Iyiola Ayoade is the Group CEO of Multiple Concepts Group and Charterhouse, he is also the grandson of the great Oba Adesoji Aderemi, the late Ooni of Ife, but he does not carry any of these titles as a badge of honour on his shoulders.
When you meet him, he is so unassuming and humble, but this persona belies the steel that he has underneath. The strength of character, the passion for hard work and the knack for creativity that has enabled him and his team, grow a business from one room to a huge Pan African outfit with offices in Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde.
Though he would not admit it, Mr. Ayoade has a weakness for cars, he may not be a car freak but he just loves wonders on wheels. Another thing about him is the fact that he is a geek, he can be termed a technology junkie. He experiments with gadgets –and like he admitted in this our interview, his hobby is surfing the internet.
For someone whose company is in the public domain, it is funny that he detests publicity because according to him, he always likes his work, to do the talking.
But when one turns 50, it is a different kettle of fish, discussing the first half a century of one’s life is something you cannot avoid-and he really came out of his shell in an exclusive interview with Ovation.
Before the interview though, he had a very classy and cosy 50th birthday party inside the highbrow Movenpick Ambassador Hotel, Accra.
Unlike his 40th birthday which was a jamboree, this one was just a gathering of close friends and family-the celebrant and his wife, knew virtually everyone on the guest list. A rare feat in an African party setting.
The décor was heavenly, the ambience soothing and romantic, the music, the food, the drinks were carefully chosen to ensure that everyone was treated like a royal. It was first-rate.
As someone who deals with celebrities often, it was no surprise that the hall had a splash of Ghanaian entertainment and TV personalities.
On arrival at the venue, guests were welcomed by smiling hostesses with assorted cocktails and canapes. The ceremony however kicked off formally with an opening prayer by Pastor Andy Yawson of KICC Ghana. This is the church the celebrant and family attends.
Thereafter, the compere, George Quaye took charge. There were musical performances and speeches but the highest point of the evening was a special presentation by former staff of Charterhouse. It was indeed moving and emotional.
The celebrant’s closest friend, business partner and wife, Mrs. Theresa Ayoade aka Ma T gave a wonderful speech, pouring encomiums on her husband for his love, affection and companionship.
She praised him for being an exemplary father and dear husband, she prayed that God will continue to bless him with His wisdom as he starts another phase of his life.
A very elated celebrant also took centre stage to say thank you to all those who came for this golden jubilee celebration. He recalled with nostalgia, his first arrival in Ghana and how he fell in love with the country and one of their daughters.
He added that many years after, his love for that woman, who is now his dear wife and the country has not waned one bit.
He informed all that he has completed all the paper work that has officially made him a Ghanaian. Adding jocularly that his Ghanaian name was now Komla!
Assisted by his two children, Tobi and Shewa and his wife, the celebrant later cut his cake-and after which, the party dove-tailed into a mega dance zone. The fun did not stop till the wee hours of the next morning.
Days later, while he was enjoying his yearly family holiday in the United Kingdom, he created sometime to have this all-revealing interview about life, business and more.
Those who attended included from Nigeria:
Chief Dele Momodu
Prince Damola Aderemi
Ms Madie Arkutu Managing Director, Unilever Ghana
Angela Kyeremateng Managing Director, IBM Ghana
Mrs. Duplan Managing Director, Nestlé Ghana
Mr John Asamoah of Dannex Pharmaceuticals
Hon. Dzifa Gomashie Dep Minister
Nii Ayi Tagoe
On the day you turned 50 what did you ask from God and how did you feel
When we were younger, 50 used to seem so far away. We used to look at 50 year old people as old. Suddenly you realise that you too have turned 50 and you too have become old.
It was a big deal for me and at this point you are reflective and you are thankful that you too have attained the age of 50, the golden jubilee. A lot of things were flying through my mind, you know I did not even want to have a party.
There was a lot of reflection about my life. I was thankful, I was like we should do more things for charity. It was supposed to be a happy moment yes. But the feeling was that now, there was a need to do more for your family, your people and you needed to plant footprints that goes beyond yourself or do what matters to others and not your mouth and stomach alone. It was a funny feeling. But overall, I would say, it was a fantastic feeling.
I was at your 40th
Yes you were there and you would agree with me that it was a jamboree.
This 50th was cosier and classier
That was how we wanted it. I needed to trim down. I said to myself that at this moment, I only needed close friends and associates to be there on that day. People that I know by name, I had everyone’s telephone number. We missed some people in a bid to cut down though. I said I was not going to go beyond 100 but we ended up at 220, which was okay in the end. The 20 was my family and I.
All of us that attended had fun
I am glad you did
For me though, the most moving moment was the presentation by your former staff, how did that make you feel.
I felt really honoured. Many of these guys did not leave in very happy circumstances, so you could imagine my shock to see them. A lot of them had worked with us for long before leaving.
