You are currently viewing Success is not served a la carte, it is a buffet! You have to go for it – Sijibomi Ogundele, the Agege Boy Who Built a $600m Empire from Nothing
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At 41, he has surely done well for himself, and the organization he built from scratch. From a relatively obscure background which could have been a perfect excuse for non-achievement, he has risen above the challenges of the location to emerge as one of Nigeria’s young successful entrepreneurs of repute. In just a few years, Sijibomi Ogundele has become a household name; he has turned the Sujimoto Group into a luxury construction behemoth in Africa, with a clear focus 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 $600 million, Mr. Ogundele is not slowing down anytime soon as he is already conceptualizing projects in the Middle East. In this interview, he talks about his life, business, and plans.

 Tell us about your background

My name is Sijibomi Ogundele. I am the CEO of Sujimoto Construction based in Lagos, Nigeria. I was born into a corporately dynamic family where my father worked 9 to 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 trader, I was nurtured within the walls of the Oke-Arinmarket, 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, and 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 two households had generators on a street with over 19 houses. So, I decided that I was never going to be poor. The fear of 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 the age of eight as an organisation mean to you? 

I have learnt to celebrate my successes however little. This is a landmark achievement because, in a society like ours, not many organisations make it to eight, but I remain grateful to God for bringing us this far. I am profoundly grateful to my mother who took the time to nurture and impact in me life-changing principles that have brought Sujimoto this far. Though I wasn’t born with a silver spoon the mother God gave me is a diamond in the coal.

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For me, eight is significant, because it is the end of one era and the beginning of another. Eight means more expansion and diversification. This year, more than ever, I see Sujimoto taking shape and our vision taking direction. This new era allows us to see the world as a marketplace and export our 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 believe that one has a better chance of being successful if one is highly connected or one’s family is influential; how true is this?

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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! I had no spoon at all! But my mother always said 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!

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What were the major events that shaped your childhood and upbringing? 

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Firstly, I will say winning an ovarian lottery and being born by a champion like Idayat Adebukola. My mum wakes up by 4 am and sleeps by 10 pm 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 my passion and interest in the business. There, I watched my mother move from being a small trader to becoming a major distributor for Nestle.

Through exposure to open market principles, I learnt some vital business lessons such as integrity, negotiation, hard work, and 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 to mental poverty. At the age of five, my mother would wake us up very early in the morning while my mates were sleeping and she would say to me: “Ajaniogun wake up, 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 be 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!

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Value creation also drives me. 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 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 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!

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What is Sujimoto’s biggest strength?

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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 the foundation to the chandelier, compromising quality is not an option. When we started Sujimoto, we founded it on two fundamental principles, Integrity and Quality. Combining these two 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 process as a speed boat rather than a ship. This is because while a speed boat is capable of making swift turns, a ship on the other hand is incapable of such flexibility. Swift decision-making in the 21st-century workplace can be the difference between whether a business succeeds or ceases to exist! The choice is yours!

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In the last eight years, what has Sujimoto achieved?

About eight years ago, I declared my intention to redefine luxury living in Africa, starting from Lagos. We started with just six staff members and one project, but today, we have numerous projects in Lagos, Abuja, and Dubai. Today, we have built our team from six staff in 2014 to over 680 professionals comprising a team of international and local experts. We have adopted a client-oriented customer addiction perspective to feed the ever-evolving appetite of our dynamic clientele, putting integrity and value creation over profit maximization. Within the last eight years, Sujimoto has grown into a group of companies comprising businesses in multi-faceted sectors such as the Water and Beverage industry, Dairy and Abattoir, Luxury Short-let, Real Estate Investment, Cement and Ready-Mix Concrete, Furniture, Sanitary Wares and Building Materials, to mention a few.

