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MY GRASS TO GRACE STORY, by Myke Ikoku, owner of the biggest hotel in Owerri

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Evang. Myke Ikoku owns the biggest hotel in Owerri, Imo State – All Seasons Hotel. From Nkwerre, in Imo State, the dashing father of five shared with YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/ Editor-in- Chief, Azuh Arinze, his grass to grace story. This was at his Omole Phase 1, Ikeja, Lagos home. Enjoy…

 

2Why did you decide to be a businessman? And not a civil servant or something else?
In life, when you start growing up, you have vision, you see people, you see role models, you look at people, you want to be like them, you see yourself in different things and then out of curiosity and out of interest, you will start thinking: will this suit me, will that suit me? I like this person, I like that person, I envy this person. So, that always helps to streamline the future of any human being. And secondly, if you are somebody who is very good about thinking positively about yourself; you don’t think negatively, because your thoughts always reflect what you will be in future. So, the kind of people I saw, because of the orientation, my family background, the way my parents brought us up, it exposed us to a lot of things and from there I made a choice.

 

When you went into business, was there anybody you were looking up to or wanted to be like and why?
Yes, actually, before I decided to become a businessman, first of all, all the things I saw played a very big role while I was young. My mother was a trader, a petty trader and I saw my mother as a role model, to be honest with you. My father was a teacher. Now, I saw how unhappy people, who serve, like teachers, were. I used my dad an example and to know that civil service is not my own area. I never wanted to suffer like my father. I saw what my father went through, then I said no; God forbid! I can’t suffer like my father. My mother was industrious. Although she was a house wife, not withstanding that, she was also into tailoring, petty trading, baking cakes, etc. Everything I wanted as a young man I got from my mother. My father was always busy with his books. He read a lot. He was either in the school teaching his students or farming with them. So, he was totally enslaved by the activities of the school and at the end of the day I didn’t see the returns match the kind of efforts my father put in. And towards the end of his career as a teacher, it was horrible. Till my father died, he never received his gratuity. So, that was part of the things that played a very major role in my decision to become a businessman.

 

Your parents, what are their names?
My father’s name is Reuben Ikoku; my mother is Rhoda Ikoku.

 

Having been in business now for over a decade, why do most people fail in it?
The first thing about business success is that many people have different ideas. What may favour you might not be what may favour me. One, you must be somebody that is doing something you have passion for; something that you love. That is No 1. No 2, the foundation of your business must be in Christ. This does not mean that people from other religions don’t succeed, but if you have chosen one religion, I think it is necessary that you place the foundation of that your business on the supreme being in control of your religion. For me, it is Christ and I believe that with Christ all things are possible. So, I put Him as No 1. Then, I try to do what I have passion for so that I won’t see it as something that I’m doing out of compulsion. But something that even if money doesn’t come, I’m still practicing what I love. No 3 is that you must be committed to that business. You must have absolute commitment to the business. You must not be distracted. Failures will come, but as you are failing, success is at the next door. You cannot see any successful businessman who has never failed in his business. You must have failed in one way or the other and that failure will teach you about how to progress. Now, these are some of the things that if you are able to learn and then separate business from pleasure, separate business from family and relationships, the sky is your limit. When you join business with family, do business with pleasure, do things that you don’t have interest in, do things because you see the other party doing it, you copy, then the person is not born to succeed. You are not the person who has that vision, if you copy. Someone else has that vision.

 

Why do some people succeed in business and fail in marriage?
These are two different things. Marriage is like politics; business is different. You can be a successful businessman, you won’t have a successful marriage. Two, mainly because most people give all their time to business without keeping some for their marriage. The home needs your attention too. Not only your business. So, if you put all your expertise in business and don’t practice that politicking that is in the family and also look at the business in the family, you will fail. You must put them in a scale and make sure that you give this what belongs to this and give that what belongs to that. You don’t have to give any one any advantage because each one needs its own attention to succeed.

 

