SUJIMOTO: Czar Of Luxury Properties
Sijibomi Ogundele, Chief Executive Officer of SUJIMOTO, is the young man bent on revolutionising Nigeria’s prime Real Estate sector.
An astute businessman, a venture capitalist and investment strategist, Ogundele’s wealth of experience have provided a solid background in ensuring his company achieves its mission in the establishment of world-class premium housing units across Nigeria.
Apart from successfully berthing the many projects he set out to build five years ago, Ogundele has become the Czar of luxury properties in the continent.
But, this under forty executive wiz, was only two decades ago, relieving his current reality in his world of dreams. Dreams do come true, as Ogundele himself attests. From a humble background, his tenacious spirit and determination to make his vision his reality, spurred him to world-class acclaim. In this interview with Allure, he talks about his projects and sheds some light on Nigeria’s premature state at 59.
Congratulations on your 5th year anniversary. How has the journey been like for you?
As I always say, success is not served alacartè, you have to go for it! It has been five years of resilience, perseverance and growth. I would be lying if I say everything has been rosy but one thing is sure, we are here. We didn’t give up. And we are not done yet!
How did you manage to make such a grand entry into the Nigerian business and socio-economic terrain?
I have a simple philosophy; create sugar, and ants will come. I have been doing real estate since 1998, when I lived in South of France as a common Agent with no license. Back then, I brokered a lot of deals. But my first major break was in 2011, when I bought an apartment in Paris and needed to renovate it. I contacted numerous construction companies who kept asking for a million Euro for what I finally did for 300 Euro. I decided to remodel it. I kept going up and down, from one store to another, fixing and changing things, looking shabby that my friends thought I was crazy and lavish. But after five months of rigorous work, the mud finally produced gold. I called a couple of friends for house warming party and one of them fell in love with the property and bought it for double the price. The investment flip in such short time re-ignited my interest in real estate and changed my career path forever.
Your company name is Sujimoto, do you sell cars?
I have never sold a car before. The only time I did was when I had to sell my Aston Martin and two G-Wagon to offset some corporate bills. Let me dispel the myth behind the name Sujimoto.
Fate took me from Oke-Arin to Yokohama, where I met Dr. Sujimoto Koga, a philosopher who transformed my life and thinking. He became my mentor and the vital lessons learnt from this life-changing mentorship, gave birth to my company. After Dr. Sujimoto’s death, out of adoration and respect, I named all my companies Sujimoto, as a constant reminder of the need for diligence, and making the impossible possible.
The GiulianoBySujimoto Apartment is said to be sold out, what were the unique features that made it sell so fast even when lots of properties are empty?
Unlike other empty Ikoyi Apartments, the Giuliano sold out in record time because of three essential factors. Aside from the fact that Banana Island is the richest square metre in Africa, the Giuliano boasts unparalleled features such as, full home automation, private elevators in each unit, immersive cinema rooms and luxurious Porcelanosa bathrooms, designed by the legendary Zaha Hadid, all made it sell out quickly. This masterpiece was designed by some of architecture’s greatest minds; with the exterior fully cladded in special Spanish marble, without one drop of paint.
In developing GiulianoBySujimoto, we carried out intensive product development. We did market analysis, location research and customer segmentation. We wanted to understand all the problems – why apartments are empty; which locations add value to their properties; which houses, apartment or terraces are the best in these locations? So, we took our time to understand not only the customer’s desire but also study the market direction. With what we built, investors can clearly identify strong competitive advantage in terms of quality and price. No developer has been able to meet our standard and quality.
You come from humble beginning, yet, you have broken all barriers to become a billionaire, all under 40. What really motivated you to take your dreams to reality?
Growing up on the streets of Agege, the fear of poverty was my greatest motivation. I remembered that out of about 47 houses on our street, only two people owned a power generator. This taught me a great lesson that for wealth to be generated, my environment and the people I surround myself with, need to change.
At the early age of 9, I started visiting Ikoyi with the inspiration that someday, I would also have an opportunity to live here. Today, that dream has become a reality.
My first introduction to entrepreneurship was at the age of 8 or 9 years. I bought an ‘Okada’ (Commercial Motorcycle), and in less than three years, I had six Okadas. I am an all-round Entrepreneur. Some won’t even know that I have sold souvenirs on the street of France, won the trust of an Arab Billionaire and grew to become a venture capitalist. I am 38 years now, it has been about 30 years of hard work. I am not an upcoming artiste, if I was a musician, I would be Jay z by now.
Tell us about your latest project – The LucreziaBySujimoto.
My Mother and numerous women inspired me. Lucrezia was the daughter of the richest man in the world, CosimoDeMedici. She was also a queen, the wife of King Louis the 13th. In the 16th century, she was widely regarded as the most elegant woman of her time. Queens and princesses travelled to Paris in search of inspiration from her flamboyant lifestyle.
