Right now, members of staff of EXIMIA Realty Company are in a celebrating mood. The company is 2 years old.Mr Hakeem Ogunniran is the Founder/CEO of Eximia Realty Co Ltd and also Home For Me NIGERIA Ltd. He retired from UAC of NIGERIA Plc having served as the Managing Director of UACN Property Development Co Plc (UPDC) from 2010 – 2018 and Managing Director of MDS Logistics (Division of UAC of Nigeria Plc )between 2000 -2010. Prior to 2000, he was at various times a Law Lecturer, Company Secretary/Legal Adviser, Sales/Marketing Manager and Corporate Planning Manager.
During his 8-year tenure as the CEO of Updc Plc, Ogunniran changed the narrative of the real estate industry, leading his team to deliver landmark and iconic projects in Lagos,(Cameron Green in Ikoyi, Victoria Mall Plaza 1 and KPMG Towers, VI, Metro Gardens, Napier Homes, Pinnock Beach Estate, etc, Lekki) Abuja, (Emerald Court, MetroCity, The Pinnacle) Port Harcourt,(Vintage Gardens) Ibadan (Olive Court) and birthing projects in other cities including Asaba and Calabar. In the area of project funding, he led his company to raise over N50 Billion for real estate projects by floating bonds, CPs and a DOT based Real Estate Investment Trust in 2013.
He graduated in 1984 from the University of Lagos with a Second Class Honours(Upper Division) and also passed the Bar Examinations Of the Nigerian Law School in 1985 with a Second Class Honours(Upper Division). He later obtained LL.M and MBA degrees from the University of LAGOS.
A former Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the Yale Law School, USA, he has attended several high level management training programmes including the Unilever(IMS), U.K, General Management Programme (GMP) of Ashridge Management College, U.K., Strategic Leadership Programme of Cranfield University, U.K., REAL Estate Management Program of Harvard Business School, USA and Senior Financial Management program of the London Business School.
He is a past President and Chairman of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators of Nigeria, a Council and EXCO Member of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce & Industry and frequent speaker at international conferences including the Annual African Property Investment Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was the Lead Speaker for Africa at the 1st International Conference on Corporate Governance at Shanghai in May, 2010.
He is a recipient of many awards including the Federal Government’s Scholarship for High Academic Standing (1981 – 1984), Fulbright Scholarship to Yale School, USA (1991/1992), Joint Best Individual Performance in Management Accounting in ICSA Final Examinations; Osun State Government of Nigeria’s Merit Award, 2007, ICSAN’s Special Award for Exemplary Service (2009); Kwame Nkrumah Award For Corporate Governance Excellence 2009, Distinguished Chartered Secretary of the Year, 2010; Association of Professional Bodies in Nigeria’s Award for Professional Excellence, 2011 and Global Home Nigeria Property Award’s Property CEO of the Year 2011,Real Estate Unite Person of the Year,2013, the Odua Business Ambassador Awards and named one of the top 20 CEOs of the Listed Companies on the Nigerian Stock Exchange for 2013.
He recently had an INSTAGRAM Live Chat with City People Publisher, SEYE KEHINDE, on the activities of his company. Below are excerpts of the chats.
Let’s talk about your company. What services do you offer and what are the class of people you are targeting?
I started this company in 2018 and we were so clear in how we wanted to play in the market. We are so clear in our niche, we were so clear in our strategy.
What was the idea then?
Okay, so we have said that our target market is primarily Starter Homes, young families and middle income families. And that is why if you look at my first project, which we are doing now. We know that there is a decent volume of customers in the market who don’t want to live very far from the city centers. They want to live as closely as possible – I always give an example. There was this our guys, they want to close at Quilox. You know in those day, I don’t know how Quilox would be in the next dispensation. But they wanted to close at Quilox by one or two AM, and get to their houses within ten or fifteen minutes. They don’t want to live in Ajah, they don’t want to live in Epe, they don’t want to live at after VGC. They want to live either in Ikoyi, VI, Lekki Phase one or somewhere very close to Lekki Phase 1.
So we designed our strategy such that we could capture that market in an affordable manner. So we designed our product, because we also understand that for the people in that category, they are ready to trade size for proximity. So even though they don’t want to live very far, they want to live very close. They don’t mind small apartments, they don’t mind studio, one or two bedrooms. But they want all the amenities which they would normally find in a typical luxury apartment. So we designed our product.
So what I am doing, the Fiona Lawton Apartment which I am doing in Ocean Breeze Estate, which is just opposite Circle Mall, is a 48 unit development. There are just studios, one-bedroom and two bedrooms. But we have created it such that all the amenities that you would find in any luxury development in Ikoyi or VI, you would find it there. So communal lounge, children playground, Laundromat, very large equipment. Incidentally, my C.O.O – I am sure she is also on the line – my C.O.O Oby, she is a garden architect. Her specialty is garden architecture. So we are also designing the environment in such a way that it has a very alluring ambient. So that the people living in this place, even though they are not in Ikoyi, they are living in small apartments at least, and all the things. And that is the trend globally if you look at real estate trends from 2014. The trend is that the era of Mac-mansions are gone. So increasing, what you find is that size of apartments are getting smaller, and smaller and smaller. Provided we are able to put all the necessary facilities and infrastructure. So these are our show and tell developments in Lagos, and what we are trying to do is to replicate that in various parts of Lagos. That is what we are going to roll out. We have standardized the designs, we have standardized the methodology of built and we are rolling that all over.
