From Banker to ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’

Femi Ayeni, WG’85, began his career on a fairly typical path as a banker in Philadelphia. However, after a few years in the U.S., he was ready to return to Nigeria and launch his own business. His first thought was to launch a financial services firm, but the government would not grant new banking licenses. Picking the next obvious adjacent business opportunity, he decided to open up a chain of VHS rental stores in the days when West Coast Video was the leading U.S. player. He returned to Nigeria with suitcases of tapes to open his first store but quickly realized that the business had limited profitable opportunities.

The 36 states of Nigeria

The 36 states of Nigeria

That’s how he entered the satellite industry. Back in the day when satellite dishes were quite large, the signal was weak and the reception could be impacted by bad weather, his company installed satellite dishes to homes, compounds and hotels.

Now he is firmly entrenched in the media industry. Femi began attending the Cannes television festivals in April and October of each year in the early 90s initially to buy a channel. He ended up buying the Nigerian rights to Who Wants to be a Millionaire with the aim of being the executive producer who would watch the show’s success from a relative distance. Little did he know that the success of such a program is in the minute-by-minute details. It required him to be a critical participant in every step of the show’s development. For example, with existing “Nollywood” studio space unsuitable to game-show production he had to build his own studio to house the set as well as the set of another show whose rights he acquired, Fame Academy. His Who Wants to be a Millionaire is now in its 10th year of production while Fame Academy has operated now for six seasons.

Femi’s next move will be a YouTube-based television channel that will inform and educate as well as entertain. The channel’s sitcoms and dramas will weave in critical lessons about malaria, AIDS and family planning. It will represent Femi’s latest move into education in Nigeria. Interestingly, Who Wants to be a Millionaire is viewed as an educational rather than an entertainment program in the West African nation. Taxi drivers have been known to write down the show’s questions and answers each Friday into notebooks, and fathers insist this is the one program their family must watch. A special “Who Wants to be an Achiever” episode airs several times per year and enables students to compete for scholarship money.

With the launch of his YouTube channel, alumni all over the world will be able to see Femi’s programming. I look forward to watching! Check out some of his programming now at www.ultimalimited.com, www.millionairenigeria.comwww.whowantstoberichghana.com and www.projectfamewestafrica.com.

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