Move Back To Nigeria: “Nigeria Taught Me To Be Humble” – Story of the Serial Employee in the UK Who Became a Successful Entrepreneur in NigeriaPosted on Friday, May 24th, 2013 at 9:34 AM
By Titi Adanne Owoyemi
Move Back to Nigeria is a new series on BellaNaija. The aim is to encourage young and not-so-young professionals in the diaspora who are trying to make the decision of whether to move back to Nigeria. In collaboration with the guys at MoveBackToNigeria.com, we hope to bring you a weekly interview with individuals who have successfully made the leap. The idea is to share their successes and their challenges as they made the decision.
This week we speak with a Nigerian professional whose back story is very intriguing. He is a communications and graphic design expert and currently runs his own company after moving back to Nigeria from the UK to start from ground zero. Please note that the identities of the respondents will be concealed in order to protect them. We hope you enjoy the interviews and you are inspired and motivated. We also welcome discussions and your views on the subject matter.
Can you briefly introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your education background?
I’m a trained architect & a tech geek. I run my graphic design & corporate communications business. I studied architecture at a reputable Nigerian university and got a Masters degree in the UK. My career choice was due to the fact that my father did not want me to follow in his engineering footsteps so he personally filled out architecture in my Jamb forms and that’s how I ended up there. Dad was always strongly involved in my upbringing. In junior secondary school, he enrolled me at a tailoring school to learn how to sew and after secondary school, I had to attend computer lessons as well. Even during the ASUU (Academic Staff Union of Universities) strikes which were quite frequent at the time, I had different jobs including a stint at the AIM GROUP, Lagos where I worked the graveyard shift on radio. My time there gave me a good overview of business administration. Also, while studying architecture, I learnt how to design using computer-aided software and this is how I fell in love with all things I.T related. I’ve always been very entrepreneurial as I started a business in my undergraduate days which on another note, is how I met my wife as she was attracted to my creative drive. Our services essentially involved taking pictures and creating experiences and even after I graduated, I was constantly going back to visit, as my then girlfriend, now wife was still studying there and I was a very love-struck young man.
Very interesting. We hope you’re still love-struck. So when did you leave Nigeria and why?
Oh yes, I certainly am. Well, my younger brothers had left Nigeria to the UK for their A levels and kept telling me about the UK’s amazing opportunities. They thought with my soft skills, as I am often described as being charming and personable, that I would do really well in such an environment and so I decided to initially visit which I did and then I came back home to apply for a masters degree at Middlesex University and a student visa. It was a successful application and so I eventually left in 2000. I should state that my time at AIM was instrumental to what I currently do for a living. I learnt a lot because I was very persistent and kept trying to know and understand everything around me. I also had a mentor there who was very tech-savvy and who inspired me and painstakingly showed me the ropes. From AIM, I left the country.
How did your professional life take off?
What I do is Communications Collateral which is corporate communications with a strong branding edge, essentially creating the brand message on different platforms and disseminating to the client’s target audience. In the UK, I worked with a charity and then a company called City Index which eventually got acquired by Rank Zerox and became BlueSquare where my professional life began but where I was later let go. Studying for my postgraduate degree in the UK while simultaneously getting I.T certifications gave me a global view of design and also opened my eyes to more career opportunities and perspectives.
I got a project with a bank and set up a company with a friend to implement the brief. It was a small business which was turning over about £300 a month but things changed and the business was not doing well and so my partner went to start his own company which led to a falling out and so the company closed down. At this point things got really difficult for my family. We could not pay our bills, we had maxed out our credit cards, my wife sold her car etc and so I went ahead and got my first job in the UK. It was a minimum wage job and it was while there I met my first UK mentor who encouraged me to get Cisco certification and helped me move to a better job that paid £18000 per annum. Then I met a second mentor who worked with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and helped me get a job there which I thoroughly enjoyed. It was a contract job and eventually due to visa restrictions, I lost the job.
Then I got my next job in corporate communications at Cazenove which was eventually bought by JP Morgan. Another job I enjoyed. However, after a while, my wife got fed up of the UK and we started looking for opportunities in Nigeria, as the time had come for us to move back.
This naturally leads us to your reason for moving back. How did you decide it was time to move back and what was the process like?
