Larry Page’s Alphabet, an Echo of Biodun Shobanjo’s Troyka

Larry Page

By Bamidele Salako

Larry Page’s his­toric Google-toAl­pha­bet story (for the ini­ti­ated who is abreast of re­cent de­vel­op­ments within the tech gi­ant) is im­me­di­ately rem­i­nis­cent and evoca­tive of an in­spir­ing Nige­rian nar­ra­tive, some­thing of an en­tre­pre­neur­ial leg­end that has been told over and over again – a story we never tire of hear­ing and one whose corol­lar­ies have at­tracted global at­ten­tion and ac­claim – the Bio­dun Shobanjo In­sight-to-Troyka story.

Lo­cal and global news plat­forms and their com­men­tari­ats have been abuzz with earth-shak­ing newsflashes and analy­ses of the de­ci­sion by Google founder, Larry Page, 11 event­ful and rev­o­lu­tion­ary years af­ter co-found­ing the tech firm with Sergey Brin, to scale its oper­a­tions by in­cor­po­rat­ing a pub­licly traded hold­ing com­pany calledAl­pha­bet. With this sin­gu­lar act that im­pacted many like a bolt from the blue, Page cre­ated the busi­ness oxy­moron where the par­ent com­pany be­came a child of its own off­spring (so to speak).And so, even though Google came first chrono­log­i­cally, it now be­comesAl­pha­bet’s baby and a big sis­ter to oth­erAl­pha­bet di­vi­sions. That has cre­ated no lit­tle stir in the tech strato­sphere and the world gen­er­ally.

Lo­cal and global news plat­forms and their com­men­tari­ats have been abuzz with earth-shak­ing newsflashes and analy­ses of the de­ci­sion by Google founder, Larry Page, 11 event­ful and rev­o­lu­tion­ary years af­ter co-found­ing the tech firm with Sergey Brin, to scale its oper­a­tions by in­cor­po­rat­ing a pub­licly traded hold­ing com­pany calledAl­pha­bet. With this sin­gu­lar act that im­pacted many like a bolt from the blue, Page cre­ated the busi­ness oxy­moron where the par­ent com­pany be­came a child of its own off­spring (so to speak).And so, even though Google came first chrono­log­i­cally, it now be­comesAl­pha­bet’s baby and a big sis­ter to oth­erAl­pha­bet di­vi­sions. That has cre­ated no lit­tle stir in the tech strato­sphere and the world gen­er­ally.

In an of­fi­cial Google blog post ex­plain­ing the rad­i­cal and unan­tic­i­pated move, Page shared with his teem­ing army of fans and ben­e­fi­cia­ries of Google prod­ucts and ser­vices, “As Sergey and I wrote in the orig­i­nal founders’ let­ter 11 years ago, ‘Google is not a con­ven­tional com­pany. We do not in­tend to be­come one.’ …From the start, we have al­ways strived to do more, and to do im­por­tant and mean­ing­ful things with the re­sources we have.”
“We did a lot of things that seemed crazy at the time. Many of those crazy things now have over a bil­lion users, like Google Maps, YouTube, Chrome, and An­droid.And we have not stopped there. We are still try­ing to do things other peo­ple think are crazy but we are su­per ex­cited about. We have long be­lieved that over time com­pa­nies tend to get com­fort­able do­ing the same thing, just mak­ing in­cre­men­tal changes. But in the tech­nol­ogy in­dus­try, where rev­o­lu­tion­ary ideas drive the next big growth ar­eas, you need to be a bit un­com­fort­able to stay rel­e­vant,” Page wrote.

“We did a lot of things that seemed crazy at the time. Many of those crazy things now have over a bil­lion users, like Google Maps, YouTube, Chrome, and An­droid.And we have not stopped there. We are still try­ing to do things other peo­ple think are crazy but we are su­per ex­cited about. We have long be­lieved that over time com­pa­nies tend to get com­fort­able do­ing the same thing, just mak­ing incremental changes. But in the technology industry, where revolutionary ideas drive the next big growth areas, you need to be a bit uncomfortable to stay relevant,” Page wrote.

He then explained, “Our Company is operating well today, but we think we can make it cleaner and more accountable. So, we are creating a new company, calledAlphabet (http://abc.xyz). I am really excited to be runningAlphabet as CEO with help from my capable partner, Sergey, as President. What isAlphabet?Alphabet is mostly a collection of companies, the largest of which, of course, is Google…”

Many writers, analysts, economists and conspiracy theorists have adduced countless motivations for the development but Page’s seismically strategic business move echoes a similar one made some 25 years ago by the oracle and doyen of Nigeria’sAdvertising Industry, the enigmatic Chairman of Troyka Holdings, Mr. Biodun Shobanjo.

