SUNDAY AKINTOLA: HOW MUSHIN HOME BOY GREW MULTI-MILLION NAIRA BUSINESSES IN MUSHIN, LAGOS

SUNDAY AKINTOLA is specially proud of beating all the odds as a home boy growing up in the densely populated Mushin area of Lagos State to become a successful owner of business chains that span micro finance and telecommunications. In this interview with GOKE OLUWOLE, and TAI ADEWALE SHOFELA, Chairman of Sovereign Micro Finance Bank, AKINTOLA shares his journey to conquering the litany of challenges that littered his path to business success.

How would you describe yourself?

Yes, by His grace, I am Sunday Akintola, a gentleman who happens to be one of the lucky entrepreneurs whose company is positively impacting on Nigeria in the area of poverty alleviation. I am the Chairman of the Board of three companies; Covenant Perazim Investment Limited, a multi-facetted company established to operate in the Oil, Gas and Agriculture sectors, Sufi Enterprises Limited, which is a company involved in the sale and distribution of GSM companies recharge cards, and Sovereign Micro-Finance Bank. I am a graduate of Accounting from the University of Lagos. I am also an ex-banker having worked with one of Nigeria’s fastest growing banks Zenith Bank Plc.

Briefly, can you tell us the background to how you grew this multi million naira business empire?

Most big businesses always start in small ways. This multi-million business concern, like you rightly said, is a business that was registered first as Covenant Perazim Investment Limited in November, 2003 while I was still in service with Zenith Bank. It was then the thought occurred to me on what I could do to change my life and touch the lives of other people around me. I thereafter initiated the venture, but we started operation with four staff which included my wife and my brother in-law in a shop here in Mushin from where we sold telecoms recharge cards.

I resigned from my banking job six months after we commenced operations, to be precise, July 1, 2004, two days after securing the NCC dealership licence. In fact, I got my licence on a Sunday and I put in my resignation the following Tuesday, and by August, 2004, I was already able to raise the mandatory N5 million to join the recharge card dealership community of the then V-Mobile Network with Sufi Enterprises Ltd.

All these while, my colleagues, some in the banking halls and some from other companies like Chevron, Exxon-Mobil and other multi-nationals, were greatly disturbed about my decision to go into business; they asked if something was wrong with me and how could I leave certainty for uncertainty; leaving the bank to go and sell recharge card. For them, it sounded absurd. But I told them I wanted to go and develop my business.

Things started to crystallize for us because all we were doing then was to get some money to buy and sell recharge cards until we had our breakthrough when in 2006 the V-Mobile Network started seeing us as a serious business entity, and in 2007, we won the best dealers award of the V-Mobile Network. That same 2007, we were among the 25 dealers selected in Lagos and promoted to the status of big dealers. However, as part of the requirements of that new status back then, we were also expected to have our own building as office complex. On the back of this, we decided to build our own building. Thankfully, by the end of 2007 we were able to build our own office complex.

Personally, how had your background influenced the development of your business?

I am a proper Mushin boy, born and bred in this community where people have the notion that nothing good can come out of the community. While we were in the secondary school, those of us from Mushin were seen as boys from homes of hooligans and thugs but to God be the glory, we came out very disciplined, because I am fortunate to have very responsible parents who gave us good up bringing.

Can you believe that as far back as 1963, my Dad refused all discouragement from others not to send my elder sister to school; he sent her to the only private boarding school then in Abeokuta, the Baptist Private School, Idi-Aba, Abeokuta. People were laughing at our parents for sending my sister to the boarding school. Ironically, I had to attend a public school, Odo Abore Primary School in Mushin. I guess my brilliance then impressed the school management such that they made me the school’s senior prefect.

After finishing at Odo Abore, my parents preferred that I schooled out of Lagos State, they rejected my preference for the Nigerian Model College at Idi-Oro, a suburb of Mushin. They sent me to Baptist High School, Saki, in Oyo State. From Saki I proceed to the Lagos State College of Education, and later, to the University of Lagos where I studied Accounting. I also taught in a primary school for two years before I joined Zenith Bank in 1993 where I spent 11 years before quitting in 2004.

Though my parents were not rich, I remember that they always struggled to pay our school fees then. They thought us about God and, my mother, especially, taught us the principle of prudence and wealth creation. All these contributed to my success today, but the secret to my business success is God. There is nothing we do in this office that we don’t ask for God’s favour, He is our Alpha and Omega. In this office there is nothing we do that we don’t tell God; we pray in the morning and we pray to close each of our day’s operations.

