Mr. Olusola Olatayo Ladipo-Ajayi is the outgoing CEO/Managing Director LASACO Assurance PLC. He tells Adeola Balogun and Ademola Olonilua about his life as an insurance man
After 43 years of working, have you been nursing any fear about your retirement?
For two good reasons, I have never had any cause to be afraid of retirement. The first reason is that in 1961 when my father retired as station master in Nigerian Railway Corporation, I was just five years old and I had not started school and my father died at the age of 97 in 1998. He was 60 years old in 1961 when he retired and he was still able to train me. He was able to do everything that I got to know because in his working life, I was a toddler and I did not really know anything about him. I knew my father as a pensioner and he was a very responsible man and he was respected in the society, church, and everywhere. One thing I learnt from him is that if you can manage yourself properly, you would have recognition and peace of mind. So for that reason, I did not have any fear about retirement.
Secondly, since 1973 when I started, I knew I would retire on October 22, 2016. I knew because since I came into insurance, I have known that the retirement age is 60. I was the youngest in my class in secondary school but I have worked longer than all my classmates. If I had worked in the civil service, I would have retired about eight years ago, after 35 years of service. I am grateful to God that everything is according to the script; I am not given a compulsory, forceful or voluntary retirement. I am retiring normally, as it should be. One thing I also glorify God for is that from February 20, 1973 up till October 22, 2016, I have never missed one month salary. I have always been paid as and when due. That is an achievement that I am very grateful to God for because when people tell me they have not been paid for about six months, I wonder how they cope. God has been very kind to me.
It means you must have made robust plans for retirement. What are some of your retirement plans?
I am an insurance man and pensions used to be a full part of insurance. I remember when I was president of the Chartered Insurance Institute, I was a guest speaker at one of the ICAN conferences and I delivered a paper on pension planning. You plan your pension from the very first day that you begin work and there are so many things you must put in place to make sure that your retirement would be pleasurable, God willing. The problem of retirement is that you may think you would die early but may die at a much later age. My father worked for NRC for 32 years and lived for 37 years thereafter. My father was my first model in retirement. I have prepared long time ago. If Jesus tarries and God spares my life, I am prepared for a long drawn retirement. My mother died at the age of 91 while my father died at 97, so if God allows me to die somewhere in the middle, it means I would be on earth for about 94 years. I am under no illusion that life is a long distance race.
What are the challenges of pension?
When you grow old, the major challenges would come from your health and then of course there are modern developments. Retirement is not a time for you to catch up with what you have missed. It is a time to enjoy what you have done and thank God for his grace. If you look back in your life, you would see so many people who faltered. There are so many people who did not have the grace to be alive to see their retirement; so it is not a time to struggle but relax. You can just find something to do to keep body and soul together but I am not going to spring any surprises at 60. If I buy a car now, it is just to convey me from Point A to Point B and it is not to keep up with the Jones’. There is no fad again for me, I am just here to live life quietly and enjoy the fruit of my labour with my wife and then my grandchildren because for my children, I think that I have trained them and they should be on their own. I am only waiting for their children to benefit from their grandfather. For them, they have to take care of me. I would not wait for them but the challenge is for them to take care of their father; I would look more towards my grandchildren than my children because I have trained them, so they should be on their own. As the Yoruba say, ‘you make profit on your children’. You don’t take them to the market to sell instead, it is when they come to greet you and give you gifts that you gain from them.
As a lawyer, do you intend to go into full time practice?
I am a lawyer but I am also an ordained priest in the Anglican Church. I had a pact with God that if he could see me through to the end of my career at 60, then I would devote the next ten years of my life to him full time. My priesthood is my full time occupation now, anything I do is on the sideline. I am not a stipendiary and because of what God has done for me, I do not intend to earn one naira from serving the Lord. So my ministry is a ministry of thanksgiving because God has been good. I say He has been good to me because I started from the lowest level; I was a clerk, principal clerk, assistant superintendent; I climbed every step of the ladder for 43 years. Twenty three out of those 43 years, I was managing director of two insurance companies.
What do you intend to do with the law degree you acquired?
I have put my legal knowledge to tremendous use in my career as an insurance person because insurance is purely law. In my career as managing director and chief executive officer, my legal knowledge was very handy and I did not need to go to court to enjoy the benefits of my legal education. Even as a priest, I am about to conclude my LLM in canon law from the catholic university. There is law in the ministry because every society is ruled by laws. We have the rule of law and its opposite is anarchy. When you are a lawyer, you are relevant in any situation you find yourself. So, even as a priest, my legal knowledge is very relevant. I don’t have to open a chamber or go to court. In fact, most times, lawyers are needed before there are disputes. When you get lawyers involved, they set things in different perspectives so that there would be no controversy or disputes and even if there are, they would be able to settle things according to the rules of the society. I was already managing director of an insurance company before I started studying law and it has been very handy.
