The name may not ring a bell but his “White House” brand is a household name. The White House Hotel in Ikeja, Lagos, which is the flagship of the business, has produced many high-class entertainment activities and groomed many icons of hip-hop music in the country. The man behind the brand, Dr. Austin Eruotor, speaks with Raheem Akingbolu on what life has t aught him at 60 and how he has successfully managed the White House Group and its subsidiaries in real estate, entertainment and hospitality
In the last 60 years, the life of Dr. Austin Eruotor has revolved around four things – family, Catholic Church, humanity and business. In all, the Delta State-born businessman appears to have recorded high grades. If anything, the outpouring of love that attended his 60th birthday anniversary recently in Lagos was enough to tell the world that the man, Eruotor, has played his part well.
In the buildup to his birthday, Eruotor told THISDAY that he hasn’t felt anything unusual at 60 but conscious of his lifestyle. “I feel the same at 60 because, like people say, age is just a number. Only that I’m now a bit conscious of my lifestyle and my views about life generally. I’m now more conscious of what I eat, I see the need to rest well and be more committed to the service of God and humanity. For instance, at age 60, anybody working in the public service will be thinking of retirement. So, for those of us in the private sector too, who decide when to retire, we should also pause when we reach age 60 or more and slow down on our activities. This is necessary because numbers are counting and we are giving glory to God.”
Another thing that arouses curiosity is how the name White House evolved, the relationship between the name, and why Eruotor always appears in white: “Yes, white is my colour and our business brand identity. The name, my white appearances and my brand identity evolved for one single reason -transparency. When I was going into business, what was on my mind was to get something pure, something real and something transparent. When you need our service, we give you 100% value, without you breaking your neck or fear of being cheated. As a result of this, I was looking for something that would represent what we stand for and define our approach to business and the name White House came to my mind.”
But with his hand in real estate, hospitality and entertainment, one wonders how he has been able to strike the balance over the years, especially when he also has family to attend to. Addressing this, Eruotor said it was not a big deal combining all he does under the White House Group because the sectors he dabbles in are interrelated: “It’s simple because it all depends on having a good management team. Another thing is for one to be savvy in time management. Perhaps, I should speak briefly on the various things we involve in. If there is any major business rule I appreciate, it’s the one that teaches us not to put our eggs in the same basket, hence the need for diversification. Under White House Group, all that we do are knitted. They are interrelated and that makes things easy. Entertainment business and hospitality are interdependent. Real estate business is related to construction and is connected to hospitality. Another thing that is working for us is that we are well grounded in all the areas we are involved. If you are into construction and you don’t know jack, chances are that you will get a poor structure. You should be able to tell people what you want and how you want it.”
Considering the way and manner hotels and other hospitality concerns rise and fall, how the owner of the White House brand has been able to sustain the glamour of the hotel is another subject of debate. Speaking about the staying power of his hotel brand, the consummate businessman said if the question was thrown at him 100 times, his response would be the same.
“If you ask me 100 times, my answer will be that my success story is hinged on dedication and hard work. Let me support this with a fable. If you want to hold a party, you can plan it for weeks or months but what people see is the final day when everything goes as planned. I understand the picture you paint about hospitality business and short span of existence. Look, Hotel business is dynamic and so the promoters must be dynamic as well. It comes with ethics that must be jealously guarded, the ethics must be maintained. Besides, it requires thorough supervision and that is why I’m personally involved in the running of my hotel businesses. We don’t compromise and we don’t cut corners because we want our standard to remain.
“To me, no hotel is totally local because hotels in Nigeria attend to the needs of both local and international guests. For you to appeal to this array of guests from diverse backgrounds, you have to have good facility and excellent services. Don’t also forget that we compete with international brands that are also in the Nigerian market. To this end, we have to be on our toes to compete well in the market. You can’t have a dilapidated structure and expect quality people to patronise you. Again, if a guest comes today and gets shabby treatment; of course, he wouldn’t come tomorrow. To stay relevant, you have to keep evolving. If you come to my hotel this month, by the time you come the following month, you will meet the rooms in different shapes and colours.”
