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Paul Orajiaka: The toymaker with a political dream

A self-made billionaire earned the admiration of many as a toymaker who built a business empire from almost nothing. Now, he plans on winning the heart of both young and old with his vision for Anambra State, writes SEGUN ADAMS.  

In an interview around the middle of last year, the owner of one of Africa’s biggest toy companies was asked what he would do differently if he were in government.

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His reply was straightforward: to focus on improving the plight of SMEs as a way of solving the numerous socio-economic problems facing Nigeria.

“This keen interest on SMEs is why my focus in my doctorate studies at Henley Business School UK is geared towards providing theoretical and practical solutions to their plight and with a position in government, we can push the right policies through,” Orajiaka told the Vanguard.

Thus, the unassuming entrepreneur, Paul Orajiaka, avoided the common pitfalls of politicians who promise to deliver on one thousand things (and have often delivered on nothing).

Still, Orajiaka’s goal to support micro, small and medium enterprise, as a way to change the country’s poverty narrative, is not to the exclusion of other ends (like healthcare, security and education) rather a means to them.

Orajiaka, who has declared his intention to run for state governor in his state of origin Anambra, would be up against several candidates from different walks of life.

To win the gubernatorial elections in 2021, he would rely on parallels between him and his state to show how Anambra can dream big and recreate opportunities that exist even outside Nigeria to solve many of its socio-economic problems.

The philosophy of Orajiaka, who has identified Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew as his role model, is informed by his story as a young boy who had sought greener pastures abroad but ended up building a globally recognized business in Nigeria.

The little boy with big dreams

About two decades ago, Orajiaka founded Auldon Limited, a multi-million dollar toy company, with less than $100.

Born to a carver, Orajiaka spent his early childhood in Warri, South-South Nigeria, working with his dad and as a result, he had an entrepreneurship mindset instilled in him from a very early age.

When he was 12-year old, his dad opened an account for him and his siblings to deposit their share of proceeds for the crafts they produced.

Upon his graduation from Igbinedion Secondary School in Benin City around the age of 18, Orajiaka relocated to Lagos from where he planned to travel to the United States in search of greener pastures.

After three unsuccessful attempts, Orajiaka decided to remain in Lagos to ‘hustle’ in the busy Idumota market, alongside his in-law who was into importation business.

“It was at that point that I saw how Nigerians were very entrepreneurial, making a lot of money from very rowdy areas. I got inspired seeing young boys making money and I thought: What am I going to the U.S. to do? If I stay here long enough, work long enough, I will be able to make a success out of this place,” Orajiaka said in an interview.

During a routine supply of different products to supermarkets in Victoria Island, Orajiaka noticed that Park ‘n’ Shop supermarkets, now SPAR, had run low on its supply of toys.

Orajiaka approached the Indian store manager to supply him toys not even knowing where they sold toys in Idumota, he said.

The teenager got in touch with his Brother-in-Law to connect him with a toy supplier so he could in turn supply Park n shop.

This opportunity with a capital of $30 in 1997, was the start of the Auldon empire.

Determined to be a millionaire before the age of 21, Orajiaka continued in diligence, drawing from the lessons from his time at his father’s workshop to scale up his new toy supply business.

Soon, the shrewd teenager who had taken it upon himself to make the trip to Dubai so he could get the latest and sought-after toys opened his first shop in Idumota, Lagos, where only the fit survives.

According to Orajiaka, the move was to manage the crunch in cash flow due to debtors, whose actions had threatened to stifle the young business.

Not to be one to scorn the importance of an education having forged a path that promised a bright future, Orajiaka returned to school to further his education.

In 2001, Orajiaka started his ungraduated program in Accounting at the University of Lagos and followed it up immediately with a Masters in the same institution.

In 2011, he earned an Executive Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from the Lagos Business School, Pan African University (PAN).

Not resting on his oars, Orajiaka pursued a doctorate in Business Administration in Henley Business School, University of Reading in the UK and then a Masters in Public Administration at Harvard Kennedy School of Government in the US.

One of the highpoints of Orajiaka’s craftsmanship and business acumen was in the launch of the Unity Dolls, a collection of 14-inch child developmental dolls that represent Nigeria’s three major tribes – Hausa, Ibo and Yoruba.

The social entrepreneur said it was a move aimed at delivering a social message to infants across the country and by extension the world at large, enlightening them about the Nigerian culture, allowing them to have a sense of ownership early in life which puts them in good stead to make a positive impact when they are grown.

The product was a hit! Parents scrambled to get the dolls for their children and stores had a difficult time keeping up with demand.

But for Orajiaka, empowering the girl child was the main goal.

“Importantly, we have created a product, not just for girls to have dolls that look like them, but they also have a positive message,” he said. “We have portrayed the Unity Girl, as far more than a doll, with a brand identity, which represents the social concern around the challenges of the girl-child, particularly her education and welfare in Nigeria and the world at large. Currently, it has become a household name among Nigerian parents and now, we are working hard to push this further across the entire African continent.”

His business Auldon which has continent-wide market has brought him much fame with international media including Forbes interviewing the young entrepreneur a few years ago.

Orajiaka has won several awards including the Global Titan CEO Award in the SME sector, in West Africa.

Now, Orajiaka sets his eyes on politics – public sector leadership as he would like to call it.

The tycoon with big dreams

“Africa is a mess and the right people are not in power,” said Orajiaka to The African Exponent when asked why he held a Masters in Public Administration.

Orajiaka says he wants to lift the face of Anambra, a state rich in natural gas, crude oil, bauxite and ceramic and human resources needed to improve the livelihood of near 5 million inhabitants.

With SMEs said to be the engine room of any economy, Orajiaka says he wants to create an enabling environment for businesses to thrive in the state thus creating opportunities for his people to aspire to a better standard of living.

Orajiaka is credited for saying empty pockets do not make one poor, only an empty mind does and that an idea as it is, is money or capital.

For Anambra in 2021, Orajiaka is looking to convince the state that he has the fresh ideas it needs.

 

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