When you meet Alhaji Waheed Usman Ogunbiyi for the first time, you get the impression you’re talking to a man who has seen it all in life. He was not born with a silver spoon. Indeed, he was born and raised in one of the most volatile areas of Lagos Island where only a small percentage of its youth turn out well in life. But Alhaji Waheed Usman Ogunbiyi, CEO of Oguns Investments was lucky. He was groomed and nurtured by a disciplinarian father who taught him everything he knows today about business. His late father, it was, who imparted in him all of the knowledge and attributes he possesses as a good businessman, a reason he says he would always remain eternally grateful to his father. This is probably why Alhaji Waheed has not let his massive accomplishments as a businessman get into his head. He cuts the picture of a simple, generous man who strives to be as impactful as he possibly can to his immediate environment. But don’t be fooled, the man is an intensely focused business man who will not make it easy for anyone to take him for granted. He is very pleased with his remarkable success in his businesses so far, but like Oliver Twist, he desires to have more. Two weeks ago, City People’s Senior Editor, WALE LAWAL (08037209290) and LEKAN AMUSA had an interview with this outstanding gentleman and he took us through his humble beginning and his modest achievements as a business man who started off with just N2000.
Share with us, sir, where you were born and raised?
Thank you very much. I was born and raised in Lagos Island. I went to school here in Lagos Island. It all started here for me in the ever-volatile Lagos Island. I practically grew up here in this part of Lagos and I thank my Dad for guiding me properly and raising me very well on the right track. I started as a young boy in the Idumota area of Lagos Island. I attended St. Patrick’s and would go to help my dad display his wares before leaving for school. And upon my return from school, I would return to the shop to help my dad and then later pack my bag and head to where we held after-school lessons. By 6 pm or thereafter, you return from the lesson and you’re too tired to do anything else. But it was really interesting back in those days.
What line of business was your dad into at the time?
At the initial stage, my dad was a bicycle repairer. He was a technical man. Later on, he moved from being a bicycle repairer to being a merchant of bicycle parts. He began refurbishing bicycles and was selling them into neighbouring communities. He was actually into selling bicycle spare parts when I was born and nurtured into the business. My dad was a moderate man. He was also disciplined. He was not a rich man but he was contented with what he had. I was the first child and he handled me with lots of discipline. He provided for us and ensured we had all we needed as far as education was concerned. While I was growing up, I was always busy creating one thing or the other. I used to make little chairs that we took to lessons then. I was highly technical. My dad encouraged me by buying a hand saw for me. With that, I started making table tennis bats and before I knew it, I started making money as a young ten-year-old boy. My dad would tell me then to keep the money I was making because there would be the rainy season and the dry season. During inter-house sports, I did caps and made lots of money. So, from that moment, it was obvious that I was destined for business. That’s where my foundation as a successful businessman started.
Would it be right then to say your dad influenced you greatly?
Oh, definitely yes, you cannot take that away from him. He really guided me towards the right path. And this is why I always tell my children, if you don’t listen to me as I listened to my dad, you will have problems. I listened to my dad and that’s why I’ve been able to make a success in life.
I was surprised when you said you were born in this part of Lagos. How were you able to overcome all of the vices that surrounded you as a young child back then and become the successful man that you are today?
Thank you very much. I have had to answer this same question time and time again. I know it’s very rare to see a young boy come out of this part of Lagos successfully. There are a few others like myself who have also turned out to be incredibly successful. I always tell parents, guide their children. Don’t leave them to decide for themselves. Children think they know everything but they actually know nothing. They’re just catching fun. Handle your children firmly. There were times I considered running away from home because of the disciplinarian nature of my dad. In fact, I remember wishing that he could just die. You can imagine, by 5 am, my father would wake up and say it’s time to go to the shop when my mates were still enjoying their sleep! But I thank my parents for everything that they did for me. If not for them, I probably would’ve ended up smoking Indian hemp and doing all sorts too. My mum too tried for me. There was a time I ran away from home and went to meet my mum in Agege. I thought she would go and fight my dad, but instead, she just took me back to the house and said stay here with your dad.
How does it make you feel, sir, that those who knew you back then can see the success story that you have become today, especially as you now have your business base here in the heart of Lagos where you grew up?
I feel elated. I feel great. I feel humbled. And I give all glory to the Almighty and to my father. The primary and secondary schools I went to are not from my office here before I furthered my education. I had to endure a lot. The Almighty said he would not give you wealth on a platter of gold. You must be ready to face a lot of challenges and be determined to overcome those challenges. The success people ascribe to me today, I sweated for every bit of it. But people don’t know that they only can see success. I saw a lot. I cannot possibly tell you all that I went through and what my eyes saw. But we thank God for today. That’s why I say for you to be a successful entrepreneur you must have God, there is no shortcut to it.
You said you started the business with about N2000…
Yeah, my dad gave me the money. I started with N2000 in 1986 or 87 or thereabout. My dad was already getting old by then. I had also finished my secondary education at the time. So, I said to my father, let’s venture into the business that was common in the area back then, which was stationary. He said there wasn’t much money with him. I said how much do you have and he said N2000. And I took the money from him. Reluctantly, he gave me the money and said use this money well, you know I am already old and retiring from business. So, with my N2000, I went to the Indians who were importing stationery then and said they should give me credit, that I want to buy goods worth N8000. The man said, no, that it’s my performance that would determine whether I am creditworthy or not. I nearly cried. But I was not discouraged. I gave them the whole N2000 and they gave me goods of N2000. By the third day, I went there with N2500 and within a month, I had gone with N4000. The Indian saw the seriousness in me and started giving me goods on credit. And within a year, they were giving me goods worth N100,000 on credit. According to Henry Ford, any dream you did not pursue is a hallucination. From my younger days, I have always wanted to do something different. And it has helped me get to where I am today. For me, failure is the beginning of my success. When I fall, I don’t get discouraged, I get up and move on. For me, challenges only propel me for bigger things in life.
At what point did you go into construction?
Well, as I said earlier, I have always been a technical man. I love anything technical. I love finding solutions to problems. All the great men we celebrate today, like Mack Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, all became great because they found solutions to some of the man’s problems. I like to see myself as a problem solver, a solution finder. Years after I had made money from the stationery business, I went into estate development. I made quite some millions from stationeries and decided to go into construction. I started in 1991 or 92. I launched it in 1990 but we secured the first house in 1993/1994. We built the house and it was a partnership project. That was we started. I am so passionate about the job. I love every bit of it. The business has its own challenges but we have been able to overcome all those challenges. Another area we went into is acquiring the equipment such as excavators and other machinery used in constructing. A lot of construction companies cannot afford these equipment so we ventured into it. We have also ventured into recycling. Any material at all is being recycled and it’s a big market that a lot of people are not paying attention to.
Do you believe that local construction firms like yours have been encouraged enough?
Of course, we are not encouraged. Trust me, we can do better than what China is doing. What the Chinese have is the packaging. But Nigerian government’s unfavorable policies have not enabled us at all. China cannot do better than us. We have talented technicians and engineers all over the world, but unfortunately, bad leadership has killed our best talents. Believe me, if the government supports indigenous firms like us, we can do a whole lot better than we have done.