BN Trailblazers & Tastemakers: Event Planner Extraordinaire & CEO of Zapphaire Events, Funke Bucknor-Obruthe Talks to BN about the Business, Family & Much More!

Posted on Tuesday, November 13th, 2012 at 11:53 AM

By Gbenga Awomodu

Over the last ten years, Funke Bucknor-Obruthe has become a household name alongside Zapphaire Events, her flagship events consulting, planning, marketing and management company which she started after stints in Law and Advertising. Fresh out of Law school in 2000, Funke endured practising in a Law firm for three weeks before following her love for Public Relations into an advertising firm, where she eventually found the real deal: events planning! Her resilient entrepreneurial drive led Funke to turn her passion for organising events for other people into a business, and by 2006, she had earned herself the “Entrepreneur of the Year” award at The Future Awards, Nigeria’s most prestigious youth recognition platform. A year later, she was announced the Wedding Planner Magazine’s “Wedding Planner of the Year“. Four more years later, in August 2011, event planner extraordinaire Funke’s work in planning a Nigerian royal wedding was highlighted on CNN International’s Inside Africa. In this exclusive interview with Gbenga Awomodu, Funke talks passionately about her journey to amazing business success, the making of the Nigerian events planning industry, and lots more. Enjoy!

Tell us about yourself – education and childhood memories?

I am Funke Bucknor-Obruthe and I studied Law at the University of Lagos and the Nigerian Law School. Growing up was fun with all my cousins and my sister, Tosyn Bucknor and my parents, Mr. And Mrs. Olusegun Bucknor. My dad is very very intelligent. He helped us with our homework, took us to examination centres, got extra pens and papers, and did revision with us. He used to be a musician, worked for a while at Xerox, then as the Chairman, Lagos Mainland Local Government Area. After that, he still went back to his music. My mum has been a businesswoman for as long as I can remember. She had a tailoring outfit. If you want to organize anything just call her. Their lifestyle influenced me a bit, till today. Even my sister Tosyn [Bucknor] is in entertainment. Tosyn writes, Tosyn sings, Tosyn blogs, all kinds of things.

When and why did you start Zapphaire Events?

Zapphaire Events started in 2001, but officially started in 2002. I just loved planning events for my friends, especially weddings. A few friends advised that I do it for a living.

What is the origin of the word “Zapphaire” in your company name? 

(Laughs) It was just like a joke. I got inspired by sapphire (the stone) and I changed the “S” to “Z” to make it different.

How did you transition from Law into Event Planning? 

I never liked Law from my first year in UNILAG. Everybody kept telling me that when I got into the next year I would like it better, so I got into Year 2, even into Law school, I hated it, though I still passed very well. I thought if I went to work at maybe I might like it a bit, but for three weeks I was frustrated. I left to work at Tie Communications, an advertising agency, during my Youth Service year. I liked PR, but the advertising agency didn’t specialize in PR. They were more into core advertising, which wasn’t what I really wanted. It was while I was there that I started planning a few people’s weddings and realized that this was what I wanted to do. The experience taught me about discipline and has really helped in running my business today. I spoke with a few business minded people who helped and advised me on how to develop it further. Then I went to Fate Foundation and did an entrepreneurial course there.

When you started out, who were the key global leaders and your role models in the industry?

We had people like Preston Bailey, Colin Cowie, Mindy Weiss and David Tutera. Those were people I respected and looked up to internationally. I’d been hearing about them. Most of them had been in business for over twenty years. In Nigeria, there wasn’t really anybody. It was just one or two of us: Lara Akande of Just Weddings, who started a little bit before me and Mrs. Yewande Zaccheaus, who started the same year.

Some Zapphaire Team members

Some of Zapphaire’s Hosts at an event

What is the size of your team at Zapphaire Events and what qualities do you look out for when hiring new staff?

Our team of co-ordinators is made up of eighteen staff while our support staff are eleven. I look out for drive, passion, creativity etc., depending on the role the person is assuming.

