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How Attending To Customers In My Grandma’s Store Exposed Me To Business — Awosika

The Founder of The Chair Centre Group and former Chairperson of First Bank of Nigeria was a distinguished guest on Channels Television's Amazing Africans programme.


Mrs Ibukun Awosika

 

Unarguably one of the most exceptionally unique amazons ever produced by the African continent, the story of Ibukunoluwa Abiodun Awosika is intriguing in many ways. Despite being raised in a male-dominated society, she shines as a star, defying all barriers to become a global force in banking, entrepreneurship, and mentorship.

The Founder of The Chair Centre Group, former Chairperson of First Bank of Nigeria, co-founder and past chairperson of Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WIMBIZ), Awosika, is a trailblazer and an outstanding motivation to the African girl child that no barrier exists where there is a will. With a net worth of over $18.6 million, according to estimates from Forbes Africa as of 2012, the 61-year-old is worth more than her monetary value, especially when measured by the impact she’s made as an author and motivational speaker.

Awosika, a recipient of many awards from reputable global brands, was a guest on Channels Television’s Amazing Africans programme, during which she shared her journey from ordinary to extraordinary.

Enjoy some excerpts from this interesting interview!

In The Beginning…

I’m very proud of my entire experience at Methodist Girls High School. First, it was a school that had a lot of culture and a lot of values and sought in many ways to influence our minds in an all-round way. I was very active in sports. I was in the school’s relay team from my second year in school. I was pretty fast, as my friends used to call me ‘The Rabbit’. I was very involved in school plays and I used to debate to represent my school in debates and all of that. So, you had a full life; all the other things to do were fun and we were mixed backgrounds so it wasn’t just an elitist school. It was girls from every kind of home but we all got into the class because we were smart and so you learned from each other so it was a good community.

I have a quote here: ‘Seeing my drive as a young entrepreneur, my father used to say I have given birth to this one and if anything happened, he was always present to assist me even if it meant selling his house to pay up any debts’. He never discouraged you and I’m sure that had a great influence on what you felt you were capable of doing when you don’t have to go against your parents you have their full support.

I am a daddy’s girl, no doubts and no apologies. In many ways I think I had a special relationship with my dad, my siblings always say that he was a hardworking man, he believed in the value of working hard but he was also a very simple man in many ways. My father was in many ways the epitome of contentment. A man who worked hard, and pursued his goals but was happy with his estate in life and was comfortable sitting with the President and can sit the next day with the mechanic and have a gist and talk about it.

When we were young if my father’s driver was driving us to school or somewhere, you didn’t have the right to say, ‘My driver’, because you would get told: ‘You don’t have a driver. My driver doesn’t belong to you’. My dad will tell you: ‘He is my driver and you just have the privilege of being driven’.

I didn’t understand when people asked me later in my 20s: ‘Oh you did something, weren’t you afraid it wasn’t a thing that a girl could do? I didn’t understand it because I grew up in a home where we were mainly girls. My dad had mainly girls. Well, they had three boys in their lifetime and one passed and so I have two brothers and there were five girls. So, we were mainly girls and my dad never told us there was something we couldn’t do. Rather, it was about that we could do anything we wanted to do and we got all the support and encouragement to do that.

My mother was the same in many ways. She had left her Cameroonian home at a very young age, she was about 18 when she left to marry the guy she had met. I think my dad had gone on some Man O’ War thing to Cameroon and they met. She had been betrothed to another king or something; her father was the king of their community. She came to Nigeria and they got married. My dad went to England to further his education and my mom was pregnant with me. She had my brother, she was pregnant with me and was waiting to have me when my dad left for school in England and so she waited, had me, and after I think barely a year, she left my brother and myself with my grandmother and she went to join her husband in England.

 

 

You’ve described your father as ‘non-traditional’ in more ways than one. He’s also non-traditional when it comes to maybe even viewing women would you say?

In many ways. I had the liberty of expression, that’s the word I would use and I think that went for myself and all my siblings. My dad was strict in terms of values. He was strict especially because we were mainly girls but as he was strict in terms of making sure he kept us on the straight and narrow path, he was a very supportive, liberated parent in terms of expressing ourselves.

It’s not only your parents who passed on some important life lessons, your grandmother also has played a significant role in your life. Could you let us know how she also lent herself to your trajectory and success?