Beyond the need for effective management, he also maintained that one has to be morally and financially disciplined to excel in hospital business: “On the business side, let me add again that in running hospitality business, one has to be disciplined because if you are too careless and frivolous, you will run into financial mess. For instance, in my hotels, if I collect a bottle of water, I would pay my money and if a friend stays in any of the rooms, regardless of how close we are, I will never go to his room. I will make sure I give him that exclusivity right and privacy. If my child comes in and drinks, he will pay for it and that applies to everybody because the account must balance. That is how we have been doing it in the last 20 years,”
A man of words and proverbs, explaining how he has been able to sustain the tempo over the years for his business, Eruotor went philosophical by comparing business to a child: “The experience has been very exciting. Look, business, to me is like a child. The child would begin with nursery school, primary school, secondary school and higher institution. The same way you nurture your baby to adulthood is the way a business is nurtured to become a brand and a household name. Let me quickly add therefore that there is no business without challenges, and there is no market without its peculiarity. As a business concern operating in Nigeria, we have been able to surmount various challenges that came with our growth. One thing, if you are in business and you face challenges, stay put and be consistent, at the end, it will turn into a success story. The truth is that if you are not dogged or consistent, when the opportunity that would come after the challenge comes, you will not be able to explore it. What I’m saying in essence is that we have faced challenges and recorded success in building the White House brand.”
Going down memory lane, though, he attributed his success and accomplishment in life to God, he was frank to point out that his parents, especially his father, played prominent roles in what he has become today: “I’m a committed Catholic and I know God answers prayer. To this end, I give all the glory to my God for all that I have achieved in the last 60 years. Having stated this, I will say my father influenced me more than anybody else in life. Though strict and disciplined, it took me years before I knew that his stance and principle in some dealings with his children were to get the best out of them. I could remember my father telling me not to touch his car, and emphasising that the house and car belonged to him and not to us. He was gentle and straight forward and those attributes have greatly shaped my life.”
Ask this philanthropist and sports promoter to name any other person who has contributed to his life and he would be quick to mention his wife: “Since I met my wife in a church in the United Kingdom many years ago, I can say she has been wonderful as she plays the role of a sister, business partner, mother and adviser. My wife understands me and the businesses I do. Most times, she holds fort for me and supervises the businesses. She has eyes for details and can spot the tiniest mistakes and point them out. Because she’s also good in business and financial management, that has helped our business. Meanwhile, we don’t mix business with pleasure, when we are at work, we know we are at work. In that case, nothing concerns my wife whether the person we are attending to is a man or woman. What is paramount is the service and the value we would add in return for our money.”
Looking back at his businesses, especially the Whiter House Hotel brand, which has contributed to the success stories of hip-hop artiste like Tuface, D-banj, Olu Maintain and others, Eruotor expressed satisfaction but he hopes that in the next five years the group must have redefined its existence through technology: “We are happy for the lives we have been able to touch over the years. I know at least 10 good icons of the nation’s entertainment industry that passed through our White House Hotel on Toyin Street. We want to remain relevant. We are in the era of technology; we want that to remain a strong part of our business in five years’ time.”
However, if there is anything that bothers this father of three, it’s the fact that Nigeria’s leaders are not getting things right. To him, Nigerian politics and governance would be better if votes count: “I’m personally fulfilled, considering my achievement and the awards and recognition I have gotten over the years, but disappointed in Nigeria leaders. 59 years after independence, we are still crawling, this is discouraging. No jobs for the youths, no road map for the future and no hope for the common man. I’m praying that we have in Nigeria an electoral system that will make our votes count. If the votes count, we can wake up tomorrow and use our votes to get rid of under-performing leaders.”