BY TOKUNBO ABIRU
Today, we are celebrating a leading light, role model, mentor, an industry icon and man of integrity as he turns 80. He is no other person than Chief Olusegun Oladipo Osunkeye, a former Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Nestle Nigeria Plc and Babalaje of Egbaland. Certainly, this is an age Pa Osunkeye must have been trusting God to attain since his retirement from active service in 2015.
Perhaps, for his enviable records of service, Pa Osunkeye’s life depicts an embodiment of lessons, not just because of his age, but mainly for values he has added to accounting profession and Corporate Nigeria at large. From when he started professional accounting training under Akintola Williams & Company in 1959, Pa Osunkeye clearly defined his career goal to be a thorough professional accountant and that vision guided his choice at every stage of his career.
Even after he completed his training in 1963, he kept to this vision across his career trajectory that spanned over four good decades. Committed to his lofty dream, he proceeded to Staffordshire College of Commerce, England in 1963 and became a chartered accountant in 1965, then at the age of 25. This indeed demonstrated his pursuit for excellence in accounting profession.
In 1967, Pa Osunkeye returned home at the time Nigeria was embroiled in civil war that lasted 30 months. Despite political unrest and civil war that then beclouded the future of Nigeria, he made a hard choice by returning to his fatherland to make his own contribution to Nigeria’s socio-economic development in the first decade of its political independence. Providentially, he joined UAC of Nigeria Limited.
At the very early stage, however, Pa Osunkeye understood without ambiguity that he would need more than knowledge to be a reference point in his profession. He thus defined his life around three fundamentals that later helped him stay at the top in his profession. That explains why his life revolves around God, integrity and professionalism.
After working sustainably for five good years at UAC and West Africa Portland Cement Company Limited (WAPCO), Pa Osunkeye made a hard choice. He quit UAC, then foremost conglomerate not only in Nigeria, but also Africa and beyond. He joined Nestle Nigeria in 1972, one of the largest food and beverage multinationals in Africa. Progressively, he served Nestle in different capacities for over 40 years including the position of Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer. He served in this capacity for eight years before he was appointed the Chairman of Nestle Board where he meritoriously provided strong leadership for the multinational for over one decade.
Pa Osunkeye is a Fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) London, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and the Institute of Directors (IOD) in the United Kingdom and Nigeria. At some points, he chaired GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Nigeria Plc. Board, International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), Institute of Directors and Lafarge Cement WAPCO Plc. Obviously, all these appointments attest to his competence, integrity and professionalism.
Also, Pa Osunkeye was the President, Society for Corporate Governance Nigeria. Between 1998 and 2001, specifically, he presided over the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA) and served as a Council Member of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) for many years. With all the offices he had held at one time or the other in his four-decade career, Pa Osunkeye has proved that there is a strong correlation between integrity and professional fulfillment.
That is why Pa Osunkeye’s contribution to building Corporate Nigeria has not gone without notice. He is a recipient of three national honours – Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) in 2003, Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR) in 2011 and Commander of the Order of Niger (CON) in 2014. Besides national honours, the University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, conferred him with a Doctor of Science Degree (Honoris Causa) in 1998. He was honoured with the Babalaje of Egbaland, a high-ranking chieftaincy title the Egba Kingdom bestowed upon him in recognition of his integrity, professionalism and selfless service.
In different encounters with him, Chief Osunkeye attested that his career progression would have been slow or even truncated without the influence of the mentors that God brought his way. In an interview he granted in 2017, Chief Osunkeye explained different people in and outside the accounting profession who taught him practical lessons that helped build an enviable career. His mentors are Chief Akintola Williams, Chief Michael Omolayole and late Chief Justice Fatai Williams.
At the time Pa Osunkeye retired as the Chairman of Lafarge Africa
Plc on May 23, 2015, the role his mentors played in his career progression has definitely taught him many practical lessons. First, the role taught him to always give back to the society. In addition, it informed his resolve to devote the rest of his life to nurture corporate executives and entrepreneurs to attain the pinnacle of their career. Lastly, it shaped his decision to readily make himself available for any activity that would lead to the socio-economic development of his fatherland. In the last five years, Pa Osunkeye has committed to these lofty goals despite his age and status. He is no doubt a product of God’s matchless grace.
My wife and I met Chief about two decades ago, however, our first encounter with him neither prepared nor revealed to us what was about to unfold. In 1994, my wife had set up H&Y Furniture Manufacturers, now a leading lifestyle design and space enhancement firm. After a decade of operation, we had some compelling reasons to reposition this brand in order to set it on the path of future growth.
As we embarked on this journey, we knew our company would benefit from the dexterity of a core professional, who not only had a strong corporate track record, but also a high sense of integrity and professionalism. This thinking attracted us to Chief Osunkeye on account of his strong professional background, record of accomplishments and reputation for integrity. That is exactly what Chief Osunkeye represents, not just professionally, but also in his family life. Our meeting with Chief Osunkeye readily revealed values the accounting doyen could add to our budding company. In 2004, we decided to invite him to the Board of H&Y Furniture Manufacturers as the pioneer Chairman, and we were delighted when he accepted the invitation in a mentoring capacity.
Pa Osunkeye has been a pillar of support and a source of inspiration at every turn. He is a generous giver of his very valuable time and wealth of wisdom just to build a new army of corporate executives and entrepreneurs. He believes helping others grow is one way he can contribute his quota to economic growth and human capital development. From him, we learnt the importance of upholding the tenets of corporate governance while fostering good business acumen.
Our board meetings are always robust and full of life, especially with the manner Chief Osunkeye proffers solutions to challenges that arise from time to time. He is ever willing to go over and beyond the call of duty. When we commissioned our ultra-modern factory, Chief Osunkeye did the unveiling. He did not only arrive early, but gave an inaugural speech and offered prayers, which were highlights of the memorable day.
For us, as a family, Pa Osunkeye has been a steady source of inspiration and a confidant we often defer to. For instance, when my wife, Feyisola, lost her father, who was also a board member of H&Y Furniture Manufacturers, Pa Osunkeye and his wife formed a key part of the support network around us. It was, therefore, not just ordinary that our paths crossed two decades ago, but divine and ordained for purposes for which God had used him to accomplish in our business and family.
Chief Osunkeye has been an amazing mentor to us in our corporate and family lives. He painstakingly mentored me at different stages in my career path. Looking back at our relationship of about two decades, we can conclude that we have benefitted immensely from Chief Osunkeye’s oasis of corporate culture and professionalism. We always appreciate his perspective on career-related matters and boardroom management.
For these obvious reasons, Pa Osunkeye is not just an asset to the accounting profession, but indeed to the nation, especially with his commitment to mentoring a new army of entrepreneurs; helping corporate executives develop a robust career and upholding good corporate governance culture. As he marks his 80th anniversary today, we join his family and Corporate Nigeria at large to celebrate Chief Osunkeye, a doyen of the accounting profession, a master of boardroom management and an indefatigable proponent of good corporate governance. We wish him more fruitful years in good health, sound mind and unfailing memory.
•Tokunbo Abiru, former MD/CEO, Polaris Bank APC Lagos East senatorial candidate