BusinessDay

Awosika calls for building institutions that will outlive founders

…as Chair Centre Group celebrates 30th anniversary in style

As dignitaries gathered at Harbour Point in VI, to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Chair Centre Group, the CEO of the furniture firm, Ibukun Awosika, called for the establishment of institutions that will outlive their founders and leave a legacy that the next generation can be proud of.

Reminiscing about the hurdles she crossed and the battles she fought to build the business, she said building strong institutions in Nigeria was possible.

“There are so many young people who need to know that it is possible to build an institution in Nigeria, and our own 30-year-old story, was worthy of celebrating as a landmark to help the next generation also look forward.

“One of the things I will like to encourage all of us is that, we need institutions in our country and we must all find a way to build these institutions that will outlive us. We need to do so for the sake of the country and our children can tell stories of great institutions that have come out of this country, more jobs can be created rather than replaced because every company that dies, and we have to build a new one, we’re replacing jobs that are lost from that company that died,” she said.

The call was made because she said she has always been bothered about the number of great Nigerian businesses that had died over time. “I’ve always felt that if I’ve worked all through my youth building this and it dies when I die, I’ve wasted my life.”

As the face of The Chair Centre Group, Awosika was honoured with eulogies and praised for her entrepreneurial spirit, doggedness, resilience and passion for her nation.

Awosika’s name can never be skipped from the list of influential entrepreneurs who have contributed significantly to Nigeria’s economic development.

So, while many government officials, including governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-olu (special guest of honour) and other dignitaries showered her with accolades, Awosika, also called ‘Billy’ by close pals –and described as an emblem of humility, redirected the accolades to her staff, customers, friends, and supporters.

Read also: Women in Business: Celestina Nkechi Eke

For her, the 30-year-old story of the business was about people, beginning with her first seven workers –three carpenters, two upholsterers, and a few others, who came with their own tools “into an empty ground where we built a shed in Papa-ajao on the 3rd of January, 1989.”

She narrates: “I tried to think about the last 30 years and I realized that the story of my life and the story of Chair Centre Group is the story of people, opportunities, support, diligence and dedication. When I started the business, I remember there were jobs I wanted to do that I didn’t have enough capital and Tayo (a close acquaintance) would open his account and say ‘this is all I have, I’ll give you a portion of this so you can go and use it and return it when you are done’.

“So my story is about people. People who saw something that even I didn’t see and they loved me enough to make sacrifices.

To many aspiring/young entrepreneurs (and perhaps, existing ones), Awosika is surely the standard or role model, but starting and sustaining a business in a tough terrain like Nigeria often give entrepreneurs sleepless nights –or nightmares, for those who can manage to sleep.

A panel was created to discuss this issue in hope that many business owners will get fresh insights to doing business, as they also acknowledged the potential inhibitions.

Bolanle Austen- Peters, founder Terra Kulture, Seun Abolaji, co-founder of Wilson’s Lemonade and Kofo Akinkugbe, founder & CEO of Secureid, said passion, adaptability, and execution were keys qualities of an entrepreneur.

“When we see these children come to Terra Kulture every day to dance, perform, learn new skills, even when I’m down, I have to encourage myself to say ‘I’m adding value and these children are Nigeria’s tomorrow and somebody needs to be doing something, especially when we recognise that the traditional formal jobs cannot possibly employ all our youth’. Said Austen-peters.

According to Abolaji, one word that comes to mind is adaptability, when he thinks about what it takes to sustain a business. “Everything that we’ve gone through, we’ve had to adapt to what we’re seeing, adapt to what the environment is telling us. If you don’t stop to listen to your environment, your company will fold.”

In her submission, Akinkugbe reminded the audience that it was one thing to have a dream, another thing to be passionate, but the other thing was to actually execute.

“For me, the attribute is flawless execution,” she said. “The thought process that you put into it; seeing your dream and starting with the end in mind, knowing that even if you dream big, you can start small but scale fast.”

Some dignitaries present were: Oba Otudeko founder and chairman of the Honeywell Group; Michael Ade-ojo, founder of Elizade University, and Elizade Motors; Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo, minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Fola Adeola, businessman and politician and keynote speaker at the event, and others.

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