The Lunch Hour

The Lunch Hour, Laide Agboola, CEO, Purple Group

Laide Agboola studied Mechanical Engineering at the University of Sheffield; he also holds a Master of Science degree in Finance and a Diploma of Finance from Imperial College Business School, London. He is co-founder and CEO of Purple Group, a real estate firm with a portfolio of high profile commercial and residential developments including PurpleMaryland and PurpleLekki.

Prior to establishing the Purple Group, Laide worked in investment banking for over 10 years with stints at IBTC Asset Management Limited (now Stanbic IBTC Asset Management Limited), Stanbic Capital Limited, UBA Global Markets Limited (now United Capital Plc), Alitheia Capital Limited and BGL Plc.

He also founded Alternative Capital Partners Limited and served as the Managing Director. He served as Technical Assistant to the Minister of State for Finance between 2007 and 2010, advising on the development of Nigeria’s financial and capital markets. While at the University of Sheffield, Laide was elected as International Students’ Officer (the first Nigerian elected) and also served on the Board of SUSU Services Limited, the business arm of the university.

Laide Agboola
The Lunch Hour: Laide Agboola

What did you study at the university and what led you to the choice?

I studied Mechanical Engineering at The University of Sheffield. My father was a Chartered accountant. At some point, he became the Finance Director for West African Portland Cement while the late Engineer Makoju was the Managing Director. They were quite close. My father always said because he was not an engineer, he may not become the Managing Director of West African Portland Cement, which he regarded as a manufacturing firm. Engineer Makoju had persuaded my father to let me study engineering. I could say I was influenced by a family friend. I did a foundation course in Engineering at Bellerbys College Brighton and I went on to study a degree in Engineering at the University of Sheffield.

Three of my course mates graduated with a First Class. I was very close to making a First Class and I felt I should have. That affected my decision to move away from Engineering. I thought if I was not going into the field as one of the top graduates, there was no point going into it. Moving into business was not difficult. I had done internships in engineering firms as an undergraduate which gave me a good insight into the world of business. So, I retraced my steps and made a move to follow my father’s career path. I had been elected as the International Student Representative for the University of Sheffield Students’ Union. I sat on the board of Susu Services Limited, the business arm of the Union. I was very much involved in the business activities of the Union and I enjoyed every bit of it. In fact, I took a year out while serving on the board of Susu Services Limited. I applied to four universities to do a post-graduate programme in Finance. I got admitted into the four universities but I opted for Imperial College London. 

What is the biggest lesson you left the university with?

I mention that I took a year out after studying for my undergraduate degree. This gave me a different perspective on a lot of things. People and relationships come for everything you need to succeed. You cannot get to your destination without working or interfacing with people or without managing or supporting people. The gap year gave me a different perspective on how to approach life and approach things. I confirmed that I am an extrovert by nature. I am always ready to meet new people and always ready to talk. It is imperative that when you pass through the university, you need the university to pass through you. A key way for this to happen is to form very important relationships or friendships while at the university. They are often a lifetime asset. Some of the people that have had the best impact in my life are people I met in the university.

Laide Agboola
The Lunch Hour: Laide Agboola

Do you think more young Nigerians should take time out for a gap year? 

I consider the value of a gap year so important that any young person studying in a stable environment must take a gap year. It is opportunity to discover yourself and decide on what you really want to do in life. Many people end up in jobs or careers that their parents or other people nudged them towards. They do not really have the chance to think through what best fits with their personality, skills, interests, etc. So, that is what a gap year allows you to do – discover what really suits you and what you are likely to enjoy and really succeed at. 

Also Read: The Lunch Hour, Odunayo Ojo – CEO – UPDC Plc

Is there any teacher you remember for being a big influence on you?

I attended International Secondary School, Ifako-Agege. Mr. Alex Ogedengbe, who taught me Further Mathematics, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, and sometimes Biology at International Secondary School, Ifako-Agege readily comes to mind. He was an exemplary teacher and was very cerebral. He also tutored me privately in the house. Even as a young person, I could see how dedicated he was to the subjects he taught and to the success of his students. He was a big contributor to my excelling in secondary school. I am still in touch with him. He owns a school now.

During my time at Sheffield, Professor John Baynon and Professor Keith Ridgeway were a great influence. Foreign students are sometimes unfamiliar with the mode of instruction in British universities. Professor John Baynon helped me to settle in quickly. He later became the Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the university. Professor Keith Ridgeway probably never knew he made so much impact on me because I never really got close to him. He taught Engineering Entrepreneurship. He was in charge of sealing deals between the university and big organisations like Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, getting them to support research projects. He was the business powerhouse of the Engineering Department.

