The label ‘silent billionaire’ is widely considered as a contradiction. To rise to the pinnacle of wealth in stealth, without attracting onerous public attention, is extremely rare. Few successful people manage to do so without purposely courting the admiration of large swarths of society.
Rarer still are those who have stayed under the radar building up wealth, and also managed to remain invisible as they give out huge chunks of it in support of causes dear to their hearts.
One such individual is Professor Ahmed Olaniyi bin Salawudeen, President of Standard Group Holdings, and doyen of Nigerian business leaders in the United Arab Emirates.
Those who know the pious Iseyin-born insurance mogul attest to the fact that he lives his life in accordance with the Quranic injunction to ‘Worship none but Allah; treat with kindness your parents and kindred, and orphans and those in need; speak fair to the people; be steadfast in prayer; and practice regular charity.’
Meeting him for the first time, people are quickly disarmed by his beaming smile, and sense of humour peppered with life lessons. Although he is a strict adherent of the tenets of Islam, he accords full respect to practitioners of other faiths. He is also blind to tribe, and gender.
Avoiding the limelight as a matter of principle for many years, he only grudgingly begun to accept recognition for his vast contributions to the propagation of Islam, provision of educational opportunities, and community development in the last few years.
Born on January 16, seven decades ago to the family of a prominent Islamic scholar in Iseyin, then one of the few towns with electricity, the young Salawudeen was fortunate that his parents understood the pivotal role of Western education.
As all good Muslim children, he learned to read, and write basic Arabic verses from the Quran before turning 10. By the age of seven, he had joined daily fasts during the holy month of Ramadan.
At the appropriate age, he was enrolled at Ansarudeen Primary School, Igbo-Ora from where he later proceeded to Ayete Modern Secondary School.
Naturally ambitious, he found his way to Lagos, after completing his studies in Ayete, to seek greater opportunities.
Without the economic backing of wealthy relatives to pursue tertiary studies right away, Salawudeen recognised early that he would need to claw his way up the ladder of life, relying only on his faith in Allah, and the wits bestowed on him.
He soon found work with an insurance company. Here he came in contact with expatriate managers, who were impressed by his work ethic. The positive feedback he received served as encouragement to make him choose insurance, not as a stop-gap employment but as a lifetime career choice.
Toeing a path common to so many other young men of that era, Salawudeen begun a correspondence course with a college in England.
Never shy of hard work, he combined his studies with the familiar 9-to-5 schedule.
His passion for work has not diminished over the years.
“It will surprise you to know that I still put in over 15 hours daily, 365 days of the year. I have never run away from hardwork. These are the same values I have instilled in my children, and employees. Public holidays and weekends make no difference to me because my competition never sleeps. I am my greatest competition. Someone said that if you work in your passion, you will never have to work a day in your life. I could not agree more.”
In time, he passed his papers, and left for England by sea. There he studied at the College of Insurance Surbiton, Surrey. By 1976, he had qualified as a chartered insurance practitioner, a rare feat in those days.
Done with academic pursuits for the time being, he started his career at the Royal Insurance Group, which had offices at Chancery Lane, London. He also did stints at British Engine in Manchester and the Royal Marine Insurance Department in Liverpool. While at these respected institutions, Salawudeen soaked up everything he could from the British managers. He knew it would be put to good use when he returned to Nigeria.
At the end of his sojourn abroad, he was clear in his mind that he wanted to start his own company. He chose the name Standard Insurance Consultants Limited (SICL) with a vision to provide insurance and reinsurance broking services across all classes of risk.
He was confident that the venture would succeed.
From humble beginnings, the little seed he planted in 1980 has grown to become first-tier leader in insurance broking across West Africa with registered offices in Lagos, Ibadan, Abuja, Port Harcourt, London and Dubai.
Today the firm, which celebrated its 42nd anniversary in 2022, helps its clients to place and manage risk across Oil & Gas, Aviation & Space, Marine Hull & Cargo, Medical Malpractice / Professional Indemnity, Personal Accident Insurance, Life Insurance, Automobile Insurance, Fire/ Special Perils, Construction & Engineering, Special Risks (Kidnapping & Ransom), Protection and Indemnity, Construction, Agricultural, Engineering, Mining, Operational Risks and others.