Why do some people attain success and find it difficult to sustain it?
95% of the people who are rich today might not be rich tomorrow. 95% of the people who happen to be successful in their businesses may fall along the way because of one reason or the other. People who are also from rich families may find out that at the end of the day, the families can go down. Sustainability of generational businesses. Now, let me come to why they fail; why they lose control. Most people see themselves as the owners of what they have. In the first place, you must understand that you own nothing. Because the law of nature can come and dislocate you. Those that have experienced the dislocation of nature, you will not put them among the failures, because it is nature. Somebody can wake up today and get to his office and find out that the place has burnt down. He did not intentionally put his business on fire and may be that is the only source of his livelihood. He didn’t expand. That takes the person back to square one.
Now, for businessmen who are successful, you must understand that money is like a building. You will begin with the foundation. If the foundation is rightly done, the house will remain for many years. If the pillars are properly made and put at the right places, even in the event of any turbulence, it will not collapse. Some people will make money and they will not put money elsewhere. They won’t invest. You must do something that will keep bringing in returns. You must have returns. It’s like you have money, you go and dig a pit and put it there. In the next ten years if you come back, you will see it there; you will still have that same amount of money – if there, is no erosion o! Because if there is erosion, it will go there, excavate it and you won’t find your money again. But the one that will invest the money, you look at what you have passion for, you invest on it and when you invest it, create time for that business. Don’t bring in your family there. Don’t bring in relations there, do it the professional way that business is done and nurture it. Another thing, most people are not into generational businesses. We are Africans, we don’t trust ourselves and it causes a lot of problems. A person dies, his business dies. It’s wrong. Some people don’t bring their children, their families, their wives into what they do, so when they go the business crumbles, because they don’t have the basic idea of how to run the business. These are part of the things that cause dislocation in success. Most businessmen too are so interested in competition. A successful man doesn’t compete with people. You do what is right. And like Mr. Udeme Ufot said during your anniversary lecture, sometimes we end up buying what we don’t need to satisfy people we don’t like. You should not go and buy an LCD because you went to Azuh’s house and saw the latest version there and you now use the money you are supposed to use for your business to go and buy something that is a luxury. Something that will not bring any return to you, rather it is stagnant. The value will keep depreciating. That’s wrong! You must not have the mind of that kind of competition if you are going to succeed. We don’t count rich people by the number of vehicles you have or the number of LCDs. You must sustain that wealth for the upward of 10, 15 years for you to be called a rich man. If you can’t keep your money for ten good years and more, you shouldn’t be addressed as a rich man, because you must pass through the turbulence, pass through the problems, then come out of it and that is makes you a rich man.

 

We knew you first as the sole importer of Obiron pressing irons, today you are more known for All Seasons Hotel, the biggest hotel in Owerri, why the diversification?
Because nature is not stagnant. The only thing that is constant in this world is change and you will find out that the world is changing everyday. You must follow the trend to be able to still be in vogue. It’s like fashion, you can’t continue to wear Sopido (General laughter). You’ve won it for ten years and you are still wearing it; everybody will see you as maybe a masquerade or as a strange person. You must follow events. You must be intelligent enough to know that something has gone out of fashion or that something is losing track. You must be intelligent also to know that this is where we are going; the future is this. Then, you try and tap into the future. We were into merchandising, but mainly electronics. When we were doing it, a lot of people were not into that. We started that. We were the first and major people that discovered China, Hong Kong. That time, it wasn’t easy to enter China. It’s actually Hong Kong because it’s a free market economy. Most of the factories then were in China, in Colon, in Hong Kong. We didn’t have access to China then because of their kind of government. It was a purely socialist nation then. We were the people that discovered Hong Kong and we started that business and it was booming. It was working. Things were perfectly okay. Then, a lot of Nigerians started flooding Hong Kong and before we knew it, the Chinese government opened their doors because of cheap labour and so on and you know how we behave. The business now started dwindling because of Alaba, faking of products. You will bring in an item today, tomorrow you will see the same thing; there was no control, no standards. They didn’t even consider those things as piracy. You will take somebody to court and you will lose. The matter will not even be heard. You will report to police, it ends there, because they are ready to spend more money. They sell more than you. So, at the end of the day, things were going wrong and I said I think the best thing for us to do is to look elsewhere before the complete bastardisation of that area. We initially thought of bringing the factory here, but at the end of the day we also thought about the location. And if you find out, the people that are still doing the business and succeeding are very few because every Tom, Dick and Harry is now there. So, we said okay, let’s reduce in this area and still maintain our brand and also diversify. That was what happened. And when we looked at it, we said the best business is Nigeria now is entertainment. Everything now has to do with entertainment. Even in your house, you want to be entertained. They even said that Nigerians are the happiest people. That was what we considered and said let’s go into hospitality and that was how we ventured into hospitality and when we ventured into hospitality, it was a bomb then because there was a boom in that industry. It was an instant success. But our people again are copycats. Wherever you find an original, there must be an imitation. That’s why a lot of people fail in business in this country, because they don’t conceive ideas and then put the ideas to use. They copy ideas and when you copy an idea, you can never be like the original and there is nothing you would do that will take you to the end place. That is also what happened to that industry in the South East. Everybody is going into hospitality and you find different kinds of hotel. They come up today, they die tomorrow. At the end of the day, they even convert some to brothels because they don’t have that vision, passion, ideas about what they want.

