The Head of HR we never talk about at FourthCanvas
Companies get to that level where they have a dedicated HR professional on the payroll. We are not there yet. From Day 1, that has been one hat that I have shared as CEO, with the help of my co-founder, as well as Mary who always brought her passion for talent development. As a small team, yet to go past 20 people at any point in time, that has worked fine. But there is more to why it has than I have explained in this opening paragraph.
In December 2015, one month after we re-established and restarted the company as we know it today—from VGC Media to FourthCanvas—I missed an appointment to meet a young man who looked up to me and asked for a meeting. He wasn’t Chude (the person I always looked up to) and I wasn’t going to cry over the spilled milk. To be honest, I had less empathy in the earlier days. My emails prove that. I must have said a formal “sorry”, I think.
7 months later, we woke up in our one-room apartment in FUTA South Gate, Akure to realize that our room had been burgled. Laptops gone. 1 hour later, I sat on a stone at the front of a police station in Ilesha Garage trying to comprehend why and how this particular officer had insisted that we “drop” some money to open a case file for us after we explained that all our wallets and cards had gone with the same “case”. But then this call chose that moment to come in.
“Victor, there is this big project and it starts now…”
1 hour later we had a contract with a client on a project from Ghana. It’s a retainer for a fast-paced campaign and work had to begin the same day, as soon as possible. It was a Saturday and we were not the type to hesitate. Deal was agreed verbally, contract forwarded to us via mail, invoice to be sent, to followed by some starting social media files later the same day.
Let’s do this.
“Yes do this, but with which laptop though?”
Prior to then, we had been planning to recruit at least one new team member but we had not had the time to settle down to do the work of finding and screening for one. Now it was the only urgent solution. We could get a designer who could get right up to work with his own laptop while we sketched and supported with creative direction.
“Hi Ferricool, how you dey?” “Good good good you?” “Good good good” “How is the weather?” “Oh great”. So we have an emergency…"
“Speak to my friend, Tunji. He is there in Akure with you.”
Enter Phase “Sigma”, as was his personal brand label, and this phase, brethren, refers to the embodiment of the exact flexibility and speed of adaptation the situation required, the type we had never known before. A few hours after, we were all sitted in BKFC, a restaurant in Lafe, Akure and we had met each other, discussed a salary (for the lack of a more suitable word for whatever our average monthly pay back then was) and the initial designs were taking shape. By the end of work on Monday, Tunji had completed up to 5 different tasks and we were welcome to the new age. Behold the dawn of real-time efficiency, discipline, and read this part carefully,… people-centredness.
We were amazed just looking at this young amazing individual who “suddenly” was capable in so many dimensions but what we didn’t know was where he was coming from.
Born into a royal family, he had grown as an exceptionally smart yet humble and ‘matured’ pupil, traveled to Europe to represent Nigeria in a Physics competition, led his fellowship on OAU Campus as President and co-founded a design community on campus, building immense capacity all along the way. (Use of “immense” intended, as his favourite word). This person I had not paid attention to some months back was a huge miss I was never going to realize but mercy said no. Mercy offered a second chance.
Adetunji Ogunoye would go on to inspire a new level of excellence and performance, bring in the 3 other superstars who are in leading positions of the agency today as partners and become a mentor figure within the team. He would bring his passion for people to leadership at FourthCanvas, the work we do for our clients, and innovate for the growth of the Nigerian design industry, with his founding of the phenomenal DearDesigner community.
Sometime at the beginning of this year, Tunji called me and said he wanted to discuss something important with me. Guess what it turned it to be. My salary. He wanted to be sure I was earning well enough. He believes I was probably being so sacrificial for the team that I wasn’t taking a salary that was enough to support my hectic schedule and the pressure of my office as CEO. I was, I am, and I will continue to be amazed by that conversation. He was doing to me what the best leaders do for their people—genuinely care and be concerned about their wellbeing. Now that’s one event but you would need a book to tell it all. Talking about books, the first book I saw with him upon his resumption back then was The 360 Degrees Leader by John C Maxwell. I never read the book itself. I didn’t have to.
All I had to read was him. Great book that was.
You would need more than an article to chronicle the several kinds of conversations he would come to hold, with that his intense look that showed this issue on his mind worried him, only for you to find the issue had nothing to do with him but about you or someone else on the team. “I don’t think Ayo is happy. What can we do?” That’s Tunji, every day. That’s Tunji, the Head of HR we never assigned.