We heard a lot about Sujimoto, some say it’s a myth, others say you have a Japanese lineage; please tell us, what does Sujimoto stand for?
Sujimoto to me is all about redefining the way people live and bringing them exceptional luxury buildings at a reasonable price. We continuously think about how we could do things better, faster and cheaper. Sujimoto actually means ‘Excellence’ in Japanese; and this is what our brand exhumes. We believe that commitment to anything less than excellence is already an acceptance of mediocrity. Excellence to us is not just a slogan; it is our refusal to accept mediocrity.
You were listed among the 50 most influential Nigerians in 2017, how did you do it?
The first thing I did when I saw my name on the list was to call my mum and dad with tears of joy. I was beyond elated, if anyone had told me that “I Suji that grew up on the streets of Agege, will one day be listed amongst great business tycoons, captains of industry, and political achievers like Former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo; His Excellency, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; Alhaji Aliko Dangote, the astute businessman and philanthropist, Tony Elumelu amongst other winners; I would never have believed them. ”If there is one lesson this experience has taught me:
“Never allow anyone tell you that your dreams are not valid! Because with perseverance, hard work and determination, a tailor could one day become the richest black woman in the world.”
We hear you have a new project that is almost sold out. Is the Lorenzo project a thing of the past?
It takes 6 days to assemble a Toyota, but 6 months to create a Rolls Royce, quality takes time and luxury even longer. Yes! We had the Lorenzo project which is currently on hold, but this new project has unexpectedly become a success story from the collective feedbacks received so far. It was very tough at the beginning but we were steadfast. We knew what we wanted and we went for it. I personally spoke with different banks that said this is not the right time, we have no budget for real estate, but I was lucky to meet a real estate financier who understood the project. He gave us very strict timelines and milestones, and released the funds needed at a very high interest rate. Yes, the money was expensive but it was available.
Today we have just 2 units left and we will be 2 months ahead of schedule, and 20% cheaper than budget. The GiulianoBySujimoto terraces were not built for profit purposes but were built out of passion, we built it to compete, not just with terraces in Nigeria but around the world. We believe that by the time we complete and handover this project by October it should be able to compete amongst the top 10 best Terraces in the world.
Please tell us, what happened with the LorenzoBySujimoto project?
In 2015, I sold my dream of the tallest residential building in Nigeria, and the first fully automated building in Africa, a 90 Million USD project. Investors were thrilled. The competition marveled at the audacity of the project.
Between January and December 2016, I had personally spoken to several investors & off-takers. About 95% of them said ‘NO’! But, that didn’t discourage us or make us lose focus on the Lorenzo dream, because no to us meant ‘‘not over’’. It was just a delay, not denial. Around April 2016, two of our major investors looked at the economic situation of the country, most importantly some governmental policies, and they backed out. One said to me, “Suji, if your project were in Togo, we would invest in it.” I remember another saying, “Suji, RISK we can manage, but UNCERTAINTY we can’t.”
There’s a way that life tries to snatch your dream away from you and suddenly everything you are doing looks incompetent. Some people told me that real estate is a difficult sector so it would be best for me to leave my passion and do something else. I visited my longtime friend’s water factory in Abeokuta and thought about venturing into the pure-water business. I even went back to Ijebu-Igbo and visited some farms because it seemed agriculture and farming had become the new ‘oil’. Some people began convincing me to leave everything and run away to USA.
I had spoken to a successful Nigerian actor who had moved to Atlanta because of the abrupt recession. He said life was easier there, things were stable and I could access credit through a flexible banking system…
But I knew in my heart that running away wasn’t the definition of the Motomatics Philosophy I had created. The Sujimoto I know and advocated wasn’t a runaway loser; neither was it a ‘lack of focus’ kind of personality or company.
In a fast-paced society like ours if you don’t move, you will be removed. What I did was simple, I moved on. I also chose to distance myself from toxic people, people who desired success but their conversations were all about failure; those who somehow directly or indirectly made me see failure from their own failings… I developed courage and refocused my life. I revisited my options and created Giuliano, the son of Lorenzo, the grandson of Cosimo De’ Medici.
So the Lorenzo challenge was a very tough one for me but more importantly, it was a learning curve, especially when we had to refund clients’ money.
A winning mindset requires long-term vision. The same investors who pulled the plug are back again. This time, they’re not just talking, but we have moved forward by signing agreements that will make the Lorenzo bigger and better than what was proposed before.
Did you lose any money? How much have you refunded?
