Described as the Henry Ford of Nigeria, who opened channels of riches and investment for Africans, Dr. Olorogun Michael Ibru’s innate curiosity and eventual greatness comes to me as no surprise. In the words of Ken Robison, “Curiosity is the engine of achievement.”
I recall reading about an incident in his childhood, where a wealthy maternal uncle Ovedje Osadjere, asked him and his brother what they would want as gifts from him. Rather than ask for material gifts and toys in the manner of exuberant youths, Dr. Ibru requested permission to pluck some Cocoa pods from his Uncle’s farm because he needed to carry out an experiment with the liquid from the pods to see if he could brew some drinks from them. This singular event captures the entrepreneurial attributes that were to become the hallmark of his life achievements.
Olorogun (Dr.) Michael Ibru, OFR, was a daring Entrepreneur who never ran away from challenges and ventured where other investors feared to tread. After having acquired intensive business and entrepreneurship skills during his internship with United Africa Company, Dr. Ibru saw opportunities in the frozen fish market and at the young age of 24, took the bold step to go into a business that later became the backbone of the Ibru family’s empire.
How could I have forgotten ‘Oku Eko’? I was only 9 years old and remember going with my mother to the market to buy frozen fish. If the fish seller didn’t have ‘Oku Eko’, no one would buy. This was because without ‘Oku Eko’ in your soup, your pot was as good as empty. This experience has taught me the importance of quality in creating a business empire.
The Ibrus have proven over and over again, like the Rockefellers, Rothschild, the Wright Brothers and Steve Jobs, that innovation is the mother of diversification. Having been successful in the frozen fish business, they diversified into banking, brewing, oil and gas, and farming. The Ibrus have been the largest farm owners since the tank farm revolution in Nigeria.
A very important lesson that struck me from the life of this visionary leader was his selflessness. Dr. Ibru did not just build an empire for himself but was noted to have been instrumental in influencing and changing the financial fortunes of his family. He helped his brothers with their education, gave them stakes in the Ibru organisation and helped them to branch out on their own. His brother Alex Ibru, became the chairman of Rutam Motors and The Guardian. He was also a former Minister for Internal Affairs. Goodie Ibru qualified as a commercial lawyer, became president of the Nigerian Stock Exchange and Chairman of Ikeja Hotels – owners of The Sheraton Hotel. Felix Ibru of blessed memory, studied architecture in Israel, established an architectural firm, and was the Governor of Delta State in 1992.
Great leaders don’t tell you what to do; they show you how it is done. Amongst his people, Dr. Ibru is seen as a major pillar in the economic empowerment of the Urhobo nation especially in the area of human capital development. He was the largest single employer of the Urhobo people and mentored professionals that rose to become leaders in their respective industries.
His efforts at developing the economic landscape of Nigeria and stemming the tide of poverty have not gone unnoticed, as he has a deluge of recognitions and awards for his enterprise and philanthropic activities.
If for anything, the life of Dr. Micheal Ibru has taught us that success is not necessarily amassed by the capacity of your wealth but by the degree to which the lives of the friends, families and society is transformed.