I can’t explain why I married late —Oloruntimehin
Technology company, CISCO System, is a household name. Its Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Olakunle Oloruntimehin, speaks about his life to SEGUN KASALI.
YOU were born into an educated family. How has it helped you in life?
My parents were both professors and I grew up inside Obafemi Awolowo University campus. My primary school education was also in the campus. Those early days shaped my life and who I have become today. The desire for excellence comes to me naturally and in some cases, taken for granted. Well, my father and mother are professors, so it comes naturally that you need to do well in school because there is that burden of expectation from you; even when you don’t do well, you are lauded. I am not a professor, but I am sure if I tried to be, I would have been successful too. I was doing well in my primary school. I was one of the youngest pupils to be admitted into secondary school.
Apart from burden of expectations, there must have been the benefits of being a professor’s child, like comfort money could buy and recognition
Recognition, I would agree, but that also comes with its unique burden as the community would expect a minimum level of responsibility and good behaviour.
There must be disadvantages of being the youngest in the class
Growing up in a relatively small family has helped to have some adult traits at that time. Maturity came quite quickly. I wasn’t discriminated against because people didn’t know who I was until I told them because I was as big as other kids that were older than I was. But I was always careful not to reveal my age.
Hope you didn’t get into embarrassing situation of wooing an older lady who eventually pulled out after finding out she was older.
I didn’t have such misfortune.
Was your dad one of those professors with rigid discipline regime?
No. He never raised his hand to beat me. Not necessarily that I was a good boy, but it wasn’t his style. The way he disciplined was to make sure he was very close to you. So, he was a friend and from that friendship, you would try not to disappoint him. I was more interested in not letting him down. I think that was the better approach and that is what I do with my kids. I don’t think corporal punishment or threatening people is good, although there might be a place for that. I think if you are close to your children, you will get them to do things you really want them to do.
If your dad wasn’t a disciplinarian, he must be a socialite then.
I recall he used to go to the university staff club and he took me along a few times. I met a lot his friends and interracted with their children.
What are the lessons you learnt from him?
A lot. His strive for excellence. He made sure that whatever one did, you did it right. You don’t do what you won’t be proud of. He taught me about integrity too and also doing the things you say you would do. If you are disciplined, it gives you better focus, which makes you to be more productive. And then, loyalty is key. We are all humans. As we go through life, we are a work in progress. I look at people’s strengths, which has been my strategy today. I focus a lot on my strengths because it is easier a lot to improve your strengths and radically change your weaknesses.
Was your mother the opposite of your father?
My mother is a professor of Sociology, with specialisation in Criminology. At a time, she taught me Mathematics. She had enough time after school to help me with my homework. She was more of a disciplinarian in a traditional way, though she was not necessarily the opposite of my father.
At that age, did you fear your mother more than you feared your father?
Maybe a little.
Why were you called Omo Agba? Did it have anything to do with staying with your grandmother?
No. But I had my grandmother with me at some point and learnt a few things from her. I have a sister that is nine years older than me. I grew up around adults. I didn’t have a sibling that was that close to me in age. So, I think that was the reason I was called Omo Agba.
Why is the age gap between you and your sister that wide?
You would have to ask my parents.
Did your mother spare the rod?
She regularly applied some punishment. She would tell you to go to the corner and raise your hands, with your eyes closed. I think I went to play football one day and I didn’t tell anybody where I was going. That was a time that cases of missing children were rampant, even though I didn’t know if it was validated or not. My mother got worried. I didn’t come back home on time because I was carried away with the sport. I took my time to stroll back home until past seven. It was one of the times that I got her really mad at me.
How was Command School then and did you ever want to be a military man?
Command Secondary School, Ibadan. was a boarding school and my experience while there was good. I believe that further cemented my character. It never crossed my mind to join the military. I had a plan to be an aeronautic engineer, with the plan to do it abroad. You know when you are in a boarding school and you have friends, you bond with like minds and you get to understand how you are expected to function collectively. That was what Command did. They took discipline to another level there. We woke up early in the morning to do drills, jog, among others. Till today, I still wake up every day before 5 a.m. I think you need to be at a certain level to survive in that school, especially because I was the youngest. Coming into the school, you have to survive with the seniors, you have to survive your entire environment. It was the first time I was away from home.
It happens every time and seniors will be seniors. Looking back, those senior students looked like giants, but they were just 12, 13 and 14 years old then. Even when they picked on me, I knew how to negotiate my way out of the situation.
Negotiating at that young age?
You only needed to know how to negotiate. I could negotiate with my provisions. Besides, my father was a member of the PTA of the school. He visited me regularly and I got a lot of pocket money that I could negotiate with.
How common was pilfering in such a regimented environment?
A lot things got stolen by the way, but the thing that was stolen from me, which pained me, was my Walkman with the cassette in it. It was quite catastrophic because I didn’t only listen to music with it, but I also had some motivational talks on it. I was a senior student then. It was outrageous that it could be stolen from me because I never imagined there could be anyone who had the gut to steal from me. I put a search out and found that it was one of the junior students that I had given access to my locker. I was very nice to the boy. That was my early case of betrayal. He was dealt with by other people, not even me.
You sound like a big boy then.
Would I call myself a big boy? I was just having fun in terms of balancing education and social life. I played football and I also was into athletics. I was able to strike that balance between studies and also being a sportsman. Like I told you, I grew up in an academic environment. Many times, I had to live with that burden. I think it’s a good burden. You would expect that to come from somebody that is a child of two professors.
