TO John Tudy Kachikwu, Chief Executive Officer of Jon Tudy Interbiz Nigeria Limited, a degree certificate is a ticket to societal class gathering and what matters is the desire to succeed. This energetic and highly resourceful entrepreneur believes that one can only be a success if he has surpassed his limitations. From a humble background, he started to build his business while studying at Federal Technical College Yaba, where he obtained a City and Guilds certificate in Building Technology.
Then he went ahead to obtain a B.A (Hons.) in Philosophy, from the University of Lagos. In this interview with Lawrence Enyoghasu, this president of Small and Medium Enterprise Group (SMEG) of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) narrated how he started his business and survival techniques he adopted when he lost his farm in a fire disaster .
How did you become an entrepreneur? I am into food processing but I was once a farmer before my farm was gutted. It was about a 100hectares. We abandoned it because the state government did not help out and there was no money to continue. It was a great loss. The farm would require a lot to be revived. Before I became a food processing businessman, I had been importing leather belts since 1990 and before that I was importing items from Togo. I started the business with N80 in 1985 when I was a student. I sold different items to fellow students and from there, after my graduation from Yaba Technical College, I then started travelling to Italy to import leather belts. I started that with $1,500. Then it was N65 per dollar. My first ticket to Italy cost N420.
How did you cope with your studies and running a business? It was hard to cope but I succeeded. I did the Togo business for about three or four years and I was able to raise about N3,000 and some change, then my mother had not died. She died a year before I graduated . The extra from the Togo proceeds, I gave to my mother to start trading somewhere in Bariga, Lagos State. I changed N1,500 into dollars and saved N1,500 in case of failure so I could have something to fall back on.
Then, these leather belts we see everywhere were scarce and only synthetic belts were easily available. I bought the initial stock from Napoli and from leather belts I started importing printing materials from Brazil and then I started to process and export food items to the United Kingdom. My first container was full of Guinness products.
How has it been since then? I have been an exporter for over 20 years and I have no regrets. We are not doing badly especially now that the government is trying to encourage exports. Nevertheless, there are still some agencies that are impeding us. If you compare what is obtainable in other countries, I mean neighbouring countries; you will see that their governments are really encouraging their exports but our export business is dying because we have oil. If Nigeria had no oil what could have been this country’s lot? Oil made the government shun other commodities. If government can continuously and whole heartedly support exports, Nigeria will be the new China.
How did you start exporting food items? The truth was that I advised myself. I asked myself for how long would I continue to import belts and bond paper? I thought about something for the future, food or something everybody wants. Then I gave Guinness a try. I took few bottles of stout and Gulder and I sold them to a store manager in UK. I told the man that I didn’t have the necessary papers to bring the goods in hence he gave me his company’s name that I should consign the goods to his company.
How did you gather the money for your first export? I must tell you this, I am a lucky man. I didn’t have enough with me initially but luckily for me, a friend of mine introduced me to another friend and a father who stood as sureties for me to procure my first consignment of 1,150 crates of drinks, paying half of the cost. Then I had to look for cartons and repacked the drinks. I shipped them in creates to UK initially but crates were too expensive, therefore, so we used cartons. I never worked for anybody to raise capital. I have always been my own boss.
What are the problems associated with your business?
The first challenge is trusting people and then poor social amenities like electricity supply. Do you know how much it costs to run generator? At my company site in Iddo, Lagos State, I have been running my business for 15 years without electricity. We have been using a 27KVA generator. Now I employ 15 workers for a job that should be done by 50 workers. Lack of electricity is a major challenge. Another impediment is finance. Food processing is capital intensive. Sometimes we want to export more, but due to financial constraints, we can’t.
What’s your advice for people who would like to do your kind of business? I think they should think big but start small. Before exporting, I was picking bottles on the road and I sold crayfish. In that my first consignment, there was also a bag of crayfish and fish among other things. I was able to sell to retail stores in UK.
Have you ever been broke? No, never. Exports earn me lots of money all the time.