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Tribute to Dotun Sanusi at 55

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IN 2017, when the wind of journalism blew my path to cross with Dotun Sanusi, little did I know that providence was preparing me for some tasks ahead. My decision not to practise armchair journalism propelled me to look for a personality who was into agriculture and oil and gas at the same time. A couple of months before I heard of Dotun Sanusi, I had been looking for an entrepreneur who had established companies in the two sectors.

This was during the early period of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. Then, there was a public chorus that Nigeria needed to diversify from oil to agriculture. Being a journalist who likes to break news, I told myself that I needed to do a story on this paradigm shift in our nation’s economy but didn’t want to write an opinionated article about the topic. I wanted to do a personality interview with someone who had already traversed the two fields. I was sure that the Federal Government and Nigerians would take a lesson or two from the interview. I thought that if the interview was published in a couple of national dailies, the readers would learn more about the challenges and intricacies of these two important sectors. For months, I conceived the idea until one fateful day I was in company with a politician when the late broadcaster, Babatunde Olaniyi, arrived. He had just finished the launch of his book, ‘Ona-Ola’, at the House of Chiefs, Oyo State Secretariat, that day. Immediately he sat down, he dropped a brochure on the table that turned out to be his programme of that event.

Out of curiosity, I picked up the brochure and began to flip through the pages. I saw a part that talked about the chairman of that occasion who happened to be Dotun Sanusi. Then, the name did not ring a bell as it does today. I continued reading the profile until I saw the part which said that Sanusi was the Chief Executive Officer of TNL, an oil and gas company, and Ilaji Farms. It was there I told myself that at last I had found the person I had long been looking for. I got in touch with Sanusi a couple of weeks later through the late Babatunde Olaniyi. I eventually conducted the interview with Sanusi. The story was first published in the Nigerian . It was later published in some magazines. The rest, they say, is history.

Through divine arrangement and instrumentality of the late Babatunde Olaniyi, I started working for Sanusi. It was there I began to notice that Sanusi was not a regular Nigerian businessman. He was so simple and cosmopolitan that one began to wonder how it was easy for him, despite his accomplishments, to relate with people of all social and economic classes. What amazed me when I was privileged to know about some of his investments then was how he was able to manage successfully his businesses that were scattered across Nigeria and abroad.

It wasn’t until I started paying more attention to his nuances and speeches that I began to realise that besides the intelligence and ingenuity he is endowed with, Sanusi lived by certain business principles. I realised later that these principles were actually the same principles adopted by other successful businessmen to grow their businesses into empire.

For the purpose of this article, I will share some of these principles which I was privileged to know. Of course, there are many more which I might not have known simply because the situation did not arise for that, or the nature of my job then did not warrant him telling me more. One couldn’t have expected such a business colossus to run his business empire through a few principles; there must have been several of them.

One thing Sanusi does not joke with is his physical fitness. Throughout the period I worked for him, there was no single person who combed the length and breadth of Ilaji Resort as much as Sanusi did without showing any sign of fatigue. There were instances when he called my attention to my protruding tummy and when he realised that I did not take his observation seriously, he would drag me to the gym and we would do some workouts together. Being someone with a lot of engagements and commitments, Sanusi does not joke with his fitness and health. Once he is fit and healthy, his supersonic brain remains tuned for topnotch performance. Psychologists hold that there is a nexus between the thought process of an individual and the quality of life they live. ‘As a man thinketh so is he’ is a divine saying.

During Ona-Ara Sports Festival, a competition organised to herald the opening of Ilaji Resort, many of us who served in various committees were of the opinion that the facility was going to be ceremoniously commissioned. We didn’t know that Sanusi had other plans totally different. What Chief Sanusi did after the competition caught everyone by surprise. He picked a few people that he identified and began a skeletal operation of Ilaji Resort with them. It was later I learnt the principle of ‘start small and grow big’. While this skeletal operation was on, he was erecting structures; thus giving the resort a facelift on a daily basis. Simultaneously, he was bringing musicians and entertainers to the resort, throwing the gate open to all from far and near, free of charge. It took some of us a long time to understand that the facility was just a jigsaw puzzle and he was only building the parts bit by bit. This massive infrastructure continued for years as guests continued to look for something new each time they visited the facility.

