The chairman of Eleganza Group, Chief Rasak Okoya , 77 , tells ‘ Nonye Ben – Nwankwo about his life as a young boy and how he rose to become a successful businessman
To you , is age just a number or has anything really changed as you clock 77 ?
Age is not just a number , there is always change as one advances in age; when one is growing older , he tries to ensure that change in life is seen as another opportunity to improve . This is to ensure that mistakes do not repeat themselves, rather you use the previous mistakes to correct the present and set goal for the future .
You are still strong and agile even at 77 , what is the secret ?
To Allah be the Glory .
Did you know when you were growing up , that you would one day become this influential and successful ?
In all my growing life to date , I have always given thanks to the almighty Allah for sustaining me , giving me direction and my success
What was your childhood dream?
My childhood dream was like that of any other child of my age and time . However , mine was backed up by the treatment I received from my parents . I was never allowed to play much . I had three sections per day – first section at school , second section at my father’s tailoring shop and third section at the mosque. This gave me the attitude to work hard and also to save all cash that was given to me .
So many people may not know that your story is that of grass to grace , can you tell us how you were able to build your business empire from almost nothing ?
It is from the discipline and hard work with no time to play . When I returned from school , I was always with my father in his tailoring shop to assist him in my little way . Thereafter I started sewing torn clothes at little cost for neighbours . As I was able to save up money , I started the business of buying and selling clothing and sewing materials at the front of my father’ s shop . I was able to save up some money and I also borrowed from my mother to start importation of tailoring materials .
You only had primary education as your formal training , are there times you feel any regret that you didn’ t further your education ?
It is true that I had only primary education and immediately after , I went into trading . I don ’t feel any regret that I had only primary education . If I had acquired the highest educational qualification, it is still money and wealth that are the bottom line.
Was there any reason why you just had primary education ?
As stated earlier , my love for trading made me to drop at primary level .
Was it easy getting to be successful ?
The journey wasn ’t an easy one ; it’s full of ups and downs . But my ‘can do ’ attitude kept me moving and in no time, I became real entrepreneur .
Your father was a tailor; did you consider doing his line of business?
I was always with him in his tailoring shop , so I can ’t say I never considered tailoring , but as soon as I started making money from the minor works and petty trading of tailoring materials around his shop , I forgot about it.
What has been your greatest challenge since you started running your business?
My challenges in business were not being able to manufacture products in full capacity, due to lack of forex to buy raw materials and electricity to power the factory through the use of generators. Diesel price has always been on the increase and Electricity from power firm is never coming .
You probably have a lot of business you attend to , how have you managed to keep your home and your business afloat at the same time?
I work round the clock and I enjoy working. In spite of my load of work and the associated tight schedule , I make sure that I have time to chat with my family and tell them the story of how I got to my present position .
There was a time Eleganza used to produce virtually all products but there seems to be a decline in the number of products the company produces ; what really happened?
Eleganza was producing virtually all house hold products , later we invested in real estate and about three years ago, Eleganza came back to manufacturing big and strong on 35 hectares of land called Eleganza Industrial City , at Ibeju. Today we have larger numbers of house products and more are still coming up .
Was it your personal choice to have just very few expatriates in your company?
Eleganza only keeps expatriates for jobs that the indigenes do not have the technical knowledge . As soon as we discovered the potential of the indigenes to do the expatriate job, we embrace the person without delay .
Do we see you retiring one day ?
I have already retired but not tired . I am around the business empire for advisory roles.
What kind of relationship did you have with your father and mother ? Were they strict parents ?
They were very strict , disciplined and devoted Muslims .