How would you describe your target clients?

Our target clients are the everyday bride, corporate organisations, etc. generally, people who want value for money.

Could you share highlights from your experience working on international events?

I worked with one or two people on a wedding in Dubai. In a place like Dubai, you already know that at your event maybe you just have about 400 or 300 people, but it’s well laid out and you have a lot of waiters and other of service providers at your beck and call. To do that in Nigeria, you have to have a lot of money, and people are not ready to do that. A peculiarity with our events here is that they are usually very large. I saw that the standard was very high in Dubai, but when I did an event in Accra, it was the opposite, really. I just felt that they were too slow-paced and not close to the level of excellence that we usually had. I felt Nigeria was far better. We imbibed a level of excellence in planning the event and everybody thought the event was very good, like “for Ghana? This was really good!”.

Earlier this year, you launched “The Essential Bridal Handbook”, one-of-a-kind in this clime. What was the motivation behind that project, how long did it take you to compile the materials for the book, and what has the reception been like in the market?

I have been in the industry for quite a long time, and I saw the need and cravings of a lot of brides for a handbook which would serve as a guide to planning a flawless event; a journal, a resource book, where you can also get tips on planning your budget. The Essential Bridal Handbook is packed with all that and much more. It contains tips from different service providers and it’s just a book you want to recommend for every bride. It took about two years to compile, because we had to put a lot of effort into researching and publishing. The reception in the market has been quite impressive.

You easily impress me as a very energetic and highly entrepreneurial person. How have you developed your business savvy over time, and how do you constantly ensure that you are growing and improving in your profession?

(laughs) Very energetic and highly entrepreneurial, and I put all my energy into my work. My business savvy comes from a lot of experience, business seminars and from my mentors. I’ve done a few short courses, seminars and workshops. There’s a resource book called FabJob Guide to Become an Events Planner. I go for courses in America at least twice a year where they teach the rudiments of event planning, new technologies, new ideas, marketing ideas, and new trends. You meet all the top international planners. I’m also starting the Preston Bailey Design Course soon, which I should have done way back. No knowledge is lost. I just finished a course at the Lagos Business School, Pan African University, where the EDC [Enterprise Development Centre] is organizing an Events Planning workshop/training which I’m facilitating next week.

What notable challenges have you had to tackle in your business?

I’m not sure I had so many other notable challenges aside staff retention, because of the type of industry we’re in. It’s very new, and I think people think that, “you know what, if I stay here for ten years, what am I going to be doing?” That’s a bit of a challenge because people come in to the office, they’re green horns, you train them, they work with you for a year or two, you are used to working with them, then next thing they’ve gone to start their own. You have to constantly keep on training people. I think that because of the industry, it’s something we can’t avoid right now and then I’m trying to change that and I’m working on something that everybody would see in the future.

For those who want to be the boss, what are the essential attributes that they can imbibe and the pitfalls to avoid in becoming event planners?

 To be an event planner, you have to be someone who pays attention to details; someone who has good listening skills, and good verbal and non-verbal skills; someone who is very diplomatic; not necessarily friendly, but be a people person; you have to
be personable, and someone that is able to manage crises, because crises will come; be someone that people can rely on because your job is about taking the stress off people. I have a lot of my ex-staff who we call on sometimes when we have so many events at once that we can’t even handle. If I’ve trained you, I know that the standard you have is quite high.
Have you had some staff who were so resourceful and good at their job, and you just had to  encourage them to go start out on their own?

I have. I have two of them; two people who did very well. Debola [Lewis, of Yvent Couture] was one of them. I encouraged him to start doing what he was doing, and when I saw that where he was working was stifling him a bit, I felt that he could do better and said to him, “Debola, I can see this is what you need to do. I think you need to leave.”

I don’t hear about that quite often – people encouraging some of their best staff to move on, on this side of the world?

