Moving round his expansive museum-like compound, one can sense Prince Yemisi Shyllon, a wealthy art collector, is a man given to orderliness, excellence and uncommon attention to details. At a dinner he hosted for select staffers of THISDAY in his house, Shyllon delivered what could easily fit into an MBA masterclass on investment. Bamidele Famoofo presents the takeaway from the encounter
As a young man studying engineering at the university, Shyllon discovered who exactly he was and what he wanted to become in life. Knowing that he was cut out to become a technocrat, and not an entrepreneur, given his low appetite for risk, he decided early in life never to borrow money or lend money to people; but to cultivate the habit of saving at least 10 percent of his earnings which he religiously put aside to invest in businesses that would later yield good fortunes for him.
“An entrepreneur borrows to maximize returns because of his huge-risk appetite. But technocrats don’t have such an appetite for risk. So they refrain from borrowing,” he explains. “I was a bureaucrat and had never pretended to be an entrepreneur. I did not borrow to be able to build the wealth l have today because l knew l must save. You must always save your income regularly. At least 10 percent of your income must be put aside as a saving.”
While everything around him suggests that he is wealthy, Shyllon will never agree with that notion. Rather, he says, “I’m not a rich man, l never set out to become rich, but to be comfortable and live a simple life.”
He warned that a lot of people have got their fingers burnt by trying to do things they are not cut out for, reiterating the need for every individual to decide very early in life the path they wish to follow to become what they want to be in life. “I have done more than just to work to satisfy my appetite as l have been able to set aside enough to make me live a comfortable life,” he points out.
Planning for retirement
Because Shyllon had a difficult background, he took the decision early in life to make the best of every opportunity that came his way to become comfortable as he would say. Life after retirement was indeed a big priority to the billionaire.
“l remember on one occasion when l was an executive director in a multinational company. I had an expatriate working for me. He was 60 years old at that time and during a dinner with him, l asked him: ‘What are you going to do when you retire?’ He answered, ‘Are you sacking me?’ I responded in the negative. He told me he had never given retirement a thought.
“Though l was young at that time, about 33, l had started planning my retirement. You have to start planning your life early in life so that you can have early rest from your mid-50s and you can live comfortably. Otherwise, you will find out that you are old and you have nothing to fall back on. You must be ready to acquire education on how to invest your savings to get optimum returns while planning your retirement,” he recommended.
Passion for arts
Shyllon’s upbringing as a prince did not have any role to play in his success. He says growing up in the palace did not spur his interest in arts collection. “If you go to the palace in Abeokuta, you won’t see the kind of things that you find in my place now. I think what prompted me to invest in arts is first that I’m an artist. l can draw.”
Shyllon would have opted to study arts at the university but for his uncommon knowledge of mathematics. “l was very good at mathematics and that pushed me out of arts. But during the holidays when l was at the University of Ibadan, l would go to the library of the Yaba College of Education to study, and when I’m tired of reading; l would go to the arts section to see the works there. And that was how l began to collect arts from the time l was in my second year at the university to date.”
Shyllon says becoming an art collector does not have anything to do with his background as a prince, as it was primarily borne out of passion and his love for culture.
Though dealing in arts is not a business to make money for Shyllon, arts have given him lots of exposure and international connections. He has been a guest of Harvard University and various art fairs in the world. It has given him the opportunity to deliver lectures and give talks in this area that he did not have formal training.
He is a stockbroker, lawyer, marketer but primarily an engineer. He is also an investor with massive investments in shares, real estate and arts, among other things. His insatiable search for knowledge made him a man of many colours. Contrary to the popular saying, ‘jack of all trades, master of none’, Prince Shyllon was able to become a master in every field of knowledge he delved into.
Apart from searching for knowledge, he loves adventures.
“I studied engineering because of mathematics. And when l discovered that those who combine engineering and a study of business are high fliers,” he notes.
“I decided to take an MBA. I remember that when l was resigning from Caterpillar now Mantrac to take my MBA, my manager called me and asked me why l was leaving (because l was one of his best boys then). I remember l told him ‘I want to occupy your seat’. Though l felt l had talked too much when l turned to go, he called me by my name and said, ‘Yemisi whenever you need a job, you have one here’. So, when l was to do my three months’ attachment during my MBA class, l went back to Caterpillar and got a job.”
Thereafter, the ever mobile Shyllon became a director at 31 at Nigerite Limited. He became the youngest of all the directors in the company then.
“But there was one man who had an HND in admin and personnel that got the attention of the chairman when he spoke in law. But when l spoke, the chairman picked a hole in it and the same thing applies to the finance man. So, l went to the University of Lagos and registered for law, and before you know what had happened, l found myself becoming a lawyer. As per stockbroking, l found myself having so many shares. I saved 10 percent of my money to be able to achieve that. It was so large that l felt rather than depend on people to manage it for me, l needed to acquire knowledge about how to do it myself. I then registered to take classes in stockbroking and eventually became a certified stockbroker.”
