Sujimoto – Nurtured by Mother’s love
By Remmy Diagbare
Sijibomi Ogundele is a venture capitalist and investment strategist who is a stickler for perfection. Sujimoto, as he is often called, who started out life in Agege now builds and sells luxury homes. He recently presented Lorenzo by Sujimoto, his latest luxury apartments, to the public.
His first major project was Lincoln Avenue, a set of 16 town houses of 4 bedroom apartments (in conjunction with Wonda World/Petronia) in Accra, Ghana. Today, Sujimoto has taken his love for delivering upscale buildings to Nigeria with Medici Luxury Terraces along Milverton Road, Ikoyi, Lagos (7 units of terrace houses comprising of four bedrooms).
In this interview, Sujimto tells Allure of the role his mother played in his phenomenal success. Excerpts…
We have heard so much about what you are doing in the real estate sector. Tell us about Sujimoto and your vision for the company?
Some people say that I am too ambitious but I tell such people that tremendous achievements are backed by great visionaries; people who think big and do big. You cannot change a system by repeating the same mistakes of the past. Someone has to do things differently and I made a choice to be that person. I came into the luxury real estate industry at a time when Nigerians were beginning to demand for true quality and value for their money. My vision is simple: to redefine luxury living by bringing the best of the world to the centre of Lagos. Sujimoto is to Architecture what Picasso is to art.
You changed the game and raised the standard with the launch of lorenzobysujimoto – the tallest residential building in lagos. What did you do differently?
The bottom is too crowded so the only choice was to move to the top and do something that’s never been done before. As a company, we have learnt that we can’t afford to be complacent; that great things are accomplished by the power of perseverance.
The vision of this project is to change the way people live. In coming up with this project, we visited more than 50 buildings within Lagos and Abuja and travelled across 3 continents in search of two things: quality and inspiration. We visited the choicest properties in Tokyo, New York City and London. We are bringing everything we learnt from these places into the Lorenzo By Sujimoto development.
Who are your competitors?
Considering your background, did you ever think you would be this successful?
I think I won an ovarian lottery because I was raised by a strong woman; a woman who came from being a sales girl to become one of the top 5 distributors of Nestle. Moreover, as a builder, foundation for me is very critical because a man’s foundation would give you an intrinsic glimpse of his future. Without my childhood experiences, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Not only did they build the resilience in me, they also created a fantastic pillar.
I have zero tolerance for failure and I believe that a man who lives in an apartment in Ikorodu today can own a house in Ikoyi tomorrow. My childhood experiences have given me a broader understanding of what true possibility means and the deception of impossibility.
How did you come about real estate? What ignited your interest for this industry?
You see, people have different callings in life. Some were meant to be pastors, others doctors. If a pastor commits twenty-five years of his life into the study of Medicine and evangelism is his calling, he would still go back to being an evangelist because that’s his calling. I knew I was going to be a builder because from childhood, my first exposure to real estate was going to Bar Beach (in Victoria Island, Lagos) and building castles out of sand.
My uncles and cousins would come and break it down. I would cry but would go back and build another one, a better one. In my adult life, I have travelled to over 40 countries and I have had the privilege of staying in the best hotels. This exposure has consciously elevated my standards and expectations in life. My frame of reference is quite unique. That’s why when I go anywhere and things are not done up to highest standard, I can’t resist voicing my discontent.
When I left Nigeria, my first major break was in real estate brokerage but in 2011, I bought an apartment in Paris and had to remodel it. My friends thought I was crazy and lavish but after I was done, I sold it in less than two months to a friend from Qatar for double the price. That reignited my interest and changed my career path forever. I don’t see myself doing anything else but luxury real estate.
This is my calling.
What’s your philosophy of life?
I live by the 80/20 principle: the capacity to set priorities and execute responsibilities. Just like the Blitzkrieg Strategy – a holistic warfare strategy that uses the element of surprise and speed in the execution of innovative ideas to achieve the impossible. Since I began applying these principles to my business and relationships, I haven’t been the same and my life has changed totally. They are very little principles that are better than focus.
At a time when the price of oil is falling and the economy seems to be sinking, would you consider real estate a viable investment option?