I think that people are afraid. To me, the sky is really big and Debola today is like my brother. I can call him up for anything. He’s like my brother. I mean, we are competitors o, but he’s still someone I respect, because he’s good at what he does. You must give honour to whom honour is due; that’s how I am. There is someone else as well: Niyi NYBD [Niyi Badmus]. He is very good with drinks. He started doing drinks, icing and serving of drinks, and I encouraged him and he is doing it now; he’s doing very well.

What major changes have occurred since you started business a decade ago, and what are your projections over the next decade in the Nigerian events space?

From about 3, ten years ago, we now have over 500 planners in the industry. Events are now technology-based and decor has changed. Event planning was very basic. Even down from the décor, we used satin chair covers; satin that would be making people fall down. It was a novelty then, but if you use it for the chair cover now, people will laugh at you. Five years ago, we were not using mood lights for our décor; we were using the Fairy Lights, the Christmas light, but now if you don’t use the mood light or LED, it’s like your wedding is not great. We now use Plasma screens and do documentaries as well; videographers have also evolved. Back then, the late Jaiye Aboderin’s band was the only band that was fantastic and they were so expensive. Now, there are so many music bands. Even the MCs, the way they deliver their jokes has changed. Until recently, hostesses were just drab, but now you’ve made the hostesses so elegant, and everybody copies that. Competition opens up the market and also allows people to see the quality of service you deliver.

Have you ever put in so much effort into an event only to feel so bad about the outcome?

Ah! Wow! Yes, very recently that happened; we put a lot of efforts, but the outcome wasn’t as good as we would have wanted it. The client was trying a new concept which had never been done in Nigeria. Every aspect of the event went smoothly except that aspect.

Have you ever failed in any business endeavour and how comfortable are you sharing about them?

I’ll just say I have made mistakes which I have been able to learn from and overcome. I believe we learn from our mistakes. Life is a rollercoaster, it’s up and down. When the client is not happy about an event, for me I consider that a bit of a failure on our own part and sometimes, it could be circumstances beyond your control. At the end of the day, it is all about client satisfaction.

In what ways would you say that your legal education has been a plus?

In terms of realizing that I need contracts and some legal issues that come up, I can handle them. People I met and friends I made at the university and Law School are sustaining me now. If probably I had studied something else, I have a feeling that I might not have had that strong network I have now. For me, the legal education, that network, fantastic! Right now, I can call any lawyer and they help me do anything because they’re all my friends.

Zapphaire is gradually establishing itself as a house of brands. Could you tell us a bit about Furtullah, the new arm of your company that focuses on décor?

In a bid to expand, we set up a décor company called Furtullah Concept and Design, which is solely run by a lady called Ayobami Ojerinola. She is the COO; I’m just a Director. Furtullah does most of our decor now, and in fact they do décor on their own. We saw that there was a need in the industry when/where people wanted us to do décor, and were wondering, “why are you not doing décor?” So we have Furtullah, the Essential Bridal Handbook, the training school, and a few other things we’re going to be coming up with in the future.

How about the Zapphaire Events training school and its programmes?

Yes, we have a training school where we train event planners, usually twice a year. We have a lot of people coming to us saying they want to be event planners. If somebody was going to do this, we might as well train them to do things properly. We show them the standard – how it is done internationally and in Nigeria based on our experience and books. The classes run for like a month, then  followed by a practical, on-the-job training which lasts for about two months. The classes hold like three times a week, five hours each.

In what other ways are you giving back to the industry and society?

I have trained quite a lot of event planners. In fact, I can say Zapphaire Events has produced the most number of event planners. I am a member of Fate Foundation where I’ve facilitated a few classes and shared my experience from running my business. I’m an associate member of WIMBIZ [Women in Management and Business], where as part of a mentoring programme I mentor young women going into the business. We do that for even Hafsat Abiola’s KIND and my church, Joshua Ville where we also mentor a lot of young people. I give talks at seminars; did one at the Lipton Tea Party recently. We support several charities, including the UKF Foundation, sickle cell foundation, “These Genes”, and cancer foundations.