Can you recall the day you began working and where was the exact office you resumed at?
I resumed at Sun Insurance office, No. 131 Broad Street, Lagos. I had just left school and I wanted to do something before I went for further studies. Incidentally, I wanted to be a journalist and the reason was because I like sports a lot. However, I am not good at any sport when it comes to competition. I was only good at shouting and clapping. I felt since I had a passion for sports and I could recall all the events that took place during any competition in school, it would be wise to become a journalist. Also, I loved travelling a lot, so I thought I would be paid for doing my hobby if I became a journalist. I imagined myself covering the African Cup of Nations, travelling to other African countries to cover events. Suddenly I became an insurance man by accident.
Can you describe the accident?
I just got stuck. We were the last set of people to do their school certificate examination in December and our result was out around May but I did not do as well as I wanted to. I would have loved to go back to school to re-take the exams but the people behind us were scheduled to do their exams in two months. I thought it was impossible for me to go back and do an exam with people that were in Form Three when I was in Form Five. In Baptist Boys High School, Abeokuta then, seniority was for life. I could manage going back a year but two years was outrageous. In retrospect, that was a foolish thought but it was part of God’s plan for my life.
In the meantime, the late Johnson Akinleye came back from the UK, he was a fellow of the chartered insurance institute and he was very well placed even above older people. He was given an office and I told myself, if this young man who was less than 30 years old could be raised above these old men, then there is a way there. I started looking at newspapers to know how much people with Associate of Chartered Insurance Institute earned. At a point in time, a new insurance company was going to be established and they needed general managers and chief executive officers who had ACII and ten years working experience. They said they were going to pay the person N12,000 per annum with a house in Ikoyi, Apapa or Victoria Island. The person would also be entitled to two drivers. I was just 17 at the time and I told myself that if I could struggle within about three years to take the exam, then by the time I was 31, I would be earning about N12,000 per annum. During the time I was thinking this way, I was earning about N50 monthly. I felt if I could earn N1,000 monthly at the age of 31, then it meant there must be something in insurance for me. That was how I jettisoned journalism. I am the sixth and last born of my father, all my brothers were encouraging me to become an insurance man. In fact, one of them told me that all my friends that were in the university would still come back to do professional exams. He reasoned that it was not necessary that everybody should follow the same path. He said when one took a different path from others, it could be better for one than following the masses. My friends were pressurising me to attend the university while my brothers were urging me to stay and do my professional exams. I trusted my brothers’ judgement and I also told myself that my brothers would not collectively mislead me. They further told me that I could always go back to the university after my professional exams and that is exactly what happened. By the time I qualified in 1983, I was already ten years in the insurance industry and I was just 27 years old. Then, people had already known me in the insurance industry. I found it easy in the technical committees of Nigerian Insurance Association, everybody knew me. I was already very well established in the industry. I think I am better off as an insurance man than a journalist with due respect to all journalists.
Many Nigerians do not trust insurance firms and their personnel, were you faced with such a challenge while you were in active service?
I was 16 years old when I was making all the decision about my life but there is a difference. I was not just a 16-year-old boy, I attended BBHS, Abeokuta and it was all round education; in fact, I had enough education to last me a lifetime. All you needed to do after BBHS was to build on the foundation. I remember my late principal, Chief Gabriel Adebayo Otunla, would tell us that life is full of heroism everywhere. He told us one day that he did not want all of us to be doctors, lawyers, etc. He said he wanted us everywhere there is a noble human enterprise. He told us that the day Nigeria would send its first set of people to the moon, he would be glad if an old boy of BBHS was there. When I chose to be an insurance man, my determination was to be the first old boy of BBHS to make a name in the insurance world. I was enjoying that illusion for some years until I discovered that there were so many people ahead of me; people like Mr. Adewuyi, Chief Oguniyi, Peter Faramade Ojo, and a host of others. At first, I was pissed off that these people were all over the place but as the saying goes, if you cannot beat them, you join them. I am so happy because my life would not have been the same if I did not have that firm grounding of the BBHS. It was not just O-level that we went to do there, we went to school of life and they gave us real insight into how to survive in life. If I had sold firewood, I would still have been driven by the spirit of the BBHS to become second to none. That is the driving force.