Biodun Shobanjo

He co-founded Nigeria’s No 1 advertising agency , Insight Communications, 35 years ago in 1980, with JimiAwosika (now Insight Managing Director), Chukwuma Ibe and three others. He was armed with an avant-garde orientation and flint-like sense of mission. Even though the odds were stacked against him and his vision, success was for him non-negotiable and in the final reckoning, inevitable.
Ten years on, when Shobanjo’s ‘Insight’ vision had developed wings and had begun to jet off at the speed of light into the hall of fame of successful African businesses, his presence led him to tow the same path that Larry Page has now opted for. Shobanjo incorporated Troyka Holdings (although not publicly traded – and even that for strategic business reasons) which has since grown to become arguably the largest and most innovative integrated marketing communications group in sub-Saharan Africa, with Insight (very much like Google in the Alphabet scheme of things) as the ‘BigApple’ of the group amongst other subsidiaries.

These Troyka divisions includeAll Seasons Mediacom and Media Perspectives (both Media Independents); Optimum Exposures (Nigeria’s leading out-of-home ad company); The Quadrant Company (a PR Consultancy), Hot Sauce (Digital Marketing); Black Onyx Properties (Real Estate), and the popular Halogen Security (asset protection and resource management).

Besides being continents apart, both men are two generations apart (Shobanjo was born in 1944 in the period just before the Second World War ended). Those born in that era (1925-1945) are referred to as the Silent Generation even though Shobanjo has obviously not been silent in his numerous accomplishments which are self-advertising. Page on the other hand was born two generations later as a Gen X-er in 1973. The principal element of my fascination with this juxtaposition is their identical ability to conceptualise a vision, commit to that vision while nurturing it assiduously to a point of immense societal significance and then letting that vision take on an identity of its own – independent of themselves. This is a rarity in Nigeria’s business landscape where big multi-million enterprises die with their owners.
In announcingAlphabet to his global audience, Page penned certain remarks that captured my attention and provided an insight into the core of the man’s leadership philosophy and business model: “Alphabet is about businesses prospering through strong leaders and independence.” He wrote.

“In general, our model is to have a strong CEO who runs each business, with Sergey and I in service to them as needed…We will also make sure we have a great CEO for each business.” He added.

In revealing the identity of the overhauled Google’s new CEO, Page wrote, “The new structure will allow us to keep tremendous focus on the extraordinary opportunities we have inside of Google.Akey part of this is Sundar Pichai. Sundar has been saying all the things I would have said (and sometimes better!) for quite some time now, and I have been tremendously enjoying our work together. He has really stepped up since October of last year, when he took on product and engineering responsibility for our internet businesses. Sergey and I have been super excited about his progress and dedication to the company.

“And it is clear to us and our board that, it is time for Sundar to be CEO of Google. I feel very fortunate to have someone as talented as he is to run the slightly slimmed down Google and this frees up time for me to continue to scale our aspirations. I have been spending quite a bit of time with Sundar, helping him and the company in any way I can, and I will of course continue to do that.”

One could cynically infer from Page’s submissions about Google’s restructuring and the glowing commendations given on the new Google helmsman as pure CEO-speak – a surreptitious attempt by the man to douse investors’ doubts and dispel shareholders’ fears about the immediate and future financial implications of such a massive restructuring as well as a possible backlash on the Stock Exchange and on revenues.

However, the fact remains that operating at that level – at one of the highest possible on a global stage – in the full glare of the world’s prying attention – requires the kind of thinking that Page adumbrated in the preceding paragraphs.And that’s the trail Shobanjo has blazed for years on the local business scene – the rare ability to own a vision and as that vision expands beyond and outgrows the scope of conception, not be afraid to let go and let others who possess fresh perspectives and insights to run with it and propel it to whole new levels previously unimagined by the creators.

Whereas Shobanjo has amassed massive professional reputational capital over the years riding on the wings of peerless professionalism as demonstrated through his firms’ penchant for excellent service delivery and impeccable client relationships, he has not tied his vision – which itself is a product of a transcendental imagination – to his apron straps. This would have been counterproductive, leaving the vision in a rut of ultra-conservatism that would have stifled innovation and suffocated the kind of progressive and disruptive thinking that businesses in the knowledge economy of the 21st Century not only requires but demands.

Hence in Shobanjo, we see a business model for all times in full bloom, one that only serves to remind of another globally celebrated super success story – that of French business magnate and investor, Bernard Arnault’s LVMH (LVMH Moet Hennessy . Louis Vuitton S.E.) – The world’s leading luxury goods conglomerate with total revenues of 30.6-billion euros in 2014.Arnault is Forbes’ 13th richest man in the world and the richest in France with an estimated wealth of $37 Billion. His powerful visionary leadership has seen LVMH expand into a global network of over 3,200 stores and over 100,000 employees.

The conglomerate’s iconic brands include Louis Vuitton, Moet & Chandon, Hennessy, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Sephora, Loewe, and over 50 other brands that operate independently within their areas of business activity with strong CEOs. Arnault’s vision for being a global industry leader by being a wholly integrated company finds perfect alignment with Shobanjo’s accomplishment in making Troyka the clear industry leader in Nigeria’s marketing communications landscape, providing integrated marketing communications solutions to many similar or varied clients through vertically linked subsidiaries that are strategically aligned with leading international partners. This is a feat also being replicated in the group’s horizontally-linked businesses.

