SHOBANJO: NIGERIA’S KING OF ADVERTISING

By Wale Alabi

SEETH thou a man diligent in his ways, he would not only stand before mean men, but he would also stand before kings. – Proverbs 22: 29 The explorers of the modern era are entrepreneurs. Men with vision; with the courage to take risks and faith enough to brave the unknown.- President Ronald Reagan.

It must be borne in mind that the tragedy in life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. It isn’t a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream. It is not a disaster to be unable to capture your ideal but is a disaster to have no ideal to capture. It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars, but it is a disgrace not to have stars to reach for. Not failure but low aim is sin.- Benjamin E. Mays.

It is good to be big; it is better to be good; it is best to be both. – The Insight Communications credo.

He bestrides the advertising industry like a colossus. He is the iroko with elephantine roots in the marketing communications forest. Call him the pathfinder, he will gladly don the toga. Call him the talent spotter, he will give you his ever ready, unassuming fine smile. To his admirers, he is the number one game-changer in the brand building arena. But to competition, he is the swashSHOBANJO: NIGERIA’S KING OF ADVERTISING 8 buckling cowboy of the industry.

He evokes extreme passion on both divides. Such is his devotion to advertising, that in his over four decades in the industry, he still holds the ace as the numero uno. Yet advertising wasn’t his first love. Dr Abiodun Olusina Shobanjo started his career on radio. Starting off as a studio manager at the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) now Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) in 1964 where he was acknowledged for his knack for hard work, devotion to duty and creativity. Shobanjo rose to the level of a producer before leaving NBC in 1971.

Tired of the humdrum life of a radio producer, Shobanjo embraced the more creative and glamorous world of advertising. At the time he joined Grant, a first-generation advertising agency as a senior account executive in 1971, Shobanjo was only 27. However, within six years, through a dint of hard work, creativity and leadership qualities embedded in him, Shobanjo had risen to the level of Deputy Managing Director at the agency.

Having reached the pinnacle so soon, the ever enterprising Shobanjo caught the entrepreneur’s bug. Thus in December 1979, Shobanjo along with five other dream makers left Grant. And precisely on January 2, 1980, Insight Communications was born. With only 18 staff on its payroll and billings worth N15,000, Insight opened shop. But today the superbrand agency’s billing is worth billions of Naira.

In fact, the proverbial mustard seed of yore has grown to become a giant oak. It was from Insight that Troyka Holdings which is the largest and most innovative integrated marketing communications group in sub-Saharan Africa evolved. And Shobanjo is the Chairman.

Troyka’s Holdings’ tentacles are spread in marketing communications, resource management and asset protection. Some of the companies in the group include Insight Redifini, Leo Burnet, QuadrantMSL, All Seasons Zenith, Media Perspective, Optimum Exposures, Hot Sauce, PromoWorld, Serengeti, Black Onyx and Halogen Security. From a mere 18 staff in 1980, Troyka Holdings now has almost 30,000 on its payroll. Shobanjo indeed is the quintessential entrepreneur.

However, beyond job creation, Shobanjo has over the years pioneered quite a number of innovative and value-adding initiatives in the marketing communications industry. For instance, before foreign affiliation became the industry standard, Insight was the first wholly-owned indigenous agency to get international affiliation. In 1982, it got affiliated to Ted Bates. Shobanjo was also the first to set up a full-fledged professional PR consultancy.

The Quadrant Company. He also pioneered the establishment of media buying agencies in the country.

Never shying away from challenges, Shobanjo often sees opportunities where others see obstacles. When the outdoor sector was in shambles, Shobanjo took the bull by the horns and launched out with Klinsite ( now Optimum Exposures) an out of the home agency in 1984. Although, this daring move, sadly, cost him the lives of the first two CEOs of Klinsite, who were mowed down by agents of darkness. However, despite the fact that Shobanjo was pained by the tragedy of losing two key managers in quick succession he was undeterred. Today, Optimum Exposures is the largest out of home media brand in Nigeria.

Also, it was a bloody encounter with daredevil armed robbers at his Ikeja home in 1992 that led to the birth of Halogen Security. Today, Halogen is the largest and best management protection company in the country.

