They used to call it the Abbey Building Society, and it is one of the oldest mortgage institutions in the country.
As a young stockbroker, it was a target but I never got their business simply because they were already embedded within the BGL/Standard Trust Bank enclave.
Then when STB acquired UBA, they also moved into UBA, so they were a sealed deal and I left them alone.
But their staying power continued to intrigue me. It survived the upheavals of the recession, economic downturn, regulatory incompetence, and the rest.
Then I resumed at Investment One Financial Services. I-one was next door, and although they had a captive treasury, my hunt for blood still took me to Abbey.
I finally struck gold. I got some good placements from them and sighed with relief at my breaking the jinx.
My joy was short-lived as I was asked to leave Investment One. They asked for me not to take the account and I left it for them, dusting my feet and hands like Jesus had asked his disciples to do at rejection.
So it was a funny kind of homecoming last Friday when Bolaji asked me to meet up with him at Abbey, where he is the Managing Director.
Bolaji, with Nonso and one other guy who dresses like Winston Churchil, have formed a partnership that has thrown up a mercurial player in the space.
Their VFD Group is one of the fastest growing institutions in the country. From the seed micro-finance play, they have expanded very aggressively into media, hospitality, real estate, and recently the arts with their mold-breaking digital platform-Artsplit.
Bolaji sits atop Abbey, which they have renamed Abbey Mortgage Bank. The building was neat and smelt like a well built hospital. The corridors are wide and inviting, with an all-white hue.
The staff were warm and greeted you with the visage of well trained warriors who were very happy to be part of the whole show.
Let me digress and tell you one small story about these boys. I was executing one of my biggest plays Awo and the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osibnajo, with His Excellency Gov. Babajide Sanwo-Olu and Mr. Femi Gbajabimiala, had all confirmed attendance when suddenly Nonso called.
Edgar said, “I want 5 minutes in a room with the VP and the Governor.” This was a strange request from a sponsor. Usually they ask for VIP tickets, branding and all that, but VFD wanted a room set aside for them to be with His Excellencies.
This was a huge task if you consider the barrage of security, protocol, and all that madness that follows these people. But I, who have smelt money, say Oya.
Within seconds, Nonso had mandated Efe to turn a room in the old Glover Hall into a mini suite at the Marriott.
The VFD team moved in very quickly, and within the twinkle of an eye, they had delivered a miracle.
The VFD Group spent quality time with the Governor and the Speaker. The VP, unfortunately, due to a small mix up, came in quite late and, as such, rushed to the show.
This issue delineated the kind of mindset these boys carry into business and it is no wonder that they have successfully completed rounds of fund raising in the markets, which has seen them take a very strategic stake in the NGX. The holding company that owns the Lagos Stock Exchange
So here I was with Bolaji wearing the same blue polo shirt with his lovely head of corporate communications, Koko, discussing Emir Sanusi and other transactions that were on the table.
Bolaji looks like one of those very brilliant boys in the class who still had a social life but would be top class.
He is warm, gentle, and very respectful. His understanding of the real estate market, which was what took me there, was quite astounding.
I kept quiet and humbled myself to be educated. He talked about the rates and the reasons for their double digit stance. He told me why he wouldn’t take a bank guarantee from a commercial bank, which was quite eye-opening and ended up saying, “Edgar, we will give you N500m, secure it with adequate collateral and we will outflow with a three-year tenor.”
Bazooka. That was sweet music to my ears. His confidence, clarity, and sure-footedness belied his age and sign posting a man poised for market greatness.
I shook his hands and stood up to leave, feeling very happy that this was one more example of the magic you could build in Nigeria where everybody wants to run away.
At night, Usman, another super powerful entrepreneur, reached out: “Edgar, did you know that Bolaji went to the Nigerian Military School?”
Wow. A man of contrasting parts? You will never know, but then again, you now see the focus and discipline he brings to his business and you will understand the military background.
We will not be waiting too long before Bolaji and his people at VFD Group stake a strong claim to market leadership positioning to take over from the Elumelus of this world, who pioneered the energy-driven entrepreneurial structures that give people like us some level of hope in this country.
Abbey Mortgage Bank will be covering Emir Sanusi’s Command Performance on August 6th and 7th in Lagos and Abuja.