In coming up with this building, we researched and took the Lucrezia lifestyle, blending it with modern architecture, and designed a building that, from foundation to finishing, every square inch embodies the opulence of LucreziaDeMedici.
You know like they say, all fingers are not equal; well, all houses in Ikoyi are not the same. Many people buy land and build houses and, because it‘s Ikoyi, they call it luxury. But at Sujimoto, we do what I call product development. We quest to understand market direction and satisfy client expectation. We speak to off-takers and homeowners, tenants and landlords, because we always want to set new standards and push new boundaries.
LucreziaBySujimoto will be the first choice for those who want to buy to own, or even an expatriate who wants to lease to live. And the reason is very simple-from inception, we told the architects that Nigerians prefer to live in villas, but since we have limited land in Africa’s most expensive neighbourhood, our architects put the villas in the sky!
With four bedroom Maisonette, four car parks, two boys quarters, and sitting on approximately 600 square meters, Lucrezia stands on piles taller than the Ocean Parade! Wrapped in Glass Reinforcement Concrete, the first of its kind in Nigeria. We have looked through high-rises of Bourdillon, Ikoyi, and other luxury projects in Banana Island, no other building will beat the Lucrezia when it comes to features and facilities.
Did you face any obstacles or challenges in the last five years?
There is no prosperity without adversity. One of the biggest adversities that I faced in business was in 2016. We sold our dream of the tallest residential building and Africa’s first fully automated building – LorenzoBySujimoto, to Nigerians and the world. Investors were thrilled by our ROI offering. The competition marveled at the audacity of our strides. As the list of our investors and friends has grown, so have our critics. Between January and December 2016, I personally spoke to one thousand, eight hundred and fifty investors and off-takers, all of them said ‘NO’. But, that didn’t discourage the entrepreneurship in me, or make me lose focus on the Lorenzo dream. The dividend of reputation is a different type of currency. One thing that was very clear is that, our investors and most importantly, our off-takers would never lose their money, even, when it is clear that we were losing.
Money could be lost and easily regained but not with reputation. I lost our two key investors, my Blood Pressure rose from 110 to 150. At some point, I considered giving it all up. The biggest pain for me was when I had to let go of some of my best hands.
This was one of my lowest moments in business. But in the midst of it all, some things have kept me going; my mother, my family and staff; their resolute hope, their unrelenting faith in the vision, and ultimately, my faith in the potential of this country, we all call home.
You reached out to support Jumoke, why? And you even sent her to a finishing school?
At Sujimoto, giving back to society is our lifestyle, not a CSR.
The Olajumoke story is the Lagos version of the American dream. A lady, who left her village in faraway Osun State to seek for opportunities and greener pastures in Lagos. I see my mother in Olajumoke because her story is a reminder to all of us to keep believing, and someday, our dreams will come true.
Nigeria has a 60% youth population, of which you are one of the very few, who are successful. What would you say is the problem with the Nigerian youth?
One of the biggest problems in our generation is that people are quick to forget. History has, however, reminded us that the people who secured the independent destiny of this country were in their late 20s and late 30s, visionaries like Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikwe, Tafawa Balewa and so many more.
The Linda Ikejis, the Debola Williams and the Mark Essiens have set clear examples that you don’t need a powerful uncle or rich aunty to become successful.
Sadly, our generation has stopped dreaming. Our quest for immediate gratification prevents us from value creation. We have become very impatient and quick to lay blame; blame society, blame government and blame friends. If MKO Abiola were to wait for government, he wouldn’t have sold coal to support his education, which later made him one of the richest men in the history of our nation. People must grab the bull by the horns. Nigerian youth must start seeing the opportunities in their environment and start channelling their anger into dollars.
Nigeria turns 59 in a few days, you are way younger, but Nigeria seems to be going nowhere. What solutions can you proffer to make Nigeria act its age?
The best way to answer this question is to take a look at the United Arab Emirate, which was a land of sand and dust, but through vision and great leadership was transformed into a magnificent jungle of marble and towers. Nigeria on the other hand, is a land rich in natural resources and manpower, but wallowing in poverty and depravity.
One thing I like about this administration is that they have made a significant difference in reducing the gap between the rich and the poor. I want to encourage them to do more; knowing that our most treasured resources is not in oil but in our human resources. I want to encourage the government to revise the educational curriculum to ensure poverty is tackled from the foundation as it is a mindset thing.
We must refuse to be a nation that keeps losing her best hands, where there is one Physicians to 1,000 Citizens unlike Qatar, with its 77.4 physicians per 10,000 people.
Words By – Remmy Diagbare