For his prodigious contributions to knowledge, creativity and manpower needs in the industry, Shobanjo perhaps is the most decorated Adman amongst his peers, earning diadems at home and abroad. In 2019 alone, Shobanjo was honoured with Doctor of Letters degree by the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Osun State while the University of Lagos Alumni Association also decorated him during their 50th anniversary for his contribution to the institution. Also, the foremost media award, Nigeria Media Merit Awards (NMMA) celebrated him with a lifetime achievement award. And as an icing on the cake, in December, President Muhammadu Buhari wrote Shobanjo a personally signed letter on the occasion of his 75th birthday commending him for his spirit of enterprise and excellence.

Today Insight is renowned as the only University of Advertising in the country where Shobanjo holds court as Professor Emeritus and Chancellor.

Currently, in semi-retirement, Shobanjo recently led the Troyka Group to bring Foreign Direct Investment into Nigeria with the buying into the group by Publicis. Publicis acclaimed as the largest marketing communications network globally reportedly shelled out millions of dollars to become part owners of Troyka. This is another first by Shobanjo, Nigeria’s advertising great.

Perhaps to understand the Shobanjo phenomenon, these testimonials by personalities both within and outside the industry will put things in the right perspective:

“At the risk of sounding all-knowing or imperious, I say that Shobanjo’s success and attributes didn’t come by chance. It was planned, deliberate and visionary because it started way back in the early 60s. I am persuaded that the young man or woman who wishes to be like Shobanjo… would endeavour to emulate his modus operandi.” – Victor Johnson

“His main love is advertising. He is one of those who are building a formidable agency, so strong that it would outlive them. He is not just building an agency to live on today, that would expire the day he expires. So, to me, he is an advertising man par excellence.” – Ted Mukoro

“Biodun works very hard and he plays hard, he enjoys his life and he works just as much. When it comes to partying, you can’t beat him. When it comes to working hard too, he is equally there. He is very resolute. He virtually changed the face of advertising. His own creativity is not creativity formed according to the rules. It was like he got to break the rules and for goodness sake, he breaks the rules. He got to get out of the block of the old that everybody was framed with. He breaks the barriers.” – Sir Steve Omajafor

“One thing I admire with Biodun is that he’s always willing to learn and he is very enterprising. I see him as a very focused person, who goes after whatever he wants. Not everybody agrees with his aggressive posture, but we can’t all have the same attitude to things. I see him as a professional who looks at international standards a basis for executing what we are doing here and he is committed to the development of the industry. He has the names of virtually every renowned advertising practitioner in his head and he has made acquaintances with quite a number of them.” – Senator Akin Odunsi.

“Biodun Shobanjo was the person who interviewed me for the post a media executive in Grant in 1978. He is thorough and neat. You can hardly find anything in his in-tray or out-tray. He is a thoroughbred professional who does not condone indiscipline. He is practically revolutionary. What has he done that his colleagues have not emulated? He blazed the trail for media-independent; he was the first to have a second line agency. He was bold enough to set up Klinsite, now Optimum Exposures. He set up the outdoor company when companies on the ground were not doing too well in the standard of service rendered.” – Chief Babu Akinbobola

“I must say I don’t have too many people on my list whose office you will get to and find their tables as clean as Biodun’s. You will probably think this is a man who is not busy. Biodun Shobanjo is called Biodun Omo Iya Ijebu and that tells you that he loves his mother. But I think his mother loves him more than he even does. I know Mr Shobanjo as well as Biodun Shobanjo. He is fond of his wife and I think his family loves him as well and he has good family support. I think there is no way you will write the history of advertising in Nigeria that you will miss Biodun out.” –Akinwole Osewa

“As an advertising practitioner in Nigeria, Shobanjo is daring in conduct, deep in content, methodic in approach, efficient in delivery and peerless.” – Chuddy Oduenyi “The interesting thing about Mr Shobanjo is that he has a knack for identifying talent and he has a talent for luck. He is a thoroughbred professional and highly disciplined. Shobanjo makes effort looks effortless and you will never see him harassed. He is always looking calm. I think it is just a gift from God.” – Sesan Ogunro

“As a professional, Mr Shobanjo is a stickler for ethics. At the core of his values are excellence, integrity and honour. These are the three pillars on which he has built his career, and these are usually the first things anybody would say about him. In a country like ours, he exhibits a very rare quality and consistently encourages and insists those around him do likewise.” – Jimi Awosika

“Biodun Shobanjo is a complete gentleman whom I have so much respect for. I am most fascinated by his never say no spirit. He believes that nothing is impossible. He always exhibits the ‘can-do-spirit’. He can tell you what it was in the days past and tell you what is happening today in the industry- •Shobanjo BRANDLEAD 10 “ Dymystifier… Mythmaker, “ the guru of Akanbi Onitiri ! try, not just in Nigeria but globally. So he is constantly switched on, he has refused to go into the old school.” – Emeka Okeke