At LVMH, an overarching recruitment ethos of only hiring “creative thinkers who have a pragmatic business mind, an entrepreneurial spirit, an international outlook, and an appreciation for luxury goods” holds sway. Larry Page in his explainer, also uses words like ‘strong’, ‘great’ and ‘independent’ to describe the CEOs that would head the Google spinoffs. These and more are qualities that have been the hallmarks of all Troyka subsidiaries for years – under Shobanjo’s powerful chairmanship. They do not merely exist as appendages that draw their lifeblood from one omniscient and omnipotent source with an overbearing omnipresence. On the contrary, they function as competent and autonomous source-like clones, leveraging the mountain of reputational assets controlled by the source to blaze their own trails, earn their own stripes, receive their own accolades and command the respect and recognition of peers and prospects within their distinct fields of operation.

What you simply find as a common denominator is excellence which is an entrenched communal culture that cuts across the board. Each Troyka subsidiary is held to the highest standards of professionalism in an uncompromising deference to industry and global best practices. Like lion kings, these strategic business units roar with authority through top-drawer performances within their respective industries sending the competition bowing in consensual, unquestioning acknowledgement of their supremacy.

KNIGHTS OF THE TROYKA ROUNDTABLE ANDTHEIR DUKEDOMS

It is a demonstrable fact that ingenuity, originality and success run in the DNAof all Troyka subsidiaries even as Shobanjo’s vision continues to expand and his ‘knights’ continue to conquer new grounds and chart new territories. It is no accident that the group is responsible for over a fifth of general advertising billing in Nigeria.Apart from the brilliance that qualifies you for a place at the table, this impressive achievement rate is due to Shobanjo’s renowned succession ideal that has seen him create solid platforms where potential is consistently nurtured into performance.

The grandmaster has taken the back seat as Emeritus Chief Executive, relinquishing the spotlight to a new generation of brilliant leaders who are adding their own chapters to the expanding success story and creating legacies of their own. These men, very much like the fabled Knights of the Round Table that populateArthurian Legends, are ingeniously positioned in the vanguard of extending the frontiers of Troyka while the sage weighs in occasionally with his wealth of wisdom and experience.

Like an invisible hand whose continued inflow of local and international awards will not afford the luxury of reticence, he navigates the expanding group from behind the scenes providing his business leaders with strategic directions and powerful insights when required.

JimiAwosika, Vice-Chairman, Troyka Holdings Ltd. is the group’s Generalissimo par excellence. Awosika is the yin to Chairman Shobanjo’s yang. Theirs is a time-tested relationship and enduring partnership that has weathered many gales. In the prickly woods of the business world where friendship, integrity and loyalty are exotic birds, the duo presents the corporate space with a picture perfect exemplar of what those virtues entail. His alias, Baale, by which he is informally and famously addressed, speaks volumes of the massive role he plays and the influence he wields not just within this giant conglomerate, but within the entire marketing communications industry, which he has helped populate with genius protégés of his own. Of course, Baale in Yoruba parlance is a designation that signifies headship of a community – in this context – the Troyka community.

The group’s other talented captains include, Feyi Olubodun, who leads the group’s flagship advertising agency, Insight Communications as General Manager, Bolaji Okusaga, Managing Director – The Quadrant Company – arguably the biggest Public Relations Consultancy in WestAfrica; DayoAdefila, who leads the group’s digital charge as Chief Operating Officer at HotSauce – a digital marketing agency; Sam Osunsoko, General Manager of the group’s newest baby – The Thiinkshop – an unconventional advertising agency; Dr. Ken Onyeali Ikpe headsAll Seasons Mediacom while Dr. Tayo Oyedeji leads Media Perspectives – both agencies easily Nigeria’s foremost media independents.
Troyka’s Out-of-Home companies, Optimum Exposures and Promoworld are headed by Bayo Adio and Funke Igwe, respectively. The Group’s asset protection and resource management company, Halogen Security Company Ltd., runs successfully under the stewardship of its MD/CEO, Wale Olaoye and the conglomerate’s real estate development and management company, responsible for operating and developing all its domestic real estate assets has Kayode Situ as its Chief Executive.

The foregoing only serves to paint a gripping picture of the pervasive phenomenal success that dots the ever-expanding Troyka landscape. It is then only natural that Larry Page, who has found a home for the management of Google’s regional brand reputation in Shobanjo’s TQC for years, would now begin to traverse the same concourse espoused over two decades ago by this accomplishedAfrican hero who is an entrepreneurial icon for all ages. The legend continues…

(This opinion piece first appeared in Nigerian national daily, ThisDay Newspaper on August 22, 2015: https://www.pressreader.com/nigeria/thisday/20150822/282222304502787)

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