Meet the 40 year old Entrepreneur, a rose that grew from concrete – Mr. Ogundele, who built his company – Sujimoto Group, in few years into a Luxury Construction behemoth in Africa, focused on building extraordinary luxury edifices in premium neighbourhoods across Africa.
His look may be modest, but his ambitions are taller than the Burj Khalifa. With a current project portfolio of over $450 million, Mr. Ogundele is not slowing down anytime soon as he has risen above his current environ to start planning projects in the Middle East. Despite the economic barriers and challenges, the 40 year old entrepreneur keeps filling his glass with new and more challenging projects not only in Africa but also in Dubai, Miami and Turkey. As a superlative Entrepreneur at 40, we had a rare chance to seat in a chat with the young man from Agege, as he shares his journey with us.
Meet Sijibomi Ogundele, Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Sujimoto Group
- Tell us about your background?
My name is Sijibomi Ogundele. I am the Chief Executive Officer of Sujimoto Construction. We are based in Lagos, Nigeria.
I was born into a corporately dynamic family where my Father worked 9-5 as a Manager and my Mother was a full-time Entrepreneur.
I grew up on the streets of Agege and attended state owned Schools – Oko-Oba primary School, Ijebu-Ode Grammar School, Model College and finally Anglia Ruskin for my Law Degree. As the son of a woman who happens to be a trader, I was nurtured within the walls of Oke-Arin market, which was filled with enterprising Igbo traders—and that influenced my passion for business.
I consider myself a multi-tribal Nigerian and multi-linguistic. I speak Hausa, Yoruba, French, Spanish, a little bit of Arabic and Japanese. I am a Pan-African and a global citizen!
I grew up in Oko-Oba, a neighbourhood where only 2 households had a generator set in a street with over 19 houses, so I made a decision that I was never going to be poor. Poverty has remained a major driver for me, I have always consciously driven myself to excel and surpass my last big success.
- What does attaining 40 mean to you?
It is a landmark age, not many people make it to 40 but here I am, strong and healthy. I remain grateful to God for bringing me this far and for enabling me win the ovarian lottery in the first place. I am profoundly grateful to my mother who took time to nurture me and impacted in me life-changing principles that have brought me thus far, though I wasn’t born with a silver spoon but the mother God gave me is a diamond in the coal.
For me 40 is significant, because it is the end of one era and the beginning of another. Our parents gave birth to us and planned most of our first 20 years, then life plans the remaining 20 years. So for me, one of my greatest responsibilities is to take full charge of the next 40 years if God gives me the privilege.
40 to me means more expansion and diversification. This year, more than ever, I see my life taking shape and my vision taking direction. This new age gives me the opportunity to see the world as a marketplace and export my vision to all corners of the world because, what seems incomplete has now become abundant, the sky is the starting point for us at Sujimoto.
- People are of the opinion that one has a better chance of being successful, if one is highly connected or ones family is influential; how true is this?
Success is not served a la carte, it is a buffet! You have to go for it! Coming from an influential family or having the right connection with people at the top is not a bad recipe for success, but it is not a guarantee!
I was not born with a silver spoon! In fact, I had no spoon at all! But my mother always say to me that if I should go to school, work hard, and stay committed, I would be able to build a successful business.
Life has taught me that your location does not determine your allocation and the only remedy for success is hard work and an annoying spirit of never-giving-up!
- What were the major events that shaped your childhood and upbringing?
Firstly, I will say winning an ovarian lottery and been born by a champion like Idayat Adebukola. My mum wakes up by 4am, sleeps by 10pm and on weekends you will see her working, calculating and counting her goods. Also, growing up in a business environment like Oke-Arin which was dominated by Igbo traders, helped shape my interest in entrepreneurship and my drive for success.
Growing up and supporting my mother in the busy market greatly influenced by passion and interest in business. There, I watched my mother move from being a small trader to become a major distributor for Nestle. Through the exposure to open market principles, I learnt some vital business lessons such as Integrity, Negotiation, Hard work and a Passion for what you do.
I also learnt the art of persuasion from my mother because to her, NO means nothing. She has a unique ability to persuade customers to patronize her and as a result, I learnt that anything I set my mind to do, I can achieve it. She also taught me that my growth or stagnation in life is dependent on my capacity to dream big or small.