Shyllon disclosed that his search for knowledge and the need to empower himself for the future made him venture into all the areas he went into in his early days in life.
“When your status rises, don’t let your taste catch up with it.” This was the principle that guided Prince Shyllon in building massive wealth for himself. Shyllon learnt very early in life, not only to live within his means but to make sure that his crave to spend never measured up to what he earned during his working days.
“I was living in Papa Adedoyin’s house in Olodi Apapa in 198¯3 when l joined Nigerite. I paid N2,400/annum as rent for a 2-bedroom accommodation with a garage for my car and a two-room boys’ quarter. But my housing allowance was N65,000 in the same period. But l decided to stay on in Olodi Apapa for two years.”
What he did was to save for two years which amounted to N130, 000, and he invested that in a very good business. A few years later, he was able to build a five-story building somewhere in a highbrow area of Lagos which is now fetching him big money.
“I won’t talk about it. So, always make sure your expenses are far below your income,” he simply adds.
Shyllon did not stop there. He continued to seek more opportunities to invest in real estate. He ended up investing in a very beautiful project, which earns him dollars at the moment. “I spend naira here and l earn dollar elsewhere. I have the opportunity of living where l earn a dollar from, but here, on about two acres of land, I’m leaving my life the way I’m managing it and earning my income somewhere else. It pays better this way than to pretend to be what you are not.”
How I Became Executive Director of a Multinational at 33
Despite his business schedule as a top career person in his working days, Shyllon created the time to raise his children. He paid particular attention to his children, making sure they got the best of education. But as usual, he educated his children based on the principle of not allowing his expenses to match his income. This is what he revealed: “My daughter got admission into the Grange School and l was about making a payment to register her. But suddenly, l woke up one night and decided against it. I realized sending them to public school would help her face the challenges of life early. Private school is an aided education. These schools have a goal – it is to get good results in an aided manner. We decided ( l and my wife ) to allow them to go through the public schools, where we know they would learn to become independent and get results that are not aided.”
However, the couple decided that after their public school education to the university level, they could go anywhere they like in the world for further studies.
Meanwhile, it’s doubtful that the Shyllons would take such a decision they took some 20 years ago concerning their children’s studies today considering the declining standards of education in the country today.
“But if it was now, l may have to think twice. Even then, we did not just put them in public schools. We had full-time teachers for them at home. I was also a teacher. When l came back from work, l would roll up my sleeves and teach them the core science subjects like Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry. Teachers also came here and l used to supervise them while teaching my children at home.”
Prince Shyllon and his wife are still bubbling with life even in the absence of their children – all of whom have left home in search of greener pastures. His collection of arts has helped him to cope with the absence of his children. He said having a good plan for retirement was another factor that has helped him during retirement. Shyllon has about 18 people working in his house.
“So, we are always busy with people around us. I have an accountant, ICT staff, documentary photographer, gardeners, cooks, etc and they all keep me busy. Interactions with people from outside asking me for interviews or to respond to public domain issues via the email; social media also keeps me busy. But really, all of us must create time to work out how we are going to face the realities of being lonely at old age or retirement.
“All of us are going to face this problem especially because of what our country is turning to. The children are disappearing to look for greener pastures elsewhere.”
He said someone in his 60s who still haven’t made it or built anything for himself, still has hope.
“It would then depend on his energy level. If the energy level is very low, he should find people of like minds to form cooperatives to put together little cash individually and conceptualize something that can grow into which the money would be invested.”
Another way around such an unfortunate situation, according to Shyllon, will be for the individual to consider the option of trading.
“Trading will be the best option for such people. They need to identify something that they can buy and sell. You can buy jointly through a cooperative and sell individually. You must look for arbitrage and identify places that need what you can supply. People don’t know, for instance, that there is a fortune in selling simple items like a blade, button, and threads which tailors use in making clothes.”
He also recommended making an investment in bonds, treasury bills, and mutual funds. But said investing in shares is not an option for anybody now.
“You can buy for up to N10,000 and earn interest on it. l don’t advise that people buy shares now because the market is very volatile. You can buy treasury bills from the secondary market too or go into mutual funds. But l will recommend bonds because it is more stable. That way you can build your fortune gradually and before you know it, it becomes very big. Another area to invest is land. Some of us made money from buying and selling land. A land of N10,000 in Lekki a couple of years back was sold for about N500 million recently. About two acres around Maryland in 1993 and 1994 were bought for N1.3 million and 1/3 of it was recently sold for N220 million.”