It is often said that where there is a will, there is a way and that nobody can stop you from achieving your dreams but you. This dictum holds true for Mr. Emmanuel Ufuah, the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of IMMALESS Garment, Dry-cleaning and Laundry Services. IMMALESS, according to him means ‘we think less of ourselves but more of our customers’. He spoke with Vanguard recently in Lagos on how he went from a wheelbarrow pusher to a master’s degree holder and an employer of labour. Excerpts:
After his primary school education in Uromi, Edo State, Mr.
Emmanuel Ufuah was advised by his mother to go and learn tailoring because of financial constraint as she could no longer afford to continue paying his fees having borne the burden alone as a widow.
According to Mr Ufuah who says he loves to see people turn out well: “I resisted the temptation of abandoning school for tailoring. I told myself that even if everybody was not going to school in my family, I must go to school. So I had that challenge of taking care of my secondary education all by myself. What I did was to resort to pushing wheelbarrow.
I did that for about six years from JSS1 to SS1. There is this market they call Ilushin market in Uromi. The market operates at four days interval so any time the market day clashes with my school activities, I skip school and go to the market to push wheelbarrow in order to sustain my education. I was able to see myself through secondary school with money raised from pushing wheelbarrow.”
Ufuah, a focused and diligent young man would not allow financial constraint to mar his vision of becoming great one day so: “I told myself that if I must further my educational career, I have to break away from that environment where there is this norm that nobody goes to school. As at that time, I had not even been to Benin City, capital of Edo State, not to talk of far away Lagos but one day, I just picked a few clothes and headed to Lagos armed with the address of an aunt who I had not met before. I needed to leave that environment to face new challenges. Without prior notice, I just landed in her house.
They were surprised but yet, accepted me into their home despite the fact that there was no prior notice of my coming. I must use this opportunity to appreciate that family because they were really awesome. I stayed at home for about one month and being somebody who loves to work, staying at home for one month was not easy.
I began moving from street to street in search of a place to engage myself and one day, while passing through one street in Mushin, I saw a signboard indicating that they needed a presser in a dry-cleaning outfit. I walked into the place and told the manager that I wanted the job. He asked if I had any prior experience and I said no but was willing to learn.
When he saw my zeal, he gave me the job. That was in 1995 and I was earning N900 a month. Then I learnt our WAEC results were seized because some students were involved in exam malpractice so I had to save money and rewrite the exam and to God’s glory, I made 7 credits, including maths and English
.” Continuing, he said: “After a year and six months in the firm, my salary was increased to N1, 600 but the urge to further my educational career was still there so I applied for part-time course at the University of Lagos. Shortly after, I had a misunderstanding with my employer and I needed to move on. This was after spending about 19 months there. I stopped working despite the fear of where to get funds to finance my education.”
The graduate of Business Administration noted that despite the fact that the pressers worked in an enclosed area and didn’t get to meet people, yet, God made it possible for him to be located. I am somebody who loves to meet people and so even if something good is coming, how will I be seen in this secluded area? But one day, somebody came to the manager to ask for a presser. The manager walked into the pressing room and beckoned on me.
We were three but he picked me out saying someone wanted to meet me. I met the man and took his address. After the day’s job, I would go to his house to work and earned extra income. So when that misunderstanding came between me and my employer, I said even if I leave now, at least I will have something to fall back on pending the time I will get a better job. When I got admission, the fee was N17,600 and I was able to raise it.”
Speaking on his challenges, Ufuah who believes you don’t have to learn from your own mistakes but can learn from those of others said: “One of the major challenges is dealing with customers’ personalities and reactions. Some customers will tolerate you, some will not; some will shout on you; even people who you are older than and those you are more qualified than but because they are patronising you, they can afford to treat you any how. Thank God for what I learnt in school that the customer is always the king.
I have been able to manage the different personality crises. Another challenge is damaging of clothes. I have never really had problem in that area because of the experience I garnered from where I worked before. I learnt to separate running colours from fast colours and it has helped me in handling customers’ clothes.”
He said honesty and hard work had helped to sustain him through the years. Said he: “One of the things that has actually sustained me is honesty because when I was working with those people, they saw that honesty and hard work in me and so began to introduce me to their friends so the scope was expanding gradually. A year after graduation, I registered for my master’s which I got two years ago.”
On power supply, he said: “Since I’ve been on my own, for about 13 years now, I have never used generator and I am so fortunate to live in an area where we have relatively stable power supply and because I do my work in my residence, if during the day there is power failure, as soon as they bring light in the night, whether it is 12 midnight, 1 am, or whenever, I wake up and work throughout the night and after that, I start washing in order to meet up because I hate to disappoint my customers. If you disappoint them today and tomorrow, they will look elsewhere so that is why we have to sacrifice our comfort and sleep to meet up,” adding that IMMALESS has not reached the height he has in mind as according to him: “I am still operating at 20% level because of the vision I have for this work.”
Ufuah who has been able to buy two cars to aid his business, says he has three employees at the moment, including himself making four.
“I will say so far, so good. As at today, by the grace of God, I earn more than most bankers but we still have a long way to go,” he concluded.