BusinessExecutivesHow to ignite a business revolution - Awosika


Posted on Tuesday, 09 April 2013 15:51

How to ignite a business revolution - Awosika

By Gemma Ware

Ibukun Awosika Group chief executive, The Chair Centre/Photo©All Rights ReservedAlready a household name in Nigeria after appearing on Dragons' Den, furniture magnate Ibukun Awosika is back on TV promoting youth entrepreneurship.


Ibukun Awosika stands behind two young men sitting on stage. They are doing a role play of an exit interview.

One, playing the chief executive, berates the other for not bringing in the customers he promised. The employee protests, tries to explain himself, but the boss lets him go.

This is Ignite TV, a series that began on Nigeria's Channels TV in October as a training programme for entrepreneurs.

A lot of kids go to university to study whatever is available. Their choices are not strategic

Awosika, Ignite TV's host, is already a well-known figure as one of the dragons in the country's version of entrepreneur reality show Dragons' Den.

On Ignite TV she and her guests from the business community share experiences, run role plays and talk through details of taxation, human resources and legal structures.


Awosika has branded herself a role model for the next generation of business leaders.

After graduating with a degree in chemistry, she dabbled in accountancy before becoming a salesperson in a manufacturing business.

After three months, she had learnt enough to quit and set up the business that became The Chair Centre.

When the government banned foreign furniture imports in 2004, she set up a joint venture with Sokoa SA France and Nigeria's Guaranty Trust Bank to build a furniture factory.

Now Awosika has two other factories: one laminates wood for her own retail line and assembles for US brand Haworth, and the other assembles security products for Italian firm Elettronica Toscana.

After 20 years in the manufacturing business, she takes a sanguine approach to the challenges facing the industry.

"I don't whine about things that are common factor. Every other Nigerian manufacturer has exactly the same problem. We all need to run all our factories on generators and diesel," she told The Africa Report at the 2012 Women's Forum for the Economy and Society in Deauville, France.

It means manufacturers are compelled to look for cost savings in production to "compensate for the areas where you do not have control, so that you're still competitive on the market without compromising the quality of the product."


She does not mind foreign investors in Nigeria's manufacturing industry if those investors employ local people and understand Nigerians deserve a fair deal.

She worries that some African countries have not thought hard enough about their value proposition.

"I think we're selling ourselves too cheap in many cases, and we're allowing ourselves to be taken advantage of," she says.

Awosika – who puts aside time every year to go back to school or to learn a new skill – is worried about the lack of help available to school and university leavers to start up businesses.

Five years ago she set up the Afterschool Graduate Development Centre, which has the backing of Lagos State governor Babatunde Fashola.

The centre now helps run conversion pro- grammes through which graduates are retrained as teachers and health workers. "A lot of kids go to university to study whatever is available. They're not strategic in what they choose," she says.

Not content with just Lagos, in 2012 she looked for a way to broaden her message to the rest of the country.

Awosika turned to production company Storm 360, which had produced Dragons' Den, to create Ignite TV.

It is also backed by Fashola, First Bank – where Awosika is a board member – and Nigeria's Bank of Industry.

Preparation is underway for a second six-month season.

President Goodluck Jonathan's government chose Awosika as one of the board members overseeing Nigeria's new Sovereign Wealth Fund.

Of all her board positions, this is "the most challenging", and carries the highest responsibility. "With a Sovereign Wealth Fund, your shareholders are the entire nation," she says●

Interview by Gemma Ware



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