CHIEF OLUSEGUN OSUNKEYE, CON, OFR, DFIoD, D.SC @ 80.
“Lives of great men remind us/that we can make our lives sublime/and departing/leave behind us/footprints on the sand of time.”
I have met some great men in my life – especially in the USA. My first marriage was to a white lady – who was one of the grandchildren of the man who founded the Kellogg’s Cornflakes empire. We lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts where I had my first house before the divorce. Through my reluctant in-laws, I met dozens of America’s richest and most powerful. Later, I worked for Polaroid Corporation whose founder Dr Edwin Land invented the first wait-and-get camera. Dr Land was extremely liberal and he had all young and bright managers to be rotated to work in his office. I was there for six months with the richest man in America at the time when POLAROID was top ten among the FORTUNE 500 Companies. There again, I met extremely wealthy people.
During my long involvement with the Black Civil Rights movements from 1965 till 1974, Dr Martin Luther King, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Rap Brown etc had graced meetings I attended. I worked briefly for Senator Edward Kennedy.
The same is true of my life in Nigeria. I will not mention the great Nigerians who by God’s grace I have met. But, seriously, that will take half the page and detract from my mission today which is to pay tribute to one of Nigeria’s greatest men whose major fault is self-effacement. He did more for our country than virtually all the members of our National Assembly since 1999 without a single taint of corruption usually associated with powerful Nigerians through whose hands billions (perhaps trillions) of naira had passed. He represents Nigeria’s gold standard in corporate and social life. At one time his name on the Board of Directors of any company immediately conferred on it the status of blue chip.
“Integrity is not a 90 per cent or even a 99 per cent thing. It is a hundred per cent thing.” That was the view of the President of one of America’s greatest universities. That is the yard stick I have used to judge Chief Olusegun Osunkeye ever since I knew him. Less than a dozen men and two women, in various walks of life, known to me have attained that standard. Invariably, they are generous but not noisy or frivolous. They pay you extremely well for work done. In that regard, they promote the ethics of honest work which is therefore entitled to its rewards. They also insist on top quality performance and invariably encourage the search for excellence. Most important of all, they lead by good example. Thus, as leaders, they build everyone around them with two loving hands. I am writing a testimony as one of those who learnt at the feet of the unassuming sage and teacher. I am aware that most of my readers must have been wondering if anybody ever meets my high standards for leadership. They no longer need to wonder because here is one example of a Nigerian whose life and conduct have exceeded all that can be required of any person. Writing a tribute to Chief Osunkeye is therefore not just a solemn duty, it is an absolute pleasure which will be repeated when he clocks 90. That is a promise.
“A well-written life is almost as rare as a well-spent one.”
Thomas Carlyle, 1795-1881, VBQ p 131.
Chief Osunkeye has lived a well-spent 80 years on earth – most of it in our very difficult environment — where it is extremely rare to “move with thieves and keep your virtue or with kings and not lose the common touch”. But, this rare specimen of a Nigerian has managed to do just that. Frankly speaking, he deserves a better writer than me to pen his tribute. I don’t write well and let me be the first to admit it. But, Chief and all his well-wishers will just have to accept this as my best effort. At any rate, even the most eloquent words are sometimes inadequate to express our deepest feelings for another human being.
Who is Chief Olusegun Osunkeye – whose every step in life has excellence written all over it? A long book is needed to capture this life in all its human glory. So, what follows is a tiny tip of a huge mountain.
Just as a man is known by the company he keeps, he is also known by the company which keeps him for several decades. Chief Osunkeye is known as Mr Nestle which according to its Managing Director/Chief Executive officer on the occasion of the Chief’s 70th birthday celebration is “the leading Nutrition, Health and Wellness Company in Nigeria.” Modesty must be a corporate characteristic at Nestle. Otherwise Mr Martin Woolnough should have added “and the world”. Nestle worldwide is so huge, its annual budget on research will fund Nigeria’s budget with change to spare. That was the company which “the man has served in our boardroom for a staggering 37 years.” It must be some sort of record for a company which demands excellence of its staff at all times.
Starting in 1972 as Management Accountant/Company Secretary, he was appointed an Executive Director in 1973. In rapid succession, by any standards, he became Deputy Managing Director in 1981; Managing Director in1988; Managing Director/Chief Executive in 1991 and Chairman of the Board of Directors in 1999. He also served in Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines and Switzerland. Certainly, he must have left a trail of enviable record in every country where he served, and, if you permit my chauvinism, as an unofficial ambassador of Nigeria. We are not done yet. Let us examine the quantitative achievements then move to the breath-taking social responsibility track record.
