This Entrepreneur went from flipping burgers to flipping multi-million Assets in London

I never imagined to be nominated for or winning any awards, I just wanted to have an impact on my community, says Sanmi Adegoke. His latest latest nomination comes from the Black British Business Award, a prestigious award in the UK.

Growing up in Nigeria, he learnt the importance of faith as being the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Fortunately, this conviction was reinforced in Sanmi by his parents at an early age. His parents instilled the culture of faith, hard work and discipline, values that have shaped him from the early days working on the grill at McDonalds to the recent success in property investing. His firm, Rehoboth Property International, has grown exponentially in deal size from its inception.

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Undoubtedly, the growth did not happen overnight. While studying, Sanmi worked the hot grills at McDonalds, a job that left a lasting impression on him. As a result, he started learning about how McDonalds was structured and how it made money.To his surprise, he realized that the company was a lot more than the burgers he was flipping and that the company was, oddly to him, a real estate company. Property, as a formidable investment vehicle, emerged again as Sanmi worked as a security guard watching over multi-million pounds worth of assets in Knightsbridge and with every chance he got to speak with the owners he will ask questions about how they started their journeys. One of the owners was kind enough to recommend that Sanmi go read “Rich Dad Poor Dad”. Now, the Property Investing seed has been planted!

After finishing his Business and Management degree, Sanmi worked with a variety of start-ups in the UK as well as in Africa. One of Sanmi’s memorable experiences was working with a UK car racing startup trying to penetrate the African market. During his time at the start-up, Sanmi learnt a lot about the importance of building business processes and systems, seeing around corners and carving a niche by either being first or doing what others cannot or don’t want to do.

With the words of Rich Dad Poor Dad still ruminating in Sanmi’s mind, armed with fundamental business principles and after months of research, Sanmi launched into the property investing world in 2014. The main quote from the book that inspired this major move was:

“You are only poor if you give up. The most important thing is that you did something. Most people only talk and dream of getting rich. You’ve done something” – Robert Kiyosaki

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Woolwich Magistrate Court

Woolwich Magistrate Court and shortly thereafter Bow County Court were two of many court buildings acquired by Rehoboth Property International. The firm was founded on a premise of creating a bespoke service, providing our clients with solutions unique to them.

Purchasing a court building and repurposing it into a place of worship was revolutionary and quite frankly frowned upon at the time. However, our clients, mainly religious leaders, felt that they were running out of options. So, we got creative for our clients!

Starting a property investment company in a competitive property industry was no doubt challenging. However, our success stems from understanding the power of a niche market from the very beginning.

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Historically, black church leaders did not have much choice but to seek out predominantly white commercial real estate agents to find these leaders new buildings for their growing church. On the surface, this approach seems ordinary. Except, many of the brokers were unable to understand the needs of these churches and more importantly were struggling to relate to the cultural and spiritual aspects when dealing with pastors, a subtle yet important piece to the puzzle.

At Rehoboth, it was quickly realized that there is a niche in the market that can be filled not only by appreciating the perspective of these leaders but specifically catering to their unique needs while being able to relate to these leaders on a deeper level.

Sure, the approach did not work at first, but Sanmi persisted and over time the firm went from starting with no clients to growing their client base to over 3,000 clients in just 6 years.

Sanmi Adegoke in front of Dartford magistrates court

After solidifying the firm’s position in the marketplace, it was time to shift gears into development. Legacy that comes with ownership was at the forefront of Sanmi’s overall vision. Not long after, Sanmi acquired Dartford Police Station and Magistrate Court. The idea was to transform these structures into vibrant co-working and private office space that can accommodate over 120 businesses, first of its kind. Taking a place from its historical chapter where many people were sentenced and locked up, their hopes and dreams cut short to building an ecosystem of creativity where entrepreneurs, businesses and communities can thrive together

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Now, Sanmi was under no illusion that this multimillion-pound deal was going to be a walk in the park. That said, this adaptive reuse project is on target to open before the end of 2020.