Till date, we have refunded about 287m and another 177m totaling almost 470m. There are few or virtually none when it comes to developers that can handle this feat in the country given the current state of the economy.
I invested a lot of money. I invested my soul, my time, and for 365days, I did nothing but Lorenzo. I woke up, slept, and dreamt about only one project. Many might say I lost money or time but what others call loss, I term it an investment into a greater future. We didn’t mind losing our own money, but losing investors’ money was non- negotiable, because the bank of credibility is too expensive to withdraw from, as TRUST is her CURRENCY.
Tell us about this new project – GiulianoBySujimoto?
We understand that to be needed, you must be loaded.
The GiulianoBySujimoto is more than just a project; it is a game changer that will redefine the way people live. It is inspired by the great works of the great Medici Family. It brings Exclusivity, Location and Quality together in one space. In designing the Giuliano, We went around Ikoyi and Banana Island; we toured all the best terraces and apartments, looking for STANDARDS to set and RECORDS to beat!
We also needed the best location and we knew that lands situated in Banana Island are quite expensive. Hence Banana Island was the only location that will showcase the true value of “The Giuliano” – where every square meter from foundation to finishing will be an epitome of opulence. With what we finally designed, “The Giuliano” will be the best luxury terrace not just in Nigeria but the whole of Africa.
What makes The Giuliano different from other Terraces & Penthouses in Banana Island or Ikoyi?
Show me your neighbour and I will tell you who you are. True Luxury happens when you lower your standards for no one and that’s what the Giuliano project is all about. There are 7 fundamental competitive advantages that give the Giuliano an edge over our competitors and explain why the project is almost sold- out with only 2 units remaining.
Permit me to add quickly that we are the first indigenous company to complete 6 slabs (5 Storeys) in two and a half months! A feat only CappaD’alberto and Julius Berger have achieved.
Aside from the private elevator for each house, One of Giuliano’s biggest selling-point is the Master bathroom, not only because of its enormous size or that each Master Bathroom comes with a TV, but the sanitary wares by Porcelanosa are designed by one of the best architects in the world – Zaha Hadid. We also have Duravit sanitary wares.
In terms of features and facilities, the Giuliano will surpass the competition in Ikoyi and environs by offering 2 fully fitted Kitchens (Wet & Dry) designed by Kohler (one of the best kitchen manufacturers in Germany and the world), .2.8 metre doors from Italy, Full Home Automation, Private elevators in each unit, 2 Maid’s room and 3 Car parks per unit.
We went a step further to guarantee unbeatable luxury by ensuring that no drop of paint will be on Giuliano’s exterior. Instead, the whole exterior will be clad in this special Spanish stone; similar to the façade used for Chief Kessington Adebutu’s (Baba Ijebu) house, which is regarded as one of the most expensive houses in Nigeria.
The Giuliano Penthouse is designed like the arch of a boat, and sits on two floors of approximately 1000m2 and a 360 degrees balcony. This is projected to be one of the best penthouses in Nigeria.
All this wouldn’t have happened without strong partnerships with companies like Lafarge. Their merger of speed, professionalism, luxury finishing and quality has shown that indeed, excellence has no price.
What should Off-takers and Investors expect?
Buying real estate off-plan anywhere in the world gives you a great pricing advantage and that’s the same thing that’s happened here. We know that the best terrace-houses in Ikoyi and Banana Island is selling for about 500 to 600m naira, we have studied those houses and we have created something better than the existing ones in terms of location, features and facilities.
We are confident that those who bought Giuliano now, will have a property valued at over 600m naira, making them gain over 70% return on equity, and almost 25M to 35M in annual rent.
There’s nothing better than that.
You talk a lot about Real Estate as a dependable investment asset. Why?
Many top industry leaders and influencers have conducted studies and they have realised that people between the ages of 40 to 65 chose real estate as the best investment option.
When you look at the recession and the experiences people had, many people lost money in stocks and other investments but real estate, especially the ones in prime locations like Ikoyi and Banana island maintained their value.
I talk a lot about financial freedom, asset building and other things. One philosophy I always emphasize on, which I believe many people connect with, is the difference between assets and liability, because any woman or man that’s unable to differentiate assets from liability is building a castle of failure, anyone who thinks that their husbands or wives are their assets are setting a road map for failure.
An investment is like a relationship, its either you are dating or you are getting married, most stocks and other investments are like casual dates, today you love each other, tomorrow you move on to the next one. Real estate is different, it’s a relationship that has deeply rooted, vested interest; meaning you don’t only love but you have to marry her (it’s a till death do us part kind of thing).
