Starting a business in Nigeria can be very daunting – Adebija, CEO, Ashton & Layton

ImageGbenga Adebija is the Chief Executive Officer of Ashton & Layton, a company that specialises in Public Relations service among other promotional services. He is an experienced communication expert who left his comfort zone to set up his own company. In this interview with YEJIDE GBENGA-OGUNDARE, he speaks on his challenges, ambitions and why he is happy being on his own among other issues. Excerpts:

What does your company do?
Ashton & Layton offers specialist and world-class service in public relations, organisational branding, events management, corporate social responsibility, training and manpower development and brand activation to a growing list of clientele within and outside Nigeria.
We collaborate with our esteemed clients to unlock value opportunities within their respective operating environment and achieve excellence in performance standards. Ashton & Layton maintains a harmonious and mutually beneficial transactional relationship with clients and other stakeholders as we continue to strive towards the growth and development of the company.

How was Ashton and Layton founded?
After I left Cadbury in 2007, there was an avalanche of offers and possibilities opened to me for career advancement and so I decided to take a little break to allow me think through what I should do by way of next steps. So my family and I went off to the USA for summer holidays but while I was there, there were two tempting opportunities to continue my career with the Bank of America and the California State Government.

While I was still pondering these options, the desire to set up my own business suddenly became very compelling and so after much prayer and discussions with my wife, I decided to set up Ashton & Layton in 2007 and my wife, Yetunde came up with the name of the company.
From your experience, what makes a business thrive?

There has to be a lot of focus, determination, perseverance and commitment on the part of the CEO, especially and the company as a whole. In advance of starting up, a lot of pre-work in terms of market analytics, competitor profiling, stakeholder mapping and organisational resourcing must have been done. Even after the company has achieved steady state, it is crucially imperative that the company retains its cutting-edge competitiveness. There must be no room for complacency in the entrepreneurial passion which birthed the company.

What has been your major breakthrough?
We are making encouraging progress and very grateful to God for the level of success achieved so far. Our clients are drawn from both the private and public sectors within and outside Nigeria. We got some million-naira contracts very early in the life of the company which helped to steady Ashton & Layton and position us for even bigger jobs. However, one of our governing philosophies at Ashton & Layton is not to dwell on any successes, not to look back at what has gone before, but instead to remain passionately focused on what still needs to be done to secure our future.

What are the advantages of being your own boss?
It provides a platform for the fullest expression of your talents, capabilities, values, philosophies and ideas. It is however important to correct any misguided perceptions about workload and freedom. In my own case at least, i have found that i work even harder than when I was in paid employment and my schedules are even more hectic. There is however an unquantifiable sense of fulfilment which money cannot buy.

What have been the challenges you’ve faced?
Starting up business in Nigeria is a very daunting task indeed especially because of the poor standards of infrastructural support for entrepreneurs, the constraints imposed by several macro-economic government policies and the steady deterioration of customer patronage. We were also operating within an extremely competitive sector with many established players and so we really had to raise our game and create a unique differentiation for Ashton & Layton. This has really helped our company because clients know that they can get world-class service standards at moderately affordable costs.

What are the qualities that people going into your line of business must possess?
Speaking generally as an entrepreneur, it is important to have a vision, an unwavering focus and a burning determination to achieve success. Also very essential are skills such as abilities to motivate and galvanize the individual and collective competences of staff to rally around a worthy cause, networking skills and courage to take risks. There are also requisite technical skills in the sector within which Ashton & Layton operates such as strategy and corporate planning, ideation, conception and execution, project management and scenario analysis.

What was your growing up like?
I was born in Lagos as the fourth child of a family of five children.  However, I spent most of my early and teenage years in Ilorin. My father was a Civil servant and my mother was a business woman, mostly into trading and supplies. It was a very happy family and we have remained incredibly close until today. All of us are entrepreneurs except for the last born, my younger brother who is a Roman Catholic priest.  Although, come to think of it, I suppose you could call him an entrepreneur in a way because as we are chasing money, he is chasing souls (laughter). I am an alumnus of the University of Ilorin, University of London and the Lagos Business School. I am married to Yetunde and we are blessed with three children, two boys and a girl.

What is your projection for Ashton & Layton?
Our medium to long term vision is to establish the company at the frontline among key players in our sector. We hope that by the grace of God, Ashton & Layton will become an institutional brand with a widely acknowledged track record for excellence and a relevant brand entity well into the future.


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