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‘I have Zero Tolerance for Failure’ – CEO Sujimoto Construction, Sijibomi Ogundele shares his Autobiography



Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them, were the words of great dramatist and poet, William Shakespeare, and it has continued to have effect in the lives of men. While many are either born great or have greatness thrust upon them, just a handful achieve greatness through a dint of hard work, determination and commitment, wading through the mud of challenges to come out tops in their chosen endeavours.

Among this handful is the young, dynamic and entrepreneur-minded Chief Executive Officer/Managing Director, Sujimoto Construction, Sijibomi Ogundele, who has a 100% believe that he would surely become the President of Nigeria if he contests.

In his palatial office on Milverton Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, the 36-year-old great manager of both men, material and resources, who cut his academic tooth at the Model College, Meiran, told TheBoss his tortuous path to greatness, and why Sujimoto will soon become a name on everyone’s lips for the very right reasons.

Excerpt from an interview with Sijibomi:
Could you please describe your personality as well as trace your background?

I am Sijibomi Ogundele, Yoruba by birth, Nigerian by origin and African by blood. I speak five different Languages (English, French, Spanish, Yoruba and Hausa with working knowledge of Japanese and Arabic), and my only passion is Entrepreneurship.

My first introduction to business was at a tender age, in Africa’s largest market – ‘Oke-Arin’. Out of curiosity, I would follow my mother to the market, where I learnt every aspect of trading. I am the MD/CEO of Sujimoto. We usually say Sujimoto is to architecture what Picasso was to art. We are a dynamic and innovative Luxury Real Estate organization.

Our main mission is to revolutionize the Luxury Real Estate sector. By the way, I am a lawyer by profession.

What actually was your vision when you ventured into real estate?
I came into the Luxury Real Estate Industry at a time when Nigerians were beginning to demand value for their money. My vision is simple; to redefine luxury living by exceeding all expectations…

…And any accolades since then to prove you are doing well?

Yes, a lot. We have gained recognition for being one of the most dynamic luxury construction companies in Nigeria as recorded by Forbes Africa, Channels Television, CNBC Africa, the Lagos State Chamber of Commerce, to name a few.

You mentioned that you are a lawyer by profession, how did you manage to dabble in real estate?

Passion, strictly passion! I am just passionate about property.

You have consistently been described as a controversial businessman. Why is this so?

As I always say, success is not served à la carte; you have to take it! Great things don’t come from comfort zones. People will always label you controversial when you do not conform to the norm or fit into the box of limitation. People say I am too ambitious, but I say to them, tremendous achievements are backed by bold and fearless visionaries. Have you ever wondered what life would have been like if the Wright Brothers had listened to dissenting voices who told them they couldn’t make humans fly? Today, a 48 hours journey by road will only take one hour by air.

Albert Einstein’s teacher said he would never amount to anything in life. But, he went ahead to become the most influential scientist of the century and the symbol for ‘genius’. When Aliko Dangote started selling sweets in primary school, many laughed at him, but today, he is Africa’s leading businessman and the richest black man on earth. Steve Jobs was fired from a company he started and told by IBM boss that his dream was impossible. Yet, he went ahead to revolutionise the tech and mobile industry forever. Humanity would never have achieved such greatness without great Innovators who took the bull by the horn such as the Wright brothers, Steve Jobs, Dangote, Sheikh Al Maktoum, Albert Einstein, to mention a few.

Think about this, what would have happened if these great icons had allowed negative vibes and criticisms stop them from achieving their dreams? I have learnt a long time to never allow the voice of the pessimist drown the spirit of optimism that fuels my dream.
I have realized that you don’t need a fan club or a cheerleader to achieve great goals, you need determination and resilience.

At 33, you became a billionaire going by your assertion. What were the measures you put in place to achieve such a great feat at such a young age?

A lot of hard work, and a strong belief that I was chosen and ordained by God. This belief drives my confidence and makes me dream bigger than my environment. Growing up on the streets of Agege, the fear of poverty was my greatest motivation. I remembered that out of the 47 houses on our street, only two people owned a power generator. This taught me a great lesson that for wealth to be generated, my environment and the people I surround myself with, need to change. At the tender age of 9, I started visiting Ikoyi with the inspiration that someday, I would also have an opportunity to live here. Today, that dream has become a reality…

Can I confidently, therefore, say that the fear of poverty pushed you to the height you are today?

