My 50 Takeaways from Biodun Shobanjo’s Biography, “The Will To Win” – Azuh Arinze

Wow! Wow! Wow!

Those were the first words that escaped from my lips after snaking through The Will To WinThe Story Of Biodun Shobanjo; beautifully written and wondrously captured by Dotun Adekanmbi, a former editor of Business Times and certified advertising and public relations practitioner, with many years of experience.

Sincerely, if you cherish, adore and worship good writing, like I shamelessly do, then you must get a copy of this book. Just take a look at this, and especially how the author expertly incorporated the name of his subject’s security company, Halogen, into a paragraph: ‘Clad in a trendy navy-blue suit and a white shirt that glowed with the penetrating intensity of a halogen lamp, complete with his trademark bow tie, he was every inch a designer’s delight…’

Awesome and amazing description.

Filled with vitally important life and business lessons, victory songs and dirges hewn out of failure, quotable quotes and God’s unmistakable grace upon a man’s life, the book is neatly tucked into 542 unputdownable pages. Below are the 50 that specially and specifically won my heart. Of course, in no particular order. However, before we delve into them, I have a caveat from the author: ´…this is not a book on advertising per se. Neither is it an excursion into Shobanjo’s private life. It is a career biography, one that attempts to capture his perspective, to explain his dream and its realisation. I prefer to describe this book as an extended personality interview.´ Back to the lessons…