As a major player in the telecoms recharge card distribution and marketing sub sector, how would you describe the industry?

Yes, the industry is full of illiterate and semi illiterate people, but with the new policies from all the companies, I expect that the situation will finally change. I believe that there will be a lot of changes because it is only in the telecoms sector that some illiterate people will buy something at the rate of N400 and sell it for N250, that is about 80 per cent less than the cost price. But now, the business is getting more exciting, interesting, and rewarding than what it used to be.

What prompted your interest in establishing a microfinance bank, which is seen as very risky commercial engagements, or do we reason that you preferred this because of your banking background?

It wasn’t my background in banking that inspired me to establish Sovereign Micro Finance Bank, rather, it was due to my interaction with the people at the grass-roots of my immediate community here in Mushin while I was operating the telecoms business. The economic plight of these people rekindled my interest in empowering the people in my immediate community. You know when we were doing the telecoms business a lot of people always came to us for financial aids in form of soft loans, but there was no way we could be able to solve all these needs, so we now saw the opportunity to serve and empower our people when the CBN came out with the guideline and licensing procedures for establishing micro finance bank, that was the vision.

Again, there was this experience I once had while I was trying to establish a friend in the recharge card business in Abeokuta. I then realized that what most people need is micro-credit, soft loan, when you don’t help people within your neighborhood they will be the same set of people that will make life difficult for you. Do you know some of those my friends who thought something was wrong with me when I left Zenith Bank today are now begging us to be part of what we are doing. But we shall adopt them provided CBN reviews its policy on the board membership; we are also looking for a way to involve them through our forthcoming private placement.

Don’t you think it is easy for Nigerians to abuse the concept of micro finance banking just like the earlier banking and finances houses of the past?

The establishment of microfinance banks and transformation of community banks is a thought in the right direction by the government, it shows the government knows what the needs of the people are; forget about the bastardization of the earlier finance houses, I can tell you the impact of the micro finance bank vision is already showing on our economy. As I am talking to you now, we are highly regulated, every MFB has a CBN supervisor attached to it and every bank is mandated to do a monthly return to CBN. They will trace and check all the loans you disbursed that month, so there is no way you can give all the loans to your family like in the era of finance houses and commercial banks of the past.

You can log on to the CBN’s website and check the full list of the MFBs as they are arranged alphabetically, this is also part of the effort to showcase them (micro finance banks) and for you to know the ones you can deal with, I can assure you there is no MFB that will like to go under because there are lots of opportunities in the micro financing business

Of all the MFBs in Lagos what do you think stands your Sovereign Micro Finance Bank out from the rest?

We believe so much in God, and this is the anchor of our own business philosophy… to be the fulcrum of creating financial independence for the people. You see, all these area boys, some of them have great talents but what they mainly want is financial empowerment. One of them approached us about three months ago that he wanted to have his own bus and I told him to go and start saving, that if he can save N50,000 out of the N450,000 he needed to buy a Faragon Volkswagen Bus, we will fund it.

He jumped at the offer and each day, he deposited N1500 with us out of the N3000 of his daily income from the transport business. We also work with other professional groups on how to empower their members. All these are parts of the ways to eliminate criminality from their minds because if someone has a wife and kids and a job, his approach to life will be different. He will not be thinking that he wants to die because he already knows he has a stake in this world.

What gave you the impression that Mushin people deserve another micro finance bank despite all the commercial bank branches that populate the roads?

I don’t think there is any other community that I will want to serve than the Mushin community; these are the people that deserve to be uplifted and empowered financially. It is the rural people who need micro-credit or micro-funding; our vision in Sovereign MFB is to empower all these so called area boys, and since I grew up in this area, I understand the economic philosophy and psychology of the people.

We’ve already started some collaboration with the professional groups’ trade and artisan associations on how to serve them better, and even the National Union of Road Transport Workers [NURTW]. We hope to set them up with financial backing of our bank.

Our operations here as telecoms recharge distributor had opened our eyes to many needs of the people. We are now able to understand the need of the people of this area, ask anybody here around Mushin, if they know Sufi Enterprises Limited, they’ll tell you that they know us very well, it is the goodwill we’ve created over time that is rubbing on the bank.

I have also realized that commercial banks are too big to recognize micro financing opportunities, they will not fund or support your business when you are small, it is always the big projects of billions and millions of big establishments that they will always be interested in funding while the man whose business need just N5, 000 to survive is left to wallow in abject poverty.