Woolhough speaking again said: “In 1988 when Chief Osunkeye became MD, Nestle Nigeria had a turnover of N239 million. By 1999 when he was retiring as MD/CEO, this had grown to N7 billion.” Now, let us place that statement into its proper perspective. Chief Osunkeye became MD/CEO in the middle of our historic Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, and ended his tenure while the impact of the adjustment was still being felt. Yet, he led the company to increase the turnover by 30 times! Incredible is too mild a word to describe this achievement when compared with those of other companies. It merely proves the point made by Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882, once again that “An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man.” I became acquainted with Chief Osunkeye just about the time he mounted the saddle as MD/CEO. So, I had a ring side seat to all the other events which followed. Unfortunately, only a few will fit into the space allotted today. But, check these out and be marvelled by what one man can do to impact his society positively without seeming to break a sweat. Most of us would not live to 60 if we tried it.
Selflessness and vision summarise what Chief Osunkeye achieved for his people in Ogun State. For him “charity begins at home” was not just a slogan, it was his way of life. And he lived it to the fullest. Some might even say his cup of benevolence sometimes runs over. Here is the evidence summarised. You might need a calculator to fully understand this segment. 1. He deftly facilitated the construction and commissioning of the Agbara manufacturing complex which is one of the largest Nestle factories in the world. 2. He also supervised the construction of one of the largest Distribution complex in Nigeria, at Otta. 3. Construction and installation of the Sorghum Malt Extract Plant which is one of only two in the world of Nestle transforming sorghum to malt extract. 4. Construction and commissioning of Hydrolised Plant Protein. That was in Nestle and the combined effects of all these was to save Nigeria $40 million (N15.4 billion at today’s exchange rates) as at 1990. It was a demonstration of faith in Nigeria unequalled by any other company. 5. Nestle, under his Chairmanship, built a N12 billion factory on a 36 hectares land at the Abeokuta/Shagamu expressway. He was still not finished with building Ogun State and Nigeria.
He was also into health care. As Chairman of GLAXOSMITHKLINE CONSUMER NIGERIA PLC, the company embarked on N20 billion investments to upgrade the facilities for manufacturing – making GSK Nigeria a centre of manufacturing excellence in Nigeria.
Chief Osunkeye after serving on the Board of Lafarge Africa Plc 9formerly Lafarge WAPCO Nigeria Plc for 15 years (2000-2015); became Chairman in 2009 till 2015 and in 2011 the company completed a N70 billion factory at Ewekoro, Ogun state. Altogether, this man facilitated the construction of factories and industrial complexes in Ogun state which, at today’s prices would approach half a trillion naira in value. And he still was not finished.
Babangida established the Universities of Agriculture with the promulgation of the Federal Universities of Agriculture, Decree 48, 1992. But, it was Chief Osunkeye who, with the active support of Nestle, who turned the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, FUNAAB, into the indisputable first among the six. The brightest and best applicants for admission to Nigeria’s universities of Agriculture aim for FUNAAB, the rest of them get whatever is left. And there is a powerful reason. Chief Osunkeye established a linkage programme between Nestle and FUNAAB called “Town meets Gown” which has enabled Nestle and him to provide funds for research, development of the university’s own farm; the establishment of farm extension services in Ogun and Oyo states. The university also supplies Nestle with farm produce worth several hundred naira per annum. He had donated his own personal money – worth millions– for the upgrade of ICT, scholarships and prizes. If Babangida had wanted a kind-hearted soul to adopt and nurture FUNAAB, he could not have asked God for a better Dad. He has done more for FUNAAB than anybody else alive has done for any university of Agriculture in Nigeria. He has also been involved with other universities which cannot now be highlighted because of space again.
“For if things are done under the guidance of God, it is to be expected that our doings will ever prosper.” Xenophon, 434-355 B.C, in HELLENICA.
Long before Jesus walked the Earth and the first lines of the Bible were written, wise men, in the Age of Alexander, had learnt to yoke their lives to the teachings and service of God. Chief Osunkeye represents the modern version of men who served their creator with equal zeal as they did their family and company. Again, here is the evidence. “Chief Olusegun Osunkeye, … is a Diocesan Adviser Plenipotentiary, and he was proclaimed as Diocesan father of the Diocese of Lagos West at the Synod Thanksgiving Service held in 18 May 2014. On 20 November 2019, he was invested as a FELLOW of the Diocese of Lagos West on the occasion of the creation of the Diocese. He is Diocesan Layreader and a Servant of the Most High God at the Altar (Alter Server 1996-2014). He is now President Emeritus of the Guild of Altar Servers of the Diocese of Lagos West.”
To explain fully how Chief reached the peak among Diocesans in Lagos West would also require a whole book by itself. It is safe to state that no important decision is taken at the Diocese without consulting with him; quorum is not formed for an important meeting until his arrival. Given that the God in his infinite wisdom allocated twenty four hours a day to Presidents and paupers, it is obvious that Chief Osunkeye served God, Nigeria, Ogun State, FUNAAB, family and friends with equal fervour and intensity. He forgot to serve himself. In that regard, although he attended Kings College, Lagos, he embodies and exemplifies the Motto of that other great school during his generation – Methodist Boys High School. “Non sibi sed allis (Latin), meaning “Others first; self last.” He was selfless beyond comparison.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHIEF.
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