Ask Ayeni Adekunle to introduce himself and you will hear ‘a stammerer, third class graduate and so on’. But guess what? He’s since surpassed and surmounted all of that and today runs one the biggest and most talked about Public Relations agencies in Nigeria.
Married to Dotun and blessed with two delectable daughters, the Oka-Akoko, Ondo State indigene started out organizing award ceremonies, then delved into journalism and ultimately PR. The fiercely focused MD/Founder of BHM (Black House Media, with subsidiaries like Plaqad, ID Africa and The NET Shop) spent the evening of Friday, September 6, 2019 sharing with YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, how it all happened and more. Excerpts…
How does it feel to make the cover of Forbes? Let’s start from there…
(Laughing) – I mean, it just says to me that we are doing something right and that we still have a lot of work to do. I run from accolades and acknowledgments and all of that, because if you are not careful, it could be a distraction. People begin to celebrate when they still should be folding their arms and putting in more…I just don’t want to think that I have arrived, that I am there. So, I want to still be here, doing my work and building. I run from just trying to be sitting down and saying oh, how will it go? I don’t think we are doing anything special or great here, but I think we have the potential to do great stuff. So, for me, that people are noticing what we are doing here and there, it’s fine! I call it a privilege to have that opportunity and then to be featured side by side someone like Steve Babaeko, who I respect a lot and who is one of the closest people to me, and then for me, the story, as I was saying to my friend this morning; I would like for every young person in the media or PR to actually read the profiles on the both of us. If I was young and starting out; if I read those stories, I will be very, very inspired. Because it’s just the story of how you can really, really try to change your life, without doing crime and I think that’s what we both share in common.
What would you say has gotten you where you are today?
I wish I knew (laughter). I wish I knew, because if I did, I probably would have aimed higher and dreamt bigger. I’ve always been very afraid and very unsure, so I end up doing more, putting in more and I think that that fear has put me in check. I think also that my upbringing and my mom and my dad played a very, very strong role in my values for hardwork and honesty and all of that. I think that at times too the stars just align. I was quoting the Chinua Achebe proverb on Twitter a few days ago that those who have benevolent spirits crack their palm kernel for them have to make sure that they are humble, because yeah, you get yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and it seems like you are a genius.
Meanwhile, someone else gets no, no, no and it looks like they don’t know what they are doing. So, there is the spiritual part of it and I’m grateful for that opportunity. But I also know that in life, you succeed when people open doors for you, and people will only help you when they know that you exist, when they like you and when they trust you. Everything we’ve done, there’s been individuals that recommended us. I don’t know anybody! I was a reporter. I didn’t raise investment. I built my business on people saying you wan do that thing, talk to Ayeni now! And I do it and I do it so well that that person then refers me. Every business that we’ve had, it’s not because I knew somebody that knew somebody. So, people know you, they like you and they trust you. It’s difficult to work in BHM, because I don’t take nonsense. That’s one of the hardest things people find when they come to work here. Because, I’m like guys, we are trying to build something, we are not here to joke. So, I think it’s a combination of factors that if I stand somewhere and give a speech and say this is how to build a successful business, I will just be deceiving myself. I have listened to a lot of successful people who will say to you that if this thing didn’t happen, I probably wouldn’t be here today. Things that are totally out of their control. So, it’s a combination of the stars aligning for you and you understanding what is important.
So, how does it feel to run one of the biggest PR agencies in the country at the moment?