You are known for your generous giving, is there a principle behind this or it is just a passion?
One quality that highly successful people have in common is generosity.
From MKO Abiola to Bill Gates, Rockefeller to Warren Buffet, you will SEE that these people have impacted MULTIPLE generations through philanthropy.
It is like the biblical proverb of the man that scattereth yet increaseth. Someone once asked: “Suji what drives you, what brings joy to your heart aside from doing deals and building luxury properties?”
I searched and realised that what brings me joy and satisfaction the most is the knowledge that I have a strong impact in the lives of the people around me, the realisation that I was able to eradicate poverty, first from my immediate family, then friends and my colleagues. Nothing else in this world brings me more joy!
This year we have some really breath taking CSR project we want to do in my home town of Ilesha, we want to exhibit our architectural genius and erect a masterpiece modern library, a centre for leadership and entrepreneurship… we also want to touch lives in the IDPs in Borno.
When I decided to assist Olajumoke (the bread seller turned model), some people questioned my intention, but what they didn’t understand was that I saw my mother in Olajumoke; the story of a lady who left Ijebu for Lagos in search of opportunity.
I am sure many of our parents came to Lagos from different parts of Nigeria that’s why I always tell people that the Olajumoke’S story is like the Lagos version of the American Dream.
What advice do you have for the youths and struggling Entrepreneurs?
The universe responds to innovation and inventions, not merely intentions. Few weeks ago I wrote an article about the Nigerian underrated under 40s, it was in celebration of my generation and acknowledging some of us that’s achieved so much with so little. Look at Linda Ikeji, NairaBet CEO Otunba Akin Alabi, Konga’s Sim Shagaya and so many others, we all deserve an accolade. While we are not doing bad, our generation has not yet tapped into their full potential.
In Nigeria’s super-fast, hyper-competitive environment, success isn’t necessarily determined by your background but your backbone. As a matter of fact, success is not served a-la-carte. It’s a buffet!
Permit me to say that the biggest issue with this generation is the ‘entitlement’ mentality. We expect stuff to be handed to us or to work a certain way just because we are related by blood, friendship, religious and ethnic affiliations.
NO ONE owes us anything but ourselves. And if we don’t make a sacrifice for whatever we want in life, what we want becomes the sacrifice.
I have travelled all over the world and trust me when I say that Nigeria is the biggest ground for uncommon Opportunities. This same opportunity is what brings foreigners to our land and make them billionaires.
Nigeria is the only land where the Lebanese man starts off as a Trader and becomes an industrialist; or the Indian starts as a Storekeeper and becomes a Manufacturer.
While it is fair to say that the Nigerian youth deserve some accolades, I am however sad to see young and able-bodied men from Anambra, Oyo and Kano not taking their destiny into their hands, while blaming the government, or the society for their situation, to the point where some even develop a silent hate for the successful ones amongst them, instead of learning from their vision and achievements.
I have refused to see the malfunctions of society, instead, I look for opportunities where I can develop product that solves societal need, I get inspired by grass to grace stories. Stories of Dangote who broke the marriage record in Nigeria by bringing the richest man in the world to his daughter wedding; this was a man to whom success was not served a-la-carte. I learnt from the struggles of MKO Abiola, the determination and transformation agenda of Elumelu,
The one woman that inspires me the most is Folurunsho Alakija, with her uncommon determination and the perseverance that led her to maintain her stance against the Federal government’s decision. This is a vital time in the history of our nation, where the youths needs to wake up, and realise that our biggest asset is not in oil (Who oil epp? I have never benefited from Nigerian oil. I pay for my own water, light, security and transportation), but it is our minds and our capacity to transform our potentials into reality.
Aside from the Giuliano, what other plans do you have for 2018?
This year will be a very busy year for Sujimoto. We will be building a 20-unit terrace in Banana Island. Something I believe will change the landscape of Banana Island. We have a project that will start later this year on Queen’s Drive, a fabulous building of 32 ultra-modern apartments. We have two hotels in the pipeline – one in Ikoyi and the other in Maryland.
We have a waterfront development in Banana Island, about 46 units of 3 and 4 bedroom maisonettes with 2 incredible penthouses, a project that will really redefine luxury living.
So, it’s going to be a very busy year for me, and we are hoping to start all these before December 2018.
You are very successful and not married, why?
I’m married to Sujimoto for now.