Tolu Ogunkoya: Good-natured and gracious

The certainty and raw emotions of fear and anger that are triggered by the thought of dying or death itself really never hits home until it happens to a loved one, a close friend or just someone you know. You are reminded at that point that life can be so fragile and that death is timeless.

Tolu was my protégé and because he saw the level of attention and commitment to the upbringing of my son Otome as he grew up to a bright and intelligent teen, he probably arrogated to me the virtue of being a model of sorts. Having two children ensured that you could afford to send them to schools that offered the highest standards in academics, staying fit and trim were uncompromising standards for good living and by Jove, having an eye for details and being a stickler for time were admirable qualities. These were commonalities we shared. And so it’s unimaginable that Tolu would return to his maker so soon in life. For me it’s like burying your own son.

Tolu came into Insight Grey Communications limited in 1990 fresh from university and was part of the third set of management trainees that the agency employed at the time. They were the young Turks and guinea pigs of the Integrated Marketing Communications concept that had become the gold standard at the time. As a strategy for minting future high value employees and ensuring business growth, the traineeship programme provided the agency the competitive distance it needed to earn the respect of current and prospective clients and win local and international pitches. After the one-year intensive training I was lucky to have Tolu with a couple of other junior colleagues in the media department that I superintended as associate media director. Although Tolu left Insight after a two or more year stint, we had sufficiently warmed our way into a closely knit relationship that could last a lifetime. Tolu stayed on course in media honing his intellectual skills at the Lagos Business School and Ashridge college in the UK while navigating a solid and bold career path through SO&U Saatchi & Saatchi and becoming after a headhunt the managing director of MediaReach OMD in 1999.

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Tolu was always innately kind and it wasn’t a virtue that the cruelty of the corporate business world that sometimes required you to deploy the killer instinct, could easily diminish. He lived and ran the two worlds successfully. From both ends of his staffing spectrum Tolu ran his organisation with thoroughness and compassion. I find it inappropriate to detail out specific examples of such internal acts of kindness and compassion and would rather keep them private and personal but suffice it to say that they abound and are quite touching. Media Reach runs a crèche for its staff and before COVID-19 pandemic, core staff already had the option of a day off once a week to work from home.

I am a beneficiary of Tolu’s generosity. Advertising budgets have always been skewed in favour of media spend and when more than 25 years ago Media Independents became the new bride of the industry, Tolu provided value and leadership with the publication of Media facts across Nigeria and West Africa that advertisers and media agencies found invaluable. And so five years ago, as the sustainable growth of the industry worried him, he found an answer in the setting up of an academy for the training of specialists for the efficient and effective deployment of media budgets. Tolu invited me to be Chairman of Alphabet Media Academy.

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I declined at the time because I couldn’t meet the financial obligations of being a shareholder. He insisted and offered to take care of it. It was a story I couldn’t but share, always teary-eyed with my close friends and family. His co-directors at OMD said of him, he had an unquenchable thirst for excellence and my colleagues at AMA can attest to this.

If height was the measure of being acclaimed a great achiever, Tolu was well endowed and so are his two fine gentlemen Tomiwa and Timilehin. Timi (a potential basketball star) was in the middle of his semester exams when the news of his father’s passage broke and an astute Mom Shola said to him, you know what dad expects of you, so ensure you pass in flying colours.

We are thankful to God for the life of Tolu aka Gbeke (as Shola will call him) and pray fervently that the good Lord grants him eternal rest. Shola, my board colleagues and I at AMA share in your grief, however we are sure that you and the children will find succour in the impeccable and inspirational legacies of Tolu, the love you shared and the abundance of God’s grace and mercies. Fare the well Tolu.

Celebrating Dr Mike Adenuga Jnr @70

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