In the highly competitive real estate business in Nigeria, it is difficult to stand out from the crowd.
But this is certainly not the case for Millicent Duru, chief executive officer of Giselle Homes – a turnkey real estate company that operates in Lagos.
With determination, dexterity, and hard work, Millicent is succeeding in a male-dominated industry.
Millicent possesses an interdisciplinary experience, having worked in the financial, health, and technology sectors. She has worked with a broad range of organisations from the base of the pyramid, all the way upstream.
She holds an MBA in Finance from the University of Wales and is an alumnus of the Lagos Business School and Edinburgh Business School.
She studied and worked in the United Kingdom for several years before returning home to establish her own business.
The microbiologist-turned-entrepreneur was inspired to establish Giselle Homes owing to her desire to be financially independent and her mother.
“My mother was an entrepreneur and watching her as a young girl made me realize that the only person that can put a lid on your growth & dream is you,” she says.
“No matter the situation, you can find something to do and with resilience and tenacity, you can make a success of whatever you chose to do in life,” she states.
Millicent says her initial start-up capital was from her deals as a broker. “I started as a broker and raised money brokering here and there,” she says.
“With the funds from the deals, I was able to pay for my then shop now turned to my office,” she says.
The young entrepreneur leveraged her world-class experience, network, and skillset to carve a niche for herself in Nigeria’s real estate.
According to her, since starting, the business has grown steadily.
She says Giselle Homes’s ability to create structure in its deals, ensure compliance, and a high level of transparency has made remain in business, adding that the business also offers investment advice.
In the short run, she says the business plan is to complete its several ongoing projects and distribute them. While on the long run, the business plans to establish a real estate academy.
Millicent adds that the business is also planning to partner with state governments to create a platform for document authentication.
She notes that the business has resulted in cost-cutting measures to survive the difficult moment of inflation.
In evaluating the country’s real estate industry, she says the sector is huge and vibrant especially in commercial cities, urging the government to provide affordable housing for Nigerians.
“The country can bridge its housing gap in many ways – by building affordable homes for middle and low-income earners and introducing intervention schemes that reach the people and are not hijacked by officials,” she says.
“Others are intervention by blue chip companies where access to cheap mortgages is part of the employee’s benefit and access to housing in blocks by co-operatives among others,” she suggests.
According to her, a serious focus on housing will do a lot of good to the country, as accommodation is one of the basic needs of a man.
On the challenges confronting the business, Millicent says sexism is the major hurdle facing her business.
“This is a situation where counterparts or even clients do not feel you deserve your pay because you are a lady. No matter the work you put in, they still feel that paying you for the job done especially when it’s a huge amount is out of order.”
“This cuts across both the supposed wealthy and poor alike. I’ve come to see it as a state of mind, and it took doggedness & tenacity to make my mark and stamp it out.”
She adds that lack of integrity is also a major challenge. “We also have a lot of people without integrity in the business. You can never take their word for it and it’s quite frustrating especially when trying to protect your clients.”
She says her business has been able to deal with the challenges by being simple and staying true to its values and promises without making excuses.
On her advice to other entrepreneurs, she says, “Stay focused, be tenacious, and see yourself making it. Expect curves along the road but don’t give up.”
“Network with industry players, be willing to volunteer, help and collaborate, ask questions, and identify mentors in the same industry. Upskill yourself and believe in yourself even if no one else does,” she advises.