I don’t know that we are one of the biggest yet; but I know that we have a dream to become one of the biggest. We want to build the first company in this country to be quoted in the stock exchange here, in London and in New York. We want to build the first company that would stand the test of time. When I started, I was told that what I wanted to do was impossible. I was in Encomium magazine when I had the idea of starting a PR company and everybody I spoke with told me you are just going to waste your time. And I know, by the time I was writing for ThisDay, I almost took a job from Nigerian Breweries. Tunmise Adekunle and I were being considered for that role. But along the line, I had PR experts who were already established, who showed me the way – do this, do that. There’s a gentleman called Dr. Phil Osagie, who said you have to do this. So, I was guided well; my journalism background also helped me. So, today, I feel like we have an opportunity to introduce people to a new kind of PR; people think PR is old school, it’s very boring, it doesn’t pay well. But we pay our guys very well, very comfortably; our clients like and respect us. So, we have a chance to bring a lot of dignity back into the profession to support what those who came before us had done and we have a chance to really, really, really do so. My dream is to walk into New York one day and see a company started in one back street in Ikeja. That is my dream, because you see companies come from China, from America and they will tell you they are in 40 countries across the world. I’ve spent time with them, they are not smarter than we are. What happens most times is that some people have limited vision or limited resources or disaster just happens, such that it’s outside their control. God helping us, all other things being equal, we stand a chance of building a company that can make Nigeria proud.
What separates BHM from the other PR agencies out there?
We are very stupid (laughter). We do things that people just imagine you must be out of your mind to try and the only reason we could afford to do those stupid things is that I started very young. So, the risk I could take, a 55-year-old person could not take it. We take all the risks, up till now. Everything we have is in this business. I’ve reached a point I should be trying to buy houses here, buy houses there, buy cars here, buy cars there, but no! We put everything that we have, from day one, into the business; we hire people, we pay them well, we train them abroad. Small company! Even big companies don’t train their staff abroad or when they train you, they will tell you to sign a bond. We don’t do all those nonsense. And it was the same formula I used when I was a journalist. I was a stupid journalist. I didn’t train in journalism, I was a microbiologist and I just started doing things the way I felt was right and it happened to just have worked. So, I think we do things differently, not because we decided to, but that is how we are. I never entered a PR agency before I founded BHM. I didn’t know how a PR agency would run. I just went with my own creative ideas. So, we’ve been very stupid, and we want to remain stupid, we want to do things differently and we want to also focus on solving natural problems. Some people say PR, it’s just output; but we want to say guys, see how we are moving you from point A to point B. So that if you switch off what we do, you can actually see the impact, that ah, no, let’s switch that thing back on.
What is your own personal definition of PR? Not the one you picked up from text books…
I will say it’s to manage relationships from a beneficial perspective to all the concerned parties. You want to understand what is important to the people involved and you want to do all you can to manage that relationship in such a way that there’s no confusion and there’s value exchange and there’s positivity; whether you are representing an oil and gas company that’s going to operate in Bayelsa or you are working for an airline that has just had a plane crash, that people have died or you are trying to introduce a new malt drink that can help people keep fit or you are trying to work for a university – the students on one side, parents and the lecturers and all of that, on the other side. To understand the truth, to understand integrity, to understand the value of communication. PR is trust. Once you can build trust and somebody is saying we are going to send all of you to America tomorrow and they are not saying that was what they said last year, you have failed. To communicate in such a way that it’s credible, that you say this will happen and it happens and at the end of the day, you build that goodwill and there’s a warm relationship between all the stakeholders. In the case of oil and gas, between the host communities and the oil companies; in the case of a government and the people – that when you see the governor, your heart has already calmed down, because you know the leader is here. So, it’s to manage that relationship in a very honest, very open, very trustworthy way that everybody will benefit. It’s not, you know, we are going to Bayelsa, we are an oil company, let’s just go and tell them this, no! That’s why the PR consultants and agencies that fail are those who connive with badly behaved organisations to deceive people and all of that. So, PR is about the truth well told.
Your romance with PR, what ignited it?
Writing and Keke Ogungbe. I just wanted to be a writer, but by the time I left university, I penciled three places I would like to work – Channels TV, Ovation International magazine and Encomium magazine. I knocked Channels off because it was audio-visual and it won’t give me time to write, and I really wanted to write. I knocked Ovation off because it was a periodical; it was probably coming out maybe four or six times in a year then. I picked Encomium because it was a weekly, so I knew I could sharpen my skills and all of that. I mastered my writing from reading and from all the things I did in the university. Then, before I came to Encomium, I was doing artiste management – Sound Sultan and all of that. So, they took me to Keke, that ah, this man works with Encomium, but he wants to be our manager. Keke said ah-ah, I know this man now, no o, you can’t be an artiste manager, you have to be a publicist! You write well. In fact, I will give you your first brief. And that was the first time I was hearing the word publicist…
Which was the first brief that he gave you to handle? Can you remember?
