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Omonike Fowowe is the founder of EMR Group, a conglomerate of six companies across several industries including real estate/ construction, jewellery, facility management, interior décor, talent and booking agency, as well as brand management. It is sometimes hard to believe that Fowowe, who turned 28 last month, started this conglomerate before the age of 25. Her entrepreneurial story must be documented for young Nigerians wishing to remain relevant in a fast-paced world.
Originally from Osun State, Fowowe is an alumni of Airforce Primary School, Christ Redeemers’ Secondary School and Redeemers University where she completed primary, secondary and tertiary education respectively.
The entrepreneur was motivated to set up EMR Group because she always wanted to live up to potential.
“I do not like to see underutilisation of resources, whether human or material,” she tells Start-Up Digest.
“I saw that there was so much more that needed to be done. In my young eyes, there were so many opportunities that needed someone to fill and I thought, who else would do it if I chose not to,” she says.
Fowowe was a very ambitious person right from primary school and she never envisaged working for anyone while in secondary school. For her, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) was also a huge drag and she founded EMR Group as soon as she concluded the service.
“Of course, it is good for many that they work first before starting a business, but that is why we are all different,” she says.
“I was convinced that if I put all my energy into building my own business, I would make a success of it. And that is the journey I am on, right now,” she says.
Like every business, EMR Group has had its fair share of good and bad days. But overall, it has recorded more successes than failures.
“It has been net-positive so far,” Fowowe says. “And that is the part that excites me about the possibilities of the future,” she adds.
She says it has been a learning experience all the way. For her, entrepreneurship is more useful in how it develops the personalities of entrepreneurs than how much income it is able to generate.
Which of the segments of EMR Group is most profitable? Fowowe responds that it is difficult to rate any as more lucrative than the other because each business has its own peculiarities. “In real estate or construction, for example, it would appear than one is making a lot of money, but at the same time, expenditure is very high,” she says.
“Marketing is very brain tasking and time consuming. Interior décor has its own upsides and challenges. Today, you are chasing carpenter, tomorrow, painter, next week it could be the tiler. So every single business we have is lucrative for us,” she explains.
She believes that the Nigerian market is one in which entrepreneurs cannot just do one thing.
She points out that EMR Group needed to create multiple streams of income, especially after the economy crashed in early 2016.
So far, she has built a formidable brand in the properties industry in Lekki Phase 1 Lagos, Nigeria, providing a solution in that space.
It is interesting to note that the entrepreneur started with no money. “I remember asking my friend to lend me money to pay for my Corporate Affairs Commission registration after I was cheated by a another friend who had a registered company. As of 2011, people weren’t comfortable paying for services to individuals. It must be through a company. So, I sat down one Sunday in the church and the pastor’s message seemed like it was just for me. I literally cried my eyes out listening to him speak. At the end of the service, I got up and decided to register EMR Limited,” she says.
Today, her bulk of investments is in real estate construction and refurbishing for rental.
Currently, she has the highest number of living and commercial spaces in Lekki Phase 1.
She is also in the jewellery industry, investing huge amount of money in her Emah Luxury. “We have had to consider new markets and see how much we can apply to take advantage of existing opportunities in them,” she says.
Fowowe tells Start-Up Digest that eight years down the line, she is humbled each time she requests her group’s bank statement.
Currently, she has a young team of 40 full-time employees. In most of the industries Fowowe has worked, she has had to deal mostly with men.
“So in managing them, I have learnt to treat them like an extension of our family,” she says.
“So I try to show genuine concern in matters that I can (because, most times, men do not talk about their problems) and ensure that there is clarity in terms of each person’s deliverables so we can all smile at the end of the day,” she notes.
Fowowe has a superb personality. She is patient, business-like, disciplined but fun-loving and easy going. She loves to have a good laugh but also knows when to be very serious.
The entrepreneur also believes in continuous personal development.
Her expansion plans are clear. “As we find new opportunities in new markets, we would explore our capacity to expand,” she states.
Her group has an ongoing partnership with Force Management which is going on well and is considering creating another full-service business in that sector.
The innovative entrepreneur also plans to deepen her imprint in some of the industries she plays by driving further geographical spread.
“We want to see EMRSpaces—our real estate rental business— in other major cities across the world, including New York, Accra, Dubai and London,” she says, underlining her ambition.
“Also for a business like Emah Luxury, our real gold jewellery company, I am looking to partner with international gold jewellery companies to make our own customised bespoke pieces for our clients,” she discloses.
She is launching a new brand— TheosLuxury— a low-cost housing construction company that creates budget-friendly homes furnished with class and luxury. She is excited at the prospects and believes the possibilities are endless.
She has not got loans from commercial banks and is debt-free.
She says that many entrepreneurs did not think much about getting external funding when she started.
“Now it is more common to hear of SMEs getting loans or raising funds from other sources, but I did not get to build the consciousness of bank loans. So right now, we are debt free and we are very happy about it,” she responds, when asked about her relationship with the banks.
For her, the biggest challenge she faces is human resource quality.
“I wish I could scream it in capital letters. In Nigeria, I find that I am not alone. It is very difficult to find people that can do what they have promised to do and deliver to the quality you want,” she says, re-echoing the sentiments of other entrepreneurs.
Her leadership skills and maturity are visible in the way she handles her employees.
“As an entrepreneur, it is my job to get the best from people. So I have learnt how to do exactly this. I find that clarity of objectives is very important. Let us both know what is expected of us before we start so as to avoid any conflict,” she explains.
She says that one key way of resolving the skills challenge is to look at education system as a whole to ensure that quality skills and character are inculcated into the average Nigerian student.
Her mother who she describes as her ‘strength and energy’ is her mentor. She also admires Oprah Winfrey, whom she describes as ‘a total woman’. But more importantly, he team members are her biggest mentors.
“I get mentored by my bricklayers, painters, plumbers on site and marketing consultants,” she says.
She advises chief executives to learn from experts working with them so as to build their own expertise.
“These people teach me every day. They mentor me somewhat in their various fields and I am very grateful to them,” she explains.
What pieces of advice would she give her younger self?
The entrepreneur would tell her younger self that the game is first won at the level of character.
”You must first be dependable, accountable and reliable. Do what you can to build trust and create a reputation of integrity,” she says.
“Only then would you really begin to do business. Until this character is built up, people would keep losing the things they have because the market always looks for these qualities and rewards them,” she admonishes.
She further counsels that consistency pays, urging younger people not to stop doing what they are doing.
“If it gets difficult, it is just a knowledge gap and that is an invitation to learn more. Nothing is strange about that. Entrepreneurship is a learning affair,” she concludes.