Brother reveals shocking childhood habits of Sen. Ben Bruce in new Magazine exclusive + Why Dad fought him over Silverbird Group

The Bruce Brothers (The Family)

Many People
who grew up in the Sabo and Alagomeji areas of Yaba, Lagos (South West Nigeria), in the 70s still remembers the ‘Oyinbo’
children of the Muray Bruces. Their Parents, William
Molly Muray-Bruce
(late—from Akassa,
Bayelsa State—Southern Nigeria) and Margaret
Murray-Bruce, had this flourishing supermarkets (retail shops)
on Herbert Macaulay Street, adjacent to the Hoare’s Memorial Methodist Church and Commercial Avenue, both in Yaba-Lagos.
The stores—Domino Stores, were unique in the sense
that the shelves were well arranged and you got everything there at cheaper
rate. Many of the neighborhood children went there, not to shop, but to drool
over the dainty items adorning the shelves. While there, you could be lucky to
catch the sight of the well behaved children of the shop owner who somehow in
those days, were likened to the ‘Jackson Five of America’. It is not
surprising therefore, that the talented ‘Oyinbo’
children of yesteryears have built a towering career in the entertainment
industry (And even Politics). All grown and responsible, they now bestride the
industry like the colossus.

The History of Domino Stores…

Late Dad & Michael

in 1964 by the late patriarch of the family, the retail trading stores—the Domino
, have today, morphed into hospitality outlets Domino
; a giant entertainment company, Silverbird Group which
has become a brand in Nigeria and
beyond and a radio station, Rhytm FM—which has pioneered a
sophisticated standard of entertainment in Nigeria.
 Talents of the Murray-Bruces Family

Guy & Roy

The debut of
the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria, MGBN birthed by Silverbird in 1993 changed the face of Beauty Pageantry in Nigeria. It is to the credit of the
family’s business that a Nigerian, Agbani
won the coveted title of ‘Miss Universe’
The family
also revived the cinema culture in Nigeria
as most of the cinema houses in Nigeria,
especially in Lagos (The Center of
Excellence) have been turned to worship centers. Apart from night clubs which
caters exclusively for adults, there were very few ‘hang out’ joints for the
family merriment, not until the Muray-Bruces
came up with the Silver Bird Galleria, which has not only met the Cinema needs
of the whole family, but has become a tourist haven for foreigners.

Guy, Dad & Michael

United, warm
and close-knit, the Muray Bruces are
a model family who look out for each other and act and speak in unity with the
word ‘we’ as their watchword.
The talented
show biz guru (Now a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria) Ben Murray-Bruce, has, through his
entertainment outfit, raised the ante in the industry. The showbiz host is the
chairman of the Silverbird Group,
though he seems to have retired from active show-business, having handed the
mantle of management to his brother, Guy
, the current President of Silverbird
of whom he said, ‘Guy
is doing an excellent job. I have confidence in his abilities’.
One would
expect that a family that rakes huge sums of money from publicity would readily
‘go public’ with their lives and businesses, but that was not the case as the Murray-Bruces have a marked phobia for
publicity, especially when the focus is on them.
How Dad built an empire from nothing
to something

The Entertainment Family

 Michael Murray-Bruce, Managing
Director, Domino Stores, who spoke to
Family Magazine (The Source of this report), alongside his mother, Mrs. Margaret Molly Muray-Bruce said at the end of the interview “You don’t know how painful this (doing the interview) has been for me”. Forty-Four Years after
the Domino Stores was established,
the business is still thriving even after its founder has passed on. Michael has more to tell “We have seen through a lot of changes. When
we started in 1964
(I say ‘we’ even though I wasn’t working full time—I was only a student but it’s still we. It was a family business, all the children
worked in the store after school and on weekends
, (in various assignments).
We had two stores and in 1965, we
established a wholesale unit and that whole sale unit grew to become the
largest distributor for Lever Brothers, in its day—and similarly for Nestle
also, at that time. Up to 1979/80 we grew from two stores to 15 retail outlets
and 7 wholesale outlets”.
How IBB’s Policy nearly ruined our