It must have been 2Face Idibia or so. They were very big, very, very popular then and once he said that word, me, I’m a very curious person, I went back home and I went online and I was like this thing, this is what I’m already doing now. Then, 2Face called me later and said I know Baba Keke is giving you work o; we met at Do it All (a hangout then in Opebi, Ikeja, Lagos); 2Face and I. He said I want you to also do stuff for me, this is what I will pay you. So, between Keke and 2Face, I realized that what I was going to make in a year from Encomium, I could make it from these guys. So, that was when I said okay, and I started asking for advice, for opinion and almost everyone said it’s a waste of time. And as at that time, it wasn’t something that anybody had really, really done here as a profession. But I took it up. And I saw that because I knew entertainment and I knew how to write, it was easy for me to help these guys and all my colleagues were also in the media. That’s how I started. So, I will say writing and Keke Ogungbe.
You started out organizing awards, then journalism, publicity and now full PR. Why are you constantly moving?
And I’m about to move again! It’s just being able to evolve and being able to pursue stuff that you are interested in. I would be a dead man the day I have to work in an industry I don’t enjoy…
You said you are about to move again. Do you mind telling us where you are moving to?
I’m interested in technology. And I’m very passionate about using technology to solve problems for media, solve problems for Public Relations and for advertising. So, I’m about to make a move that I think the future of our entire business would depend on.
You used to write for Hip Hop World, Encomium, Punch, and ThisDay. What fond memories of your days in journalism can you recollect? Or let’s talk about your fondest memory…
(Laughing) – It can be a couple. Encomium; seeing your story on the cover of Encomium at that time was a big deal and then you go to the back and speak to the circulation guys and they tell you we did 97 percent and you would look at yourself and say me? It took me almost a year to get into Encomium. This man here (Mr. Azuh Arinze) and Mr. Kunle Bakare, it took me almost a year to convince them to let me write for Encomium. I was squatting in Ketu with Jubal Dati then and I would take a bus and I would trek the rest of the journey and I will write and submit to Mr. Azuh; he won’t even be there, he will say drop it with Mr. Akpan and I will come back 2 weeks later, he will say I no see dat thing o, go and write another one and I kept trying, I kept trying, I kept trying until one day, I think Mr. KB was around, Mr. Azuh was around and he said this boy, and they gave me a chance and the next week I had like four, five stories in the paper. And I went to serve and I came back and they said I can have a column. There was a guy called Frank Chike, who handled the music column then. So, it was a big deal, to move from there to now writing a cover story. So, for me, I will never forget that. Also going to ThisDay, where I was told that when you write for newspapers, you have to lead with this; it has to be more text, small photo and I said no, young people won’t read this stuff. I was writing for ThisDay, The Sunday Newspaper and my editor was like no and I was like please, just allow me. And the man just gave me a free hand – Moses Jolayemi and Nseobong Okon-Ekong. They just said okay, try it and by the time I was leaving ThisDay, almost the entire, that entire pull out from The Sunday Paper was like that. Up till now, I still see them. So, for me, it just shows that even if you learn how to do something in school, you should be creative about how you approach it later. But more important, after I left Encomium, I wrote the test to work for Punch. I love telling this story. Olumide Iyanda, who was the editor of Saturday Independent and Steve Ayorinde, who had just come back from his Master’s studies and was on the Editorial Board of Punch; they told me, go and write the test. And I wrote the test and I came back, they said I failed Punch’s English test and I’m like yeh! And Olumide and Steve actually offered to help me intervene and find out what happened and I told them no, I can’t be lobbying for something I know that I am skilled in and I left them alone. And Nse took me to ThisDay and two years after I got to ThisDay, Steve had become the editor and we met at Visa, somewhere in Opebi and he said are you still interested? I said why not. And a week or two after, I got a letter from the same Punch, inviting me to come and be an external columnist. I should look for that letter and frame it (laughter). So, I was no longer applying to work, and when I saw how much they would be paying me, it was like two or three times what they were paying people who would have been working there as staff in my role. I did their job for a year or two and when it was time, I fired them!
