Nneka Ebru Okpe is the Director/Lead Consultant at Intra Solutions Consultancy. 24 years of age, the delectable daughter of city clothier, Dr. Julius Nwokoro, has become a bridge between Nigerian and Turkish business people. In this interview with YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine, she narrated how it all began, her vision and mission and more…
First, can we meet you?
My name is Nneka Ebru Okpe; Nwokoro is my maiden name. I’m 24, I’m doing my doctorate, I’m in my last year, I’m schooling in Paris – Paris School of Business. I’m half Turkish, half Nigerian and I’ve been living in Nigeria since 2007.
What course are you doing over there?
Actually, I’m doing my doctorate in Business Administration. But my research topic is Effect of Culture in Business Success in Emerging Nations.
So, what else do you do –besides your doctorate programme?
I actually have a consulting company; we do business consulting, we bring Turkish companies to Nigeria or Nigerian partners that want to meet Turkish partners, we also facilitate that. I work with an NGO in Nigeria that is called ABINAT – it’s the association of business people and investment between Turkey and Nigeria. It’s actually a partner NGO to TUSKON. TUSKON is the biggest NGO in Turkey; it looks into business in every sector. It’s the biggest in Turkey and I think the third in the whole of Europe. They work with us; so anybody that comes to me, I try to direct them with a reference. And you know that when you work with a reference, it’s like a stronger business connection and more trust worthy. So, we work with ABINAT, we partner them. There are a lot of Nigerians that want partners in Turkey, especially in the textile business and construction, because they have EU standard and it’s way cheaper than in the European countries. And of course, you cannot even compare them with Chinese products. You know Turkey is a growing economy; now it’s the third in the world in terms of GDP. So, we are partnering them. Our aim is to create a good relationship between Turkey and Nigeria, business-wise.
How long have you been into this?
I’ve actually been doing this since 2012 December. I started doing it by chance. You know I’m half Turkish, half Nigerian and I just came in from Turkey and everybody was asking me: ‘Nneka, do you know in Turkey any company that does this?’ So, I just thought about it, why not make it more official and make some money from it. That was how I opened my consulting company…
What’s your consulting company called?
Intra Solutions Consultancy. We are registered in Turkey and in Nigeria since January 2013, and we have been actively working. First of all, we started with government contracts. Many Nigerians tried to bid for that contract with foreign partners, and we introduced our Turkish partners to them. We brought two or three electrical companies and also some construction companies and now we are bigger. We go to every sector.
What got you interested in business?
Of course, because of my dad. I’ve always watched him do business and also I can’t imagine myself sitting in an office from 9 – 5. It will be kind of boring; it won’t motivate you and I didn’t grow up in that kind of environment where people actually go to work, 9 – 5 and I have always wanted to do my own thing. But you know, in a way, you always have to be different. I couldn’t concentrate in one particular sector. So, actually, it’s the love that brought me into consultancy because if I didn’t come to Nigeria to see what’s happening, I will still be thinking – what should I do? But now, I think I really know what I want to do and I hope it’s a good choice at the end of 10 years.
Your daddy, Dr. Julius Nwokoro, owns and runs Ultra Moda. Was there any time you worked with him?
When I was in school – I schooled in Covenant University by the way and when I first came to Nigeria, I was here, sometimes during summer times; I will come and work. But my dad treats me like a baby. So, even if I’m in the shop, he doesn’t want me to be selling or to be working. He just wants me to observe and keep it to myself, because he knows I’m going to use it one day.
How did you eventually convince him when you wanted to go into business?
I think he was actually ready. Like him too, when I asked him: why do you do business? He was telling me that when he was young, he knew he was going to do business. So, we never had a challenge about it. I think he was always behind me, especially in education and business-wise. He was like, whatever you want to do, just do it; but be sure of what you are doing because when it’s late or when you are like 35 and you want to change what you are doing, it’s going to be so hard for you.