Yes, and more. As a builder, the foundation for me is very critical because a man’s foundation would give you an intrinsic glimpse of his future. Without my childhood experiences, I wouldn’t be where I am today. It didn’t only build the resilience in me, it created a fantastic pillar. I have zero tolerance for failure and I believe that a man who lives in an apartment in Ikorodu today, can own a house in Ikoyi tomorrow. Success is all about the choices we make and the things we give priority in our lives.
I consider myself fortunate to have won the ovarian lottery by having a mother like mine, a woman who at the age of 9 was sent to Cameroon as a sales girl. But today, against all odds, she is one of the biggest distributors for Nestlé Nigeria. She inspired me to become the individual I am today. She taught me the importance of having great vision and to work persistently towards making my dreams a reality.

What exactly opened your eyes to big-time entrepreneurship? 

Books! I also read a lot of books. My first introduction to entrepreneurship was when I read ‘Think and Grow Rich’ by Napoleon Hill. 10 years in any University would never have given me what I learnt in 10 days. This changed my life forever. I understood two things; look for a product and create a competitive advantage, then, put customers first. These principles are the foundations of my success.

Now LorenzobySujimoto – Describe the project which many have dismissed as colossal and unreasonable and why the choice of Bourdillon.

Firstly, anyone who dares dismisses the Lorenzo as ‘unreasonable’ is living in the 19th century and is an enemy of our great nation. Look around, our streets are filled with mediocre projects, with the developers asking for a premium price. I took it upon myself as a personal goal of patriotism to use Lorenzo as a landmark for Luxury architecture in Lagos. The LorenzoBySujimoto is one-of-a-kind among projects in Africa. Dubbed the tallest residential building in Nigeria and Africa’s first fully automated residential apartments, it is certain to be an architectural landmark. Nigeria’s first user-centric apartment that redefines luxury experience. For the first time, we were able to bring three fundamental principles of real estate into one space; location, architecture and lifestyle. 

The LorenzoBySujimoto also offers 112% Returns on Investment to our first investors. In terms of the design, facilities and features, we didn’t only look at what competitors were doing; we went around the world in search of quality & inspiration. We visited the exclusive Manhattan Penthouses, the architectural ingenuity of Dubai and the exotic lifestyle of Tokyo. Our intention was to build an iconic structure that can stand and compete anywhere in the world.

Some of the features include; virtual golf bar/executive lounge, world-class Spa, a 5-Star restaurant, fully automated building. Just like the Rolls-Royce or the Hermes Birkin Bag, the LorenzoBySujimoto development took intensive research that brought a convergence of mastermind architects from different parts of the world.

We heard the project has been stalled and some investors lost their money?

About N287,000,000 was refunded back to off-takers, and no other developer in the same situation has done that in the last 10 decades. Out of about nine off-takers that trusted us and gave us a deposit, three of them has been fully refunded and now we have six of them who still believe in our project and have not only continued with the project but also have invested more into our next project.

Why did you go as far as making the refund when some developers would have stalled payment?

Listen, I am just 36 years old and all I have now is building my brand, and there is no better foundation than trust. We don’t mind losing money, but not losing our investors’ money because the bank of credibility is too expensive to withdraw from.

What is Sujimoto working on in the meantime?

While we finalise plans with our new investors for the Lorenzo, we are working on our latest addition to the Sujimoto developments in Africa’s most prestigious estate – Banana Island, an environment which resonates with our principle of ASSET maximisation. It is a small exclusive project that will redefine architecture and luxury living. I am talking about a terrace house with each apartment, having its own private elevator, two fully automated kitchens, three car parks, 2BQs, and 76% ROI.

Before designing this project, we visited all the outstanding houses in Banana Island and Ikoyi, and we came up with the best. Without bragging, many people might want to leave their houses to come and stay at our new project because it takes luxury living to a whole new level. We are also giving our off-takers five years warranty on finishing and 100 years warranty on infrastructure.
Our choice of projects and most importantly choice of location is one of our biggest competitive advantages. This is one of the reasons why our desire and assiduous efforts to change Africa’s luxury space continue to attract international recognition and awards. My commitment to ensuring investors get value for their money will never change. This is one of the elements, which drive our vision as a real estate organisation.

