Pastor Dr. Emmanuel Sunny Ojeagbase’s personality is synonymous with business success. The popularity of his media news products namely Success Digest, Complete Football and Complete Sports publications speaks high volume. In the below interview with Christian Benefits’ Wole Olarinde on Apostle in the Market Place, Dr. Ojeagbase shares the secret behind the success of his news media empire. Excerpts.
Sir, how will describe your experience in running what is today Nigeria’s foremost and most successful all-football magazine, Complete Football?
It has been interesting. The easiest thing for me to say is that initially we had difficulties, challenges and all of that. But when we come to understand that these are normal things you have to go through to build an enterprise, looking back it is just part of the terrain. It is no longer an issue that it was when we were going through it. When you start anything, it’s like you plant a seed and every seed you plant has to first of all die before it comes alive. After it died you see it coming out of the ground with fresh leaves and all of that. It still doesn’t give you that fruits immediately. It takes time. And that is why Apostle Paul was very much on spot when he said, “I, Paul I planted, and Apollo watereth but God brings the increase.” When you match that with what the Word of God says in Galatians 2:9, “And let us not weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap if we faint not,” you will clearly get the import that it is God who blesses the efforts of people; not our own expertise or ability. Now, due season will come for everybody who does not cease doing good and abiding in God. And that is what our experience has been.
You kicked off sports news publications with Sports Souvenir in 1984, which was quite doing well in the sports market before the birth of Complete Football and subsequently Complete Sports. Why did you decide to rest Sports Souvenir to introduce Complete Football and Complete Sports in its place?
When we went into publishing back in 1984 we started with Sports Souvenir. And that was informed by the nature of our status. What we went for was what we could manage. It was not a standard publication per se. I was fortunate to be in Ghana when I was inspired by what I saw there. Sports tabloid was all the things you saw in Ghana and they have so many of them. And I said, this is wonderful, that with the little capital that we had we can put information on four pages, get it out quickly and start moving with it. By 1985, the need to publish a standard soccer magazine became pressing when advertisers were telling us this is not like standard newspapers or magazines that we are used to, that have many pages. They were talking about putting colours and all that. If I could take the hands of the clock back, I will stick with what I was doing, and not change because somebody said so. But I changed, and we went into publishing a full sports publication, doing colours and all of that. And that threw up a lot of new challenges in term of financing. After the first edition we waited two months going to three months, we couldn’t come up with another edition. It was very, very rough. At that point, going back is understandable. You just hit the market. There wasn’t any publication of that kind. So, people need to get used to it. You see, it is easy for me to look back today, and talk the way I’m talking. But when it was happening, it wasn’t palatable because you just go out there to the distributors, and they will just throw your unsold copies at you and that breaks your heart.
Perhaps, we should ask first, at what point in life did you decide to quit pay employment to set up your own business?
What happened was this, when I became the pioneer sports editor of The Guardian in 1983, on my first day in office I asked myself a question, what next? Now, the reason I asked that question was because for me being a sports editor of a newspaper that just started, that there wasn’t an existing sports desk. I started it and built it up on my own. I knew that was the pinnacle in the sense that I wasn’t interested in being a news editor or a feature editor or whatever editor. All I was interested in was writing sports and pushing sports information out. So, as an editor, for me there is no other place to go to. I was 32 years old, going to 33, and at the back of my mind was this general saying that one is supposed to have become a responsible person at 40 years old. I had that at the back of my mind. But all the same I threw myself into the job I was doing because I love it. Then as it happened in December 1983 I went visiting my uncle, Bishop George Amu in his home at Opebi. I went with my wife. As we were leaving his house there were some books on the ground and my eyes just spotted two titles, “Think And Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hills and Success Through A Positive Attitude by Napoleon Hills and Clement Stone. I picked up the two books home and I first read Think And Grow Rich. After I read that book I was so inspired. It never crossed my mind up till that point that I could become an entrepreneur. I never felt asleep and dreamt about it until that point. But after I read this book I was totally consumed by the passion to become an entrepreneur. The desire was so intense that I started to do everything that the book recommended. Eventually, I got the idea, okay! I have travelled to so many countries within and outside Africa, and there was not a single country that I had been to that didn’t have any form of sporting titles Why not Nigeria? I mean, Nigeria is such a lover of football. So, the idea was established. Now, come the next hurdle, how do you get the capital to start it? I put together the names of people I knew and I went to them one after the other no money was coming. So, I left the idea on the shelf and continued with my job. I went to Cote D’voire to cover the 1984 Nations Cup. I came back, went to Wimbledon to cover a tennis competition; came back and went to the Los Angeles Olympic Games. When I returned from the Olympics at that time there was an issue at The Guardian between the management and staffs. I was then on leave. The issue got a little bit rough; you know the usual labour versus management tussle. They were talking about pay-cut and all of that. And I just said, wait a minute, I have this idea. If I continue work I will experience the pay-cut and I will still have to struggle anyway. Suppose I go for that idea, just start to do it and see the way it will work out. So, that was what prompted the decision for me to quit. I was driving home when the idea came. And when I got home I just called my wife and said let us start our own business. And she said that’s fine! Let’s go. No question asked. And that was it.
Beside the labour issue at The Guardian, what specifically inspired you as a journalist of those days when the pay packet was not too attractive unlike what obtains in the country today, to venture into your own private business?
I will put it down to the book, Think And Grow Rich. The book made the difference. Of course, we are talking about 1983/84 when for you to talk about publishing you have to have a lot of money. It was not the way it is today that you have printing press everywhere; that you have the idea and then give your materials to them to print for you. Back then, you have to buy machine. It even wouldn’t cross your mind. What are you talking about?
How did you finally source and raise the initial funds required to start off?
When I returned from the Olympics in 1984 I came with six cameras. And I told my sister to go and sell four of the cameras at Oshodi market and she came back with N4,000. The next thing, my wife and I went to see Chief Femi Olukanmi; now of blessed memory and said, “sir, we have decided to publish a sporting newspapers and we need a loan of N2,500. He didn’t ask any question. He just pulled out his drawer, brought out his cheque book and wrote N2,500, cut the cheque and gave it to me, and said good luck! Well, I needed all the luck because how could N2,500 start publishing a newspaper. But then, the grace of God was there.
What were some of the challenges that confronted you when you set out for your private business?
When I started not much of the information that is available today about starting business, about doing was available. All the business seminars that you see taking place all around today was not happening. And that is one thing God has used Success Attitude Development Centre (SADC) for today. Now, whoever wants to start a business only channels the information that is available and gets some sound knowledge. Knowledge is the key. It is not lack of capital. We didn’t have money that was why we are struggling. That’s a lie! It is not lack of capital but knowledge. If I knew half of what I know today back then, there’s no way we would have struggled the way we did. So, you have to go for knowledge; knowledge about what? Business is a system. And like every system there is a way it operates. I read a particular book titled, “Breakthrough Advertising.” Advertising is the key thing in creating money in business ventures. When I say advertise I’m not saying buying space in newspaper. I’m talking about marketing because marketing is what makes people to desire your product. That is the knowledge every business owner must have. So, I didn’t know all of that. In fact our business had almost crumbled. We were very close to bankruptcy before I discovered all these things I’m sharing. That is why for seven years after 1991 my reading concentrated on 90% marketing materials because I discover it is the life blood of any business. Any business that can’t market very well will struggle. That is vital. At the base of this is knowledge. Then, people management. You have to manage your relationship, not just with people who are coming to work with you. Every aspect of business which is a process you need knowledge in it. That is what we need to emphasize most. Most of the problems we have in business are caused by most of us.