The amazing transformation of Ambassador Julius Oyedemi into a vibrant real estate mogul is one that continues to inspire hope and greatness amongst many Nigerians. Seven years ago, he joined one of Nigeria’s leading real estate firms, Property World Africa Network (PWAN) Group as a Business Development Executive, the lowest rank in the organisation. In this exclusive interview with TAI ANYANWU, Dr. Oyedemi takes us through his journey in real estate. Excerpts:
How will you rate the real estate sector in Nigeria compared to other parts of Africa?
Real estate in Nigeria is doing very well despite the challenges. People still see it as the surest step to wealth.
As a high-profile business leader, can you shed light on those things that helped to shape your journey and made you in such high demand?
Humility and paying attention to instruction have really helped a lot. The Bible says God gives grace to the humble. So, if you are not humble you will not have the grace of God.
Two, paying attention to details of simple instruction; not complaining, not questioning, but obeying before complaint just like the military say, is another pillar that has shaped me into the business leader I am today. Talking about academic qualifications; I have an honorary doctorate degree in real estate management from the American European University. I also have another certified project management issued by the School of Projects, UK. Much earlier, I got a degree in electronics and electrical engineering. I am also an alumnus of the famous Lagos Business School.
What is the most memorable challenge you have ever experienced?
I had an accident that left me with a serious knee injury in 2020. That incident heralded a destabilising period of excruciating pain which threatened my effectiveness on the job. I was on the hospital bed and momentarily out of work. It was not a funny experience. But I did not let that challenge put me completely out of action; because I am a target-oriented person. Whilst in a hospital bed, I still played my part and did my very best to ensure that my team achieved the set targets. To me, that accident remains an indelible challenge.
What inspired the Cedarwood brand of luxury apartments and terraces; can you tell us about the innovation which you invented?
Cedarwood brand is a unique brand that preaches that luxury is affordable, as far as real estate is concerned. We have been around for five years, and we have a collection of signature estates to our credit. Within five years of existence, we have established about 40 exclusive estates. Strong brand integrity is one of the attributes that has enabled us to achieve landmark achievements. It’s common knowledge that anyone who does business with us can actually go to sleep, and the business will keep running okay. At Cedarwood Luxury, our services are prioritised as a service to humanity. We do not do business for selfish purposes. And that’s because I am not just a leader, but a servant leader. I am not a leader who stays under the air conditioner all the time. I am a leader that moves. That’s why I said earlier two weeks after the accident; I was leaving my hospital bed, and going to the site.
Again, we are high on brand value at Cedarwood. We are a people that live on value. One of our biggest values is honesty. We built this innovation on the values of honesty and in everything we do, you will see a touch of excellence. We are very much accountable and very resilient, never giving up on our focus. Above all, we are a team. You will never hear me say I did this, I did that. You will always hear me say ‘we’.
When was the Cedarwood brand launched?
The ground-breaking of Cedarwood Luxury Apartments and Terraces was done in October 2020, in the Sangotedo area of Lekki- Lagos, during the COVID-19 lockdown. I was never deterred by the pandemic because I always face my business with every sense of discipline. The COVID-19 lockdown was a great lesson for us in real estate. I saw that the COVID scourge brought about a switch in real estate.
People began to look for finished apartments. So, the market was moving from the demand for land, towards finished apartments after the pandemic. Indeed it was like an end-time disaster. People were like, oh! We have bought an undeveloped parcel of land and what has been the gain? So, property investors worried that they had not invested well. They felt that it would have given more return on investment if they had invested in finished houses.
Understanding that transition, I gathered the team and we decided that going forward, we would be developing buildings and estate. God on our side, we had the first groundbreaking in October 2020. We have had several other ground-breaking events. In Lagos alone, we have five ongoing exquisite Luxury estates.
Three are located in the Sangotedo area of Lekki, the other in Ibeju-Lekki and another one is coming up in highbrow Ikoyi. One of these luxury estates is already completed, and allocated and the subscribers will move in and start living in it by this festive season. This is Cedarwood’s scorecard; I can tell you that the innovation is an amazing experience that changed the direction of our business.
Are there instances where you have impacted other people through your business?
Have you read the book about the five kinds of leaders? By the grace of God, I operate at the fifth level of leadership, which is the sophisticated leader. A sophisticated leader is one who makes room for others. A leader is at the top; he is at the front, creating room for others. Anyone who knows me knows that is the life I love. I can tell you that my organisation enjoys high staff retention. Most of the staff who joined me five, or six years ago, who came in as bachelors, young graduates with different experiences, are all married on the job. As I speak, many of them have children, they are now fathers.
