By Temitope David-Adegboye
Dr. Sunny Obazu-Ojeagbase is the Executive Chairman of Complete Communications Limited and co-founder of Success Attitude Development Centre, a non-governmental organization set up with the aim of training and nurturing young entrepreneurs towards attaining success. The NGO will, today, at Lagos Sheraton Hotel, host this year’s edition of the Enterprise Awards. In this interview, Obazu-Ojeagbase speaks on what motivated the awards. He also speaks on what every entrepreneur in Nigeria must do to be successful. Excerpts:
How long have you been hosting the Enterprise Awards and what prompted you to do it?
This year’s award is the 16th edition. The award came as a result of our desire to honour entrepreneurs who risk everything to create opportunities for others and give jobs and come up with products and services that make lives easier. We run an NGO, Success Attitude Development Centre, which is raising and nurturing successful entrepreneurs. When we stage the award, all we are saying to those we are raising is that, if they do well, they could see the ones we honour as role models, they too could be honoured. That is the basic idea behind it.
Is it safe to say the awardees are basically the people you trained at one time or the other through your own NGO?
Not at all. Those that we give awards are those who are successful entrepreneurs on their own. But when we honour them, we are only showcasing them to the ones we are raising and nurturing, telling them that they also could become successful like the awardees.
What are the challenges of hosting this kind of event yearly?
There are no challenges. Nigeria is a blessed country. We have very determined robust business people in this country. People who dare odds and are able to overcome because Nigeria is a very tough environment to do business. So, if you see any successful entrepreneur in Nigeria, you know that these are champions. They are fighters, and they are people who have braved the odds. In a nation like Nigeria where you find it difficult to survive, when you see anybody who succeeds in business, you have to give them thumbs up.
What does it take to succeed as a business entrepreneur in Nigeria?
First of all, it takes quality product and service because without that, you don’t even have any reason to call yourself an entrepreneur. You must have a quality product and service. Also, it is not enough to have these too; you must also care for your customers to make your customers feel good about you, your product and service. So, you have to go the extra mile to make them happy. That is very important and they are basic.
Apart from these you mentioned above, what are the other things that one needs to be successful as an entrepreneur, knowing the difficult terrain in Nigeria?
You said ‘apart from these’, but for me, it is the first thing, because an entrepreneur is somebody that sells something. The product and service are the first and most important things. Every other thing is secondary. The second thing is to identify who is going to buy these products, because so many people miss the point. Somebody could just go out there, see lovely phones and they think it would sell. He then buys a shipload of the phones, brings them home and, then, he can’t find anybody to buy them. So, you must know who would buy your product or who you would be rendering your service to. Without that second knowledge, you are going to lose out.
Number three, and this is very critical too: you must sell your product at a price that the people whom you are selling to are not only willing to buy, but can also afford it or are able to afford it. We all go to the market and we see some things that we love but the prices are just way above what we can pay. There is nothing we can do about it. We love it, the person wants to sell it but we don’t have the means to buy it. So, it stays on the shelf. So, you must sell products that are priced within the affordable price of the target market.
I’ve told you about customer appreciation. This is very important because when a buyer gets into a shop, even though he brings money in exchange for a good or service, somehow, he still feels that the shop owner owns him some obligation to pamper him. And for those who don’t know how to do that, they also lose out because customers would always love to go to where they treat them better. For example, if a woman goes into a salon that perhaps is the best in town but you are being rubbished and treated lowly, you can just say even if they do it anyhow elsewhere, you will never go back to that best salon.
Do you think that Nigerian youths are daring to become entrepreneurs?
Many of them are. At least, I know so many of them that are very daring and are doing very well. On Saturday (today), at the award ceremony, we are giving one young entrepreneur the young person award and I know all the challenges he has had to cross just to make it happen. There are so many of them out there who are very interested, but as I said, the environment is very challenging. And then, of course, when you pick up the newspapers and you read about all the billions that are being stolen, it can make anybody’s heart to sink. But don’t look there because, for them there is a reward. For you, you want to do a business that when you go to bed at night, you can close your two eyes and sleep like a baby. That is the path that we encourage people to toll. And there are so many young people in this nation, willing to do that. But I have to tell you that it can be very disheartening when you are doing your best and you see someone just making a lot of money through crooked means and you are there knocking iron and wood somewhere, trying to make it.
Are the challenges faced by entrepreneur in Nigeria different from what their counterparts in other parts of the world face, especially in the developed countries?
The basic human problems are the same. Human nature is the same. I took a special interest in this very question and I discovered that what makes the difference between us and the others is, the grass as they say is always greener at the other side, but if you get on ground there and you listen to their challenges and discussion, you would discover that there isn’t any difference. One of the biggest problems that we have in this nation is the workforce. The quality of workers is low.
How do you mean? Is it that they do not receive the necessary training?
I will break it down. I’m into publishing, and when I bring in a Mass Communication graduate, I expect him to write me a good copy. But they don’t. So, what happens is that I have to start teaching them. These are things they ought to have been taught in school. What happens is that we premise that on the education system, where a lot of things happen. There is so much pressure all over the place. In Weekend Success Digest, one of the questions we ask the CEOs is what their greatest challenges are. And they tell you it is the workforce. Practically, everybody that we have interviewed have something not palatable to say about the workforce.
You have stayed in the system for a while, how have you managed to survive or surmount these problems?
You don’t surmount all of them, you just live with them.
How do you leave with somebody who cannot write and you are into publishing?
What I mean by living with it is this. People come and go and then you see some that are better than others and you keep working with them and then you keep training until they better. That is what I mean by living with them. You cannot clear everybody outrightly. For instance, if you take any of the publications out there, you can’t read one full page without seeing terrible errors.
As an entrepreneur, you have been around for a while and you are still going on strong. What has kept you going?
When you have passion for something, that would keep you going. You don’t feel any of those pressure. I think that is just the simple answer.
For many young entrepreneurs, funding is one thing they usually complain of. How much did you start your own business with?
N6, 500. That was in 1984.
What advice would you give to a young entrepreneur as to how to be successful in business in Nigeria?
You must have a reason for wanting to be an entrepreneur in Nigeria. If you have a good reason, then, it is easy for you to accomplish your goal. Your reason for becoming an entrepreneur should not just be because you want to make money. That is a good reason but that must not be the only reason. The better reason is that you want to provide quality service. You identify a problem somewhere and you step out to provide solution. And every quality solution out there always brings in a lot of money at the end of it. For example, we have had this security issue in the country, that is a challenge. And every smart entrepreneur in Nigeria, today, has made a lot of money from that problem by selling security gadgets. Some have made billions from it. That is the way it works.
What does it take to be a good leader in Nigeria’s business environment?
First of all, a good leader must have a reason for being a leader. You must have something to make people rally behind you. You must have what it takes to lead in the field where you are offering yourself as the leader, because without knowing more than others, you are not qualified to be a leader.
Then, the next, which is equally critical, is that you must know how to get the best out of the people around you in terms of motivating them. Earlier on, I spoke about the workforce. The point is, if somebody comes to you and he is not up to par, that is not enough reason to ship them out. Take time to work with them, teach them and guide them so that tomorrow, such people, when they become better persons, they look back and appreciate you. That’s some of the things that a good leader must be able to do.
A good leader must also not be someone who gets angry easily. You must be able to cool your temper because, as a leader who has the power to do and undo, if you allow anger to get in the way, you will destroy so many things before you know it. You will end up not having good followers but the ‘yes. yes people’, which is not good enough.