He operated from one of the old buildings in the department which was extensively renovated. It became one of the fanciest buildings in the department. He would never have guessed that there was a Nigerian in the department whom he had such a big impact on because I never really interacted with him. His engineering lectures were uplifting and inspiring. He would not just present engineering designs from a business context. So, everyone learns to have the question in mind, what problems does this design solve and who can pay to take it to the real world. He would tell us not just to design but we should be able to make our designs functional and acceptable.

Laide Agboola
The Lunch Hour: Laide Agboola

Who was the bigger influence on you between Mom and Dad?

Both of them. My mother was a teacher. She taught Business Studies. She had more time for the children. My mother was also an entrepreneur and a risk taker. My father was a 9 to 5 person. They influenced me in different ways. There were five of us and much later six of us but I was the only male child so I was very close to my father. From early on, I learnt the value of hard work from him. He got up very early to prepare for work. He would wake me up and get me to do a lot of things for him – polish shoes, iron his clothes, etc. I only had time to start preparing for school at 6:45am after he drove off to work. In the evenings, I would do things like read newspapers to him and watch the news with him. My mother was a disciplinarian who promoted a sense of orderliness.

When did you leave home for good and what is the biggest lesson you took with you?

I left home quite early at the age of 14. I went to a foundation school in Britain. My sisters were in the same school. They had to leave Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) as a result of recurrent ASUU strikes. I wrote the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination in SS1 and I did very well in all the subjects. Engineer Makoju intervened again asking my dad to send me to the university. So, I got shipped off to England. I had the guidance of my sisters but I was still to an extent independent. I came back to Nigeria after I graduated from Imperial College London for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme.

I was posted to Kaduna but I redeployed to Lagos. I had secured a full-time job at Stanbic IBTC, I shuttled between my job and my service. We were living in Agege but my father thought I had become an adult so I could live on my own. He gave me N750,000 to buy a car and told me I must come back every Sunday to see him.  So, I moved in with a friend, Seun Busari, whom I met at the NYSC orientation camp in Kaduna. The parents lived in the main building while Seun and his brothers lived in the Boys’ Quarters. They would smuggle me into the house when I got back from work usually at 10 pm or 11 pm. This went on for about four months, then we got caught. I then moved to Ikoyi. A friend from the University of Sheffield, Deji Anjous, introduced me to his friend, Femi Obagun who introduced me to Tanwa Faworaja, who was living at her parents’ house in Ikoyi. Her parents lived in Apapa but no one was living in the Boy’s Quarters in the house in Ikoyi.

So, Tanwa agreed to let me rent the BQ. One day, I decided to have a birthday party. A neighbour also decided to call Tanwa’s parents to congratulate them on the very good party their daughter had “last weekend”. What mother would not be alarmed to discover a guy she does not know has been having parties where her daughter lives? Tanwa’s mom called at the house the weekend after my very good birthday party and asked me to leave the house. I had stayed there for nine months. I moved into a studio apartment in Lekki Phase 1. I was no longer squatting illegally or enjoying unauthorized subletting. In 2004, I became a fully legit tenant. I still live in Lekki but in a much bigger apartment.

What was your first job? And what was the main thing you learnt while at the job?

My first job was at a fuel station in London. The fuel station was owned by a Nigerian. I was a store and petrol attendant. That was in 1997. I got introduced to Chief Bode George while working there. I did not know who he was at that time. I went with my boss to inspect a property in Central London where we met Chief Bode George. He was waiting for us. It turned out that the property was occupied by Chief Bode George. I worked at the fuel station for two months. It was at that phase of my life when I was learning and becoming.

Who is your best boss ever?

I have had quite good bosses. My first set of bosses, Laolu Martins, Seyi Osunkeye, and Yinka Sanni, have been very instrumental to my success. Yinka Sanni especially has been very supportive even until now. Yinka Sanni was the Managing Director of IBTC Asset Management at that time and I was lucky to have worked with him. He later handed me over to Atedo Peterside who also seconded me to Yewande Sadiku. I also worked with Funso Akere, Oyinda Akinyemi, and Ngozi Tagbo Ocheho.

We all worked at the investment banking arm of Stanbic IBTC at that time. It was a small team of five. This team sealed a lot of deals i.e., large capital raise for Oceanic Bank, UBA, STB, the acquisition of STB and UBA, etc. The truth is I would not have found a better place to learn and participate in virtually all the equity and M&A capital market issues. I had another boss while I was working at UBA Global market, Sonni Ayere, who now runs DLM Capital Group. I told him while being interviewed that I had done virtually everything in equity and advisory and would want to do a bit of debt. The Chairman of Purple, Mrs. Jumoke Akinwunmi, was also my boss at Alitheia Capital. I have had a sequence of great bosses who have had a very strong influence on who I am today.

The Lunch Hour
The Lunch Hour: Laide Agboola

Also Read: The Lunch Hour, Godwin Ehigiamusoe, Founder, LAPO Microfinance

Could you share with us two or three things that you have learnt in your career that are not taught in MBA courses?