Funke Bucknor-Obruthe & Family

How do you effectively manage business alongside the home, and what are some of your thoughts on family?

Well, God has been good and my husband has been really supportive; my sister and my parents as well. Family isn’t just about being married to someone or having kids for someone; the ability to love each and every member of your family regardless, is what makes you a family. A family that prays together stays together.

I see that your family is a Manchester United family. Who initiated the other into football?

My husband. I’m a Man U Fan. My husband is the Man U fan (laughs). Man U for life! My husband loves football; he breathes football, eats football. We have a Man U flag in my house.

How does he find time to do all that?

Wednesday night, Saturday morning, Sunday evening. He works in a Telecoms company, but just loves football.

 And you’re not jealous that football takes him from you sometimes?

I even love it. Let him love football, please. Is it not better? I like the fact that he loves football, so it gives me time to be free too now. I work at the weekends, so he’s watching football – premiership – while I’m working; there’s no demand, so it’s even balanced.

Do you sometimes watch football matches with him?

I sleep off. But I sit down with him and watch (laughs).

 What qualities do you like in people, and which traits put you off when dealing with people?

I like smart and proactive people who can think on their feet. Laziness puts me off, so I don’t get along well with lazy people who think life should just hand them everything.

Could you tell us a bit about your normal daily routine and how do you de-stress after a rather busy day or week?

I get up in the morning, attend to the home, my children, get to work early (9am), meet with clients, talk about deadlines, go over events, go to church for meetings. Just about that. In my spare time, I watch TV, read magazines, and hang out with friends.

Who is your favourite Nigerian designer, and why?

Grey. Her clothes are versatile and easy to wear.

Where is your favourite travel destination?

I really don’t have, but will say Cape Town.

If you had the opportunity to wish for anything and it would happen instantly, what would it be?

That I make Heaven!

Thanks for your time!

My pleasure.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________
Gbenga Awomodu is an Editorial Assistant at Bainstone Ltd./BellaNaija.com. When he is not reading or writing, Gbenga is listening to good music or playing the piano. He loves to meet new people and discuss issues that really matter. Follow him on Twitter: @gbengaawomodu | Gbenga’s Notebook: www.gbengaawomodu.com | Facebook Page: Gbenga Awomodu
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  • 55 Comments on “BN Trailblazers & Tastemakers: Event Planner Extraordinaire & CEO of Zapphaire Events, Funke Bucknor-Obruthe Talks to BN about the Business, Family & Much More!”

    Comments
    • new bride November 13, 2012 at 12:07 PM

      The plural of staff is staff, not staffs. Thank you!

      Interesting read, I’ve always admired Funke. She’s a bit of an abebelube, but I still like her :)

      • jay November 13, 2012 at 12:48 PM

        Please whats the meaning of abebelube???

        • Mssexy November 13, 2012 at 2:41 PM

          extrovert

      • Non professional opinion November 13, 2012 at 3:15 PM

        It means forward

      • pretty December 6, 2012 at 10:06 AM

        Abelube and also short tempered

    • nino November 13, 2012 at 12:16 PM

      Funke….I just love her…her energy, zest, drive, and she does great events….God bless you loads…from your little sister…N

    • show some love November 13, 2012 at 12:33 PM

      Very proud of Funke Bucknor. Wel done. The sky is just the begining. Ver y inspiring article

    • Mandies Cocktails November 13, 2012 at 12:42 PM

      Yesss…i admire her energy, she is soo down to earth and humble. I met her at an event she planned and where i provided cocktails…she just dazzed me.. She’s very hands on with her job. Keep up the good work…i admire you alot.

    • Daniel November 13, 2012 at 12:46 PM

      Good interview.
      @new bride – what does abelube mean?

    • phoenix November 13, 2012 at 12:47 PM

      lovely smile,

    • cassandra onwualu November 13, 2012 at 1:10 PM

      I’ve got somuch love and respect for this woman. It can’t be easy creating a good work-life balance especially for someone in her field. way to go ,girl!

