My Bitter-Sweet Experience In Business – Prince Adelusi-Adeluyi Speaks At 80

I think going to University of Ife was good and that was where I got the challenge that pharmacy must be better.

Prince Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi is NAPHARM's president.
Prince Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi is NAPHARM's president.

The Chairman of Juli Pharmacy and pioneer chairman of the indigenous business group of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Prince Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi fondly called Prince Juli, shares his vast experience in professions, business and life as he marks his 80th birthday on August 2

What moments would you consider as your most memorable, looking back at the last 80 years?

When I was in standard five, in primary school, St. George’s Catholic School, in Ado-Ekiti.

Some of us were selected to write entrance examination into some colleges or secondary schools.

By some accident, I was the only one that passed and I was offered a scholarship to Government College, Ibadan.

In those days, inter-religious interface was not as it is now.

The priests could not imagine their son going to a non-Catholic school.

It caused a lot of brouhaha and my headmaster was upset with me and visited me with transferred aggression.

But, in any case, I couldn’t go to Government College Ibadan.

The priests had their way. They packaged me to Acquinas College in Akure on Scholarship.

At the university, I was vice president, International Affairs of the then National University of Nigeria Students (NUNS).

It was significant to me because I was really able to travel around the world on behalf of all the students of Nigeria.

I was elected at the international student conference at Christchurch in 1964 in New Zealand to represent Africa at the world conference in Holland.

I was elected secretary of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) at the age of 29.

That gave me the opportunity to be able to contribute and shape the direction of pharmacy in Nigeria.

I became the first district governor of Rotary International in 1982.

Another memorable moment was when Juli Pharmacy was quoted on the Nigerian Stock Exchange as the first indigenous company to be quoted on the NSE.

This is memorable because I had always wanted pharmacy business to be respected beyond Pharmacy.

So, when Juli pharmacy became the first indigenous company to be quoted on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, it was a memorable moment for me.

I try to organise my business in such a way that it will be acceptable in the larger society.

Another memorable moment was when I went to the law school to study law because I wanted to make sure, inter alia, that if the company was eventually quoted, I would be familiar with the rules and the regulations governing the stock exchange and others.

At the law school, I was one of the oldest.

Then of course was this issue of becoming the minister of health.

Looking back, what are some of the factors or personalities that have influenced your life?

The person that influenced me most was Reverend Monsignor Anthony Oguntuyi.

He taught me orderliness, simplicity, cleanliness and discipline.

He taught me not to be unduly influenced by the rush for material accumulation is very important, simplicity is very important and you must not really be influenced by the rush for material accumulation.

I was taught to pay attention to details and to realise that whatsoever that is worth doing is worth doing well.

He also taught me that it is better to be a person of character, service than to be a person of wealth.

Nigeria does not seem to have prioritised pharmaceutical research. Even though there are so many universities now with faculties of pharmacy, there are hardly any drug discoveries emanating from these institutions. How can we get our country to prioritise pharmaceutical research, especially given the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic and before it, the Ebola epidemic?

There is a combination of factors why we still do not prioritize research in our country.

I think that the powers-that-be have not been able to fully understand and appreciate the connection between research and the everyday problems we face.

They don’t understand that the only way by which society gets better is through the efforts and diligence of scientists in whatever field.

So, we have a situation where research is so badly under-funded that many scientists are frustrated.

That’s why you find many scientists migrating to developed countries.

I know lots of pharmacists, pharmaceutical scientists, medical doctors and scientists who left our country in frustration but are now doing very well abroad.

Even when these scientists choose to stay behind and work, the environment is very challenging.

Imagine how difficult it is to carry out research without regular power supply for instance, or having to buy mineral water from your pocket every day because clean, running water is not available.

So, it’s not surprising that breakthroughs are not happening here frequently.

Our operating environment does not support productivity in research.

But we are not resting on our laurels as scientists.

In fact, when we formed the Nigeria Academy of Pharmacy some years ago, one of our major objectives was to accelerate advocacy towards prioritising pharmaceutical research and scientific research in general.

We have been on this for a number of years and continue to strategically engage our policy makers and other critical stakeholders on the need to prioritize research and development.

We are also striving to re-orientate young pharmacists and scientists and get them to appreciate that scientific research is a major pillar of the pharmacy profession.

