? The one that can be sustained or not? The Bible tells us about two kinds of money – ill-gotten wealth diminishes while wealth by hard work increases. So, if you want to have an enduring money, enduring business, you have to carve a niche for yourself and determine that no matter all the odds, you must succeed. I don’t believe in failure. I believe there’s only one way to go – it’s either I succeed or I succeed. So, you put in every effort you have to make sure you succeed rightly. Because if you cheat to get to the top, when you get to the top, it will boomerang and you will collapse. That’s why you see people who made billion, within a couple of years, they just go bankrupt because the money you made through ill-gotten means will disturb and traumatize the person. That’s why some people go into cult and mortgage their lives and within a short period, they are dead. So, my advice is, the road to an enduring successful business is narrow, it’s tortuous, it’s long, but it’s worth it.
There are different kinds of business models propagated by different economists. I practice Christ model – do to others what you want others to do to you, lead by example, live righteously, plan yourself very well, pay your tithe on every money you get such that it tells you that that money was given to you by God and that with faith, He will multiply it by giving you brilliant ideas which would be only revealed to you and people will wonder how you are making it.
What do you like most about being a businessman?
I will say business has some merits and also demerits. You work 24/7, you don’t have closing period; even when you are on vacation, you are working. But in all, if you are destined to be a businessman, no matter where you go, God will bring you back to square one. So, it’s not the issue of your likes or dislikes, it’s all about what purpose are you here to fulfill. If you learn from Jonah, you will know that God has plans for different people. For instance, this hotel (Lekki Oxford Hotels), we never planned buying it. It was divinely revealed to us to do so, and God provided the funds too. So, it depends. That’s why I’m saying God will reveal to you what is unique to you and no matter the advice from man, it’s irrelevant. Once you hear directly from God, you take a plunge.
What don’t you like about being a businessman?
It’s not for me to determine what I like and don’t like. It’s not my decision. His will; not my will. Because I’ve tried my will a couple of times, I found out they didn’t work. Like when I was starting business, I imported cosmetics; I found out that I couldn’t turn the business around because I had no experience. I imported 42 cars on the former system bill on collection, and when I was about to remit the money, naira depreciated against the dollar from 20 to 40. I imported wine, before they came to Nigeria, they all got spoilt. Then I relaxed. I said God, show me your will and that’s it. Business is for adults with lion hearts and you have to make up your mind what you really want. It’s not a bed of roses. It’s not meant for children. You must have financial intelligence. It’s not the amount of money that passes through your hands that makes you rich, but the amount of money you are able to save and invest. There’s a clear-cut difference between a rich man and a wealthy man. There are three kinds of people on earth in terms of richness and all that. The poor spend money. Any money that enters their hand, they spend. The rich saves money. Any money they have, they save in the bank. The wealthy invest money.
You see, what Dr. Ajagu renders is service, not money-oriented. Like what we did today (The monthly business luncheon of AES Excellence Club), We spent a of lot of money, apart from offering our hotel free of charge to accommodate people; to discuss not our family’s issues, but national issues. People have termed me a crazy man. You see, it’s painful what I see when I go to other countries – I’ve been to well over 20 countries conservatively in this world. Some I’ve gone repeatedly for more than 20 times, like America, United Kingdom etc. But like I did say, each time I enter any of these countries, they will ask me how long i would be staying. The only place they say welcome to me is Nigeria and probably Canada for obvious reasons. But more than that, I feel that it’s incumbent that we develop this Nigeria because this is the only country we have. So, whatever we can all put together to make sure Nigeria survives, becomes what other countries are, the better. And I’m passionate about that. I’ve carried this crusade for years in different administrations irrespective of whether they care about what I do or not, because I’m driven by passion and the determination to contribute my own quota to the goodness of Nigerian project. That’s why I wrote some of my books. For instance, The Entrepreneur is all about how you can become a good entrepreneur without passing the hurdles I passed; Building A Virile Nation – how can Nigeria develop better than other countries. Things in Ghana tend to work better than Nigeria. So, in the course of serving the nation, in the course of serving the people, I make friends because they’ve seen in me the willingness to serve, not to make money. By His grace, I won’t say that I lack basic good things of life. So, like I did say, in the course of serving the nation, serving the people, they will just identify that you don’t want to make money. If there’s no money in it, many people are not interested in it. But Dr. Ajagu is not like that. Look at, for instance, The Association of National Honours Awardees, we are only 3000 to 4000 Nigerians. Most of them are not interested in contributing to national growth. But we founded it and we are driving it, spending our money to make sure that we come together to change the dynamics. Let there be a paradigm shift in terms of governance and the way things are done in this country. One time MD of a bank said that Ausbeth may never quit talking until all SMI’s are rich. So, they’ve categorized me as talking for the people. No matter the friendship I keep with The Presidency, with the governors and all that, my purpose is to help change the fortune of the less privileged, the down trodden. That’s it.
I would say I’m just a worker like you know. The companies I work for are into insurance, manufacturing, real estate, hospitality business, and education. We keep on expanding, because God sent us here and told us to occupy till He comes and that means a lot. It won’t be out of place also if the company I work for has interest in 50 different sectors; each of them doing well, contributing to national growth. That is my dream and I will accomplish it in Jesus name…amen!
NB: First published December 2013
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