Tajudeen Owoyemi is a quintessential entrepreneur whose success story in luxury hotels across Lagos is phenomenal. With over 45 years in the building and construction industry, his experience is truly exceptional.
But the establishment of Avalon Intercontinental Nigeria Limited was only a prelude to Owoyemi’s lucrative foray into the hospitality industry. With minimal education, unblurred vision, hard work and unwavering dedication to his career, Owoyemi beat all odds to become a big player in hospitality. The Kwara-born business magnate tells Funke Olaode his story, his life and his breakthroughs.
Tajudeen Owoyemi’s story is the stuff of legends; the son of a petty trader who rose to the pinnacle of his career, first in construction, and later hospitality. With minimal education and four-year training as a plumber, Owoyemi beat the odds to become one of the wealthiest luxury hotel owners in Nigeria. He established Avalon Intercontinental Nigeria Limited company after recording success in the construction sector. The launch of Avalon birthed the First Protea Hotel in Nigeria in the early 2000s.
As he walked in quietly into his cosy office located in Ikoyi, Lagos on a recent Tuesday afternoon, there were no airs about him. He wears simplicity like a glove.
“That is a reflection of who I am. I love to live a quiet life and I don’t really like paparazzi exposure. That is how God has created me from the onset and that is how I have lived my life,” he said.
Born on April 16, 1956, in Offa, Kwara State where he had his early life, his parents moved to Ghana when he was two years old and left him with his grandmother. Owoyemi discovered his entrepreneurial skills during that period. His passion for success was also ignited.
“I was raised by a petty trader who instilled the spirit of hard work in me. I remember after school I would hawk ‘Ekuru’ for my grandmother. And I used to go to the construction sites with a group of friends to assist in carrying sand and all that. In those days, we would pack sand from the river and stack it up to a certain level before we got paid. It was our own little contribution to our families. The physical struggle continued till I finished secondary school and moved to Kaduna.”
Having weathered the storm of life fending for himself till he finished secondary school, Owoyemi set out to find a purpose in life. At 18, he moved to Kaduna in search of his purpose.
“I wanted to go to school but there was no money. In Kaduna, I learned a trade. I am an artisan who was trained as a plumber. And I learnt it for four years. From there, I went to Kaduna Polytechnic where I did a part-time study in Civil Engineering. I will do plumbing in the morning and go to evening classes. I did that for three years and obtained a National Diploma in Civil Engineering.”
With his experience as a young man assisting at a construction site and his studies as a civil engineer, Owoyemi developed a passion for building. He became so experienced that he established his company at age 22 in 1978.
“We started contract jobs around 1979 when Alhaji Shehu Shagari came into power. We had a lot of people, a lot of friends who gave us their projects to supervise because of the trust they had in us. We weren’t too ambitious as a company. We concentrated on our strength and the work started growing.”
With over 45 years in the building and construction industry, Owoyemi’s experience is truly exceptional, having handled projects that included presidential, industrial and commercial structures scattered all over the country. Owoyemi never looked back as he eventually established his first company, Tajudeen Owoyemi and Co Ltd (TOCL), a full-fledged Engineering Company that engaged in Civil and Mechanical Engineering contracts. TOCL was to later enjoy massive patronage from elite national institutions such as Command and Staff College Jaji, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC) and several other Federal Government Agencies and Parastatals.
“We did so many contracts. The biggest project we started then was in Staff College in Jaji, Kaduna. We did the Nigerian Army of School Infantry. We did the remodelling, reconstruction of the Nigerian Army School of Infantry head office in Jaji. It was around 1991 we did it and it was very successful,” he recalled.
Having established himself as a construction magnate operating from the north, Owoyemi decided to spread his tentacles to the west.
“I have never been to Lagos in my life until 1985 when General Babangida came to power. It was my first time in Lagos ever. And what brought me to Lagos? It was this contract job, building construction. The late Haladu, a General from Kano, invited me to Lagos. He said they wanted to build Police barracks for Nigerian Ports, they had their board meeting and they approved it and they wanted me to do it. So he sent for me from Kaduna. He insisted that I must come to Lagos immediately. That was how we got the first flight coming to Lagos. I now found out that it was another establishment where once you do your job satisfactorily you get paid. That was how I started coming to Lagos constantly before I and the family finally moved in 1993.”
With remarkable success with TOCL, Owoyemi, the quintessential entrepreneur became unstoppable as he then ventured into the establishment of many companies either as a sole promoter or in collaboration with others in property, banking, hospitality, solid mineral, maritime business and many others. He has in several ways proven the fact that success and credibility are not ordinarily bestowed, but rather earned through focus and unwavering dedication to the pursuit of one’s chosen cause or endeavour.
The establishment of Avalon Intercontinental Nigeria Limited was a prelude to Owoyemi’s successful foray into the hospitality industry beginning with the establishment of the Avalon Hotel sited in his hometown in Offa despite the relatively low patronage in the town. The idea was to bring more people to the area and assist in hastening up the rate of urbanisation and commercialisation of Offa town and Kwara State by extension.
Avalon Intercontinental was founded in 2003 as a special vehicle to secure a competitive hospitality franchise that would enable it to build and operate world-class hotel facilities and this effort paid off with the birth of the first in the group, Protea Hotel, Victoria Island which has since been renamed Park Inn by Radisson, Victoria Island as a result of a strategic realignment by the group.