If there is anything almost everyone notices about Sanusi, it is that he doesn’t talk much. This principle was vividly explained recently by a former governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola (SAN), when he was talking about a special quality of President Bola Tinubu which many people did not know. According to Fashola, a lot of people tend to underrate Tinubu because he hardly talked anyhow. Just like Sanusi, Tinubu allows his actions and the results to do the talking for him. A very good example of this was the day it was announced that the Federal Government had granted Ilaji FM Radio the licence to operate. No one saw it coming, not even some of us who were working closely for him. Just like a chess player, Sanusi keeps his next move close to his chest. After all, what people don’t know, they can’t destroy.

As an entrepreneur, one thing you cannot afford to have is an employee with a bad attitude. Like a virus, such an employee is bound to infest other employees with his cancerous behaviour. Ssnusi is a believer in good attitude over talent. To the Chairman of Ilaji Resort, if an employee possesses a good attitude, he is just some steps away from becoming a master of his job through mentoring and on-the-job training. The newly installed Jagun Olubadan of Ibadan has demonstrated this countless times at Ilaji Resort. He has nurtured employees who had no prior experience in hospitality to become hospitality experts through proper guidance and mentoring.

Another remarkable principle I later adopt and apply religiously in my own business and personal life is the urge to learn more. This particular principle came to the fore during the African mini-football championship financed by Sanusi and hosted at Ilaji Resort. Due to the location of the mini stadium inside the resort, the technical crew, led by my humble self, was experiencing network glitches which affected the quality of signals transmitted. The football fans across other African countries who relied on Ilaji Resort’s channels for clean, sharp and clear signals, were complaining of not getting good signals from our live feeds. The technical crew resorted to lowering the quality of the signals in order to prevent skipped and glitched transmission. Sanusi noticed this and being a lover of smooth operation, he frowned at it. He asked me to meet the son of the African mini-football president, who was around all through. This was the man from whom I learnt to be an expert in that field. I wanted to explain to the chairman that the issue we were experiencing did not emanate from us but from network providers. He urged me to never pass up an opportunity to learn, no matter how minute the knowledge might appear to be. I beckoned on the guy to come check our transmission set-up. Having closely examined it and found out that everything was in order, he ran a check on our network strength and concluded that the fault was from the network provider. I went further to read on some successful businessmen and I found out that they find no one too big and too small to learn from.

One instance that I will never forget in my life was the day my partner, Ademola Alabi, the then Marketing and Public Relations Manager, and I were brainstorming. It was routine for us as we were virtually inseparable. While we were inside our office planning our marketing itinerary for that day, Sanusi entered with a countenance we rarely witnessed. As a matter of routine, Sanusi ensures that the company’s report is studied daily, no matter his busy schedule. He studies not only the figure but the departments that perform well and those who don’t. This attitude I later adopted in my own business after I left Ilaji. At that particular period, sales at Ilaji were not what we had projected, Sanusi entered and sat down. He asked us a few questions about our marketing plans. It was apparent that he wasn’t satisfied. And while we were scratching our heads to come up with points, he had already listed more than 50 marketing leads within three minutes. Some we had thought of, some we had not. He concluded, counselling us by saying something that turned out to be one of the life-changing statements I had ever heard: ‘Money doesn’t just come, you have to strategise for money to come.’ After he left our office, I took some moments to dwell on what he said. If a multi-billionaire can say such, one had better take it to heart. My sojourn in the business world later reinforced the authenticity of this statement. Of course, the sanctity of the divine arrangement as regards who becomes rich is not in contention here. But there are certain things God will not do for human beings. He has deposited in everyone certain principles we can use to attract His blessings to ourselves. What we do with them and how we use them is left to us.

There are other principles like the ability to relate with the lower cadres of society which some refer to as ‘street experience’, the ability to act with unprecedented speed when the need arises, the principle to focus solely on the basics or fundamentals of issues and projects, being able to take calculated risks, and several others that space will not permit me to mention. You can be rich through sheer luck, but to create wealth and build an empire like Sanusi has done demands grit, financial and social intelligence, ingenuity and exceptional skills.

Having being a student of Sanusi’s school of business management, and having put some of these principles into practice, I say, yay, lucky me. It is with this in mind that I join several others to wish Chief Dotun Sanusi, the Jagun Olubadan of Ibadanland a happy and prosperous birthday.