Kola Olugbodi has never let his disability keep him down. The entrepreneur is leading the way in rooting out corporate fraud.
“I told myself maybe I am not meant for business after all,” says Kola Olugbodi, Chief Executive Officer of Background Check International, Nigeria’s first exclusive and broad-spectrum background check organization.
Olugbodi’s candid, yet curious, admission is characteristic of the 52-year-old’s straightforward manner, as well as his approach towards business. His statement is interesting because he counts the Central Bank of Nigeria, Dangote Group, Citibank, ExxonMobil, as well as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), as some of his clients.
His success is all the more remarkable when you consider the difficulties he faced growing up. When he was a child, Olugbodi was diagnosed with a crippling disease.
“At the age of two I had polio. I am now 52 so that means for 50 years of my life I have had to cope with this disability which of course left a big impact on my life. I felt I could not do what everybody else was doing. I felt I was limited, even in terms of the courses I could do in school and the places I could work,” he says.
“I got over it when I was 10 years old and we went to the village during Christmas. I have nine siblings and during a masquerade festival in the village, the masquerade came out of nowhere and scared everyone and everybody took to their heels. I wanted to run as well but unfortunately, my legs could not move as fast as everybody else and I called to others to help but nobody would come. I was just 10 and from that time I made up my mind that if I was going to make it in life, I needed to depend on myself.”
With a different perspective on life, and new rules to follow, Olugbodi began moving forward.
“I decided that day that nobody was going to help me, nobody will pick you up, they are going to move on. No pity party and no depending on others to pull you up. You have to be up by yourself. That incident became a philosophy in my life. I said I will never let my disability stop me from doing anything I want to do and that is what helped me to get to this point.”
With his newfound philosophy, Olugbodi started to carve his own path. His father wanted him to be a banker, and after accommodating his wishes for a couple of years, Olugbodi decided on entrepreneurship instead.
“When I was in the bank, I saw a lot of things and incidentally I was always trying to assess the customers that came into the bank. I discovered there were two categories, those who worked in paid jobs and those who were entrepreneurs. Those who worked in paid jobs came into the bank only at the end of the month when their salaries were paid and they only came to withdraw at the end of the month. The entrepreneurs on the other hand came quite regularly, sometimes three times a week.”
“There is a local Yoruba saying that says when you work for someone you only work to eat, but when you have a business, that is when you have wealth. So when I left the bank, I made up my mind that I was not going to work for anybody again. I was going to start my own business,” he says.
His first stint at entrepreneurship failed.
“I started selling stationery to offices before I tried buying and selling, which I believe I was not cut out for, and the business went under. Later on I discovered that we are not all cut out to do trading business. Some of us were cut out for services and not products or commodities.”
That realization led Olugbodi into the outsourcing business providing support staff to organizations.
“We discovered, in Nigeria, that nobody was doing this as a business on its own for organizations. So we incorporated Background Check International and we opted out of the recruitment business and started doing background checks for other organizations that we know will always need background checks,” says Olugbodi.
Since 2005, Olugbodi has been at the forefront of the background training industry in Nigeria. The organization has one key focus; making sure people are who they say they are.
“One of the things that comes up is the credentials or credibility of the candidates we are sourcing for our clients. The resume looks so attractive and some of them have first class and second class upper in their degrees, but we asked ourselves, ‘are these things genuine?’ So we go to schools to verify the authenticity of their certificates and go to places where they have worked in the past to confirm if they have truly worked there and why they left and, given the opportunity, will that organization rehire them,” he says.
From employment background checks, the organization has evolved into tenant background checks, business partner screening and due diligence for Nigerians abroad looking to set up businesses back home. Today, Olugbodi calls the top 10 financial institutions in Nigeria his major clients. For Olugbodi this is more than just a service, it is a necessity.
“There was an organization where we ran a check on their 40 staff and we discovered that 12 out of the 40 had fake educational certificates. They had been working there for a number of years before we came onboard. This accounted for about 25% of the workforce. And this is a similar situation in a number of organizations across Nigeria. Our impact is being felt and the number of people who use fake documents have been significantly reduced because of our work. For every fake person that gets a job, they actually hinder someone who is actually qualified to get that job.”
For Olugbodi to keep up to date with current industry trends, he has to embrace innovation. His answer is EduCheck, a personal verification site for Nigerians.
“[It] gives everybody, anywhere in the world intending to run some verification checks, access to the right information. They can log on to educheck.com.ng from any part of the world. We want to make information easy for people to get verified in Nigeria. Our vision is to be a one-stop shop when it comes to verification across Nigeria.”
For the past 20 years Olugbodi has lived and breathed entrepreneurship. It has not always worked out, but he has finally found his calling as Nigeria’s employment watchdog.