As far as I was concerned, I had no skills, had worked in core finance at the FSA and corporate communications at BlueSquare. JP Morgan however, opened me to a global perspective and everyday at work was a WOW moment for me. I thoroughly loved it! So I was not interested in coming back to Nigeria at all, particularly for security reasons. But I found that every time I went back to visit, I was truly at peace. I would compare it to the superficial work-life in the UK and so moving back started becoming appealing, particularly with regards to family life as my wife was really keen to move. There were obvious advantages: We could relax in warm weather, eat pepper soup (which I enjoy), be closer to family and raise our kids with the cultural values we so admired. And then around this time, my visa expired and our hands were forced, we had to move. Let me state clearly that it was not a voluntary move. I loved being in the UK, I had started a charity, work was finally going well and I was quite happily settled but we had to move and so we did.
How have you found it, particularly with regards to your entrepreneurial orientation?
Nigeria taught me to be humble. I had assumed I would get a job easily, as easily as my wife did but it did not happen like that and I was introduced to the ugly side of Nigeria. The politicking was new to me and I had to learn to understand the idiosyncrasies and re-engineer my thinking. We moved back to Nigeria and my wife asked me what I wanted to do and decided to support me on one of my projects and so because of my experience working with kids I decided to start a summer camp. An ingenious idea I thought, and it generated favourable patronage as well but the patrons did not pay and the whole venture left me heavily indebted. I explored many other opportunities albeit unsuccessfully and then went back to architecture. It was a booming sector at the time but then I started dealing with artisans and got frustrated and so I took a 3 month break from it all. Before the 3-month break, I had an interview with one of the top multinationals and then decided to work with for a while with them to get a work refresher.
It was my first corporate communications job in Nigeria and an enlightening & disappointing experience as I learnt first-hand how hard people work and realised it was not for me. I got so disillusioned at the fact that it was run like a one man business. There was no innovation, no passion or creativity, I felt used and so I left. I needed more. I started networking which proved immensely useful as it was a contact who introduced me to a few investment banks to pitch for jobs. My old partner rejoined me during this process and we eventually started working for 2 of the banks. Thus, our business was re-launched in 2011. It is a communications consultancy and a global communications/design agency with branches in Lagos and London. We basically create brand messages for our clients and spread these messages on touch-points which can be anywhere the target audience connects with the brand. Simply put, it is end to end communications.
Admittedly, it was a bit weird in the beginning as we hadn’t gotten a grasp of details like staffing, pricing, overhead costs etc but we persevered and then suddenly jobs started coming in. Then business slowed down again and we underwent a drought so to speak but this time decided not to give up. So we got rid of all our staff and started the business again on a much smaller scale. In the 1st year of operations which basically consisted of 4months we had a turnover of N7million, and then the inertia we were experiencing passed after which things changed. In the 2nd year of business, our turnover was N6million and now, just a few years after, we have an average monthly turnover of N25million, which is about N300million annually.
Wow…You have certainly come a very long way. Looking back, what can you say were your highs and lows?
As Steve Jobs famously said, you can only connect the dots looking back. Despite the turbulent times, I have to admit that every failure I had taught me a lesson, some of which included the fact that while the economy may have been right, the mindset was not. I learnt how different Nigerians are and the way to do business here, and also that certain services are not valued. Every single process I went through prepared me for where I am today and I can only thank God for bringing me this far.
That is certainly true. On a final note, do you have any words of wisdom for anyone who might be considering a move back to Nigeria?
I think it’s very important to always have mentor-like people at every point in one’s life. I have always had such people who also call me to order when I am going off the rails and those are the things I lean onto. Of particular note is my partner and friend who has been very influential in my life to date. I often say people should always have two kinds of relationships: Vertical relationships which are those involving people I look up to such as mentors & horizontal relationships which are those involving people at my level such as my peers.
It is also important to genuinely care about people. This goes a long way towards creating positive karma around you and yours. Also, learn to trust. At some point, to take risks you have to trust people despite the prevailing distrust in the society. Finally, be persistent. Don’t give up, follow your passion and be humble. Stay grounded and accept help & favors from people especially family.
Thank you very much for your time and we wish you all the best in your future endeavours.
Photo Credit: blackenterprise.com
Movebacktonigeria.com is the fastest growing online community of Nigerian professionals living, studying and working in diaspora; with a primary objective to connect Nigerian professionals with various opportunities in Nigeria, ranging from recruitment drives to information & support regarding relocation processes, financial & tax advice and much more. We also feature social interest topics such as what’s on, where to live, how-to survival tips and so on. We consistently engage with and feature Nigerian professionals in our weekly interviews and also regularly publish social interest articles relevant to the general public.