This witty saying aptly captures the essence of the success story of Chief Olusegun Osunkeye, former Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Nestle Nigeria Plc, one of the leading food and beverage multi-nationals in Africa.
This boardroom guru bestrode the corporate world for close to five decades. Fondly called ‘Mr Nestle’ in corporate circles, he set out early for a life of corporate excellence.
Born on September 7, 1940, in Agege, Lagos, Osunkeye gained admission to King’s College, Lagos, and finished in 1958. He had a stint as a clerk in Lagos, where his path crossed that of the first Nigerian to qualify as a chartered accountant, Chief Akintola Williams. He then began to nurse the consummate passion to be like the Nigerian doyen of accountancy. He consequently began his training as an accountant under Chief Williams’ legendary accounting firm in 1959.
Two years later, he attended the Nigerian College of Art, Science and Technology, Ibadan. He then proceeded in 1963 to the famous College of Commerce, Staffordshire, England, where he qualified as a chartered accountant in 1965, at 25. He worked briefly with a leading firm of chartered accountants in the United Kingdom before returning home in 1967.
The corporate icon worked first with some blue-chip companies like the United African Company (UAC) and Portland Cement (now Lafarge Africa Plc). He later joined Food Specialties Limited (now Nestle Nigeria Plc) in 1972 as a management accountant at the age of 32. It was at Nestle that he displayed rare skills, acumen, diligence and integrity, which stood him out. Then began the meteoric rise that gave him his place in the Nigerian, nay global corporate history.
Osunkeye, who has become a role model to a lot of corporate executives, had the privilege of being sent on overseas training and postings, which helped him hone his management skills. He attended the International Management Institute, Lausanne, Switzerland. He also served at the Nestle International headquarters, Switzerland, and was on secondment to associated companies in The Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia. He soon emerged as an outstanding corporate star within the conglomerate.
He was appointed Executive Director in 1973, became Deputy Managing Director in 1981, Managing Director in 1988 and Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer in 1991. He retired in 1999 as MD/CEO and was appointed chairman, the board of directors the same year. He relinquished the position in 2015.
He had a reputation as a shrewd CEO who deftly squeezed performance no matter the odds. Personally, he exuded virtues of integrity, transparency and perseverance, which endeared him to his bosses at the international headquarters. A stickler for excellence, he was said to be a tough, firm but fair boss. He loathed laziness but aptly rewarded diligence as a deliberate morale booster among the staff.
He championed exemplary corporate social responsibility and ennobling work ethics and ethos. He promoted teamwork among the staff and earned their confidence through leadership by example.
Osunkeye himself reminiscing on his tenure as Nestle CEO, said recently: “I like to look at those times in the 1990s and see them as very fulfilling times because as the CEO, you shape the culture and ethos of the company. You determine what happens and of course, you are expected to achieve results.”
Osunkeye’s streak of success was succinctly captured by Nestle MD/ CEO, Mr Martin Woolnough, during his 70th birthday 10 years ago. He said: “In 1988 when Chief Osunkeye became MD, Nestle Nigeria had a turnover of N239million. By 1999 when he was retiring as MD/CEO, this had grown to N7billion.”
Woolnough then gave a hint about Osunkeye’s success secret formula: “You (Osunkeye),” he added, “have the DNA, the right mix of ambition, skills and humility, together with the right values in life, including a wonderful and loving family and a solid moral compass to guide you based on your faith in God.”
Osunkeye, in the course of his career, had garnered professional appointments and honorary awards too numerous to recount. They include being President of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association and chairman-by-rotation of the Organised Private Sector; chairman of such companies and bodies as Lafarge Africa Plc; GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Nigeria Plc; Omnibus Business Solutions Limited; the International Chamber of Commerce, Nigeria Chapter, among others.
He is a Fellow of the Chartered Association of Certified Accountants, London; Fellow of the Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN); Fellow of the Institute of Directors of Nigeria (IoD) and Honorary Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Food, Science and Technology (FNIFST); Doctor of Science Degree (Honoris Causa) of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, among many others.
He is a three-time recipient of the National Honours Awards — Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON); Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) and Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON).
The Babalaje of Egbaland also serves God with equal zeal. He is a Diocesan Adviser Plenipotentiary and Diocesan Father of the Lagos West Diocese of the Anglican Church. He is equally Diocesan Lay Reader and a servant of the Most High God at the Altar of the Lagos West Diocese.