SICL is duly licensed by the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) to operate as an Oil Industry Service Company (Special Category) as well as the Nigerian Petroleum Exchange (NIPEX) including National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS).
Boasting a roster of A-list companies among its clients, Salawudeen is most proud of SICL’s client retention rate.
“Our 95 per cent client retention is heartwarming. This is due to the trust, credibility, and fiduciary responsibility that we have built up over the years. We are extremely rigorous in how we select risk carriers, to ensure that we pick only financially secure institutions that have the capacity to settle claims as and when due.”
His insatiable desire for learning has led him to garner memberships of several prestigious professional and academic bodies. He is an Associate Member of the Chartered Insurance Institute of London. He holds Fellowships of Chartered Insurance Institute of Nigeria, Nigerian Council of Registered Insurance Brokers (NCRIB), and Commonwealth Academy of Leadership and Management. He is also an alumnus of Commonwealth University, Belize from which he bagged a Doctorate of Management (Specializing in Insurance). He also received an honorary Professorship from Oxford Academic Union, an international academic association of over 150 University Chancellors, Scientists and Researchers
Among employees and business associates, Salawudeen is known for his photographic memory. Rarely taking notes at meetings, he has an uncanny ability to remember the most minute details of encounters several years later.
A stickler for excellence, his insistence on doing the right thing, the right way and at the right time is a trademark that those around him have all imbibed.
He is also known for reading every single word and line of reports sent to him. Often making comments in the margins, the precision of his thought process is unmistakable to those who have had dealings with him.
Salawudeen is a Melvin Jones Fellow of the Lions Club, a global volunteer organisation. He is a full member of the Global Club of Leaders, and an Honourable Member of the European Business Assembly (EBA) under the auspices of The Socrates Committee in Oxford, United Kingdom.
For four consecutive years (2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020), he has received the prestigious “World Leader Businessperson’ award from the World Confederation of Businesses (WORLDCOB).
In 2021, the UAE Africa Networking Group, a Dubai-based networking business platform that promotes collaboration between top business leaders in the United Arab Emirates and their peers in the African continent, bestowed on Salawudeen the “Titan of Africa” Award. This recognition was for his immense contributions to the development of closer commercial and cultural ties among countries in the Middle East and Africa.
In the same year, Foreign Investment Network (FIN) in partnership with Forbes, a global media company with a focus on reporting the accomplishments and impact of the world’s most successful individuals, honoured him with a Lifetime Achievement Award of Excellence at the FIN-FORBES Africa-UAE Trade and Investment Forum held at the Burj Al Arab, Dubai.
Closer to home, SICL under his leadership has received the Insurance Broker of the Year award at the prestigious Banks and Other Financial Institutions’ (BAFI) Awards for two consecutive years (2021 and 2022). This award was bestowed for the company’s track record in client retention, customer service proposition, financial results, human capital development, knowledge of the market, professionalism and transparency in dealing with clients, use of digital technology, and contributions to boosting the image of the insurance broking profession in Nigeria.
In business, Salawudeen’s tentacles have extended to international real estate. He is the founder of Signature Global Real Estate (SGRE), a luxury property company, with its head office in Dubai.
Holding a multi-million-dollar portfolio of prime properties in choice locations, SGRE has earned a reputation as the choice broker for discerning clients seeking exclusive purchase opportunities for investment-quality assets.
In June 2022, he was honoured with a National Merit Award by the national Chief Missioner of the Ansar-ud-Deen Society of Nigeria at its 10th Triennial National Conference for his contribution to the growth of the Muslim organisation, and spread of Islam in Nigeria.
A roving ambassador for foreign investment into Nigeria, Salawudeen is a tireless advocate of economic opportunities in Africa’s largest economy.
Over the course of last year, he was invited in his personal capacity to share insights at top-level fora with leading business executives and government officials in Angola and Indonesia.
Being a philanthropist and good Muslim, Salawudeen is a generous donor to numerous Islamic and social causes, especially in the fields of education, and health, across Nigeria.
As he marks his birthday, on January 16, 2022, one joins other persons of goodwill around the world to wish the towering Titan of Insurance in Nigeria long life, and prosperity.
* Onyeaso writes from Lagos.