I DON’T FEEL I’M 50 YET’ – PHIL OSAGIE
Phil Osagie does not grant interviews.
Not that he doesn’t like the media, or he hasn’t got an interesting story to tell. But as a PR practitioner, wisdom has taught him that it’s best to push the clients forward and stay out of the picture.
But when you’re 50; and you’ve grown from a JJC to one of the most successful players in your field; when you’re 50, and you’re so happy you can’t stop thanking God; then it’s likely you begin to relax on some things; you begin to tell your story, serving as inspiration to millions of youngsters who are roaming he streets, confused, hopeless and dejected.
True, there’s so much Osagie plans to do in commemoration of his 50th year on earth- only problem is, a big party, with hundreds of guests is not one of them. ‘Really, my kind of person, I don’t like noise. But I know that 50 is a milestone. Maybe later we will do something on that level. But now, we’ll just go to church and maybe later I’ll take my wife out for dinner’.
And as we sit face to face in JSP Communications’ Plato room, talking about his plans for his 50th, and how far he’s come to be where he’s at, it’s impossible not to see that Osagie is passionate about his calling; passionate about his family; and passionate about God. Remove those three things from his life and he’ll most likely drop dead. But for most business executives determined to stay on top, managing those three aspects has always been an issue. Is Osagie an exception? ‘No, he says. I won’t say it’s not challenging. But I try to plan my time. I don’t take work home from the office; I try to help my kids with their homework – even though I could o more of that. And as kids grow older, you really need to bond with them properly. So I won’t say it hasn’t been challenging…’
And then, it’s also challenging, being a Christian in a field where some of the most foundational ethics are constantly being compromised. ‘When we started, we told ourselves there are some things we won’t do; there are some businesses we won’t take even if you offer us a billion dollars. So once you’ve set that apart, you know what you’re in for. I won’t say it’s not been challenging. For example, we’ve lost some business because we refused to do some things that are not ethical. But I keep two things in mind: God is the most important factor in al that we do; and then for the kind of clients that we service, I know that what’s important to them is to get results. They want a partner that can help them achieve their goals. If we can make ourselves be that partner, then all is good. And so far, I think we’re constantly scoring high. And to score high means that we have to do magic a times. Because those we work for have very high standards. I’m talking of , Notore and Naca, coca cola, PZ Cussons… and we’re affiliated to one of the biggest PR companies in the world – Hill and Knowton. So all these mean we have to constantly up the standards’.
As we continue to chat passionately about the things that matter to him, business at JSP is going on. His phones are not ringing, no aides barging in, requesting for this and that; and he’s not excusing himself intermittently to sort out one or two things. Just like a normal high profile company, the structure at JSP is fool-proof. That’s why the boss doesn’t have to take work home; why he can take time out and play golf with friends. Phil Osagie is not bothered by the little issues that make many executives spend more time in the hospital than in their offices.
And he’s been lucky to learn with the best. First time a young man named Phillip came to , he had an encounter that has changed the course of his life for good. ‘I can’t remember what year it is now’ he reminisces. ‘I just came to looking for a job in an ad agency or a newspaper. I’ll say I just literally walked into a job at Insight Communications. I walked into the room, I liked the place, I liked the environment, I liked the people, they looked serious minded and purposeful. I just liked the place. So I saw the MD Mr Biodun Shobanjo and he agreed to have an audience with me. At that point, I guess he liked what he saw and he hired me. It was supposed to be an advertising job, but I had to do a lot of public relations’
Osagie in literally translates to ‘God sent’. And Shobanjo and Insight were God-sent to Phillip. For, it was while at Insight, that he fine-tuned and sharpened communication and PR skills hitherto latent. It was there he continued to nurture an art he had discovered while working as a young school-leaving searching for a definite career direction. And so gifted was he that when The Quadrant company was founded years later, he was the pioneer general manager. ‘I have always had a strong desire for marketing and communication. I have always had that desire, even when I worked as a journalist, I was in charge of interviewing people the interest has always been there. I think I was just looking for the opportunity or environment to realise that goal that I had. It was a constructive approach: communication and PR in a structured manner’.
