BUSINESS SUCCESS DESPITE HARSH BUSINESS ENVIROMENT – SEGUN OLAYE, CEO/MD, AYOOLA FOODS LTD
Segun Emmanuel Olaye, structural engineer-turned food manufacturer, has been the pilot of the over 20 years old food manufacturing company, Ayoola Foods Ltd as the Chief Executive Officer/Managing Director. His foray into entrepreneurship dated back to 1984 when he returned to Nigeria and took a step to fill a gap of supply of local foods to Nigerians abroad. His first attempt at exporting was a colossal failure that his partner opted out of the business. But he has overcome that and built Ayoola Foods Ltd to a big brand name in food industry. JOSEPH DINWOKE of BROJID.COM, X-rays his starting, challenges he meet starting out, his secrets of managing Nigeria harsh economic environment and how he has remained a float despite that his contemporaries closing down.
His educational development started in Ifon, Ondo state, where he did his elementary school before moving to Oliveth Heights, Oyo, for his secondary education. In his form five, he had an exceptional performance – Straight A’s – which earned him a scholarship to go and study abroad in 1978. He returned to Nigeria in 1984 and have been involved in a number of ventures especially exports until 1991 when he officially started Ayoola Foods Ltd.
Olaye has bagged Masters Degree at Odessa Engineering Institute in structural engineering but instead of being in construction site, he has tabernacled in a food manufacturing industry. What inspired this unusual switch? He had a need as a student in the Soviet Union that this his attempt to fill it made did the magic of his career switch. He recalls, “I studied in the Soviet Union and to get garri, for example, wasn’t possible unless you see somebody coming down to Nigeria to bring it. And when you take such abroad, you are eating it is as if you have won lottery. So, the idea came up and when I eventually returned to Nigeria, I had to look for a way of filling these gaps.”
It was in a quest to fill the gap that Ayoola Foods Ltd was born with the guiding mission “to process Indigenous High Quality Food products that meet National and International Standard both in production and packaging methods for the satisfaction of our highly esteemed customers within the Nation and in the Diaspora..”
However, like every other entrepreneur, he had his share of start-up challenge. Since he was not trained as a food technologist, his first exported beans container was a colossal loss since the beans had developed weevils before arrival to London. Besides losing his container to weevil, he had to pay for fumigation of the beans. Because of this challenge, his partner left him. But he was undeterred; so he started searching for what was wrong and how to tackle it.
He admits that problems may come to an entrepreneur growing a business but advise that one must insist on finding solution to any problem at any time. In his opinion, finding solution to problem is what makes for progress and has kept him. He advises, “In growing your venture, especially when you believe in it to succeed, you don’t run away from problems.” He further explains, “When you face the problems find out the solutions, you progress. I don’t run away from problems; I find solutions to them”
He decried the business environment in Nigeria, citing epileptic power supply, bad road system and difficulty of getting loans from bank as key factors that makes doing business in Nigeria herculean. “We use generator throughout. The road was so bad that we grade it ourselves. Otherwise, no vehicle will be able to come here.” He recollected. He further adds that Nigeria banks refuse to give loan to business when they need it most but pursue them with it when they don’t need it. In his words, “No bank in Nigeria will ever give you loan to start your business. Never! When you are starting out and you approach the bank for loan, they will ask for the collateral which you didn’t have but when you are now successful, they will then be pursuing you with loan offers that they didn’t give you when you needed one.”
Despite the unfriendly and discouraging disposition of Nigeria bank to his business idea, he persevered until he got a loan in London where he has a warehouse. “The funds we injected into Ayoola Foods came from London, not from this country.” he insists.
He admitted that there are many things wrong with our system that can strangle any business that try to rise in Nigeria environment. However, he shares his secret for business success despite harsh business environment, “You see, before you can survive in this kind of environment, God must really be on your side”. He however, discouraged the psyche and orientation of an average Nigerian who expect to be on billionaires by miracles without doing anything. Hear him, “God will bless your hard work and that means you must have something you are doing profitably for him to bless you.”
The tough business environment, especially high cost of electricity, in Nigeria has led to the closure of many businesses but he has a strategy that has kept Ayoola Foods Ltd afloat. “We manage to survive because are prudent in what we do. The average Nigerian staff has no regards for the company’s money. So, we have to train our employees on principles of prudence.” He elucidated.
Ayoola Foods Ltd is has become a big brand name because of Poundo Yam. The success of their Poundo Yam in the Nigeria market is phenomenal despite that Cadbury Nigeria Ltd first introduced it in the late 1980s without success. The secret of Poundo Yam phenomenal success? It was introduced at a time it’s needed badly by the majority of members of society. Olaye explains: “The era now is that ladies are all working and very busy professionals such that they don’t have the time to go and buy yam, cook and pound for their husbands made us come out with some ideas of processing the yam in form of flour that will take five minutes and you will get the same result.”
Segun Olaye believes that it’s credibility built by honesty that has brought him good will before people, banks and organizations. He recollects, “When you are honest, people want to do business with you. In those days in my house in London, I had people coming to me and offering me money to do business. This is because they had seen my credibility.”
Having been in business for over twenty-five years and recorded huge success in it, he offers nuggets for business success.
“If you must succeed don’t touch money that not yours. If you don’t touch another person’s money, whatever you do with yours will succeed. It is just a matter of time.”
For aspiring entrepreneurs, he believes that the starting point for their success is belief that the business will succeed. He expounds, “The belief drives you on even when you face any problem. That belief would make you do things better and make you find solutions to the problems you face because you want to succeed.”
Another nugget for business success from Segun Olaye is focus. “For you to be successful in business, you have to be focused. You must never allow yourself to be distracted by what others are doing.”
Further, he highlighted the importance of patient-focus. “Before you make profit in business, it will take a number of years and before that time you will see your mates doing better that you and you may want to deviate. If you just follow-up the path you want to pursue, you will discover that by the end of the day you will be better than those your mates who were better than you when you started the investment.”
At present, Segun Olaye is running his business in Nigeria with his wife, who is a food technologist and serves as the company’s deputy.