Biodun Shobanjo, chairman, Troyka Holdings, has spent forty three years of his life building strong pillars for the Nigerian advertising industry. In this interview, he tells FUNKE OSAE-BROWN his love for advertising, books and his business values.
The front desk at Troyka Holding is quite busy this sunny Thursday morning. “Good morning, madam,” the receptionist greets me.
“Good morning. I will like to see the chairman, Mr. Shobanjo,” I replied.
“Kindly put down your name.” I registered my name on the visitors’ book as I was led into the expansive courtyard. Before long, I was ushered into a large office. Sitting behind the huge desk is Biodun Shobanjo, the man widely known as the doyen of the Nigerian advertising industry. Dressed in a grey coloured suit with a matching bow tie, his signature, his wrist well accessorised with a Calvin Klein wrist band and a watch, he looks well polished.
Shobanjo’s experience as an advertising guru spans 43 years of his life. “End of this year will mark 43 year I have been in the advertising business,” he tells me as soon as the interview began. In 1980, in collaboration with Jimi Awosika and Chukwuma Ibe, he set up Insight Communications Limited with the vision to change the local advertising industry. Ten years later, he started Troyka as a holding company for the various marketing and management service companies he established. With quality investment in people and a host of worthy global affiliations, Shobanjo has positioned the Troyka Unit Companies in the right capacity to serve by partnering with clients to build brands and businesses with integrity and professionalism.
Out of his love for journalism and advertising, he recently built a new structure for the Mass Communication department of the University of Lagos as his personal social responsibility. By so doing, Shobanjo says he wants the younger generation to surpass the standard he has set.
“If a man has spent 30 years in any profession, the least you can then begin to think of is giving back to the society so that you can impact the society positively. So that what you are doing or you have done will also help others in attaining or going beyond the standard that you have set. When you look at great people who have given back to the society, you will find out that those are the kind of things that drive them.”
The next step in Shobanjo’s line of achievements is to ensure that the next generation gets education and the way he thinks he can achieve that is to put in place institutions which will benefit them. “I believe it is good to help others to go to school and get education, putting in place institutions that can be used to advance knowledge. It is for the betterment of the society. I think that at the stage which I am now, that is what I should do. I say to people, how much food can you eat now? How many cars can you drive that anyone can’t? It is time to give back.”
Shobanjo describes his 43 years in advertising as exciting. According to him, he built the eight companies he owns from ground zero. “In those 43 years what I struggled to do is build companies that are strong, starting with Insights and the eight other companies that we have. As the team lead, I needed to do a lot of the conceptualisation, there is no company that we have in our group that I wasn’t the architect of. I always tell them, guys I think we need to go into this area. And there will always be a need for us to go into that area. They see the opportunities in those areas.”
Shobanjo says people are at the core of his operations and the eventual success of all the subsidiaries. “I have the foot soldiers that will make it happen. It is that ability to be able to see the opportunities and pursue them. All the time, all those things are always in the interest of our clients. There were challenges but what we have done is to learn from them. We employ about 40, 000 people as a group. You can’t say that it is a small company.”
Shobanjo is not an advocate of family business hence he has not built his companies in that direction. He believes in building an enduring business for Nigerians and not his family.
“There is nobody that runs any of our businesses that is a Shobanjo or Awosika,” he says frankly. “We have always made that point that it is not a family business. This business is for Nigerians. The closest person to me Jimi Awosika is from Ondo, I am an Ijebu man, Ken who runs Mediacom, is an Igbo man. Our business is for Nigerians. So far you are qualified to work here; we will give you the opportunity. We have the opening. I say to my family, even to my children there is no automatic place for you in any of these companies. If anybody wants to work here you have to have what it takes to work here.”
He tells me none of his children have been groomed to take up the leadership of his numerous businesses rather they are all engaged in careers that catch their fancy. “One of my children works in the media. He works for Channels TV. There is one that works for the Nigerian Stock Exchange. My two daughters live in the UK. One of them worked for Goldman Sach, she was a vice president but she now works with a financial institution in the UK. The second is into fashion. My eldest son is the only one who works in advertising. And he works at Insight. He used to work for an advertising company in America. He didn’t just begin to work at Insight. He passed through the normal process. He was grilled and we said okay, we will hire you at this level. If I had wanted to do like a typical businessman he would have joined us as a director.”
In terms of values and principles, Shobanjo says integrity is his core business value while investing in people for skill acquisition is his core principle. “If you have a profession, the first thing you need to understand is that the raw materials that you need for the sustainability of that profession is people. You need people. It is not just people who are on the street but people who can bring in knowledge and skill. Knowledge you acquire from school but skill you won’t acquire until you get to work. Somebody needs to teach you the ropes. What we do is the combination of both at Troyka.
“We recognise that we work in a knowledge environment a man who is a marketing director of a multi-billion naira business and needs to sell the products that he is producing everyday needs people who understands how to connect his brand to the consumers. You may not necessarily have gotten that knowledge from school. It is our responsibility to teach you how to connect the consumer to the brand. So what do we do? From day one, we recognise that over 20 years ago. As soon as we recognise there was a gap that we must create a school. We must create the opportunity to teach. That is how we started the management trainee programme some 23 years ago. That programme, if you are fresh university graduate you go through one year of training. Virtually we are dashing you money for that one year because you are school. We are training you. It will amaze you that by the time these boys and girls graduate and become what we call management executives or account executives, they are hitting the ground running.”
Shobanjo is an executive who finds solace in reading biographies and autobiographies. From the, he tells me, he learns more life principles from people’s experience.
‘There are people who biographies and autobiographies I never get tired of reading books by Richard Brandson, Yung Kua Yung these are people I have read and read. I am just motivated by their experience. Even Alan Sugar’s book, I have read. Those are the kind of books I read as opposed to management books. Management books are good but I am saying to you that it is about doing. You learn from what you do. You learn from people’s experiences.”