  1. DO IT WELL: The first thing that attracts you on getting a copy of The Will To Win – The Story Of Biodun Shobanjo, by Dotun Adekanmbi, is the neat printing. Anyway, upon closer scrutiny, I later got to find out that it was meticulously printed for Havilah, in the United Arab Emirates. Notwithstanding, the lesson remains that we must never cut corners, when it comes to quality. Also, whatever we find or decide to do must be done well. Very, very well, as a matter of fact.
  2. KNOW WHEN TO MOVE: As employees, and even in life generally, we sometimes wait till it’s too late before moving. But not Biodun Shobanjo. The quintessential advert man is ever calculating and turning his back on things at the appropriate time. Rarely one minute or even a second late. Doing nearly everything in his own time and on his terms, the astute and astounding businessman whose friends affectionately address as Bibi, Shobby or Baba quit his lucrative position as the Deputy Managing Director of Grant Advertising at 32; stepped down as the CEO of Insight Communications at 60; dumped Bates Worldwide for Grey Advertising when they clocked 17; left NBC’s £750 job for Grant’s £730, etc when it was time. The brutally frank, brave and brilliant man, simply put, always leaves when the ovation is loudest.
  3. USE THE MEDIA WELL: Many of us usually go wrong in our dealings with the media. But that obviously does not include Biodun Shobanjo. Oh, the man knows and understands very, very well too, how to deploy them in all his dealings. From interviews to opinions, stories to features, everything is painstakingly used and maximised, both for himself and his clients. And so far, he’s hardly gone wrong.
  4. NEVER GET TIRED OF SEEKING KNOWLEDGE: It may interest you to know that Shobanjo didn’t go beyond secondary school – Odogbolu Grammar School, in Ogun State . But being a compulsive diarist and interminable reader, perpetually seeking knowledge, both via correspondence courses and otherwise, refusing to be stupid and always desiring to be on top of things, all conspired to make him one of Africa’s greatest marketing communications practitioners. ‘Almost every day is accounted for…’, according to the book. He also usually transfers things from old to new diaries and he’s so perfected it that birthdays, anniversaries, milestones of loved ones are never forgotten.
  5. IT PAYS TO SAVE AND BE PRUDENT: Shobanjo doesn’t fritter money away – despite his multimillionaire or even billionaire status. And he learnt that from his father. The late Pa Joseph Shobanjo, in spite of being a staff of the old Nigerian Railway, with his meagre resources, was able to put up two buildings before death came knocking, at only 49, on December 29, 1957. To ensure that this message sinks in, Shobanjo, in one of his dealings with one of his sons, Olufemi, once detached a 30-pence stamp from a wrongly addressed envelope for re-use!
  6. NEVER COMPETE OR OUTSHINE YOUR MASTER: Even Robert Greene admonished us against this in his popular book, 48 Laws of Power. Well, Shobanjo, from his biography, already knew about that wise counsel, even before the coming of the bestseller. As a staff of Grant Advertising, and despite being in love with Mercedes Benz, he had to get a Volvo from Doyin Motors. Why? His then chairman, the great Adeyemi Lawson was driving a Benz and he knew better not to compete with him.
  7. I’M NOT RUTHLESS: So says Shobanjo. And who is Azuh Arinze to query or dispute that. Well, some of the people who play in the same league with him have continued to spread some uncomplimentary stories about him. The book, obviously, provided him a great opportunity to respond to them. The first was the allegation of being ruthless. Hear him: ‘…I don’t bullshit; I’ll eyeball you and say I think you are a bullshitter. I always want to call a spade a spade.´ Even the alleged deployment of ‘juju’, bribe and aggressive pursuit of briefs were all well responded to.
  8. ECCENTRICITY IS ALLOWED: Yes! But that is only if your name is Abiodun Olusina Shobanjo or you believe in his style and way of doing things. Just one example will suffice – Shobanjo built his country home in his mother’s place, Aiyepe, instead of Okun-Owa, where his father hailed from. His reasons? The first is his closeness to his mother, Morinatu and the second is because his father is no more! The sweetest thing, for me, however, is that the street is named after him, and perhaps for record purposes.
  9. TRUMPET YOUR STRENGTH, MASK YOUR WEAKNESS: This one does not require too much explanation. In simple terms, it’s saying project your good side, downplay your weaknesses. Shobanjo uses it and it has continued to work for him. Also, conquer fear, then ensure to always be a step ahead of the competition.
  10. NO TIME FOR RELIGIOUS AND TRIBAL SENTIMENTS: The twin evils of religion and tribe, unfortunately, have continued to plague Nigeria. But definitely not Shobanjo. First, his father was a christian and his mother, a muslim. Secondly, two of the primary schools he attended were owned by the missionaries – St. Patrick’s Catholic School, Jebba and St. George’s Anglican School, Zaria. Attending both schools, and in the Northern part of the country, expectedly, availed him the opportunity of interacting closely with the Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba – his tribe. The clincher, however, is that his wife, Joyce, is Igbo. The reason, perhaps, he said boldly in the book: ‘Without being immodest, I am totally detribalised…It never occurred to me that some were Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba…’ For the record, again, Shobanjo was subjected to religious persecution/discrimination when it was time to advance to secondary school. He had applied to Methodist Boys High School, Lagos and despite being qualified was asked during interview why he didn’t apply to an Anglican or Baptist school! He was so pained by the experience that it was captured thus in his biography: ‘…but as I grew, each time I thought about it, I said to myself that religion has unnecessarily divided people…’