More recently, Sanmi, and his team at Rehoboth, just acquired 392 Camden, another major development project, right in the heart of London.

[Read: Female restaurateur, from working in a bookshop to owning a restaurant and property portfolio]

Looking into the future, Sanmi plans to build a city with affordable homes in Africa for families who would not otherwise be able to own their homes. Here in the UK, Sanmi desires that every family understands the importance of owning a home. To pursue these lofty goals, Sanmi understands that his unwavering faith in 4 September 18, 2020 God has been the key in his success and he truly embodies the philosophy that ”All things are possible to him that believe” and “You Can Do It Too”!

On a personal note, Sanmi is acutely aware that success comes from family and relationships built over the years with people who love us unconditionally. So, coming home after a very interesting day and seeing the smiles on the faces of his kids brings him some much solace and joy in being a father, a loving husband, and a faithful servant to God.

The 2020 BBBAwards finalists will appeared in a digital campaign throughout UK Black History Month, from 6th of October with the winners revealed on the 30th October. The BBBAwards will also  give a tribute to Black frontline workers for their commitment and sacrifice during these difficult and uncertain times.

A spokeswoman for BBBA said the finalists have been picked as they “embody the Black British community’s ability to prevail, excel and lead through adversity”.

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Have you met David Adjei?

The architecture profession tends to be viewed with a narrow scope. Most people aspire to be some version of Norman Foster, wanting to design their own version of the Gherkin. This is the perception of Architecture as an industry, with most companies focusing exclusively on design. “There are so many avenues we can pursue as an industry,” says David Adjei, innovative founder of London based architecture firm Cognition London.  “Construction is a very traditional industry and it’s plagued by a lot of problems because we are not innovating as well as other industries,” says David.

Construction is a very traditional industry and it’s plagued by a lot of problems because we are not innovating as well as other industries

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David believes there needs to be a rethink in the way architecture practices conduct their business and what they include in their businesses for that matter. He’s leading by example through his own architectural practice which he set up in 2014 whilst completing his masters degree. Before we get into where he is now, let’s look at his unconventional route into the industry.

[Read: How this black business man started his business during a recession]

How did it all start?

He originally wanted to be a graphics designer but this quickly changed when a community organisation called Construction Youth Trust came into his school. The organisation was raising awareness of the construction industry and showcasing the different career paths within the industry. Better yet, they also offered 4 weeks of paid work experience, which got then 16 year old David’s attention. “I had no interest in construction, I just saw it as a way to make some money and get some work experience,” explains the ‘archipreneur’.

I had no interest in construction, I just saw it as a way to make some money and get some work experience

David successfully secured 1 of 20 work experience places with Balfour Beatty and Moucel where he gained an overall view of various roles in the construction industry. “This was my turning point,” says David. It was during this work experience that he fell in love with architecture, leading to his enrolment onto an architecture degree course at Nottingham Trent University in 2008. However, due to poor time management, he says, he ended up getting a displeasing 3rd in his degree. This made it impossible to get a job, especially at a time when the industry was still recovering from the 2007 financial crisis.

Realising his predicament, he decided to take a job at Barclays bank and two years into it, he had another epiphany brought about by the loss of his grandmother.

“It was a mixture of feeling guilty for not spending enough time with her and the reminder that life is very short that led to my decision,” says David. Following the loss of his grandmother, David decided to go back to University to study part-time masters in architecture. Maintaining a demanding architecture and work commitments became untenable, so he left his job at the bank.

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Launching Cognition London:

Leaving his part time job gave David time to focus on his demanding course but it presented another challenge, lack of income. He had no income and relied on his mum for financial support. Determined to generate an income and make his own way in the world, he launched Cognition London in 2014. In the beginning he leveraged his network from his previous employer to secure work which was mostly house extensions at the time.

