Femi Otedola became the second Nigerian after Aliko Dangote to make the Forbes list of the richest people in the world but something went wrong and he almost lost everything, he later revealed he was considering suicide at the time. In this article, MakeMoney.ng takes a look at how one of Nigeria’s most successful entrepreneurs, Femi Otedola made his money.
From birth, it was obvious Femi Otedola was destined for greatness. He had the family and upbringing everyone will wish to. Femi was Born in 1962 in the ancient city of Ibadan, the Capital city of Oyo state in Nigeria. His Father, Sir Michael Otedola was a former governor of Lagos state and a key player in the oil industry working for Mobil.
His late father was a disciplinarian, which help shaped him to become successful.
“He was strict and was disciplined. He always kept saying to me that honesty is always the best policy, hard work and contentment. He would always allow you to pursue what you believe to be your destiny, he wasn’t the type to interfere unnecessarily with what his children were doing.”
With the world at his feet, he could have chosen to become anything. But when he was a little boy, all he wanted was to become a Reverend father.
“As a young boy growing up, I always had the ambition of becoming a Catholic reverend father. I used to admire reverend fathers in their clean white cassock and I thought this was my destiny” He told ProShare
His dream to become a Reverend father didn’t come to reality and Femi has a very funny reason for it:
“Well to be a Reverend father you must be celibate and never get married.”
His first business
Femi Otedola discovered his business instinct very early in life. He started his first company at the age of 6! The company had a plan and a name. His father was working for Mobil at the time, and the goal was to cut the nails of his father’s guests and then issue them receipt for his services. And he was getting paid.
“I had my first business at the age of six. It was called FEMCO. I would offer to groom my parents’ guests’ nails. Then, write a receipt and charge them for my service. They paid me too. I always had an interest in business.”
This early startup under the watchful eyes of his father set him up for an amazing career.
In 1985, Femi Otedola graduated from the Obafemi Awolowo University and immediately joined the family business. He took charge of the marketing department of the family printing press. He worked hard, and gained experience.
After working for years and consolidating the family business, Femi Otedola ventured out on his own, starting his own company, Centreforce Limited. The company focused on finance, investment and trading.
About five years after he left the family business, Femi Otedola ventured into the oil and gas sector. The beginning was very humble. From his privileged position as Governor’s son, he had friends who supplied him with diesel but after there was a change in government. All the privileged stopped. And he had to find a solution.
The turning point for him was when he ordered for diesel and it was delivered three days later with a broken truck. At this point, Femi saw an opening. He could do better and provide better services. So he decided to venture into the diesel supply business. Then he started buying diesel from a retailer and supplying to companies
“I started buying diesel from a guy who had control of the market for retailing. I soon realized that a lot of companies in the country actually used diesel. I once received an order from a big transport company. The banks were closed and I could only offer a cheque. I was my supplier’s biggest customer but he refused to take a cheque from me. I immediately realized I needed to source alternative methods of getting my diesel.”
That disappointment would lead to his major breakthrough in the oil industry. He approach the management of the depot and offered to buy it for $20 million dollars even though it was worth just $4 million at the time. Of course, he didn’t have the money but he had the guts.
He approached Zenith Bank and had a conversation with Jim Ovia (The CEO of Zenith Bank at the time) for a loan to finance the purchase.
“I contacted Zenith Bank, sold my pitch on the venture and how we would finance it. I had a meeting that barely lasted 10 minutes with Jim Ovia he believed in me and it was a done deal. This was in 2003.”
With the acquisition of the depot, it didn’t take long before he took almost full control of the oil and gas supply business in Nigeria with his company, Zenon Petroleum and Gas Limited, controlling 91% of the market. His company acquired three large cargo ships that he named after his family. MT Sir Michael (named after his father), MT Lady Doja (named after his mother), and MT Nana (named after his wife).
He immediately expanded into many sectors. First was to set up a transport and shipping company in the line of logistics of diesel supply – F.O. Transport and Seaforce Shipping. Then he went into property and bought many large companies.
He was just 35 and it took him just 7 years to achieve it all.
In the oil business, he was booming, he was competing with major players like Total. It didn’t take long for him to beat every competition and almost by himself determine the price of diesel in Nigeria. The competitors were coming to him for supply.
“While my competitors were sleeping, I was busy strategizing. I was liberal too. My strategy was: high volumes, little margins. I was very excited at this point. However, I knew that at some point the government would fix the power issue (diesel is mainly used for generators during power cuts) and I needed to move a step forward.”
The success was massive but he had no plan of slowing down. Through his company Zenon, he bought a 28.7% stake in African Petroleum which he would later re-brand to Forte Oil.
He went into the financial sector buying up shares aggressively. In the process becoming the second-largest shareholder in Zenith Bank and the largest individual shareholder at United Bank for Africa (UBA). Many banks were coming to him to lend money for investment and he was investing. He became the largest importer of diesel in Nigeria.