When did it dawn on you that it was time to be on your own?
Before I joined Encomium! I came to Encomium for a reason – I wanted to learn the structure of how to operate a media company. I remember the first few weeks I joined, there’s a gentleman called Sola Onamodu and Tolani Abatti. They took me; there’s a joint next to Encomium and I didn’t have any money then. Sola Onamodu used to give me transport money to go home, Prof will pay for our beer. So, we were talking that day, it was in 2004. That was the year I left school and I said to them that I’m going to be here for two years o! They looked at me and just laughed; I said to them, the girl I want to marry is serving in Owerri (in Imo State) and I’m going to marry next year. They looked at me again and laughed. You know, it looked as if this one doesn’t even know where he is. So, I knew before I came. But after I got into Encomium, I fell in love with the job, and if Encomium was better structured and more visionary, I probably would still be working there now. I probably would be a VP of one division or something. I left Encomium because I wasn’t doing well economically and I just thought I could try something different. I know I left even six, seven months before I should have left, because there was a 50k that I used to get from Nigerian Breweries each time I go and cover Gulder Ultimate Search and I thought ah, so, if I leave now, I won’t get that money again? And I was dilly-dallying, let me wait, let me wait… But there was a day…you know, when you have it up here (touching his neck), I just told Mr. KB that I’m leaving. And that was it. I had no plan to leave that day, I had no job, I had no money, I had nothing! I didn’t plan to resign that day.
Let’s come to your new territory again – what makes a good PR agency?
Hmmm! Having the right contacts, in government, in media. They are extremely important. That’s one. No. 2, understanding communication strategy. No. 3, understanding creative story telling. No. 4, being able to attract smart people to work for you. But five and most importantly, having integrity. PR is not about spin, PR is not about lying, PR is not about, you know, let’s try and do this. No, it’s understanding that it’s important to build trust. That’s what serious organisations are built on. That’s why you see companies calling back products; even before you complain, they will say oh, there’s a fault on this model, we are recalling it. Trust and integrity. That’s what you build a nation, an organization on.
What’s the sweetest thing about being into PR? What excites you most about being into PR?
It’s being able to guide our clients to avoid mistakes. Some agencies like to quench fire, but we like to make sure that the fire doesn’t happen in the first place. I was telling a client two days ago that I feel very privileged, because our clients like us, our clients support us, they want us to succeed and our clients believe in us a lot. So, it’s being able to guide our clients to make sure there are no fires and that when there are fires, they trust us enough to listen to us; especially when we say guys, this is what we need to do. I like that a lot. And if I bring it to BHM; being able to work with all these young people that I’ve seen grow. Philip Ugba that runs our MTN account joined us an intern; unpaid intern. Today, he’s leading a team of over ten. Enitan Kehinde joined us as an intern. I remember the day I met her in this office, one tiny girl. She’s running the NB (Nigerian Breweries) account now. We grow our guys from down up. The CEO of ID Africa, Femi Falodun, I met him on Twitter. He sent me a DM on Twitter that he’s in Zenith Bank, he wants to do media, I said come. But you will take a pay cut o! He said fine. So, if I bring it to BHM, it’s being able to sort of groom these young people, coach them, work with them. A lot of people break down because it’s tough to work here and then you see those who succeed just bloom. Some of them are still here, some of them are out. Anita Aiyudu is the head of marketing at I’m Staying Alive Foundation, MTV Sugar; Osagie Alonge just left Pulse as Editor in Chief, he’s now Director of Growth at Opera. There are so many of them who are on the clients’ side, there are some of them who run their own businesses like Timileyin Bello. So, for me, being able to develop young people and being able to build a business out of something that I love.
Currently, what is your staff strength?
I know we are less than 70 as of now. We were 74 a few weeks ago, but I know we are less now. But we always move between 50, 60, 70, 80; we go up and come down. But less than 100.