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Above all, we have put our house to go public soon and give Nigerians the opportunity to own a part of the business. We have put together a credible and heavyweight board with seasoned professionals from key sectors, bringing a wealth of experience in different sectors to drive the brand to the next phase of our growth. Finally, we have added value to customers, developed and changed the lives of our staff, and as a brand, we have grown from an Iroko tree to becoming a forest.

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Leonardo – Banana Island

What were some of the challenges you faced?

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I started Sujimoto Construction in Nigeria over six 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 three times over, work harder thrice, 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 to transform your challenges into opportunities.

Let me take you on a journey. The years 2016 and 2017 were probably the most 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 economic 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 three of our off-takers who said “go ahead, we are with you,”  I reassessed my plans, reviewed all my decisions, identified my pain points 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 later, the Giuliano has metamorphosed from a proof of concept into a proof of product! It is home to renowned music entrepreneur, Davido, and was fully sold out six months before completion. Many said all sorts of negative things about us, but today, we are building six of the most audacious projects in the whole of Nigeria – the LucreziaBySujimoto in Banana Island; Leonardo in Banana Island; Giovanni in Ikoyi; The Sujimoto Twin Tower in Victoria Island, and QueenAminaBySujimoto Abuja! Not to mention our Sujimoto tower in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Downtown Dubai, a 44-storey 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 these projects before the end of 2025, some of them will be completed next year!

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Queen Amina – Central Business District, Abuja.

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 of customers first, employees second, and myself third.

You have achieved so much within the last eight years, what should we look forward to in the coming years?

The coming years will be very busy 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 also looking at increasing its commercial Real Estate Portfolio. There are three major projects in the pipeline already! We call this vision 2030! PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Hotel Outlook for 2018-2022 has projected that the hospitality market in Nigeria will experience a compound annual increase in the next five years. Leveraging on this, Sujimoto has finalized plans to commence a first-of-its-kind Hotel Apartment called the Sujimoto Twin Towers (STT) in Eko Atlantic City.

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 and we are bringing all our learnings into the Sujimoto Twin Tower – a Hotel Apartment, Hospitality and Retail centre that boasts of the best of African hospitality with a Four Season customer service experience and a focus on returns on investment. A building where you can either live in or buy for rental and enjoy massive ROI.  A building where everything you need is just five minutes away. As a 3-in-1 city in the sky, the architectural structure will comprise residences, hotel apartments, and luxury retail in one unique address. 

The Towers will offer an affordable luxury living experience and investment opportunity through its 1, 2, 3, and 4 superior bedrooms residential configurations, a wing of hotel apartments, and a befitting exclusive luxury retail centre on the ground floor, housing top luxury brands such as Tiffany & Co, Patek Philippe, Louis Vuitton, Samsung, iPhone store, 5-star restaurants and café amongst a host of other retail services.  The Twin Towers also features private gardens, an infinity pool serving as a bridge in the sky, offering breathtaking north views of the Atlantic Ocean for all the residences and Lagos skyline, basking in the southern view of this magnificent architectural masterpiece, cutting-edge fitness centers, and modern spa therapies.

There are plans to commence a world-class Plaza – the first of its kind, in Ikoyi and Abuja, with a 2024 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, a rooftop lounge, and bar, premium restaurants, a 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.

The plan is that by 2030, we would have built over 220 projects, and 2600 apartments worth over $4.9 billion in portfolio, a move which will bring the company’s overall worth to over $5 billion in 10 years. 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 wake-up call for me that the world is still ready for big dreamers and that there is still power in the audacity to dream big.

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Lucrezia- Banana Island

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 a poor country. For me, I don’t see challenges but opportunities, it’s okay to blame the 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.

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 the 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 makes them billionaires. Nigeria is the only land where the Lebanese man starts 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 by your backbone. Success is not served a la carte. It’s a buffet! The universe responds to innovation and inventions, not mere intentions and complaints. 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 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.

Do you have an important success story, news, or opinion article to share with with us? Get in touch with us at publisher@thepodiummedia.com or ademolaakinbola@gmail.com Whatsapp +1 317 665 2180

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