It’s a Konnect Africa Interview! Meet the amazing and exceptional publisher Gbenro Adegbola, the Managing Director of First Veritas Educational Content Delivery Ltd. Gbenro has carved out his own niche in the Nigerian publishing industry, his passion for Education, Innovation and Empowerment is quite inspiring.
In this interview, he talks about his journey through the world of publishing, his motivation for starting up his own firm, his future goals and of course some advice and tips for the young and aspiring.
It may interest you to know that Gbenro is set to revivify not just the Nigerian publishing industry but also the Nigerian educational system.
Want to know what makes him tick in the industry? Then grab a chair!!
K.A: Can you please tell us a little about yourself?
Gbenro: I am a book publisher and tech enthusiast. I take a lot of interest in how technology is affecting our daily lives but most especially, how tech can help education to be delivered more engagingly, and improve learning outcomes. My background is in the humanities though. I am married, incidentally to someone who is also involved in education, and I have two great kids who in reality are now adults.
K.A: Education please…
Gbenro: I took a combined honors degree in Dramatic Arts and Literature-in-English from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), a Master of Arts degree in Language Arts, from University of Ibadan and a Diploma in Book and Magazine publishing from New York University. I have also attended various other courses at the Lagos Business School as well as Yale University.
K.A: How did you get into publishing; is it a flair you’ve always had or did you have to take any additional classes to hone your skill?
Gbenro: I was steered through parental influence towards being an academic, but my Masters degree was so poor that to proceed further towards that goal would have taken additional years of remedial work, which I was not at all interested in doing! In any case, I didn’t have much personal passion for being an academic. The next best was to go into publishing of which Ibadan had many mainstream firms and allied businesses. I can’t really claim to have had a flair for publishing but once I got into it, I developed what was close to flair, a deep enthusiasm for it. Once this was spotted, I was sent on various courses locally and abroad to hone my skills, including the one at NYU. I also personally invested in improving myself formally and informally. I tell people in my more honest moments, that my real passion is commerce, creativity and innovation; in that order. I just happen at this point in my life to be dealing in educational content in book and other media.
K.A: Your position as the MD of Evans Brothers Nigeria publishers limited was an enviable one, what spurred you to strike out on your own?
Gbenro: I was MD of Evans for I think, 13 years, which was long enough! I restructured and re-branded the company after almost a decade of non-performance and accomplished a dramatic turn around in the fortunes of the company within a year. I started and concluded a massive publications-list building effort for the company. I personally identified an ailing Nelson Publishers, led its acquisition to become a subsidiary of Evans and achieved its recovery within two years of acquisition. I took the company from a middling company to one with turn over in excess of N2:billion. Really, I had done all that there was to do there.
The brand was strongly ‘education associated’ and not restricted to books alone, and I saw in this an opportunity for the company to engage in other ‘education associated’ services and products. I therefore attempted to move the company in the direction of that vision, with the formation of a subsidiary to develop tech in education products. Unfortunately, the company had a dysfunctional and ageing board which was rendered all the more dysfunctional by successive deaths by old age of its members, culminating in the sad death of the only young member who in my view was the only non executive member, equipped by education, exposure and disposition to understand this and back it with his clout. I discovered, in this situation that we were sadly on very different pages on the issue. So I had to leave to found a company where I could put my intellectual resources squarely where my ideas lay. I had to leave that comfort corner and cast out into far deeper waters where the catch promises to be as stunning as on a biblical scale!
K.A: What do you intend to do differently in Nigeria’s publishing industry?
Gbenro: I have a favourite prediction, which I started talking about in 2013, that the fastest growing project in education over the next five years in this country will be the move into the digital sphere. In other words, the future of publishing, both the educational strain as well as the general one, is digital. And that is precisely what we are doing; laying the foundation for that and putting together some of the digital structures that the industry will be needing. So, we are pursuing our print publishing program with a very strong digital component to go along with it. We have an e-distribution capacity that places e-books from participating publishers for sale in more than 1,000 e-retailers, including the big names; Amazon, Apple, Waterston’s etc. We have been testing our own web store that will not only sell e-books but also allow individual readers and schools to order and pay for their print books on-line for later delivery. We shall be launching the web store very soon. We are using and re-purposing the content in our existing print books to create both mainstream and supplementary derivative products. And we also ensure that our all our books for Kindergarten come with an interactive component, so that the kids we are raising can be truly digital natives. We will pursue the same course with primary books. Those are the things we are doing differently at the moment and we, not only derive enormous satisfaction from them; the schools and the kids who use them love it immensely also!