Obviously there is no training institution for events management in Ghana, so Charterhouse was the University. Passing through Charterhouse was like going for a 4-year degree.
It was a practical learning ground, some of them said we were a little too strict. But after going to work for other institutions, they have come to appreciate the work ethic at Charterhouse. Up till today, I get prayers, they will tell me, Sir, I am so grateful, I did not know you were coaching me then.
They have all come to realise that in event management there is no room for any defect, you must get it correct 100 percent because a one percent error may take all your hard work to zero and ruin everything. We tried to impact these principles, some thought we were too wicked and all that. They contributed money to buy me a gift and followed up with calls and letters. I really appreciated their guesture.
Till today, I still get calls, messages and prayers. Yes it was moving for me. I was overwhelmed with their expression of appreciation. This is just the beginning in my view, we will strive to do more, for much more people, impact more lives as the years go by.
These staff worked for Charterhouse and Multiple Concepts, tell us how these companies began especially as you were not very enthusiastic about coming to Ghana initially
You know I was working for a company in Nigeria, at some point they felt they could do some things in Ghana and they told me that I would be the one to go. As a young Nigerian, when you hear that people are being transferred, you are told that they have been sent to UK or America, but when it was your turn, you had to go to Ghana. Naturally, I was hesitant. But I eventually went, when we got to Ghana we worked for two years and after two years, I was recalled to Nigeria.
I fell in I love with the tranquillity of Ghana. When I got back to Nigeria General Abacha was in power, and you know how turbulent that period was in Nigeria, I told myself, that I would be better off in Ghana, I decided to go back, of course my company said no, so I resigned.
At that time too, I had also fallen in love with a smart and beautiful lady there. So I came back and the rest is history.
What would you say are the key principles that have kept you going as a businessman
I tell people, work hard because hard work pays but smarter hard work pays more. It takes a little bit more than hard work to succeed in my opinion. I hope I am making sense. That is my first rule. The second rule is whatever you do, do it with all your heart. That is whatever you do, in your transaction with anybody, always ask yourself how does this benefit the other party? Always come to the table with clean hands. A good summary of this is what Chief Bode Akindele summarised in his book, “I did it God’s way” when he said whatever you do in business, do it God’s way. There is God’s way to doing business.
Usually, I like to ask myself, what is in it for Mike, if the answer is not clear then you have to reassess you position. Of course, also going alongside these are you passion and prayers are critical but most importantly, one factor that has kept us in business is the fact that we have been very creative.
We have been restless. We are restless to have moved from a little one room space in Adabraka, straight up to a bigger space, we did major things in events, veered into TV Production, we still did not stop there, you know if you stop, there are horses behind you galloping fast, so you have to keep moving.
From there we went to Liberia. One day, I just carried my luggage went straight to Liberia, we went to see what the registration of businesses there was like, we set up there , after settling up there, we were in Sierra Leone, and got that done.
There was an opportunity to pitch for a job, and we flew to Cape Verde, a Portuguese-speaking country. We got there, went to hire Portuguese-speaking students to help put the proposal together, we won the pitch and we opened an office there. For three years, the office has been running and running profitably.
Then, of course, it was time for Nigeria. Nigeria is a very developed market and we must have the wherewithal and strength to play in that market, so we went to Nigeria.
So 16, 17 years down the line, We are no longer that little company we started in one room, we have now become a truly Pan-African Group to God be the Glory.
In all that, I have told you, you must work smart because it is the smartness that enables you see the smallest details, the smallest things that most people do not see. Like I said earlier, you must be fair to all and sundry in your business dealings.
I always believe that there is higher or hidden force, a God that interferes in the affairs of men. You must never forget God, God’s way is the only way. Those are the things that I truly believe in as far as business is concerned.
As you were speaking, something occurred to me, you have now built brands in Music, comedy and entertainment generally. Brands that can stand on their own. That must make you very fulfilled, any new offerings in that direction
Certainly the most popular arm of our business is events management, but it is not necessarily the most profitable interestingly. It is the loudest, it is the avenue that most people have come to know us, it is okay, we do not mind. In the Multiple Concepts Group, we have Advertising, Events Management and TV Production and until recently, we had a TV Channel, Ghone.
We used the Charterhouse brand to reach out to the rest of Africa going with the full basket of Advertising and Event Management, depending on what opportunities we see there, we can go with this two.
We have many properties, we have got brands that are tested and trusted but it is all localized, what we want to do going forward in 2017, is to take advantage of our satellite location, and launch some real Pan African initiatives, that can cut across even to areas that we are not operating in at the moment like Kenya, South Africa, etc.
We have contacts and bridges all over Africa, so that is our goal for the event company. For our advertising business, it is our wish to reach out to so many other countries, and especially break that language barrier. I mean Togo is just next door, Benin is next door, so we intend to grab the bull by the horn and explore Africa.