Well, I think my grandmother had the most influence in nurturing my early years because my grandmother was responsible for me until my parents came back from England by the end of ‘68, early ’69, when I was about 6 or 7 years old or thereabouts. So, the early years of my life were my grandmother’s to nurture. They used to call her by my name ‘cos she had only boys and I was the girl she raised. She had a little shop in our family compound area in Ibadan. My family is from the capital of Oyo State in Ibadan and my grandmother used to sell salt. She had this little shop where she used to sell salt and little things. I think maybe my first exposure to business was sitting in my grandmother’s little store and joyfully handing over products to customers.

I had things figured out so when you follow the trail, you will see just how much the hand of God played in my life you know. When I was in secondary school, I thought I wanted to become a doctor and then I found out that Medical School involved working with real dead bodies and I quickly changed my mind. It was that simple for me, I couldn’t imagine myself playing around with dead bodies so I gave up on being a doctor. Then I thought I wanted to be an architect. Anyway, I ended up in the university to study Chemistry but by the end of my first year in Chemistry, I realised I didn’t love it. I could pass Sciences but it wasn’t a love for me and I wasn’t enjoying it. So, I then thought okay I’d like to be a lawyer because everybody thought I’d make a great lawyer. After all, I used to debate so well and I thought they might just be right. I remember going to sit outside the office of the Dean of Law every day for many days until his secretary said to the man: ‘Look you have seen this young lady, she’s been coming here every day’. And then, this elderly professor, he is dead now. He asked me to come in and asked me: ‘What can I do for you young lady?’ And I said: ‘Sir, I’d like to transfer to law next session.’ The man looked at me and had a good laugh and thought: ‘I like your guts. You know if I only take one person next session it will be you but you must pass very well’. I said, ‘Yes sir’. However, that would be my problem because once you pass very well my department will never release me to him and if I didn’t pass well enough, he wouldn’t take me. I had a Catch 99 Situation. Anyway, I resolved the situation myself because by the end of the session, I changed my mind about wanting to be a lawyer. I now decided I would like to be a Chartered Accountant so I could go and work in a bank.

During my youth service, I was a very rich corper because I was very busy; I was presenting a programme on CTV in Kano. They had some commercial programmes that I used to present. I was doing voiceover and commercials. I was running aerobics classes for private clients because I was an athlete even up to my university level. So I was doing everything to open up myself and I was making money doing that.

From Auditing To Furniture-Making

When I decided I didn’t want to do the audit anymore, I came back home and when I came back I didn’t want to sit down. I had been making my own money and now I didn’t want to go back to my parents to start asking for allowances or anything so I wanted any job I could find first. So, the first job I could get was in a Furniture Company, one week after I came back from Youth Service. Now, I just wanted something to kill time I still had my eyes on going to work in the bank and I only lasted three and a half months in that company. First, I realised whilst there why I had thought about studying Architecture ‘cos all the creative part of me came alive and I realized I was in my element in terms of what I was doing there but I didn’t like the value system of the company and the way they did their business.

I realised working there that when they hired the carpenters, they came with their tools, and that the expensive machinery, there were smaller versions of them, and you could rent the use of those machines without even buying them and there are places where you go and do pay-as-you-go for them to process things for you. There were different factors of production available in this space and all I had to do was think of how to bring them together with three carpenters, two sprayers and two upholsters that was the team.

Building A Transgenerational Business

When I was 31 years old and going on 32, I had my second child. I decided then that I would like to build the business to the highest possible level but I wanted to have a life and in wanting to have a life, I made up my mind that the business must be able to survive without me and I wanted to do it in my lifetime and not when I’m dead so I decided that by 50 I was going to be out of running my business every day. By 48, I had a firm come in and consolidate all my businesses as they were into the Group and then picked people to manage the business in different levels. I have the title of CEO (but) right now I just tell them to refer to me as the founder because I don’t run the business. I have a COO who has the CEO responsibilities, running the entire business and she’ll get his title soon enough. For the past so many years now, I have kept my eye on the business. I’m responsible, I’m focused on helping them in terms of trying to identify the right strategy and if we want to get into new businesses but I’ve allowed the Group to try and find its way without me and I’ve always shunned any temptation to go back.

Why?

Because if you really want a business to outlive you it has to be able to live without you.