By Josephine Agbonkhese
Ms Ejiro Agambi, CEO/Founder of Jeovil Cleaning Services and Luxury Vox, is a multinational businesswoman with the passion to reduce unemployment in countries across Africa. The outfit has won the hearts of many as she is seen as a mentor to people from far and near. In furtherance of this, she recently extended her frontiers to Ghana, in determination of her belief that this year would not end without gaining footholds in several African countries. Agambi spoke to Sunday Vanguard. Excerpts:
Tell us about your background
I’m from a humble home, a family of eight, where I’m the second child and first girl. And this has prompted me to work hard not only for myself but also for my younger ones who look up to me as a role model. For example, my mum is a business woman and, having helped her run her shop while growing up, that helped me to develop the ‘hustle spirit’ which is very vital for every Nigerian entrepreneur.
You are into diverse businesses. How do you cope?
Being a multinational businesswoman takes a lot of persistence, self-encouragement, commitment and trust because every business you want to venture into is a risk, and you need determination not just from within you but also from people who work with you. And, of course, you need a role model; someone you look up to, like, for example, my mum is my first role model. As far back as I can remember, there is no business my mum has not done. Although on a small scale, my mum literally did 80% of the businesses that exist in Nigeria while I was growing up. It takes guts, decisiveness and creativity, you have to be creative and innovative, follow the trend; wow your audience and, above all, the grace of God.
What motivated you into embracing self-employment?
I never did a salaried job like the usual ‘9 to 5’. I never thought of it. Although at a point I wanted to but the zeal to be creative, and venture into business has always surpassed any idea of looking for a job.
People going into business often encounter key challenges like finance. How was it at the beginning?
Well, at the beginning, I would say financial challenge was a big problem. For example, it was difficult securing funds. As you know, sometimes the people or businesses which need these funds more are unable to get them. Why? Because the questions are sometimes too complex for them to answer or the proposals they submitted to institutions that provide funds are not good enough but if you actually give these people funds, you will be amazed about the outcome. And then there are financial problems with family and friends, they want your service but will not pay for it. Other times they pay for same services or patronize outsiders. Things like this could be frustrating and discouraging…you know. For me back then it was really draining and challenging but God pulled me through. I started out with virtually nothing.
When was the turning point?
I’d say it was from the very day I decided to step-up my game. I decided I won’t let challenges weigh me down, because, as my Sapele people would say, “Because rain falls and the road is not good does not mean you will not leave the house to look for work”. Ever since I made that decision, a lot of things changed. My perspective and reaction to situations changed. Through this, I learnt to maximize every opportunity, making good use of every situation, be it good or bad.
Describe how daunting running a business in the country is?
Doing business in Nigeria is very challenging because no one tells you the pain and battle you will go through as an entrepreneur, the hard work you need, the losses you are likely to incur, the sleepless nights that will come, the tears that will roll down your cheeks, the numerous trying times before success comes, no one says anything about all of these but you have got to keep believing and moving.
Career women like you often encounter special challenges especially when they are in big time businesses like you. Share your experience with us.
Well, sometimes we go through challenges which tend to be very personal. Take for example when you’re bidding for a contract and you have to deal with the opposite sex and they start asking for things that do not align with the business and which you cannot give. And then there are financial challenges, when the customers are not coming in as expected, a little short on budget, you need to pay salaries, wow! It’s draining sometimes dealing with these issues.
How profitable is the cleaning and gift items outfit?
A clean space is a healthy space. So far the feedback we’ve been getting from our janitors has been really good. We’ve been able to train our janitors to a world class standard, thereby raising the cleaning standard in Nigeria and, so far, our janitors have been good ambassadors of Jeovil and I know, for a fact, that this has prompted a lot of people who have come in contact with or heard about Jeovil to strive for excellence. And as for my gift outfit… I would say we have changed the game.
Any regrets since going into business?
Not at all! All thanks to God Almighty
Rate the size of your company now and when you started?
The difference is massive because I can still remember vividly when I was the whole company. At the said time I was the CEO, manager, project supervisor, customer care, delivery woman and accountant. I was literally the whole company! And now… what can I say? I give God the glory.
What advice do you have for young business women?
I advise every young woman going into business to be focused, decisive, dream big, be willing to work hard, be persistent, set your priorities right, turn your goals into prayer requests, be organized, like my daddy always says, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. But you must know that “failure is the stepping stone to success” because if you don’t fail you’ll never know what you’re doing wrong
Assess Ease of Doing Business in Nigeria?
Regarding the authorities on the Ease of Doing Business, they should try to be lenient with entrepreneurs, young, new and old. They should make the laws conducive for starters.
What are your future plans?
We are planning to dominate Africa as a whole in the nearest future by the grace of God.