BusinessDay
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Olusegun Osunkeye: Of rectitude and professionalism

History will never forget how great men lived their lives, says the sage. So let it be with Chief Olusegun Oladipo Osunkeye, a contemporary business and management titan who traversed the Nigerian boardrooms with bespoke glee like a colossus. With a record 41 unbroken years with Nestle, it was obvious that his skills were so abundant and enduring to the extent that he became an oracle of some sort within the Nigerian industrial landscape. Being decorated with the three highest national hours (Officer of the Order of the Niger, Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic and Commander of the Order of the Niger) within a spate of 10 years is also an indication of his relevance and recognition within the Nigerian development space.

This is particularly a record very rare for people within the corridors of the national economy. These attributes typify the fact that Oshunkeye has never touched anything without embellishing it to a very significant level. To say that he has been idolised by the country’s industrial titan is about saying the obvious based on the abundant records that trail his passage on the sands of the Nigerian times. Within all the time he held sway within the Nigerian organized private sector he remained the barometer with which the picture of national productivity was measured, considering his insistence on standards, transparency, philanthropy, equal opportunity and engagement with government for policy initiatives. His footprints are obviously embedded on the last pages of the various national industrial master plan documents over the years.

At 80, Oshunkeye is still strong to peruse through the good words about him as a respite from God whom he has served even at this time in various forms and times within his Anglican Church of Nigeria platform where he has been decorated and honoured with 16 different positions between 1993 and today. This does not in any way diminish his standing as a super ego within his cultural enclave where his community relevance has also endured him with the highest title in the land.

He has obviously given much to his environment in the form of service and has really desired so much from government, religious and cultural institutions. His has been an admixture of responsible service to various institutions that propagate the growth of humanity and its needs. His record of excellence in management has become the precursor of his other contributions to national development and point of contact with all that needed his expertise as well as the rallying point for the entire services he has rendered to humanity.

As a professional accountant, Oshunkeye has been in love with numbers, each time the numbers did not meet his projection it matters a lot to him, but most of the time it did. As an incredible optimist, they really count and that was why he insisted (in 1991) on hitting N1 billion turnover at Nestle against the optimism of his contemporaries whom he proved very wrong. “I wanted us to achieve over one billion Naira turnover in 1992 and some of them said that it was impossible. But I told them that it was very possible with them because I had faith in their ability, they had been well trained and motivated. Lo and behold, we achieved N1,025 million (N1.02 billion) by team work, corporation, understanding and unity of purpose by all. I was the leader and I led from the front”. He established critical success factors as a reputable CEO, some of which included transparency, honesty and integrity. With all these, trust and confidence visited him as birth rights with which his journey to the corporate world rolled down like waters.

Recognitions to Oshunkeye by his colleagues have always been naturally tailored to capture the real essence of his level of professionalism and off-handish display of intelligence. Ten years ago, when he was 70, his boss at Nestle headquarters in Switzerland noted that, ”in the 36 years that I have known you, you have been and remained an example of rectitude, professionalism and great human qualities. It is people like you who have instilled in me a love for Africa and the belief that with the right approach the many difficulties along the way can be overcome and a brighter future for the people achieved.

In discussions on the subject of African development, I often refer to my experiences in your market, where the company managed by you was able, despite a harsh business climate, to uphold in all respect a standard of quality which matched the best in the Nestle universe”. This was a rare expression from a boss and a confession that left the manufacturing institutions on his feet. Alexander Jost, Oshunkeye’s boss, wrote an opus on him. Here, Oshukeye was not just seen by Mr Jost as an industry titan but an “African Ambassador.”

A Kings College of Lagos product, and proficiently trained accountant and administrator from England, no professional management body left him out of their fellowship award roll-call while he was as well bestowed with most prized doctorate award of universities. The numerous awards in the country are competing for space on the shelf in his home, as they want to keep their presence with a man they see as a consultant and mentor of immense quantifiable value.

Born on September 7 1940,in Agege, Lagos State, he had his secondary school education at Kings College, Ikoyi, Lagos from 1954 to 1958 after which he obtained professional accounting education while working with Akintola Williams and company where he was highly recommended and offered a very strong support as one of the very strong accounting trainees. By 1965, he had passed all the requisite tests to qualify him as an outstanding accountant, having qualified by passing the ACCA finals as well as that of the Institute of Taxation of  UK.

From that moment, his work history changed as he went from one executive training to another across the world and was at the same time being head-hunted for one top position to another. He was as great and as important  in all his areas of service but the crowning glory of his career and professional engagement was better seen from the prism of his over 40 years in Nestle Foods, where he led a revolution in corporate performance while using that revered position to be of greater value to his country, Nigeria.

The Babalaje of Egbaland is married with children who are making their mark in various fields of human endeavour. For now, he has found time to spread his dictum in public places of professional and intellectual background in his bid to continue to contribute in making Nigeria a better place to live. When next time you see him in the church as an “alter boy” do not just mind, because it does not matter to him: that is the way he lives his life with God.

Ogbulie is a Lagos-based financial journalist.

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