“interestingly, my grandmother was trading on plantain and with it, she built several houses”

Q: What does it feel like to be CEO of Above and Beyond
A: Wao! CEO of Above and Beyond, its loads of sleepless nights, worries, making the impossible happen all the time, getting garments in from all over the world, dealing with supplies, consulting, trying to make sure we exceed our customers expectation.
Q: What are your everyday operations like?
A: we have a design team in Turkey and Romania, at 7 or 8am, because of the time difference, am already speaking with them. Then between 8 and 10am am also speaking with our manufacturing group in Asia, India and Vietnam.Am usually up at 6am every day. By 11am – 8pm am back in the office, making sure that retail works, and we meet our customers’ expectations on a daily bases. My day never ends, because we are dealing with different individuals and sections, that’s what it takes to be an entrepreneur in Nigeria. The day never ends, you are constantly working and you run a seven days business, so we are on call 24/7.
Q: What does business mean to you, because I know you where into mobile phones at some point and now garments? How did you get into that?
A: Garment was my wife’s idea and inspiration, my expertise there was just the act of retailing, I believe I can sell just anything. I just understand how to create a market place and the rest follows.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself.
A: Hmmm, am the second of five kids, I was the most troublesome and I was the one that broke my parent’s heart the most [laughs]. Right now am work in progress, am trying to be a better person. Am passionate about learning, I sit down on Google every day to see what is new, that’s why am a trader of ideas.
Q: Let’s talk about your journey, where did you get the inspiration to do business.
A: My father worked for Nigerian customs all his life, that was when I knew I was not going to work for anyone. I preferred the fact that my mum was always travelling to buy goods and sell. So it was easier for me to create my world and retailing was the way to go and it just fell in place. Besides seeing my mum trade, my wife also has passion for designing garments. And she designs everything we sell. So I was just really in the middle of talented people.
Q: Tell me something about your grandmother.
A: Yeah! Incidentally my grandmother was a very successful trader, she ran a striving business, importing and shipping in plantain from Bendel State in those years. She built a lot of houses from that plantain business, that’s success. Lara says wao! And laughs.
Q: Did any other person in the family catch this trading fever.
A: Yes, you of course [Lara laughs].
Q: Your granny was an illiterate and she was successful, are you saying that you don’t have to go to school to succeed.
A: You don’t. Bill Gates didn’t go to school and he succeeded. Success is a journey and succeeding is an ingredient in you, which was not given to you in school. Its understanding and seeing the demand and supplying it. Nobody teaches you how to succeed in school. I was taught to be a philosopher, I wasn’t taught to be a trader, but I saw my mum trading, I saw my grand mum trading and I have learnt bitter and sweet lessons from trading. So nobody really teaches you, it’s more about your mind set, about the person you are, how much of a passion and burning desire you have to succeed.
Q: So basically what you are saying is, passion is very important.
A: Passion is everything. Everybody desires to be a billionaire but how many people have the spine and liver to want to do what it takes and get their hands dirtied. You need to be able to get your hands dirtied to get what it takes that’s the difference.
Q: Did you ever think you would be where you are now.
A: Yes and no. yes, when I was in the university, I always figured i was going to succeed, and I wanted to succeed and be successful, but I never figured that I could dream big dreams and beyond. The energy and God made it come to pass. And I know that we have not yet started the journey, but where we are now, it’s only God and nothing else.
Q: What would you say to upcoming young entrepreneurs?
A: A wise man once said, the secret for success, 99% is hard work, 1% inspiration. That’s the only thing I will tell a young mind. And if you happen to be a young entrepreneur in Nigeria you need 200% hard work, half percent inspiration. But if you have the tenacity and the never say die spirit, you will succeed at it. Those are the only things that make it work. Also constantly seek knowledge, stay on top of whatever industry you have found the call.
Q: Would you also say that people should focus on what they do like, like I said earlier, you where into phones now garments, would you say that was an advantage.
A: Yes. Focus is good in the beginning, because in the beginning, you need to learn lots of lessons but with time, your focus can expand and you put structures in place, but interestingly what we did selling mobile phones and what we are doing selling garments, is still the same basic thing. We see demand and make sure the demand is met. We create an environment for product and the customer to come together. We are trying to take Above and Beyond to look like the next mark and spencer level. That’s where we are going.
Q: Who has inspired you?
A: Mark and Spencer, Sam Walmer the biggest retail gain in modern history.
Q: What are some of the things that limit an entrepreneurial expression in the Nigerian youth today?
A: Everything in Nigeria limits. Our education is poor, for example, there are only two countries In Africa that offer courses in fashion and retaining [south African and Egypt], poor infrastructure, there is no electricity to run your retail stores. That is why an entrepreneur that succeeds in Nigeria can succeed anywhere else in the world. Because everything is built to fail, so if u succeed in Nigeria, you have broken through big time. The knowledge you gathered through “built to fail” takes you through life.
Q: I understand you have so many outlets?
A: We don’t yet. In my mind we have two hundred [200] but in reality we’ve got seven outlets. We are understanding our model so that we can scale off and hopefully get investors, so that we can rapidly grow from seven to fifty outlets. We are trying to build world class retail stores; the same quality you get on the high street in the UK is what u get here. It’s very tough but we are succeeding at that level. If you are an entrepreneur go into retail. You can’t go wrong, we are 150million people.
Q: How can jobs be created and Nigerians empowered?
A: Government is not the answer. But the small and the medium enterprise all over the world are the vehicles that can turn the economy around. What government needs to do is create the environment like electricity, access to funds, import restriction weavers such that small and medium enterprises can begin to strife. And jobs will be created. When the Obasanjo’s administration switched on MTN and mobile phones, over a million people became self-employed and employed others. Those are things that government needs to do so that we can move forward. The future and economy of Nigeria is in the hands of the small and medium enterprises.
Q: How many members of staff do you have presently?
A: We have about fifty- eight staff presently.
Q: What’s your turn over like?
A: I wouldn’t say that on public camera [both laughs]. We don’t like talking about our turnover. I have been a trader for seventeen years and am still a trader. If I wasn’t succeeding I would have done something else, that’s all I have to say on the turnover.
Q: if the younger ones come to you for mentorship, what are the things you look out for?
A: I will make you work twelve hours straight with me for two months, if you can do that, then you really are serious about what you want to do, and I won’t pay you for that.
Lara: thanks for giving us your time.

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