- So let me ask you Mr. Ogundele, what drives you?
Poverty and the desire to make an impact. Acquiring wealth is ultimate but for me when your neighbour is hungry, of course, your chicken is not safe. So, a rich man in the midst of the poor is also poor and has been enslaved with mental poverty. At the tender age of 5, my mother would wake us up very early in the morning while my mates are sleeping and she would say to me: “Ajaniogun wakeup, wake up! Ise l’ogun ise” meaning Ajaniogun, wake up, wake up! Hard work is the cure for poverty. During the holidays, while my friends were busy playing Nintendo and going on holidays, I would have to resume work at my mum’s shop in Oke-Arin, gradually learning the ropes and charting the path for my future! My mother’s words have been my driving force!
Value creation also drives. Nobody likes anyone who doesn’t give them value. If you are my brother and you are not adding value to me, I am not ready to do business with you. Though I grew up in Oke-Arin and in the slums of Agege, I have travelled to over 40 countries. I have had the privilege of staying in some of the best hotels, experienced exceptional customer service and have seen some of the best architectural structures. This exposure has consciously elevated my standards and expectations in life. This is why when I go anywhere and things are not done up to the highest standard, I can’t resist voicing my discontent, and in most cases, I refuse to pay the bill for mediocrity!
- Any regrets at 40?
Regrets? None! I see every event in my life as an opportunity for learning and improvement. Every setback has been a strategic way of God setting me up for greater opportunities.
- What makes you tick as a company, what is Sujimoto’s biggest strength?
Sujimoto is built out of the abundance of vision to set a new paradigm in luxury real estate. We studied projects from France to Italy, Dubai to New York and we decided to beat the best. Our vision for the next 10 years is to remarkably rebuild and turn Nigeria into a world-class country when it comes to luxury edifices. We are holding this vision dearly and working on it firmly.
I always say that we shall lower our standard for no man and I mean it. This means that from foundation to chandelier, compromising quality is not an option. When we started Sujimoto, we founded it on 2 fundamental principles, Integrity and Quality. Combining these 2 philosophies, we know that the sky is the limit.
I learnt from watching inspirational videos that if you want to go far in life and business, avoid bureaucracy as much as possible! Pull down every stronghold of bureaucracy before it pulls your business down! At Sujimoto, we like to describe our decision making system as a speed boat rather than a ship. This is because while a speed boat is capable of making quick and swift turns, a ship on the other hand is incapable of such flexibility. Swift decision making in 21st century workplace can be the difference between whether a business succeeds or ceases to exist! The choice is yours!
- What’s your most memorable experience within the last 40 years?
There are two days that are memorable in my life; the first was the day I left Zaria to Lagos because I was missing my Mum. I was only 7 years old. That decision changed my life forever. All my siblings were in the North, but the love I have for my mother made me board the bus. After school, my mother had no other choice but to take me to the market with her. What looked like a punishment then was a business apprenticeship that shaped my destiny forever.
The second was the day I left Nigeria in search of greener pastures. I was only 16 years old. It is memorable because that experience opened me up to the world and shaped my view and perspective about life, my experience and introduction to luxury.
- As the CEO of Sujimoto, what have you achieved?
About 6 years ago, I declared my intention to redefine luxury living in Africa, starting from Lagos. We started with just 6 staff members and 1 project, but today, we have numerous projects all in Lagos, Abuja and Dubai.
We are taking Abuja by storm with a Luxury Residential Tower- QueenAminaBySujimoto – the tallest residential building in the North; Sujimoto Diamond City (SDC), a 38,000m² development in the middle of Victoria Island and the S-Hotel. We are also looking at developing a new estate of 520 exceptional luxury villas. We also have a world-class 6-in-1 Mall coming up in the heart of Ikoyi; and our Sujimoto Dubai Project! All set to launch officially in 2021!
We have built our team from 6 staff to over 200 professionals comprising a team of International and local experts, over 100 skilled individuals, putting in approximately 584,000 hours of hard work annually!
We have adopted a client-oriented customer addiction perspective to feed the ever evolving appetite of our clients, putting integrity, value creation over profit maximization. We’ve made Home Automation the minimum standard for luxury development and brought the immersive experience of an IMAX Cinema to the comfort of customers’ homes.
