I come from a place where there are opportunities staring you in the eye, but it’s looking for the people who have the heart and the courage to do it and do it right. – Ibukun Awosika.
In her six decades of existence, Ibukun Awosika has proven the above statement true by taking advantage of nearly every opportunity that has come her way.
She has explored different paths, giving it her best and excelling in many of them. She is Businesswoman, Author, Founder, Corporate executive, Actor, and many others. No wonder she says she can spot an opportunity 10 miles away.
Awosika recently celebrated her 60th birthday and it was a noteworthy event, thanks to her friends and mentees who put up a huge surprise for her.
Birth and education: Mrs Ibukun Awosika was born Bilkisu Abiodun Motunrayo Omobolanle Adekola on December 24, 1962, to a Nigerian father from Ibadan and a Cameroonian mother – Mr Abdulmashood Adekola and Hannah Aduke Adekola.
She attended St. Pauls’s African Church Primary School, Lagos and Methodist Girls’ High School, Yaba, and later bagged her first degree in Chemistry from the University of Ile-Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University).
Deciding a career path was not an easy task for the young lady and she went from wanting to be an architect, to wanting Accountancy and later Law. It was therefore funny that she ended up studying none of them.
- “Did I enjoy my university days? No, because I didn’t even like Chemistry. In between that, I wanted to be a lawyer. I put in a lot of effort to make the Dean of Law accept me into the Faculty of Law. But I have to fail Chemistry for the Chemistry Department to release me to Law, and Law wanted me to pass with the best result to accept me into Law. It was all confusing.” she recounted.
Apparently, those efforts did not pay off, or we would have today known her as Esquire. By the end of her first year, she changed her mind about wanting to study Law and decided to be an Accountant again. She spent her remaining years in the university taking a lot of electives in the Department of Accounting so that by the time she was graduating with a degree in Chemistry, she was well grounded in Accounting too.
In 2000, when she had already become a successful entrepreneur, Ibukun returned to do a Chief Executive programme at the Lagos Business School, and later to Barcelona, Spain to do an MBA Global Executive programme at the IESE Business School – University of Navarra.
An almost confusing career: After graduating with her first degree, she served out the mandatory one-year National Youth Service Corps service at Akintola Williams & Co. (now Deloitte) as an Audit Trainee, in the hopes of taking an accounting examination later and going to work in a bank.
This would have perfectly set her back on the tracks to becoming an Accountant, but within this one year, Ibukun decided that her love for numbers would not be enough to see her through a lifetime career of “moving from one company to the other going through old dusty files.”
- She said: “I was so restless and I needed to be able to express myself, as there was no room in the Auditing process to do that. At the end of my service year, even though they offered me permanent employment, I turned it down.”
She returned home and took up a job as a Showroom Manager with Alibert Nigeria Ltd, a Lebanese-owned furniture company. The experience with the Showroom reconnected Ibukun with her first love – architecture. She came up with amazing ideas of how she could design and create furniture to play around with space.
Founding her furniture company: After resigning from Alibert, Ibukun took a brave leap to establish a furniture manufacturing company called Quebees Limited, to give her room for expression.
Ibukun recalls that as a young girl in her twenties and with no business experience, no bank was willing to extend her the credit she needed. She almost got frustrated because of inadequate machinery to meet the needs of clients, but with the support from her parents and others who believed in what she was doing, she raised sufficient money to buy used machines from some furniture companies, which were shutting down at the time.
She built the company from scratch, emphasising her values and virtues which would not allow her to cut corners to make money. Even then, the young woman wanted a business that would outlive her.
The company evolved into The Chair Centre Limited and later SOKOA Chair Centre Limited, following a venture merger with SOKOA S.A and Guaranty Trust Bank in 2004, after 15 years of its existence. The merger became necessary to facilitate successful local production after the federal government banned the importation of furniture.
Awosika is the CEO of The Chair Centre Group, an umbrella for several companies – The Chair Centre Limited, SOKOA Chair Centre Limited, Furniture Manufacturers Mart, TCC Security Systems, and Cubes and Boxes Limited. All of these firms have earned a space in the competitive global industry.
The secrets to her success: While delivering an address as a Guest Lecturer at the Second Convocation Ceremony of the Entrepreneurship Development Centre, Lagos, she recalled the challenging early days when Quebees had to prove its worth to the market.
The company had made a set of furniture for one of its early clients – Texaco Nigeria, and two weeks after delivering the goods, they were broken due to a failed warranty from a Lebanese company, where the base of the chairs was purchased.
- “For a company of our size, it was a big loss. We could abandon the customer and move on. But my name is more important than even money. I chose to maintain our integrity and retain our credibility.
- “We replaced them. It was a killer. But I realised that we stood to benefit more if we do the right things at all times. That job produced many other jobs,” she said.
Mrs Awosika gets most of her business ideas when she is on a flight, as this is the time she re-evaluates and takes a lot of critical decisions. “I know my strength and I can see or smell an opportunity 10 miles ahead. I am innately proactive and also an ideas machine,” she said.
Other interests and services: Ibukun Awosika is the author of The “Girl” Entrepreneurs and Business His Way. Both books are part of her efforts to build an army of strong-minded moguls, particularly in Africa. She also hosts a TV programme called Business His Way.
She was the only woman amongst five Nigerian entrepreneurs to feature in the first African version of Dragon’s Den, where entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas in the hope of getting investment funds. She is a regular speaker at the After School Graduate Development Centre, a career centre she co-founded in 2011 to check the high rate of unemployment in Nigeria.
She was Chairman, of FBN Life Assurance Limited, FBN Capital Limited, and Kakawa Discount House Limited. She served on the board of the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority, as well as the National Job Creation Committee (NJCC).
On September 7, 2015, Ibukun became the first woman to be appointed Chairman of First Bank of Nigeria, following the resignation of Prince Ajibola Afonja.
She is also a member of IESE’s International Advisory Board and sits on the board of Digital Jewel Limited and Cadbury Nig. Plc, Convention on Business Integrity and the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority.
She also starred in the 2020 Citation alongside Temi Otedola produced by Kunle Afolayan.
She’s received numerous awards: Ibukun Awosika received the Forbes Woman Africa Chairperson Award in the Africa Forbes Woman Awards 2020.
In 2006, Ibukun Awosika won the FATE Model Entrepreneur Award of The Year, organized by the FATE Foundation. She was also awarded the 2007 Golden Heart Award from the International Women Society Award and the International Women Entrepreneurial Challenge Award in 2008.
Awosika has been nominated for several recognitions over the years including the 2005 This Day Entrepreneur of The Year award, the Success Digests Female Entrepreneur of the Year category of the Annual Enterprise Award, and the Best Female Entrepreneur of The Year 2006 in the Financial Standard and Pan-African Organisation for Women Recognition.
She is a fellow of the African Leadership Initiative and Aspen Global Leadership Network, a member of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, a member of the board of Nigerian Sovereign Wealth Fund and co-founder and former Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WIMBIZ).