K.A: Do tell us about your publishing firm…
Gbenro: Our firm is called First Veritas Educational Content Delivery Ltd. We chose that mouthful of a name to remind ourselves that we are not your typical publisher, to open our eyes beyond just print books and as a means of differentiating ourselves to our public. We have a pay off phrase: Education, Innovation, Empowerment, which captures all we are doing. We deal in educational content and our content can be delivered in innovative ways in whatever medium we choose, to empower young people and their teachers. We started out in January 2013 and are about closing what has been a most delightful and successful first 18 months trading year in March 2014. We nursed initial fears about schools accepting an unknown brand, but that fear has proved totally unfounded! Our books have been accepted in schools all over Nigeria. We have representative teams in Lagos, the South West, the East incorporating the Deep South, parts of the North Central and Abuja.
K.A: What is your biggest achievement to date?
Gbenro: I am not one who looks out for such milestones. Rather, I tend to look at every event as important; even the failures (and I have had a number of spectacular failures) from which I have been enormously enriched. The things I count as achievement milestones are the simple things; people and lives that I have changed in different ways, the number of smiles I put on people faces, the number of people I have been blessed to give new hope, and enable to discover new possibilities in themselves. And its not that I go about counting and enumerating them; many I don’t even remember. But if you insist, I will say that First Veritas is my greatest achievement to date. It has allowed me not only to pull my various experiences as a publisher, broadcast media practitioner and IT entrepreneur, relevantly into one single entity, in a way that gives me greater leeway to do all those things I noted earlier as achievement milestones. I have greater freedom and scope to put smiles on people faces, affect lives positively and renew people’s hopes.
K.A: How do you manage to remain relevant in your industry, year after year?
Gbenro: I don’t know if am relevant in the industry but I sincerely hope am relevant to the industry! And the way to do this is to remain on top of ones game and evolve into the state one cherishes and longs for. This will certainly ensure relevance in whatever mode.
K.A: First Veritas in the next 20 years…………….
Gbenro: Wherever it will be in 20 years time I certainly wont be involved any longer in the company! As a matter of fact I plan to quit sooner than later. We are building an institution that will endure for generations. And I don’t think it is prudent to frighten our co-players in the industry with what we know will be the situation in 20 years if they do not gradually embrace the digital. But certainly, First Veritas will be in a most desirable and enviable place in 20 years from now.
K.A: It is clear that you have a wealth of experience in digital publishing, please tell us about it….
Gbenro: I had the privilege of serving on the board of Tiwa Systems Ltd, one of the earliest computer firms not only in Ibadan but also in Nigeria founded by my brother, mentor and inspiration, as far back as the mid 80s. The company was founded around the time when personal computing was beginning to spread in Nigeria. In fact I ran the company for a brief period. In 1997, I also participated in a 6-week study tour of The Information Super-Highway in five state of the USA sponsored by the US State Department under its Distinguished Visitor program. These two sparked my great interest in information technology. Over the years I studied, informally enquired and attended courses that explored the space between technology, the broadcast media, publishing and education and the points where they converge. I sponsored myself to an excellent course at Yale on this whole area. I continually educate myself about this field. In 2011, I took my management on a courtesy visit to the Governor of Osun, in the course of which I made a presentation about some of our capabilities and in the process proposed a digital learning component to educational delivery in the state. Unknown to me, the governor had been nursing something similar. At the end of the presentation, he simple said ‘we shall certainly work together’. And that was how I got involved with the Opon Imo (tablet of knowledge) project. It is a most innovative project. Till date about 20,000 tablets have been rolled out to students in SSS3 out of the projected 150,000 that will cover the entire senior secondary school system in the state. It remains a reference project till date. Although my direct involvement in it has ended, I still keep in close touch with individuals in its project management office. All these informed our work in the digital space we have chosen to play in at First Veritas.