Until Nigerian investors understand that we can drink the oil no more than we can fry the gas, people would be lost in the past. From an investment perspective, Lorenzo By Sujimoto has been dubbed ‘the new oil’ because it gives investors the double advantage of living their dream of world class comfort while offering 112% return on investment (ROI), especially for off-plan buyers. The No. 1 expectation of any investor is ROI. At a time when the price of crude oil has fallen rapidly, the naira is very unstable; the only investment that can secure your money is real estate.
We cannot hide from the fact that we are going through one of the most difficult periods in the history of this country but one of the bedrocks of any investment is REALISM.
Price Water House Coopers (PwC) has predicted that the real estate sector’s value will rise from $9.16 billion to $13.65 billion in 2016. It reported that the sector is growing at a rate of 8.7%; making it the sixth largest in the economy.
You wine and dine with kings and the rich and famous. Considering your humble beginning, what influence do you think these meetings have had in your life?
One thing successful people have in common is association. They understand that a man becomes the company he keeps. I have met with a lot of highly respected people who have greatly impacted my life and dream in different ways. However, I had an opportunity to meet with a man in Japan who coincidentally bears the name Sujimoto Koga, a renowned philosopher. He was the man that changed the way I think. He made me understand that success is a game and to be successful in this game, you must understand the rules that govern this game. He made me think outside the box and helped me look inward. I have come far and I am grateful to God and this man. So, out of respect and adoration, I have named all my companies after him.
Have you ever been bothered about the criticisms and rumour people peddle about you?
I learnt, very early in life, that success has many enemies but few friends. A man with a destination in sight and a target to meet cannot afford the excess luggage of distraction. Nigerians do not celebrate their own. I call this ‘I-better-pass-my-neighbour’ mentality. If Nigerians could criticize a woman who was a fashion designer and through sheer hard work and perseverance became one of the richest Black women on earth today, who am I? We are not positively predisposed to change in this nation and we consider anyone who tries to raise the bar an enemy. We need to start celebrating our achievers and learn from their successes. We need to stop pulling them down. But if I have to choose, I would love success with many haters than the failure with few friends.
Considering the state of the economy, how easy is it to build and sell luxury homes like lorenzo by sujimoto?
Today’s economy belongs to only two types of people: one, people who understand that the customer is king; two, people who have a great capacity to deliver great value at an affordable price, people who never compromise on quality.
I tell you something, you cannot offer a Toyota for the price of a Bentley. You might argue that both cars will eventually ply the same road but the efficiency and prestige of a Bentley speaks for itself. Luxury sells itself. I have sold crap before and I have sold luxury and I can tell you, from experience, that it is easier to sell luxury than crap. When you sell luxury, you sell peace of mind. You have not only sold something that would last for generations, but you win the heart of your client who now becomes your ‘brand evangelist’. Our biggest marketers are our clients because they know we never disappoint on quality.
Who has been a great inspiration to you and why?
My mum and, notably, Dangote. I will tell you why. It is not because he is the richest man in Africa but because of the manner he amassed his wealth. A lot of people have a misconception about Dangote. They say he was born into wealth, he has enormous connections with government etc. If it is easy, let me lend you 500,000 naira and tell me if you can turn it into 500 million naira in a few years.
This is a man who has turned 500,000 naira into 5 trillion naira! Our universities must start a department that teach Dangotism.
What’s your relationship with your mother, and what role did she play in your success and above all, how you have turned out as a person?
I work hard and I don’t believe in luck. But above all, I think my success has everything to do with the fact that I won an ovarian lottery. For me, to be born of the genes of Adebukola is the greatest gift from God.
I have natural entrepreneurial skills because of my Mum and I have learnt the fundamental principles of running a successful business from her. At Sujimoto, just like Adebukola, whatever we cannot do well, we shall not touch.
My mother is my hero, my business partner and mentor. She had no education, and in a world dominated by men and the doctrine of ‘no education, no success’, my mother broke that norm. My mother rose from being a sales girl to one of the top five distributors of Nestle in Nigeria. My mother’s story is the story of every single mother or lady who needs inspiration, and believes Nigeria can give her opportunities to reach her destiny.
Between your parents, who would you say was more influential in shaping your life?
I still go to my mum every Wednesday or Sunday in Oke Arin, Lagos Island for my weekly dose of inspiration. No other human being inspires me like her.
