VENTURES AFRICA – Venturing into business demands proficiency, intelligence, creativity and recognising opportunities when they arise. To put simple – praying and preying for and on opportunities. The combination these successful business strategies is evident in one of Nigeria’s foremost industrialists, Chief Rasaq Akanni Okoya, erstwhile owner of the famed Eleganza Group of Companies.
Born into the family of Tiamiyu Ayinde and Idiatu Okoya, Akanni Okoya did not have a formal education like other famous entrepreneurs; rather he had most of his education at his father’s tailoring workshop where his dad sew people’s cloth while selling buttons and zippers. The only formal education he had was elementary level.
However, what this entrepreneur was the kind of environment he found himself. While reflecting on what compelled him into business, Okoya said: “In school, I could see my teacher in worn and often shabby clothes and at the same time, I could see the well-dressed businessmen of Dosunmu Street, the heart of business in Lagos then. It was easy for me to choose business life.”
The business mogul draws a lot of inspiration from his industrious and enterprising father who he said, was a very good tailor and trader who sold tailoring materials. “We didn’t wait for people to bring materials; we were making clothes and sewing everything to sell. From shirts to trousers and bicycle seats.” One of his father’s clients was the father of the Biafran warlord, Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.
The 72 year old industrialist began his journey into the Nigeria market when he started saving money on the sideline for petty jobs he did — mending clothes at his father’s workshop. He would mend shirts and trousers for a fee, turning long sleeves to short sleeves or trousers to shorts. This exploit earned him twenty pounds – his first start up seed in creating his own business.
However, the twenty pounds was not enough for him to start his dream business of importing tailoring materials from the overseas.
After making series of enquires on how to go about the business of importing such goods which was not that popular in Nigeria at that time; Okoya found out that he needed seventy pounds to be able to order and ship imported goods into Lagos. He later approached his mum to get the remaining fifty pounds for the project but his mum asked him to seek his father’s blessing, which he did. His mum later gave him the money he needed.
When the goods arrived, he discovered that the products were not only of better quality, but were at a cheaper rate than the amount it sold at the local market. This enhanced the sale of the goods and from then onward, he started importing clothing materials from abroad.
As his business grew, Okoya ventured into manufacturing. His journey into manufacturing was kindled after he learnt a new trick from Igbo traders about how ornamented buttons can indeed, be converted into earrings. He envisaged that women love to wear jewellery and the “ridiculous” amount of money spent in buying them. He believed that such jewellery could be bought at a cheaper rate, since metals are available in Nigeria. This challenged him to import the machines required to make such jewellery and employ experts to help train his workers. The company also provided the avenue for people to wash their jewellery when it gets dirty.
The move birthed the production of Eleganza jewellery and buttons, which became instant hit in the Nigerian market. Chief Okoya also began to import shoes into the market before he began shoe production after he was disappointed by the Italian company that helped manufacture the shoes he sold.
Okoya’s extensive trips to several countries, where he imported his wares from, afforded him the opportunity of experiencing firsthand how different products were manufactured. The astute industrialist later ventured into making coolers, which he became most popular with.
Although Eleganza Industries have become one of the numerous victims of the gradual collapse of entrepreneurial endeavours in Nigeria, the 72 years old has found pleasure in property development in his ripe age. Through RAO Property Investment Company, Okoya has invested in properties in different parts of Lagos. His magnificent estate, Oluwanisola (The Lord creates wealth) Estate at Lekki/Ajah Expressway, Eleganza Gardens and Shopping Mall also in Ajah are part of his property investments. The Oluwanisola Estate, which is also described as an expatriates Estate because of the high number of expatriates living there, is well equipped with uninterrupted power and water supply, marble floors, central air-conditioning, sauna, lush gardens, billiard room, tennis court, swimming pools and lots more.
It was once reported that a one-bedroom apartment at the Oluwaninsola Estate, goes for 1.8 million naira ($11, 434) per annum with 800,000 naira ($5,000) service charge, while a three-bedroom flat goes for N3.5 million per annum with a N2 million service charge, and the four-bedroom duplex goes for 4.5 million naira ($29, 000) per annum with a 2 million naira ($13,000) service charge.
Okoya’s business success is rooted in a very simple strategy of low pricing to beat competition. “You do not do business for the ego value. You go for what the people can afford. In business, you have to ensure that the masses are able to afford the cost of your products. That is one of my secrets,” he says.
“My main motivation was that I wanted to be rich and I knew I had to work very hard to get there.”
On what maintains his business stability, Okoya once said in an interview with Vanguard Allure, “ I keep to myself. I do not look at other people. I am content with myself. I do not look for cheap money. I am not interested in contracts and I do not expose myself to intrigues and politics.”
He reiterated, saying: “I always look for opportunities. Nigeria is a very big country and we have a lot of business opportunities. There is a huge market. You need to be focus in what you want. And more importantly, you have to work really hard to realize your dream.”
With all his principles and stated achievements, Okoya is today one of the most successful businessman, philanthropists in Nigeria with his stupendous wealth. Although some may ascribe investment success to good education, the case of this foremost entreprenur proves all that wrong.
In his words, “I have nothing against education. But at times, education gives people false confidence. It makes people relax, trusting in the power of their certificates rather than in working hard.”