‘People must be pragmatic, not sentimental, for businesses to survive after COVID-19’

Ibukun Adebayo-Adedayo is the chief executive officer (CEO) of Rock Realty Limited and Today’s Bukka. The mother of three, who is popularly known as a ‘Marketplace Apostle,’ is a successful businesswoman who has become a role model to many. In this interview by SEYI SOKOYA, she speaks on her mission to encourage more women to participate actively in the real estate industry and her passion to ignite women to identify and take on new opportunities.

 

You are one of the few Nigerians that have deemed it fit to raise hopes, as well as encourage people, especially women, at these trying times. Why did you take up such responsibility?

I always focus on raising hope among women and this is not limited to the COVID-19 season. However, I am particularly committed to doing it this season because many people feel disappointed that their plans have been altered and everything appears to be at a standstill. Accordingly, it becomes imperative to make sure people are encouraged so that we don’t have a surge in the spate of depression and suicide. We also need to remind people that there will be emerging potentials for alternative cash flow generation that will open up as a result of this season, and it would be important for them to begin to look out for these opportunities. More importantly, we must remind people of the God-factor in a time like this. Also, those who have been infected with COVID-19 and their families; medical practitioners in the frontline as well as the government need our prayers and encouragement in these trying times. My heart goes out especially to medical practitioners because I am a medical doctor (though not practising anymore) and I understand that it is a tough moment for most of them right now.

 

What steps have you taken to sensitise people following the effort of the Federal Government to ease the lockdown? 

We have taken up the responsibility to sensitise people, especially women, to observe  the prescribed precautionary and safety measures. We are also strongly advocating the need to use this situation to create new opportunities to excel in their previous and even new endeavours and careers. We all know that women are relatively emotional beings, hence, they might be a bit more emotional about what men would ordinarily shoulder without stress. This underscores the fact that women need to be enlightened that this period is a time to sink deeper into God. This is the reason I have taken up the responsibility to sensitise people, especially women in this period. The good thing is that technology has permeated our spaces, so, we have leveraged on it as the tool and we are using it  to reach people, even in their homes at this time. We are using technology very significantly to bring encouragement and hope to the world. Women spend a lot more time on emotionally-driven highlights on social media, so, we have targeted our outreach using ideas that are attractive to women to get them engaged in the messages we have for them. One of those outreaches is igniting the spirit of people, especially women with my online broadcast tagged: ‘10 Minutes with God.’

 

The spread of COVID-19, in Nigeria has exposed the country and businesses in so many ways. What is your take on the effect on Nigerians?

I run quite a few businesses that span three major industries- the real estate industry, hospitality industry and the ICT industry, and you find out these businesses have been affected in different ways that do not seem similar at all. The same way you have these three businesses affected differently is the same way you will have people in different businesses affected differently. Now you need to understand that some businesses are still in their very infantile stages and may struggle a little more at this time. Some are more mature and may have better cash reserves to wade through this season. However, the texture of Nigeria is such that there are so many people that depend on daily income for survival. So, the COVID-19 puts them in a conundrum where staying home spells hunger while going out spells the danger of COVID-19. To make this easier on this class of people, we need more advocacies at the grassroots level. Above all, I am positive that we would have a significantly flattened viral-spread curve in Nigeria by God’s Grace.

 

What do you foresee after COVID-19 on  businesses, especially those owned by young Nigerians and women?

Definitely, things are going to change significantly after this time. Interestingly, I sense that the long-term effects would be felt in a worse manner by the more formal businesses. The woman who sells pepper in the market will likely be less hit in the long run because she sells a pedestrian commodity that people will need no adjustment to get back to patronising. Also, many people will have less disposable income. For example, there will be a tsunami of employment terminations and that begins to touch on cash flow loss, mental health issues, reduced purchasing power and so on. So, beyond straight-jacket economic issues, these are issues that we are also going to have to pay attention to. I think the intervention funds that the government put in place, if appropriately deployed, could help to alleviate some challenges for some Nigerian homes and businesses. It is actually interesting to note that households that have lost their sources of livelihood to the COVID-19 pandemic can also access some of these funds.

It is certain that Nigeria will not remain the same. However, we have always been a very resilient country; we have always been able to bounce back from adversity and I believe this will not be an exception. I think many things will also change. For example, my children have started online schooling and this will surely impact on the style of instruction in their school henceforth. So, people need to start preparing for the future. I run a food business for example and we have already geared up online reach out for food orders and deliveries. Now, I hold many of my staff meetings using the Zoom App and so on. We are also expanding our online and delivery architecture to ensure that it is robust enough to cater to an increased base of online customers after the COVID-19 season. We expect this set of customers to become the stronger source of revenue over the years. This is the time to become less sentimental about our businesses and make pragmatic decisions that would ensure liquidity and long-term sustainability. People should take time to understand the effects that the pandemic has had on their businesses and on the industries that they operate in; so that they can position themselves appropriately to take advantage of the shifts caused by COVID-19.

 

You are a doctor, but not practicing. Why did you leave the medical profession for another career?

I studied medicine in the University of Ilorin, Kwara State and practised for a few years after national youth service. I had a clear understanding of the fact that I really wasn’t enjoying the practice of medicine enough to dedicate the remainder of my life to it and I am glad that I recognised this early in my career. This led me to start exploring other interests while I prayed to God to give me clarity. I did a few things such as interior decoration and so on. However, clarity came when I took up a near-volunteer job at Investment Management and Training firm at the time (Financial Datanet House Limited) which gave me the platform to venture into the investment management and investment banking space and I built a career in same. The career took me through few notable companies in Lagos such as Chapel Hill Denham Management, after which I moved to The Infrastructure Bank Plc, a development finance bank in Abuja, where most of the portfolios I managed were real estate-related and I eventually became the head of the real estate department at the bank for about six years.

I left The Infrastructure Bank in 2016 to start my real estate advisory and development firm in 2017; Rock Realty Limited; which has a focus on middle-income real estate. Over the years, I have also started some other businesses such as Today’s Bukka and Cuisines Limited and Diva Orders Limited.

 

How has it been pursuing a career in a male-dominated industry?

It has been an interesting journey. However, the keyword is co-operation rather than competition even among opposite sexes. I have also found many male colleagues in the industry very helpful and ready to offer genuine assistance when necessary. In fact, most of the companies that we provide advisory services to are owned by men. The most important part is to understand the values that you operate by and stand firm by them unflinchingly. However, I am very bullish about making a mark and encouraging many more women to join the real estate investment and development ladder. We are building a model that will help more women get involved in the real estate industry and we would be unveiling a few initiatives along these lines within the next 12 months. Also, we are passionate  that low and middle income earners are the people that are particularly in need of homes. Consequently, we are constantly inventing strategies to enable them own homes despite the issues we have around our mortgage system in Nigeria.

Finally, I own a restaurant called Today’s Bukka, a brand that started from my kitchen in 2017 and has become notable in the city of Abuja. We will be opening another branch in Abuja this year and in Lagos next year.

 

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