Olusola Teniola: I Plan to Retire as a Farmer

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Comely, brainy and stylish,Olusola Teniola is a first-class technologist born in London. A computer and information engineer with an exclusive pedigree, his exceptional skill fetched him big roles in institutions like British Telecoms and Alcatel-Lucent Technology,the Chief Executive Officer of Internet Solutions Nigeria, a Pan-African Information Communication Technology ( ICT) firm that has earned high-profile deals in private and public companies in Nigeria and overseas. Recently, he was elected sixth President of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON). Teniola, who clocked 50 recently speaks with Omolabake Fasogbon on the relevance of ATCON in the country, Nigeria’s telecommunication firms,the future of the industry, his life in the past 50 years and his plan to retire as a farmer

You just clocked 50.Looking back, what have been your greatest achievements?
I’ve lived a privileged life, born in London, schooled in the UK, worked for some of the best telecom companies in the world alongside some of the best brains in the world and being able to bring this to bear in Nigeria. My greatest achievement is to have done all this with a loving and adorable family that has supported me and continues to do so.

So far, have you any regret in life?
None. Everything has been a journey.

We know 50 is a golden age, but some people still go on a low key celebration. Why do you feel the need to celebrate it big and what will you be celebrating?
I would have naturally celebrated my 50th birthday in London where my dad, siblings, and a number of my cousins and friends live. However, in recognition that I also have a family in Nigeria, acquaintances, and colleagues; it is only a great way to thank God and them for their support in the last seven years I’ve been back in Nigeria.

As the new president of ATCON, how did you feel when you were announced the association’s winner of the election that fetched you this new role ?
Humbled and with a great sense of responsibility.

How do you intend to run the association and what footprint would you want to leave behind upon the completion of your two year term?
I truly believe in servant-leadership style and this means serving our members, the industry and consumers to solve the various problems that we shall encounter. The legacy I seek is a stronger association in its advocacy capability both in Nigeria and worldwide.

You have headed ATCON For three months. What have been your impacts in the association so far?
My leadership is one of service and to this, I set myself three top priorities to do within my first 100 days in office. They are collaborating more with all stakeholders in the industry and this has happened in the first 30 days; attended West Africa Telecom Awards in Accra and gave keynote speech – this is the first time that this has been done and the outcome is that under my leadership, ATCON will introduce industry awards in the near future to match that being performed on an annual basis in Ghana and also, we are revamping our web presence and portal, which effectively brings a total rebranding of our image. This brand identity is key to ATCON’s future in this digital age.

Beside ATCON, you are also managing a pan-African Information Communication Technology ( ICT) firm, Internet Solutions, how do you combine these roles?
In fact, I’ve been fortunate to have a great team around me in both ATCON and Internet Solutions. They provide the necessary support for me to remain effective. With them, there’s no vacuum.

What are the contributions of Internet Solutions to Nigerian telecommunications system
Internet Solutions was involved in providing communication services to a majority of well-known banks, government agencies and key security institutions.

How much of family time have ATCON and Internet Solutions taken away from you ?
All the working time that I don’t spend with my family.

One of the roles of ATCON is to maintain the highest standard of professional and technical conduct in telecommunication sector. In view of this, what effort did the association take to caution MTN’s wrongs before it fell victim of NCC fine?
MTN joined ATCON as a fully active member after the fine. Any member of ATCON can place before us issues that they deem necessary for our intervention and this is a role we take seriously and look to be more proactive in. We have recently solicited from our members to acquaint us with issues that they will need our intervention and this is just one way we influence various decisions that may impact the industry and consumers.

Are you saying that MTN may have escaped the fine if it had joined ATCON earlier?
No, I am not saying that, but maybe things would have been handled in a more expedient manner, if we were able to intervene from the outset.

What has the association learnt from MTN’s scenario and what steps are you taking to ensure such doesn’t happen in future?
We’ve learnt that membership of ATCON is a must for any serious telecoms business operating in Nigeria and we seek to also encourage membership of ICT companies that have exposure to the telecommunication eco-space to join in advocacy functions that will assist in influencing the direction of the telecommunication industry.

