TAJ; G for Genius!
Read an article yesterday about Mr. Tajuddeen Adepetu (goo.gl/pbTlsG), MD / CEO of Consolidated Media Associates Limited and I thought of writing this as an insider within the organization he leads and has been steering for over 15 years. Please note that this is simply for any young entrepreneur out there that is going through challenging times, to learn and be inspired about how to stay oncourse and not loose focus. Enjoy.
We were having a great run in 2005/06 as our TV products were doing quite well. Competition wasn’t that strong and our run at the time was profitable. But we still felt the need to expand the business into new directions. Our biggest brand was Soundcity at that time, but not the most profitable. In fact, our most profitable business at the time didn’t require a heavy running cost for production or management, as much as the popular Soundcity brand did.
Collectively we agreed that, “Soundcity is big out here in Nigeria (as a TV program). So why not set it up as a truly 360 media brand. Full TV channel, events promotion, magazine publishing & radio broadcast.” All of these weren’t going to be done immediately. They were ambitiously set up as future extensions for the brand from the project bible that year.
The Consolidated Media Associates (CMA) group was an independent producer with some players in the industry at that time but with a very big vision. The vision was largely conceived by Tajuddeen Adepetu (or Taj like we love to call him), and driven by key people with Taj as the captain of the ship. At that time (2007/08), we had about a hundred staff. So, to make Soundcity more robust, we grew up the events arm, which powered Soundcity campus blast activations and end of year concerts (The Blast concert was where I met my lovely wife by the way. Hey Segsta!). We also published the Soundcity Blast magazine. Staff strength grew, the business became naturally more expensive to run and the brand wasn’t matching up in profit but somehow, we kept financing in-house.
The most expensive venture yet for Soundcity was the Soundcity Video Music Awards (SMVA). In three years (2008, 2009 and 2010) it gulped a little over $3million; all from personal company funds. For every year we held the SMVA, we got corporate bodies that would assure us of sponsorships but always ended up pulling out at the last minute. It was never a fun experience.
Our annual concert was good but not profitable either (the last one before its re-launch was in 2010). Thankfully the concerts have been back now for two consecutive years and they are much bigger and better (You may watch the 2014 concert here https://youtu.be/50C93DnAjfE or the 2015 concert here https://youtu.be/RQ254JkTubo).
The Soundcity Blast Magazine readership wasn’t too great because there was a big “Cabal” in magazine distribution in Nigeria. Blast Magazine was solid content wise but the viability of the business was questionable from different standpoints including its marketing and editorial authority. It was an expensive business that easily gulped over $1million during its run. I silently believe that run may not be its last though as I have hopes for a digital reboot someday when the environment and culture permits it.
Then there was Business Television (different from some other “Business TV” I just heard of last year). Business Television (BTV) was the ultimate money gulper with a fairly large staff for the daily syndicated production on Free-to-Air TV. They say good TV costs money. It didn’t come truer than with BTV, which was costing us an arm and a leg almost by the minute. The problem might have been because it was way ahead of its time. It came up daily on popular free to air stations at that time thrice a day. It was magical television; like a never before seen business-block-programming in Nigeria. It was meant to be the cash cow for CMA but in my opinion, advertisers didn’t seem ready for business-based programming. Also, I think some in-house politics from broadcast partners must have partly killed the brand. It easily threatened the audience base of partner TV stations and many of them probably weren’t happy about that. BTV ended up sucking up investments of about $10million. The decision to stop producing for Business Television was one of the hardest decisions I think Taj ever made because it was definitely a passion project for him.
The fact is that Taj is a thinker. He thinks deeply about virtually everything and it helps him analyse and break down the most challenging issues of a day. As a filmmaker, everything always appears vividly to him. If you have a conversation with him, he’ll most likely use the ‘I can see it’ line with you. This analytical mind drove (and still drives) most of his decisions, but it also meant sometimes that he was way ahead of his partners and carriers at the time, as they couldn’t see where he wanted the brand to be and what he was trying to achieve. Jealousy too was also a fact as a number of his peers were left wondering how he was able to always march on. The jealousy bred other things. Some independent producers got wind of one of our profitable businesses back then and went in hard on us. You know that thing they call Mr Copy and Mrs Cat? Original, duplicate, triplicate? People started going in from different angles! “Gbese!” That hit us hard!
Slowly then rapidly workers were leaving the company. Top management kept leaving one by one. Actually, till date I am still surprised by certain people that left. But the closer I got to Taj the clearer it became to me. First, the company couldn’t pay salaries and people had families to cater for. Secondly, some folks took our business bible and established theirs in smaller scales and even took clients with them. Company operations became skeletal and our office almost became like a ghost town. We pretty much hit rock bottom! You know what they say about rock bottom, once you hit it, it can’t be worse than that. It can only get better.
