‘Working everyday keeps me strong and fit’
‘I’m very determined, I hate to fail’
‘Eleganza Group is stronger and stable than yester years’
‘Production is my life’
Rasak Akanni Okoya is a billionaire industrialist and Aare of Lagos. Born in Lagos on Friday, January 12, 1940, to Tiamiyu Ayinde and Alhaja Idiatu Okoya, he is the owner and founder of Eleganza Group of Companies that has a market spanning western Africa.
On Tuesday, January 12, 2016, Chief Rasak Aknni Okoya celebrated his 76th birthday. Though low key, he gave glory to God and out of benevolence, he reached out to people including the less privileged.
The birthday celebration started with a Juma’at prayer at the Oluwanisola Mosque, where he gave out gifts to people, these include fabrics, food items and Eleganza products.
ENCOMIUM Weekly had an interview with him where he opened up on sundry issues.
Instead of staging elaborate party, you decided to give to the needy, what prompted this?
I concentrated on giving to the people around me, that is what my religion teaches and I believe it. At 76, I decided to celebrate my birthday in low key and impact the lives of people. When I clock 80, by the grace of God, we shall be thinking on how to celebrate in an elaborate form.
To be honest with you, our graduates should start acquiring entrepreneurial skills. They should stop depending on white collar job. They should start learning how to create jobs. Hand work is very necessary in this kind of economic situation. Government should make our young graduates to be self reliant.
What has changed about you sir, as you mark this day?
Thank you so much and compliments of the season. Nothing has really changed about me, except for the fact that I’m still working – which I sincerely believe is what has kept me strong and fit and this has also kept me going.
When you take stock of your achievement in business, what would you say is the unique formula that aided your phenomenal success?
I give God the glory for giving me the determination, foresight and focus. I am a very determined person. I hate to fail in whatsoever I set to achieve, Insha Allah, I thank God that it has always been possible, that’s why, even at 76, I still love to work as it gives me pleasure.
How would you access the environment for success today, compared to when you started?
When we started, there were lots of business opportunities in Nigeria compared to today, where there are too many business competition. The mindset of the youth of nowadays is to make quick money. In my time, young individuals were encouraged in setting their goals and achieving them, but now, so many products have flooded the Nigerian markets which make it very difficult for the local industries to succeed.
Many companies are feeling the pain of the economic policies of government. As a matter of fact, many have closed down. What has kept the Eleganza Group operating and what cutback did you have to make to survive?
One of the major challenges is the issue of power to run the industries, but we are committed to remaining in business with the passion of offering over 2000 Nigerian youths employment.
Eleganza has a myriad of products, but today there is a sharp drop and popularity seemed to have waned. Has the competition taken a chunk of your market?
The Eleganza Group of today is stronger and more stable than yester years. Today we have more range of products from chairs, coolers, luggage, diapers, lady sanitary, beauty soaps, laundry soaps, and multi-purpose soaps, pet bottles plus caps, pre-form bottles, shoes, hair threads, disposable/reusable plates and cups, waste disposal containers (dust-bin) and stainless water tank.
They are produced locally in our new Eleganza Industrial City layout at KM68 Epe-Ibeju Lekki Expressway, Ibeju, Lagos on 35 hectares of land. We also have Real Estate investment in prime commercial areas and luxury residential estate in Lagos State.
For some years past, the real estate business has been very bad, we have lots of vacancies in our estates. The worst hit is our Eleganza Plaza Complex, Apapa, Lagos.
In terms of property you have a unique design, often very huge properties, but would you say you are successful as a property developer?
At one period in Nigeria, industrialization was becoming frustrating; so we diversified into property Investment in a large scale just to keep the staff in employment. Don’t get me wrong, we were still in industrial development but without introducing new products. But after we have achieved our goals in the property sector; that was what lead to the new Eleganza Industrial City Ltd. Eleganza is back, bigger and better.
What are the most important values in business and life for you?
Hard work, sincerity, steadfastness and honesty.
What is more important for you as a business man, passion or intelligence, and how was it applied in your journey to who you have become today.
Passion with drive takes priority in all my endeavours. I love what I do and as a result I don’t see myself working because when you enjoy your job, it becomes a hobby. But to be successful and able to maintain market leadership over the years, you must be intelligent enough to know how to diversify and when necessary.
Looking at Nigeria today, how should government encourage industrial growth?
The Federal Government should stop the importation of goods that can be produced locally and increase the Custom and Excise duties on imported finished goods. They should also ensure that goods are fully monitored at the port of entry, because some importers are involved in sharp practices, denying the government the required revenue and also killing the local manufacturers.
Smuggled goods into the country are also killing the manufacturing industries. No country can survive with the invasion of foreign similar goods neither will the country survive with allowing smuggled goods into the country.
At 76, are you still actively involved in running the company? Will you ever retire as chairman and at what age do you think its appropriate to say God be praised, I am taking a break.
As I said, I have passion for what I do. Looking at products or items from overseas stirs a passion in me to see same or similar products produced in my country. I love to go to trade fairs all over the world and when I get ideas I put them into actualization. I can’t be seen running the day to day activities as I don’t have that patience or time but I am always on board to give necessary/useful information when needed.
Experience cannot be bought, as you grow into it. The day to day running of the manufacturing sector is managed by my wife, Dr. (Mrs.) Shade Okoya and my son, Lanre Okoya as the director with other senior experienced managers and a few expatriates. The property sector is managed by the Group Property Manager, Mrs. Modupe Solanke and other management team.
What makes you happy these days?
I derive happiness through my establishments. Moreso, many wear smiles on their faces and also put food on their tables.
How do you keep fit?
I love swimming and going to the Gym to keep fit. I also enjoy spending quality time with my wife and the young children.
Finally, look into the future of Nigeria, how do you think the country will fare this year?
I believe in this great country Nigeria and I believe that with good policies it will be greater.
Production is my life. I enjoy manufacturing goods. I have travelled to China several times. I get inspiration from what I see in China.
Everywhere in China you see cottage industries scattered in all their provinces. We should emulate them. Most reasons why the youths are not employed could be based on the fact that they lack technical knowledge and skill. Most of them have no technical background, no research institute or centres where they could learn and become independent.
The government should help to make the youths focus on self-employed future by giving the required technical knowledge. The graduates should be technically inclined and therefore fit into any manufacturing industry and reduce the number of expatriates.
Today, Nigerians depend on imported goods, even with lots of natural resources in our forests, we still cannot help ourselves in terms of producing furniture and other basic needs, because our youths do not have the required knowledge and skill to produce. We need to train them on these issues.