Contrary to the public narrative that Dele Fajemirokun, one of Nigeria’s underrated billionaires, was born with a silver spoon, he grew up with his parents in a one-room apartment in Isale Eko, a suburb and local government area of Lagos State.
Before his father, Henry Oloyede Fajemirokun became successful in business, Dele, his three siblings, and other relatives depended on the unpleasant living condition his parents could offer, which formed the foundation for his unbridled quest for a better life.
The early days
As a young boy, Dele Fajemirokun was full of energy; to put it plainly, he was a rascal. This earned him the moniker “Dele Times, Dele Trouble”. To him, his behaviour was a positive aberrant approach to life. Despite this, he was a bright boy, and his teachers agreed that his naughtiness did not affect his intelligence.
He attended Gboluji Grammar School in Ile Oluji, Ondo state, after which he was admitted to the University of Ife and graduated with a B.Sc in Business Economics. He later obtained his doctorate from the University of Los Angeles.
Dele Fajemirokun’s adult life was just beginning when his father died. He was 28 and had limited knowledge of running a business. His father had built a business empire by this time, but Dele was not ready to take on such a huge challenge after the man’s demise. All he had was the trading intelligence he had learnt from his parents early on and a degree in Business Economics.
The business sojourn
Dele Fajemirokun knew little about his father’s businesses as he only worked as a sweeper in the man’s warehouse and a tally clerk at his Clearing and Forwarding business. However, his saving grace was his late father’s meticulous record-keeping, which served as a compass to manage the business. Hence, he became the Group Executive Director (GED) of Henry Stephens Group, which consists of about 19 companies – his father’s deputy served as the Chairman and managing director of the companies.
At first, the new role seemed like Dele had been handed the keys to paradise only to discover that he inherited a debt pile. His father had taken loans from First Bank and Union Bank and used all but one of his properties in Nigeria as collateral. This was Dele’s first challenge in the business world.
Notwithstanding this, he navigated his way through and revived the business by securing a loan of N200,000 from Firstbank and paying it all back within ten years. Although some of the companies folded up, the Henry Stephens group survived.
In his business quest, he is well-known for leveraging his long-standing contacts and friendships to form exceptional commercial collaborations that reduce his business risks while increasing his benefits. Also, he never succumbs to fear or anything else that will affect his work.
In 1990, he acquired an 11% stake in AIICO insurance when the Nigerian government sold its shares. Even though the federal government did not want a single person or entity to own all shares, he achieved this. He bought a 1% share each through 11 shell companies using his wit. He, therefore, became the legal owner of the 11% shares and the second-largest stakeholder behind the American Insurance Group (AIG).
Ten years later, he bought 40% shares from AIICO Bahamas, making him the largest stakeholder in AIICO Insurance Plc. As the Chairman of AIICO Insurance, he used his personal property to obtain a loan of N650 million within 24 hours for the company’s license to be reissued.
In his autobiography, he underscored the importance of building a good network. According to him, the University of Ife was where he made many acquaintances who eventually became his business partners. During their university days, he and his friends bought a parcel of land on the spur of the moment without knowing what they would do with it.
Dele and his friends later agreed to a business proposition from a development company. They agreed to let the company build on the land in exchange for several apartment units when the structure is completed. This is how Dele owned a penthouse apartment in a high-rise mansion in Banana Island.
The astute serial entrepreneur is also known for building a business and exiting the board when the admiration is at its peak. For instance, he led Food Concepts Plc to open over 60 Chicken Republic locations in Nigeria and Ghana, and nine bakeries before resigning from the board.
Becoming a billionaire
Becoming a billionaire comes with taking bold business decisions, and such risky decisions characterize Dele Fajemirokun’s life. A remarkable example was when he gave an American company, T-CAS, a N50,000 loan in exchange for 51% company shares and the Executive Chairman position in the company. He accessed the loan by using his landed property as collateral.
Shortly after, the Ministry of Communications paid the millions of dollars it owed T-CAS. As the largest shareholder, Fajemirokun received $11 million. Through this decision, Dele Fajemirokun became a billionaire at 29. He’s one of Nigeria’s less talked about billionaires, with interests and shares in more than forty businesses such as insurance, telecommunications, oil and gas, agriculture, and manufacturing.