This is a fact: in 2014, Chief Ade Ojo’s company, Elizade Motors, sold more than 6000 Toyota vehicles in Nigeria. He controls about 47% of the total market for the Toyota brand in the country and he has started selling Chinese vehicles, the JAC brand, at his new Elizade Autoland in Ikeja, Lagos, to cover the lower end of the market as the Toyota gets too expensive for many young executives buying brand new cars, so, in his pocket is the turnover of not less than 27% of Nigeria’s total market for new cars.
Chief Ojo, Founder of Elizade Nigeria Limited remains the chief strategist of the partnership he founded with his late wife Elizabeth Wuraola in 1971. He noted it was hard to ignore the growing influx and appeal of Chinese auto brands in Nigeria, so, he positioned with the flow, placing his stake on the JAC brand. To carve a quick niche, he offered a three-month test drive of JAC cars to target clients, particularly the corporate world, while revving to compete with the other brands from China in the market. First round of market tease game plan on JAC ended December 2014, many taxi drivers and corporate fleet executives gave warm testimonials to the brand. “JAC is in Nigeria to stay and technicians are being trained, so that there will be adequate provisions for the after-sales maintenance of the vehicles.” Demola Ojo, Chief Ojo’s son, who is managing director Elizade Motors assures guests at the event on JAC motor’s road performance. He says the JAC test-run would guide the next step for Elizade Autoland and the future of the JAC vehicles in the Nigerian auto market.
The idea is for the select customers to use the JAC cars for a period of three months after which they can decide whether to retain them or return them to Elizade Autoland. ”It’s a trial will convince you strategy,” Chief Ojo enthused as he spoke with Business Eye editors in his office and it has opened up the market for JAC. Elizade services the heavy duties market with Volvo trucks and uses his well manned service workshops, where each of the technical personnel gets refresher trainings to sharpen their skills at least two times a year, at major cities round Nigeria for competitive advantage.
At 78, Chief Ade Ojo who three years ago fathered a set of twins from his new wife, Taiwo, has not done badly as a businessman. His pedigree is followed by Demola, the son and his fashion designer daughter, Deola Sagoe of Oodua Creations, who is storming the global fashion scene with daring eclectic designs in African fabrics and building herself a haute couture house. Elizade executives know Chief Ojo must be abreast on details of the company and Demola confirms: “he expects that we carry him along in whatever we do. He wants to ensure you get his input in matters pertaining to the company. If you are someone who likes autonomy or hates being supervised, you may have a difficult time with him because he wants to be involved in the running of the business and he contributes his opinion.”
The Elizade enterprise started with sales of motorcycles and sold its first car, a Peugeot 404 saloon car Chief Ojo had taken a loan to buy from his last employer, British Petroleumm, BP, to kick start its foray into car sales, then it was any car before he settled for the Toyota brand.
A 1965 graduate of Business Administration from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Chief Ojo has always been enterprising and focused on the bottom line. He worked with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources before going to the university, on graduation joined CFAO Motors, the company that sponsored him for the last two years of education as Assistant Sales Manager; from where he returned to the civil service as Inspector of Taxes before joining British Petroleum which he left after he was denied promotions despite his top performance as the best sales representative to form Elizade Independent Agencies. Elizade is an acronym from the combination of the first parts of the partners’ names, Eliz+Ade. While working with BP, Chief Ojo was marketing insurance policies on part-time basis and when he felt slighted at BP reached an agreement with RT Briscoe to sell cars part time on commission. To test the waters before making his next move, he got a four-week vacation during which he sold 40 cars. His earnings from the sales was more than a year salary so he returned to BP to tender a resignation and concentrate on Elizade Independent Agencies, later incorporated into Elizade Nigeria Limited, a company dealing in motor vehicle sales, spare parts and services. His teacher wife at the Methodist Boys High School, Lagos later joined him to stabilize the company and consolidate the family holding.
Elizade Nigeria Limited has grown into seven subsidiaries including Toyota Nigeria Limited and Oodua Creations. Elizade has majority shares in Toyota and RT Briscoe, companies where Chief Ojo started as agent. Elizade is now into real estates, hospitality, finance, food and drinks and education among others. Chief Ojo is chairman of many companies including Moorehouse Sofitel Ltd, Volvo Construction Equipment and Volvo Trucks in Nigeria.
Recalling the early days of Elizade when Chief Ojo approached RT Briscoe for dealership in motorcycle and was asked for a 600 pounds deposit. The 4000 pounds he had was used to pay rent for the building to start the business so he approached his banker for a loan and was refused. His late cousin, Chief Bakare, lent him the 600 pounds which he repaid within three months. At the period, “I worked very hard and prayed alot,” he says. “Whenever I got my commission, I would put everything back into the business and we were not paying ourselves salaries for the first five years. We were just drawing all our expenses from the earnings of the company.”
Chief Ojo confessed he even kept details of the commissions earned and finances of the company away from his wife and partner in the early days to ensure she does not request for cash to go shopping.
Today, Chief Ojo is gradually transforming his home town, Ilara-Mokin into a vibrant town with community development projects like the 8.5km Ilara-Mokin township roads, the Ilara Mokin Town Hall, 18-hole international golf course and financing the Shield Micro Finance Bank Limited. Elizade’s experience with the dearth of skilled technicians and artisans made him and his late wife decide to establish a higher institution, initially a polytechnic was proposed but later upgraded to the Elizade University at Ilara Mokin, which Elizade gives N1billion subvention yearly. This is apart from his scholarship scheme started in 1991 from which more than 85 indigent students have benefited.
His commitment to education is borne out of his passion to impart the qualities, particularly good moral standing, that had helped and distinguished him as a man from a humble beginning into an icon. Like he always says, “If you throw away good morals, then you have thrown away everything, this is the problem in Nigeria today. My concern is how to change people from this general decadence. I am not going to force any child to attend the university but by the time our students begin to go out, we will not be able to satisfy the thirst for our kind of education.”
For his outstanding imprints, he has been honoured with various titles, including the Aare Ataiyese of Ilara-Mokin, Asiwaju of Imesi-Ile, the home town of his late wife and Baaloro of the Source, Ile-Ife by the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade. He is the President, Band of Light Society, Archbishop Vinning Memorial Church, Ikeja and bagged the Nnamdi Azikiwe Distinction Award for Excellence in 1987, Doctor of Business Administration, DBA, (Honoris Causa), University of Nigeria, Nsukka, 1999 and Officer of the Order of the Niger, OON, 2005. He is Fellow, Institute of Directors, IOD, and was admitted into Hall of Fame of Faculty of Technology of OAU, Ile-Ife. 2007.
An experience he still cherished till date is the accidental meeting with his late wife and business partner in 1962 when he had gone to attend a service at the university in Nsukka and noticed the woman and her friend looking in his direction and laughing during the songs. He had thought they were making jest of him and was determined “to teach them a lesson.” as a second year student. “I, Ade Ojo, Lumumba, as I was fondly called then in school; I was wearing beard, was about to make them know who I was.”, but he was surprised to see them waiting for him at the door after the service and they apologized for embarrassing him, explaining their giggle were for the fellow next to them miming the tune taking the wrong musical keys.
The friendship with Elizabeth started from there and became a love story in which the lover birds agreed to form a business after school, Elizade was coined to cement the resolve and the company built on the foundation of love has today evolved into a multi-billion business empire that has become synonymous with the fame and success of L-u-m-u-m-b-a.
Published in the Business Eye’s print version, Aug 2015 edition.