The theory of business and finance is important. But the reality sometimes is often different from what it is the textbooks. One of the key things that I have learnt is the critical importance of the human factor e.g., the enormous difficulty of predicting how a man or woman would behave or react to situations. That is a big thing I learnt to plan for over the years. It is very important to learn how to manage disruptions that could emanate from this human factor. You have to be resilient and keep pushing for your dreams and aspirations. No matter the challenges from managing and maintaining relationships, you must not give up on your big goals. The most critical thing is tenacity.

Is there one mistake that you have learnt something important from in your career or life?

When things look really bad and it seems like everything is crumbling on you, it often means that things are about to take a turn for the good. That is often when you need to summon your last reserves of energy and make a final push towards success. Not too many people have succeeded in business without the resilience or the optimism to keep fighting hard even when their back is against the wall. 

What is your favorite kind of music?

I love hip-hop. I listen to Afrobeats once in a while. However, I do not get to listen to music as much as I would love to because of my busy schedule.

What kind of books do you like to read?

I like to read biographies and autobiographies of how businesses are created. I am currently reading one of Brunel’s books, “The Man Who Built the World”. The first book I read when I got to Imperial College London was Goldman Sach’s “The Culture of Success”. I fell in love with books while studying at Imperial College London. I did not read a great deal before that.

What are you happier to spend money on?

I love to spend money on anything that will make an impact on people. The purpose could be charity or commercial. 

Also Read: The Lunch Hour, Odiri Oginni, CEO- United Capital Asset Management Limited 

If you get appointed as the Special Adviser on Housing in 2023, and the president asks you to tell him how he can increase access to mortgages for Nigerians, what would be your advice?

Whether you think it is 10, 15 or 20 million, the housing deficit in Nigeria is huge. But there are problems on the demand as well as the supply side. If there is a supply and there is no ability to afford it, then the demand is not effective. You are left with unused supply. That is why you see a lot of supply that is going into the housing market today being acquired by the same buyers over and over again. These buyers keep buying more properties for their portfolio.

So essentially, the housing market functions as a store of wealth for Nigerians with capital. Less than 30% of the people in Lagos own the houses they live compared to Ghana where 47.2% of the people living in urban areas own their own houses. And in Lagos, less than 5% of the 30% of people living in their own houses have secured a mortgage loan to acquire their homes. We have a low penetration of mortgages in Nigeria because of the high-interest rate environment which is also driven by high rates of inflation. To enable more Nigerians pay for their own homes, we have to find a way to give them access to low-interest mortgage loans.

Laide Agboola
The Lunch Hour: Laide Agboola

My solution will be to divert the five trillion naira we spend on petroleum subsidy to subsidizing the interest on mortgage loans. If people can get mortgages at around 7 or 8 % interest rate, this will trigger a massive boom in construction and real estate. We would be generating a lot of jobs while satisfying the social and economic needs of millions of Nigerians who want to own homes. If you look everywhere in the world, you would see that construction and real estate are the singular most effective means of galvanizing and rejuvenating economies.

The United Kingdom is a very good example of how to use clever town planning to unlock investment into real estate and boost access to property ownership for people while also generating tax revenues for the government. If you have not been to the Euston – Kings Cross area in London in six years, you would be totally lost if you visited today. A 3 billion pound regeneration scheme has transformed the once unfashionable part of North London into a delightful blend of trendy new residential buildings, shops, offices, leisure, and public spaces. Care was taken to ensure that not only the super-rich but also middle-class people could afford to buy the new homes.

Such urban regeneration projects ensure that people not only have affordable mortgages to buy homes but also live close to where they work. There are many Nigerians with regular monthly incomes who can afford 25-year mortgage loans at 7 % interest rate. But very rigorous planning and careful collaboration between the public and private sectors is required so that we can develop high-quality high-rise buildings that are also affordable to people in prime locations. Government at the federal and state levels need to have a register of 10 to 15 reputable developers, companies with a solid clear record, that they work with. The government can help these developers reduce interest rates by issuing guarantees to back the loans they take from banks.

This way, the government would increase the stock of housing without spending any money or issuing contracts to construct houses. This will be similar to the sort of thing InfraCredit is doing in the area of infrastructure. The government can do all these in a way that a lot of other social and economic objectives will be met. For instance, the developers could be made to meet obligations for social housing i.e., deliver affordable homes for public sector workers – teachers, nurses, junior civil servants, etc. – and other Nigerians with similar levels of income. 

What are your favorite places to holiday?

I love going on holidays. London is always my favorite but I also love to visit New York, Miami, and Spain. I normally do multiple destinations whenever I travel. I like to sit by the water but I do not like to stay on water. 

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