One thing that I respect Taj for is; for everyday in the two years of not affording to pay salaries he showed up at work at 8am. It was completely unbelievable. People expectedly, went on and on brandishing him & CMA with all sorts of tags. It was horrible. For me, money wasn’t that important when compared with the future opportunities I could see. I was thrilled with the marvelous things we were doing and about to do with Taj’s vision. I remember saying to myself a lot; “this is a golden opportunity to be with this man that created Family Circle and Everyday People.” He obviously had done things right and had the capacity to do more. He spoke confidently about our next moves but sometimes the temptation of “Baba, money no dey pocket you dey talk next move” would spring up in my head. In the long run, he robbed off on me and it ended up becoming a mind over matter situation for me. I hardly ever thought of money or the lack of it anymore. Maybe my age was a factor as I was around 24 years, I was hungrier to grow than I was to make money.
One of the best things that came out of that bleak period was the fact that Taj and I got very close to each other. Before then, I had minimal access to him. Seeing as there’s a solid 20 years difference between us, it impressed me that our work relationship has (and still is) always mutually respectful. The dynamics always went from father-son in one minute, to big brother-little brother the next. It has rarely ever been an employer-employee situation. He actually isn’t a fan of that employee-employer thing but that’s by the way.
We understood each other easily. All through the years, I can only think of one single situation where Taj ranted for maybe 10 to 15 seconds; for which he called me later in the evening to sincerely apologise. He is the ultimate gentleman with a simple life and no ego.
Anyways, two years with no salary sifted the company. Operational costs were growing. Some debts with previous partners were still serviced. And Taj’s never-say-never spirit kept firing some of us up. I’ll speak for myself here, Taj fired me the f**k up!
Suddenly, somehow we got a break. You see, Taj is an “if it will kill us, it should kill us but we must do everything so it won’t kill us” type of guy. He is a very brilliant man that can think through a hard time with 100% calmness. During that horrible period, we interestingly got Soundcity on cable, started a terrestrial Free-to-Air TV station (ONTV) that has consistently been rated number one, and launched the only Fashion Channel in Africa by a Nigerian; Spice TV.
Subsequently, we have added a telenovela channel; Televista, another general entertainment channel; ONMAX, Nollywood channel, TrybeTV, Radio Stations (Urban Radio & Soundcity FM) and a 24 hour News channel; Access 24!
The lesson is simple, stay true to whatever you believe in. There’ll always be distractions and challenges, but you can overcome eventually. People won’t always believe in your vision. Folks will laugh off your crazy ideas. You know what you want, just blank everyone off and focus on it. In those hard times, Taj didn’t even think of giving up. He kept pressing hard and drove staff crazy by challenging us with innovative ideas. I’m very certain there were times when he had zero naira on him. If you asked him for money, he’d say “I have 5K here, let’s share it at N2,500 each”. The good (or bad) thing is, Taj’s body frame always gave him away as a big man with a loaded wallet, during those bleak years but his wallet was thin. Haha.
His kindness is another thing. A number of the people that left CMA somehow came back one after the other and Taj had no issues re-employing them. Not many would do that. The lucky people that know him personally will tell you that he is a great guy and I think if you ever have the opportunity to meet him feel free to chat him up. He is very quiet, and it makes people almost think he has ego. He is a leader that’s always in the back seat preferring to empower young people instead of taking the shine. Today, CMA has over 250 staff on its payroll. It powers several businesses besides our core business. It invests in tech companies and other production businesses and ventures. It is still growing exponentially and we are in a good place with better experience now.
Taj turned 51 about a month ago and unsurprisingly, it was a silent birthday. In fact when he turned 50 last year he told us that he wasn’t celebrating because he hasn’t achieved his goals. After numerous meetings and plans with his wife I was so bummed that nothing happened, mostly because I wanted to turn-up.
Taj is selfless. He is worthy of many celebrations. He is a guru. He has changed lives around Nigeria with his passion projects from his soaps to his TV channels and events. He is an icon that has done well. He has seen both sides of life and he’s been able to bounce back stronger when hit hard. That’s determination. And with regards to achievments, he is completely unmatched. I doubt anyone has eight active TV channels and Radio stations combined in Nigeria today. Taj does.
We should celebrate people like him more and learn from his dedicated life.
Sir, you don’t get the deserved props often enough and you most likely like it that way but I choose to celebrate you and a toast to you sir. Thank you sir!
P.S: I met Taj for the first time by chance and I said right there that I was going to work with him. I was 19 and he invited me to his office. His office was intimidating and we had a brief meeting where he asked how much I was looking for as salary? I answered saying I didn’t know and he scribbled 55K on a piece of paper and said think about that and start tomorrow. That money was a blessing. A year later, we bought some company cars for top management and he randomly called me and said “Olams, call the head of traffic he has something for you” I thought they wanted to pass one of the old cars to me. Alas, he gave me a brand new Toyota Corolla. It was unbelievable! I was like from where to where? Only top management staff were cruising the Toyotas. There’s no reason not to like the guy! Best guy!