Above all, we have added value to customers, developed and changed the lives of our staffs, and as a brand, we have grown from an Iroko tree to becoming a forest.
- What were some of the challenges you faced?
I started Sujimoto Construction in Nigeria over 6 years ago and it has been the most difficult period of my life. Since I wasn’t born with a silver spoon, I had to prove myself 3 times over, work harder 3 times, and keep proving myself over and over again. Life will always challenge you but as a man, you must be courageous. Courage is not the absence of fear but the ability transform your challenges into opportunities.
I remember when we had challenges with the Lorenzo Project as a result of the recession and the crumbling economy, people said nasty things about us because we were bold and audacious enough to challenge the norm with our BIG dreams! Sujimoto would have been a thing of the past if we didn’t persevere and see every disappointment as an opportunity! So, while it is good to have big dreams, ensure your passion is twice as big because life will test you. When the chips are down, the bills are not paid, and the salaries are due, the only thing that will keep you going is the genuine love and the passion you have for what you do.
Let me take you on a journey. Year 2016 and 2017 were probably the most difficult and challenging periods of my life. I had conceived and developed the biggest project of my life, over $90 million to build the tallest residential building in Sub-Saharan Africa – the LorenzoBySujimoto. I invested all my money, time and passion into this project.
Unfortunately for me, as a result of the economy downturn, my Saudi Investors pulled out. The economy was so bad and things became very tough. I had to refund over 450 million to off-takers, out of 11 off-takers, I will never forget 3 of our off-takers who said “go ahead, we are with you,” especially Dr. Greg. On the verge of almost giving up, I visited him crying and he told me his own story, and encouraged me to move on. Immediately after that meeting, I reassessed my plans, reviewed all my decisions, identified my pain-point and made the much-needed adjustment.
The media was on my back, critics kept saying (we told you he couldn’t do it), Riding on the wings of criticism and media backlash, I found courage again and conceived the GiulianoBySujimoto project in Banana Island. 20 Months after, the Giuliano has metamorphosed from a proof of concept into a proof of product! It is home to music entrepreneur, Davido, and was fully sold-out 6 Months before completion.
Many said all sorts of negative things about us, but today, we are building 6 of the most audacious projects in the whole of Nigeria – the LucreziaBySujimoto in Banana Island; Leonardo in Banana Island; Giovanni in Ikoyi; The HQ in Ikoyi; The S-Hotel Ikoyi and QueenAminaBySujimoto Abuja! Not to talk about our Sujimoto tower in Dubai, a 44 story building.
These are incredibly challenging projects that will revamp all sense of mediocrity in the luxury real estate industry, and we plan to complete all this projects before the end of 2023, some of them will be completed next year!
- Tell us a bit about this Dubai project, how is it possible for a company like yours to leave Africa and build in Dubai?
It was forced on me by a friend who is from the royal family. Every time I saw reasons not too, he gave me several reasons to start thinking global. It was during the pandemic lockdown that I made numerous interviews on my vision and my dreams, Abdulaziz called me and told me about a 6500m² land in the corner of Downtown, and we ended up speaking for almost 2 hours on the phone. The Sujimoto tower is in the making and we are optimistic about launching it before October.
Unlike here in Lagos, anything below 40 floors cannot be constructed in Downtown, Dubai, so we are raising 44 floors of ultra-luxurious residences, hotels suites and top notch retail outlets. We are currently in talks with Four Seasons and Baccarat for the hotels, and other Luxury retail brands like Graff Private, Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Vertu and many others. We hope to have tip top restaurants like Cipriani, Nusret and lots more. The Sujimoto tower will be the first African tower in the middle of Dubai, and the Middle East. It’s a project I’m extremely excited about because we have received a lot of support from our clients.
- What does it take to build a successful business empire?
First and foremost, Integrity is a must have! It is the currency of my business – saying what you mean and meaning what you say. On many occasions, when I say something, I make sure I uphold that promise, even if it results in a loss, we will take it as a debt of integrity.
For us at Sujimoto, quality is our business, and our model is entrenched in diligence. We always think about how we could do things faster, better and cheaper. We think customers first, employees second and myself third.
- You have achieved so much within the last 40 years, what should we look forward to in the coming years?
