Seeing Emmanuel Okeke, the CEO of Living Home Estate Ltd, one would hardly think he has ever worked under the scorching sun of Lagos State; he is clean, fresh and healthy. Among other businesses, the book merchant started from Ajegunle town, where he hawked shoes for survival. Today, when this Imo State indigene looks back, he says all he passed through made him a better businessman.
How did you start?
I started trading in a small way; hawking shoes in the neighborhood of Ajegunle. Then I used to go the Lagos Island to buy shoes and sell to people. The strategy was that I would go and collect one leg of a pair of shoes from sellers as sample to buyers, and if they like it, I will go back to get the second leg from the owner. Thereafter, someone introduced my brother to selling of Bible. From there we got a shop and added stationary at the Boundary market in Ajegunle, Apapa, Lagos.
Then, we went to buy Bibles from Bible Society of Nigeria, because that is the only place we can buy it cheap and that was how I established my own business. Thereafter, I expanded and moved into other businesses. I kept on trying other business because I was avoiding bankruptcy; as long as the money is not in one place, the possibility of the business folding up will be high.
How did you feel then trading with your brother?
You know life is filled with the good and the bad, depending on how you live and see it. Being a young person that come from Aba, Abia State where I was born and bred, I had the intention of making a breakthrough in life. As a result, I tried to avoid anything that would hinder my plans. Agreed that there were shortcomings and other challenges, I did not bother because I knew what I was aiming at.
What were the initial challenges you faced in business?
Starting was not easy for me because there was little cash. However, that did not weigh me down because I have already decided to build my own business. Sometimes, I would not have money to buy some goods. In such a situation, I tried to manage. In fact, I sacrificed so many things to ensure that I become successful. And, thank God today that my efforts have not been in vain.
At what point do you think you started being successful?
After I established my Bible selling business, I then struggled with the little money my family raised for me, and bearing in mind that if I misuse the opportunity, it would be difficult to get money elsewhere, so, I persevered and the business was moving gradually. After some years, I bought a plot of land, even then I did not make the complete payment. I was paying on installment until I completed the payment. When I was building, it was easier because tenants paid me in advance and I used the money to complete the construction. That I have a little success story to tell today is because I refused to give up during those years of suffering. I would also attribute what I am today to the ample opportunity that abounds in Ajegunle area where I started, combined with the help of God and the commitment I made during that time of lack.
What opportunity do you mean abounds in Ajegunle?
I make bold to say that I succeeded because Ajegunle is the only place then, where people pay for apartments or shops that are still under construction. After buying a plot of land then, I did not have enough money to develop it. Fortunately, when I started, intending tenants started paying money for accommodation in advance. From their money, I was able to complete the house. After my first building, I raised money from the rents and added more money from my book and clearing businesses to buy more properties. Presently, I have built more houses and plazas in Lagos.
What does it take to start a business?
One must be an innovative and creative thinker in order to come up with good ideas. From my experience, most successful entrepreneurs are extremely hardworking and persistent. They do not give up easily, rather they continually adjust their business strategies, and one thing people do not understand is that every business must have a plan. And, I have come to understand that it is dangerous to borrow money to start a business because, on so many occasions, it has disappointed so many businessmen. It is better for one to use the little he has to start up. Then from there, he would begin to grow. Every businessperson should believe that he could achieve his goals and needs not exercise any fear. In business, one thing that plays an important role for success to be achieved is confidence. Also, an entrepreneur does not just make plans; he should make ones that are actionable because, without action, nothing becomes reality.
What is like being your own boss?
Well, I will say that I am fortunate to own a business of my own and not answerable to anyone. It gives me joy because whatever input I make, will determine the output in the business. Therefore, it makes me work harder to achieve more. As a business owner, I operate at my own pace to get what I want.
What do you advise those who lack entrepreneurial skills?
I do not think that there is anyone without a skill. Only that many refuse to put theirs into practice. You see, working for someone and earning a salary is not wrong because there must be something like that. But while someone is doing that, he should try to find out the skills he has and develop them. What happens if your employer asks you to go without notice? What would you do? Suffer and beg when you have unharnessed potential? We should try to use whatever skill God gave us to develop ourselves properly so that we will not live to regret tomorrow.