What kind of person is your daddy?
Everybody knows: he’s so strict. He’s actually so strict, but at the same time so free. You can actually find that tiny line. And that is what makes him unique, I think. Nigerians are like this, like that; what you see sometimes is not what you get. But my dad is so different. And when I came, I noticed that the reason why my dad is so different is because he thinks about his integrity and his character more than money, which is very, very scarce in Nigeria. So, I try to be like that. But, actually, I believe the NGO I’m working with is kind of pushing me to be like my mum and like my dad, because we have our aims and to reach that aim is not monetary. So, if you want to reach them, you just do what is right for you and leave what is wrong for you.
Let’s even talk about your mum. Tell us about her.
My mum! She was a really, really living angel. I lost her in 2007, and that’s actually the reason why I came to Nigeria. She died of breast cancer. She was so understanding and even till today, I’ve never met anybody that is so understanding and so nice. I really believe that she would have gone through a lot if she had lived more. Everybody knows what I think about my mum. There is not much to say, because when I say she was actually an angel, she had all the characters of an angel.
What’s her name?
You got married quite early. Any reason for that?
I married at 21, which I don’t advice everybody to do. But the thing is that I believe I’m actually old school. My mother and my father are so modernized. When I was a child, I was just watching them; I’m like how can somebody be like this – cool and acting like they are 15? Even when we were young, I was the most religious child in the family. Although my father and my mother are also religious, I was the one that must show it. I must show that I’m religious. Even in my dress sense, I was so conservative. My mum liked dressing good and you know my dad – he’s into fashion. And he was telling my mum, my wife, show what you have, don’t worry, be proud. I was always admiring them, but I knew I can never be them. Of course, I believe in dating, but I really find it kind of aimless to date somebody for long, and of course, you can be wrong at the end and you can lose the person. I always wanted to get married early and I really believe that my husband came at the right time and I hope that God will show me that I did the right thing and made the right choice.
What got you attracted to Obi, your husband?
Funny enough, I met him through my dad. But my dad didn’t actually think that I will take it to another level and be so, so serious with him. It was just like family friends; meet them and all that. I always think that my dad thinks what I think. I thought he was introducing me like that because he wanted me to know him better. So, I took it to another level, because it really clicked well. Maybe because he just came from America and I just came from Turkey. I really found a lot of convergence points. Because when my mum came to Nigeria many years ago, she met his father and my dad and his family are close. They are kind of family friends and I loved that. When I was in Turkey, we never had a family friend. So, I was already excited – and we really had good time. And I was like: why waste time? Let’s use the opportunity (Laughs).
What kind of family are you looking at building with him?
I actually wanted to get married early so I can have kids early. But later, I thought that I’m very young; this is actually the only time I can fly around for business and reach out and develop myself, my family, my personality, everything and this time is not going to come back again. And you know, with the new technology, you can even have a child when you are 60. So, I really didn’t have any rush. After I got married, I thought about this. We have been married for 2 ½ years and for 2 years now; I’m almost not in the country. In a month, I travel two times – 2 weeks I’m in Turkey, 1 week I’m in Nigeria and 1 week I’m in France for school. But now, I’ve decided to keep my family together because it’s really all about the family.
What are your hobbies?
My hobbies; of course, I play basketball. I used to be a professional basketball player in Turkey and I like travelling. I love travelling, seeing new environment, because I’m really interested in culture. I always wanted to specialize in culture – which I’m doing my thesis on (Effect of Culture in Business Success). I always want to see different cultures. So, I like travelling. But now, if I have a free time, I prefer to stay in one place and rest. Apart from that, spend time with my family. It’s a real hobby for me. I really love it, I really enjoy it, because I didn’t spend so much time with my dad when I was young, because he was always coming to Nigeria. Now, I can actually go to his house, stay there, we look at each other for like 3 hours, without getting bored. We will definitely find something to talk about.
NB: First published January 2014