What don’t you like about being into PR?
You can’t take days off! You can’t take days off! We work Monday to Sunday, especially for the kind of clients that we work for. That’s one. Two, there’s something I didn’t like, at the beginning, that I determined to change. I think we have almost fully changed that – people didn’t respect PR, people thought PR was just a press agency. But I think we are in a place where that has changed significantly now.
What would you say has been the greatest thing that PR has done for you?
It’s given me the opportunity to pay my kids’ school fees and take care of my family. It was what I wanted and thought journalism couldn’t do for me at a time. I hear journalism is much better now and I’m happy about that and then people have a lot of options now, with blogging and all of that. But I didn’t want to not be able to take care of my bills and I saw a lot of older people that I looked up to, who didn’t really have economic independence. So, I was very afraid. I’m a paranoid person. My life is very busy. I just want to be able to eat the kind of food I want, take care of my kids, take care of my family and then to be able to interpret my ideas and dreams, and it gives me a platform too. You go to bed thinking about something and two days later you bring it to life.
What would you have wanted PR to do for you that it hasn’t done yet?
Nothing! Except what I’ve not been able to do for PR. I want to do more, I want to train more people, I want to change the industry, I want to be able to inspire young people studying Mass Comm to believe that they can make a living, they can become successful by doing PR. Most people leave school and go into advertising. So, there’s more that I have to do for PR than I expect PR to do for me.
What is the costliest mistake that anybody who is into PR can make?
Not being credible. Not being credible, not being honest. There’s a company in the UK called Bell Pottinger, they lost the entire company. You cannot but be honest and truthful and straight forward. It’s a disaster.
Where do you see BHM in the next 10 years?
Quoted in London, in New York and Lagos and probably in Johannesburg, run by some of the most brilliant young minds from all over the world and I will be seeing them from afar and I will tripping for them.
Currently, you work for multinationals, like Nigerian Breweries, MTN, DStv, who are the other multinationals or who are the other big businesses that you would like to work for? But yet to pull in the account…
There are probably a couple. There’s one that we would really, really love to work for, that we’ve been eyeing, that we’ve just been awarded the account. But I can’t mention them yet. But it’s a major global brand that we’ve eyed for a long time. The same way we eyed MTN for almost 10 years. We look at businesses, we look at their products and we think ah, these guys, these things they are doing, we can add value o. Apart from that, we’ve never really worked full time for a bank. We’ve done projects and all of that. But I’d like to support a bank that prioritizes consumer banking. The one that I like to do that I know we almost never do is government communications. They are not getting it right in a lot of ways. The South Africa – Nigeria issue that happened, it’s because somebody did not wake up. You see, you manage issues before they become crisis. If you manage issues proactively, you prevent a crisis. If you don’t manage an issue, it escalates into a crisis. And between issue and crisis, that one day that you are trying to argue and think, it’s like a whole year. It’s something that worries me a lot. I have friends that I advise on the sidelines, but it’s something I wish we could really, really support, even if pro bono. But I also don’t have the temperament and the appetite for all the politics going on in that place. All I want is just to do a good job.
For someone who doesn’t understand what exactly a brief means, can you shed a little light on that?
A brief is just a note containing what the client is trying to work on – either a problem they are trying to solve or a product they are trying to launch or an idea they are trying to execute and it comes saying, this is what the market says, this is what we know, but this is what we are trying to achieve. Based on the foregoing, we would like for you to come up with a proposal or with an idea on how to solve this problem or how to take this product to the market or how to build this idea further. And then we take that to develop a strategy and a tactical plan that will come and say based on what you’ve told us, we think you got this wrong and this wrong and this wrong. This is the right thing or we think for your brief, this is best way to go.
To win a brief in your sector, what must an agency do?
