‘The challenges of working with my daughters’
Amin Mousalli is the owner of AIMS Group, a conglomerate that is into construction, engineering design, communications and more. An engineer cum architect, naturalized with his wife. (Her own great grand parents emigrated to Nigeria around 1886). ENCOMIUM Weekly asked the wealthy founder of Cool FM and Wazobia FM how he has been running some of the nation’s leading radio stations successfully with his daughters. He also shared a piece of his exciting and successful life with us, explaining why and how he ventured into broadcasting business. Amin Mousalli equally unveiled AIM’s newest radio, Nigeria Info 99.3 FM…
You launched another radio station, Nigeria Info 99.3 FM, on Saturday, can you please tell us about it?
Nigeria Info 99.3 FM is an all information station. You get news, talk-shows. Information in sports, information in Nollywood and all the artistes. We will get them to talk. The former CNN man, Bill Torch is consulting for us. He is training Nigeria Info crew so they can be like their counterparts abroad. This is the CNN andBBC of Africa. Our target audience is from 25 and above. It’s a 24-hour station that would also relay premiership matches every Saturday.
AIM Group is the parent body of Cool FM and Wazobia FM?
AIM Group actually started as a consultancy company. We did projects in the FCT, Abuja and lots of other jobs across the country. We got our license to operate a radio station in 1992. We started with Cool FM and later Wazobia FM.
Talking about Wazobia FM, can you still remember how you started?
I conceived the idea with my wife. I have not shared this with anybody before. My wife actually suggested using two of our cleaners as presenters because they were good singers and they could communicate well in Pidgin English. Initially, I laughed it off but I later bought the idea. One of them is now in one of the stations in Port Harcourt. You don’t expect me to tell you his name. They are all celebrities now. We thank God we pioneered broadcasting in Pidgin English.
How did you come to Nigeria in the first place?
The family of my wife dates back to 1886. I hope you remember your great grandfather? My wife’s grandfather emigrated to Nigeria in 1886. When I came here in 1976, I came because she wanted to spend Christmas with her parents. We came from the United States of America for holidays. I wanted to go back but when I came here and saw Festac, I said waoh, there is so much going on here. Usually, men follow women to be with their family. J didn’t follow her.
She wanted to be here. My daughter also brought her husband here. My grandfather is from Iraq. This is why my name is Amin Mousalli, that is the man from Monsul, Northern Iraq. My father was born in Palestine, then we had to leave. I was born in Lebanon before we immigrated to the States.
What was your impression when you visited Nigeria in 1916?
My impression was that Nigeria was far away from my country. Of course, now it’s home. I even have a chieftaincy title in Okoh, Anambra State and a MFR national honour.
You have obviously sunk so much money into this business…
My principle is that you are not taking anything with you when you go to the other world. George Omagbemi said we put about 60 per cent of what we get back to the business, but we are actually putting back almost 100 per cent. We are investing for the new generation.
My granddaughter is here already. In this business of broadcasting, we will continue with the help of NBC to go to Calabar, Uyo, Jos, even with its complications, it doesn’t matter. We built a mighty structure in Port Harcourt when the oil companies were leaving Port Harcourt. We are already in Abuja, Port Harcourt and now Kano. We are also going to Enugu.
How would you describe your staff? We envy the way you relate with all of them?
First of all, they are not my staff. They are my colleagues. Unfortunately, I have not yet been promoted to the office of the managing director. I am still doing the same thing I was doing from the first day I came here. We are colleagues, we have a family culture. This is not a company. It is a family affair, that’s it.
So, what does it really take to work here?
Trust-worthiness and long-term interest. We don’t want somebody that will come now and just go.
How has it been working with your family members in Cool FM and Wazobia FM?
What a question! It reminds me of the song of Bassey. You know he is originally from Calabar, Charley Bassey is from Calabar, he had a song that goes this way, ‘I hate you, I love you.’ So, it’s a great relationship but truly it’s difficult sometime for all of us to have the same opinion. And this is where the emotional side of it goes into the business. Even though we are partners (my daughters are partners in my business). There is still this dad and daughter relationship. There is still that wife and husband relationship. In marriage, couples disagree and divorce not to talk of business partners. One of the reasons my wife opened her own business is that she wants to be the master of her business. She is an architect and we used to say as engineers we cannot be a genius over night. So, her doing her own business was a good omen because she wanted the kind of business that brings in cash for her on a daily basis, not to wait like us to be paid once in a tear by government. So, it is really-challenging. Bus we are- getting stronger and stronger as an orchestra. The Beatles stayed too long as a band but at the end of the day, everyone went his why.
