CHIEF DELE FAJEMIROKUN.
Billionaire Businessman, Entrepreneur and Philanthropist.
Chief Dele Fajemirokun is a son of Late Chief Henry Oloyede Fajemirokun, CON who was a trade unionist that later became a prominent Nigerian industrialist and businessman and one of the country’s dynamic indigenous entrepreneurs. Chief Dele Fajemirokun is a chip off the old block. His father was an astute businessman that was a strong believer in, and promoted West Africa’s economic integration alongside Adebayo Adedeji which subsequently led to the formation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
As the first son/child of Chief Henry Fajemirokun, Founder of Henry Stephens Group, the notion was that the Author was born into wealth. Remember that Ebenezer Obey song in honour of his Dad, “Fajemirokun o fowo moluwa, otun fi m’enia. Ni ile ise re aimoye eniyan ni won je, ni won mu….iku o ni pa e Fajemirokun….”(Fajemirokun who uses his wealth for God and humanity. Large numbers of people derive their livelihood from his companies. You will not die Fajemirokun.)
However, in his autobiography The Making of Me: My Odyssey in Business, Chief Dele Fajemirokun points out that he was not born into wealth but spent his early years in a one room rented apartment in Isale Eko with his Parents, Uncle, Dad’s sister, Dad’s cousin and later, 3 of his younger siblings. His parents were a struggling couple in his early years and the lack in those early days created “the hunger for money and survival” in him. Sadly, his father died when the Author was 28 and he had to relocate from Kano where he was a manager at Bhojsons to run his Dad’s companies. Prior to this, he had only worked as a “sweeper” in his father’s warehouse and a “tally clerk” in his clearing & forwarding company while he was a student and now he was expected to step into his father’s shoes.
Chief Dele Fajemirokun had a fun and adventurous childhood. His reckless and daring qualities made him the envy of his peers and earned him the nickname “Dele Times, Dele Trouble”. By the age of 11, he was driving his father’s car in a “monkey style” around their street because his legs were not long enough for his feet to touch the pedal. At 13, he started flirting with alcohol and led his classmates in an uprising against seniors in secondary school. This revolt was aimed at protesting the high handedness of their seniors and the plan was to “hang the seniors upside down from trees”. Unfortunately, they did not succeed and he was expelled. One of his teachers exclaimed in Yoruba, “were ni, omowe” meaning he is just a mad boy, he is brilliant and his father once regretted not including “suicidal” as his middle name.
Chief Dele Fajemiro’s sojourn at the University of Ife was where he forged relationships with many friends who would later become future business partners. One of his cardinal business principles and a major key to the success of his vast business empire is his belief in and practice of business partnership. For many of his ventures, he invites friends to be partners, shareholders and employees while he retains controlling interest. This model enables him to share risks with others and benefit from the synergy associated with working with a formidable team of partners rather than just running things solo. They built big businesses together, shared larger profits and “laughed over losses”.
When his father died in 1978, Chief Dele Fajemirokun became the Group Executive Director (GED) of Henry Stephens Group (19 companies) and although he had not worked in managerial capacity in the group prior to this, his father’s excellent and accurate record keeping provided all the information he needed to know about the businesses. His first discovery was that the perception of his Dad’s “colossal wealth” was not the reality.
It was discovered that his Dad was heavily indebted to First Bank and Union Bank and he had used all his personal properties in Nigeria (except one) and all the companies’ properties to guaranty these loans. Whatever was in the accounts belonged to the banks Chief Dele Fajemiro’s first major challenge was how to get money to keep the businesses running and prevent his father’s great name from experiencing public ridicule and shame. A popular newspaper wrote that his father died bankrupt and a few of his father’s friends wanted to buy his house in Ikoyi and his Rolls Royce. He was able to negotiate an additional loan of N200,000 from First Bank under the leadership of Chief Samuel Asabia who Chief Dele Fajemiro writes glowingly about. This gave the companies a “new lease of life” and it took them 10 years to fully repay the loans and by the time the loans were paid, many of the companies had gone under.