You have to be accredited first. So, I advice everybody to be members of NIPR, that’s the umbrella body for PR in Nigeria. I also encourage people to join the association of consultants, which is called PRCAN. So, first, you must do those two and then you must be known. If you are not known, you cannot even get invited and I tell people, don’t bother yourself, don’t hustle to be known. Every job you do, do it well! You are passing a message around through that. We’ve won accounts because a client saw what we did for another client. So, it’s being accredited to practice, being in the system, circulating properly and even when you don’t have business, do pro bono work. When there’s a crisis somewhere, do pro bono PR around it, pick up a cause like cancer, do something that puts you out there, that people can see your ideas and all of that and then people will say can you come and do this for us? But more important, build relationships. People are always in the room when recommendations are being made. Will your name come up? When people are saying, so, what do we do? So, who do we use? And in 2019, where the Internet is everywhere, have a digital presence, have a Wikipedia page, have a website, pay somebody for some sweet search engine optimization, so that even if I’m not asking somebody and I’m asking search engines, it says oh, there’s this agency somewhere in Okota or somewhere in Ikeja doing this. So, use technology well, use story telling well, and put your skills out there. We did a lot of free work, we still do free work. Just because we want to be out there, we want to get seen. If we are trying to enter Europe now or somebody is trying to give us a chance, we won’t be arguing about the bill. Because we want to do a great work and let everybody say who are these guys first? Can we see them?
Another area where most people find difficult to comprehend is when PR agencies say they are going for a pitch. What does it mean to go for a pitch?
Basically, it’s to go and struggle for a business. The business owner has said, we want to introduce a new product, or we are entering a new market or we don’t like our current agency and then they pick a couple of people. It’s called RFP. RFP means request for proposals. And they say, oh, we’ve done screening, and at times they will just come to your office unannounced, just to see whether you really have an office. They will check your website, they will do their own due diligence, they will come up with five, six, ten names and they will say guys, come and present. Then, they will send a brief. The RFP contains a lot of particulars, including the brief. The brief can be abstract, and then the agencies go to the client to present their ideas, to convince the client. A pitch is essentially going there to convince the client that you can do his job, you are the man for the job. And then after that, the client takes stock and awards the business to who they think is most competent or who they think they are most comfortable with. At times they won’t invite you if you work for their competition; at times they don’t mind, in case you want to drop their competition for them.
Can you recollect the most memorable brief that you’ve gone for and maybe what happened?
Em… I’m trying to look for the most ridiculous one. Yeah! It’ll be a pitch for a mall that was trying to open in Nigeria, where we went somewhere in VI; it was a new mall from Japan. They probably kept us there all day and by the time we got in, the people who called us to the pitch had another meeting, so they did not participate. They left us with their colleagues from Japan who could barely speak or understand English and it was just a waste of time. We prepared for the business, for the pitch, but by the time we were leaving, we knew that we can’t get this business. Because we couldn’t even communicate with these guys. We’ve had a lot of pitches that did not go well. But with each pitch, we have learnt. And then, there’s no account that we have that we’ve not probably pitched once or twice before we got. We will go to one pitch, it will be a disaster and then they will tell us come two, three years after and I will tell my guys, see, failure is just an opportunity to learn. So, I never take it personal. Somebody told me when we went for a pitch and we lost it; he said don’t worry, it’s a revolving door and I held on to that. Almost every business that we have pitched for that we lost, that we’ve had a chance to pitch for again, we’ve won. Even the Viacom business that we have, the first pitch, we didn’t get the business. Somebody else got the business and we were grateful for the opportunity, and they came again in a year, or two after, and said we are pitching again, are you interested? And I said yeah, why not!
When you are not thinking PR or writing, what are the other things you spend your time doing?
I read, I’m a reckless reader. I read as if I don’t know anything. I read a lot, I sleep a lot. If I’m not reading or working, I’m sleeping. I just try to make sure that I don’t die young. When I used to have an office, I just take an hour or two hours off, every afternoon, to nap. I will lock my door and sleep. So, I read recklessly, because I’ve never really learnt much from formal education. I read and I sleep. But when I am abroad, I walk a lot.
Can we know the book that has made the greatest impact on your life?
