From Kemi Yesufu, Abuja The decision to retain health maintenance organisations (HMOs) as part of the country’s health insurance programme caused a major disagreement between the House of Representatives Committee on Health Services and the executive secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof. Yusuf Usman. Usman, at the just concluded two-day investigative hearing…
–Prince Donatus Okonkwo, Tetrazzini boss
By Tosin Ajirire
Prince Donatus Okonkwo, CEO, Tetrazzini Foods, knew what he wanted from the onset. He wanted to be an entrepreneur; so he did not waste time studying anything else. He went straight to a business school in the United Kingdom and studied Business Technology. Today, his efforts have paid off with the success of Tetrazzini, a quick-service restaurant brand making waves all over the country.
In this interview, Okonkwo, who is also a lover of music and sport, talks about his business, his reason for inviting boxing champion, Floyd Mayweather to Nigeria and his ambition to govern Anambra State. Enjoy it.
When and how did you start the quick-service restaurant, Tetrazzini?
I got the vision while schooling in the United Kingdom. To augment the financial support from home, I took up a job at McDonalds, a global quick-service restaurant. The experience I acquired there later proved invaluable when I decided to venture into food business. I desired that such franchise should be in Nigeria, and of course when I came back, I found out that my wife was the best cook. I felt we should showcase to the world what she was doing well in private. Nothing was stopping us from going commercial with it.
Amazingly, I don’t know what language Tetrazzini is. But people say it is Italian. When we started the food business, I was searching for a name. I saw it in the dictionary, ‘Tetrazzini chicken’. It means the best chicken recipe; so when we started the restaurant 18 years ago, I named it Tetrazzini.
How many outlets of Tetrazzini do you have now?
We started in Ajao Estate off Airport Road in Lagos. Today, the business has grown to employ 1,160 staff in 23 outlets in Nigeria. Tetrazzini Foods has since given birth to other businesses. We have a couple of other subsidiary companies that I am a board member. There are Tetrazzini Total Services, Tetrazzini Properties that develops properties for lease or sale; and Tetrazzini Agro, which is involved in a lot of backward integration.
As someone in the food business, do you have any favourite food?
I love eating everything as long as it is appetizing and nourishing, whether Nigerian or continental. Once I settle down to my wife’s cooking, I forget the world. That is when I think deep and draw a lot of inspiration. I also love cooking. My wife’s cooking inspires me. She is one of the greatest cooks in the world. Her cooking is extraordinary.
We understand you are bringing world champion, Floyd Mayweather to Nigeria. What’s the reason behind this?
People do not understand that everything in life is about branding. Dubai is nothing but a desert, but they branded themselves. Today, in Nigeria, there are banks that are well branded, even without mentioning names they are known. So, we need to help Nigeria to build a brand by interactions. Bringing the world champion, Floyd Mayweather to Nigeria is part of it; it’s national and international news, and it’s a strong statement for us to say how safe the country is.
What was his reaction when you invited him to Nigeria?
Flyod Mayweather was more excited about this tour than me. He wants to come home. He wants to come to his motherland. Yes, I think he’s from Anambra State in Nigeria.
What are we expecting from his visit. Are there going to be interactions between him and Nigerians?
Definitely yes, everywhere Mayweather goes, there will be interactions. He’s coming on a tour; he will arrive Nigeria on June 12 and would be visiting four major states like Anambra, Lagos, Abuja and Akwa Ibom. There is also a plan to do charity boxing on June 14 with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara at Transcorp Hilton, Abuja. By the way, Mayweather is coming straight to Anambra on June 12; he will go to Akwa Ibom for dinner with the governor and attend the opening of the sport center in the city. He will then proceed to Lagos State for meet and greet with Governor Akinwumi Ambode. He would thereafter visit some historical sites in Lagos.
Does Mayweather have any plan to mentor Nigerian youths?
I don’t think he will come to Nigeria without mentoring the youths. I know he’s interested in opening a boxing academy here in Nigeria. With the help of you pressmen, he would be able to fish out people with special talent.
In fact, he has a surprise for the youths of Anambra. They will have the rare opportunity of learning the Seven Life Lessons from the undefeated boxing champion of the world, Floyd Mayweather! It is going to cost us a lot of money, but I believe those who will be there can never be the same again after listening, first hand, to the grass-to-grace story of Mayweather. This is somebody who was not given any chance, but he beat all the odds against him. The lesson is: if Mayweather can, you can as well.
Would he be meeting some veteran boxers like Bashi Ali?
I think you people should do that, that’s why we have the media to spread the news. Bashi Ali will be invited to meet him. He’s a great Nigerian boxing champion.
Do you have any plan to stage a Floyd Mayweather fight in Nigeria?
One of the emerging enterprises from the Tetrazzini group is Zzini Media. With this platform, I intend to aggregate all my entertainment, leisure and media related concerns. I listen and dance to all kinds of music. Already, there are plans to bring to Nigeria a world class female American musician in the last quarter of the year. I am also looking forward to the day I would stage a Floyd Mayweather fight in Nigeria.
We understand you are running for the governorship of Anambra State. Is the coming of Floyd Mayweather part of the campaign?
Yes, I am interested in becoming the next governor of Anambra State. I am running on the platform of All Progressives Congress (APC). I’m a man of clarity. For me, if it’s not done well, it’s not done at all. What I would do differently when I become the governor of Anambra State is to immediately stamp out poverty. In Anambra State, there is a bridge built with more than N15 million, and a trailer cannot pass on it. That’s completely unacceptable. I am coming to clean up the mess.
What’s your take on Biafra?
To be honest with you, I love Biafra as a people but not as a state. We have come a long way together than dividing at this time. We should build uniformity and unity. In the United States of America, there’s no state of origin, what they have is place of birth, so what are we talking about. Let’s try and build unity rather than division. We are all Nigerians. I will continue to promote Nigeria; I’m proudly Nigerian.
As a successful businessman, how are you giving back to the society?
I believe that success without succession is entirely a failure. I have built a lot of entrepreneurial networks to mentor people. Regrettably, it’s very difficult but I never give up. It’s extremely difficult to mentor the young people today because their psyche is very disturbing. They are all looking for shortcuts. So, mentoring them step-by-step, line-by-line is very difficult. But I can’t give up. We have the AES, Academy for Entrepreneurial Studies, where I’m an executive member. They have a monthly, quarterly and yearly programmes, which I teach and sometimes I have the opportunity to teach at the Lagos Business School.