Today, as he looks back, if he looks out of the window of his little meeting room nicknamed Plato, he’ll look out at the around, at the clean-clear sky and say a silent prayer to God. No. the prayer won’t have a single request. Instead, the 50 year-old slim-fit PR expert will be thanking God for seeing him through the path of his dream; for surrounding him with people who have made his dream come true. He’ll be thanking God for having a privileged background. Now, don’t get it wrong, Osage was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Infact, looked in that manner, he may have been born with no spoon at all. Yet, he insists he had a ‘very privileged background’. ‘I had a privileged background, but in a different way. My parents were not wealthy. My father was a school administrator and my mother, a trader. But I feel very privileged because they passed unto us some life-changing and long-lasting values which money can not buy. They taught us to be confident of whom you are. Trust God that he is above everybody. They taught us that it doesn’t matter where you’re coming from. It’s where you’re going to that matters. Such fundamental principles. My mother doesn’t even have a university degree. In fact she doesn’t have any formal education but she still passed those values to us right from when we were very young. So when I was going abroad, by normal circumstances, I shouldn’t even be going abroad. Of course, my parent s couldn’t afford to send me abroad. It was difficult; I wasn’t getting admission into Nigerian university after I had tried severally. So I just used faith, and applied to school abroad. I got admitted both in the US and the . And, it would have been impossible to go because I didn’t have a scholarship and my parents couldn’t afford the fees. My father had to sell his car; a second-hand Peugeot car to pay my school fees. We were lucky that the exchange rate then was better than now. The naira was still strong then, so it wasn’t too exorbitant. So in a way, I’ll say I was privileged. All my friends, all the people that were in my class, all my friends were from wealthy background. But I was even living better because I had a lot of wisdom… I was shopping when things were cheaper; I’ll buy things nobody else has; I won’t party during the week, or after classes; and I must stay at home at least five hours to study everyday. It was a very lovely experience…’
Talking about his parents, Osagie can go on and on. He beams and lights up the room when he talks about his mother; same way he does when the subject is his wife, Stella. In the gospel according to Phillip Osagie, women are all-important and invaluable. And he has cause to say so. A particular experience will continue to linger in his memory. ‘After I finished school, I came back home to do my NYSC, I was supposed to go back for my postgraduate but my parents couldn’t afford it. So it thought it was best to work for a while to raise money and then go back for my postgraduate. My father was OK with the idea. But my mom had a contrary opinion. She was like, if I had the ambition to go back for my Post graduate, why waste time? You know what she did? She closed down her business. She had this shop where she sold drinks and all that. She sold everything and that’s how I was able to go back for my PG’ Little wonder he believes that next to God, the most important person in a man’s life is his mother. ‘If you’re not married, your mother should be the most important person in your life. But once you get married, then it’s your wife’, he says convincingly. ‘I call my wife my angel. She has helped me become everything I want in life. She doesn’t add to my stress level. She helps me to think, gets me organised. That’s why in all I do, I do my best to make her happy. I believe every man should wear their …’ Interestingly, when he met his wife, marriage was not one of the options. ‘I had known my wife since she was very young. She was someone I’ve known since childhood. She was my sister’s best friend so she used to come to the house a lot. So after I came back from school, I noticed that I liked her values, I liked her looks. And I asked her out. It was just a normal relationship. And after a few years, we lost contact. We met accidentally years later and I discovered she hadn’t lost any of those things that endeared me to her. And when I saw her mother, I told myself this is how I’ll want my wife to look when she’s old…’
Today, they’re not just happily married, they’re blessed with three boys: Jordan (18), Judah (15) and Josiah (14). And, on Sunday November 25, as Osagie clocks 50, they’ll be walking hand-in-hand – not to the alter again, but to a private restaurant where a table-for-two will be waiting for them. Not the typical way a 50 year-old would mark the achievement, right? But what do you expect of a 50 year-old who’s yet to grow a pot-belly? A 50 year-old who’s still in love with chocolates? A 50 year-old who still plays basketball! ‘I don’t feel 50’. He confesses. ‘it’s just like that much talked about age of 40 or 50.fine, one begins to have a bit of consciousness but for me, as they say, age is in the mind. So you’re as young or old as you think you are. Although reality has its own place, you really can’t change the fact of life, but you can change the way you think. But I’m not yet feeling the pangs and the sentiments people who are 50 feel. I just feel it’s a great thing that God has done’.