Baba Ijebu’s 80th birthday celebrations, a three-day affair (from October 22-24, 2015), was as extravagant as it was exciting. The mogul behind the popular Premier Lotto distributed a colourful coffee table book to commemorate the occasion.
Sir Kesington Adebukunola Adebutu, in the book, spoke about his eventful life…
When were you born and what was your childhood like?
I was born on October 24, 1935 by Muslim parents – Alhaji Folarin and Alhaja Selinat Adbutu in Iperu Remo in present day Ogun state. They were business people. I later converted to Christianity because I was finding it difficult to understand, appreciate and commit to memory the Arabic language used in the Islamic religion. I am the second child of my mother, my elder brother is Timothy Adebutu, a pharmacist.
I attended Wesley Primary School from 1942 to 1948 up to Standard Four before moving to Ijero Baptist School on Apapa Road in Ebute Metta, Lagos in 1949 to 1950. Timothy, my elder brother, took me to Lagos. I was a very brilliant student. I came top of my class in the School Leaving Certificate Examination and was offered a scholarship to train as a teacher at Iwo Baptist College but turned it down. I rejected the scholarship because I wanted to stay in the neighbourhood for my studies and also wear school blazer and tie like other students. I opted for Baptist Academy in Lagos in 1951. My classmates at the Baptist Academy included the late Chief Molade Okoya Thomas and Justice Holloway (rtd). I was a jolly good fellow in school and always in the company of friends whom I often took home to my mom after school hours. I shared few things I had with my friend and never withheld from them. I am always eager to commit what I had to helping others. I grew up being taught that others were more important than myself where human needs were concerned. In spite of all these, I was rascally and I was a truant as a little boy. My mother, however, helped me to surmount these problems.
Where did you work before the establishment of Face-To-Face and what experience did you gain from there?
Before establishing Face-To-Face and other successful business ventures which I undertook, I had worked at Cable and Wire as a clerical officer, and at Clafin Chemicals Limited as a salesman. I had acquired so much in management and running of business, which proved useful when I started my own business enterprise.
It was through such goodwill with some of such expatriates that I got my next job at Clatin Chemicals Limited in 1967. In this new company we manufactured drugs and chemicals. The company later became known as Sterling Products. One of the major achievements at the drug manufacturing company was that I led a group that successfully placed Cafenol in the market and made it a household name over and above Phensic, which was then enjoying prominence and profit skyrocketed. Later, I was promoted to lead the sales department of Clafin Chemicals as Regional Sales Manager for Lagos and the old Mid West. I did my best until I decided to leave. The reason for this was simple: I had stumbled on a book titled, “How To Be Your Own Boss” and digested it. I learnt from that book that the easiest and surest way to make wealth was to be self employed. I also learnt that sooner or later working for people will end either through retirement or being thrown out, so the best thing is to be self employed. With all these on my mind and having put in lot at Cafin Chemicals, I put in my resignation.
How did you establish Face-To-Face and did you get a breakthrough on time?
Finding money and knowing the type of business to do was the next great hurdle to cross. I thought of so many businesses but opted for pools business, which would not cost much.
The only capital you needed was a table and an office space. Pool agency was good. I did this for some time before moving on to pools promotion, which was determined by the Lebenese then. In pools promotions I formed a partnership with a good friend – Solomon Adebayo Ayoku. Together, we established Face-To-Face Million Dollar Pools Limited. Things were initially difficult for us and nobody gave us a chance to succeed, but we pull through eventually. We had a breakthrough when we started advertising that, “Winners or loser, your money remains in Nigeria.” This worked like magic. More Nigerians started patronizing us.
There was great improvement in the business.
What else do you think is responsible for your business success?
I think the whole thing has to do with my personal instincts. People say I act and behave like a born manager. I am regularly guided by personal values rather than business theory. I take decisions based on my convictions, rather than managerial assumptions. One of the greatest gifts God gave me is the power of intuition. I discovered this gift early in life and developed it to the level of both an art and a science. You need your investment instincts or intuition to decide what to do. Another thing that has helped us in this business is the issue of urgency in the sense that winners are promptly paid. In our kind of business, you need a large heart and abundance of courage. You also need to have big dreams and good managerial skills.
At a time the government outlawed pools betting. Those were hard times but we pulled through successfully. We diversified into other businesses like manufacturing, agriculture, properties and a few other business ventures that kept us going. We set up the Tropical Paints Factory at Iperu Remo. We produced high quality emulsion, gloss and texcote paints, glue, adhesives, and many other products. We also set up a big farm, possible one of the biggest farms in Ogun state. We also ventured into real estate management. Later we diversified into entertainment.
For your great and numerous achievements and philanthropic gestures in Nigeria and its environs, you have been variously honoured. What do these awards mean to you?
The honours and awards have been coming in since 1972 and they show that one is appreciated in the society. More honours are still on the way. In Lagos, I am supposed to be the new Asoju Oba of Lagos. I am the Babalaje of Lagos and the Olotu of Lagos. The Methodist Church gave me Special Recognition Award for my outstanding and invaluable contributions at all times to the growth and development of the Methodist Church Nigeria. I am the Baba Ijo of Methodist Church of Nigeria. I hold the titles of the Abogun of Remoland and the Balogun of Iperu Remo. I also bagged several awards from various higher institution of learning from Nigeria and other countries. The Federal Government of Nigeria awarded me the Officer of Order of the Niger (OON) and the following year I was equally given the Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON). I was really surprised by that. It’s very unusual for someone to be honoured with two national awards in two consecutive years. Usually, some years will have passed after the last award before the next one is given.
Since 1969 you have been working so hard and now you are 80. Sir, When will you retire from business?
Retire? Why should I retire? Well I will retire when God says I should retire and stay at home and be doing nothing? No! No! No! I am still very fit and healthy.
What would you like to be remembered for?
Good name. Good name. A good name is better than riches.
Sir, what is your relationship with Sir Kesington Adebutu?
Kesington is my younger brother. I am the eldest of both our mother and father. I brought him to Lagos to prepare him for his First School Leaving Certificate Examination. He came out in flying colours. He proceeded to start his secondary education at Baptist Academy which he completed at Remo Secondary School.
What kind of businessman is he?
When he started the pools business I was there. He lived with me on Agege Motor Road and our parents were still alive then. He is a self-made person who applied discipline, self-control and accountability to the business and rose to the top. Others have started the pools business including the government that also set up a pools promotion company that faded. His success shows his tenacity.
Can you speak briefly about his philanthropy?
The philanthropic act that he is involved in has been an advantage and a blessing. Many people talk ill about the lottery business but they cannot stop it. That is why the government itself dabbled into it. So his philanthropy has been a saving grace. He has made tremendous impact, especially in the south western part of the country.