The chairman, Aeroland Group and Sole Representative of Virgin Atlantic/GTMC Training Institute in Nigeria, Segun Adewale, who is also the National Vice Chairman, National Association of Travel Agent of Nigeria (NANTA), speaks with TUNDE OGUNESAN about his success story and how he established the travel agency without capital.
I was born in Alimosho area, Lagos State, though I am from Ekiti State. When you get to Alimosho where I grew up, you will be welcomed by poverty. But I thank God that I had the privilege of believing in God’s dream for my life and it is materialising.
I attended the Seventh Day Adventist Primary School, Abule-Oja, Lagos State. That was around 1972–1978 and then went to Oriwu College, Ikorodu, for my secondary school education. I got my secondary school leaving certificate in 1983. Then, I proceeded to the University of Ibadan, Oyo State to study Geography and capped it all with a Master’s degree in Public Administration.
I remembered vividly my experience at the Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos State during my Master’s years. I was doing commercial taxi popularly known as kabu kabu’ from Iyana Oba, LASU to Iyana Ipaja to pay my school fees. I was using one Toyota starlet for the commercial route and I was very popular with it. On a few days when I discovered that I did not make enough money, I had to embark on night trips to Abeokuta and Sango Ota around 8.30-9 p.m. and return by 10 p.m. That route used to have a large turnout of commuters at night. I did all that to pay my school fees. I kept on pushing, and with my belief that if you are really close to God, know Him and the reason you were created, you can become somebody.
Establishing Aeroland Travels
One man, Mercy Ron said the moment you imagine why God created you, your problem is 50 per cent solved. The reason many people are poor today is that they don’t know why they were created by God. I started my business—Aeroland that way.
I studied Geography and I said I wanted to be on my own, though I had no money. But I still believed that I would make it. I was reading a book and the author said that “it is not what you study that matters, it is what you know.” Most of us, our emphasis is on what we study and not what we know. Nigeria has changed from what you studied in school to what you know. And if I have to say anything about entrepreneurship, job creation and all sorts, I think with my practical example, it is a story I can tell anytime if you wake me up in the dead of the night. I still maintain that to really make it, it is not what you study but what you know! I am quite sure that many people are students of this school of thought.
However, academic background makes reasoning in this regard better, easier achieved than otherwise. I can teach anybody on how to start a business without having a capital. I started my business without capital. I had an idea because I studied Geography. After my Master’s degree, it was very glaring that the jobs were not there, so I said ‘let me start a business in the aviation industry,’ because of the way it was being run was not proper. I concluded in my mind that I would go there and make a difference.
I met one guy, Layi Abidemi, in 1995 after concluding my Master’s degree. I told him I wanted to register a company and he said it would cost me about N27, 000. I can’t get the money but I was determined to raise it. With my wife, we ventured into the kabu kabu business again to raise this money. Unfortunately, we couldn’t raise the money after a very long time, we could only raise N5,000. In those days, kabu kabu business was not like today that you can make thousands of naira in a few days. But I was determined and told myself I won’t relent, believing that one day, with God and knowing the reason I was created, I could become somebody.
I had an experience I can never forget. One day, the clutch cable of my Toyota starlet got cut; so, I became used to driving the car without clutch. I had to use my hand to hang the gear to pick some sets. You can imagine the experience. The wiper was not even working, such that during the rain, as the driver, I also served as wiper. I would bend my head outside to clean the glass.
Despite that, I still believed that one day, I would make it. Though I wasn’t desperate, I could do several things to make money. Even while I was going through all that, I still counselled people on how to make it but I was telling people you can make it.
I remember one day, while we were still occupying a one-room apartment, I was telling my wife that by the time I made it, she would be buying her clothes in America or England. I told her ‘you can’t buy clothes in Nigeria again, because I will be so rich then.’
Now, I try teaching prosperity, so many people. I have motivated many of my drivers and they left to do well, so also my security personnel. Number one thing is number one thing, identify what you are created. What I like is to empower people, let people make it. I don’t like theory; I don’t know how to do it. When God said ‘let there be light’ and there was light, He did not have capital but the faith to make it happen. That is what people lack in the Nigerian society of today. Many people have their business dreams perished looking for capital. You can start something little with a daunting spirit. That was how I started. So, I raised the money, got the business registration done and started from somewhere. Why people stay long on the level of raising capital, the dream perished. They want to start on a high, but no, it doesn’t work that way.
Today, I have other businesses that grew from Aeroland but I still maintain my first business.
It is simple. You don’t need all the theories of this world to do that. I am a living example. It has to do with the people, their belief in God’s purpose—what they were created to do. For example, one of my director once said: “Lagos is the only place in the world where you can pick money on the street.” You must recognise this and make it work for you. I have a driver, Peju, who now resides in Canada with his family. I saw his passion for success and I said let’s teach you what I did to get to where I am now. I thought him how to do travels, he is now abroad and he is doing fine. If he had waited for capital, he might not do anything at the end of the day. I noticed his passion, and assisted him. That is the point.
Also, two weeks ago, I saw an elderly woman around 70-year-old selling pap very early around 7 a.m. I parked my car, met her and bought all the pap. I told her ‘this pap is nice and I want you to be supplying us at Aeroland.’ The total cost of the pap was N2,000, so instead of her hawking on the road, she now prepares it for us and goes home earlier, healthier and makes her money.
This is simple entrepreneurship. We drink champagne of N30,000 but to empower people in this class doesn’t appeal to much people in the society. I can give her more money, but let her supply the pap for all of us at the office to drink. Now, she is not hawking again, she brings the pap three times a week to our office and we pay her N6, 000.