My first introduction to the principles of success came through my mother. All my life, I have seen my mother demonstrate, not just speak about success.
She wakes up early, goes to work, comes back late. She works every weekend and enjoys working hard. Talk about diligence!
I have seen my mum associate herself with colleagues and the right managers during events, giving them gifts. Talk about association!
I have seen my mum go the extra mile to satisfy a customer. When a customer is not happy, she’s not happy until this customer is satisfied. Talk about the Customer always being the king.
I have seen my mother raising other peoples kids like her own. Giving out gifts every Christmas and Muslim festivals to strangers and friends, and always trying to lend a helping hand to the needy. Talk about generosity.
These lessons of entrepreneurship, I got from my mum. No money can buy these. No business school can teach these to you. No human being can take these away from you.
What stirred your interest in Olajumoke the bread seller turned celebrity?
The Olajumoke story could be any Lagosian’s story. Lagos has a population of about 21 million people. Only 15-20% of these people are the actual indigenes of Lagos. The remaining majority left their comfort zones to come look for opportunities in Lagos. My mother came to Lagos when she was just like Olajumoke, selling Bread and Bournvita.
She realised that there was more profit in Bournvita than in Bread. So, she quickly focused on Bournvita and that little business expanded, transforming her into a Distributor for Cadbury and one of the top five Distributors for Nestle. About 16 million people living in Lagos today can relate to Olajumoke’s story, because they are people who left their cities to look for that great opportunity Lagos has for us.
Can you tell us about the luxury accommodation you gave her?
It is very important for people not to misinterpret our true intentions. We did not buy Olajumoke an apartment. We have paid for rent for a few years. We are in the process of furnishing it tastefully. Someone might say after furnishing it, what next? What if she cannot renew her rent? Should in three or four years the rent expire and God forbid she has no capacity to renew her rent, are we going to leave her? Of course not, we have an obligation to extend it until she finds her feet.
The Olajumoke story is a lifetime project for us at Sujimoto. It is our intention to help her discover her true potential and translate them into success. It is our intention to give educational scholarships to her children. We will also help empower her husband to find employment. But first, we will send him for proper training to enhance his existing skills, because an aluminum fabricator in Osun state may not have the same level of expertise as the one in Lagos. We are not going to let Olajumoke be a celebrity just in the news. She will be an empowered Celebrity. All this promises we shall achieve before the end of 2016.
You are very fashionable; what’s your take on style?
Your dress sense speaks a lot about who you are. Your outfit is the first border people cross before they meet the real you. Therefore, it is important that you dress to impress. Be it African fabrics or western big names, it doesn’t matter. If you dress well, you will stand out. One thing is true to my style, whatever the occasion, I dress not to be forgotten.
What book are you reading now and how does it inspire you?
I am an avid reader and a lover of good movies. Currently, I am reading a book by my mentor titled “My Vision” a book co-authored by my mentor Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and Vice-President of the United Arab Emirates. For anyone intending to dare the impossible, this book offers tremendous insights into how to achieve excellence and dream big, using the story of Dubai’s rise to fame and upgrade from a regional economic center into an international hub.
You are rich, famous and single, how do you cope with the bevy of beautiful young girls who would be jostling for attention?
I’m already married. My first wife is young, fragile and she doesn’t like competition. In order for me to grow our relationship and achieve the success we want, I need to reduce jealousy and competition. My wife’s name is LorenzoBySujimoto.
What is the most important trait you think a woman should possess?
I was raised by a woman, a very strong woman at that. So, my love for women is on a personal level. But my biggest love language for a woman is confidence. Nothing drives me towards the admiration of a woman better than confidence. A woman that has this, has peace, has independence and has the world at her feet.
What advice do you have for young upcoming entrepreneurs?
This country is blessed with some of the top five entrepreneurial characteristics in the world. Nigerians are hustlers, and the young entrepreneurs must start taking full advantage of the opportunities around. If we were living in Burkina Faso or Chad, I would understand the justifications for the failures. But we live in Nigeria, the biggest economy in Africa, where the Lebanese, Indians, Germans, Italians would come here and find the opportunities we don’t see. Until the youths start to acknowledge and take full advantage of the opportunities around them, success is not guaranteed.
Finally, if you were marooned and you were asked to take one thing, what would that be?