The Bruces….Their Touch on Nigeria’s business extra-ordinary

the Structural Adjustment Programme Period, We had a lot of empty shelves
because manufacturers in Nigeria didn’t have the raw materials and importers
could not import finished goods and more than 60% of the merchandise we
normally traded in were simply not available. As a result, we closed down every
store, with the exception of one—the one at Commercial Avenue, Yaba”.
“But as we closed down the stores, we
shrunk and re-invested in property and the stock market. Those were the areas
that kept the company alive to this day. It is only now that we are getting
ready to re-build what we had in the 60s. We converted two of the stores into
restaurants—as pilot restaurants because we intend to roll them out as a chain,
sometime this year. The supermarket is the only one left, but it is going to be
completely transformed and there’s going to be a roll-out plan put in place,
again, this year, for the supermarket”.
So, how did
the family survive the SAP years? “We
survived by changing. We didn’t stay static. I think had we been stubborn and
stayed with the supermarket business in the 80s, I believe we would have gone
under. There was no way we would have supported the overheads we had”.
 Secret of our unbroken brotherhood

Ben, Guy, Dad & Michael

Often when
the patriarch of a family passes on, the children go their separate ways but
the family of Pa William Murray-Bruce
has stuck together. What is the binding factor? “Our mother” Michael declared in one word. He continued “She is never seen in public but she is a very strong lady, very disciplined.
actually saying anything, she has the ability to hold
people together and I believe that
, whatever
discipline my father had in his days
, my
mother has continued in her
own way.
Although she is not involved in the running of the business, the mere
fact that she is always around and she is
always talking to us, she is like a magnet
that gathers all the iron dust, where she is concerned”.

Matriarch of the Family, Mrs Margaret Molly Murray-Bruce (M) With her girls (Now Mamas)

“We are the North Pole; she is the
South Pole. I am a CEO but I am still a kid in her eyes and that’s just how I
feel. In the office, I call the shots but not when I go to her house—she calls
the shots and I think it is because she is a family oriented person”.
(She has never worked outside the
home, that’s not to say she has never worked)
What you don’t about Dad….

The Old & The New Murray-Bruce

What exactly
was Pa William Murray-Bruce like? “My father was a very shrewd man, very disciplined, extremely disciplined. His desk was never clustered, he never owned a brief case in his entire
working life and there was a reason for
that.  He
always said to me
“The office is
different from the home. When you go home you do things you are supposed to do
at home
. Never convert your home to
an office”
, so when he left the
office he left everything behind him”
Dad hated Mobile Phones…

The Bruce Ladies

“He never owned a mobile phone. I
think the mobile phones were just coming around when he passed on in 1996. He
may have seen a mobile phone, but if he was around today, I don’t think he
would allow me to own a mobile phone or if I owned one, he would not allow me
to bring it into his house because it is an intrusion into his privacy. That
was the kind of discipline that he had and he always said that ‘if you can’t
accomplish a task in eight hours, you are biting more than you can chew, so
shelve some and give some away, but the home must not be sacrificed to make
your business work. If you do that, then, you are a failure’.
he practiced. He didn’t just preach it, in fact, I don’t think he ever preached
it, he just practiced it and we observed”
Childhood habits of the Bruce 5


Papa must
have been very tough! So what was growing up like for the Murray-Bruces children? “There are 12 children in the family—7 boys
and 5 girls. So you can imagine, when you have a lot of kids in the home, you
get to choose who to play with and who to fight with, but you never fight with
the same person for two days in a row, never! That’s the beauty of a large
family. You make friends and you lose them on a daily basis and I think that’s
a wonderful thing. So, you can be sure with 12 kids you always have enough
friends around, for today. Tomorrow, that group of friends could be enemies.
Well, I won’t say enemies, but they are not your friends tomorrow”. “It is only
a reflection that I realized we were deprived of many things but not parental
care. And for that reason, those things we were deprived of had absolutely no
meaning. I grew up in a house that had no air conditioning, but I didn’t know
that air conditioning made you more comfortable. Today, I can’t do without my
air conditioner. But as a kid, because I grew up in a house that had no air
conditioning, it just seemed like the normal way of life to me; I didn’t mind.
Most of our growing up years was like that. If we didn’t have it, we didn’t
worry about it, we didn’t crave for it, we were contented because my dad was an
extremely contented person, very contented”.
Idiosyncrasies of the Bruce Kids


Today, the Murray-Bruces are all big boys and
girls. What were they like as kids?. The Bruces’ matriarch Mama Margaret Molly Murray-Bruce gave a detailed response “Ben (Now a Senator of the Federal
Republic) was mischievous, as three years
old. He used to run away from the house to go play with the children down the
street and we always had to go look for him and bring him back
, in case he got kidnapped or something. He
was a ring leader among his peers, wherever we lived, weather it was Calabar or
Enugu. He always had a group of friends, his age mates, sometimes people older
than him who he will sort of lead as a gang