How challenging has it been doing business in Africa, many businesses complain of poor infrastructure, where there times that you were frustrated
I would not say it has all been smooth sailing. But planning has been key. In Africa, we plan 30 per cent and work 70 per cent,that is hard work. But if you spend 70 per cent of your time planning, all you will need to do is a mere 30 per cent.
Some of the events we have done like you know seem like we are getting it done in 24 hours but we would probably have spent days planning, so that when you get on location, everything falls in place.
In the context of your question, yes, there are challenges, but when confronted with those obstacles, the question we used to ask ourselves is: how is the other person surviving?
If we are complaining, what happens to the smaller events companies? In Nigeria they always say, who you know helps but I would say do not build a business on who you know, because that person will not be there forever, let your work speak for you.
How did we do it. The first major event we did in Ghana was Ghana Music Awards (GMA), we threw in everything, and we shared it live on national television.
Based on what we did on national television, everybody was shocked, everybody went Wow! Of course some industry practitioners were envious and criticized whatever that we did.
But Corporate Ghana liked it, because it was shortly after that that I got a call from then Spacefone, saying that they loved what they saw and they wanted us to introduce them to the company that produced the event.
Of course, we produced the event ourselves, so they said really, we were calling because we would like you to do our 5th Anniversary, and that was how we did that and somebody saw it again, and it went on and on.
The same thing is happening to us in Nigeria now. We work with a big brand and through that big brand, we are meeting smaller companies that are associating with that brand. When they see what we have done, they come to us and say so you did that, how much was it. What is working for us right now is being able to do something good at the least cost.
Nigeria is a big market, there used to be a lot of money, but things are no longer the same, companies are cutting cost, so companies like ours with very good cost advantage are getting by. We are able to accommodate any budget no matter how small. From $1million, & $1000,000 or $10, 000. It does not matter, just bring your budget and we would work with you and deliver.
Earlier we spoke about those who have passed through what I would call the Charterhouse Academy, but there are others who have stood by you all these years, so you must be a good boss
(Smiles heartily) It will be uncharitable to rate myself but yes there are people who have stayed with us all these years.
I used to say that for them to have stayed, they are fans of the brand. So they like what we are doing they identify with what we are doing, they want to be in the industry, because if you want to remain in that industry and you leave Charterhouse, where will you go? We are towering above others in event management, so why leave the best.
It is pretty difficult to find an alternative, a one-stop shop that gives you all the exposure. Plus we try as much as possible to identify pillars within the group. And we go the extra mile to make them comfortable.
We give them what you would get in Corporate Ghana. You know the event industry for a very long time was informal. There are very few players in the industry that are doing medical allowance, very few players that are doing paid vacation and a whole lot of things.
So people can see what we are doing as a serious career, and you can feel free because the company can actually help you achieve your professional aspirations. Right now people who have been with us for ten years are doing house warming, and I thank God for using the company to impact the lives of people like that. If you are good to us definitely, we would be good to you.
So we appreciate loyalty, and we have moved from having employee boss relationship to being one family. Some have even pledged that they will work and retire here.
Talking of family, how have you been able to balance, work and home.
There are seven days in a week, 5 days belong to the office and two belongs to the family to a large extent. On Sunday, when I go to church and come back, I don’t step out of my house. That day is for family. There is nothing you promise me that will make me step out, except it is extremely important. Saturdays too if we have no serious engagement or commitment, I like to spend at least 70 to 80 per cent of my time at home.
Also I look for opportunity to bond with my kids, if there is mid term break, we look for opportunity to get away, it may be in-country, but we just travel and spend time together in a beach front or something and we also make sure that three weeks, once a year, we travel, we eat, we play, we do everything together, This is so that these kinds can have some wonderful experiences to reflection on later in life.The only thing they will remember is the moments and times you spent together.
So family is important in your scheme of things
Absolutely, it actually delights me to spend time with my family. It is the ultimate experience for me. Nothing like it.
Related to that is the fact that you actually work in the same Company with your wife, is that a plus or minus
(He takes a deep breath) I will say most times it is a plus. There are a few times when the minuses crop up though. Let me tell you what the pluses are. You know this whole marriage institution, you need to find common grounds with your wife to be able to take the relationship beyond I love you, you love me. You share similar interest and there is a kind of bonding that comes with that, working in the same office with your wife means you are planning and building a future together.
Especially if it somebody like the one I married that has special skill set, that you cannot easily get outside. Then you should be like okay why should I go and pay for this same skill when I can have it in house. It is like what they say in Nigeria what you are looking for in Sokoto (Nigerian State) is actually in you sokoto (pair of trousers). Then of course by joining forces, it is an opportunity to make a big pie for everybody. Also, all you make comes to both of you and even the risk too is now shared by two people.