This got me through my masters which I finished with a merit

Following the success of with his masters and knowledge acquired, he continued to build his company and had developed a network of recruiters who kept him informed when companies were in need of architectural consultants. At the same time, David completed his RIBA ((Royal Institute of British Architects) chartership in 2018, which put him in a new league as he was now able to bid for substantial pieces of work. Unusually David did not have the luxury of employment with an Architecture firm as many graduates usually do. However, he is well known within the industry through projects that he’s worked on with a number of well known organisations. For example he has partnered with architecture firms such as Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), tp bennett, Benoy and populous to name a few

[Read: Female restaurateur, from working in a bookshop to owning a restaurant and property portfolio]

Cognition London:The next level

His big break came when the industry implemented BIM (Building Information Modelling), a framework for working and producing architectural designs, managing projects, delivering and maintaining projects. It’s a digitised way that integrates all the construction project works on a single set of 3D live model. This can then be accessed by all those involved on a construction project.

David learnt how to use BIM and revit, the software used to implement BIM during his degree. “At the time, we didn’t know that it was going to be such a in demand skill in the industry.”I got my first major business to business contract without having an interview with the company”. His appointment for the contract was solely based on his BIM knowledge and a small portfolio of designs he’d worked on previously.

So, what are the benefits of using BIM and why was it such a game changer for David you ask. Well with BIM clients and professionals have the benefit of seeing everything associated with a construction project in one place. For example, a project manager can see the cost of materials and project life cycle; electrical engineers can use the same drawing to view all electrical wiring for a project. At the point of implementation, David was one of a handful of people who knew how to use the framework and technology associated with it. Having this edge took his business to the next level.

“After the initial contract, there was no looking back, everybody wanted a piece of me. It got to a point where I was turning down work, that’s how in demand I was” explains David.

Yet David was still facing some challenges with the business of running an architecture firm. “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. For example, I didn’t know how much time each piece f work would take,” reveals David. Perhaps due to inexperience and under appreciation of the value he was adding, which led to him under quoted contracts.“I didn’t fully appreciate that I was building a space and adding value to it, so I essentially undervalued myself, which I don’t do anymore,” says David.

I didn’t have the support and network of other architects who I could bounce ideas with so I was shooting in the dark a lot of time but it was a good way to learn.

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Business model

David has broken away from the conventional architecture firm business model which usually focuses solely on design. He has created a diversified business in Cognition group which  consitis of

  • Cognition Architecture – the RIBA chartered practice that offers services such as architectural design, construction and renovation
  • Cognition estates – A property development and rental company focusing on buy to let, build to sell and build to rent markets.
  • David and Alexis – The interior design arm which David runs with his wife Alexis

Clearly not one to comform to the statusquo, David also keeps business operations very lean, which means heavy use of third party vendors  and sub contractors. “I outsource the time consuming admin work, which frees me up for business development. I have found that my model creates a competitive culture between the vendors and subcontractors because they want to do the best job so that I employ them for future projects”. This is unlike most architectural companies which tend to have all business operations dealt with in house and only deal with a few sub-contractors.

“I think in time, design focused architecture firms will be taken over by major construction companies, so for this reason there is a need for change there business models,” says David. This has always been a sensible and logical move for construction companies. A more recent example of this is Arups, a well known engineering company who recently added architecture to the list of services they provide.

David is now turning his attention to the wider architectural community. Through his recent election as a RIBA London Council member he hopes to bring his innovative mindset and energy to the council to help the profession forge a new road for the future.

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Theresa Roberts: From working in a bookshop to owning a successful restaurant business

Based in the heart of the entertainment and retail district in Covent Garden, Jamaica Patty Co. is the brainchild of black business woman Theresa Roberts. Born in Jamaica, Theresa moved to the UK in the 1960s to join her parents who had made the same journey earlier as part of the wind rush generation. 

