I am not intimidated by women in the catering industry —CEO, Mike and Mary’s
Mike Ayodeji Adegun is the CEO, Mike and Mary’s catering, one of the fast rising outfits in Nigeria. ROTIMI IGE caught up with him recently and brings excerpts from their interaction.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m Mike Ayodeji Adegun; I was born in Kaduna State, where we lived for over 12 years. I am a graduate of Agricultural Engineering from the Obafemi Awolowo University (O.A.U). I also hold an MBA from the same institution. I’m married to the beautiful Mary Abosede Adegun. We are blessed with two children, Oreoluwa and Eniifeoluwa Adegun. I’m the last and only son of four children. My parents are Mr. and Reverend (Mrs.) Mike Adegun. We are from Ogbomoso in Oyo State and I love to cook.
You studied agricultural engineering but you are today, a caterer?
I chose agricultural engineering because I wanted to learn more about large scale food production. My father thought I would study electrical and electronics Engineering because I was quite handy with electrical repairs around the house. Fortunately for me, I didn’t because I failed all the courses we had to take in that department. Imagine if I actually went in for the course. So, I’m an engineer who now cooks for a living. After a couple of years in business, I decided to become a proper business administrator so I did an executive MBA in the same institution.
How come you are in the hospitality sector?
My mother, Irene Titilola Adegun, is the queen of hospitality. Always, it was either we were hosting parties, entertaining groups or housing family members. She was also very creative and spontaneous with her skills; she could make a party from a can of beans. She ran a successful catering outfit in Kaduna for majorly corporate organisations. When we were little, our house was literally a camp or guest house. We were always having guests around. We moved to Ibadan in the early 90’s. By default, I learnt from her. She took me through the whole home making experience and taught me every detail. I learnt housekeeping, cooking, baking, business growth and customer service from her. My mom turned me into ‘wife material’. My father, Mr. Mike Adegun taught me business administration, human resource management, business documentation and accounting. I learnt mainly by working closely with them and observing their activities. They made it a habit of making me tag along.
How did you start your catering business with Mike and Mary’s?
I met my wife while I was still working as the manager in Gloryland. She had come to train there and later was retained because she showed so much dexterity and industry. I remember saying, at her graduation, that her husband would be a very lucky man. If only I knew I would be that lucky man, I probably would have trained her more. After about 12 years of service with Gloryland, we decided to venture out and start something of our own. We had the skill and knowledge but no capital, client base, manpower, equipment and brand recognition. We just had ourselves and experience. So I asked my wife, what do we have and what can we do with what we have? We both could cook, so we started making lunch packs, soups and stews and little things we could supply to offices, schools and individuals. We went back to the basics of food business. I had to do other side jobs to fund the startup. I did trainings and seminars, public speaking engagements, car hire services, event security and protocol. I remember driving one of my clients to the airport and he was stunned by my fluency wondering how an ordinary cab driver was so fluent. I remember another occasion where I was having business meetings in the lobby of the hotel where I brought my client to spend the night. I often just slept in the car to save cost. We were able to start getting recognition and repeat orders. Those who once ordered 10 plates started to order 50 and 100. Those who didn’t call us back, we learnt from the experience and covered up the lapses. As we gathered funds little by little, we started to acquire our hardware and equipment little by little. We went from borrowing friends’ vans to owning our own trucks. We appreciate God and everyone who took a chance on us when we didn’t have a performance bank. As the jobs grew bigger, we expanded our capacity to meet up. Hence, Mike and Mary’s events company limited.
What were other challenges faced over the years and how did you overcome them?
If you have never had to start your business from zero, you probably don’t have a solid structure. Our biggest challenge was accurately evaluating the business environment and creating a product and service that was accurate for our vision. It takes a while to accurately understand and decrypt what your target audience wants and what they are willing to pay for it. This is the part or season where many come back home empty handed in business. It’s like going to the market to bargain for a product, there’s a maximum you can pay and there’s a minimum he can sell. If you are able to reach a compromise that suits both parties, you have a win-win. That’s when real business can begin. The first few years of starting up were tough and difficult. Breaking into the market with an already established reputation was proving to be an uphill task. So we had to reintroduce ourselves with smaller concepts that were easy to swallow. Persistence, flexibility and adaptability are also key survival attributes. You must be willing to learn, unlearn and relearn to stay relevant.
Your outfit is one of the biggest in Nigeria. Do you just cook for parties or you do more?
We are the buffet kings. We understand the science of a buffet. We cater for all events ranging from private, corporate, government, political, religious and social events. We have other well developed departments like logistics and haulage, tent and accessories, event management and protocol, training and service support.
The event industry is really booming in Nigeria. Seeing that it is mostly women dominated industry, how do you cope?
I grew up among three beautiful sisters and their friends. I am not intimidated by a room full of women. What I found out is that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. A female event planner may be better for a wedding but a male will handle a corporate event better that’s assuming they are on the same skill level. What I did was to train and develop capable male and female hands in almost all areas to answer whenever it is necessary. Once I suspect the client is more comfortable with a particular gender, I push the right person forward. We also can’t deny that the boom has also come with an influx of mediocres. This has affected the scope of the competition a little but it’s a matter of time. The boys will eventually be separated from the men.
What other projects are you involved in?
I’m currently working with a friend on an international social campaign which we hope to launch this year. I am very busy on the political scene and may run for office if I feel led. I also have a project targeting teenage boys to help them develop healthy relationships within themselves called ‘Boys Nest’. We observed many of our sons are not fully expressing themselves due to a sudden shift in societal perception. Boy on boy friendships are deemed suspicious, those who are close are termed gangs and others who just stay on their own are often called queers. Boys were made to be energetic, noisy, boisterous, and enthusiastic and have a deep sense of camaraderie. If we don’t teach them how to form positive groups and relationships, they would be forced into unhealthy and toxic companionships.
How do you relax?
Someone said “solitude is dangerous, the moment you discover it; it becomes very addictive”. I enjoy being alone at the end of the day mostly. I love audio books and messages. I listen to jazz and juju of the 80’s. I love to travel, not necessarily for the destination but for the time of solitude in-between. I also love to watch comedies like ‘Two and a half men’, ‘How I met your mother’, ‘Friends’ and a few others. I don’t really play any sport actively and I don’t really enjoy watching football. I also love watching praise and worship musical videos.