I started business out of necessity —Iyaloja
Born by school teacher parents who were expecting a professional in the theatre, courtroom or ivory tower, the new Iyaloja of Oyo State, Alhaja Folasade Abeo, however, chose to follow her heart, which was entrepreneurship. But before she threw her frame fully into the murky water of business, she had made the anxious parents happy by completing her Higher National Diploma (HND) in Mass Communication from The Polytechnic Ibadan. She had a stint at the MITV, Ikeja, Lagos where she undertook her industrial attachment. In this interview by TUNDE BUSARI, she goes down memory lane with a verdict that female youths should take their destiny in their hands instead of embarking on a wild goose chase for the daily shrinking white collar jobs. Excerpts
How did your journey into business begin?
How I started my journey into the world of business is about my history; history of what and who I am today. A stream which forgets its source will dry up. My history is responsible for the little I have accomplished today. I started business out of necessity to support my teacher parents, being their first child who was being looked up to by her younger ones. I needed to relieve my parents and went into small scale business.
Is it therefore safe to say your parents indirectly influenced your choice?
One of the values which my parents inculcated in us was hard work. When I started my business as a student, combining Mass Communication with shuttle between Ibadan and Balogun, Lagos where I bought my items, I did not feel the stress much. But I must say it was not that easy. I usually converted my pocket money from parents and uncles to my business. In fact, at times, I quickly used my school fees to buy things and sell.
When then did you go fully into business and how much was your seed capital?
That was when I was in Warri with my husband. My husband wanted a full time housewife to take care of the children because he was working offshore for Texaco then. It took time for him to see reason he should allow me to go into business. Naturally, I don’t like a wife leaving all responsibilities to her husband. Without being immodest, I see a woman as a better manager of resources who would always hit success in business. That has been my driving force.
How much did you invest in your business as a full time?
It was N250,000, and the business was gold. I gave that sum to my husband’s friend’s wife who was travelling to Italy. She brought the gold and I sold it. Luckily, I made 100% profit which I immediately ploughed back into it. After a few other trips, I made a million naira. Can you believe that I was selling gold but I could not use any? That showed how strict I was in running my business. I did not have gold until my husband decided to buy one for me. I had my shop then at Effurun, adjacent to the shop of the mother of the then sitting Governor Ibori.
Did you have a relationship with Mrs Ibori?
She was a very nice woman who showed me love. I recollect that when I was pregnant and was about to be delivered of my baby, she saw me and said I should prepare for the hospital immediately. She pleaded with me not to drive myself because she knew I could enter the car and drive. She pleaded with me in Yoruba language, I thanked her and was taken to the hospital. I had made about N90,000 sales before the condition. So, I had the amount with me in the hospital.
How did you reach your turning point in your business?
One must be positive when embarking on any business because mindset plays an important role in the future of business. From outset, I had my eyes fixed on the positive side, though I knew it won’t be easy getting there. I made up my mind to accept whatever challenge I met on the way. That mindset helped me to have a clear picture of my destination. After my experience in gold, I diverted into fabrics, shoes and children’s wear. I was travelling to China. At a point, I relocated to the UK in search of greener pasture. When I was leaving Nigeria, I had a target. While there, I was trained as a social worker but I returned home after three years. Luckily, I met my target which I used to expand my business. I was into wholesale, distributing variety of items to traders at Balogun in Lagos Island. With my staff of about 10 young ladies, I was doing well and my business kept expanding. I was taking my ladies on business trips to China where I put them through on how transactions were done.
Can you say you are blessed with best staff?
You can say that again. I am blessed with forward-looking ladies who really look up to me as a role model. Of course, there is no way we can’t have one or two black sheep but generally I am blessed. That is why I take them with me during some of my foreign trips. I gave them enough room to use their discretion.
What can you say is your business philosophy?
I am a liberal person; in fact, liberal to a fault.
How do you mean?
I give them enough room at the expense of my interest. For instance, one of them played a fast one on me, and I did not realise it until one of her colleagues noticed. I allowed them to operate and make something for themselves. Anyone who insists her staff should not make something from her would end up a loser. What we should have at the back of our mind is that they cannot make more than us because it is our business.
Having planted what could be called a thriving chain of businesses in Lagos, why did you return home?
You may go and ask about the passion I have for my town. I am too passionate about home. In fact, my friends, living abroad, know me and always make mockery of me that I cannot keep a long distance from home. So, at a point, I decided to expand my business to Oyo and its environs based strictly on patriotic, not commercial, purposes. I am happy for taking that decision today.
Was that what aided your emergence as the Iyaloja of Oyo State?
Well, naturally, something must connect with another to result into another thing. I want to believe that my emergence as Iyaloja has divine connection, and I am saying this with every sense of responsibility. I can recall when the Iyaloja of Afijio called and expressed her mind that I needed to step forward for that position. She was very serious about it but it sounded very unserious in my ears because such a thing never crossed my mind. I did not take her serious. But before I knew it, they had taken the matter to my father, the Ikubaba yeye, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Atanda Adeyemi Alowolodu. And when Kabiyesi called that I must see him in the palace, I knew it was a serious matter but I had prepared what I would tell him. Can you believe that I was indoor sleeping at the scheduled time? When his message came, I had to rush out of home to the palace.
What did Oba Adeyemi tell you?
You know he is deep. He already saw objection on my face and persuaded me on why I should not decline the position which had been zoned to Oyo by the leadership of Oyo State Market Association. I was aware of Baba’s role in the growth of the association, regarding its relationship with successive administrations. He told me a lot of things on why I should take it. In that circumstance, I was left with no choice because Baba is a father who has never acted against my interest. He knows what is good for me and always ensures I am at right place at right time.
What happened next?
Once I conceded, the leadership of the market had visited Baba in the palace on Tuesday, February 25, 2020 then, it became a reality. They formally and unanimously presented me to the Alaafin. I later learnt that Baba, in his capacity as the Permanent Chairman of the Oyo State Traditional Council of Obas and Chiefs, had earlier involved other traditional rulers in the matter in order to ensure smooth transition of leadership.
What happened afterwards?
The following day, on Wednesday February 26, 2020, I travelled to Ibadan to meet market leadership and stated my readiness to contribute my quota in moving the association forward.
Specifically, what are your visions?
Where there is division, there won’t be development. Unity is my first vision. Everybody needs to be brought together as a unit to pursue a common goal. I am going to work together with government with a view of ensuring required recognition for us. Our numerical strength is our asset which every administration recognises. Members would be exposed to periodic seminars both at home and abroad to widen their scope and understanding of modern market system.
What does fashion and style mean to you?
Incidentally, I do have a fashion house in Lagos. Fashion and style depend on what suits me; what sits well on my frame, regardless of price. I don’t believe that clothing must be expensive and flamboyant to be respected.
How do you relax?
I like to keep indoors. I also like to be around my people, especially watching movie together.