‘At 77, i still love to work as it gives me pleasure, exercises’
The backbone of every ambition is resilience; it determines the degree of will to pursue a dream, no matter what, break down barriers that may stand in the way, and ultimately embark on a journey to greatness. This is the story of billionaire industrialist, Razak Akanni Okoya, who turned 77 on Thursday, January 12. In this interview, he told DANIEL ANAZIA, what drives him and has kept him going.
You are 77, what has changed about you as you mark this day?
Thank you so much; nothing has really changed about me, except for the fact that I’m still working, which I sincerely believe is what has kept me strong and fit, and this has also kept me going.
When you take stock of your achievements in business, what would you say is the unique formula that aided your phenomenal success?
I give God the glory for giving me the determination, foresight and focus. I am a very determined person, I hate to fail in whatever goal I set to achieve Insha Allah. I thank God that it has always been possible, that is why even at 77 years I still love to work as it gives me pleasure.
How would you access the environment for success today compared to when you started?
When we started, there were lots of business opportunities in Nigeria at that time compared to today, where there are too many business competitions. The mindset of the youths of nowadays is to make quick money. In my time, young individuals were encouraged in setting their goals and achieving it, but now so
many products have flooded the Nigerian markets, which make it very difficult for the Local industries to succeed.
Many companies in the country have closed shop owing to the economic policies of government. What would you say has kept Eleganza in operation and what cutback was made to survive?
One of the major challenges is the issue of power to run the industries, but we are committed to remain in business with the passion to keep our aims and objectives to offer over 2000 Nigerian youths employment.
Eleganza at a time has a myriad of products, but today there seem a sharp drop and wane in its popularity. Is this as a result of fierce market competition?
The Eleganza of today is stronger and more stable than the yester years. Today, we have more range of products from chairs, coolers, luggage, diapers, lady sanitary pads, beauty soaps, laundry soaps, and multi-purpose soaps; pet bottles plus caps, pre-form bottles, shoes, hair threads, disposable/reusable plates and cups; waste disposal containers (dust-bin) and stainless water tank, and food and drinks. They are produced locally in our new Eleganza Industrial City layout located on 35 hectares of land at KM68 Epe-Ibeju Lekki Expressway, Ibeju, Lagos. We also have Real Estate investment in prime commercial areas and luxury residential estate in Lagos State. For some years past, the real estate business has been very bad; we have lots of vacancies in our estates. The worst hit is our Eleganza Plaza complex, Apapa, Lagos.
You have unique design for your property, would you say you achieved much success as a property developer?
At one period in Nigeria, industrialization was becoming frustrating; so we diversified into property investment in a large scale just to keep the staff in employment. Don’t get me wrong, we still continue in industries but without introducing new items of products like now, but after we have achieved our set goals in the property sector. That is what now lead to the new Eleganza Industrial City Ltd. Eleganza is back bigger and better than what it used to be known for.
What are the most important values in business and life for you?
Hardwork, sincerity, steadfastness and honesty.
Passion, intelligence, which is more important for you as a businessman, and how has help in your journey to who you have become today.
Passion with drive takes priority in all my endeavours. I love what I do and as a result I don’t see myself working because when you enjoy your job it becomes a hobby. But to be successful and able to maintain market leadership over the years you must be intelligent on how to diversify as and when necessary.
Looking at Nigeria today, how should government act to encourage industrial growth?
Government should stop the importation of goods that can be produced locally; increase custom and excise duties on imported finished goods. They should also ensure that goods are fully monitored at the port of entry, because some importers are involved in sharp practices, denying government the required revenue and also killing the local manufacturers. Smuggled goods into the country are also killing the manufacturing industries. No country can survive with foreign goods invasion. Government should also improve on power supply and promote more technical schools. This would assist in reducing the rate of unemployment in the country.
At 77 are you still actively involved in the running of your business? At what age will you take a break?
As I said earlier, I have passion for what I do and seeing products or items overseas stirs a passion in me to see same or similar products produced in my country. I love to go to Trade Fair all over the world, and when I get ideas I put them into actualization. I can’t be seen running the day-to-day activities as I don’t have that patience or time, but I am always on board to give necessary and useful information when needed. Experience cannot be bought, as you grow into it. The day-to-day running of the manufacturing sector of my business is managed by my wife, Dr. (Mrs.) Shade Okoya, and my son Lanre Okoya, as director with other senior experienced managers and a few expatriates, while the Group Property Manager, Mrs. Modupe Solanke and other management team manage the property sector.
What makes you happy these days?
I derive happiness that through my establishments, many are able to wear smiles on their faces and also put food on their tables.
How do you keep fit?
I love swimming and going to the gym to keep fit. I also enjoy spending quality time with my wife and the young children.
Looking at Nigeria, how do you think she would fare this year?
I believe in this great country, Nigeria and I believe that with good policies it will be greater than before. Production is my life; I enjoy manufacturing goods. I have traveled to China several times; I get inspiration from what I see in China. Everywhere in China you see cottage industries scattered around in all their provinces; we should emulate and follow them. One of the reasons why the youths are not employed could be based on the fact that they lack technical knowledge and skill. Most of them have no technical background, no research institute or centers where they can learn and become self-independent.
Government should help to make the youths focus on having an independent self-employed future by giving them the required technical knowledge. Graduates should be technically inclined and fit into any manufacturing industry, and reduce the numbers of foreigners. Today Nigerians depend on imported goods, even with lots of natural resources in our forest, we still cannot help ourselves in terms of producing furniture and other basic needs, because our youths do not have the required knowledge and skill to produce, which we need to train them on.