Yemi Sonde’s success stems from a mixture of grit, perseverance and a decided restlessness. In a two-hour long interview, he takes RUTH OLUROUNBI through the start of his journey and where he hopes his destination would be.
In the build up to this interview, you said you’ve been in business as an independent broadcaster for 27 years. I’d like to know how you started, what made you to go into business instead of getting a job like everyone else.
I think as a child, I had an independent mind. Sincerely, when I was very small I didn’t like looking up to my parents, even though I had no choice, but I was not comfortable doing that. I wanted to be on my own; I wanted to think for myself. I’ve always learned to be independent, so I think it started from there. And then, I was a very restless person, I think I still am. I find it very difficult to sit still and I have always loved to work, and do business. I get bored when I do same thing, same way every day, so that informed my decision to do go into business.
Why broadcasting though?
As I child I knew I wanted to be a broadcaster, I knew I was coming into entertainment industry. I had flair for drama and public speaking and for that reason; I decided I wanted to be in the entertainment industry. I think I had that interest when I was in my primary school; I would always be part of the drama group, the drama group that will come on stage during the end of the year drama. I got my interest there as young as I was. When I got to my secondary school, I joined the literary and debating society at school, I like going out and I am an extrovert. I like mixing with people, I like meeting people, I like speaking out, I like speaking for the people, I like making wherever I am lively, and that’s my nature.
You said you had some businesses while in school…?
By the time I was in the university I had some business I was involved in. Businesses like hand made cards, barbing saloon, sales of lab coats, etc. I was doing everything. During our holidays, I would go from the station to Tinka Island with a friend, Tunde, now in Canada to sell cars. So by the time I come back to school I had some money to buy clippers, open a barbing shop, and to run a lab coat business. I had huge lab coat business before I left the school. Remember I was in agric department at the time. I also sold to other departments.
How did you get into media business fully. You did say you had the opportunity to being a parment staff of a radio station?
Yes, I had the opportunity of being a permanent staff of either OGBC or BCOS but remember I said I have a restless spirit? At the time I was gradually becoming a household name so I decided I wanted to expand my scope and make an actual business with it. So I got an office that took care of people will wanted me to anchor an event for them and another office for my broadcasting business. I combined the second office with music videos and cassette sales. At a time, I had video club. I later moved to a bigger office where I started to write stories. From there, I started producing films. You can see that I came into theatre eventually. As you can see, my business has evolved into a full circle. It has metamorphosed into a total entertainment outfit. My business comprised of total entertainment, master of ceremony, VHS marketer, music promotion, and all forms of entertainment production and because of that, I named my company total entertainment but I didn’t register it. I lost that one because I didn’t register it.
Why didn’t you register the name, didn’t you know you supposed to do that?
It wasn’t that I didn’t know, but I didn’t take it seriously. From that, I had to change the name.
If you are to value your current company, how much would you value it?
My dear sister, I can’t say that, we are in Nigeria. But I can just say that the company is in a position where it can service the clients comfortably and professionally.
From your perspective, are there business opportunities in the media industry?
It depends sincerely on your interests, it depends on if you are coming into electronic media, outdoor, print media or digital media. If it is electronic media, I’ll say yes, because that is where I’m grounded. Electronic media now depends on your passion. Are you coming into it from the marketing angle? Are you coming into media agency directly or you want to come into production? If it is production, I’ll now ask about your passion, is it drama, business oriented programme, music chitchat, magazine programmes, sport programme etc. Your involvement depends on the section of the industry you think you would fit in. None of these aspects that are not profitable but they might not be as profitable in an instant as you may have expected. Over time, as long as you are dedicated and truthful, you will make your mark and make profits.
What is the secret that has helped you survive 27 years in business?
You know the saying, ‘honesty as the best policy’? It is not just simply a saying, it’s in the practice. If you are not honest in this business, you cannot make it. So, you have to be upright, you have to deliver and you have to actually know what you want to do. Like I told you, there very big media agencies out there. Some are bigger than us, some of them started like we started, some of them started bigger than us but what has kept us in business is our integrity. Whichever way you want to go in the media, or any other business for that matter, you have to have integrity as your watchword. You must be talented, you must be educated, and you must improve yourself every time because the business environment is not a static one; if you stay where you are now, in the next six months you will discover that you are obsolete, whatever you have as an idea will be obsolete. So you have to move with time, you have to move with trend, you have to improve yourself, you have to read, you have to be alive to your responsibilities. As important as the medical doctors are, so also the media entrepreneurs and media professionals because they are the mouthpiece of the society. They are mirror of the society, they are mind molders as well as opinion molders, and opinion leaders. So, you have to know whatever you are doing.
After 27 years, what do you look forward to?
Strategic expansion. This is about my sixth office and look if through what we have been talking about in the past one and a half hours or so, you will know that the more we grow as a business, the more we expand. And if we say we have office in Lagos, is not to show off, it’s because the job requires we should have another one in Lagos, because we cannot operate everything from Ibadan. Tomorrow we might have another one in Abuja when the need arises, we might have another one in Port Harcourt, but not because we just want to have an expand, but because we need to expand. We are expanding with purpose, we are expanding with a vision and we achieve that, it’s a gradual process.