Internationally branded hotels currently owned and operating under the auspices of Avalon Intercontinental are Park Inn by Radisson, Victoria Island, Radisson Ikeja Hotel and Radisson Blu Ikeja Hotel. The ownership/management of these flagship hotels has catapulted Avalon Intercontinental Nigeria Limited and by extension its founder and Chairman into the elite league of hospitality industry big players.
People may have easily forgotten his name as a construction giant, but Owoyemi as a big player in the hospitality industry is still phenomenal. Why did he go into hospitality?
“It was the entrepreneurial spirit in me,” he said. “I decided to switch in 1995. I have been running up and down for contracts, and I looked at it and said, what can I do that will give me rest of mind? I mean something that will give me my daily bread that I would not be moving from one office to another. Contracts are good but are seasonal. I have a friend that normally comes from London, and stays in Eko Hotel and Suites. Eko Hotel was the only luxury hotel with 500 rooms around Victoria Island then and it was always fully booked. Then I said to my friend, even though we don’t have Eko Hotel, let’s have something around here that would be nicely built.
“This my friend said yes, we can. Within two days he got us a property opposite Eko Hotel, which is the first Protea in Nigeria. We started in 2001 and it was commissioned in October 2003. I don’t even have any experience with luxury hotels. I just wanted rooms that can be used. But another friend came and said there are some people who want to invest in Nigeria, that is Protea Hotel, which is well known in South Africa, and once you have that brand, people will stay there. So I listened to this friend and when we called Protea management from South Africa, they quickly came here and took the drawings and designed this property. This hotel had just 42 bedrooms. Did you know people checked out from Eko Hotel to this place? By the weekend people come in for business, they check out and we prepare again for the whole of the weekend. The place was properly designed as a boutique hotel.”
With his success story on the Island, Owoyemi moved to the Mainland, opposite Sheraton Hotel where he got another landed property.
“Sheraton was the only good hotel in the whole of Ikeja and Mainland. And I said, ‘How do we get property? That night somebody said there is a property that belongs to Jagal by Adebowale. So, after we finished this one in October 2003, we went there and saw the property in GRA. We paid USD1.5 million in 2004 to secure the property. After consulting with the government, construction started on the property. That was how we started and by the grace of God we are moving forward as a new project is currently unfolding in Abuja.”
The hotel business would later provide succour from the mining business in Offa. The town’s epileptic power supply crumbled the business.
Owoyemi’s feats are not defined solely by his business achievement; he has equally distinguished himself as a philanthropist, mixing humility with humanity. His generosity has earned him numerous honours and awards. For his outstanding performance in the industry, the Sun Newspaper awarded Owoyemi the Nigerian Hospitality Man of the Year on February 18, 2017.
He is much loved as an illustrious son of the soil. He was conferred with the honorary chieftaincy title of Bashorun of Offa by his Royal Majesty, Oba Mustapha Olawore Olanipekun Ariwajoye II, the late Olofa of Offa in 2005. He had had to relinquish this title for the higher one.
In a couple of days, Owoyemi will be conferred as Asiwaju of Offa by His Royal Highness, Oba Mufutau Muhammed Gbadamosi Okikiola Oloyede, Ajagungbade 1, Esuwoye II. This makes him the third person to hold this preeminent position after his immediate predecessor the late Chief Emmanuel Adesoye who held the position until January 2020 and the late Chief Josiah Sunday Olawoyin who was the very first to hold the position.
The conferment of this prestigious title, therefore, recognises Owoyemi’s exceptional commitment and contributions to the development of Offa land and Nigeria in general. “I thought it was a joke when the information got to me. I am not a politician but the young and the old and people from all walks of life have demonstrated their love for me. We have people that are more than qualified for this and I asked myself why me? It is God’s grace.”
Reeling out his plans for his people, Owoyemi said he aims to build on the existing legacy of assisting people through empowerment programmes. “We have a committee handling that. They are going to focus on whatever the needs of the people are, we have been doing that before but we want to improve on it now.”
Behind every successful man is his strong backbone. Owoyemi praised his wife of 41 years and the mother of his six successful children whom he met in Kaduna.
“My loving, peaceful and caring wife is Alhaja Rianat Bola Owoyemi. We both met in Kaduna but she is from Offa. We got married in 1980. I love my peace of mind and my wife gives me peace. So, it has been a wonderful journey.”
And the attraction?
“Well, I just saw a young lady doing her part-time training on Secretarial Studies and I also was doing part-time studies at Kaduna Poly. The union is blessed with six wonderful children. We have three of them in the country now, they are the ones that are interested and we have been working together. At least, to control the hospitality aspect because it is too big and it is not something I can do alone.”
From zero to a hero, Owoyemi success attests to his many years of perseverance and hard work. As he ends the conversation with this reporter, he gives a few tips on how to be on top of your game in any profession.
“Don’t be too ambitious. Concentrate on what your strength is and don’t follow the bandwagons. Don’t invest in a business that you don’t understand. Sometimes people want investors to come and invest in their businesses that have been in existence for decades. Why? If you manage it well you won’t call for people to come and invest in it. If you are sure of it you will want to do it successfully.
For me, I take life easy and take each day as it comes,” he concluded