In 1903, brothers Robert and Edward Evans founded a company called Evans Brothers, London focused on the publication of teacher training journals and periodicals. Initially headquartered at the brothers’ residence at 118 Newgate Street, London, England, early Evans Brothers publications included some of the foremost teacher training materials of the time, such as The Education News of Scotland, Irish School Weekly, Woman Teacher’s World (1911–13), The Word Master, The Music Teacher, Child Education, and The School Mistress. In the first year of operations, the company grossed 150 pounds.
In the 1930s, Evans Brothers London moved into book publishing, with emphasis on children’s books. Notable titles from the Evans stable included the Evans War Classics, Dam Busters, and a number of titles from the prolific British children’s writer Enid Blyton.
EARLY INTEREST IN NIGERIA
In 1945 the company, under Noel Evans (a second generation Evans) decided to venture outside the United Kingdom. They hired a consultant to come out to Nigeria and research the book needs of the then British colony of Nigeria. That consultant was Dr. L. C. Larcombe. That trip led to his writing of the Larcombe’s Progressive Arithmetic (Lower, Middle and Upper Standard). The series became a household name in primary education, dominating the primary arithmetic market in Nigeria in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The Larcombe textbook still remains a strong brand albeit in a substantially adapted form.
The success of the Larcombe publication and other early publications for Nigeria such as Civics for Self Government by J. R. Bunting led to the appointment of a resident representative in Nigeria to promote the interest of the company. The first Resident Representative appointed was Ove Stentort and he made the university town of Ibadan his base, one of the primary reasons why Ibadan remains the publishing capital of Nigeria. It was during his time that a property was acquired on Akinola Maja Street in Jericho, on which a residential building/contact point was erected. That property still stands today and serves as the company’s guest house. Other subsequent resident representatives who played roles in firmly entrenching Evans in Nigeria were Commander Moss and Reg Mackenzie.
INCORPORATION OF THE NIGERIAN COMPANY
By the 1960s, with education developing fast in Nigeria, Evans felt ready to move to the next level of expansion. The need was felt to embark on more targeted publishing and stronger marketing and distribution. A decision to set up a full fledged Nigerian company was taken and Evans Brothers(Nigeria Publishers) Limited was formed. The company was issued a certificate of incorporation on 6 December 1966, with business taking off in earnest early the following year. Mr Joop Berkhout was appointed its pioneer General Manager and subsequently, Managing Director.
The first board of directors of the company comprised His Highness Alhaji Zulu Gambari, Emir of Ilorin, Mrs. Titilola Sodeinde and Mr. Eyo Ita. These three served with Joop Berkhout under the chairmanship of Mr. John Leslie Browning who also doubled as the Chairman of Evans London. He was a member of the Evans family, having married a Miss Evans. At its maiden board meeting held in Ibadan in February 1967, the board chose to follow the direction set out by the founding Evans brothers to focus on children’s educational publishing and the enhancement of teacher education.
The management of Joop Berkhout displayed unparalleled energy, skill and push that immediately won the company admiration and acceptance in Nigeria. These early years witnessed unprecedented growth in the publishing industry owing to the arrival of Evans Nigeria with fresh vigour and vision. Competition became keener and product quality standards, higher. Being the catalyst of this positive change in the industry, Evans no doubt became the primary beneficiary of the growth and by 1971, the company had built and commissioned a new office and warehouse complex, which remains the headquarters of the company.
The phenomenal growth in the fortunes of the company required an expansion in the number of members of the board and the late Dr. Alvan Ikoku and Dr. Amiel Fagbulu became directors in 1971 and 1972 respectively.
The Nigerian Enterprises Promotion Decree of 1972, also known as the indigenization decree brought about a major restructuring in the company. By this decree it became mandatory for a minimum of 40% of the equity of companies to be owned by Nigerians. Thus, Nigerians including the late Mr. Ola Odusote, Alhaji Zulu Gambari, Dr Rex Akpofure, Dr Magnus Adiele, Alhaji Shehu Malami, Dr. A. Fagbulu and Dr. S. J Cookey who by 1975 became the Chairman of the company bought 40% of the company’s shares.
The years between 1977 and 1980 saw Evans taking on full-fledged local publishing with the establishment of a Publishing Department which operated more independently of the London company and Mr Dayo Ogunniyi (now Honourable Member, House of Representatives) was appointed the first Publishing Manager.