Coming back to insurance, there is no industry in Nigeria that has not been bastardised. If I had been a journalist, I would have been accused of collecting brown envelopes. Even judges or clergy men are not left out. It is everywhere. They have something bad to say about everybody. If you look at all that, then there is no profession to follow in Nigeria. As for insurance, it has to do with the level of awareness. Maintenance is not part of our culture and insurance is the head of maintenance. Risk management does not joke with insurance and we are just getting to know about risk management. So when many people criticise insurance in ignorance, what we have spent our career doing is trying to educate them and things are getting better. Most people do not read their policies. They don’t even believe in the concept of insurance because they do not understand the way it works. They would say how do I buy a car for N20m and I give you N2m, then you say when there is a claim, I should come for N20m. They think there is something fishy about that but insurance is just calculated risk management. What we do as insurance people is look at the available records. If there are 2000 cars in Lagos, in the last five years, 15 of them were stolen, 20 of them were involved in an accident. How do you get those people who suffered losses to be compensated? You know the expectation but you do not know the particular individual who will suffer the loss. All you do is that all the people in that homogenous group would be brought together. Tell them the perceived rate of loss in the environment, they should contribute enough money to take care of a particular number of losses. When you break it down to the larger number, it becomes small per capital. Insurance thrives on the law of large numbers because for those projections, the larger the population the more accurate it becomes. We also have a contingency in the premium in case our projections do not go well. So the loss that would have fallen on a few would become light if shared by others. That is what insurance is all about. On our own part as purveyors of insurance, we did not help. When you trace the history of insurance marketing, you find out that the greatest problems came from the canvassers, those people were very common when I was growing up. Then when you say you want to be an insurance man, they would tell you that you want to be carrying portfolio about and begin to lie to people. Those people then had to lie, intimidate and cajole people because it was a situation of work and eat for them. If they did not sell, they would not eat, so they told lies among many other things but today, marketers are better. They are graduates, well-educated and retained by companies after service. They get regular salaries and those who don’t have regular salaries have commissions and all sorts of incentives.
Another thing that has made it easier now is the increased supervision of the industry by the National Insurance Commission. The corporate governance of the financial institution has come forcefully on insurance companies. All you need do is report to NAICOM or NIA among others. I think today, the insurance company is short-changing itself in order to please the public but that has not totally changed the concept of insurance.
What is so special about BBHS that its old boys are always boasting about?
The motto of BBHS is nulli secondus, which means ‘second to none’ in English. It means ever first. A friend of mine who did not attend the school said that the Baptist missionaries who gave the school its motto must have fasted and prayed so much because the school is living up to that motto. Olusegun Obasanjo, Gbenga Daniel, Prince Bola Ajibola, Prof. Adeoye Lambo, Professor Ojetunji Aboyade, among others passed through the school. First and foremost, the school is well grounded in Christ. MKO Abiola was there and that is why when you heard him speak, he would quote several bible passages. It was an enabling environment and we had an all-round education. One beauty about the school was that it is not an elitist school, it was a school that turned ordinary stones into precious metals. We had our literary and debating societies, we had our games, we had our training union and everything a normal school had. They also encouraged us to find our area of strength and excel in it. The emphasis was on moral upbringing. We were always told that it is better to fail by honest means than to pass through dishonest means. When we were in school, every day they would reel out the names of old boys who were nobody before they got into the school but had made a name for themselves. When someone tells you about Obasanjo, his background and how he became the head of state, a president and now a world citizen, you would be motivated to do well. Even if you do not become the head of state, the story would inspire you. Not many schools would do that. It is a special kind of environment which is infectious.
At what point in your life did you decide to settle down with a wife?
My wife is Margaret Ayodele, nee Adeoye. I knew her through my friend who was her senior in secondary school and he was her neighbour as well. His name is Kehinde Adedoyin and he lived at Apesin in Mushin. I saw my wife one day when I went to visit my friend. Kehinde was so close to my wife’s family that we all thought they had an affair but they did not. When I told Kehinde to date her, he said that he would never do a thing like that because they trusted him so much in their family and he would never betray that trust. My wife is the first child of her family and she has only one sister, so they made my friend their big brother figure and he lived up to expectation. I told him that he should introduce me to the girl and since they did not trust me, I did not have any moral obligation. Incidentally, they were living directly opposite my mother’s aunt. She was my mother’s guardian when she was a spinster. The day I went to her house, the woman thought I had come to see her till I told her I wanted to visit my wife whom I called my schoolmate even though it was a lie. The woman stood up, took her head tie, held me by the hand and led me to my mother-in-law. She told them that I was her son, and that was how I got approval from her parents. The girl had not said yes but the family had agreed. We courted for seven years because I told myself I would never get married unless I had the ACII diploma. I did not want to be anything other than my father who was a very responsible man. I told myself that there was no point getting involved when I was not ready. So in 1983 when my result was released and I became an associate, I went to my wife’s house and announced that we would get married before the year ran out because I had got my meal ticket.