He became a major shareholder of Africa Finance Corporation, he was the Chairman of Transcorp Hilton. Also, he was a big shareholder in Mobil Oil Nigeria Limited, the second largest shareholder in Chevron Texaco, Visafone and several companies.
In early 2009, Forbes magazine included him in the list of the richest people in the world with an estimated net worth of $1.2 billion. The second Nigerian to make the list after Aliko Dangote.
Just as everything was falling into place, suddenly, things went bad. he was losing everything he had worked for. The fall from grace was so hard that he contemplated killing himself.
in 2008, a shipment containing one million tons of diesel was on its way to Nigeria. It belonged to Forte Oil owned majorly by Femi Otedola. But before it could reach Nigeria, there was a problem.
“I had about 93 per cent of the diesel market on my fingertips. All of a sudden oil prices collapsed and I had over one million tons of diesel on the high seas and the price dropped from $146 to $34,” He said.
The loss was too much to bear but it was just the beginning. It wasn’t long before the Naira was devalued and interest began to shoot up. At the end of it all, a man who was on top of the world finds himself at the bottom.
He lost over $480 million due to the plunge in oil prices, $258 million through the devaluation of the naira, a further $320 million due to accruing interest and then finally $160 million when the stocks crashed, according to CNBC,
At this point, he had found himself in debt. Not just in debt, he was now $1.2 billion in debt. Then he thought of committing suicide.
“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,” he says.
But thankfully, he made the right decision.
“I decided to weather the storm. I just knew it was a phase I had to go through. You see God prepares you for greater things and of course, experience is the best teacher so I had to learn my lessons. I took the bitter pill.”
But the banks would soon turn on him. He was under intense pressure.
“The same banks that had once sent pretty sales ladies to get money from me for their accounts in the past were now sending tough-looking men to knock at my door to get me to pay my debts in the mornings. The only people I’d credit at this point were my wife for her great support, Jim Ovia of Zenith Bank and Segun Agbaje of Guaranty Trust Bank who understood the situation and offered a restructure of the loans for ease of payment. I was however determined to pay it all up and move on. The banks sold the debt to Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON). It was a total of N200 billion”
His rise again
AMCON offered him a restructuring deal so he could repay the debt but he declined. He wanted to pay back everything and start all over again.
“So we got a reputable firm to value my assets. I had about 184 flats, which I gave up. I was the largest investor in the Nigerian banking sector, which I gave up, I was also a major shareholder of Africa Finance Corporation and I was the Chairman of Transcorp Hilton. I was a shareholder in Mobil Oil Nigeria Limited, the second largest shareholder in Chevron Texaco, Visafone and several companies which they valued, and I had to give up to repay the debt.”
He sold almost all he had to repay the debt. At the end, he was left with just two properties, his office space and a 34-percent stake in African Petroleum.
He went back to work and started all over again and it paid off.
By 2014, Femi Otedola was back again in the Forbes list of richest people in the world. This time, bigger than ever. With a Net worth of $1.8 billion.
Femi Otedola has built many strategic relationships that have helped him over the years. One of them is with Aliko Dangote. They are known to be good friends and hang out regularly. But the relationship was never that smooth. Somewhere in 2006, there was a friction between the two.
Otedola who was the second highest shareholder at Texaco was bidding to buy the business after it was put for sale. But a company linked to Aliko Dangote had won the bid. All hell supposedly went loose as Otedola viewed it as a breach of agreement.
But he insisted it was nothing serious.
“It was a case of conspiracy theories. Aliko and I have a genuine relationship and it was only natural that we had a few differences along the line. Today, he is my mentor. I like his sincerity and integrity. Aliko’s word is his bond and I have a lot of respect for my friend. I believe he is a real blessing to Nigeria and Africa as a whole. He is a godsend to this continent. I believe Aliko is highly underrated too. He will become the richest man on the FORBES list someday,”
The two men are now best of friends. Inseparable. With Otedola playing a big role at his Dangote daughter’s wedding.
Just like most businessmen, Femi Otedola has had his own romance with politicians. He had a close relationship with former Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo. In 2003, Otedola donated N100, million to Obasanjo’s re-election bid. He later donated N200 million towards the Obasanjo presidential library.
He was also a close friend of former Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan when he was in power.
Femi Otedola Net Worth and Properties
The current net worth of Femi Otedola has constantly fluctuated due to the instability in oil price.
Femi Otedola cars reportedly include a fleet of custom Rolls Royce cars in London and a Mercedes fleet in Nigeria worth close to $8 million. He also owns a $19.5-million yacht. His house in Lagos is a big mansion with a private jet to go with it.
His ability to rise again is a big inspiration to many entrepreneurs out there. No matter how hard you think you have fallen, you can rise again. Rising from a debt of over $1.2 billion is massive especially when you have to sell almost all you got to pay back. As he said, the day he lost everything was the day he learnt his biggest lessons.