Akinlabi, who was once a ‘houseboy’ in Lagos, began his working career while trying to find his place in the world – first as a photographer, then by working for a small wedding and private production enterprise in Lagos as a photographer and cameraman. While doing this, he met with an individual working as a cameraman for DBN, a television channel in Nigeria, who asked for his help as a cameraman on a private project. This meeting introduced him to a network of individuals working within the broadcasting industry and operating a production house. This led him to ask how he could join the industry and their company. He was subsequently hired as a cleaner for the company. Akinlabi was taught how to record and edit professionally by a person in the company who needed his assistance as a cameraman. Then, when an editor at the studio where he was a cleaner was unavailable to work, he was able to fill the role in that particular instance and, subsequently, in many other instances as well – much to the surprise of the director concerned.
He was thereafter recruited to work for another private production house that had made the technological switch from analogue to digital recording, the latter being a field in which he had been trained. One year later, he became an editor and producer for Interpad Films and Audio Visual First Limited. This exposed him to more advanced technologies, to animation, and to a broad array of international advertising agencies, products and clients. Some years later, he resigned from the position and established Planet Image Productions as “a nobody from nowhere who now owns a TV station”. The critical challenges Akinlabi has faced in his life and career were, he says, losing both his parents at a stage in his life when he needed them the most, not having anyone to support or encourage him through his trials in life, and having to look after his siblings and sacrificing his own education and freedom for theirs. He nevertheless overcame the obstacles he faced in life by being a risk-taker, by identifying opportunities and running with them, and by holding onto the belief that he was destined for greatness. He has a strong belief in God, whom he says does not make mistakes, and he believes that God sent him the right people at the right time to help him build the company.
Akinlabi is convinced that his life experiences have brought him to where he is today. He says: “I believe all things happen for my benefit, even the bad ones. I would not change anything, because I look at myself now and know my mother and father would cry tears of pride and joy if they saw the man I have become. If the Wale of five years ago met me now, he would not recognise me and would not believe what I have grown into.” Akinlabi believes that he is doing what he was born to do. Since the day he laid eyes on production equipment, he knew he had encountered the vehicle to his destiny. He was made for television production, and his journey in life proves it. His mission and vision with regard to Planet Image Productions, which is the only indigenous African production company in South Africa, is for it to be a leading communications and production company. ‘Communication’, for him, means telling stories to the people of Africa and the world in a way that they can enjoy and appreciate, and doing this professionally and passionately. He has a fervent desire to see Africa, as a continent, united through the media.
Akinlabi started his business with just one laptop. He notes that loans won’t make you a great entrepreneur. Rather it is your skills and abilities that will do this. His advice for African entrepreneurs who want to enter the entertainment and media industries is: Do whatever you can think of that will change you and impact your surroundings and generations to come – no matter how ‘out of the box’ it is. Let your word be your word. Take calculated risks. Be your own capital and don’t rely on loans. Believe in yourself. Never take ‘No’ for an answer, for “‘No’ is not a fact, it’s a dare”; it is someone daring you to prove them wrong. Finally, respect and honour all human beings, because you never know who you are talking to or whose brother or sister you are showing kindness to. Planet Image Productions has been nicknamed ‘The United Nations of Entertainment’ by colleagues in the industry; because it has over 11 nationalities represented at its Johannesburg office and are regarded as a Pan-African production company with Pan-African content. This has contributed to its broad continental influence, to the quality of its productions and to its vibrancy.
The challenges that those at Planet Image Productions have faced in the media and broadcasting industries as a new enterprise has been to break the mould of established production houses – a difficult task as a new and black-owned company – and to source finance for expansion. Exciting developments for Planet Image Productions in the near future will be the launch of PRTV in Southern Africa on DStv, and the launch of a West African gospel station. People view Akinlabi as unapproachable, but he is ready and willing to mentor anyone who has an interest in television production and business, offering his knowledge to allow young entrepreneurs and their companies to be successful.
Through Adversity to the Stars
Akinlabi, a married father of two, imagined as a child that he was destined for success. This, he says, was a belief he was born with. However, he didn’t know when, where or how success would come about. His steadfast belief in his abilities and vision has to date brought Planet Image Productions international recognition within the media industry.
From the Bottom to the Top
Wale Akinlabi, the President of Planet Image Productions, entered the field of television production in 1993 after completing secondary school in 1991. In his words, it was “the only thing I could lay my hands on”. He forfeited a tertiary education in favour of his younger siblings’ education, knowing that the industry would take him where he wanted to go in life.
He is currently working towards ensuring that his production company runs itself, thereby enabling him to engage in other business projects. With a Diploma in Theatre Arts, Akinlabi believes that, if you are good at what you do, education should not be a barrier. For him, one does not need a university education to become a success. Rather, education is the element one needs to become more professional. It is the intellectual capital one needs to move forward, and, if one does not have it, one should therefore acquire it. As a personal goal, he intends engaging in formal studies in the future.
by Lisa Kolwa