What are some of the pranks you were involved in as a young boy?
I had a normal upbringing and there is nothing extraordinary about me. We went to parties, had discos, and contributed money for fun but with the benefit of hindsight; people that were older had always told me that they had always noticed that I was different in a way. For example, I never smoked and I never drank, not because of my religious conviction, but I just did not like that. It did not make sense to me to make money, buy cigarette and set fire to it and puff the smoke. What is the benefit? Beer was also bitter, so what was the essence of doing it? When we were growing up in those formative years and we were talking to girls, I did not like having so many girlfriends, just one girl and I would be with her till there was a breakdown in the relationship. Generally, the overriding influence of my family background and school influence made a lot of difference. You cannot compare BBHS with other schools.
The only party that I knew which we held at BBHS was in 1968 when Papa Akinsanya was retiring. He was the first African principal of the school. We held a party and a school band from Premiere Grammar School, Abeokuta, came to play. The seniors thought the day would be a special one but by 7:30pm, the new principal ended the party. When I came to Lagos, I followed my cousin to one secondary school and they had disco in the day time. Everywhere was dark and I was so afraid, I had to ask where the principal and teachers were. It was not something I could imagine. They had a party in broad day light and they used blankets to cover the windows blocking every ray of sunlight.
Why did you decide to spend 20 years of your life at LASACO?
Maybe it is because I am flat footed. I worked for 20 years at Sun Insurance, three years at Summit and another 20 years at LASACO. I am an old school person. You don’t just change for the sake of change. God was gracious to me and I had rapid promotion at Sun Insurance, so there was really no need for me to leave until the circumstances became something else. The environment was no longer conducive, so I had to leave at that time. Luckily before the company was in crisis, I was out. In Summit, it was more of a stopover because it was a young company and also, the opportunity of leading a much bigger company came up so that was why I left for LASACO which was very well established.
At the time I came to LASACO, the company was below sea level. Quite honestly, I did not see it the way it was. Nobody in his right senses would see LASACO properly the way it was then and plunge into it because it was like committing suicide. One thing helped me, I prayed and fasted about it and when I got there, I told God that he had to be with me because I told Him before I came. Gradually, we were pulling the chestnut out of fire and with every step I took at LASACO, there were different challenges and with the help of God, we surmounted them. When I look back, I don’t know how I did it but I know it is with God’s help. Today the company is much stronger and respected. It is now able to meet its obligations to the insuring public. When I just got on board, LASACO had not paid 11years tax to the Federal Government and there were so many outstanding claims that were not paid, there were so many debts on the ground. Sometimes when I got into the office, I would ask myself, ‘what are you doing here?’ But I knew I had the approval of God, so I stayed put. It was not as if I did not have offers, even while I was at Sun Insurance, I had offers but I rebuffed them. I felt I had the responsibility to push the company forward away from the danger zone. In any case, God was prospering me and the boards that I worked for recognised that and the appreciation they showed was good enough to keep me going. The industry also gave me opportunities. Everything is not about money. I did not leave LASACO a poor man even though I did not make stupendous money from the firm. I am not a poor man by any means, I would not have to struggle because I know how to cut my coat according to my cloth. I actually enjoyed the challenges. It was when I was there that I became the president of Chartered Insurance Institute, chairman NIA, what else do I want? My board, staff, and clients recognised me but more importantly, my professional colleagues recognised and respected me.
Would you attribute the success of LASACO to the fact that it is owned by the government?
I must thank all the chief executives of Lagos State starting from Alhaji Lateef Jakande who established the company. We enjoyed good relationship with General Buba Marwa. I did not have so much contact with Chief Oyinlola because I came in the tail end of his career. Above every one of them, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is the father of modern LASACO. But for him, probably LASACO would have gone. I would say Lateef Jakande is the grand-father while Tinubu is the father of modern day LASACO. We owe the existence of LASACO to God and him.
All the other governors have been very good; we enjoyed a good relationship with Mr. Tunde Fashola. The incumbent, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode, was the former accountant-general and permanent secretary ministry of finance. That means that as permanent secretary in the ministry of finance, he was the direct supervisor of LASACO and as accountant-general, he was our pay master.