The coming years will be a very busy year for us at Sujimoto; aside from residential real estate, and our intention to take the Sujimoto brand to the capital of Luxury– Dubai, Sujimoto is divesting from Residential Projects with 80% of our real estate interest into Commercial Projects and there are 3 major projects in the pipeline already!
First is a luxury hotel brand called the ‘S-Hotel’ – an African-inspired luxury hotel that borrows from the unique design and exceptional service offered by the Four Seasons franchise. Our intention with this is to bring Sujimoto’s Exceptional Hospitality to every major city in Africa and other parts of the world, reinforcing the notion of African hospitality with a mixture of 21st century luxury experiences, making exceptional customer addiction our foundation. At the S-Hotel, we are our client’s maid.
The same passion with which we have redefined luxury living in Nigeria, is the same passion we are bringing into the Nigerian Hospitality and Commercial space. We have toured some of the best hotels in the world such as the Address Hotel, Downtown Dubai, the Baccarat Hotel in New York City, and the Dorchester Hotel in London, what we intend to do with the S-Hotel will be phenomenal!
We are also building a world-class Plaza – first of its kind, in Ikoyi and Abuja, with a 2022 projection for completion. This 6-in-1 Plaza by Sujimoto is a contemporary one-stop-shop retail and hospitality center, featuring innovative state-of-the-art equipment, rooftop lounge, and bar, premium restaurants, world-class gym, retail shops and other premium features. Upon completion, each project would be valued at approximately N67 billion, with a combined rental income of about N11 billion annually.
By 2030, we hope to have completed 80 different malls, hotels and residences, which has an estimated portfolio worth over $10 billion.
I am exporting the Sujimoto brand abroad because we can’t become a giant by playing in the local league. It’s time to step up and move up! It’s also a wakeup call for me that the world is still ready for big dreamers and that there is still power in the audacity to dream big.
- How is the Sujimoto brand coping with the growing poor economy in Nigeria?
It may be right to say that the Nigerian economy is challenged, but not poor. We have the largest economy in Africa by GDP, we are the most populous country in Africa with 12% of the total 1.2 billion population of the continent, and we are the 7th most populous country in the world. A country with this amount of positive data cannot be described as being a poor country.
For me, I don’t see challenges but opportunities, its ok to blame government or the banking system and many other excuses but you see I’m a bricklayer; I don’t have the luxury to complain. Where people see land, I see bricks and mortar. At Sujimoto we are determined to keep sharing the positive stories of our success to encourage everyone and motivate every business to see the opportunity in our dear nation. PDP or APC, we have no preference, our only political affiliation is to Nigeria as a nation.
- Breaking even is increasingly becoming difficult for young people in Nigeria. From your experience, what advice do you have for young Nigerians?
Nigeria is blessed with an incredible amount of youthful and talented individuals, but permit me to say that the biggest issue with this generation is the entitlement mentality. No one owes us anything but ourselves. If we don’t make a sacrifice for whatever we want in life, what we want will become the sacrifice.
The bar for opportunities can’t be set so low. This is a country that has produced the richest black man in the world, Aliko Dangote, I have always said to the youths and in my previous interviews that lack of vision is proof of mental bankruptcy.
I have travelled all over the world and trust me when I say that Nigeria is the biggest ground for uncommon opportunities. This same opportunity is what brings foreigners to our land and make them billionaires. Nigeria is the only land where the Lebanese man starts off as a Trader and becomes an Industrialist; or the Indian starts as a Storekeeper and becomes a Manufacturer.
In Nigeria’s super-fast, hyper-competitive environment, success isn’t necessarily determined by your background but your backbone. As a matter of fact, success is not served a la carte. It’s a buffet! The universe responds to innovation and inventions, not mere intentions and complains. I tell myself every day, that if the Coscharis, the Adenugas, the Dangotes and Alakijas can do it, I too can!
Readers are leaders! It’s been proven that reading two hours a day, which is 730 hours a year and 1,460 hours in two years; is almost an equivalent to earning a Ph.D. There’s no billionaire by mistake! If you see someone doing exceptionally well in any industry, invest your envy in studying him, not in trying to bring him down.
Don’t forget, the only person that can determine your tomorrow is the Almighty God, so don’t allow anyone use bread to lick your soup.