The Windrush generation refers to people who, between 1948 to 1971, were invited by successive governments to relocate to Britain from their homes in Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean to address labour shortages following World War 2. The name ‘Windrush’ comes from the HMT Empire Windrush – the ship that completed 8000 miles crossing from the Caribbean and finally docking at Tilbury in Essex. This was commonly how most people from the Caribbean came to the UK, including Theresa.

The patties at JPC are freshly baked to a recipe developed by Theresa and Collin Brown, a high-profile Jamaican chef in the UK. The restaurant caters to the ‘grab and go market’ and showcases high-quality Jamaican produce. For example, as well as serving delicious patties, JPC’s menu also includes Tortuga rum cake which you can enjoy with blue mountain coffee, both are well known imports from Jamaica.

Theresa shares more on growing up in Jamaica and how she went from working in a book shop to owning a property business, building a villa in Jamaica and becoming a successful restaurant business owner.

Don’t know what a patty is? Checkout my earlier blog on UK’s Patty King for the definition.

What was it like to grow up in Jamaica?

Growing up in Jamaica was a great foundation for me. My mum left me and my sister in the care of our grandparents when I was 6 months old. She (my mother) was part of the wind rush generation who came to England in the 50s. I respect the sacrifices that she made and endeavour to make her proud in everything I do. This is a key principle for me and is the reason why I do a lot for Jamaica, Britain and my charities.

My grandparents were absolutely wonderful and loving and the only reason we moved to London was because my grandmother got ill, so she couldn’t look after us as well as she wanted to. We moved to London in the 60s and though it was difficult, it was the best thing that happened to us because we came to meet an already made family waiting for us.

How did you find the transition from living in Jamaica when you moved to London?

It was very difficult for me and it was the first time that my parents ever lied to me.

I got so homesick that I cried all the time and kept asking my parents “when can I go back home to Jamaica?”. My parents kept telling me they’ll send me back next month but next month never came! Theresa laughs out loud as she remembers this childhood memory.

The truth was that they couldn’t send me back anyway. My grandmother was too sick to look after me. She died shortly after we moved to London.

Did you get a chance to go back to Jamaica to put her to rest?

No. We were a family of 10 and travelling to Jamaica in those days was so difficult plus my parents couldn’t afford it. Mum worked was a cleaner on British railway trains and dad had suffered a back injury while working in a factory, which meant he was at home without a job.

Theresa Roberts enjoying a patty and blue mountain coffee in her restaurant
Theresa Roberts enjoying a patty and blue mountain coffee in her restaurant

What were you doing when you decided to start Jamaica Patty Company?

In between managing my property portfolio, I took a trip to Jamaica with my granddaughter. She was so amazed by the beauty of Jamaica that she insisted I do something there. So, I thought to myself ‘you know what, I am going to build a house in Jamaica’. I went to Jamaica on holiday and ended up buying 4 acres of land. When I came back from holiday, I spoke to my husband and family and we all agreed to build this house in Jamaica. I don’t know why I took that on but I did.

The idea of Jamaica Patty Co. was born while I was building, Hanover Grange in Jamaica. Everything I do I do with all my heart so I wanted to be on site all the time and as such ended up living on Jamaican patties. I never grew sick of them, in fact when I returned to London, I found myself pining for decent patties, freshly baked with Jamaican ingredients. I couldn’t stop thinking about them and as the weeks grew my cravings grew into a delightful culinary scheme that is now Jamaica Patty Company.

When I finished building Hanover Grange in 2007 during the financial crisis, I got such a boost, especially when everyone called me crazy for doing it at the time. Getting a stamp of approval from the Jamaican government also gave me so much pride and motivation to go ahead with starting Jamaica Patty Co.

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How did you get from working in a book shop to owning a property portfolio?

Working in the book shop was my first job but I did a lot of odd jobs after that and managed to save £5000. I used these savings to buy my first house at the age of 19 but that wasn’t my initial plan for the money.

Like most teenagers with a bit of money, I was planning to spend my savings on a sports car and mentioned it to a friend while at a social gathering. Another friend overheard the conversation and suggested that I use the money to buy a house. I thought it was a crazy suggestion because I only had £5000 and I couldn’t get a mortgage.

