COVID-19 sparked entrepreneurs’ ingenuity, says Seal Group CEO
Tonya Lawani is the CEO, Seal Group, with subsidiaries like ABC Inflatables Nigeria Limited, Virgin Vie Angel Limited, The Virgin Hospitality Company and The Quick Print Shop Limited. She is also the author of iSucceed Business Planner and a member of the Institute of Directors of Nigeria (IOD). She speaks about empowerment and business management during crisis in interview with Bunmi Bailey.
How has the current business environment impacted entrepreneurship in Nigeria?
The environment has been very tough – inflation, talent flight, poor infrastructure and the continuous fall in purchasing power have affected a lot of businesses. Entrepreneurs are also faced with the challenges of power supply and a hike in operational expenses. Start-up capital has also become increasingly difficult to access given high interest rates and volatility of the market. Interestingly, it is not all doom and gloom.
Some people have also been fortunate to receive funding from reputable programmess like the Bank of Industry (BoI) Entrepreneurship Fund (GEF) Programme. This programme aims to promote entrepreneurship among NYSC members by providing up to N2 million loan at zero percent interest rate. This and other special interventions are some of the ways entrepreneurs can navigate the current business environment. Entrepreneurship in these times calls for courageousness and doggedness.
The post-COVID-19 era came with more challenges. How have you managed your business during this crisis and what are your strategies?
There is no doubt that COVID-19 also made many entrepreneurs think outside the box. Indeed, it sparked the creative ingenuity in many of us. This explains why some companies declared huge profits during the lockdown last year.
Companies found alternative ways to do what they had been doing. Some companies diversified to meet the needs of the market while others built brand equity through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives they are now leveraging.
During this period, we have continued to provide top-notch service in the printing and hospitality industry to our existing clientele. These satisfied customers also continue to refer us. Our business has huge prospects, we identified a ready market with an ever-growing demand side and the benefits have been phenomenal. We provide quite a number of services branding, printing, gifting, advertising, promotional merchandising and hospitality. The buy-in is great and there are more opportunities for other people to key into this industry.
To what extent have you been involved in mentoring upcoming entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurship is one thing that I hold very dearly. I continue to find ways through my many businesses and initiatives to support young entrepreneurs, especially female-owned/led companies.
At the SEAL GROUP, we recently launched an empowerment programme, “Girl Child Empowerment Initiative (GCEI)”, an entrepreneurial skill development initiative designed to empower adolescent girls and set them on the right part. Empowering adolescent girls and giving them the opportunities, they deserve leads to healthier families, strengthened economies, and more equitable societies.
It has become increasingly clear that none of the 17 SDGs that the world has committed to achieving by 2030 can be realised without investing in and empowering the largest generation of adolescent girls the world has ever seen.
Under The Quick Print Shop (QPS), Our GCEI Initiative will cut across Mindset-Attitudinal Training, Entrepreneurial Skills and Digital Skills Training. Some core modules will include Visual Identity Graphic Design, Marketing and Advertising, User Interface (UI) Design, Motion Graphic Design, Art and Illustration, Publication and Packaging Graphic Design, and Printing.
We will also have classes focused on Email Marketing, Content Marketing, Social Media Marketing (Paid Advertising), Social Media Marketing (Organic Traffic), Introduction to Digital Marketing, Pay Per Click Search, Coding and lots more.
The programme designed to give back to the society will focus on young girls between the ages of 15-25 years. These females on the programme will no longer have to engage in vices like prostitution, cybercrime, armed robbery, kidnapping etc. to put food on the table.
The last phase of the GCEI is the Business Management and Financial Management Training. Successful graduates will undergo this training and receive starter packs that will enable them stand on their own. QPS has also put in place an effective Monitoring and Evaluating (M&E) mechanism to follow up on the progress of trainees and also provide guidance.
In addition, The Quick Print Shop (QPS) and Seal Group also have an initiative that is focused on setting up Skills Clubs in schools. These clubs teach life skills and financial literacy. We will continue to leverage partnerships from states and other agencies to deliver on all our initiatives
Which major female business leaders motivate you?
Mrs Ibukun Awosika and Hajia Bola Shagaya are some of the leaders who motivate me.
At what point did you decide to go into business?
Upon graduation from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, with BSc in Economics, I sought to be an employer of people by establishing a merchandising and retail outfit, the Virgin Vie Angel Limited, in 2005. I catered for many big corporate companies’ merchandising and branding needs, making our name in the industry as one of Nigeria’s most consistent, innovative and value-creating brands. This was the foundation for all my other businesses.
What is your educational and professional background?
I have a BSc in Economics from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and an MBA from the Metropolitan School of Business & Management, United Kingdom. My drive to continuously improve my leadership style propelled me to attend the Lagos Business School Owner Manager Programme, renowned for its unique delivery of leadership and business management courses in West Africa. My first paper on leadership – a paper to a youth group of entrepreneurs – was delivered in Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
I am a member of the Institute of Directors, and I sit on the Board of a few MSMEs. I was recently elected to lead the current Corona Schools VI PTA Executive Council as Chairperson.