Oba Otudeko: Celebrating an Icon, By Dele Agekameh
The 2016 Africa CEO award won by Otudeko is no doubt a testament to his outstanding contributions to the development of the African continent. He has, over the years, spurred economic growth in Africa by transforming and improving the business landscape with progressive and futuristic projects.
Distinction is like an iron forge. It imbues its source with rugged grains of burnished steel. In billionaire businessman, Oba Otudeko, it manifests like parapets of strapping character. Otudeko personifies so much of what makes excellence a burdensome, yet enviable trait. He is a man who sees something in everything that the rest of us necessarily don’t. But his genius is not just his ability to see what others can’t; rather, it is about how he channels it and puts it to good use.
This, perhaps, is why he was recently conferred with the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Year award at the 2016 Africa CEO Forum held last week in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. The Africa CEO Forum is designed to reward Africa’s best CEOs, companies and investors whose strategies have contributed immensely to the growth of Africa. Otudeko emerged the winner of the 2016 award ahead of seven other African Chief Executives, including our own Aliko Dangote. Apparently, Otudeko and Dangote were the only Nigerians listed among the eight top contenders for the coveted award.
The 2016 Africa CEO award won by Otudeko is no doubt a testament to his outstanding contributions to the development of the African continent. He has, over the years, spurred economic growth in Africa by transforming and improving the business landscape with progressive and futuristic projects. While presenting the award to Otudeko, the Founder and President of the Africa CEO Forum, Amir Ben Yahmed, noted that the award was conferred on him for his achievements in the fields of development, governance, strategy, leadership, and financial performance across the operations of his conglomerate.
In his response, Otudeko expressed happiness at the recognition for his contributions to the betterment of Africa. In his words: “I see the award as recognition of hard work, commitment and confidence in what is indeed African.” He encouraged African CEOs to continue to work together to support the continent’s growth dynamics.
The award is a timely endorsement of Otudeko’s astuteness in entrepreneurship and citizenship of the progressive African business community. Otudeko is a very shrewd entrepreneur. He is an imaginative visionary too. But none of this influences his estimation of his competence and worth. Despite his proficiency and acclaim, Otudeko affects a humble poise.
Since I was introduced to him in his house at Ikoyi many years ago by one of Nigeria’s most outstanding army officers, General Adetunji Olurin (rtd), I have had the opportunity to observe him at close quarters. Even in his office in Ikoyi, which I have been to on several occasions, he levels up with his staff, throwing banters and joking with them whenever he moves around the premises. As Chairman of Honeywell Group, Otudeko observes remarkably patent and simple principles of business and leadership. He brings clarity of purpose to his work. He is a good listener who comes to the table not with some preset notion of distrust but an open mind; he asks all the tough questions and tries to find the solutions. That makes him an unassuming leader of men.
Born Obafunke Otudeko on August 18, 1943, the native of Odogbolu in Ogun State is, at his core, a positively ambitious, reserved and principled man. He is very honest about his convictions and expresses them without reservations, irrespective of the constitution of his audience. His ingenious approach to business has distinguished him as one of Africa’s most formidable and respected business icons. His dogged ascent of the steep planes of entrepreneurship establishes his girth as an astute magnate belonging to the proverbial rare breed or champions.
However, Otudeko’s leadership qualities did not come by accident. Over the years, he has attended management courses at several prestigious institutions including the Harvard Business School, the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland, the Arthur D. Little School of Management and the London Business School. A trained chartered banker, corporate secretary and accountant, Otudeko, whose domestic and foreign interests cut across diverse sectors of the economy, was, at various times, chairman, First Bank of Nigeria (UK) Limited, Airtel Nigeria and Fan Milk of Nigeria Plc. He has also served on the boards of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Guinness Nigeria Plc, British American Tobacco Limited and Ecobank Transnational Incorporated headquartered in Lome, Togo, among others.
He has been conferred with several honours. In recognition of his contributions to the economic and social development of Nigeria, in 2011, the ex-president and chairman of council of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) was conferred with the national honour of Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR) by former President Goodluck Jonathan, who was fond of referring to him as a father. Before then, he had previously been awarded Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) in 2002 and Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR) in 2000.
Back in his home base, Ogun State, as part of the activities marking the 40th anniversary celebrations of the Gateway state last February, Otudeko was also conferred with a special recognition award by the Ogun State government in appreciation of his outstanding contributions to the development of the state and the country.
Many people believe success is a rare privilege. But according to Dr. Kenneth O. Gangel, a former professor of Christian Education at Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas, United States, “success is not rare. It is common. Very few miss a measure of it. It is not a matter of luck or of contesting, for certainly, no success can come from preventing the success of another. It is a matter of adjusting one’s efforts to overcoming obstacles and one’s abilities to give the service needed by others. There is no other possible success. Most people think of it in terms of getting; success, however, begins in terms of giving.”
Otudeko must be a good fan of Gangel because in spite of the trappings of his fortune, he affects a conscious desire to impact lives positively, thus he gives back to the society through the Footprints Occupational Training Centres, an initiative of his Oba Otudeko Foundation. An astute administrator and philanthropist, it is incontrovertible that he has impacted positively on the immediate and relative communities of Honeywell Group through wealth and value creation. Not a few successful and celebrated business icons today have benefited tremendously from his business acumen and financial reserve.
The divine grace of God, no doubt, has influenced his trajectory as an ambitious businessman in climbing to the pinnacle of entrepreneurial acclaim. Strikingly regal in well-designed Nigerian and African fabrics, elegantly accessorised and especially complemented with his trademark caps, he moves around without an entourage at his beck and call; Otudeko carries no chips on his shoulders as many successful magnates are wont to do. Notwithstanding, his citizenship of humanity is enviable and worth emulating by generations of established and aspiring magnates.
Having joined the business world at a very tender age, he is, today, considered one of the richest men in Africa, according to Forbes magazine. His Honeywell Group was founded in 1972. It originally started operations as a trading concern, importing and marketing baking yeast, stock fish, glass and steel rods, among others. The group of companies has, over time, evolved into a diversified enterprise with businesses across major sectors of the Nigerian economy. Through additional portfolio investments, the group is also a significant provider of capital to other sectors of Nigeria’s economy including financial services, telecommunications, and security management.
Today, his conglomerate encompasses the oil and gas industry, flour milling, real estate and marine transportation sectors. Another impressive tract of his fortune is in the oceanfront Radisson Blu Hotel in Victoria Island, Lagos, which provides excellent services and world class relaxation for its teeming patrons. Here is wishing Oba Otudeko more feathers to his already richly feathered cap!