Ntel has also joined the list of private telecom companies in Nigeria. Do you see prospect for the new network in Nigeria even in the midst of strong competitors?
I strongly believe that competition is the basis for any healthy market and note that Ntel is not going to be the only new network to launch in Nigeria. The prospect of more types of networks to come is very positive for the industry and the consumers. I believe the prospect of Ntel is just as good as any other network that is operating in Nigeria. However, funding is a major challenge in operating an extensive network in the country and which every player in the industry is aware of.

So, how did you find yourself in engineering?
My earliest memories that I was going to be an engineer according to my father, was my ability to strip apart our black and white television set and refixed it then in the early 70’s when I was much younger. Though my daddy still called a technician to check the TV to be sure it was safe to use. I wanted to be an airline pilot from the time I was 14 years old but my father persuaded me to study engineering.

What are the challenges in engineering?
Dealing with complex problems in a timely manner before one’s solution becomes obsolete.

As a computer and information engineer, what do you know how to do best
Computer programming

A major challenge besetting the country today is insecurity. How do you think technology can be used to tackle this menace?
Big data is the key to solving security problems in the country. Information is the ingredient of intelligence agencies and systems (more automated) are the enabler, alongside reliable connectivity across the country that will transport information to the relevant users. All technology does is to provide an opportunity to change the way we do things and solve problems. When we embrace ‘Big Data’, we have an opportunity to address security issues in the country.

How do you unwind?
I play tennis, squash, golf and spend time with family whenever possible.

As a fashionista,what fashion accessory can you not do without?
Brietling watch.

What Is your most admired asset?
Family.

What is the name of your first mobile phone?
Motorola MicroTAC. Can’t remember how much I paid for that in 1990.

Which is your favourite telecom network?
MTN, Glo, Etisalat, Airtel and Ntel.

Of all the gifts presented to you on your 50th birthday, which is your favourite and who presented it to you?
My wife treated me to a lovely dinner in Athens and that is the best for me.

You are a member of the Institute of Directors, both in Nigeria and London, how has being a member of the IOD affected your managerial attitude?
As far as the institute has helped in shaping my style, my MBA education better influenced my managerial style. It is important that mentorship also helped to mould me into who I am.

Most people usually condemn the choice of polytechnic education, you finding yourself in the polytechnic, was it intentional or conditional?
In the UK and Germany, polytechnics are highly regarded for engineering disciplines and I was fortunate to do mine at South Bank in the 1980s.

In this part of the world, most people believe that it is one’s educational certificate that can pave way for one. However, the likes of Zuckerberg and Bill Gates who are successful today were school drop-outs. What is your take on this?
For the Bill Gates and Zuckerbergers of this world, there are many graduates that have contributed to their success. For instance, in the case of Microsoft, the actual programme sold as the best-selling operating system wasn’t written by Bill Gates but his co-partner. You need a degree in engineering or computer science to succeed in this industry, otherwise, you may need to have the fortune to be a Bill Gates.

Tell us your greatest disappointment in life
My greatest disappointment so far is not being able to get the necessary capital to fund a startup during the dot com boom.

As you set for another phase in life, what are you aiming at?
By the grace of God I shall focus on social projects, serve the nation and retire as a farmer in my village in Idanre. My family is into cocoa production and I want to carry on with the tradition.

Can you take us through your background?
I am the eldest of seven children, born in London and then brought to Nigeria to school in 1977 to 1982, to complete my O’ Levels; studied Engineering after my A‘ Levels. Worked with a number of technology companies during the 90’s and then joined Cisco in 2000 and proceeded to do my MBA (MBath UK) in General Management in year 2002. I ran my first telecom company in 2004 in Portugal and returned to Nigeria in 2009 after being awarded an ISP licence in 2005. Since my return, I’ve had the opportunity to run two telecom companies in Nigeria.