Of course we are also playing in the other categories. We have just completed a project in Abuja, which incidentally we sold off during this Covid-19. We sold out during this Covid-19 you know, which has also been very, very good for us. So we also play in other categories, say for example beside Femi Okunnu, we are just about to launch a project called Maestro Vile, by Femi Okunnu and further down on Lekki-Epe Express Way. We are developing what we called Lake City, which is very unique because we are doing both site and service, and we are also doing hard development. The idea is that there are people who still want to build on their own, but they don’t want to take the risk of going to Omo onile to buy land. They will still love to buy land from an organised, from a corporate seller, who can stand with them incase of trouble.
So we have designed it such that, the first phase is ten hectares. Four hectares of that is for site and services. You know, we’ll put all the secondary infrastructure, and then people buy plot. We’ll control the process, and we’re doing our development by the side, to activate the entire development. You know so, that essentially the way we are playing in the market, our vision is clear, our mission is clear. We’re working to create very unique development, you know, and we’re just driving.
And I must say that the market has been exceptionally receptive. We are selling off plan, Fiona Lawton now. We’re selling two-thirds of the development, of the total that were selling. We have already sold like thirty, forty percent you know, and I’m sure that by the time we are finishing next year, we would have sold off completely. So, we believe that we understand the market, and we want to drive the way the market is leading us to drive.
You’ve managed your resources in such a way that you’ve not been taking loans. So I’m wondering how have you been able to manage your resources in such a way that it covers the cost of your projects?
Incidentally, I’m writing a book now, which is going to hit the market, in another two or three months.
You see, I always stress that real estate is a financing game.
People tend to look at real estate as the Brick and Mortar, as the designs, as the going to site. All those are critical. But at the end of the day, the most critical element, the most critical success factor is your financing. Because you have to be able to merge your assets and liabilities sustainably if you must remain in that industry. For example if I’m not able to merge my assets and liabilities, a year from now I won’t be in real estate. I will be either doing farming, or I’ll be doing something else. So real estate is a financing game. Your ability to manage your finances is critical. Infact more important than your ability to manage development and project manage.
So I have always understood that. Of course you can’t do real estate without borrowing. Because the cost of equity sometimes can even be higher than the cost of debt. But what we have done is that, number one, we are not overstretching ourselves. You know one of the things I find very funny sometimes in this market is that, you see a developer who comes to the market and says that he wants to do forty thousand units, you know. Why don’t you start by doing five hundred units, let us see it first. You know, so we are doing our project in physics. Lake City is a forty five hectare project, but I’m not going to start with forty-five hectares, I’ve started with ten hectares. So we’re managing to face out our project, and because our customers trust us, they buy from us off plan. So that’s helping the whole process. So with our small resources, and our off plan proceeds you know, we’ve been able to manage our projects so far. Of course there’s no way you can do this business without borrowing you know. We already have lines open for us, you know and at some points we will have to use those lines. But we have to manage in such a way that even our lenders, they must see prudent project managementand a critical element of that is funds management. That being said, we’ve just won the bid to develop a mall now, and I mean you can’t do a mall without borrowing. You know but we are raising our seed capital.
We’d take the project to a level, and then we borrow. I always like to do bridge finance, so you’re not relying, you’re not overly dependent on the debt. But maybe you have reached a particular level, you want to finance a particular milestone, then you can quickly use your facility, and then go back to the way the business is.
You have been in real estate for decades, what excites you and what has kept you going?
Real estate is a very interesting space because one of the things I find very exciting about real estate is that you have a vision of a project, you visualize, you know when people see an empty field, they just see an empty field. But when I see a plot of land today, you know, what I see there is a beautiful set of houses, maisonette, apartments and things like that. So I visualize that in my head.
So when you’re able to visualize, you have a concept in your head. And you called a designer, they call it an architect, you describe the concept for him. And the architect goes to work, puts the concept on paper. You call the M&E Consultant, they do their design. You call the structural consultant, they do their design. You go to site, and you put everything together and you develop. I mean today, if you go to our site, Fiona lawton apartments, you’re happy at what you are seeing. Because, when I took over that site about a year ago plus, it was just swamp. But we’ve sand filled, we’ve completed piling, we are now finalizing the sub-structure, and the frame structure is coming out, it’s becoming beautiful. You know, so part of the excitement is that you’re able to envision, and you’re able to take steps to execute that vision. It’s always, I mean the other day, I mean in my previous life, one of the most interesting projects I did was a project called metro city in Abuja.
So recently in the estate, they had their party, you know and they sent the pictures, I saw some pictures online you know. And it was very beautiful for me because I remember when I went to buy that plot of land, the whole place was bush. When I bought the land – about twelve hectares of land – and then we designed, we did the first phase, did second phase, people have bought, people are living in the place now. And you can see you’re creating communities, you’re contributing to infrastructural development. We are contributing to growth.
In Lagos for example, I’m very happy being somebody that is complementing the megacity strategy of the state government, you know. So we’re helping to develop secondary, sometimes primary infrastructure. We’re growing cities. So these are some of the things that keep you going. And of course whatever you do, when you are able to create a pool of satisfied customers, customers who see you. I mean today I have so many people who have bought properties from me both within and outside of the country, you know, so when they meet me they say “ah you can’t remember me? I bought in this development, I bought in that development”. You must also understand that in Lagos for example, in my former office I did like fourteen projects, fourteen large projects all over Lagos. You know, and the class of customers that you meet. So you meet some customers every time, that gives you that satisfaction you know.
So, plus, I must mention that real estate is a very rewarding venture. If God helps you, if you get it right, it’s also very, very rewarding. You know, it is so exciting knowing that you could create something, you know, deliver, satisfy your customer, and also satisfy both your financial and psychological cravings, it’s very good for anyone.