FAVOURD WITH MISFORTUNE -LARY IZAMOJE, CHAIRMAN/CEO BRILA FM
As a little boy, Dr Larry Izamoje used to sell plantain for his mother. He grew up with a passion for sports and did a good job at it that made him represent his state in sports competition and even earn money until he had a fracture that crippled his ability to play football. As an adult, he used to be so poor that he found it difficult to pay his rent. In fact, at a point in his life he became taxi driver to make money in pursuit of his passion. Today, Dr Izamoje, the founder, Chairman/CEO of first African sports radio station, Brila FM,88.9, which has been established in three locations in Nigeria, owns houses in Lagos, Nigerian commercial city and has long beaten poverty hand down. Joseph Dinwoke of Brojid.com recounts Dr Larry’s transition to wealth, influence and impact.
Dr Larry Izamoje was urshered into the world on 24 day of February 1962 in Onitsha, Anambra state though his parents are native of Ekpoma in Edo state. His formal education stated from Dogho Primary, Warri to University of Lagos, in 1982, where he obtained second class upper division in sociology before coming back for his master’s degree in the same course. He was awarded a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) degree by the prestigious Business School, Lausanne, Switzerland in 2012.
As a young boy in secondary school, he played football for his school and state, then Bendal State. He continued playing football even as a youth corper for Water Resources Engineering Construction Agency where he earned money. But he had a misfortune on his leg which crippled his ability to play football. But the sports man in him could not be silenced by the misfortune; thus, he started playing “mouthball” – running sports commentaries. He says, “Injury came and so, the leg could no longer kick the ball and I decided that the mouth should kick the ball. That was how I spent my time running commentaries when people played in UNILAG.” He ran commentaries for football matches when halls are playing matches for free until someone, who he described as an angel, said to him, “This thing you’re doing, you can do it on a national scale, why don’t you go and see Ernest Okonkwo?”. The following day, he went to meet Ernest Okonkwo who saw that Larry has a talent he want to tap and employed him as a freelance artiste for the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria in 1985 where he was paid N15 for a story per appearance. Okonkwo trained him on how to talk sports and pronounce words properly.
He had a stint in print journalism still on sports beat in the defunct Concord Newspaper and the Mail Newspaper where he was the Deputy Group Sports Editor and Sports Editor respectively. When the paper folded, DBN came calling but when the going was could not go well with them, he left to start his own weekly programme at Ogun Broadcasting Corporation (OGBC) under the business name Brila Sports. Brila Sports was an independent production and sports consultancy company which he started in 1992 with a fairly used (second hand) table and chair and a fairly used (second hand) typewriter. It was in a quest to raise the capital required to pay for airtime for his radio programme that he took to taxi driving. He continued paying for the programme until Cadbury took over the sponsorship of the programme.
In the past, Larry find it difficult to pay his house rent but today, God has blessed him so much that he is now a landlord in Nigeria commercial state, Lagos. He admitted, “There was a time all I depended on was my wife’s family. In fact, like I always joke with my friends, at that time the only thing I had in that marriage was my erection. So, when it was time to start a company, I then decided that the 1st 3 letters of the company name will be from her first name, Bridget and the last 3 from my name, Larry and that’s why we have Brila.”
He continued talking sports until his friend and senior colleague, Daniel Bako became director General of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission and by sheer courtesy of going to greet and congratulate him for his new position, he triggered of an encounter that made him African Sports Broadcasting Trailblazer.
After greeting his friend and giving his congratulations message, he started off a conversation with his friend where Bako suggested that he starts a sports radio station, “People like you, who are very good in sports can now own sports radio station.” Bako told him.
“At that point”, Dr Izamoje recalls, “Something dropped into my spirit.” However, he hesitated in taking his friends idea considering the financial requirement for starting a radio station but his friend pressed further, “Once you get license, people will rush to you with money.”
Immediately, he paid N50,000 to obtain licensee and went back to Lagos to continue his job, talking sports. Over two years after he applied for a license he never heard or saw his friend who encouraged him to apply for license for the first African sports radio station. Meanwhile, he and his wife went about acquiring knowledge of sport broadcasting from experts in the field around the world. In his words, “I’ve also travelled with my wife to United States, San Diego, paid to be schooled by Rix Scott where he gathered sports radio experts to teach people from every part of the world, the business of sports radio. And one of the many things we learned there is that you got to be firm and involved for sports to survive.”
At the third year, 2001, he got the license to start the first African radio station.
With the euphoria of getting a license came the challenge of starting the radio station properly. He needed money but refused to take his company public by ensuring the shareholders are just three – himself, his wife and brother Dr Izamoje. His choice of insisting on three shareholders was to protect the vision of the company without anybody adulterating it. He explained, “The whole idea is if you grow a business, you must hold your vision. Don’t allow anybody to adulterate your vision. If you don’t even have money and you want to sell share, make sure you don’t sell more than 49 per cent. I did not give out up to six per cent of Brila”
He raised his capital by inviting his brother to invest and through the contribution from him and his wife since their financial contribution was not huge, his started his small, “We started what makes radio very expensive is building edifice. So, we did start small. We knew that we could build radio and eventually, radio will build its own house. So, we started with transmitter and microphone” he recalls.
Before he started his radio, he was working somewhere but decided to opt out of his comfort zone and take a leap into the game called entrepreneurship. He believes that it’s not every human being that can venture into entrepreneurship and succeed at it and so advised anyone who would want to opt of his comfort zone thus: “Before you opt out, you must see that the other side is greener, you must know what you have inside of you. You must know whether you are gifted to do that or not.”
Dr Izamoje did not just jump into entrepreneurship; he had background in business where he observed his father do business profitably. “For us, holidays were spent trading with Dad and Mum learning the tricks of competition in business; learning how to go for it learning how to negotiate…and make profit.
Apart from observing his father doing business profitably, he worked with business moguls like Ernest Okonkwo, MKO Abiola, Clarkson Majomi, Osa Sunny Adum and learnt from them. Dr Izamoje recounts, “I saw them in business, I saw how they moved; I picked a few things and added them to the gift that God gave me”
His father who was a distributor for AJ Steward and PZ and deacon in the Baptist church taught him in his words and action. He taught him courage and generosity. His father taught him, “Whatever leads you to God, take it serious. Never despise the days of little beginning start small, grow big. Never borrow…for perishable goods.”
It has not always been rosy for him; where he swims in abundance. He started small with Brila Printing Press before he started Brila FM which has been expanded to four radio stations in Nigeria. He admitted, “Before you get to the next level, you must face an obstacle. It’s like taking the stairs; every stair becomes and obstacle to the next level.”
His life has also been shaped by his mother whom he described as a hard worker and disciplinarian. He used to say plantain for her.
Larry, got married to his secondary school junior student, Bridget Izamoje, whom he got to know in his final year at the university of Lagos. “My mates were doing October Rush. I was being a carful boy, I just pretend that I did not want any girl then one day, I was in front of Monermi Hall and a girl came to me and said, “You were my senior secondary school” I was looking for a girl to rush and here was a girl coming to say, you were my senior. So, I rushed her.”
They have been married for the past 24 years and are blessed with two children.