Early in 1977, Mr. Layi Bolodeoku, who had earlier joined the company in 1973 as General Manager, was appointed Managing Director after he had served briefly as joint Managing Director with the incumbent, Joop Berkhout following his appointment as Marketing Director of Evans U.K. Mr. Bolodeoku served the company meritoriously for many years. To his credit, much of the company’s indigenous list was developed during his tenure. Particularly notable was the pioneering publication of a wholly indigenously written and produced nursery education series of 19 titles simultaneously.
The late 1980s up to the late 1990s were a testing time for business and economic activities in Nigeria. The twin economic policy of austerity of the Shagari era and the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) of the subsequent military era had a telling effect on the Nigerian publishing industry. Battling under such harsh economic conditions, the industry had to evolve its strategies of survival in such inhospitable environment. Not surprisingly, Evans was particularly badly hit by severe operational challenges and the company all but baulked in this situation. The operations were severely restricted and it became increasingly difficult to meet certain financial obligations. This situation continued into the 1990s and was compounded by the instability of much of that decade.
EVANS PUBLISHING GROUP
Evans Publishers Nigeria Ltd is in association with the Evans Publishing Group UK. This is the holding entity for Evans Brothers Publishers and its associated companies worldwide. The chairman is a well-known and accomplished Nigerian aristocrat, the Oloye Adekunle Ojora, CON, OFR, JP, Otunba of the Yoruba kingdom of Lagos. Sometime in the late 70s,the Evans family had sold Evans UK to the respected Lord Lever of Manchester.A few years later,he was to divest to an investment which Otunba Ojora represents. Otunba Ojora also chairs the board of the company in Nigeria.
The entrance of Otunba Adekunle Ojora into the board in 1983(first as member, then vice chairman and now chairman) injected new life and fresher thinking into the company. An accomplished entrepreneur, the Oloye brought his wealth of experience to bear on the affairs of the company especially during the difficult years of the post Shagari era of economic difficulties and the subsequent Structural Adjustment policies of succeeding regimes. Other members of the board of the company are Gbenro Adegbola(Managing Director), Alhaji Sidi M. Yero,Adegboyega Ojora Esq, Stephen T. Pawley Esq(Managing Director Evans UK) and Brian Jones Esq(International Publishing Director).
THE FIRM TODAY
In 2000, following the retirement of Mr. Bolodeoku, Mr. Gbenro Adegbola who was until then the General Manager (Publishing) was appointed Managing Director. A restructuring and turnaround programme was immediately initiated which within a short while showed signs of success and returned the company to the path of operational efficiency and profitability. The rapid recovery and continuous growth of the company has drawn considerable attention to it, leading to its present dominant position within the industry. Presently, Mr Gbenro Adegbola has left the service of the organisation for private business. Mr. Wale Olaniawo, a Graduate of the University of Wisconsin, a seasoned Publisher and former General Manager and Executive Director of the company was appointed MD/CEO of Evans Publishers (Nigeria) Limited in August 2012.
ACQUISITION OF NELSON PUBLISHERS
Having recovered spectacularly, Evans continues to expand to consolidate its position within the industry. In 2005, it concluded negotiations to acquire the ailing Nelson Publishers. This was only a logical move after the earlier takeover of Nelson UK’s Africa list by Evans UK a few years earlier. Nelson occupies a significant place in Nigerian publishing and cultural history, being the ground-breaking publisher of the famous D. O. Fagunwa Yoruba magical realism novels, the first of which was released in 1948. It is hoped this strategic acquisition will win for Evans Publishing Group a bigger share of the Nigerian publishing market. Reorganization of Nelson commenced upon acquisition and is due to be completed by the end of the first quarter 2007. Nelson will add a focus on literature and non-fiction to its core area of educational publishing.
PUBLISHING IN OTHER MEDIA
With growth in Information Technology and its increasing application in education all over the world, Evans has taken an interest in publishing in other media. In 2005, a small study was commissioned to research the readiness of the Nigerian market for electronically based instructional materials and the possibility of giving existing titles the electronic treatment. This led to the creation of a small unit within the company early in 2006 to implement some of the recommendations of the study. The unit decided first to develop the equivalent of the schools records package that currently exists as a pack of school diaries, report cards and continuous assessment records. Initially the thinking was to merely adapt the existing material electronically, but the advice of the unit managers was to develop new material from the scratch. It was later decided to combine this with an accounting software in an integrated package called The Integrated School Manager—a dedicated, robust computer software developed for running schools. It contains modules on accounting, human resource management, student records, scheduling etc. Testing of the final release version commenced in August 2006. The release is bound to revolutionize the way schools are run in Nigeria.