  1. MEANT FOR EVIL BY MEN, BUT TURNED TO GOOD BY GOD: All those conversant with the Biblical story of Joseph and his envious brothers will understand this better. Rejected at MBHS simply because of his denomination, Shobanjo, born on December 24, 1944, in Jebba, Kwara State, was dispatched to Odogbolu Grammar School, by his uncle, Israel, where he ended up finding favour. Promoted on trial to class 3, he rose to become the school’s senior prefect in 1963 and also enjoyed half scholarship.
  2. PLANNING AHEAD HELPS: True, it pays to plan ahead. Or to put it much better, proper planning prevents poor performance. In 1952, and in form 2, the young Shobanjo had accompanied his school’s debating team to an event and volunteering to speak, blew everyone’s mind and that was how fame came his way. Now, how was he able to steal the show that day? Very simple – by planning ahead. Ever since, according to him, prior to any major private, public or professional event, he thoroughly plans and prepares ahead.
  3. WHEN THE HAND OF GOD IS UPON YOUR LIFE…: Of course, no weapon fashioned against you will prosper. All those gathering to do you harm will also be doing so in vain and to their detriment. Now, two examples will suffice. First, in 1967, and while the Biafra-Nigeria war was raging, Shobanjo had gone to Aiyepe to see his mother. On his way back, he ran into a checkpoint mounted by soldiers, got mistaken as Igbo (I still don’t know why till date many see any fair-skinned person as Igbo), but was miraculously rescued by the other passengers who quickly came to his aid. Also, when dare-devil armed robbers visited his Opebi, Ikeja, Lagos home in 1992 he engaged them in a gun duel that lasted for hours. Which afterwards saw him being detained – for the first time in his life – by the Police, and where according to him, he was shabbily treated.
  1. NO ONE HAS IT ALL: Despite his humongous success, Shobanjo also lost out on a few things. For instance, his first marriage to Lanre Folami, whom he wedded on November 21, 1971, with Victor Johnson standing behind him as Best Man, didn’t stand the test of time. Though details of why it crumbled in 1982 were left out of the book, the good thing about it is that the fruits – Babatunde, Olufunke and Abimbola – are all doing great. Shobanjo tried marriage again in 1983 (with Joyce Onwuka) and she bore him two more children – Olufemi and Dolapo. On the business side, some of his companies like Link Studios, MC&A and MIT Healthcare also didn’t fly. Heaping the blame on leadership failure, Shobanjo added that ´a leader must be sure of whom to entrust with responsibility…’ lest what happened to him happens to the person.
  1. ALWAYS STAND YOUR GROUND: Never be a pushover in your field/office. Also, never, never forget that business is business and must always be so treated. As the DMD of Grant Advertising, in 1977, one Mrs Ayonmagbemi, a staff of a sister organisation owned by Adeyemi Lawson, his chairman, wanted a full page advert to be run for the Grail Movement, which Lawson brought to Nigeria. But because it wasn’t backed up with cash, Shobanjo vehemently refused to do so. Long story short, she reported Shobanjo to his boss who had to do the needful, before getting what he wanted.
  2. NEVER FLEE FROM CONTROVERSIES: In his active days, Shobanjo wore controversies like some of us wear clothes. Effortlessly gliding from one to another, and looking unscathed, one of the most memorable responses he provided for that in his biography should be this: ‘I am the guy they love to hate.’
  3. REVELATION CAN COME FROM ANYBODY: The current CEO of Insight Communications, Feyijimi Awosika and one Saleh Nasreddin, unknown to many, sowed the seed that gave birth to the company. According to Shobanjo, this was in Jos, Plateau State, where he and Awosika had gone for a meeting with the client at Nasco Group of Companies. Hear what Awosika said to Shobanjo after Saleh had first broached the topic: ‘I don’t think it’s a bad idea, sir, for you to set up a new agency as Saleh had suggested. You have the experience, the contacts and the will to change the face of this business. And if you set your mind to it, you can do it; we both know this.’ Like they say, the rest is history. Not only that, Awosika’s prophesy ultimately came to pass.
  4. NOT ALL THOSE WHO STARTED THE JOURNEY WITH YOU WILL COMPLETE IT: People have always fallen by the way side. And so it was with Insight Communications, years after opening shop. Incorporated on October 16, 1979 and opening their doors for business in 1980, the first set of ICL team comprised Shobanjo, Awosika, Richard Ibe, Sesan Ogunro, Johnson Adebayo, Ibiyemi Amogbe and Iyabo Fadojutimi. But as you read this, many have either moved on or even succumbed to death.
  5. NOTHING IS HIDDEN UNDER THE SUN: Just like some coup plots get exposed, discreet business moves also do. And a good example is Shobanjo’s. His plot to set up ICL, after that trip to Jos, and also a meeting with his first set of proposed team members at Benhop Restaurant, off Bode Thomas, Surulere, Lagos got leaked to their boss, Festus Akinlade, by only-God-knows-who. Thus, all of them were thrown into panic and somehow found the office uncomfortable, till they eventually exited. In fact, it was so bad that Shobanjo’s severance package was withheld, car impounded and home lost.
