The Okoyas are without doubt one of the most prominent families within the Nigerian social establishment. They have very visible and conspicuous landmark projects across the length and breadth of Lagos. Chief Rasaq Okoya is more than a conqueror as the billionaire industrialist and Aare of Lagos has travelled far and wide and learnt how things were manufactured; having the strong feeling that Nigeria could match that quality if not better. The dynamic entrepreneur, industrialist cum socialite at 76, is not relenting and has promised to continue to lead the company with experience and passion. In this interview with AKIN SOKOYA, the prime mover of Eleganza Group shares his experience as a successful entrepreneur. Excerpts…
Congratulations as you attained 76, 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 am still working which I sincerely believe is what has kept me strong and fit.
When you took stock of your great achievement in business, what would you say is the unique formula that aided your phenomenal success in business?
I give God the glory for giving me the determination, foresight and focus. I am a very determined person. I hate to fail in whatsoever goal I set to achieve Insha Allah. I thank God that it has always been possible, that’s why even at 76 years, I still love to work as it gives me pleasure.
How would you assess 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 are feeling the pain of the economic policies of government, as a matter of fact, many have closed down. What has kept the Eleganza going and what strategy did you make 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.
Once upon a time, Eleganza had a myriad of products, but today there is a sharp drop, and popularity seems to have waned. Has the competition taken a chunk of your market?
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, beauty soaps, laundry soaps, and multi-purpose soaps. Others are pet bottles plus caps, pre-form bottles, shoes, hair threads, disposable/reusable plates and cups, waste disposal containers (Dust-Bin) and stainless water tank. They are produced locally in our new Eleganza Industrial City layout located at KM68 Epe-Ibeju Lekki Expressway, Ibeju, Lagos on 35 hectares of land.
Also, in terms of property, you do have a unique design, often very huge properties, would you say you have 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. But after we have achieved our set goals in the property sector; that is what now led to the new Eleganza Industrial City Ltd. Eleganza is back, bigger and better than what it used to be known for.
At 76, are you still actively involved in running the company? Would you ever retire as chairman and at what age do you think it’s appropriate to say God be praised, I am taking a break?
As I said earlier, I have a 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. The day to day running of the manufacturing sector is managed by my wife, Dr. (Mrs.) Shade Okoya and my son, Director Lanre Okoya with other senior experienced managers and a few expatriates while the property sector is managed by the Group Property Manager, Mrs. Modupe Solanke and other management team.
What makes you happy these days?
I derive happiness through my establishments, that many are able to wear smiles on their faces and also put foods 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.
How do you think Nigeria will 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 travelled 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. Most 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 could learn and become self-independent. The Government should help to make the youths focused on having an independent self-employed future by giving the youths the required technical knowledge. The graduates should be technically inclined and therefore fit into any manufacturing industries and reduce the numbers of foreigners becoming our expatriates. 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.
How will you describe your growing up?
Growing up was like any other child of my age, except that I was closely monitored by my parents, my mother was a disciplinarian, neither did my father encourage laziness. I hardly had time to play around, because most of the time I was with my father in his tailoring business. I had three sections per day, first the school, second my father’s shop, and thirdly at mosque.
What is your daily routine?
My daily routine increases as the day passes by, at a time I was compelled to start doing some tailoring job to fend and keep the proceeds.
How do you spend your leisure time?
I enjoy swimming and going to gym.