Even if you work in the same office, believe me sometimes for three days we do not see. It also keeps you out of trouble. You cannot lie about going to a conference or meeting because she knows your itinerary. You cannot wake up now and say you are going on a business trip, she would ask you, business trip to go and do what?
What I see as a disadvantage is the problem of taking work to the home, it is something the couple would have to work on seriously, So that you conversations at home is not dominated by stuff from the office. Basically, so that you do not take brain storming sessions from the office to the home.
How have you coped personally
It has been difficult trust me. In 2015, we deliberately resolved that there will not be any further conversation at home of anything we left at the office, except it is of utmost importance. If it is a weekend, it must wait till Monday. Before now, you will realise that you are still in bed and you are still reviewing a budget, or what about this or that project, you realise you are brainstorming in bed. One has to work at it.
Do you have time to relax at all, what are you hobbies
My hobbies. You know some of them (laughs heartily) What would I call a hobby? I love to surf the net. Give me fast internet connection and I am good. Is browsing internet a hobby? if it is, then that is my No. 1 hobby.
Travelling, especially to places that I have not been before. That is another thing I love doing.
What fond memories of your childhood would you say
have impacted your life and helped you along the way
My dad is from Ede and my mum is a Princess from Ile-Ife. She is from a big family. A family with a big name, and usually with a big name, you are expected to have some cash. But we did not have cash unfortunately. There was a lot of catch up that was needed and I knew in my head that the catch up would have to happen in our generation. So that when they say all the grand children of Aderemi line up on a straight line, you can actually join the line and stand very straight.
The old man had 52 children, and you could see some that were wealthy and some that were not wealthy at all and you wondered what happened. I remember that very well.
I was born in Ile-Ife, lived at some point in Ede with my Dad, but moved back to Ife at age 11 and lived there till adulthood. So, Yes, I would say I am an Ife boy. My mum is from a big family, she is the daughter of Oba Adesoji Aderemi, which is a family with a big name. Usually with a big name, you are expected to have some cash. But we did not have cash unfortunately. There was a lot of catch up that was needed and I knew in my head that the catch up would have to happen in our generation. As a little boy what went on in my head was one day when they say all the grand children of Aderemi should line up on a straight line, I wanted to actually join the line and stand very straight.
The old man had 64 children, and you could see some that were wealthy and some that were not wealthy and you wondered what happened. I remember that very well. That kind of thought actually propelled one through life and God has been merciful to us.
So I remember all those days in Ife playing around as a little boy, we had very little but you dreamt that when you grow up you would have some money in your pocket to get the things you loved.
I needed to rise to that expectation as the grandchild of Oba Adesoji Aderemi. That for me was personal.
So from Primary to Secondary, to University, I went to University of Benin. At Uniben, I knew I needed to get a job. It was at that time that Nigeria was beginning to go wrong. So the course I had in mind was in the social sciences. Strategically, I turned down an admission to study Sociology and Anthropology, and had to wait one full year at home until I got Economics because I knew that was what I really wanted. I wanted a bank job. I wanted to be a Banker. When I finished the university, I got a job in the finance industry, I was there for about four, five years before I moved to another company that now transferred me to Ghana.
How helpful were those experiences that you got along the way
You are a product of your travels is that not what they say? Whether we like it or not, all of us are moulded by our experiences. Every one of those places I worked had helped me become who I am today. We still wish God to prosper us more and move us ahead to the next level but it all adds up.
Can you clarify the statement about you now officially becoming a Ghanaian, some of us Nigerians in the audience did not find it funny at all
No. You got it wrong. We have lived here for so long, we have planted so much here. I used to have people challenging me, that Nigerian man, I said Ok, this country, like Nigeria, allows dual citizenship. I have lived here for over ten years, and I can actually apply to become Ghanaian by naturalisation or through marriage. So on both fronts I was qualified. So I felt it was a complete waste of time to still be using Resident Permit after 15 years.
We went through the process, obviously it took some time because we wanted to do it properly. It went through immigration, all manner of verification, eventually it was granted and I have officially became a Ghanaian. I am now a dual citizen of two great countries. But it does not deny the fact that I am 110 per cent Nigerian.
But I am happy I have done this after having lived her for long. Jokingly, the guys that were doing the process said they would use the day of the week I was born to give me a Ghanaian name as it is the norm here. They asked what day I was born, I said Tuesday, and they said, you are Kwabena. I said since Gas or Ewes are historically, from Ile-Ife, I would like any of their versions of the name. I said it should Komla, So you can call me
Komla (Laughs heartily).
Now you name, Iyiola is pronounced in different ways by Ghanaians, but what does it mean
My name Iyiola is Yoruba, And it means: It is prestigious to be wealthy.
Sure I agree totally. Thank you so much
Yes o. Thanks Mike. Only you can make me do this.