HOW I SURVIVED MY BIGGEST SETBACK AS A LUXURY REAL ESTATE DEVELOPER – Sujimoto Boss, Sijibomi Ogundele
At age 34, he took the Nigerian scene by surprise with his Medici Terraces Luxury Apartments and later launching the tallest residential building in Nigerian. In 2015, Forbes listed him as one of the youngest under -40 billionaires to look out for. Today, his company Sujimoto Group is leading the pace when it comes to luxury real estate in Lagos. Not so many people can be trusted with a billion naira, yet local investors raised over a billion naira, a few months ago, for his undisclosed project in Banana Island. A firm believer of what he calls “Dangotism” (from the name Aliko Dangote), he has given back to the society in immeasurable ways. Although his dream to build the tallest building in Africa hasn’t fully materialised, he remains undeterred and ready to break into uncommon grounds in the real estate world. His name is SIJIBOMI OGUNDELE, the CEO of SUJIMOTO GROUP. I engaged him recently on an array of issues and his thoughts on subjects ranging from the current state of the luxury property market, future of the market, challenges and successes with his past projects as well as the future of Sujimoto were indeed enlightening.
Would you subscribe to the opinion of pundits who say the luxury end of the Lagos Property Market is yet to recover from the economic recession of 2015-2016?
John D. Rockefeller, a major real estate investor, heavily involved in major construction projects in the 20th century America said: “There’s no better time to invest in Real Estate than now because the major fortunes in America have been made in Lands”. Smart Investors are the ones who see the intrinsic value in a crisis situation. Ask most successful entrepreneurs and they will tell you that opportunities lie in a crisis situation; a winning mindset requires perseverance, and never letting a crisis go to waste. Historically, the luxury real estate market in Lagos has always shown extreme resilience in spite of recurring declines. It had been considered the classic hedge against inflation. Like I always say, real estate is the realest investment. You can never go wrong with real estate. The real estate market never really crashed and anyone who is still waiting for it to recover has already lost tons of money. When fearful investors were running away from investing in real estate, wise and savvy investors were busy buying more properties. Today, the difference is clear as those wise investors are raking in the profits. In the issue of high price elasticity, location has become the most important determinant of property demand. Like I always say, show me your nieghbour and I will tell you who you are. People don’t just buy the property, they buy the neighbourhood. The devaluation of the naira has also brought an effective increase in the naira rental value for dollar paying tenants. With most tenants switching to newer buildings with modern facilities to get quality value for money spent.
What in your opinion is the current state of that segment of the property market and going forward, what are your projections?
Like I said, the market has already gained some stability and can only continue to increase in value. In fact, prices have already gone up and if you’re just buying property you are late to the party but don’t be discouraged, still buy. I envisage that more people will pay for neighbourhoods and not land. Many buyers will rather spend money in Banana Island and Ikoyi rather than VI or Lekki because more people are realizing that your location determines your allocation. Real Estate is the new oil in Nigeria. Lands in key cities like Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, etc will keep skyrocketing as buyers struggle to buy property that will give better return on investment.
Where (types of developments) would you suggest investors look out for?
With the current happenings in the country and the rate of insecurity and constant killings, security tops the list of necessities for any right thinking investor, as no one will put their money where their family and investment can be tampered with. Developments like Luxury Terraces, Serviced Flats, Masionettes in good locations are not just necessary, they are mandatory. Sensible investors should be looking to invest in luxury developments in good neighbourhoods where security is guaranteed, modern amenities are available and the network of people is beneficial. In life, like I always say, your network determines your net-worth. When you spend more on a property in a good location, you are gaining and not losing. Also, the ROI on such properties will go up faster than others.
The LORENZO was a project many industry players expected with so much hope and enthusiasm… What Happened?
In 2016, we sold our dream of the tallest residential building and Africa’s first fully automated building – LorenzoBySujimoto, to Nigerians and the world. Investors were thrilled. The competition marveled at the audacity. As the list of our investors and new friends grew, so did our critics. Between January and December 2016, I had personally spoken to over 2000 investors & off-takers. About 1990 of them said ‘NO’! But, that didn’t discourage the entrepreneur in me or make me lose focus on the Lorenzo dream. Around April 2016, two of our major investors looked at the economic situation, most importantly some government policies, and backed out. One said ‘Suji, if your project were in Togo, we would invest in it’. I remember another saying, ‘Suji, risk we can mitigate, but uncertainty we can’t’. I was depressed, almost to the point of losing my life. It was the most difficult time of my life. The Lorenzo project is not dead like many people think. Yes, we experienced some hurdles along the way but those are just temporary. I do not go over the details of what happened because I refuse to focus on disappointment. Some clients requested for their money back and we made full refund because I believe in the currency of Integrity. However, I remain grateful to clients who trusted us enough to leave their money with us through perilous times. But today, I am glad to announce to you that those who left us and the investors who were very concerned and backed off are 100% back into the project and we are hoping to announce the comeback of Lorenzo before the second quarter of 2018.
