From Tailor to Billionaire – How Razak Okoya built a multi-billion business empire with £20

Razak Okoya was born in Lagos in 12 January 1940. His father was a very good tailor, and Razak Okoya worked alongside his dad. They also sold tailoring accessories.
As a young student, Rasak Okoya has already made up his mind to pursue business. He said,

“In school, I could see my teacher in worn and often shabby clothes and at the same time, I could see the well-dressed businessmen of Dosumu street, the heart of business in Lagos then. It was easy for me to choose business life.”
So while working for his father, Rasak Okoya engaged in his own side tailoring services like mending shirts and trousers for a fee. He saved up every penny he made until he had £20, and then decided to strike out on his own, into small scale trading.

Chief Razak Okoya

At the time he started his business, a lot of people weren’t ordering items directly from the manufacturers. But Rasak, who had stumbled upon a product catalogue of a manufacturer based in Japan, studied their goods, realized they could sell out, and decided to place an order. He got stuck when he realized the value of the order was £70, meaning he was short of £50.
To make up his capital, he approached his mother for a loan. Being a loyal wife to her husband, she requested he first gain his father’s permission to obtain the loan from her, which she did. After completing his capital, he placed an order for the items. Upon arrival, Rasak Okoya realized that the product qualities were far better than what was in the market already and also far cheaper. This helped him sellout quickly and he place more orders in a very short time frame.

The quick turnovers helped his business to expand rapidly, and gave him the finance he needed to launch into other areas.

His next foray was into manufacturing. It also brought him great success and the rise of the Elaganza group. I all started because his first wife’s penchant for expensive jewellery.

In an interview with vanguard, he said,
“As my business started expanding, I traveled far and wide and saw how different things were manufactured. I always felt that we could do as good, if not better (than what I saw).

By this time, I had married my first wife. She would bring jewellery that cost so much. I used to be baffled at how much she said they cost. I felt it was ridiculous. These were metals that I felt we could design and at a cheaper price; especially as we had the metals available here (Nigeria)

I saw the way women loved to wear jewellery. Challenged by what I felt was a healthy demand, I travelled abroad, bought the machines and came with some experts. That marked the birth of Eleganza Jewellery.

The success was phenomenal. We could not keep up with the demand because, the products were beautiful, durable and cheap. They were instant best sellers.”

Following his great success in jewellery manufacturing, Razak Okoya began the importation of shoes in large quantities. On one of these occasions, the shoes were not delivered despite his payment.

He travelled to Italy to see the manufacturer only to discover that they had used his money to settle their bills. He was so angry that he decided there and then to start manufacturing his own shoes. He imported all the machines and brought in some experts who trained his workers.

When asked about what motivated him, Razak Okoya has this to say,

“My father was a very good tailor and we were selling tailoring materials. We didn’t wait for people to bring materials; we were making clothes and sewing everything to sell. From shirts to trousers to bicycle seats.
My father was very industrious and enterprising. That gave me some inspiration.
I am from Cow Lane in Lagos. I looked forward, then to becoming somebody in life. By the standard of those days, my father was comfortable. He owned a car, a Chrysler, Then, I used to ride with him in his car to his clients who were living in Ikoyi and its environs, people like Chief Ojokwu, the father of Chief Emeka Odumegwi-Ojukwu.

I used to tell myself that one day I was going to live in one of those mansions. My main motivation was that I wanted to be rich and I knew I had to work very hard to get there.”

Razak Okoya with wife Shade

The Eleganza group of companies today employs over 5,000 people and has multiple manufacturing subsidiaries in several places like Oregun-Ikeja, Isolo, Alaba, and Iganmu; producing items like seats, shoes, jewelries, plastics, coolers, cutlery, ice chests, electric fans, cosmetics, pens, and a lot more. His group also comprises of a multi-million dollar properties investment arm called RAO Property Investment Company, and is generally one of the largest conglomerates in Nigeria today.

Razak Okoya has an advice for young entrepreneurs,
“There is a huge market. You just need to be focused and know what you want. And more importantly, you have to work really hard to realize your dream.”
He also has two things to say to the government,
“I think government should encourage more technical school so that we can get more production. That is the backbone of development. We should stop all these importations and encourage local industries to produce…”

“..electricity power is a very big problem. Once the problem of electricity is solved, things will be better; especially businesses…
The life of this great industrialist is proof once again, that with hard work and dedication, any youth in Nigeria can turn his/her life around. Despite the difficulties and challenges in our environment, such as capital, infrastructures, etc. We also have many opportunities that youths today can take advantage of.
If men like Razak Okoya can achieve this much, in an era without mobile phones, powerful laptops, no internet, facebook or google. How much more can we achieve?
Today, Razak Okoya lives in his magnificent and outlandish estate, “Oluwa ni shola” (The Lord creates wealth) at Lekki/Ajah Expressway. The “Oluwa ni shola” Estate, which is also described as an expatriates Estate because of the high number of expatriates living there, is well equipped with uninterrupted power and water supply, marble floors, central air-conditioning, sauna, luch gardens, billiard room, tennis court, swimming pools, expensive sculptures and lots more.

Success rightfully earned, is sweet.

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