….. (Abridged version of a lecture at LASU)
As an entrepreneur I am very much aware of the important role that education and human capital development and therefore critical knowledge and skill have to play in success in any human endeavour, including the running and daily management of today’s complex business organizations. As a result, I have always over the years closely identified with select groups of university academics and think tanks in my desire to develop competitive advantage in the running of my businesses.
I come from a business family. My maternal grandfather and maternal uncle were great merchants and leaders in the Olomu Kingdom of Ughelli Local Government Area of Delta State. Indeed my maternal grandfather Osadjere was the king of Olomu and his son my maternal uncle succeeded him as king of Olomu Kingdom. My father worked for government and retired as nursing superintendent and when he retired he went into business. My mother was a trader, my eldest brother Olorogun Michael Ibru was an entrepreneur and we his siblings followed his footsteps.
I received a great deal of inspiration and guidance from my parents. My eldest brother, the Patriarch of the family, and founder of the Ibru Group, the late Olorogun Michael Christopher Onajirevbe Ibru, also gave me tremendous inspiration and a sense of direction. He was an audacious and highly principled pioneer entrepreneur and an industry titan of tremendous goodwill. I was privileged to work closely with him in my early adult life and he introduced me into the world of entrepreneurship. These family members and the late Olorogun Michael Ibru made a huge impact on the evolution of my business belief system, values and attitudes.
I also had good working relationship with my other siblings who provided professional and business support, wise counsel and moral support, namely my elder brother, the late Olorogun Felix Ibru, who trained in Israel as an architect and had a thriving architectural practice, and later ventured into politics and became a Senator and later the first Executive Governor of Delta State; and my two other brothers, namely Bernard and Alex, and my two sisters, Grace and Mabel.
I am essentially a professional business lawyer; and I am in the hospitality industry as an entrepreneur and not as a business manager. My company owns hospitality assets or hotel properties and contracts them out to professional managers who manage hotel businesses. For example, Ikeja Hotel Plc owns Sheraton Hotel and Towers Ikeja, but the hotel is managed by Sheraton, which is part of the Marriot Group. As an entrepreneur and investor, I believe in the separation of ownership from management.
I have been involved in entrepreneurial development throughout my business career. I also have a passion for mentoring the younger generation of entrepreneurs and businesspeople. It gladdens my heart that there is quite a great momentum of enthusiasm for entrepreneurship among the younger generation; and they have the advantages of better education, stronger business skills, mentorship, better exposure to business and entrepreneurial best practices from subsidiaries of global firms operating in the local environment, businesses or promote their careers.
The role of entrepreneurship in economic development and nation-building can hardly be overemphasized. Entrepreneurs are great nation builders. Nigerians are globally recognized for their entrepreneurial spirit and are ever-willing to throw in their hats in the ring of entrepreneurship. Even as a society with an emerging entrepreneurial culture we have come a long way. There is no sector of the economy, from manufacturing to hospitality, to oil and gas, to aviation, to financial services and even education and health, where Nigerian entrepreneurs, with a huge risk appetite are not making their contributions to the development of the economy and nation building, undertaking massive investments, creating tens of thousands of jobs, creating wealth and meeting needs for goods and services.
All sectors of the Nigerian economy are in need of entrepreneurial intervention, but sectors like iron and steel, the power sector, the gas sector, manufacturing, transportation, infrastructure, real estate, hospitality/tourism, solid mineral and agriculture/agro-processing are among the key areas where the massive involvement of Nigerian and foreign entrepreneurs are very much needed to turn the Nigerian economy around, and give us a respectable and sustainable annual rate of GDP growth that can see the Nigerian economy among the elite club of Trillion-Dollar economies within a reasonable time frame.
The Nigerian economy, despite its present challenges, presents huge opportunities for the discerning investor, local and foreign. And as far as the enabling environment for business is concerned, I am optimistic it will get better. However, we must move away from the subsidy mentality, especially the subsidy of consumption, which is wasteful. We should be aiming for “a fair, not welfare society” as the late celebrated Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, advocated in his book, From Third World to First. The United Kingdom and other Western European countries realized in the 1980s that the welfare state does not work, that it is a race to the bottom for everyone, which is why they phased it out. Instead of subsidizing petrol, subsidize education and health on a larger scale so that every Nigerian can be equipped to compete more equally in the market place of opportunities.
Nigeria should put in place the right economic policy framework to make her economy globally competitive, face up with the environmental sustainability challenge of phasing out fossil fuel and achieving zero net emission in a few decades away, diversify her export base with a strong emphasis on manufacturing for exports and seriously position herself to become the factory of Africa, taking ample advantage of the tremendous opportunities the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) offers—but above all, to benefit the lot of the Nigerian people. I must however quickly note that all stakeholders, especially business people, investors and entrepreneurs, have a role to play to engage with government to improve the business environment.
Nigerian Stock Exchange (), the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), the NEPAD Business Group Nigeria (NBGN), Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), and the African Business Roundtable (ABR),– organizations where I have at one time or the other had the privilege of working with other eminent colleagues to provide leadership at the highest level of corporate governance as President/Chairman of Council; except at the ABR, where I am the Executive Vice President for West Africa
I will want to encourage the leadership and management of LASU to take its promotion of entrepreneurship education to the next level by designing bachelors and higher degree programmes in entrepreneurship an innovation, leading to the award of B.Sc, M.Sc and Ph.D degrees in entrepreneurship and in innovation. I will also suggest the university sets up a leading and advanced innovation hub and enterprise development centre that will be a reference point for other universities in Nigeria and across Africa. In all of this, at the back of our mind should be giving our youth the greatest opportunity to develop and realize their fullest potential as agents and standard bearers of growth and development in our great nation, Nigeria and beyond.