Now this is a task that is very broad-based and for which different sectors need to play a role including pharmacy schools in particular.

Pharmacy was not a well-known profession in Nigeria in the 1960s. Certainly not as well-known as Medicine, Law, Engineering and the like. How did you get to know about Pharmacy? Did you purposefully seek to become a pharmacist or you found yourself studying it by default and perhaps fell in love with it?

When I finished at the secondary school, I was a bit too young, at 17, and I had wanted to go straight to the University of Ibadan; but they didn’t allow people who were 17 to go into the university because of age restrictions.

So, I took the time off to teach at St. Michael’s Catholic Secondary School in Ibadan a secondary school in Ibadan, where at least 80 per cent of the students were older than I was.

Then I went to work at Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service (WNBS).

I was a television newscaster and carried out many programmes including “Vox Pop” Interviews.

I was going out to interview individuals at events.

I came across a gentleman who mentioned to me that if one chose to study science-based professions like pharmacy instead of the arts subjects I was pursuing, I had better chances of having scholarships.

So, I went back to brush up my knowledge of sciences.

I was lucky to get double scholarship to study at the University of Ife.

However, I didn’t feel I had the most tasking agenda and that was what led me to student politics.

I became a student union leader, I was in the House of Representatives and I was writing songs, plays and teaching dances at my spare time.

So, Pharmacy was challenging but not sufficiently so.

It was a difficult course – almost over-preparing you for the future and in the process keeping you along narrow channels of self-expression.

I think going to University of Ife was good and that was where I got the challenge that pharmacy must be better.

It was a good experience at the university. It was challenging, so challenging that one was determined to make a difference.

Let me also add that I was an editor on campus.

I had my own newspaper called Spitfire where I and my crew were actually spiting fire.

It was a much-feared newspaper.

So, I was very fully occupied; but the expectations of what a pharmacist should be were not met and I said to God that if I qualified, I was going to make sure that the environment of practice for pharmacists was better.

You speak several languages: French, Dutch, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Latin, alongside your native Yoruba. How would you describe this ability to learn and master different languages? Would you say it comes naturally? Or has it been an outcome of interest, study and practice? How did you get to master so many languages?

It’s most likely inherited. Most likely a part of my DNA.

But a combination of study and practice has also helped to make me more proficient in these languages.

I was also very involved in the world students’ organization in the ‘60s. In that role, I actually helped to set up or strengthen national student organisations around the world – Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone, so that also contributed.

I’m actually studying Greek now. I’m not studying Mandarin.

They say it’s a language of the future, but for me, the future is now rather short (laughter).

Would you say that your mastery of several languages has been of particular use to you? Are there any instances in the past, where your multilingualism has been of tremendous advantage for instance?

It has been of huge advantage to me.

There are many instances where my language skills have helped me in resolving conflict.

When you speak to a man in his native language, he is more relaxed.

His affinity towards you is enhanced. Language helps to open doors.

If you went to Imo State as a Yoruba man or Kanuri man, but spoke very fluent Igbo to the people, they would respect you.

And I assure you they would be more inclined to listen to you than if you went there speaking very good English.

Your first job was at Pfizer. Did you apply for the job and face a competitive interview or you were head-hunted for the job? How would you describe your experience, working at Pfizer?

No, I was headhunted for the position. My experience at Pfizer was quite fulfilling actually.

Was there competition among Nigerians for Pfizer’s top job? Was there a “glass ceiling” of sorts for Nigerians?

I got into Pfizer as assistant general manager.

My letter of appointment actually indicated that in five years, I would become GM, all things being equal.

My adviser then was Dr. Kwaku Adadevoh, who would later become vice chancellor of the University of Lagos.

I wouldn’t really say there was a “glass ceiling” for Nigerians.

By the ‘80s Pfizer already had a Nigerian CEO who was also chairman.

Why did you switch to entrepreneurship?

Everything became routine too quickly.

There was also undue rivalry among the employees.

I couldn’t really understand this.

Some people were not quite happy with my position as a sort of heir apparent.

I also did something which was not very smart.

Occasionally, I would call those of us who were black, into a meeting and tell them that we needed to cooperate and work collectively to take over the industry from the white bosses who were really neither better qualified not more experienced than ourselves.

But you know, some of these same colleagues of ours would go behind my back to report all that had transpired to the white bosses.

