Mr. Gbenga X-adebija, the Managing Director/Chief Executive of Ashton & Layton, is always upbeat – and this can even be deduced from afar. Hitherto the Corporate Affairs Manager of Cadbury Nigeria Plc, he was one of the former MD, Mr. Bunmi Oni’s trusted lieutenants and was very much around during the monumental scandal that ousted the man from office and also dented his image badly. During a visit to his office (on Allen Avenue, Ikeja, Lagos), on Tuesday, December 2, 2014, by YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, X-adebija vehemently defended the man, exonerating him of all the messy allegations that he was accused of them. He also spoke about his new business, family and more. Enjoy…
First, what exactly does Mr. Gbenga X-adebija do at Ashton & Layton?
Well, I’m the Managing Director of Ashton & Layton, which means that I am the chief servant of the company and I’m responsible for everything in terms of the operations, marketing, administration, defining a vision for the company and ensuring that we are tracking well in terms of the goals and objectives that we set for ourselves in this company…
Can you tell us some of these goals that you’ve set for yourselves?
Well, we came into this sector, I will say, at the time when it was difficult for entrepreneurs to start a business in Nigeria. As you know very well, where we operate, although we call it business communication, it’s public relations, it’s advertising, it’s marketing, it’s training and capacity development; event management…Already, there’s a huge number of players in all these sectors. So, it was important for us to define for ourselves how exactly we are going to play in this sector to remain relevant, to carve out a niche for ourselves and also to ensure that we can grow our client base and that the company continues to remain profitable and grow well into the future.
What distinguishes you from the other people who do the kind of thing that you do here?
I think it has to do with first, our track record. For those who are familiar with my pedigree and the way my career has sort of progressed over the years, you will know that when it comes to public relations, branding, all aspects of business communication, certainly, one has established a track record of excellence in this sector. And so, what we bring to the table is quality, a track record of excellence, customer-focus and then we try to achieve a unique differentiation for our clients. So, whatever proposal or whatever idea or initiative that we offer to one client maybe 100 percent different from what another client will get, even though it’s still in the same area of public relations and branding and whatever.
Do you mind telling us some of the clients you work for or have worked for?
Okay, we’ve done work for some clients in the oil sector; Seplat, we’ve done work for Seplat; we’ve done work for Baywood Continental, we also have clients in the financial services, IT, quite a number of clients. But it’s growing and we hope that as time goes on, it will grow more.We have clients outside the country as well.
So, what got you interested in this line of business?
When I left Cadbury in 2007, I decided that I will go away for some time and so I went to the US with my two sons just to have an extended break and while in the US, it was interesting. There were two opportunities to work in the US – Bank of America and also for the State of California. But having spoken with my wife, we were not so sure whether it was the right time to raise children in America. Although the idea of birthing my own business had always been there, but I always thought it was something I would do when I was in my 50s, some mid 50s or something. And so, it was quite a surprise to me as well. But all of a sudden, this desire to start my own business started getting stronger and stronger and stronger and so I felt let’s give it a shot. And that was how we started.
What do you like most about what you are doing?
What I like most is creating an impact. The clients we’ve worked for, they’ve always been pleasantly surprised that whaaooh! You know, we’ve created a whaaooh! experience for our clients in terms of what we’ve been able to offer them. Maybe because we are still a growing company and so we are still in a very creative entrepreneurial phase and we have loads of ideas which perhaps more established companies do not have. And so, creating a whaaooh! experience for our clients is something we’ve been able to achieve.
What don’t you like about what you do?
I said it earlier – it’s difficult to start a business in Nigeria. The quality of infrastructure is very poor; starting a business in Nigeria means you have to virtually bring your own infrastructure – have your own this, have your own that. Everything! So, it’s very, very tough.
What is the costliest mistake that anybody in your line of business can make?
Costliest mistake? (Chuckles) I suppose it’s quite a few, but none readily comes to mind. But I will assume that, for instance, I put something up on my Facebook page sometime ago. It was an advert for one of the telecoms which was running on television and there was a typographical error; it was running on television yet the typo was there and I just thought – how did this pass through all the quality checks, all the internal control mechanisms within an agency and it came out like that? So, those are the kind of things; they may be small, but I think it speaks about the quality of the agency in terms of their systems and their procedures and processes.
Most people know that running and sustaining a business anywhere is not easy. What would you say has sustained you and kept you going in the last 7 years or so?
I would say it’s the passion and the fulfillment, because if you don’t feel any sense of fulfillment about what you are doing, you certainly will not continue. Because, like every business, there are periods of boom and there are periods of when you are just managing to coast along. And so, if you don’t have a commitment and the passion, you tend to give up. So, yeah! I will say passion and commitment and a sense of fulfillment. That you are creating something and you are actually seeing it work right from ideation to execution. I mean, that’s a fantastic feeling to have.
What’s the next level for Ashton and Layton?
What we want to do is – we want to beef up and first consolidate on what we are doing at the moment in terms of making sure that our existing clients, we can continue to offer them the best services, world class service standards and then we are constantly looking to grow the client base of the company. So, we will be doing a lot of stakeholder outreach. As time goes on, we will try and ensure that we get as many clients as possible.
Of all the clients that you’ve worked for, which one can you single out as the best?
(Laughs) – All our clients are important to us. Even the small ones; we don’t have any small client. All of them are important because clients are the lifeblood of the business. They are the reason for our existence. So, even the clients that perhaps in terms of the size or the magnitude of the business they’ve given us may not be as much as the others, we still take all of them the same way.
