By CHARLES KUMOLU
IN Nigeria where waiting for paid employment is the norm, the determination of the Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of Xhibit Logistics, long ago, not to work for anyone, is paying off. He reveals how he converted his passion into a flourishing business conglomerate that owns premium lounges X-Factor, X-Arena and Gravity in Lagos.Excerpts:
In the beginning:
Assertive and clad in trendy wine-coloured native attire, Charles Nwgobe, welcomed this writer to Gravity, an exquisite high-end lounge between Lekki and Aja. Nwogbe’s sophistication, wealth, fame and contacts hardly overwhelm his imagination. He wasn’t born rich but neither was he born poor. Truly, he knew what not knowing where the next meal would come from and not having money means. ‘Growing up was not a bad experience for me but I will not say I am from a very rich home. I have seen the other side of life. I have seen what it means not to have money, I have seen what it means not to be sure of the next meal,’ he noted at the commencement of this chat.
Those were just some phases in his formative years in Aba, where he was born and raised and Lagos where struck gold by not abandoning his passion for hospitality business.’I have always been passionate about this business since my days in the university. I have been doing this for a long time. When I was at the University of Lagos, I belonged to a group, called, Theatre 15. We organised shows with commercial value. I discovered I could succeed in it and persisted when I graduated. Today, I am the CEO of Xhibit Logistics Limited. We own X-Factor, X-Arena and our new baby, Gravity,’’ the Abia State-born socialite added.
Self-reliant early life
Growing up in eastern Nigeria in a home where his parents, who were civil servants, were often on transfer taught him self-sufficiency, which remains the bedrock of his success.’I grew up in Aba and Port Harcourt in a family of four. I attended primary and secondary schools in Aba and Port Harcourt. My parents were civil servants who were frequently on transfer to different places. Sometimes, we didn’t stay with them, because of this.When they relocated to new stations, we didn’t move with them and this made us self-reliant early in life’, he explained adding ‘You don’t just have to work for anyone to be successful, because I never dreamt of working for anybody and I don’t think I will ever do it’. That was indeed a tall dream in a society where many go to school with the mindset of being employed after graduation but he abided by his decision with optimism.
Even while studying Political Science at the University of Lagos, Nwogbe was convinced that his certificate was not for job-hunting and that he had acquired requisite knowledge for wealth creation.Realising that none but himself can make him achieve greatness given this mindset, he saved money while on campus and when he participated in the compulsory National Youth Service, NYSC, scheme. His savings were literally the seeds which germinated to become the start-up capital for the multi-million naira business empire he owns today.“With the little money I saved when I was in the university and the time I was serving, I incorporated a clothing line, X-BIT, after which, I diversified into the hospitality business. The government doesn’t have any business being in business. In western countries like America, people try to carve a niche for themselves early in life. They already know what to do or become in life at this stage but such is not obtainable here where many people are waiting for the government to employ them. All of us cannot be employed by government or other employers of labour. People should be creative by thinking about what they can do to make money from the advantage that our large population offers. Nigeria is a large market but people are not taking advantage of this. People should think of how to add value to the economy because by doing so, they’ll add value to their lives.There are so many people, who didn’t work for anyone and are still doing well. To everybody, there is a unique talent given by God and that’s why I advise people should try to discover themselves. Whoever discovers himself, always finds the sky as his starting point’, he explained.
‘When I incorporated X-Factor, the competition was stiff. I didn’t have the kind of money I needed to compete but by sheer grace and persistence, I was able to make a big impression within a short time. I will describe the period I hosted Femi Anikulapo-Kuti as the turning point in the business. I hosted him on his 50th birthday. I considered it a turning point, because bringing him to X-Factor to mark his 50th birthday gave us the traction we never had. Since that day, we have been flying high.The beginning was very rough,because Nigerian banks are quite strict on start-ups. We virtually generated all we needed for business. Banks require start-ups to provide real estate and other property as collateral without considering that for someone, to have property, it means the person is rich. Sourcing capital was a big challenge’.Many would wonder how he was able to grow his business without strong financial support.
Saving before spending
Nwogbe explained this thus: “I always tell people to nuture the habit of saving. If I made N10, I always saved a fraction of it. No matter how little an income is, something can still be saved. In fact, people should save before spending. Saving should not be done after spending, because this is not a country where people can easily borrow start-up capital. Even when someone succeeded in borrowing, the business might not survive, because of the hitherto outrageous interest rates. Whatever anyone plans to do, the person should develop a saving culture. It does not matter whether a project is long-term or short-term, the necessary thing to do is to save towards it. There is nothing wrong for an individual to deny himself of so many things because of the goals he wants to achieve. Self-denial should be applied because when someone is successful, he can be able to afford those things he denied himself.
Books about successful people
‘Some will say they were mentored in business but I’m not one of them. I’m just a man, who reads a lot of books and I prefer reading books about successful people. I read about their lifestyles and how they were able to get to where they are. That has been the source of my inspiration. However, I attribute everything I am to God , because I’m not really someone that takes things seriously. I don’t see anything as a do or die affair. I make more friends than enemies and I do that by being a loyal friend. I relate to all manner of people. I don’t care about class, tribe or religion. Even when I am employing people, I dislike being told by prospective employees that they are from a certain tribe or state. I’m more concerned about what an individual can offer. I was taught by my parents never to look down on anyone, because that person might be the one to help me in life.
I grew up knowing that I should always love those I come across in life.
I have received favours from those I rarely expected’.
Your background must not be a limitation
‘I know my background and I always tell people not to allow their background relegate them to the background. Whatever I have and whatever I become is by God’s grace. Life is all about time and opportunity.That some people do not have, does not mean that they don’t work hard. It might be that they are doing the right thing in the wrong place. I believe everybody should give back to society. Knowing that there are people praying for me, because of what I do for them, gives me joy. I’m happy whenever I realise that I have been instrumental to the happiness of many people. We don’t need to be billionaires to be able to assist others.
‘My biggest pain is the state of affairs in Nigeria. That we can’t have the basics at this stage of our life is painful. When I was in school, electricity, roads and healthcare were the major challenges and they still remain challenges today. The failure of governance in these areas brought the unemployment contraption to a crisis point. Everyone is affected by this failure and it’s a direct fallout of bad leadership. However, I’m consoled by the fact that I associate with people who are happy. I’m always happy when people around me are happy. I learned this from my late father’.
The creative mind
“Today, we have nearly 60 people on our payroll and anyone who employs that number in Nigeria, has provided means of living for more than that number because of the extended family system. By doing so, we have been able to add our own quota to the economy, because I believe that government should not be in business in any way. It’s not government’s responsibility to employ people. All it needs to do is to provide an enabling environment for business to thrive and if that is done, a lot of young people, who have the creative mind to start something, will create wealth just as we did.
‘Having been on the mainland for a while, we discovered that we have made a success story. We felt that we can’t just remain on the mainland, because our clients are moving to the island in accordance with the trend in Lagos. A lot of people are moving to the island because they can’t be crossing the bridge all the time to come to the mainland, we decided to take the business to their doorsteps. That’s why I decided to establish Gravity. It’s located between Ajah and Lekki. The location is strategic for our clients. Our facilities at Gravity are state-of-the -art. It’s a standard edifice with a lounge for every day, while the club functions three times weekly. It’s positioned for for high-end earners and middle-income Nigerians. The lounge is the first of its kind in Lagos, because it’s open 24/7. Those, who don’t want to work in their offices, might decide to use it because the atmosphere is conducive’.