By Dickson Okafor
Prince Donatus Okonkwo, Fellow of Academy for Entrepreneurial Studies and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Tetrazzini Foods Plc, in this interview gave some insight on how he conceived and transformed Tetrazzini into a conglomerate.
The former governorship aspirant also throws more light on why he is building the largest farm in Nigeria and what informed his decision to diversify into agriculture, while highlighting the challenges face by Small and Medium Enterprises in the country.
How we transformed Tetrazzini to conglomerate
As a child I have always dreamed big and my instinct and God’s guidance encouraged me to think and act great which is the reason I always aim higher beyond the ordinary. The idea of establishing a global brand is an inspiration borne out of self conviction. Tetrazzini started small just like every small enterprise, but with God on my side, dedication and commitment, the business has thrived. Consistency and hardwork is the price for success. So, Tetrazzini is a dream come true and I thank God for divine guidance. Therefore, to maintain the pace, we are driven by the original vision which is to build a conglomerate. And I thank God for making my dream a reality as the companies has transformed into a conglomerate with many subsidiaries ranging from eatery, food processing to raw materials and agro allied components.
At what period was the turning point for your enterprise?
I will say the turnaround or turning point came in 2009. It was a stage when we were ripe to play in the national and international business stage. It was a time the nation and the world embraced Tetrazzini with open arm because our services were and are still second to none. So, the world was in tune with our brand and they accepted Tetrazzini whole heartedly.
SMEs are groaning under present economic situation, how you are able to keep Tetrazzini afloat?
The economic situation the nation finds itself is affecting the citizens and businesses negatively. Without mincing words, eateries are worse hit as most families cannot afford a square meal which is the reason for low patronage in the case of our business. You will agree with me that many families find it hard to feed and we are a food processing and providing company and when there is no money to buy food, how can we make sales? The situation became worse with the outbreak of Coronavirus pandemic with its severe consequences and people were helpless not only in Nigeria, but globally. So, if people cannot buy food to eat due to lack of cash flow, how can eatery business thrive? Therefore, COVID-19 affected our business adversely. However, in spite of all the challenges, we remain resolute and determine to continue to provide services to the people. We are confident that we will overcome this season just as every Nigerian.
What informed your diversification into agriculture
Any nation that cannot feed its people is a poor nation no matter the status such nation arrogate to itself. That is why this administration under the watch President Muhammadu Buhari chose three agenda, security, fight corruption and diversification of the economy from oil to agriculture. Today, Nigeria can produce enough rice for local consumption and for export. So, in order to complement government effort, we are building one of the largest farms in Nigeria. Yes, we have Tetrazzini eatery outlet across the country and in some countries in Africa. But we have to also diversified fully hence we are now involved in real estate, that is property development, health and beauty care products. Of course, you are aware that we are strong in retail and product marketing as representatives of international companies’ in Nigeria and Africa.
Some insight into your Social Corporate Responsibility
We attached great interest in Social cooperate responsibility in which we support the disadvantage and the less privileged in the society through empowerment of the downtrodden. Our education empowerment scheme which span over two decades has seen thousands of orphans and abandoned children through high school by way of scholarship. We are happy to see these children grow both in leaps and bond and have become useful to themselves and the society having achieved their mission and ambition.
Other challenges besides COVID-19 pandemic, poor state of economy
One factor we all know that is hindering business prosperity in the country is lack of electricity supply. Of course, no business can thrive if power supply is not steady. There is no gain giving ourselves false hope of proving employment for our teeming graduates when we cannot guarantee steady power supply that drives industrial growth. Power is 40% of our cost and we are struggling on how to overcome the challenge pose by lack of power supply.
Any support from SMEDAN for microcredit
I hear about the agency and government support of business through the agency in the news. In fact, we are using our teeth to cut our wood. The name of the agency sound fine and its objectives may be laudable, but when it comes to implementation the Nigerian factor sets in making nonsense of the real intention why SMEDAN was created. All over the world especially in advance economies government subsidy the private sector through loans with low interest rate, buy back of products produce by the small and medium enterprise and help distribute these products to the citizens at cheap price thereby eliminating middlemen who exploit both the producer and consumer. It is because of exploitation by middlemen that informed Tetrazzini decision to establish the largest farm in the country. Of course, you are aware that 80 per of products in our eatery outlets are local products and we deemed it necessary to start farming these essential commodities instead of relying on middlemen. And government is not helping matters yet, everyday they promise our youths employment. All over the world the largest employer of labour is the private sector and that is why nations fund the private sector or partner the private sector in order to create jobs for the masses. Government is not an employer of labour, rather government create an enabling environment for small and medium enterprises to thrive. That is the essence of good governance and unless this is done, unemployment rate will continue to soar.
Why government is failing to fund SMEs
The aim of every business man is to make profit, pay taxes, repay loans and pay salaries, but how can an average entrepreneur in Nigeria achieve this under the environment we operate? First, there is no electricity to power machines and plants and preserve perishable goods and items, multiple taxation, insecurity and corrupt system are our limitation. These and more are some of the factors hindering job creation and business growth. I will answer your question with a parable in Igbo land, and that is what government is doing to the private sector. It goes like this “Ibuyen nwata nnu, iharayan imiri” if translated, it means “You gave salt to a little child to take to the market and you send down the rain” of course, that child won’t accomplish that mission because the salt will melt.