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Home African CEOs Interviews Visionaries The Real Story of How Mike Adenuga Became a Billionaire
Visionaries - March 17, 2022

The Real Story of How Mike Adenuga Became a Billionaire

From humble beginnings, Mike Adenuga has built a business empire in real estate, oil, banking, and telecommunications.

Mike Adenuga has had an inspiring entrepreneurial journey, with lessons for every entrepreneur looking to navigate the road to success. The life of the billionaire businessman shows that hard work, a solid network, and a knack for seizing appropriate opportunities are essential ingredients for breaking through and succeeding in life.

From humble beginnings, with a father who was a school teacher and a mother who was a petty trader, Adenuga has made a name for himself with businesses in real estate, oil, banking, and telecommunications.

According to Forbes, Adenuga presently has a net worth of $7.2 billion. He is Nigeria’s second richest man, sixth on Africa’s billionaires’ list and 44th on the world’s billionaires’ list. His close associates, however, argue that Adenuga is in fact the richest man in Africa.

From humble beginnings

He was born on April 29th, 1953 in Ibadan as Adeniyi Agbolade Ishola Adenuga (Jnr) to Oloye Michael Agbolade Adenuga Sr., a school teacher, and Omoba Juliana Oyindamola Adenuga, a businesswoman from a royal Ijebu family.

He attended Ibadan Grammar School, Ibadan, and Comprehensive High School, Aiyetoro, for his Higher School Certificate (HSC). Adenuga’s parents’ intention for him had been for him to follow in the footsteps of his brother Demola and also study at the University of Ibadan, but he had a different dream: to study in the United States.

His parents had no choice but to support his dream of studying in the US when the admission letter came. That decision was possibly the best decision he made in life and set the tone for his meteoric rise.

He went on to study at Northwestern Oklahoma State University, where he graduated with a degree in business administration, as well as Pace University, New York.

Schooling was not easy as he had to work as a taxi driver and a security guard to support himself as a student.

Making his first million

Upon his return to the country, Mike Adenuga hit the ground running as an entrepreneur, selling soft drinks while also assisting in managing his mother’s saw mill business. When, in 1970 at the age of 26, he missed his flight on a return trip from New York and had to fly with another airline, providence smiled on him. He got linked up with a major supplier of lace materials in Asia. He recalled the encounter thus:

“I went on a trip to New York, and when I was coming back, I missed my flight on British Airways. So I had to fly Swiss Air and I sat next to the owner of one of the biggest lace manufacturing factories in Austria. So, we were talking and he got me into the business of importing lace, and all sort of things.”

This encounter opened the door to making his first million through the sales of lace and other materials, and since then he has not looked back. By the age of 22, Mike Adenuga had delved into a variety of businesses such as general merchandise, construction, importation of sawmill equipment, wines, and textile materials from Austria.

Impact of Friendship and Network

His friendship with the political class has proven to be a good asset in his entrepreneurial journey. 

When the policy of indigenous participation in the oil prospecting business was advanced during the Ibrahim Babangida administration (a good friend of his) with Jubril Aminu as petroleum minister, Adenuga was well-positioned both in terms of resources and network to be one of the few Nigerians who would be awarded the ‘discretionary licence’ (OPL 113). This gave birth to Consolidated Oil (Conoil).

Other notable Nigerians who were also awarded an oil prospecting licence then include M. K. O. Abiola, Alhaji Dantata, Alhaji Indimi, Alhaji Mai Deribe, Chief Michael Ibru, Kase Lawal, and Chief Lulu Briggs.

Conoil is recorded as being the first of the lot to hit oil in commercial quantity and has been producing ever since, thus making it one of Nigeria’s most successful indigenous oil and gas projects.

Adenuga’s banking success

Having recorded huge success and grown through the years from the sale of soft drinks to importing of lace materials and then oil exploration, Mike Adenuga subsequently delved into the banking sector. He launched Devcom Merchant Bank in 1989 and, subsequently, Equitorial Trust Bank in February 1990.

Equitorial Trust Bank would later, in 2006, merge with Devcom Bank, while it was also taken over by Sterling Bank in 2011.

In the case of the banks, a vital business lesson in life is that you win some and lose some. The important thing is to know when to let go, divest, move on, or re-adjust your expectations.

The Globacom story

The story of Globacom is a testament to the can-do spirit of Mike Adenuga, who never says never and gets back on when he is knocked down.

Following President Olusegun Obasanjo’s move to liberalise the telecoms sector in 1999, Adenuga, not one to miss golden opportunities, entered the race.

However, after paying the sum of $20m for a conditional telecom licence along with MTN and Econet, his licence was revoked. 

The loss, it should be noted here, was supposedly due to Adenuga’s Communications Investment Limited (CIL) delay in meeting the payment of $265m by a few hours, a claim Adenuga countered. This must have set him back, but it was not enough to keep him out.

In 2002, Communications Investment Limited (CIL) bounced back and secured a bid as the Second National Operator (SNO). This gave birth to Globacom. This proved to be more of a blessing as the SNO licence enabled Globacom to operate as a national carrier, offer digital mobile lines, act as an international gateway for the country and also sell fixed wireless access phones.

The brand today stands tall as Nigeria’s 2nd largest network operator with over 55 million subscribers. It is also among the biggest players in Benin Republic, Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire and Senegal.

With hard work, persistence, and an eye for opportunities, Mike Adenuga has shown that anything is possible if one sets his eyes upon it and does not flinch. 

READ ALSO: 8 Sacred Business Lessons From Tony Elumelu to African Entrepreneurs

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