 

1Now that a lot of people are also moving into hospitality, does that mean you are going to move out?
No! That is a sustainable business. Hospitality is there forever. The only thing is that you must be smart enough to know what to do at the right time. You must always try and lead and leave others to keep following. You must be progressive in your thinking. You must also give people options. That is why we remain No 1 and will continue, by the grace of God.

 

How does it feel to own and run the biggest hotel in Owerri, Imo State capital today?
It’s a challenge. It’s a serious challenge, because everyday we are thinking of what next to do. If you are here today, somebody will want to be there with you. So, you must constantly think about how do I leave that person behind again? Everyday we think, everyday we change. So, we have to continue to be on our toes to make sure that we continue to lead.

 

The name, All Seasons is very beautiful, how did you come about it?
It’s God. Our foundation is Christ. And because it’s God, it puts you on a different level. Everything you do with Christ, unconsciously and unknowingly, you come out with the best, because you are enjoying divine direction. The name is a divine name. And to be honest with you, if I tell you I know how I came up with it, I will be lying. It just came to me like that – All Seasons. It was a divine direction, because All Seasons is all seasons. It’s for every season – dry, wet, every time.

 

You’ve done different kinds of business, is the hospitality business the best one for you?
No, no! You see, in Nigeria today, we still lack the basic, necessary amenity like housing. A lot of people don’t have homes; a lot of the homes are so expensive. It’s very expensive to construct in Nigeria and I don’t know why houses are more expensive here than in the Western world. Property business is one of the best businesses I have done. It gives you comfort and rest of mind because nobody will come and steal your house. In other businesses, most people come to you with ulterior motives and to steal and running a business in Nigeria is very difficult – because of so many avenues of leakages. People steal from your generator; you buy diesel, they steal the diesel. You tell them to supply 30,000 litres, they will supply 20,000 litres. There are workers who are working for you, they will record 30,000 litres, but what was given to them was 20,000 litres. They will share the money. So, leakages everywhere because it’s a cash business. But when I build a house and I want to rent it, you can’t come and take my rent away from me, because I collect the rent. Even if I want to sell the house, unless you make commission out of the house, you cannot come and tell me you sold my house for N50 million and you are giving me N20 million. I’m the one that is changing the ownership. I have to sign, and before I sign I have to collect my money first. So, property business is something that gives you security and it has worked well for me. Although the hospitality business is also working for us now because of how we have packaged ourself.

 

How about the stock market, don’t you believe in it?
Yes! I was once a promoter of the stock market and I will continue to be. But I thread cautiously. Very cautiously, because I don’t understand what is happening in the Nigerian stock market. A lot of things are not done right there. Most things there are artificial, so I’m afraid I don’t want it to crumble on my head the same way it crumbled in the past. But we still have to believe in what we have.

 

How did you meet you wife, Stella?
Ha! It’s something I can’t really explain. To be honest with you, if I tell you how I met my wife, I may be lying. I don’t know! It was spiritual. I just met her!

 

Here in Lagos or in the village?
I met her here. I met her in Lagos here. I think she came to visit her relation and I met her a day after her arrival. And it was a co-incidence. I was not looking for her. I was looking for somebody else and I saw her. Na so I take meet am o!

 

What attracted you to her?
To be honest with you, I don’t know. I just saw her and I fell in love.
So, how did you woo her, what was the first thing you told her?
I didn’t woo her (General laughter).
Okay, she did?
She didn’t woo me (Still laughing). We don’t know how it happened. I’m telling you!

 

What year was this?
I think it was in 1992.

 

When did you people eventually get married?
It didn’t take us three, four months to do that.

 

What will you say has sustained your marriage?
It’s God, because every marriage has its own challenges. Different people, different challenges. People have different backgrounds, so marriage is really challenging and will continue to be challenging.

 

You have five children, can you tell us about them?
Ah, my five children, they are wonderful. There is Obinna, Jnr, Victor, Emeka, Chisom, that’s my first daughter and then the last one, Mirabel.

 

You always look fit and trim, what do you do to retain this shape? Again, some of your children are grown ups already, why?
(Laughs) – My brother, it was because of my family background I decided to marry early. I married at 23. Then, I had my first son when I was 24, when most of my friends were still at the peak of enjoyment. That’s the reason. When I was marrying, my friends were laughing at me, because they didn’t see what I saw. You know you have to see the future, see tomorrow. I wanted to have control. Also I knew that that is one of the things that would put me on the track that I wanted. My success depends on my ability to control myself. To have responsibilities. And that was another area that helped in my success story.

 

What do you do for relaxation?
I’m totally a footballer lover and my club is Chelsea. The Blues, The Blues. So, all I do is football. Then in Spain, my team is Real Madrid. Then to keep fit, I go to the gym before my pot belly will come out.

NB: First Published July 2012

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