For us, we are like an orchestra, each of our partners plays her part. As a family, one of our big challenges is that we take our problems back to the dining table. And sometimes, as we say the food turns into poison. You are eating and you are stressing yourself because she is bringing an argument. My daughter may raise an issue I can’t control even if I try, she might say, ‘But I am supposed to be talking to my dad not my boss.’ At the end of the day, I can as well say, ‘I’m your dad, what are you talking about?’ So, it is challenging, I must confess, but it’s beautiful. It’s not a hate-love relationship like Bassey’s song. And everyone has an ego. You agree with me. You have an ego. So, the ego comes into play sometimes. And whoever can master his ego is a successful person. The person who successfully mastered his ego is Jesus Christ.
How often do you get people fired here?
We are firing every time. My first daughter fires more than my younger daughter but now I am surprised my younger daughter whom we said she does not fire before coming here now fires more than others. Like our internet company, we have asked them to fix the internet link because we have to link from the headquarters to Kano because we are launching Cool and Wazobia FM in Kano. Talking about Wazobia, it would be a piece of cake. We have over one million Igbo there. We have half a million Yoruba there. So, all the people there speak four languages, English, Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo. We have the real Wazobia man there. We want the internet linked so we can feed them with all the programmes, music and schedules. So, the guys have to do it. When you are stressed you can do anything. When you are under pressure, any simple thing can hurt you. And in family, it hurts most. There is no tolerance because the more I know you, the more I will tell you the way I want things’ done. That is the problem. We are natural.
You still practice as an architect/engineer?
I sleep by 3 a.m every night (he calls his PA to confirm). I still practice engineering and architecture. We are currently working on the Catholic Cathedral of the 12 Apostles. We are waiting to complete the one in Abuja. We are doing a huge project in Uyo. It is a convention centre and a hotel. The Akwa Ibom State governor wants to create a destination state. We are putting up a hotel that Hilton will manage. We also work for the World Bank.
So, how did you venture into broadcasting?
It was more of fun. I was just looking for something to make me play. It was more like a distraction. I usually play tennis, so I wanted another distraction like my wife who is engaged in her own business to enable her play her role as a mother and wife.
Second, she also wanted to achieve her dream because our culture years back didn’t permit women to pursue business. For me, I was an actor in school but my parents didn’t encourage me to pursue it as a career. So, when Nigeria deregulated the broadcast industry, I said let me achieve something I couldn’t achieve when I was young. Since I wanted to be an actor, I saw this as something related to entertainment. So, I jumped into it and the whole story began from there.
Are you a night-out person?
Let me tell you what I know about our country Nigeria. In the late 70s, 80s and mid-90s, Nigeria was a captive society. Captive in the sense, I want to go and see my friend, Femi in Surulere. Can I stay there till 12 midnight and come back and be (in my mind) safe? The road might be safe but in my mind, I was a captive. The environment made our mind to be captive. Some people were going out no doubt, but it reduced our movement. The maximum you do, you are invited somewhere in Ikoyi or your neighbourhood, you quickly go and come back. Another problem is our extra-curricular activity of carrying files. I have to take these files home to treat them (he points at files on his table). So, when I am home, I have the option to go out but in my mind, I don’t want to have loads here and there, so, I do my files. I do my review of architectural drawings and this is the only time I have. If I sleep early, I wake up by 5 o’clock. If I sleep late, I wake up by 7 o’clock.
Yes, I go out from time to time, maybe once every two months. Even within this district (street), I find it difficult to leave because I have a baby here which is my work. Not that I am a workaholic, but I need to give something to the people and face my major work. In reality, I am still the design man. What I do in Cool FM and Wazobia FM is consulting. I am not the MD because Evita (his daughter) is running the business. I am a quality control guy. I am the creator of some shows here and there. And I do air check too. Of course, I go to the gym but I play my tennis rather than sitting and drinking here and there.
Who are your friends in Nigeria?
I have many friends. That is why here is home. All the people I work with have developed a relationship with me even after their retirement. So, when they come to my house, it is open. I don’t often go to see them because they are too many.
Which other radio station are you afraid of in the broadcast industry and how would you assess broadcasting in Nigeria?
Frankly speaking, we trained a lot of people. I won’t give names but you will see our products in almost all major radio stations in the country. If I take you to our library I don’t think anybody in this country has a big library as much as we do. Now, how do I assess the broadcast industry? I must say it has grown but it is only the private sector that is helping it to grow faster because state-owned media don’t have the incentives to grow. And some civil servants there don’t want to leave just like that after spending about 20 years. They need their benefits. Luckily, some of them are here with us. All our technicians, from studio engineers to transmitter engineers are from the Civil service. We send them abroad for training. One just came back from Italy for training. This man has never travelled in his life.
*This story was first published in ENCOMIUM Weekly on Tuesday, October 11, 2015