John Ehiguese, CEO of Mediacraft Associates, is a survivor, strong-willed, intelligent, hard-working and in every respect, a self-made man. While his age mates were boys, he was already a man. Ehiguese started taking care of himself from age 15, thus, developing a strong sense of self-reliance, an inner strength that he finds himself always drawing from, to survive. He speaks to Adedayo Adejobi about his travails, success, and how he feels turning 60
- Every man must define what ultimate life success means to him. For me, I am still on that journey
- Given what Life has Dealt me, I Don’t Think I Have Done too Badly
Finishing secondary school at 15, John Ehiguese had to work because there was no money to further his education. Too young and completely unprepared for that experience, he didn’t understand the import, but the whims of life put on his weak shoulders the full responsibility of his sick father at age 20, after his mother died, a responsibility he shouldered single-handedly for over 25 years until his father died in 2005. He Survived four years at The Polytechnic, Ibadan, without a single sponsor – and yet turning out with the first and only distinction in his department – a record that stood unequalled for 25 years.
What about how Ehiguese enrolled for an MBA at the Lagos Business School in 2003, while in full-time employment, with a wife and five children, all in school? What about being ‘forced’ to start Mediacraft Associates in late 2003 without any capital or sponsor – and nurturing it to one of the most reputable PR consultancies in Nigeria today? Amazingly, Ehiguese survived the odds.
As a child, choosing a career path was a big deal for him, as his choices were always changing at different points of his formative years. At one point he wanted to be a police detective, at another point a creative writer, and then a surgeon. He can tell you for a surety, Public Relations wasn’t on the bucket list!
At the beginning of his 10 years, he was just a regular child from a comfortable, middle-class home. But things took a turn as the worse when his dad developed severe health challenges that eventually led to losing his job. The family fortunes nosedived and they all, especially John, had to adjust real fast.
He recounts that the most difficult thing that ever happened to him and how he dealt with it: ‘‘My mother’s sudden and unexpected death happened in 1978. I was just 20 years old at the time, the first child, and unprepared for the shock. I guess at that time, I didn’t quite understand its full import. But as with every adversity in my life, I had to pick up myself and move on. When my mother died, I was forced to take up full responsibility for my dad at that tender age. That was a cross that I carried for a very long time, and it taught me the meaning of responsibility very early in life. Perhaps one of my greatest regrets in life is that I never got a chance, and the resources, to take good care of my parents while they were alive, as I would have loved to. They sacrificed so much for me, especially my dad.’’
This experience marked a watershed in his life. He shares how he overcame the most influential experiences in these words: ‘‘The drastic downward turn that my family’s fortune took when my dad fell ill and eventually lost his high-profile job as a very senior executive in Mobil in 1969, just as I was entering secondary school, was a big life lesson to me. Especially the fact that he made a number of wrong choices that apparently aggravated his problems. I have all my life consciously tried to avoid making similar mistakes. A key turning point was when I finished secondary school at age 15 and had to go and work because there was no money to forward my education immediately, despite my very good grades. I was too young and completely unprepared for that experience. But it taught me very early in life to take charge, and responsibility, for my life.”
When he juxtaposes growing up today and his own time, he unambiguously had this to say: ‘‘Oh, growing up, life was a lot less complicated; there was still a great deal of innocence. For example, everything I got was on merit. I didn’t have to know anyone or pull any strings. Back then, a good name was still a prized possession. I finished secondary school at age 15 in 1973 and started working in Lagos six months later. The following year, at 16, I rented my first apartment. And that itself was a particularly interesting experience because I paid for the apartment four months before it was finally ready, and I was not issued a receipt. But when it was time, the landlord just traced my name in his diary and handed me my keys. Just like that!
“Things are a lot different now, this generation tends to be driven more by expediency than by any set of values, shortcuts have become more attractive, there is an uncomfortable proliferation of the hedonistic mindset among the youth, and the role of the family as a strong support system for growing children is fast being eroded. Things have changed a great deal today. A lot of the experiences that we had growing up would sound like fairy tales to young people today. We were brought up to talk in a ‘proper’ way – for example, to make sure that we spoke clearly and correctly, and to speak politely to our elders, especially our parents.’’
For food, he ate just about anything. He has never really had any special food preferences, even now. For fun, he was obsessed with reading novels, and was very much engaged in sports, especially table tennis.
As a teenager, these popular phrases remain ingrained in him till date: “I can think of a few that were tied to the value systems that we lived by then; ‘a good name is better than silver and gold’; ‘hard work is a sure road to success’; ‘show me your friends and I will tell you who you are’; ‘slow and steady wins the race’; and so on.’’
When quizzed on the best gift he remembers receiving as a child, his face lit like a happy child, ‘‘my letter of admission into Federal Government College, Warri, in January 1969. I remember that my late dad treated it as a special gift – both to him and myself.’’
