Prince Yemisi Shyllon… A man to learn a lot from. A true life lesson that could transform lives

This is a biography of a very notable and humble Nigerian that we can learn a life lesson from.

Prince Yemisi Shyllon is somewhat an enigma. He is many things rolled into one: he is a chartered engineer, chartered stockbroker, chartered marketer, chartered business administrator, qualified lawyer and consummate art collector. And he has excelled in all!

The first time I visited Shyllon’s house standing on a stretch of almost a whole street (13 years ago), it took him three unbroken hours to conduct me round all the rooms housing his assorted art collections. When I went there last week for this interview, so much had taken place that it would take a whole day to go round and we might not even finish.
He is widely reckoned to own the most balanced art collections with over 7,000 artworks comprising sculptures, paintings, and other media which are valued to be worth several billions of Naira -although he doesn’t want to be drawn into the issue of costing.
Quietly, Shyllon, who retired as Marketing Director from Nigerite a couple of years back, is creating what could be described as a revolution in the arts arena. He is getting set to commission the first privately-funded public museum with the Pan-Atlantic University, Lekki, Lagos, which construction plus the art content is expected to be over N4 billion at the current market value when completed. He has endowed the only professorial chair in Visual Art at the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) among other things.
While we were in his bedroom admiring all his art collections, I asked him what was the driving force for all those collections. His answer: “By the time I am gone, I want my name to be in the realm of immortality by turning over all my major collections into the public museum I am building.”
You sure will enjoy Shyllon’s insights on how to build wealth from ground zero up.

Lesson 1
Plan your future from the first day you start work.

I started planning my personal finance the very first day I started work because I was conscious of the fact that you never could tell what would happen tomorrow. When I finished my MBA (Master in Business Administration), I bought a plot of land at Ejigbo, in Lagos State, and built two houses of four flats each there. That was the kind of attitude I had as a young man.
At the same time I was investing in real estate, I also started investing in shares which over time earned me fortune. I started buying shares when I was at the University of Ibadan (UI). They were selling shares then, 60 or 68 kobo; as a student, I would just buy about 100 shares, 200 shares, buy art work. I am reaping from this today. I was conscious of the fact that little drops of water make a mighty ocean. The little I have is based on self-deprivation, being visionary, and taking up opportunities that came my way .

Educate yourself very well.

When you spend money to invest in educating yourself, you move yourself ahead of the pack who do not believe in this because the more you know, the deeper you see. Spend time reading and educating yourself. Aspire to know more about what you are getting involved in . I decided to become a chartered stockbroker because I was investing in shares. I knew it was going to be a large part of my investment portfolio in future and my stockbroking knowledge has helped me a lot.
Also, I decided to study Law because I was thinking about old age and the fact that I was going to be involved in a lot of properties, I don’t want to be paying lawyers. Today, when I sign agreements I take advantage of being a lawyer. I don’t go to court, but I am servicing myself and my family. You must develop yourself personally. For instance, I am not an artist, but I have learnt a lot about artistry. I spend time to learn what I do.

Don’t use all your hands to eat.

Don’t use all your hands to eat. Remember there will be time when what you have may not be available again, and you will have to rely on what you had put together. When I was working, I had a policy, 10 per cent of my money every month must go into investment. I am talking about liquid investment, and another 10 per cent would go into non-liquid investment. The remaining 80 per cent we used to take care of myself and my family. When you spend all the money you get, you have eaten both the seed and the harvest. You have sown a seed of disaster into your future.

Don’t borrow; don’t lend.

That is one thing I learnt from The Richest Man in Babylon. It said, never borrow, never lend, and I have maintained that principle since I read that book many years ago. It says, put aside 10 per cent of what you have and one day, it will grow to become something great. It says when you lend, you don’t get back what you give out, you will diminish, you will create enemies in the process, and they would pay you in bits. ‘Never borrow, never lend’ principle allows you to develop the instinct to save and put on your thinking cap towards investing in the future.

Don’t trust people on face value.
While I was working, I employed a young man at a low level in whom I had so much confidence, and I believed he could be groomed to by my successor. I allowed him some privileges like going for his MBA while working . He also went to study Law as I did. So, I was like a hero to him. But I did not listen to the suggestion of the people who hinted that my protégé was not what he claimed to be. That turned out a disaster because I later discovered that the guy hid so many things about his past from me. So, I tell people that if I had to live my life all over again, before I venture into any kind of relationship with anybody, I will find out about his/her pedigree.

Go with your passion.

From my inside, I knew I was an artist. I did Arts till Class Three in the secondary school. In my time, you had to be a scientist to be said to be brilliant and I took pride in being a genius at Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry. So, I did Sciences, I dropped Arts. But it was in me; as a kid I used to trace a lot, but I foolishly dropped Arts. But by a combination of forces, my interest in art was rekindled and I started collecting artworks. I have been collecting them since 1976. Right now, I have over 7,000 artworks in my house. I have an invaluable collection of arts, spreading from the 9th century Igbo-Ukwu Art to date. My collections cover all the history of the Nigerian Art. So, I am back to my first love.

Lesson 7
Don’t let your taste rise with your status.
The major error I see many people make is to allow their taste to catch up with their rising status. When I was the Marketing Manager at UAC, I was living at Olodi Apapa (Ajegunle) and paying a rent of N200. Shortly after, I became a Director with a housing allowance of N65,000 per annum, but I retained my Olodi Apapa accommodation for 15 months. I put the money together, and within two years, I bought the land off Allen Avenue, Ikeja, for N125,000 on which I built my five-storey building. It now fetches me about N18 million per annum. I was putting my money in a cooperative, and when it matured I took N500,000. My housing allowance at the time had become N250,000 per annum; I collected it for two years, and built the N1.2 million five-storey building in 1989. My first rent was four N4million. I can go on like that.
After 15 months at Olodi, I moved to GRA (in Ikeja) where I rented a house for N15,000 per annum, even when my annual housing allowance was N250,000. It was a three-bedroom bungalow. I was living low.

First is trusting people too much.
I am somebody that trusts to a fault. I take people as if they are like me, and I have been beaten very hard. One example is my wife’s cousin who came to me and said he and others were setting up a bank, Eagle Credit Bank, when former President Ibrahim Babangida’s Administration was issuing banking licences. When I told him I did not have money, he said they could use my five-storey building as equity. Eventually, the licence did not come, and they had borrowed heavily, and it was a problem repaying the loan. Unfortunately, I gave a personal guarantee. Before I knew what was happening, they wanted to sell my house to redeem the loan. But thank God, I put my knowledge of Law into good use and that saved the house.

Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
The Richest Man in Babylon by George Samuel Clarson
The biography of Obafemi Awolowo
The Autobiography of Azikiwe

When I was building my wealth, I called my wife and we agreed that all our children should go to public schools, as opposed to the more expensive private schools. All our children attended public schools. By the grace of God, my three children are abroad now. Two have finished their Master’s degrees and are working, while the last born is rounding off his right now. I can afford it because I have investments to back me up. One must plan one’s future, not in line with what another person is doing but what one thinks is good for one. I was lucky to have married a woman who agreed with me.

Prince Yemisi Shyllon... A man to learn a lot from. A true life lesson that could transform lives

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