Simply called Wale by many people, the PUNCH Chairman who died last Wednesday was a very simple, jovial and likeable guy who was unconventional in his ways. But not much is known about Wale Aboderin, a basketballer who owns Dolphins-a Lagos-based female basketball team, who was also the one saddled with the task of running the vast Aboderin estate, in his capacity as the eldest child of his late father. He granted this interview last year
What explains the phenomenal success of PUNCH, especially in an industry where not too many newspapers are doing well?
It has a lot to do with the business model of PUNCH. The newspaper is strictly run as a business. No sentiment of any sort. It starts from recruitment to procurement. Before you are recruited to work in PUNCH, you must go through the process no matter who you are. You have to write a test, if you pass, you come for oral interview, you go through medical test and others. It’s rigorous. You are not expected to compromise in any way.
In terms of the layout of the newspaper that keeps evolving that is why the PUNCH of 5 years ago is not the same PUNCH of today. There is a remarkable difference. We keep thinking and we keep revolving, we keep making changes. We don’t rest on our oars. Now that we are No. 1 we are already thinking of how do we go on to the internet and become No. 1, because we know that in the near future, the newspaper business may experience some hiccups in terms of people buying the hard copy to read.
So many people go on the internet to read it free. Now, we are thinking how do we even make money from this internet? So we are not resting. We are still looking at so many other successful models as to what we can do to improve our current models. Like the former Punch Chairman did say in Punch, we think a lot. Every 3 weeks, we host meetings where we brainstorm on new ideas.
Let’s talk about your interaction with PUNCH staff. At what point did you grow up to PUNCH?
I think I am the oldest employee in PUNCH. I have been for a long time. Since 1969 when the likes of Happy Home, Top Life, Super Woman came out, all of these started off like a family thing. My mother will cook in the house in Ilupeju, Lagos and we will come together to bring food to the company. I started driving them at the age of 12 and by 14, I was distributing newspapers. My father didn’t know. I used to drive to Sagamu, Ikorodu, Badagry, Epe. Then we had a lot of complimentary newspapers too and I like delivering those too because I got to meet a lot of people then. I like Ikorodu runs because I usually catch crabs. I stopped when I almost caught a snake, I was scared after that. One incident happened.
I went to deliver newspaper at a General’s House and after delivering, the vehicle broke down. We had to go in to use his telephone to call my home and my father said, what are you doing there? I told him I came to deliver newspaper. He said what? He drove down himself to pick me. When he found out, he was very proud of me. He immediately arranged for me to get a driver’s license then. I started from delivery section to the Compugraphics Section.
That time, the type setting was done manually. I did that for 6 months. Then, I worked as a journalist on a page called Photoview. You will go out interviewing on the street. I did that until schooling took me away out of the country. Those were the fun days of Punch. As a driver I wasn’t paid. But as a compugrapher and journalist, I was paid. Those were the good old days. It was one big family but we all got the job done with the likes of Uncle Sam Amuka, Dayo Wright, Ayo Ositelu, Muyiwa Adetiba.
It was fun all the way but somehow we got the job done. Everybody looked at me as a small boy then. But I was invited to all their parties. But there was a limit to how far I could go. At that time, I used to drive the Punch Pick-up Van. On the streets, children will run after the vehicle shouting Punch! Punch!!, just to touch the van. I will then give them complimentary copies. I used to give the policemen too. It opened doors everywhere.
You seemed to have been so close to your father before he died…
Oh yes! I was. And he was always telling me things about himself that many people didn’t know about. For instance, not many people knew that at the time my father died, he was 3 months away from becoming the Prime Minister of this country. Infact, the BBC got wind of it and he told me 2 weeks before he died that the BBC wanted to interview him. He had written out a new constitution for the country and all that. He did so many things.
At that time, I was a pilot and he told me he wanted me to stop flying and come and run the newspaper because if he is the Prime Minister, he cannot run the paper at the same time, conflict of interest, so to speak. He told me a lot about PUNCH. One thing I found curious about my father is that he would sponsor people to go and study abroad and they would come back and go somewhere else. And one day I asked him why. He said there was no problem as long as whatever they are doing improves the nation, whether it is within PUNCH or outside PUNCH. I am into sports. I have a basketball club. And I am into fighting for integrity in sports.
What attracted you to flying at that time considering that you had a well laid out career for you in the media?
I was born in England. I grew up there. One day when I was still young, somebody came to ask what I would like to be when I grew up. At that time, I had a guitar and they thought I would say I want to become a musician. I said I want to be a pilot. The reason is because I cannot sit down in one place for so long. I am restless by nature. I am somebody who will always want to be on the move. I trained in America as a pilot. That is why till today, I am very restless. I don’t like formality or the straightjacket life. I hate protocols. I like to be lively. I like to be active. Let’s get going! Why are we here? Let’s get into the issues. Let’s go to Item 7. Don’t let’s waste time.
Source: CITY PEOPLE Magazine