Inside story: The 25yr old event manager making waves

​Nnamdi Okonji, 25, is the Managing Director, The Executives, an event management enterprise.

Tell us about yourself

I am a graduate of the University of Benin. I am from Delta State. I am into cocktail and food catering for events. I have also operated a drink supply business for 15 years. I started when I was in secondary school. Then, I was working with a friend of mine and later worked with my mum before I started managing my store.
Why do you prefer self-employment?

It gives me time and freedom to execute numerous tasks. It also allows me to have a flexible dressing instead of corporate dressing required in corporate organisations. I don’t like being confined to one place because it makes me feel lazy; I enjoy moving around while working.
How did you start the business?

I learnt the skill from a Skill Acquisition and Entrepreneurial Development programme in my National Youth Service Corp orientation camp. I served in Lagos; but the orientation programme was held in Oyo State. Then, it was not common to see people in the cocktail business. When I got back to Lagos after camp, I met the wife of the former Lagos State Governor, Mrs. Abimbola Fashola, who was co-ordinating the SAED group in Lagos. I registered with her and I learnt how to make Chapman with small chops. I knew how to bake before so I upgraded my skills in baking.

Within a month of training, I was able to do about two jobs and I am proud to say that I did two jobs for the NYSC exhibition that was held in Lagos courtesy of Mrs. Fashola.
Were you not posted to your place of primary assignment?

I was posted but for the duration of the training, I was given a letter from the governor’s wife through NYSC. This also included other corps members who were involved in the skills acquisition. We were given some days off from work at our place of primary assignment to attend the training. I was singled out for the few days I was running the programme. I spent three months training for the cocktail and another three months for the small chops.
Why did you develop interest in food business?

I assessed the Nigerian market and I noticed that one thing that will keep thriving is the food business. The hairdressing business will also continue to flourish as long as we have more women than men always making their hair. Money will always be made from such ventures. As long as there are people who will continue to eat and drink, the food business will keep thriving. During my NYSC programme, there was an opportunity for training in fashion design but I noticed that I wasn’t the patient type that would stay in one place sewing; although there are a lot of men who are into fashion, I shunned the training programme.
I also felt that the making of drinks, snacks and confectionaries is very easy to learn. Making a cocktail will take a few minutes but the exotic ones can take some hours. I knew it would be a good business and I would not need to wait for a huge capital before starting.
How profitable is the business?

For a dispenser of cocktail, I make up to N10,000 as profit. In just two Saturdays, after deducting the cost of production, I still made about N40,000. December is the peak period of the job. And as long as there are people celebrating weddings, birthdays and other parties, it is an all season business that thrives irrespective of the weather.
What is your focus in business; is it profits or adding value?

Both profits and value are my objectives in business. Everyone goes into business for profit making. Meeting the needs of people in terms of quality cocktails is also my focus because most times, I get referrals from the job I have done and this excites me. People always encourage me to go into it on a large scale. It gives me joy when I mix a drink and people are truly satisfied with it.
Who is your mentor?

One of my mentors is my dad. People that know my dad will testify that he is very meticulous. If he gives me a thousand naira, I must account for every expense up to the last naira. To him, there is nothing like miscellaneous expenses because every expense must be defined. Overtime, he made me to understand that truly, if I can’t account for N1,000, then I can’t manage my finances. And the Bible says that he who cannot account for something small will not be able to account for something big. Therefore, whenever he reprimands me, I will think about all he has said and pick the useful message he is trying to pass across and forget his anger.
Another person I look up to is Alhaji Aliko Dangote, who is the richest man in Africa. I look up to him because of his numerous sources of income. It means a rich man is someone who has a thousand naira from many sources. I just think that really, if one can have a hairdressing salon, a canteen, a carwash, an event centre and gets N1,000 from each business, by the time the profits are calculated, it will be far more than what one will get from a single source.
How do you market yourself?

Right now, I don’t think I do much of marketing because I have stood the test of time. Everybody knows me around here. I run a wholesales drink store and I use that avenue to market the event planning business to others. I get calls all the time from people I don’t know and I render my services to them. I also get referrals from those whom I have worked for. Most times, after an event, I give out the excess cocktail to people for them to have a feel of what I do. From there, I get business leads.
What challenges are you encountering?

It is very difficult to convince people to believe in your competencies without them entertaining any doubt. Telling someone to patronise you when the person has never tasted your products before is a big challenge. People usually have doubts whenever I ask to offer my services at their functions. It only takes the grace of God to convince people to believe in you. What I do is to give them samples and they are surprised by the time they have a taste the products.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

As an entrepreneur, the truth is that it is not easy to get the financial gain; they need to be patient and be persistent. Some are looking for huge financial returns in a short time which is difficult to achieve. Irrespective of the educational qualification, if they don’t believe in God, their efforts may be futile. They should not lose focus of what they aim to achieve.
How do you think unemployment can be tackled?

Everybody should be engaged in one thing or the other. I always tell people who work for me that it is little things that transform into huge financial benefits. There was a time I used the profits made from selling sachet water to buy a generator which I still use today.
One thing I am certain about is that no matter how little an enterprise is, when adequate efforts are put into it, it will succeed. Businesses that require skills are very lucrative. They should acquire one even those who have white collar jobs can get an alternative source of income.
No matter the business aspiration of entrepreneurs, they should acquire education, which is a pedestal for them to be at par with everybody even if it is just a minimum of Bachelor’s degree because it determines the quality of service they will deliver.
What are your future aspirations?

I still have plans of establishing a beauty salon because I also make hair. During one of the Academic Staff Union of University industrial actions while I was in school, I learnt how to make hair. That was in 2008. When I was tired of staying at home, I started training to be a hairdresser although my family did not like it at that time. I have a dream of having a business empire and everyday, I work towards it.

Published by Ogunbowale Olugbenga

Ogunbowale Olugbenga is a multiple award winning social entrepreneur & digital skills expert. An alumnus of the Leadership in Business Institute of Kellogg School of Management (USA), He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Obafemi Awolowo University (Nigeria). Inspired by the plight of millions of unemployed youths, Olugbenga founded, a digital agency passionately growing businesses & accelerating the application of digital skills for economic prosperity across Africa. To help institutions prevent scandals & promote performance, Gbenga founded Polivoice.Work, an anonymous employee feedback tool that captures & analyses feedback anonymously in real time to detect, predict & improve work place conditions. A Mandela Washington Fellow, Tony Elumelu Fellow, Royal Common wealth society fellow, YALI star of business & YALI network influencer, Olugbenga is the founder of Africa’s biggest orphanage outreach, The Orphan Empowerment Society, with a 5,000 strong volunteer force and a presence in 19 African countries empowering thousands of orphans with free vocational skills, medical care, & food. He is also the co-founder of the communication & leadership organization, Pacesetters Leadership Club.

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