In your sector, who would you like to work for but still hasn’t been able to attract?
Em…we will like to work for an international organization, maybe partner with the United Nations or the World Health Organization to do something impactful for Nigerians. That’s a vision we have and we hope that, that will happen in the next 5 years that we’ve planned for ourselves.
Your company has a unique name, how did you come about it?
(Laughs) – Interestingly, my wife came up with the name. When we finally agreed that I was going to set up Ashton & Layton or set up a company, we were now looking for a name and so she came up with the name. Actually, the name was meant for her own company. She wanted to set up a different company, aside from what she’s doing now and so she came up with the name and she showed me. When she showed me, I said ah, I want this name for my own company! So, that’s how it happened.
So, what does the name mean?
Actually, it’s just a name. But you know it ties into the organizational brand equity that we want to build for the company because we give world class service standards. So, I will describe us as a world class company operating in Nigeria. We don’t see ourselves as a company with local standards. No! We see ourselves as a world class company. So, it ties into the vision that we have for the company and the brand equity.
Now that you’ve mentioned your wife, Yetunde, let’s even talk about her. How did you meet her and what attracted you to her?
(Smiles) –I met her when I was Head of Corporate Affairs at Cadbury. She was then a final year student of Mass Communication at UNILAG and they had this Mass Comm. Week or something; they had some Faculty programme and they needed sponsorship. And you know the way God works, usually, such matters are not handled directly by me at that time because they were a bit too…(demonstrates as if to say little). Other junior colleagues of mine will handle that. But for some reasons, she insisted on seeing me; she said she was asked to see the Head of Department, who was me. And so when I was told that somebody wanted to see me from Mass Comm., UNILAG, I said send her to so, so. There were all kinds of people within the department she could see. So, I actually did that, and walked away and went for a meeting; came back, no kidding, about 12 hours later and she was still waiting. She said she was told that she had to see me and make sure that everything was well. So, when I came back and my secretary told me that that lady from UNILAG was still waiting to see me, I thought why is she waiting to see me? Hasn’t she been attended to? She said yes, she had, but still said she wanted to stop by and say thank you or something. So, I said okay, send her in and that’s how it started (laughing).
How big is the family now?
Incidentally, November 25th will be our 14th wedding anniversary. We have two boys and a girl. The boy is Gbenga, he’s 13. The other boy, Tobi is 11 and Bisola is 10. Bisola and I have the same birthday. She was born on my birthday.
Alright, away from work, what do you do for relaxation?
I’m trying to socialize more, but you know how it is as an entrepreneur. It’s easy to get caught up with work. You know you are working all the time. So, I’m trying to socialize some more. Hopefully, by next year (that’s this 2015), all the children will be away in boarding school, so my wife and I have all kinds of plans for ourselves. It’s just patience. We are waiting, let all the children go to boarding school and then we will go back to how we used to be in terms of always going to watch movies, eat out and everything. We do that a lot now; but it will just be ourselves. Not with the children.
In your journey through life, who will you say has impacted your life the most?
Maybe they are about three, four people. Obviously, my father – my first role model and someone that I really looked up to and admired. My father was…I know everybody thinks their fathers are unique and everything. But you have to know my father to understand the kind of person he was in terms of the character, his moral standards and especially for me, his knowledge. I tell you, if he was alive now, you won’t need Google at all! He was that deep as a person. So, he was the one who exposed us to things. I mean, our library when I was growing up was massive. We had books on every topic under the sun. So, it was my father who instilled in myself and all my siblings the hunger and thirst for knowledge. And then in the corporate world, my former boss at Cadbury, Bunmi Oni. He was an awesome role model.
Again, he was someone who was extremely disciplined, very knowledgeable…
(Interruption) – But Mr. Bunmi Oni didn’t leave Cadbury honourably. He was accused of monumental fraud and actually departed in shame?
Well, those things don’t…I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what happened at Cadbury…
(Another interruption) – Really! As an insider then, would you like to tell us what exactly happened?
Em…(laughing) Maybe that’s for another day…
But you can tell us today and perhaps set the records straight?
Well, the only thing I can say categorically and for sure is that he did not embezzle any money. And I think since he didn’t embezzle money, he can go out with his head high, knowing that his character cannot in any way be affected. Even though the circumstances of his exit were not the most ideal, I think those of us who know him well and those who were involved in the whole situation know that Mr. Oni is still someone exemplary…
So, what prompted the whole Cadbury brouhaha then? Allegations of cooking the books, falsifying accounts and things like that…
(Laughs) – Well, like I said, it’s something that involved… all kinds of issues surrounding it, which I will not like to go into, from my perspective…
Okay, back to the issue of those who affected your life the most…
Yeah! And then my brother, my elder brother, Clement. He’s someone that I really admire.
You spent quite sometime in the corporate world, particularly Cadbury. What fond memories of your days at Cadbury do you still carry with you?
Ah! I will say my best moments at Cadbury, the most exciting, the highlight of my career was working with Bunmi Oni. I tell you, 99 percent of those who worked with the man will tell you the same thing – that having someone like Bunmi Oni as a boss is an experience that no amount of money can buy. And then, Cadbury was a family. It was like a family, we really cared about each other. There was a strong bond. So, my working years at Cadbury, my career at Cadbury was something that I really, really enjoyed. The only other place I’ve worked was for government and so I cannot really compare. But maybe in a way, that’s good, because I’m not sure any other company can give me what I enjoyed at Cadbury.
NB: First published January 2015