You have a project currently going on in Banana Island, can u give us the details of the project and how well is it going?
The GiulianoBySujimoto is more than just a project; it is a game changer that will redefine the way people live. It is a convergence of 16th Century Architectural ingenuity, inspired by the great works of the great Medici Family, with the functionality of 21st Century Lifestyle. It brings Exclusivity, Location and Quality together in one space. In designing the Giuliano, we understood that to be needed, we needed to be loaded. We travelled all over the world to look for inspiration. Lands in Banana Island were expensive but we knew that Banana Island was the only location that will bring out the true value of the Giuliano. We conducted a research on the most beautiful new and old terrace houses and apartments in Ikoyi, what we wanted was to create a strong competitive advantage where every square meter from foundation to finishing, is an experience of quality and luxury. The Giuliano will be the best luxury terrace not just in Nigeria but the whole of Africa. No drop of paint will be on the Giuliano as the whole exterior will be cladded with a special Spanish façade, the same thing that was used in Chief Adebutu’s house (Baba Ijebu), which is dubbed the most expensive house in Nigeria.
We have already exceeded our target and are currently on the 4th floor, going to the 5th. I am grateful to God and working round the clock to ensure that the project is completed before the end of the 2nd quarter of the year. Only few units are left as investors who understand cherish quality and crave value have already bought into the project.
Are there other projects in the offing from Sujimoto?
Our vision at Sujimoto is to redefine luxury living in not just Nigeria, but Africa as a whole. We are consistently working towards that goal so yes, there are definitely more projects that we plan to execute. This year will be a very busy year for Sujimoto, we will be building a 20 units terrace apartment in Banana Island. We have a fabulous project that will start later this year on Queen’s Drive – about 30 ultra-modern apartments. We have 2 luxury hotels we will be building in Ikoyi and Maryland. We have a 40 unit waterfront apartment of 3 and 4 bedrooms in Banana Island and we want to try something in Entertainment, something that’s never been done before! So, it’s a very busy year for us, and we are hoping to achieve all this goals before the year runs out.
As a Lagos luxury real estate developer with decent records, what would you say has been your greatest challenge and how have you been trying to surmount them?
I have always said that doing business in Nigeria is not easy. It requires guts. Even Richard Branson tried and had to throw in the towel. So, I face challenges everyday and none of them have been easy. From funding projects to getting approvals from regulatory authorities to even picking the right staff, I have learnt to trust my instincts and I read a lot of good books. I am hungry for information that will increase my knowledge and help me make the best decisions. There is nothing new under the sun, there is no challenge other people have not experienced and conquered. So my studying mentors like MKO, Folorunsho Alakija, David Rockerfeller, Micheal Ibru and many more, I find necessary solutions and the courage I need to thrive.
I know how easy it is to have big dreams and allow the economic and social situation of the country snatch our dreams from us, but I also know that the accomplishments of our fathers were founded with the audacity of hope and aspiration. Even the country we call Nigeria would never have been birthed without the aspirations and persistence of Azikiwe, Awolowo and Balewa! I know that Alakija would never had been here today if she didn’t have the aspiration and determination that Famfa Oil will never shutdown. Besides, who will remember Chief MKO if he hadn’t inspired us with his grass to grace story of leaving Abeokuta to sell coal to sponsor himself to school and finally becoming one of the richest man in Sub-Saharan Africa?
HOPE and aspiration is what fuels me! The day young entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs stop listening to the voice of the pessimists and lock the door on the idea that their dreams are possible, that is the day we stop settling for lesser than what we deserve and our aspirations will turn to our destination.
Success is like a game of Chess to me, and I have learnt a long time that to win this game, you have to understand the rules. You have to understand the competition! You have to know when to start and stop. You have to know how to relate with the referees and manage the spectators. You have to be the BEST at every corner of the rule! You have to be fierce, determined and extremely passionate. You have to be willing to dig yourself out of a hole. You have to be disciplined, patient and never and ever lose track of the ultimate goal which is to WIN.