“He is someone that organizes himself. In fact, orderliness is the hallmark of his leadership. He is also a perfectionist. If something is not good, it is not good. His standard is international, if he cannot find a local alternative to that international standard, he will go abroad to find it. He is also a man of style. His bow tie is his bow tie. He has not worn the normal tie since he turned fifty. If you go to his house it is about style. He has his taste for wine, he will not drink any kind of wine that is on offer, it has to be his brand. He says it to every one of us, ‘you cannot be in this profession if you don’t have style.” – Bolaji Okusaga

“ I was at Insight when Mr Biodun Shobanjo was the Managing Director. He is tough, ruthless and principled; fastidious with integrity and believed that things must be done right. So I learnt the basic rules of work-life from him and he’s my mentor and hero till today. He is not just my role model but I’m a clone of his.” – Dr Ken Onyeali Ikpe

“Mr Shobanjo’s leading role as Nigeria’s czar of advertising is synonymous with his patriotic zeal, uphold of world’s greatest ethics of professional practice and a can-do spirit that has broken walls of myths and long-held conventions of advertising practice. Having worked closely with him in those years of hard work and unparalleled commitment to the industry, I am witness to Shobanjo’s sense of industry and resilience.” – Gov. Abiola Ajimobi

“He lives by his ethos and those ethos are well communicated and by this, you are clear about the things that are expected of you as a leader. He communicates clearly by the examples that he gives, by what you see him do, by what you hear him say and how he leads the entire group.” – Wale Olaoye

“Mr Shobanjo is a perfectionist and a goal-getter. Whatever we do as a business matter, he wants us to do it perfectly well. He always wants us to benchmark against global standards. He does not want his business to play the second fiddle. You must be the best in whatever area you operate in.” – Lere Alimi “Mr Shobanjo is obviously one of the most respected in this industry of marketing communications. I admire his aggressiveness, his depth of knowledge. He is about the most current practitioner in Nigeria today despite his age. He is still on top of the game. He is also a trainer. Virtually all the big names in this industry have gone through him.” – Ayo Kupoluyi

“Biodun Shobanjo is a complete marketing communications person, a strict and disciplined manager of resources with keen eyes for details and an undying commitment to professionalism. He is on time every time, possesses a very strong strategic thinking skill. He does not suffer fools. For this reason, some label him as arrogant while many people think he is self-opinionated.”- Funmi Onabolu “Shobanjo is somebody who has influenced the industry very positively. He showed us how advertising should be done.” – Gbemi Sagay

“Mr Shobanjo is the kind of person that is ready to help you if he sees any talent in you. He is always ready to dig and push up.” – Julia Oku

“Mythmaker, Dymystifier…the guru of Akanbi Onitiri!” – Akin Adeoya

“ He is someone I know who can sell snow to the Eskimos. He is a professional in business and a businessman in advertising.”- Kole Ademulegun.

“Biodun Shobanjo is a first-class advertising person, a very good businessman, a true entrepreneur and he has a very large footprint in the history of advertising in Nigeria.” – Dr Phil Osagie

“Shobanjo is highly principled; an astute professional who exudes confidence. We share the same ideals, values and drive for accomplishments.” – Chief Dele Fajemirokun

“Mr Biodun Shobanjo is clearly an inspirational leader and a great motivator.” –Udeme Ufot

“ Apart from the late David Ogilvy, the legendary advertising man and copywriting genius, my other role model is Biodun Shobanjo. Today I am in advertising because of Shobanjo’s challenge that advertising is not a job for women. He employed me at Grant and I wanted to prove to him that I can make a successful career in advertising as a woman.”- Bola Thomas

However, beyond the glowing testimonials and encomiums showered on Shobanjo by men and women of diverse hues and callings, you ask the advertising guru the secret of his success in career, business and life and he tells you: “ God. I have also been very lucky. I see God’s hands in the things that have happened to me. Because how do you start a career that you didn’t quite prepare yourself for and four years down the line, you have become the Executive Director of that company at a very tender age relatively. And how could it be that one made such an impact in business in the next four and a half years, rising rapidly to become Managing Director. One has been well trained locally and overseas to the extent that after putting in eight and a half years, I said to myself that I needed to do something else.” And as a parting shot, Shobanjo adds: “ When you do a good job, fame and fortune will follow.”

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