Success story of Nigerian entrepreneur Ibukun Awosika

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ENTERPRISE54 – I challenge women out there (as well as inspiration-seeking males) to indeed make it happen with the timeless words on marble that were spoken by a successful African woman entrepreneur that – ‘made it happen!’ She was not born into a wealthy family that gave her a foreign education – not to slight the successes of those that had this opportunity- and the story of her labored climb to success and wealth is so real that it leaves you with a resounding “I CAN DO IT TOO!”

Mrs. Ibukun Awosika is the Founder and Chairperson of The Chair Centre Ltd., MD/CEO of Sokoa Chair Centre Limited, a joint venture between Sokoa S.A of France, Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, and The Chair Centre. She is a Member of the Board of Directors of First Bank of Nigeria Plc, Cadbury Plc, Digital Jewels Ltd, The Convention on Business Integrity, and Youths Business Initiative (a project of Prince Charles Organisation:Prince Trust)

Besides all of her corporate responsibilities, the multiple award winning entrepreneur also finds time to positively impact the society in several capacities – She is a fellow of the third class of the Africa Leadership Initiative – West Africa, a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network, a member of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), and a member of the Lagos University Governing Council. She has also been appointed to the Board of the Nigerian Sovereign Wealth Fund.

There is so much of this business amazon that I could go on and on, but let’s get on to the spoken words that are sure to pivot many a woman to unimagined success in entrepreneurship now. This following is an excerpt from her address at the Entrepreneurship Development Center convocation ceremony in Lagos:

“Everything I needed was in the system. The carpenters came with their tools. So I didn’t even need to buy tools. All I needed was to have a place to operate from. I noticed that furniture making company need basically three divisions -carpentry, upholstery and spraying. So I engaged three carpenters, two upholsterers and two sprayers. We were seven. So where do we start from? The chief carpenter said there was an uncompleted building close to his house. The man lives in Ejigbo. I had never gone to Ejigbo but I had to go because what I needed was there. The next thing was where do we get jobs from? When people heard that one of our first customers was Prime Merchant Bank, it sounded so big and great. But I had handled the transaction in my former place of work. I went there to see if there was any extra job that they could offer me. I treated them well. But how do you give a bank’s major furniture work to a 25 year-old girl who had nothing? All the same, I went there and they felt it would be nice to also be nice to me. The first order I got was to supply wooden trays and wooden dust bins. I took it because I wanted a foot in the door. I just needed a starting point. We worked on that like our lives depended on it. They had a lot of young staff who were just starting life so I took all manners of jobs – people who wanted stools in their houses, bed and all sorts. Every job was a big job and so we plugged ourselves into it. Six months later, there was a furniture show at the National Theatre and I decided we were going to go there. All the big guys, of course, were there. I needed to showcase that we can also do it. We have the skills, what we lacked was the network. So I scrounged all the monies we have to pay for space at the show.

My guys made assorted furniture and for the one week period of the show, we went there and we had to close workshop. Whilst we were there, Texaco Nigeria was building a new factory at McCarthy, and they came to scout for a company that would supply their furniture. We were there among the big guys, but nobody realised that we were a tiny, little dot. We made our paper work and had a good presentation. Our attention to details was different from theirs. By the time we did the samples, we were shortlisted among the best. You can imagine how hard we worked on it. At that point nobody was dealing with me. They were dealing with the quality of our work. By the time TEXACO awarded the contract, they had given it to a tiny, little company that had nothing.
Now the difficult part. Oil companies do not pay down payment for their jobs. You have to go and look for money to do the job. In 1989, the value of the 66 chairs and tables was N166, 000. I had to look for N50,000 to add to the savings we had made over time. The bank that I had worked for could not risk their money on us. I looked for the N50,000 all over Lagos, but nobody offered a helping hand. It was one person who was starting a finance company and believed in me that offered me a loan. We were able to prove that we could do excellent jobs if we are given the opportunity…

Take a personal decision to be excellent in whatever you do. The only reason a French company will concede 21per cent equity to a Nigerian company is because we have a track record. The only reason the company that I’m signing strategic partnership agreement with in the US is because when they were looking for information, one of our clients, an international bank said we are the best. It is the way we relate with them. What makes the difference in whatever you choose to do as an enterprise is to make the first one look the best. You also ensure that when you get to the 1000th, you remain the best. Take whatever knowledge you have learnt here seriously. Seek knowledge to whatever extent possible. Take a personal decision to be excellent in whatever you do. My commitment is to deliver international standard and topmost quality business within Nigeria with pride without saying this is Nigeria. A time would come when the guy who knows the right thing would come up and when he does, he would judge by what he sees. It doesn’t matter if you can do better, he will judge you by what you have presented to him.

Nurlan Silitonga meets with her mentor, Ibukun Awosika during Bank of America's Global Ambassadors Program in Ireland

Nurlan Silitonga meets with her mentor, Ibukun Awosika during Bank of America’s Global Ambassadors Program in Ireland

By the time I took my first major loan for the business, we were already at over N150million profit. Everything I did from the first job of paper tray was to plough back everything into the business until when we were going to buy our own machines. I couldn’t buy the big machines, so I looked for small fairly used machines. We started that way and started moving on. That grew the business a little. Did I buy a car? Ah, car ke? Car was the last thing on my mind. People called me all manners of names – you this Ijebu woman. I said to them, I was doing a business that was capital intensive when I had no capital. I allowed the business to grow itself. I was going out in taxis. If the car breaks down on the way, it not my business, I simply would go down and wave bye to the driver. If I had bought a car, I would pay driver, make provision for mechanic… No, I didn’t have that luxury. Don’t get carried away by the false life people live.”

Entrepreneurs across the globe would do well to regard Mrs Ibukun Awosika as a role model. Her approach to continual personal development, further education and doing the best job possible is exemplary. And her financial prudence and high moral standards are at the very core of her success. – Capital Finance International

Can’t get enough of the indefatigable Ibukun Awosika? Visit her official website now.


I am fascinated by Creativity and Innovation!

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  1. Pingback: Florence Seriki: Life and times of the Late Omatek Ventures CEO - The website for African entrepreneurs

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