K.A: These days lots of people confuse printing with publishing, could you please clarify the difference between both.
Gbenro: Yes, that is a common thing. Historically, I think the two were often combined in early industrial age Europe, which has led to the confusion lingering.
Printing is the mechanical production of books as a service. Publishing is the intermediation in a written intellectual work, taking a business bet on it that it will sell, and going ahead to put your money on the work. Over the years as the industrial age progressed publishing grew as a distinct business, which has bloomed in many ways in this information age.
K.A: Most entrepreneurs encounter enormous challenges trying to achieve their dreams, was this your experience?
Gbenro: Challenge is made for man and it is the foundation of all success. There are enormous challenges in our society but I chose to focus on how I can get around them than moan about them. Frankly, though life has been a bit of a breeze for me. I have never had to struggle too hard for anything so far. In the establishment of First Veritas, I have been amazed at the number of doors that have been thrown open when I was still cowering in front of it to knock.
K.A: How do you keep motivated in the face of failure/disappointment?
Gbenro: I have long learnt that everything that happens to man is for his good so when these arise, I am looking for the lessons inherent in them and I use these to encourage myself, rather than bemoan them. It has also helped that I Identified early what I have a passion for and any failure or disappointment that comes along the way is embraced for the teachable lessons it contains in honing my experience along that path. So in short, I use my passion to sustain and motivate myself to re-strategize when things don’t go right.
K.A: What would you say is the most important tip for remaining successful?
Gbenro: Live on the cutting edge! You’re either a master of your trade or you should quit the world. What this implies is that you must be a lifelong learner not only in your chosen area but also generally. I used to have a colleague who in the mid 2,000s once enthused about regression analysis learnt from of his 1980s MBA. Now, it just happened that by this time, the world had moved to more efficient tools of analysis than the raw mode of regression. We spent many unproductive hours poring over so much data, yet it was difficult to get him to adopt alterative analysis method. In the end we had to abandon the whole project. So we have to keep learning and acquiring the use of newer, more efficient skills, tools and knowledge. Anyone who does this can never fail.
K.A: What would you say is the best way to translate dreams to reality?
Gbenro: One must be able to develop strong belief in those dreams and then enough energy to pursue them and courage to stay the course. You need a lot of due diligence, analysis of your dream as well as research; but don’t over do it. If you knew all the obstacles that lay ahead of you in a day, you’d never venture out of your house. If you knew all the things that could possibly go wrong along the road of pursuing your dream you’d never start on the journey. So have a healthy faith as well. Do all that needs be done and leave the rest to God!
K.A: If you could change one thing about your life/past, what would it be?
Gbenro: My age. I desperately wish I were 30 years younger! Unfortunately, there is nothing I can do about that so what I can do is to remain young at heart and pursue my dreams with a greater sense of urgency and purpose. Age is all in the mind. We live in extremely exciting times. Technology is changing the world so radically and at such dizzying pace. And it is becoming cheaper almost at the same rate that it’s becoming more powerful. Imagine that the average kid who is holding a smart phone in Nigeria today, has access to more information on a daily basis than Ronald Reagan had as president of the most powerful nation on earth! Now, that’s really incredible and amazing. So, for someone like me who is acutely informed about what technology can achieve in all aspects of our lives, I just envy young people to the point of jealousy. Consequently, I have the greatest disdain for people who are unable to get excited about technology.
K.A: What advice do you have for potential and upcoming publishers?
Gbenro: Hold on to your passion; you will need it when things are not going right. Publishing is a tough business because its supporting infrastructures such as distribution and retail chains are underdeveloped in Nigeria. But with toughness, perseverance, and innovative approaches, many people are doing it on different scales. I look at some imprints and conclude that nothing but passion fuels them.
K.A: Inspire a young African person in one sentence…
Gbenro: Life must never be measured by material indices. In the end what matters is what you are able to do to make another life more worth living.
Want to contact Gbenro?
Managing Director, First Veritas Educational Content Delivery Ltd.
22 Kudeti Avenue, Onireke Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria.