10 Mins with Haven Homes’ Boss Tayo Sonuga
Welcome to Haven Homes, one of the most serene estates in Lagos, where top Nigerian celebrities seek shelter. Here you find Mr.Tayo Sonuga, the real estate developer and CEO of Haven Homes who builds their dream from scratch to finish. Tagged the celebrity developer, the company is known for not just creating lavish homes, but also giving luxury that is affordable. With a vision to creating more lavish but affordable homes across Africa and beyound, Mr Sonuga shares his success story, challenges, vision for his brand and more.
How did Haven Homes came to be, how did it all start?
I became a Computer consultant after passing a few professional exams in the UK. This was just also around 1998 and 1999, just before the Year 2000 when the ‘Y2K’ (millennium) bug became a panic. Professionals in the computing industry at this time became so well sought after to the extent that they were paying us per hour to do the work. In spite of the windfall and bonanza in my profession then, I didn’t get carried away to start buying expensive cars and ‘living large’. Instead, I was investing in properties in London. During my banking experience, I took the time to understand the mortgage system. How it worked. I started using the understanding of that system as leverage to invest in properties. My wife and I eventually built up a huge portfolio of properties in the UK but somewhere along the line, the General Overseer of the Church I still attend, New Covenant Church, Rev. Paul Jinadu, a vast man, gave me an advice that ‘’Rich men don’t keep assets, they rather turn them over’’ and that I should start selling my properties. I was intrigued and taken aback because it went against what my investment sense had taught me but thank God I heeded and I started selling my UK properties not knowing that God was leading me to come back to Nigeria. Shortly after the sale of the UK properties, there was the global bust in the Properties and Financial markets around 2005 and 2006. That was when I returned to Nigeria and formed Haven Homes. We started building and completed our first property in Magodo Lagos State in 2007.
What is it like growing a brand that has become a household name?
It will be wrong for me to take the sole credit for growing a household name brand. The brand is what it is today as a result of the dedication, passion for excellence and the dogged loyalty that I enjoy from the staff that I work with. I have a great team of staff headed by the current General Manager, Ufuoma Ilesanmi, and without my direct or physical presence, they all know what their roles and functions are and they do it with great dedication. With this level of teamwork, I find it easy to give directions and the implementation becomes like clockwork.
One of your main goal is providing affordable luxury, how affordable are the homes?
Our concept of affordability is getting more for less. What this means is that for much less than the price you would have paid for a luxury and contemporary homes, we will deliver a home that matches that quality and lifestyle. Haven Homes was the first developer to build contemporary homes commercially in Nigeria. Our entrance into the market changed that dynamic and we started building these lifestyle mansions at the price of the normal traditional houses thereby bringing the luxury lifestyle to the reach of all.
What has been your most trying moment in business?
Because we focus on quality and excellence, we place a lot of demand on our contractors which requires them to pay a lot of attention to detail. Unfortunately, that is not always the case with most of the contractors due to the limited exposure they possibly have had. The average contractor works to the best of his ability but it’s not usually sufficient enough for what we require, so we end up doing some tasks repeatedly until we get it right. This could sometimes increase the costs of construction and could cause delays to the project.
Tell us a bit about yourself, and growing up?
My name is Tayo Sonuga, I was born in Lagos, grew up in Lagos, and attended Maryland Comprehensive Secondary School in Maryland, Ikeja. From there, I did part of my A-levels, before going to the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro (Ogun State) to study Accountancy. After my HND, I did my Youth Service and then went to the UK. I am a Christian, married to Sola Sonuga and we are blessed with two wonderful boys and a gorgeous daughter.
What is your typical day like?
My day starts at 4 am with a personal devotion, followed by a 5km walk around our gated estate. After my showers around 8 am, I have breakfast and head to the office for the day’s appointments and schedules.
Where do you see Haven Homes in the next 5 years?
Haven Homes is a subset of Haven Global Resources LTD, our vision goes beyond Haven Homes in Nigeria. We have a global mindset, what we will be doing in the next five years will be to spread our operations and have a foothold in many countries. We’re working on doing more work in African countries too.
Haven Homes is known as celebrity developer, tell us about that?
Haven Homes and celebrities have a lot in common because we are both passionate about what we do. For a celebrity to become famous in what he or she does, there has to be a lot of passion involved and that is what we do in our trade too. When we build these homes, we make them appealing, not just to celebrities but to others who treasure great ambience, the beauty of the estates and the serenity, privacy and security they provide.
You talked about giving back to the society, in what ways do you do that?
We have had several CSR projects over the years such as partnering with the Lagos State Government to promote a clean environment and we provided waste bins in parks for better refuse disposals. We also had a major CSR project last year whereby we renovated the dormitories for an orphanage home in Agbowa, Ikorodu, called The Home of God’s Grace Orphanage. Many other donations have also been made to other Foundations to benefit from our support.
How do you unwind?
In the evenings I like to play Lawn Tennis, that is my favourite sport. When I get back from work I watch CNN and National Geographic channel, I also watch aviation related programmes as that is my offside passion. When I was in England, I did some aviation-related training even though I didn’t proceed to get my pilot’s license. I still hope to get one when I have the time.
By Yemisi Suleiman