There must be an incident from Command still with you.
There is one that’s still very vivid in my mind. We went to a Command Secondary School in Abakaliki to play football. It was a two-legged affair. We went to play the first leg in Abakaliki. We travelled in a military bus accompanied by a few soldiers. Somewhere close, I can’t remember, we actually encountered armed robbers. The soldiers told us to lie down in the bus because they didn’t want the armed robbers to know that there were children in the bus. The robbers blocked the road, so we had to slow down. We saw torchlights flashing around from the bush, so they could see the military inscription on the bus. They were scared because they didn’t know how many soldiers were in the bus, but they were just two soldiers. I couldn’t even say if they had guns with them. We laid there for about 20 minutes. The robbers didn’t come out from the bush. Then, one of the soldiers got down and cleared the roadblock and we continued on our journey. I remember it was a very bad pitch. We were received very well. We played and we lost 2-0. I remember coming to our school and everybody was expectant to hear that we had won, but we lost. I remember everybody in the bus raised two fingers up and the students thought we had won 2-0. It was later they found out that they had beaten us 2-0 and they were disappointed. However, we defeated them in the second leg.
You must have been terrified.
Surprisingly, I wasn’t afraid. It was an adventure for me. I think it was because as kids, you have very little to lose. But some were praying.
What happened to your dream of becoming an aeronautic engineer.
In the lower studies, I had in mind to become an aeronautic engineer because I was preoccupied with how planes could fly and what kind of engineering was behind the planes to make it fly. At a time, that remained. Then, somebody was like, we don’t have that in Nigeria and maybe you have to do mechanical engineering. So, I also thought of that. I thought of cars and how to make things in motion. Then, finally, I settled down for electronics and electrical engineering at Ife because that gave me the electrical part and also the electronic part.
Were you still your introvert self in the university?
Yes. Till today, I am still accused of being an introvert. But the mistake people make is that introverts are not social people. Nobody is 100 per cent introverted and nobody is 100 per cent extroverted. It just means the typical behaviour you exhibit on the average is introvert. I did socials in the university. We did activities like football, we attended parties. We didn’t really have clubs per se in Ife. So, we had something like a rave sometimes whereby some people would organise a party, called the DJ. So, it wasn’t really a club thing. It wasn’t like what you have in Lagos.
Life appears to be consistently good after school.
That was a different story entirely. When I was in my final year, I did CISCO exam and at that time, I was perhaps the first person to have attempted it while still in school. A lot of people did the Microsoft one, but I chose to do the CISCO one and had placement offers for my NYSC because of the CISCO exam. So, you see that my journey in CISCO actually started a long time ago and because of that certification, I was able to get my first job, did the NYSC and moved on to my second job and this is my third job. So, I have been in CISCO for 14 years. My first job was in Shell BP as an IT projects engineer and from there, I went to MTN as a network engineer.
Did you meet Mrs Oluwaseun Oloruntimehin at Ife?
No, that was much later. You mean my wife? I was surprised you know her. We met through a common friend that was incidentally at Ife. I think he was in Civil Engineering but I have known him since we were in school. He didn’t want me to stay long before getting married because I was relatively old when I got married to my wife. Most of my friends had gotten married and I wasn’t married. He was saying he did not want me to remain a perennial bachelor. So, he gave me her number and said I should call her. So, I said I would call. He wasn’t a friend that I get to see all the time. So, I didn’t even take him seriously and I put the number aside. Apparently, he had told her that I was going to call her but she didn’t get any phone call. So, they ran into each other and my friend asked her if she had started talking to me. She said I had not called her. My friend called me in anger, asking me what was wrong with me. So, I said okay I would call her now. So, I called her. We met and the rest is history.
Why the delay in getting married?
It just didn’t happen earlier until I found the right person.
How did you step things up with her?
We were friends first because we talked a lot on the phone and I think there is something also divine about it because I don’t do somebody arranging a relationship. I think that was why I didn’t initially call. She was much younger than I was, but she was mature. There was something refreshing about her because I was always looking forward to talk to her. We talked for a long time before we agreed to start a conjugal journey.
What vice is she trying to change in you?
I won’t call it a vice because I don’t really have one. I get accused most times of not checking on people. There are times that I may not call my friends, my mother and father for a whole week and even when these people call me at times, I won’t pick. Someone even recently got angry with me and said I should call now because he had been calling me for a few days. She says: ‘you just enjoy your own space.’ I think that comes from living like an only child. I grew up enjoying my space enjoyed being by myself, but that attitude can’t work in relationships. People who understand always make excuses for me. So, I am not the best at reaching out to people or calling and saying: how are you doing or even saying merry Christmas. But she has helped me to deal with that. If I am not calling my parents enough, she calls them on a daily basis, gives them update on how I am doing. She is complementing me in that aspect. But if there is one thing you want done and you ask me, and you get my support on it, rest assured that it’s done. Once I give you my words, I have given you.
Who can you see yourself in, especially in the aspect of not reaching out, among your children?
My son. Most of his friends are in school. He doesn’t really have friends and he also has learnt the bad trait of not reaching out to people. He plays game and he could be on that all day long.
Have you helped him manage this?
I try to take him out by making sure he gets into sports and by so doing, gets to interact with others and he has made some friends.