The Murray Bruce Family

“Roy was very quiet, but he asked
very irritating, nagging questions as a three year old. His favorite question
was ‘Why?’ He could ask you that 50 times in 10 minutes—why did you come in
here, why did you stay here, why did you go out, why did you not call me, why
did you do this, why did you do that…., it was
for a three years old and he would not take ‘No’ for an answer. You had to give
him an answer. Why, why, Why? That was very irritating”.
“Guy charmed everybody as a baby. He
just smiled at everybody. Guy would have been the easiest baby to kidnap
because he would have smiled at the kidnapper and gone anywhere with them. He
smiled at everybody and has not stopped smiling. He also had the biggest
appetite I remember. Of all the children, he really had a very big appetite for
a baby”
“Mrs. Jonah (their 5th child) was a very serious one too; very serious from an early age. Always did things in the house, like
house chores”
How Dad fought Ben Bruce over
Silverbird Group

Ben & Dad fought to have Silverbird

Late Pa William Bruce was not a flamboyant
person according to Michael and he
did not like publicity, yet Ben
brought publicity to the family.
“Initially he was very angry.
Remember that Silverbird was established as a subsidiary of Domino Stores at
the time. Therefore, Papa was the effective head of Silverbird—that was when I
was first appointed as the MD of Domino Stores. He did everything possible to
change the activity of Silverbird and he gave me many lectures on how not to
run a business. He always told me that he did not like the noise we were making
in Silverbird—this was way back in 1979/80, in particular, the beauty pageants.
He was totally against the beauty pageants. He just could not see how you could
relate the business of beauty pageants to our retail operations, which at the
time was our dominant business in the company.

Ben in the Beginning with one of his pageant ladies having a ‘domino’ effect on location

He always says that your work
should speak for itself and he believed in the word of mouth”

“He believed if we ran a successful
retail operation, our customers would tell others. He never wanted us to blow
our trumpets, but Silverbird was blowing not only the trumpet but the saxophone,
the tambourine—all the wind instruments were being blown and there was a man
who said ‘Do not blow your own trumpet’ and a full orchestra was blaring in
front of him—that was a tough one for him to handle. But with time, he mellowed”.
 “Like in
the Sound of Music when Mother Superior said of Maria; ‘How do you catch a
cloud and pin it down?’; He realized that he was fighting a losing battle and
he stepped back and let the bird fly; but it came slowly and it took a couple
of years of mental adjustments to the way of life and in the end, he became the
greatest mentor of Silverbird, on this planet and he attended a few shows—not
all, and if they were too noisy he would stay away”.
“Dad provided 110% support. He came
to understand that the nature of the business called for a particular way of
running the company, as distinct from the conservative approach in the retail
business in which he grew up. He accepted that that was the way it was going to
work for Silverbird; though inappropriate for the retail business, but it was
appropriate for Silverbird. He provided all the supports, not just morally but
financially, for Silverbird”.
What I missed without Dad…

The Murray-Bruce Brothers

What does Michael miss most about his Dad? “I miss his laughter. When I was first appointed Managing Director, he was
Chairman and his office was just across the hall from mine. From 1979 to 1996,
everyday, whenever he was in the country
, he will walk across to my office, open the door with a big smile on his
face and on many occasions, he will just say to me “I am a very happy man”. He
would be standing on the door way laughing, saying “I am a very happy man”,

and I would wonder “Why are you laughing?
What is it?’ I look back and I miss that laughter very much because he always
changed my depressed mood to one of joy and laughter…and the truth is, he was
laughing about nothing; he was just laughing about life”
Mum is our Rock of Gibraltar

The Murray-Bruce sisters with their matriarch Margaret Molly Murray-Bruce (M)

And what he
loves most about his mum? “Mama is there
24 hours a day, for you. You know, like the rock of Gibraltar she is always
there. You turn left, turn right, turn every which way, she is there. Whether
you are hungry or tired or you need somebody to talk to, she is there. She is
never scolding you, always encouraging you; that is wonderful—to have somebody
who doesn’t admonish you, that’s kind
nice. And she often pops into the office just to say ‘hello’. She is 81 Year
old and so strong. I like that”
Culled from Family Magazine


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