Mrs. Folorunsho Alakija is the richest black womann with an estimated oil fortune of $7.3 billion, which made her to dislodge TV queen, Oprah Winfrey. The 62-year-old mother-of-four who started out as a secretary in a bank spoke to Sunday Sun on her success story.
As a renowned entrepreneur do you mentor people?
I mentor as often as I can with every opportunity that I get. I do it on the internet, I do it in the facebook, I do it in the ministry, I do it one on one. I do it even in the books that I write.
What advice would you give to people who want to go into your kind of business or any business at all?
I will tell them that before they go into any type of business they must pray, they must talk to God because they want to do it in their own way and ask God to come and put rubber stamp on it. It is wrong. You have to ask God where God is leading you, ask him where it is exactly, what is it exactly, how should I go about it. Even to the mundane things like the slogan for the company, I asked God and God gave me the picture, the images, and that is what we used for the company’s advertisement. God expects us to be passionate, he expects us to be hardworking and he expects us to represent him well, he expects us to do things according to his leading. Don’t say because Jane or Bisi or Ngozi is doing it, then you are going to do it. That place God called Ngozi may not be where he called you to. So you have to ask God.
You were working in the bank, what is your memorable event when you look back?
Before I went into fashion. I have not met the Lord. However, I sat down , I decided that I needed to decide on a career path that I will not regret, that I will enjoy, not one that would make me upset or unhappy, or grudge when I wake up and don’t feel like going to work. Every time I talk about fashion, I was eager to go to work. I believe that I took the right step though I was not yet in the Lord at that time. But I look inwards, I look at my spirit and I had peace inside. Even if you had made a mistake of not asking God before you took that step, if you look back and you look at the grace that he gave, you will find out that you will do that thing with a little more ease than if you didn’t have grace to do it because you will be struggling. I had grace in that line of business at the time that I did and the rest is history by the grace of God. I had my heart set on running my own business as far back as my teenage years. I spent every secondary school holiday in my mother’s fabric shop at the Ereko area of Lagos. I helped out, attended to clients and got accustomed to various fabrics like Shindodo lace, floral polyester and nylon fabrics, voiles and cottons.
I know that all these helped prepare me for my future in fashion designing. No knowledge is ever lost and the things I learnt as a teenager in my mother’s shop have given me the important insight into life of business that helped me later on in my life.
I started trading when I returned from England after my secretarial course and continued when I moved up the corporate ladder. I traded in ready-to wear clothing, scarves and jewelry by importing them from Europe during weekend visits.
I became representative for various types of drinks from various manufacturers and had wholesales outlets in Iponri shopping centre, Surulere and Alade market shopping centre at Allen Avenue, Ikeja.
Sometimes, I bought commodities in bulk from multinational companies and sold them to market traders . Once, I even worked towards purchasing a shipload of rice which unfortunately fell through.
All my life, I took practical steps while I kept dreaming big dreams. I remember on one occasion , I had the bright idea of setting up a piggery farm, I didn’t like the bacon and sausage available locally, and was dead set on making my own. I asked my husband to buy me a book on pig farming during one of his trips abroad. Though he obliged , he made very good fun of me. Needless to say the idea never came to fruition.
What was the turning point in your life?
When at the age of seven my father sent me to England to study, I didn’t realize that was going to be a turning point, something that is going to affect my future. Something I would look back on and say my parents, even though they are late now at the age of 95 and 92 five years ago, they gave me something to stand on. They gave me something I could recall, something I can refer to, something that has opened my eyes, something that has made me a better person. I can say that, that was one of the turning points in my life.
How did you come about the digital reality business?
There was a time that I decided that I wanted to go into a new business and because I never take any major step without asking God first, I took it to the lord in prayer and he showed me the offset printing. He showed me machines that are related to the offset printing. However, the large format print industry was coming up very strong within the industry so we started off with that. It took five years for us to move to offset printing, having started the large format printing in September 2006. The offset was added to the large format precisely on my 60th birthday, the 15th of July 2011.
And since then we have added many more machines to this arm of the business and when we are starting out I decided that I wanted a company name that will depict what we do and how we do it. Digital means the type of print we want to do. The Reality means the type of print we want to produce. And then we came up with the logo which has vibrant cools which depict the fact that we print in colours and vibrant colours. God also gave us the slogan viable for the company, Awesome Images. As a result of which ever since we started the company, we have always top quality at the back of our minds, and one of our major targets is that we must always deliver strong quality jobs to our clients. This is important to the requirements of our clients because they too have to deliver somewhere or to the end users. There is also always a timeline to whoever is printing with us. When we wanted to add the finishing department to machines we started off with, we realised that the prefix we started off with were too small for our needs so we had to look for a larger infinity. We now have this ultra modern state of the art purpose built print facility that has everything.
As the richest black woman, did you open Digital Reality as another avenue for making money?
There is no one that doesn’t need money. I didn’t confirm that I’m the richest black woman, you are the one saying so because I don’t know how much anybody else has but for what God has given me, I give him all the glory. To answer your question, everybody needs money because no matter the amount of money God gives you, you can only sleep on one bed. You can only sleep under one roof. God expects us to share whatever it is he has given us to those who are in need and I try to do that as much as I can. It is absolutely necessary for one to continue to work; he said those who do not work will not eat. It gives us the opportunity to be able to hire people to work because there is so much unemployment out there, it affords me the grace, the opportunity to help them put food on their table, and to be able to support their family.