By Ayo Alonge and
Ace entrepreneur, Stella Igbekele-Akande, manufactures cosmetics and does skill acquisition consultancy. In this interview, she tells the story of how she made a lot of money in her business which started very small. She hinges her success story on research and dedication while asserting that government should support small scale investors for entrepreneurial development.
How long have you been manufacturing cosmetics?
I have been producing soaps for over twenty years now, but I have been into skill acquisition for longer and I have capable hands that I have trained. To God be the glory, I have done well for myself. I have trained people in Lagos, Niger and Osun states in different projects that have yielded good results.
How did you become an entrepreneur?
Well, as the second child from the popular Akaba family in Delta State, after my HND programme at the Petroleum Training Institute, Efunrun, where I studied Petroleum Marketing, I could not secure a job and that was how I started looking in the direction of starting on my own and also empowering people.
Why didn’t you work with an oil company?
Though I served at NNPC and worked there for a while as a casual staff, I wasn’t lucky enough to be among the employed. I did try but I could not secure a job there.
What was your next step?
I decided to go into empowering people. That was what led me into the skill acquisition training I am currently doing. I was teaching trainees to make cosmetics, event planning, and so on.
Would you say frustration led you into starting up on your own?
Indeed, I started my business, because I didn’t get a job but it became a passion for me. I remember in 1997, we were in a group when the head, Mrs Odunsi, brought somebody to train about 26 women on how to make soap and creams. During the training, I developed interest in the business and I tried it myself. It worked and came out good. And since then, I have been doing it and I try as much as possible to break new grounds.
What were the challenges you faced when you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
When I wanted to start my business, the greatest challenge was people. They said all sorts of things. You know people will talk when they see you doing things that are unusual to them, especially, if the person is a woman. They would also undermine you, expecting you to fail as soon as you start. But I didn’t look and listen to them. Those people look at me now and don’t believe that I am still standing. Each time I think about how I started and where I am today, I give God the glory, because I have made so much money that I couldn’t imagine. I am telling you that I have achieved a lot which I don’t think I could have done if I was working for someone.
Do you, in any way, feel challenged by the policies of government, in terms of how it has affected manufacturing and entrepreneurship generally in Nigeria?
That is a challenge. The Nigerian government is not helping. Other challenges include adulterated chemicals. These chemicals are being faked despite government regulation against faking. I have not said anything about how expensive these chemicals are too. Lack of potable water is also a problem. The cleanliness of the water plays a vital role in soap and cream production. If the water is clean, the production comes out pleasant but if it’s otherwise, you can imagine the loss.
How do you feel in terms of your achievements so far?
It feels good and right. I take only the record of my production. I have trained capable hands who see to the daily affairs of production.
What’s your niche in this business?
In one word, it’s research. I spend so much time and money on research just to make a difference and that has been the key to my success. I manufacture creams for treating infections and you still maintain your skin colour. That is what I have spent my research money on and it has been yielding result. Yearly, I diligently test each of my products to make new things. I’m also dedicated to the business. I don’t want to work for someone, so, I must do everything to make the business thrive. My products are high quality.
How do you combine managing your home with the daunting task of managing your business?
It has not been easy but I thank God. What makes it bearable and easier is my husband. Colonel Remi Akande is an understanding husband. With him by my side, I have been able to balance both fronts very well.
If someone told you that you would be a soap maker today, would you have believed that?
No, I would not.
Can you work for someone again?
I can’t because now as an entrepreneur, I can do my things myself. Why then work for someone and be restricted? Since I know how to make money and still teach people how to make money, I don’t need anybody’s job.
Which is most difficult to produce among your products?
It’s the cream for toning. I make sure I use natural inputs ,but you know Nigerians, they want sharp results. I use fruits for it but our women prefer hydroquinone and I don’t use it.
Was there a time you were going bankrupt?
No! I have never been so down in my books that I don’t break-even at least. My worst period is now, because the economy is not buoyant but I am still patching it up. I started the business with N10,000 but now, my business is worth N28m.
What’s your contribution to Nigeria’s economy?
In times like this, the economy needs the small scale producers. Considering the dwindling fortunes of business and naira in the country, the government needs to empower and support small investors. There are investors in other industries, especially in agriculture. This will help in repositioning the economy which will be in line with the idea of the diversification policy of the Federal Government.
The Federal Government has made the right choice to diversify the economy but the next step is to help businesses grow by removing obnoxious policies and instructing the banks to reduce interest rates. Cosmetics business is like food business. Everybody needs it. Even in a bad economy, people still need to look good.