About 1980, he taught himself how to drive with his friend’s Volkswagen Beetle and later acquired his first car, again VW Beetle which he bought in 1987 for N700!
After high school graduation, his dreams and goal was a natural progression, unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way for him.
The fortuitous occurrence of him gaining admission to the Polytechnic, Ibadan, to study Mass Communication in 1978, kick-started in him, a serious thought about a career in Communications, particularly in Advertising or Public Relations. It no doubt seemed a logical choice, given what he was studying. Although, he doesn’t’ seem to have had any regrets whatsoever.
As a consummate professional burdened and passionate about the business of perception, he gives an analysis of how PR Business changed in the past few years: ‘‘The practice of PR has not only changed, it has indeed been significantly disrupted, especially by the coming of the internet, and specifically social media. The media forms have changed, the information consumption habits of the audiences have changed, and so naturally has the skill set required to function effectively in that space. It’s a whole new world out there. And even with all of that everything is still evolving.’’
If a youngster who is passionate about plying the perception building trade, meets John Ehiguese, be sure to expect this line of advice: ‘‘Be prepared, both in terms of training, and the right attitude, especially a learning attitude. You’ve got to be ready and willing to learn new things, continuously. Plus, you must invest in honing your communication skills, both oral and written. That is not negotiable.’’
Insight into life and marriage seems to have prepared and changed his paradigm, as he shares the story behind meeting his wife: ‘‘She was working with a friend, and I met her on a visit to his workplace. She was attractive, good-mannered, and was from the same Itsekiri ethnic stock as my mother. Those were my initial attractions; other things followed as we got to know each other better. There wasn’t really a formal engagement as such. We just went through the comprehensive marriage rites in January 1990. We got married formally on January 13, 1990. I say ‘formally’ because we already had a child at that time. I was 32 then. It was just a small family affair. I have never been a fan of big parties and celebrations, even now. We bought our first house in 2007.’’
He tells the reporter what makes his spouse special and the success of raising his children: “She is very loyal and strong. And she has done a great job of bringing up the kids, who are mostly boys. Any parent out there would understand what I mean. I think that we haven’t done too badly, given that they have all turned out well, each holding his or her own pretty well. They all have a university education, and my youngest child – the only girl – will be graduating from the university in a couple of months from now. The best part was watching them go through all the stages of growth – the struggles, the pains, the changes, the small victories, all of that. I believe very strongly that one of the most profound human experiences is observing a child grow.
“The hardest part was the constant fear that something could go wrong along the way, that they could fall victim to some negative influences, either through peer pressure or some other external factors like the internet. Thank God that didn’t happen. My most important success has been in raising my children well. And the greatest frustration for me has been the near-total erosion of merit in our society today. It is almost impossible to get anything on merit any longer – you have to ‘know’ somebody, or be prepared to ‘share’ money. No society can truly develop that way. And for me, it is sad, very sad.’’
When asked what the feeling is like at 60 and the thoughts of a succession plan, these were his words: ‘‘It’s strange, but I really don’t feel like 60. Nothing extraordinary, I must tell you. When I was much younger, 60 used to look so far away. But now it’s here, and it’s not such a big deal. A few changes though: my body is beginning to tell me things, my energy level is no longer as it used to be. And as you grow older I guess you tend to become more contemplative and retrained in your actions. But in all, I am thankful to God for reasonably good health, for a great family, and for sundry blessings. There seems to be a lot that still needs to get done. My life continues to be work in progress. We’re working on it. It’s not easy in this environment, but that does not mean that it cannot be accomplished.’’
Given what life has dealt him, does he feel fulfilled, yes, but he feels he is still on a journey, even at 60: ‘‘Given what life has dealt me, I don’t think I have done too badly. Yes, there have been some mistakes made, some regrets, but there have also been some victories and successes. In all, it has been a jolly good ride so far, with its own fair share of ups and downs. Every man must define what ultimate life success means to him. For me, I am still on that journey. And loving every bit of it!’’
For those who know JE as he is fondly called, he’s always been a workaholic. But he seems to be gradually slowing down now. He said: ‘‘I have tried to reduce my work hours, and I plan to spend more time travelling and visiting with my children who live in different parts of the world.’’
At 60, he looks forward to a long life, in good health, successful children and a good legacy all-round.
QUOTE- The hardest part was the constant fear that something could go wrong along the way, that they could fall victim to some negative influences, either through peer pressure or some other external factors like the internet. Thank God that didn’t happen. My most important success has been in raising my children well. And the greatest frustration for me has been the near-total erosion of merit in our society today. It is almost impossible to get anything on merit any longer – you have to ‘know’ somebody, or be prepared to ‘share’ money. No society can truly develop that way. And for me, it is sad, very sad