There are a lot of them…
Ah! If I were to give you one…whaaooh! (silence)…
Okay, tell us more than one…
When I was in school, I read John C. Maxwell, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. It made a very, very strong impact on me. It’s a very powerful book. I also learnt a lot of life’s lessons from the Holy Bible. In fact, the Yoruba Holy Bible. It’s very, very, very deep. I read a lot of Robert Greene series. I’ve learnt a lot reading Chinua Achebe. I read business books where I can pick lessons and all that. Right now, I am reading a book; I’ve forgotten the name of the author, but it’s about the subscription model. In fact, it’s a gift from a client. It’s about how we all need to approach our business, from a subscription perspective, whether it’s your salary or it’s payment per quarter or per month and all of that. I must also say that there is a book, there’s a series – The Rule series. By Richard Templar. They are very basic things that you should know and at times it just reiterates all those things. But one of the most fundamental books I read, when I was much younger, was the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.
What singular decision did you take that turned around your life?
I thought about it today (laughter). It’s marrying my wife. It’s the most important career, life, business, everything decision of my life.
Because that’s the reason I’m here. When I started my business, I was very broke. I had job offers. My wife could have put pressure on me to go and take a job. My wife had a job, I had her ATM card, I was spending her money. My wife is an intellectual, she’s very futuristic, she gives me peace and she believes in me. You must be friends and be with people who inspire you and who believe in you. A lot of people get distracted by who they marry or who they spend time with. But she supported me. My wife had no business dating or marrying me. I was the least of the guys that she could want to marry. My wife was a first class student, she left with 5.8. First class is 6.0. I left with a third class. So, I think that our friendship put a structure to my life very early. I wasn’t distracted after school and I had that support. And up till now, when I look round, I can’t imagine going through this journey with anyone else. It made a lot of other things easy. Fortunately for me, she then fell in love with human resource, HR. When I was now to start my business later, she set up this whole place. My wife put all the structures that we built BHM on. And it was half of her money that we used to register the business. So, just to have that friend who believes in you, who trusts you and who is willing to support. I just pray to God everyday, that God, help me not to mess this up.
With how much did you set up shop?
Zero kobo! And I always say it; zero startup capital. But we registered the company with N15,000 and I think we paid the guy like twice or thrice and I’m sure it was partly my money from Encomium and partly my wife’s money. But it was 15k.
Tell us more about your family. What’s your wife’s name, what are your children’s names?
I can share my wife’s name, but I never share my kids’ names. My wife is Ayeni Oladotun Folake. She’s a human resource practitioner and she’s currently a doctoral researcher, studying for her PhD in the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland.
Finally, we need to get your love story…How did your paths cross?
We met in school, at the University of Ibadan. I had this friend that is from Ondo State; I’m also from Ondo State. We heard that there was a bursary meeting, where they wanted to give students bursary – in Zik Quadrangle. So, we went there. We had not had our bath that morning. We were very broke. We went for that meeting, but apparently it was just a set up. They just wanted us to come for meeting. So, we got there, we did the meeting and they put us in committees. They put me in the same committee with Dotun. I saw that she was left-handed, very skinny and I’m left-handed. Very skinny, with one long T-shirt. I was trying to know her. She looked at me and was like who is this? I asked for her room number and she looked at me again like why do you think I should give you my room number? She was very nasty. I left her alone. By the next meeting, she gave me her room number. But I was dating at the time. She was dating too. So, we became good friends. We were friends for like a year before one holiday…then she was living in VI. And we decided to start dating. Then, we were probably in part 2 or part 3. She told me in school that if she really doesn’t get engaged by the time she leaves school, she will either go do her Master’s abroad or something. And I was like, I can’t afford to allow this girl go. So, I proposed to her in my final year, before exams, and all my friends thought I was stupid. Because, look at this small boy, you are 25 or 26, you don’t know where your life is going, you are talking about marriage. I had a small cocktail then. Even the ring, I couldn’t buy the ring. It was a friend of mine, we went to Idumota (in Lagos) to go and buy one cheap, stupid ring. So, I proposed to her, she said yes and when we finished in 2004, she went to serve in Imo, I went to Zamfara to serve, for one month. I came back and joined Encomium and by the time she was done; she was done in May 2005, we got married in December 2005.