Starr Luxury recently expanded its operations into Africa, through the Nigerian market as a luxury car brand. Ikenna Ordor, CEO, Starr Luxury explains why the luxury industry in Nigeria is under-marketed and the place of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and tech in car hire service on the back of his experience in the luxury car hire service in diverse countries including the UK, US, and Milan. Excerpts by SEYI JOHN SALAU:
Tell us about Starr Luxury Cars and your plans to protect the clientele?
Our goal is to provide a single level of luxury car hire service to our clients and maintain what they are accustomed to, from Las Vegas to Miami, New York, Dubai, Milan, London and the rest. There is a certain level of operational service that we maintain across the world. This is home country and I must maintain that.
The Nigerian business space is considered very challenging; are you prepared for it?
I hear this a lot. I hear that my enthusiasm to bring Starr Luxury Cars here is infectious and that I am going to be humbled by Nigeria. I have dealt with Nigerians all my life and I am a Nigerian to the core. My first business in hospitality in London was focused on Nigerians. Here, I am paying close attention. I will be heavily disappointed if I don’t make a success of home country, so this is something I must get right.
One of the most important parts of luxury service is client experience. In terms of the chauffeur, how do you intend to get them to that level you operate in?
It is quality over quantity; 100 percent. Individually, I think even in our household, we experience the difficulty of domestic staff; we all probably have issues with one domestic staff who just does not listen to instructions. But there is something about the effect of paying people well, for starters. There is also the effect you give when you can supply 30 percent of a partner’s revenue. So, I will not accept that one of your drivers turns up 15 minutes late, it just doesn’t work. If that happens, you now start to suffer the potential penalty of me having to refund our client or me having to send a gift to our clients apologising. Time is something that cannot be traded and it is not quantifiable. The client’s time of 15 minutes can cost him or her 100 million dollars because they have missed a meeting, and that is not something we can’t tolerate. I think punctuality is something that is very paramount in what we do. Delight your client, and they will come back over and over again. The only way we don’t delight them is by failing operationally when we provide our service. If we don’t delight them, we have no business here. Everything else is behind the scenes. We just need to worry about the fact that the finished product comes to them smoothly.
How do you intend to employ AI considering some of the peculiar challenges with such innovation?
I am not an expert in technology but I know how to employ the right people and I understand what new technology is supposed to solve. AI solves the thinking, makes thinking quicker and makes tech think for us. For example, if you are a regular business traveler maybe between Lagos and Abuja and you usually book a chauffeur service, with our AI, you should see a push notification when you haven’t booked your chauffeur service from Starr Luxury because now we understand your behavior when you travel. At times, I want to go to the airport to make a trip to Europe and I forgot to book my chauffeur. So in circumstances like that, AI will be responding to your normal patterns and behavior and send a push notification to your phone.
Are you in partnership with security operatives in cases of high-net-worth clients….
We have a bodyguard/security operatives section as an add-on service on request.
What can the government do to better position the sector?
I am a versatile thinker, I welcome government policies, and I believe they are there to enhance citizens and enhance economic development. One of my dream jobs, not for financial benefit or accolades is to be the minister for travel and tourism in Nigeria. I believe it is an underserved sector, and we are not as advertised globally as we need to be. If I had that job, I’ll advertise Nigeria as well as I’ll advertise my company. The luxury sector in Nigeria is performing at probably 10 percent of what it can. We have the best music in the world at the moment. When people come to Nigeria, they stay in the best hotels, eat our best food, and listen to our best music. That is all luxury because we are talking about the best of the best. That’s where the government can start. Also, we shouldn’t have ‘Japa’. Our locals should be here enjoying themselves. Yes, they can go on holidays but that shouldn’t be the default. Nigeria has to be thought of as a holiday destination.
Finally, can you tell us about your background?
The major influence on my career path was my mother. My father was assassinated in 2011. He was a politician in Abia State, but he was assassinated in church, so he didn’t get a chance to play a role as most fathers would. My mum was a nurse and she also did business. I complained every time she asked me to join her on a journey to go and buy stock for her to sell, but little did I know that those times embedded in me thoughts of hard work and entrepreneurship that will make me the man I am today. I mirrored her and I watched her as every young child does. I had three jobs when I moved to London and that created a foundation for me to progress in the same hard work path.