‘I Advise Housewives To Get Involved In Their Husband’s Business’
Dame Felicia Okolie is a philanthropist and an astute businesswoman, as well as being a successful Chief Executive Officer/Managing Director of Moore Enterprises Nigeria Limited. In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, she discusses her rise to the top, the challenges that entrepreneurs face especially as women, and sundry issues.
CAN you give us your general background and your qualifications?
My name is Dame Felicia Ngozi Okoli, the MD/CEO of Moore Enterprises Nigeria Limited. I was born in Oraifite, which is in Aba, Abia State. I married an Nnewi man and we have six children and eleven grandchildren. I had my primary and secondary school education in Aba but I completed my secondary school education at Ozeobor Catholic Girls High School. On completing my secondary education, I moved to Lagos and obtained a diploma in Data processing, then a B.Sc. I obtained my first masters in Marketing and the second in Management. I wasn’t satisfied, so I proceeded to Lagos State University (LASU) to pursue my Ph.D. In fact, I just finished a Company Directors’ course that I started last year. I am a member of the Institute of Directors in Nigeria (IOD) as well. I just completed a course, the Advanced Company Directors Programme that we did at the Institute. I don’t plan to stop acquiring new knowledge anytime soon.
I also lectured in LASU, while I was running my Ph.D. programme. I currently teach Marketing to Diploma students in UNILAG on a part-time basis.
What does your company produce?
We are into auto refinishing products, which simply means everything and anything one uses in refurbishing a car. Not everyone can afford to change cars considering the harsh economic downturn the country is experiencing. We sell all the materials that mechanics, spray painters and panel beaters use to refurbish cars. The business isn’t so common even though it is important, as almost every car owner makes use of our products on a daily basis. However, not everybody can get into it because you have to know about the business extensively and get NAFDAC and SON certifications. This is very important to us, as we are importers and exporters as well. We import petrochemicals, which are used in making most of our products, and so it is imperative that we have these certifications.
What were you doing before becoming the CEO of this company?
I was pursuing my academics, teaching at LASU, even though it was part-time, it didn’t really feel that way as I was in the classroom almost everyday. I was also taking care of the children and running my own programme on top of all these. When my husband died 10 years ago, I found myself at the helm of affairs of Moore Enterprises where I tried to manage and keep the company alive.
How was the experience of stepping into your husband’s shoes?
It’s a bit difficult but not so difficult also, as it was my area of specialisation. My first degree was in Business Administration, while I have a marketing degree in Marketing and Management as well. So, it was like the practical of the theory that I read already.
Before he died, I advised him a lot regarding the company in my professional capacity even though I wasn’t a part of its operations then. He used to ask me about my opinion and I advised him to the best of my ability. In doing this, I gathered a wealth of invaluable experience, which profited me in the long run. I got to know about the business and the customers. When he passed on, I found it relatively easier to take up the reins with God’s help and my academic background. That is why I always advise housewives to get involved in whatever their husbands are doing because nobody knows tomorrow.
How do you organize your time effectively as you do several things everyday?
The grace of God has been helping me and as a marketing and management consultant, I have learnt how to schedule my time and attend to all my programmes early and at the right time. This is known as Time Management, if you manage your time properly, you will know what to do at every given time without any activity suffering.
What has been your experience being in management position?
It has not been easy but God has been faithful and we have been coping. There have been a lot of challenges because some people would want to put you down because of your sex even though the male CEOs face the same challenges as their female counterparts. A lot of men have tried to defraud and cheat me, thinking I didn’t know better but God has seen me through. Gender discrimination is very real and more so in the business world but when they encounter me personally and see that I am even more knowledgeable than they are, they always back off.
How do you the role of women in nation building and in business as a whole?
Men are beginning to realise that women can do many things as well as themselves and are now beginning to support these women. These days, any woman can obtain a loan once she meets all the requirements asked and this can maybe explain the high influx of women into business and even manufacturing, and they are all doing well just like myself.
How has this position impacted your life personally and professionally?
It has made me more responsible and confident. I can face any challenge that comes my way because truthfully, being the head is not easy. I take all the decisions that affect my life, my family and my staff. I have learnt how to effectively deal with fraudsters and scammers no matter how attractive they appear at first. I usually advise women to be very careful because these scammers are very good and they will play on your intelligence, your emotions, just to steal from you. I now make decisions only after careful deliberations and observations because I am responsible for a lot of people’s welfare.
What has been the most unfortunate experience for you so far since you became CEO?
I don’t really like to dwell on negative things because I believe one is supposed to learn from every situation in life. Fraudsters have tried to ruin my company on several occasions. The most painful one had to be the couple of Nigerians that hacked into the company’s e-mail and started corresponding with my suppliers in Italy. I didn’t know what was really happening initially and when I found out, money had changed hands. Luckily, before they could withdraw the money, the police had been alerted and they swung into action and tried to recover the money. Because it involved two different countries, Interpol came into the matter and the police authorities have froze the money. So, I got a team of lawyers who are on the case and I believe that my money would be returned to me and justice would be served. All these happened two years ago and the fraudsters have been jailed in Italy. I have learnt from this unfortunate experience and I know such a thing cannot happen to me again.
How conducive is the business environment in the country?
The government is trying because one can get a reasonable loan from banks to help grow your business. Once you have all your documents intact, you should be able to obtain a loan easily without any problem. The government is bringing in many foreign investors to help grow the economy. To the average person, it might look like nothing is happening but as we all know, things like this take some while before results are seen. They are long-term investments that take time to mature and when they do, everyone would see the results. In the past, international companies were afraid to invest in Nigeria but all that has changed now as government has stabilised a lot of things.
There is a lot of attention being paid to agriculture now, which is very good, as this will go a long way in helping the economy.
Another election is coming up next month, what are your thoughts on the elections?
I believe so much in the efficacy of prayers. Election will come and go. Whenever elections are coming up in this country, tensions will rise and the polity will become overheated. Some people say it’s all part of the political game but I don’t think it has to be so. People always predict troubles and breakups but I believe that nothing of that nature will happen. My prayer is that Nigeria remains one and conducts a peaceful election that would be free and fair.
What advice do you have for other women that want to start their own businesses?
There are so many soft loans that are easily accessible these days; don’t be afraid to take a loan. Even market women have access to loans. My church, St. Dominic’s Church, Yaba, has a microfinance bank that has helped many people with loans and they are all doing well. The most important thing is that when you get these loans, make sure you service it well and pay it back on the stipulated date. If you service the loan well, whenever you need another one, they would only be too willing to help you again.