Tell us how you started your journey to success
I started business right from the university when I was in year two. I saw that year one was very traumatic for me because of lack of money to fund my education. I had to start up an art business although I was not artistically inclined. I knew that having been faced with gross poverty in year one. I knew that if I didn’t do anything I would drop out of school, because I had other siblings who were in secondary school. I come from a large family of 12. If I had wanted to continue with waiting for my parents to send something, obviously I would have found myself back in the village. I had to leave Enugu for Rivers State where I studied Marine Engineering in Rivers State University. If I didn’t do anything I would find myself back in the village. So I met some computer graphic artists to try to create some stuff I would use to prepare wall clocks. So I began trekking to all the business outfits in Port Harcourt marketing the artwork to people who were willing to partonise me then. And as God would have it, some people patronised me. Some people paid, some never paid! When I tried it and it worked, I got some skills from there, the next year it was more of souvenirs. Whatever money I made that Christmas period was the money I would save in the bank and use it all through the session till the next Christmas in school. From there, I improved in wall clock souvenirs.
I started buying wall clocks from Lagos to prepare them. People were patronsing me till I found my way to the local governments in Rivers State who were patronising me heavily then. I also ventured to other souvenirs like T-shirts, caps, and other things for campaigns. That was how souvenirs brought me face to face for the first time with Patience Jonathan in Bayelsa State and the then deputy Governor, who was deputy to Goodluck Jonathan. They patronised me though at that time I had already left school and was struggling to find my feet after Service Year. I was jobless with nothing to do. So as God would have it, I made some samples and took it to Bayelsa. And they bought into the project. That was my very first landmark contract that I had.I got a job worth millions for a man that was looking for a job of N30,000, with very firm trust in God and not taking a no for an answer, I continued persisting and pushing my way. From there I found my way into oil and gas. From one company to the other, we were able to diversify into other fields of engineering. We have both mechanical and civil engineering outfits for oil and gas and corporate social responsibility works. That is how we were able to establish our companies and God has been raising us from there.
Tell us about your early life
My early life was not as rosy as you may think. My dad, Igwe Emmanuel Ezeh, the Ozulumba 1 of Mburubu, Nkanu East Local Government Area of Enugu, who passed on in December last year, also did well in business in Port Harcourt. My dad met my mum in Port Harcourt and married her. He spent most of his life, especially his youth, in Port Harcourt. At some point there came a down time in his business life. So he had to relocate back to Enugu. It became quite challenging for us to learn how to live the village life. I finished primary school in my village. But when I was in nursery school, my father used to have one of the best vehicles. My father had drivers that used to take us to school and we had a beautiful life until things turned around negatively. When that happened he returned to base. So we had to start learning how to adapt to village life. Gradually I had to fit in and learnt to cope with the village school system. I attended St John’s Primary School. From there I went to St Paul’s Secondary School in Nara, the neighbouring community. I found myself back in Port Harcourt with my uncle where I wrote JAMB and secured admission and began university.
One thing that is remarkable is that I had a wonderful dad who swore that he would let any of us go into one apprenticeship and be ‘settled’ at the end. It was rough for my dad then riding his bicycle and my mum managing with one new wrapper. Yet he insisted that all of us get up to secondary school level then. He insisted on it and kept his promise. None of my family that did not finish secondary school then, and I went on to university.
My father insisted that we must all be educated, having been educated and trained by missionaries himself. It would have been impossible to find myself where I am today without him. I would attribute all of that to the special grace of God that imparted that wisdom in him, and the courage of not minding the inconveniences that came along with it.
And today, after my first degree in marine engineering, I have been able to acquire my masters and I am pursuing my PhD also in engineering. I am a fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE). There are other organisations that are trying to dish out their fellowships to me because of the level of our accomplishments in society.
What impact did your late father have in your life as a business person?
The major role father played in my life is the role of laying a very fantastic godly foundation for us. This godly foundation was not the type that you just read from the pulpit. Personal conduct can teach more than the Bible. My dad lived more like the life of a saint all his life, that made anyone who went close to him want to emulate him or work very hard to live godly. He laid that foundation, that high moral standard. He inculcated that not just in me but all of us (my siblings).
He made sure he was not just an Igwe, but also in his family life he would be able to raise his shoulder high and say yes, I have done the best in raising my children in the fear of God. Like I said earlier, having been brought up by the missionaries, who trained him until he had London GCE at that time, my father made sure that he inculcated godly wisdom in us.
Till date, when I wake up in the morning no matter where I am, I must say morning prayers very early before I can start any other thing. There is no way I will be able to indulge in anything that is a social vice. That Christian virtue that he inculcated in us cannot be taken away from my life no matter how old I get. That is the most important aspect of my life because it lays foundation to every other thing that I do. That I am successful in business today is because of honesty.
Sometimes people think that being dishonest can take you to the climax of business. You may rise but your fall becomes so imminent in the nearest future. But if you grow by giving Mr A what belongs to Mr A, and Mr B what belongs to Mr B, you discover that you will go far because every little money you have is blessed. But when you take what belongs to another person it corrupts your own economy, and you find yourself crashing. My father made me know that in business, if you have a deal of say N4million and what is meant for you is just N100,000 or even N10,000, while expecting payment to come, marry your expectation to the one that belongs to you. Yank it off your mind that what is left is part of what you are expecting. In so doing, you will not be tempted to take what is another man’s. If you don’t take that instruction and take someone’s N10,000 into your N1billion, that N10,000 will corrupt your N1billion. And you can never know for sure what you did with that N1 billion because you mixed your sweat with another person’s own. That is one basic business principle he taught me that I kept till to date and will continue to keep.
You see it is not just sending your children to school, but teaching them those basic morals and laying a godly and Christian foundation. You can find a son being educated, but becoming foolish.
How do you manage to handle several businesses you are into successfully?
To manage several businesses at the same time is always not that easy. It is energy sapping and in some cases also affects health. Some people don’t understand this. It affords you very little time to rest. In most cases, it is when your workers have left the office that you now start the real work. When you eventually get home and your wife is asleep then you start another round of work. Then you discover that your wife and children are not so happy because you are putting so much time into the work, you are travelling a lot trying to meet up with several business demands that are not within your locality.
Naturally, you love your wife and children and want to be with them all the time as much as possible, but the task of trying to keep the businesses afloat makes all that impossible. So you have to balance things. Because if you concentrate so much and put all towards building business and not minding family, you may end up losing your family. It is only a foolish man who will sacrifice his family on the altar of business and money. Because at the end of the day, when you have finished making all this money, to whose interest is it if you end up losing family? Who were you building business for? It is never easy. Sometimes you are not fully well, but duty calls and you must attend to those things. You have to put up a good work attitude so that everybody works along with you.
You have to manage these things and know when to take a break. If you don’t take a break and you break down fully, the work will continue in your absence. That is how it goes with multi tasking and managing many businesses. I have to manage furthering my education, managing the community and politics that I am into, so that your place in politics is not lagging. So when you put all these things together that is what makes the man in totality. It is always challenging, but with God He leads us through