Esther Ikwuagwu (1926-2015): Exit Of An Entrepreneurial Amazon



HOWEVER long or short, the span between our births and death is often enough for one to live an eternal life. Eternal not necessarily in the sense of time, but of models established, philosophies canvassed and archetypes achieved. And these will constitute benchmarks that will outlive our mortal flesh. And after one is gone, living references will be made of him or her.

Mrs. Esther Ikwuagwu lived to a grand age of 89. But more than her years on earth, it is the impact on the lives and times of those who encountered her that will last and reoccur as the seasons themselves. It was not just that she was a hugely successful merchant, this was in a time when women were seen as worthy of only petty trading. But hers was not just the success of big balance sheets, though she achieved this. More importantly, it was her systems approach to business, amounting to genius, that made her, the eagle amongst the birds. In trade or manufacturing, Ikwuagwu showed uncommon business savvy. Hers was an epic that will be worthy of sessions at Harvard, or just any other university business school. As an entrepreneurial case study, her ingenuity will be a veritable mine of business and indeed life strategies for personal coaches, trainers, start-ups and emerging blue chip corporations.

With a cultivated sophistication she was able, despite apparent turbulences, to sense the major market trends and proposition herself to benefit before many others. In her words, money making was hard work, but visionary hard work above all. The market rewards the thinker far above as she remunerators the actor. The first great market act is to think through the market, she never tired of teaching.

If one studied under the Mrs. Ikwuagwu business school, as it were, there are several business lessons to take-away, to scoop. One lesson will stand prominent above all others. That lesson is that great wealth is created by perceptiveness. One needs to see, listen and not be distracted by the dim, noise, the bustles of markets. One must lookout only for the critical signals and discern these. This operating business philosophy puts her in the class of some of the greatest minds of our time, especially business thinkers like Ben Graham. Ben Graham is the intellectual father of Warren Buffett of America.

Business was a science and creative art form. Business was not just a bundle of balance sheet items, it was also poetry and dance, rhythm and balance. So the critical thing was to see the market as a huge and sprawling epic, with a thousand flourishes. But the gifted merchant must seek out the centre of gravity in all these movements and seize the day.

Ikwuagwu was a triple decker businesswoman. She not only imported materials, especially agricultural and related materials from Israel, she was a famed retailer of cement. But even more importantly, she was one of the first and pioneering women manufacturers in Nigeria. Her place in manufacturing history won’t be too far behind those of the Tejuoshos. While the Tejuoshos were in foam and related manufactures, Mrs. Ikwuagwu ran a highly successful wig making factory in Port Harcourt. Perhaps what the nation needs is a full entrepreneurial biography of this sigma six lady. The lessons of her enterprise will be a source of inspiration, especially in these times that Nigeria is in dire need of wealth creators.

But Mrs Ikwuagwu was a rounded individual. It was not just business and money making that she gave her time. Perhaps she understood, reflexively, that no authority, no success, not rooted in service to other peoples, to greater causes than one, can exist. And she not only deployed her considerable resources to for community development, she was active and played personal and advisory roles. Whether it was in Lagos her then corporate headquarters, Port Harcourt, where she had factories, or Nkwerre, her hometown, her philanthropic gestures are landmarks of compassionate humanism.

And like all truly successful persons, she made sure her family was never in want of attention, inspired guidance, advice or material comforts. In bringing up her family and wards, she always stressed that without the courage and spirit to dare, to push further than the frontiers, no inheritance is worth a penny. She instructed, it is not the million naira bank balances and estate that a child inherits. It is the spirit to dare. Greatness, she counseled, is not at the homesteads. Greatness is to be found and founded at the frontiers. Evidentially it is like the children listened. Today they stand as living monuments to her philosophies of achievement and community glory. They are all icons in their respective sectors.

Chief Mike Allison-Ikwuagwu is a lawyer and prominent politician. Chike Allison-Ikwuagwu is a quality assurance and certification mogul. Mrs. Esther David, nee Ikwuagwu, is a United States of America based legal practitioner. And to remember that she achieved all these despite being an early widow is to salute her sagacity, her indomitable will and courage.

Born into the ancient and aristocratic lineage of Nwankpa-Ihemes in Nkwerre, she lived out the lore that greatness must first be genetic, in the genes, even if it’s those of hard work and vision. Later in the years, Mrs. Ikwuagwu retired to Nkwerre, her hometown. But it was a retirement of a veritable kind. Due to her immense and immeasurable experience, wisdom and organisational skills, she served as the sage of the community. She was consulted without cease and she was always generous with her insights, giving freely the wisdom that money can’t buy. Her remains were committed to mother earth on June 20, 2015.

Hers was a kind so rare, it was like an angel visited and humanity was blessed for it. Adieu, humanity will miss you.
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