    • LPS November 13, 2012 at 2:44 PM

      Lovely Interview and am so proud of my friend Ayobami Ojerinola. She is also my Client.xoxo

    • Cynthia November 13, 2012 at 2:53 PM

      LOL. Abebelube is yoruba for someone who has a very, oh dear, how do I put it? You know those jumpy, outgoing, very vivacious, bubbly, gregarious, cant sit in one place, bouncy (that’s like a direct translation of abebelube) characters, who can be endearing at times, but sometimes their personality is a bit too much to handle, and they become slightly irritating. You love them to bits, but sometimes you wish they’ll calm down a bit and stop fizzling. Think of champagne, and imagine someone with that kind of character. Sorry, o, thats the best way I could translate it. LOL………..

      • Cynthia November 13, 2012 at 2:56 PM

        energetic, extrovert,

        • damsel November 13, 2012 at 4:59 PM

          Thanks for translating!

    • Purpleicious Babe November 13, 2012 at 2:53 PM

      awwwwww i like her….. she is soo cool.. this interview was pretty honest and real…

      she is a great inspiration and she is always smiling…. wow.

      I see her face but didnt know much about her but am glad i read this piece..

      awww God bless you, your family, business and life…xxxx

      well done and keep going strong… here is to twenty more years
      lifeinstagesdoz.blogspot.co.uk

    • Isi November 13, 2012 at 3:18 PM

      Abebelube is a yoruba word which means one who is ‘too forward” not necessarily a bad compliment tho.

    • Rachel007 November 13, 2012 at 3:53 PM

      FBO has always had an infectious smile and personality, i can’t even imagine the word “dull” next to her name. She attended my alma mater – Nigerian Navy Sec. School and i can see God’s hands all over her life, every area, every facet….and its beautiful! and her wish to make heaven…..she go make am and scream 10/10 sef….

    • Chattyzee November 13, 2012 at 3:53 PM

      I admire her success and zeal…

      http://dprodigalchild.wordpress.com/

    • oyin November 13, 2012 at 4:34 PM

      :)

    • yetunde November 13, 2012 at 4:57 PM

      Wow,
      This interview is just easy to read and makes her easy to love
      May God continue to bless and guide her
      Up Man U!

    • Damola November 13, 2012 at 5:48 PM

      *Woop* Go Ayobami!

    • abimbola Dare November 13, 2012 at 7:55 PM

      Funke Bucknor, I admire your hardwork and even though I dont know you personally ( virtually via twitter and fbook), I like you a great deal. Remain blessed and continue to serve Him! well done dear,

    • kemi November 13, 2012 at 9:24 PM

      Wow dat my boss, very hardworking and passionate about the job, kudos Boss

    • Lola November 13, 2012 at 11:17 PM

      Bella Naija, please give us a ‘LIKE’ button abeg ;-).

    • lola November 14, 2012 at 6:40 AM

      Wow. Funke rocks! One of the best event planners out there! She’s super hyper but we love her for it!

    • Aibee November 14, 2012 at 10:30 AM

      I think her bubbly, vibrant personality came across in this interview. I’ve never met her before but the interview seemed fast paced and bubbly so when I got to the comments and saw people call her energetic, extrovert and abebelube, it all made sense. Well done Mrs. Obruthe! I saw her wedding pictures online a couple of years ago and I’m sure if she had to do it again, she will change sooo many things!

      @Cynthia, you did a good job of translating ‘abebelube’. You got the literal and literary meanings of the word!

    • Tessa November 14, 2012 at 5:37 PM

      Funke Bucknor Obruthe is a legend and is marked by excellence!
      Great!

    • Lovely girl November 14, 2012 at 5:51 PM

      One of the best interviews I’ve seen here in a while. I love this woman. How does she do it?

    • kay November 14, 2012 at 8:02 PM

      Really love Funke Bucknor.pls can i get Zapphire’s website?