It turned out that my friend’s brother was dieing of cancer and had lots of houses he wanted to sell. The house that he sold to me had two self-contained flats with an elderly sitting tenant in one the flats. I couldn’t see myself ever having this opportunity again, so I bought the house for £5000 (equivalent to £15,000 in 2020) and moved into the empty flat.

A sitting tenant is a tenant already in occupation of premises, especially when there is a change of ownership. This type of tenancy dates back to 1970s, a time when housing regulations gave the tenant more protection, which came in the form of capped private rents and protecting tenants from eviction. Furthermore, it allowed for ‘succession’ of protected tenancies after the death of a sitting tenant. This was later superseded by the Assured Shorthold Tenancy that we know today

When the sit in tenant passed away, I got the whole house back but curiosity got the best of me. I decided to get the house valued and when the agent told me that it was worth £20,000 (roughly equivalent to £60,000) it was a no brainer for me. I sold the house and moved on to invest in more properties.

Fast forward to today. Setting up a restaurant is capital intensive, especially in a central location like Convent Garden. How did you find the location and was it difficult to source funding?

I was ready to start business in 2013 but didn’t open the shop until 2014. I knew I wanted to be in Convent Garden because I wanted to sell parties to an international audience but securing premises was a straggle.

Until then I hadn’t taken the time to notice that there aren’t many independent family owned businesses around Convent Garden and there is a reason for that. The landlords prefer to lease their spaces to well-known brands. As a new small black owned business, selling a product they weren’t familiar with, it was very difficult to persuade them to lease to us. This made me more determined not to give up until eventually our current landlord Shaftsberry took a chance on us. They actually like our business because it is different from all others in the area and is a good fit for their property on 26 New Row. We’ve been here for 6 years now.

From a funding perspective I had a good financial track record given my property business, so financing was relatively easy to obtain. It was a mixture of bank loans and personal savings.

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I understand that when you launched the restaurant in Convent Garden, this was part of a roll-out plan with a target to open 50 stores across the UK. How is that going?

We’ve only been operating for 6 years and it takes 10 years to build a brand. We did contemplate opening another shop last year but didn’t. To be honest I glad we didn’t, given current business environment with Covid 19.

How are you or have you adapted your business as a result of Covid 19 and lock down?

It’s been difficult for us. We started providing a delivery service during lockdown and this has helped somewhat. However, at the moment me and my grandson are running the shop because it is not financially viable to have staff. It’s not easy but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. It’s my baby.

I have had so much good will from the diaspora since lock down ended. They travel from all over to come and support us, so that’s been great to see. On the other hand, many of the neighboring shops have had to close down and it’s been horrible see that. We depend on tourists, theater goers but there aren’t any of those at the moment

What has been your biggest challenge in your business journey?

Staff. My vision was always to sell patties to an international market and employed staff that reflected this vision. They were very hardworking and good for the business but I got feedback from customers which suggested that they should not be working in the shop because they are not of Caribbean heritage.

For example, there were scenarios where if me or my son were not in the restaurant people would walk in and walk out saying its not a black owned business. I think this was customer misconception about the quality and taste of food served, which was based on the people serving it.

I took this feedback on board and tried to recruit people who would represent the business, however, I couldn’t find people who I could rely on so we’ve kept it as a family run restaurant.

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Thank you so much for that insightful story Theresa. For me this story is about surrounding yourself with the right people, seeing opportunities and taking them when they arise. When was the last time you took a leap of faith to seize an opportunity? – Share your story by leaving a comment in the comment box located at the end of article below or at top of the page.

If you don’t have a story to share, then why not use this week to seize an opportunity, which you can then share with us. It doesn’t can be anything from business related to simply using some free time to get a patty from Jamaica Patty Company at their restaurant on 26 New Row, Covent Garden.

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