Then one day one of the white men called me and said I was bright but stupid and he relayed to me the proceedings of a meeting we held the previous day, as reported to him by one of the attendees.

Of course, there had been a lot of exaggeration.

But the routine was the biggest problem. I was almost getting bored.

What difference would you say Juli Pharmacy made in the lives of your customers, your employees and perhaps your competition?

Juli Pharmacy was about reliability. You got whatever you wanted, promptly.

That’s why our tagline was “the sign of service.”

We’ve always striven to epitomize great service delivery. People still come to Juli Pharmacy from as far as Kano and other distant places in search of genuine drugs.

I should add that Juli was also a great training ground for pharmacists especially those who would eventually go into the retail side of the business.

We’ve always tried to provide a work place where employees would not only learn, and improve both as pharmacists and as managers but in addition have fun and be fulfilled as professionals whether as health professional or human resource professional or finance professional or even as logistics and marketing professionals.

Prince Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi
Prince Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi

Juli Pharmacy had lots of branches in those days even in the absence of the communication services we take for granted these days: telephones and internet-based connectivity. What was the secret?

I was young when we set out, and very determined to accomplish my dreams of having a model and modern pharmaceutical chain across Nigeria and possibly the West Africa sub-region.

My target was to have 500 branches actually, although we succeeded in having 22 in total.

We invested heavily in logistics.

We had a fleet of Peugeot station wagons for distribution to ensure that no branch was ever out of stock of any medicine.

We invested in our people too.

As I said earlier, we did everything possible to ensure that our people found the job fulfilling.

Beyond raising additional fund, what was Juli Pharmacy’s motivation for going public?

Raising capital was key, because as I said, the goal was to take us to 500 branches.

I also needed to show that these things were possible and that as black people we could do them.

I had seen the role that capital markets had played elsewhere in the world in helping businesses to transcend the “start-up” status and gradually move into the big league.

I thought it was something that we could do here.

As at the time I went to the Nigerian Stock Exchange, it was basically an exchange for multinational companies.

We were the first indigenously promoted firm to go there, and I’m sure that doing so, helped to open the eyes of many local businesses to the fact that raising fund through the NSE was not as far-fetched as it may have seemed. It was a possibility.

If Juli could do it, then, they could too.

Looking back, would you say that (Juli Pharmacy) going public was a good decision? In principle or in practical terms?

In principle it was very good, especially, as I said earlier, we helped to demystify the exchange and encourage others to take the needed step. In practical terms, however, our experience was bitter-sweet especially as a result of the economic turmoil and instability that defined those days immediately following our listing.

You have been a very active supporter of the Boys’ Scout movement in Nigeria. Why did you devote so much of your time to this movement?

It was because I saw this as a movement that took place at the youth level.

It was about youth development, about nurturing young people to imbibe virtues of hard work, honesty and self-discipline.

I’m attracted almost automatically to anything that is about service. I was a national commissioner of the Boys’ Scout Movement for several years.

Lord Baden Powell, founder of the Boys’ Scout movement globally has been attacked by some who believe that he may indeed have been racist. In fact, there have been suggestions to pull down his statue in his native Poole in England. How do you see these developments impacting the global Boys’ Scout movement?

Naturally, there are people who rightly observe that it is in bad taste to have a statue of someone who enslaved your ancestors staring you in the face every day.

So, from that point of view, one should say, remove statues.

Perhaps those statues could be relocated to private settings such as libraries or museums.

Another view would be to say if the statues of these people are in the public, then put the statues of slaves in the public space as well.

A third option would be to say pull down all statues of their co-convicts or conspirators, such as black Africans who were slave traders.

In general, the idea should be to put the statues in places where they are of maximum educational impact and of least harm and discomfort to the people.

You used to be addressed simply as “Mr. Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi” in the ‘70s and early- to mid ‘80s. But towards the late ‘80s and early ‘90s you decided to use the prefix, prince, instead. Why did you choose to do this? There are very many Nigerians who were inspired by your simplicity in choosing to use the prefix, “Mr.”

To everything, there is a time and season.

The Interview Editors

Written by The Interview Editors

The Interview is a niche publication, targeting leaders and aspiring leaders in business, politics, entertainment, sports, arts, the professions and others within society’s upper middle class and high-end segment in Nigeria.