How did you manage to make such a grand entry into the Nigerian business and socioeconomic terrain considering the fact that you were hitherto unknown in both the business and social circuit; was it that you were working silently underground before the grand entry? 

I have a simple philosophy; create sugar, and ants will come
Have you wondered why it takes 6 Months of focused dedication and hard work to build a Rolls-Royce when it takes just 13 hours to manufacture a Toyota? Unlike the Toyota, which is mass-produced, the Rolls Royce is hand-built to perfection with every stitch telling a unique story. What’s the difference? Value!
I have been doing real estate since 1998 when I lived in South of France as a common Agent with no license. Back then, I brokered a lot of deals in Project Management and Financing. But my first major break was in 2011 when I bought an apartment in Paris and decided to remodel it. My friends thought I was crazy and lavish. But after I was done renovating, I sold it in less than two months to a friend from Qatar for double the price. The investment flip in such short time re-ignited my interest in real estate and changed my career path forever.
Before moving back to Nigeria, I visited my aunt who bought a house on Banana Island. After paying so much for the house, I still had to help her change her kitchen, doors, tiles etc. It was very tiring and frustrating considering one would expect a house of that magnitude in terms of price to come with quality accessories and interiors.

So, when I decided to move back to Nigeria in 2014, I had the vision to liberate the Nigerian luxury real-estate market and bring true value to customers who are not only tired of architectural mediocrity but also frustrated by value depreciation. I came into the luxury real estate industry at a time when Nigerians were beginning to demand quality and value for their money. They have been at the mercy of mediocre developers who have refused to raise the bar in terms of quality but demanded ridiculous prices because they thought the customer didn’t know better.

The market was littered with substandard developments, going for exorbitant prices. All I did was to create sugar – offer a world-class development, superb finishing with international standard, at an affordable pricing and the game changed, Today, many so-called ‘TOP’ developers are using Sujimoto as a case study, many have copied our designs and tried to immolate our marketing strategy but as they say, if it’s not Panadol, it can’t be Panadol. (Laughs)

You had fine hopes for Lorenzo initially until the Lagos State Government came with a caveat. Could you please explain what actually happened?

I need to correct an impression here; we never at any time had a problem with the Lagos State Government. In fact, I have never received such support from any government like Lagos State. They were more than supportive. Make no mistake about this, the LorenzoBySujimoto project might have stalled but it will stand. I was granted an interview early in the year and explained in detail where we are at the moment. Around April 2016, two of our major investors looked at the dwindling and uncertain Nigerian economy and opted out. One said Suji if your project were in Togo, we would have invested in it. I remember another saying, Suji, RISK we can mitigate, but UNCERTAINTY we can’t.

The Lorenzo is like a baby that must be delivered. I am already pregnant and I have no choice but to give birth to the Lorenzo and it will shock every human being, born of a woman. We have received a lot of support from our international partners and we are hoping that by next year, the project will commence.

To those that had described you as a bogey real estate player, what is your message to them?

My grandma always says; ‘there’s no amount of bitter-leaf that can stop the taste of honey’. Many said nothing can come out of Nazareth but Nazareth birthed Jesus our Lord. I can go on and on. I have learnt very early in life that success has many enemies but few friends. A man with a destination in sight and a target to meet, cannot afford the excess luggage of distraction.

Many Nigerians love success but we have some few crumbs, those few that feed and find joy in bringing others down, are the biggest problem we have in our society. I call this ‘I-better-pass-my-neighbour” mentality. If these people could criticize the richest man in Africa and said he was lucky to be friendly with the government, then who am I? We are not positively predisposed to change in this nation and we consider anyone who tries to raise the bar, an enemy.
We need to start celebrating our achievers and learn from their successes. We need to stop pulling them down.

Do you have any interest in politics and would you contest for any elective position in the nearest future, like the governor of your state?

For now, I am 100% focused on Real Estate and meeting the construction needs of investors who have trusted me with their money. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but if I run, I will run for President, and I am 100% certain to win! However, if there is anyone who has greatly inspired me in Politics and has impacted our democracy the most, it is the Jagaban himself, Chief Bola Ahmed Tinubu, human development strategist, political kingpin, Alliance master…

Culled from here.

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