“In 2009 and with an estimated net worth of over US$1.2billion, he was named as one of only two Nigerians (the other, Alhaji Aliko Dangote) to earn a place on the prestigious Forbes list of world billionaires.”

Nigerian billionaire businessman, Chief Femi Otedola is one of few Nigerian entrepreneurs who needs little or no introduction. But who would not be honoured to write a few lines on him?

Born in 1968 to the family of Sir Michael Otedola, one-time governor of Lagos State, Femi Otedola is the quintessential CEO currently sitting atop Zenon Petroleum & Gas Limited, Seaforce Shipping Company Limited, Atlas Shipping Agency Company Limited, F. O. Transport Limited, F.O. Properties Limited, Swift Insurance Brokers Limited, and Garment Care Limited.

After consolidating his father’s businesses in 1994, he diversified to set up his own company, Centreforce Limited, which specialised in finance, investment and trading.

Five years after, he straddled his business reach to the oil and gas sector, incorporating Zenon Petroleum & Gas Limited, an indigenous company that engaged in the procurement, storage, marketing and distribution of petroleum products.

In 2001, Otedola incorporated Seaforce Shipping Company Limited, and currently owns and manages a modern tanker fleet of four vessels-Mt. Sir Michael (named after his father), Mt. Lady Doja (named after his mother), Mt. Nana (named after his wife) and Mt. Zenon Conquest, aggregating 60,158 metric tons (deadweight) that transport petroleum products. He is known to own the biggest ship in the country, one reason why he was nominated to preside over the vastly influential Nigeria Chambers of Shipping.

In 2009, with an estimated net worth of over US$1.2billion, he was named as one of only two Nigerians (the other, Alhaji Aliko Dangote) on the prestigious Forbes list of world billionaires. Although the Nigerian petroleum executive was not listed as one in 2010, 2011 or 2012.

Otedola’s enormous wealth perhaps explains why he has easily robbed shoulders with those at the corridors of power. He is also strongly involved in political philanthropy. His limitless donations include a contribution of N100 million to erstwhile president, Olusegun Obasanjo’s re-election bid; another N25million to the rehabilitation of the National Mosque, Abuja; and yet another N200 million to the widely maligned Obasanjo Presidential Library.

His company, Zenon Oil, is regarded by oil (diesel) marketers as a force to reckon with as it supplies the (chiefly generator-powering) fuel to almost all large-scale manufacturing firms in the country- as Dangote Group, Cadbury, Coca Cola, Nigerian Breweries, MTN, Unilever, Nestle, Guinness among others.

Otedola’s N2.8 billion oil storage facility is widely acclaimed to be one of the largest ever; he complements with the recent purchase of 100 new trucks at N1.3 billion to ensure fluid distribution of crude oil product. He also owns a gigantic flat-bottom bunker vessel that store up to 16, 000 metric tonnes of diesel, which he acquired for US$6.8m. In addition, the company’s total diesel storage capacity of more than 147,000 metric tonnes is the largest single storage capacity.   It is the biggest depot in the country.

Yet this is a company that Femi started only twelve years ago. What is the secret of his success, many have wondered.

“ …hard-work and staying focused on what you want and going all out to get it,” Otedola says.


How Oil Magnate Femi Otedola Rose From Ashes of Failure Back to Fame

Despite the aura of invincibility wielded around him, Ote-dollar, as he is fondly christened, confessed that such perception was not his own making.

When asked for his reaction in an interview conducted by Shaka Momodu of THISDAY after his business plummeted some year ago, this was his explanation:

“To me, it is funny when people say I was down. It is not different from when a child is trying to walk. The child must fall down, but that doesn’t mean the child will never walk again. So if God has great plans for you, he has to teach you how to crawl before you learn how to walk.

“There is no successful businessman today who has not gone through ups and downs. That is what prepares you for a future of success. It helps you learn a lot of lessons about the business environment you are operating in. Well, I lost money but I was not really bothered because as far as I was concerned, I am a capitalist. You make money and you also lose money. When I make money, I am happy and I don’t allow losing money to disturb my happiness. But I must admit that there were some trying moments though.”

Not done yet, the interviewer prodded further on how he felt at such trying moment knowing that he just lost about N200 billion. Hear him again:

“Of course, after I had lost N200 billion, I had two options to either commit suicide or solve the problem. A week after the idea ran through my mind, I heard news that the richest man in Germany Adolf Merckle committed suicide having lost his wealth. Let me tell you in case you don’t know. At one time I was subsidising the entire country because I was the largest importer of diesel and added to that had to deal with a huge amount of losses incurred by the devaluation of the currency and the slump in oil prices.

“You see, at any point in time then, I had diesel worth over $400 million on the high seas. So then crude oil prices slumped from $147 to $36, then I didn’t have the structure to hedge against these losses. But whatever the case, I was determined to solve the problem. What I also found funny was that when some banks were wooing me with their money, before my losses they sent beautiful looking women to run after me for the accounts. But after I lost money and the same banks wanted to collect their money back, they sent stern-looking men (laughter). Some hungry looking people will come and knock on my door early in the morning demanding repayment. They didn’t care how much I lost or how I lost the money, all they wanted was that I pay back their money.”

On what such experience has taught him, Otedola shrugged off the question saying:

“It is to give on to Caesar what is Caesar’s. When you have a business model you must adhere strictly according to what you want to achieve. Also that being a good entrepreneur doesn’t necessarily make you a good manager of a business. I was offered a decision to restructure which I refused. Instead I decided that whatever assets I had to give up to pay my debts I will offer. I didn’t want a restructuring because the debt will still be hanging. I didn’t want that. So I learnt my lessons, dealt with my debts and moved on. And I tell you, my wife has been a pillar of support all the way.”

Now, that is a lesson for any strong-willed person to take home.

Need I say more?

Culled from “What To Do When You Lose Your Job” written by Adebayo Folorunsho-Francis

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