  6. SOME THINGS ARE JUST UNFORGETTABLE: And top on the list is doing good. Not just doing good, but doing it when it matters most. Shobanjo, in his biography, didn’t remember, or even capture all the accounts his agency has worked on/for. But certainly not their first, and second as well as how they were clinched. The first was International Correspondence School (for just N15,000) and the second, Wellcome Pharmaceuticals. Nasco Foods, where the seed was sown, was the third.
  7. START WITH/IN STYLE: Don’t just start. Do it with style. Make it distinct, remarkable, outstanding, memorable, etc. On that Wednesday, January 2, 1980 when Shobanjo and his team set forth, here’s what they did – They paid for a full page advert, with the photo of a giraffe and then the tag line, ‘We see farther.´ Even without being paid for this, I want to say that Insight Communications Limited, or ICL, like they had it on the advert then, is still seeing farther and farther. In fact, Insight leads and others follow.
  8. GO AGAINST THE NORM: Insight, at inception, dared the system. Contrary to what was then obtainable and also the rules of the Association of Advertising Practitioners of Nigeria, whether invited or uninvited, they knocked on every door, seeking an opportunity to show what they could do. From canalisation to submitting unsolicited proposals to person-to-person marketing, there was nothing they didn’t do. Just to be noticed and of course, offered something. No matter how big or small. Insight finally joined AAPN on August 6, 1980, becoming its 51st corporate member.
  9. SHOW SOME LOVE: Do you know why? Nobody knows tomorrow. Also, people don’t forget those that stood by them in their most vulnerable moments. At inception, Rosabel more or less guaranteed adverts placed by Insight. But today, the latter is much, much bigger than the former. The late Olu Aboderin of Punch and Moshood Abiola of Concord newspapers equally extended credit facilities to them. Same with Garba Kankarofi of Kano Broadcasting Corporation, KBC.
  10. FROM ME TO THE AUTHOR AND PRINTER: No doubt one of the best biographies I’ve read, in the subsequent editions of the book, however, the author, Dotun Adekanmbi and his publishers, Havilah should take another look at xxxiii – Olufemi Oludare, the enterprising lawyer who died in a ghastly (instead of fatal) car crash; on page 286, paragraph 3, 3rd line, 1994 has two commas, instead of one; on page 493, rubble was spelt ruble…
  11. WHERE YOU START DOESN’T MATTER: Like we say in local parlance, it’s not how far, but how well. Unable to proceed to the university, where he had desired to read law, due his father’s untimely death, one of his father’s friends, Mr. Oshikomaiya, helped him to secure his first job as a clerk at the Customs & Excise in Apapa, Lagos. He left after only six months and pitched his tent with the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (later Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria) in 1964. Starting out at NBC as a studio manager trainee, on a salary of £16, and racing to the top after only six years due to his industry and dedication, monumental fame and fortune, interestingly, came his way in advertising.
  12. SHOBANJO IS A GREAT MAN: Even if his enemy is saddled with the responsibility of chronicling the story of advertising in Nigeria, a chapter MUST be devoted to Shobanjo. And the reasons are legion. Other than his personal contributions and sacrifice, no other agency, arguably though, has produced his intimidating list of mentees, especially those that passed through his group – Udeme Ufot of SO&U; Funmi Onabolu of Battes Cosse; Enyi Odigbo of DBB Lagos; Lere Awokoya of TBWA Concept; Lanre Adisa of Noah’s Ark; Bolaji Okusaga of Precise; Longley Evru of Angels Communications; Chuddy Oduenyi of Compact Communications; Vincent Oyo of TQC; Osaremen Emokpae of Peapo Co Group; Gbemi Sagay of S.H.O.P.S; Phil Osagie of JSP; Paris Agaro of Franchise; Georgie Umunna of Hot Shoppe and George Noah of LASAA, among others. Shobanjo, truth told, has a knack for spotting and nurturing talents.
  13. NEVER PUT ALL YOUR EGGS IN ONE BASKET: In the mid 80s, and notwithstanding that he was sitting pretty at the top, in his sector, Shobanjo still knew that it was time to diversify and ignite multiple streams of income. Thus the berthing of Klinsite Outdoor Service, later rechristened Optimum Exposures, The Quadrant Company (TQC), MC&A, etc. He even tried newsprint importation and boat acquisition in Akwa Ibom State, which both failed.
  14. LEARN FROM YOUR MISFORTUNES: Four heavily armed robbers visited his home on January 30, 1992. And despite how obnoxious the experience was and still is to him and his family, Shobanjo went away with a lesson – and that’s the need to provide better security services and fill a huge gap that exists there in Nigeria. He plunged into the security business six months after, and the result is Halogen security company, which currently ranks among the best in their sector, employing thousands of workers.
  15. IF YOU LOSE, TRY AGAIN: Who would have believed that the ‘almighty’ Shobanjo could lose an election in his industry? But he did! Yes, Shobanjo contested for the AAAN presidency in 1994, but lost to May Nzeribe of Sunrise. Undaunted, he gave it another shot in 1995 and won this time by just a single vote. Commenting on his slim victory then, Awosika said, ‘That tells you how the best do not win outright…’ One other remarkable thing about that election was that prior, presidents did only one term. But now it is two.

30 – 50. Haba! You still wan make I continue? Abeg, go buy your copy jooooooooo! Na only N10,000. Abi you no wan make my Egbon sell him book? Enough…E don do… Thanks so much for reading and please don’t forget to get a copy…

  • Azuh Arinze, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine, is also the author of books like The CEO’s Bible, Success Is Not Served A La Carte and Encounters – Lessons From My Journalism Career
Subscribe to our Newsletter
Stay up-to-date