Which was the riskiest investment venture you had made?

The biggest investment risk I ever took was the outright sale of my entire investment portfolio when I couldn’t secure a loan to finance this MFB project. A friend at FirstBank just told me point blank that since my office complex didn’t have a certificate of occupancy, no bank will give me a loan and the best, he advised I did, was to liquidate my stock portfolio. That was how I sold all my stocks just as if I was been pushed by a spirit but to God be the glory, I was lucky enough to escape the stock market crash now being witnessed by investors. Up till today, my stockbroker still enquire from me how I was able to escape the downturn in the market.

There is no business that doesn’t have its own ups and downs, tell us the challenges being faced by operators of microfinance banks in Nigeria?

Our major challenge is commercial banks, they are becoming jealous of our achievements, which is why you see a lot of the country’s mega banks transforming into micro banks. They see us as threats, because they know we can go for clearing by statutory order and with this the commercial banks always stalemated us. At present, we have a serious battle with a commercial bank over a facility of N110million we got from a company which the company, the bank and us decided was supposed to be given to us but when the money was ready, they sat on it, denied us access to it because of our capital base. We need more money to service the micro needs of our people. What we devised now is that we have contacted about three to four banks for our clearing, one is in charge of the financing of Okada scheme, one for the NURTW scheme, while we also get another to manage our other schemes because it would be too risky to keep all our good eggs in one basket.

We are currently working with a commercial bank to provide us with an ATM which will soon be installed to serve the people of Mushin. We are going to table most of these problems before the Central Bank Governor at the next conference of MFBs in Nigeria. Maybe the Governor can help us caution the commercial banks.

Another major challenge we are facing, like every other business in Nigeria, is the problem of power supply. Large amount of our money goes to fuelling of generating sets, and mind you, we bought our own transformer at about N1.8million while our 100 KVA generator costs a whopping N2.9million and this we fuel with N8, 000 daily. If we plough these back into our business do you know the number of people that will benefit from our micro finance bank? The issue of multiple taxation, too, is another serious challenge to business in Lagos.

As an entrepreneur what will you say is your greatest achievement?

What I personally see as our achievement may not be too fantastic to you but for a company that started in a small shop five years ago on this street, selling recharge cards, now owns an edifice housing the headquarters of all our businesses which include banking, aquaculture, oil and gas, and telecoms; all these we can boast is valued to be above N100million.

We have about 60 well remunerated staff, with at least over eight brand new Toyota cars for our staff, and in the next three months, we are going to take delivery of another set of five new Toyota cars for our middle cadre officers. Some of our staffers who were employed some years ago with school certificates are now graduates while some are about completing their choice of courses in various higher institutions. While studying, we make sure they don’t lack anything. None of our staff has been involved in stealing and none had left us. We are still one united family five years after we started. Last December, we harvested our fish pond and the return from the investment yielded about N1.5miilion because it is safer to diversify to other businesses to expand our capital base and income sources.

What is your management style?

I am a hard working person, and all my staff members know this. I am always the first person to resume here and the last person to leave. Can you believe I live in Alagbado, yet I’m always very punctual at the office? You’ll see me resume here by 7.30a.m. everyday, I mentor my staff, they’ve all imbibed discipline from me. You know, I operate an open door policy here, all my staff are well remunerated. If a CEO is not disciplined, the staff will not be disciplined. Again, let me tell you that yesterday (Friday, 9 January) I was with one of my colleagues way back at Zenith Bank and he was reminding me how disciplined we were then while employed at Zenith Bank. He said it was I who once said that I dreamt that one day I would have my own bank, but we all did not believe it then because of the situation surrounding the licensing of commercial banks. But today, both of us are owners of full fledged micro finance banks; he owns Olive Microfinace Bank on Awolowo Way, Ikeja, Lagos, while my own is Sovereign Microfinance Bank, Mushin, Lagos. What we thought was impossible is now a reality in our lives. God has done it, it is easy now to grow a micro-finance bank into a commercial bank and that is our future because in the nearest future we hope to go public.

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2 Responses

  1. […] here: SUNDAY AKINTOLA: HOW MUSHIN HOME BOY GREW MULTI-MILLION NAIRA BUSINESSES IN MUSHIN, LAGOS accounting, business, businesses, calendar, chairman, companies, finance-bank, micro, mushin, […]

  2. I am very impressed with the achievement of Mr. Akintola, but I am not surprised, because any one that place God as the head in all that they do must prosper. I congratulate you and your family. may God continue to move you forward.

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