It was while serving as the GED of Henry Stephens Group that an opportunity came that catapulted him to incredible wealth at the young age of 29. An American company, T-CAS, which had executed contracts for the Nigerian Ministry of Communications was being owed millions of dollars by the ministry and urgently needed a bridging loan of N50,000 to stay afloat. The American management team visited his office hoping the company or anybody there would be able to assist. He noticed their desperation and instead of just offering them the loan, he proposed that he would provide the N50,000 but for 51% shareholding in the business and demanded that he be made the Executive Chairman even though he did not know where and how he would raise the money. This was an audacious offer and incredible bargain for Chief Dele but the Americans agreed because “desperate men would do desperate things”. He called his lawyer to immediately draft an agreement for all parties to sign before the Americans changed their mind. That’s how he became the majority shareholder of T-CAS. He raised the money by getting a loan from the bank and pledging the only plot of land he had as collateral. The risk paid off, because shortly after, T-CAS was paid the millions it was owed by the ministry and what accrued to him as majority shareholder was $11million. “The money myth of Fajemirokun had become a reality in his son”. He went to town! He bought exotic cars, built a mansion in Lagos, bought properties in London, Washington DC and maintained permanent presidential suites in the world’s most luxurious hotels.
Chief Dele Fajemirokun’s never say die attitude and innovative approach to business is portrayed in how he acquired a significant stake in AIICO and later increased his stake to majority shareholding of the company. In the early 90s, the Nigerian government wanted to sell its shareholding in AIICO Insurance. He was interested in purchasing but he had been reliably informed that the Federal Government did not want an individual or entity to “corner the shares”. He was not discouraged by this information but instead used 11 shelf companies to purchase 1% shares each. At the end of the privatization exercise, he had an 11% stake in the company and this made him the 2nd largest shareholder in the company after American Insurance Group (AIG). He expressed interest to purchase AIICO Bahamas 40% stake in the company but they valued their shares at an “eight-digit dollar price” and so he bided his time. His patience paid off. Slightly over a decade later, he acquired their shares and this made him the largest shareholder in AIICO Insurance Plc.
Dele Fajemirokun was one who would never let fear or anything get in the way of his business. At some time, he flew to war-torn Zagreb four or five times at the height of the Bosnia-Serbian war for business with “his personal supply of excellent whisky”. He has also had to weather through lots of business and personal challenges, in his journey of growing a multi-million-dollar business.
Today, Dele Fajemirokun can be listed among Nigerian billionaires, and has interests and stakes in over forty enterprises in key sectors of the economy ranging from insurance to telecommunications, oil and gas, agriculture, and manufacturing.
In creating and growing his other businesses, Chief Dele Fajemirokun is known for taking advantage of his relationships and friendships from way back, to create outstanding business partnerships that minimises his risks in business and extends his rewards. Some of these companies are Aiico Insurance, Food Concepts and Entertainment (Chicken Republic/Butterfield Bakery), Johnson Wax (makers of Baygon & Raid insecticide), First Hydrocarbon Nigeria Ltd, Kings Guards Limited, FSS Gases, Multishield Limited, Xerox HS, Blue Chip Communications, DF Holdings Limited and many more.
“Creating a business empire that would outlive me, my children, my children’s children” has been the driving force of his life and so he preaches and practices sound corporate governance. He has left the board of a few companies when the ovation was loudest. He resigned as the Chairman of Food Concepts Plc (Parent company of Chicken Republic) after helping to stir the company to establish over 60 chicken republic branches in Nigeria and Ghana as well nine bakeries. He is also no longer on the board of AIICO.
To Chief Fajemirokun who “once escaped into mercantilism, pioneered in produce, meandered into export of wood, held founders shares in shipping, strayed into industrial manufacturing, dabbled in merchandising, fast food and poultry farming, engaged in oil prospecting, toyed with banking and eventually found myself in insurance and financial services”; DAWN COMMISSION celebrates you sir.
You are an Akikanju.
References: Nairametrics, Business Elites Africa and The Sunshine Searchlight.