    • Lovely girl November 14, 2012 at 10:53 PM
    • Sola November 14, 2012 at 10:54 PM

      She needs to plan my wedding

    • flory November 15, 2012 at 8:27 AM

      I like the part where she said she encouraged some of her staff to stand on their own and she’s still growing.Most business owners in Nigeria want you to serve them for life.

    • Tosin November 17, 2012 at 1:51 PM

      I love it.
      Sending out some (more) love to Madame Funky!

      I like how you guys are such great translators. Smart people hanging out here, eh? Up Bella.

    • Senoritamariam November 17, 2012 at 4:50 PM

      Funke’s full of Energy,I admire every of her works. She’s indeed a role model.

    • Triangle November 17, 2012 at 8:44 PM

      Lovely interview. There’s however another event mgt agency here in Abuja called red sapphaire or something. I tried to do a vacation job with them once and didn’t like how I was treated, let’s jst say I stopped liking event planners since then.
      However I’ve always admired Funke, d woman with the red framed glasses. She’s well spoken too and I’m not surprised cos she’s a fellow lawyer. I’m glad you found something you’re passionate about cos the law really can be tasking. That I’m still in this profession is by God’s grace.
      More grease to your elbow and I wish you God speed in all your endeavour.

    • iamfascinating November 18, 2012 at 7:15 AM

      She’s good at what she does. So is B’Signature. Thumbs Up!
      http://www.thestunninglady.blogspot.com

    • Sola d November 18, 2012 at 9:01 PM

      Wow sooo inspiring

    • Naughty girl November 18, 2012 at 9:02 PM

      One of the best and first

    • Jen... November 20, 2012 at 7:26 AM

      Funke, get ready to plan my wedding o…

      Love her.

    • Amazeballs! November 20, 2012 at 9:44 AM

      Love her response to the question about how she feels about football taking her husband away from her. just real!

    • fasasi abdulwasiu November 20, 2012 at 4:46 PM

      am really impressed and inspired with this interview.nice 1 mrs funke bucknor obruthe

    • Dana Caffrey November 21, 2012 at 8:32 AM

      Blessings come to those people who are willing to give back to others. Her story is very inspiring, I admired her kindness and generosity. More power to you and good luck!

    • TheNiceOne November 21, 2012 at 10:52 AM

      Whoops!!!! Whoops!!!

    • dre November 21, 2012 at 11:10 AM

      Impressive! Keep it up.

    • darey November 21, 2012 at 11:13 AM

      Wow! Nice one funke….. Always on point!

    • ...just saying November 21, 2012 at 4:22 PM

      I love Funke’s personality…However she lied about one of the staff she claimed she told to set up his coy…I personally know what went down before she finally came around

    • ktemi November 21, 2012 at 7:36 PM

      lovely, down-to -earth interview, liked what I read and her aim to make heaven…in the end, thats the most important thing!!!

    • Sweetprincess November 21, 2012 at 11:32 PM

      Just saying why don’t u tell us what you know. Busy bodies and Aiye people. Why don’t you call Debola or you want to say that you have not seen interviews Debola has granted himself? Saying what FBO means to him?

      • .....just saying November 24, 2012 at 10:33 AM

        You are the busy body babes…I mentioned no names because I understand privacy, something people like you don’t.

    • Millayy November 22, 2012 at 2:04 PM

      Zapphaire toh bad…Proud of you guyz.

    • sugarmummy November 24, 2012 at 3:12 PM

      Thumbs up to u Funke!I rily admire your courage to follow ur dreams.Not many of us are dat courageous.I cant bliv i read ur interview word for word.U inspire me.

    • Sweetprincess November 25, 2012 at 5:42 AM

      Yeah right ,u really understand privacy. Busy body

    • dgirl November 26, 2012 at 10:40 AM

      Funke Bucknor-Obruthe…… what more can i say…. you inspire me always! keep up the good work!

    • Veronica November 27, 2012 at 11:30 AM