Besides, I have a training programme called ‘ ‘The School Of Strategy’. The program has empowered lots of young and purposeful Nigerians desiring to be real estate moguls. Recently, I decided to reach out to more audiences. Hence, I created the online version. Starting in January, I will be having online training with interested people who want to make a living out of real estate and earn millions. There is so much to achieve in real estate; there are several opportunities to earn millions and billions, far more than doing yahoo-yahoo, being an armed robber, or a political thug.
With what God has deposited in me, the training and experience I have garnered, I have what it takes to lift others. Today, I have a great followership many of whom never thought that they could do well in real estate. Many of them are well-grounded, own their own real estate companies, and are doing very well. Some are already Executive Directors/Managing Directors of their own companies, and I won’t give up on that.
Have you hobbies outside work that you would say have impacted your life and made you a better leader?
I love reading, I love studying and one of my dreams is to have one of the biggest private libraries. Those that are very close to me know that I consume books a lot. I have a budget i.e. my income that goes to book purchases. The other thing that I love too much is music. Another amazing thing I love too much might make you laugh. I love good cars. I believe that having a good car gives you some view of certain opportunities. It also re-engineers your mental well-being. I will give you an example. I have a Land Rover Defender, which is not a common car or SUV in Nigeria. Each time I drive it on the streets of Lagos, everybody looks at me with so much awe. I have seen people look at it and say, ‘Oh I love your car’. I have come to understand that even what I drive is a message to people. Seeing a young man driving such an expensive car gives hope to people.
Finally, I love my family; I love my family so much. My philosophy is; if the home front is not in a good shape my productivity cannot be good. So, the home front is key. I love my wife; I love my kids and I love everybody that forms the family. Everybody that believes in my dreams, my vision I call them family. Those are the people you see around me.
What is the best piece of advice your wife has ever given you?
Funny enough, my wife is my biggest critic. Her advice comes in a hard format, in a sense, what she likes to see is a purposeful man. So, everything I do must be questioned; and there must be a why. My wife wants to know for instance: Why are you taking to buildings? Is it because others are doing it? Why are you buying a new car? Is it because you can afford the money? That has helped me a lot.
Before I do a thing, I call her and share my plans with her. She criticises each plan and whatever is left out of the plan is executed. This has helped us a lot.
How do you effectively combine your roles as a business leader, mentor, father, and husband?
I enjoy the grace of God. I think that one should aspire to lead a purposeful lifestyle by answering the following questions: What is my purpose here on earth? What do I want to achieve? What am I trying to achieve? Is it just to pass through life as a young man who is a developer? No. Having an understanding of my purpose on earth has made me know that I have a triangular life i.e., to my family, to my work, and to my God. Putting these together, you see that it’s a triangular relationship that cannot be broken. A lot of people see me from the family side, as a young man who is always happy with the family. There are people who are learning from me. Some see me from the God angle, as one who loves God and is devoted to God. A lot see me from the working angle. ‘Oh! He is a young achiever, at his age, he has done this and that opened other organizations under him.’ For me, that creates the balance we are looking for. Yes, beyond the grace of God we should desire a purposeful life; and like I told you, it’s a triangular relationship.
What lessons have you learnt over the years as a business leader that can help other business owners?
When you have tried all you can as a business owner and it seems things aren’t working, continue working and put your trust in God; because business is physical and business is metaphysical too. When we talk about the metaphysical, we are talking about spirituality – beyond the physical. So, when you have tried the physical, allow the metaphysical to come into play.
In what ways can you say you are adding value to Nigeria?
In several ways, sir. Number one. I am told that only about two percent of Nigerians have a roof over their heads. If less than two percent of Nigerians are having a roof over their heads, isn’t that a disaster? Finding myself in that business (and I call the ministry) of helping people to own their own abode, is indeed a great impartation to Nigerians at large. I am not talking about forcing people into owning a home, but about realizing their hope of owning a home. That’s the vision of the PWAN Group – making the homeownership dream a reality for all.
So to be honest, I am creating great value for Nigeria and Nigerians. Let’s look at the value chain beyond visible project developments. We are also creating jobs for people who are in construction. We are providing job opportunities for architects, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, building engineers, urban planners, town planners, paint manufacturers, the artisan, and we offer many opportunities for the locals to earn a living income.
Another part of the value chain is that we are always getting building approvals from the government, and it doesn’t come for free. We are creating revenue for the government. For every building approval, there is a fee to pay, no matter how little. You cannot get building approval if you are not a taxpayer. A further look down the value chain reveals that people find job opportunities in real estate activities, earn an income and that living income also trickles down to their immediate and extended families. So, the impact one is making, as a home giver, is indeed so great.
Where do you see the Cedarwood brand in the next five years?
If we have been able to come this far in just five years, in another five years using the geometric approach, even if it’s going to be an arithmetic approach, we would have doubled what we have achieved now.
Do you know why? The first five years have been a point of training. So, the next five years would be a point of elevation. Now, we have known the rudiments of development, and putting down the structures is a matter of just having the enabling environment.