Starting up a business in a country like Nigeria, where most of the policies are against your favour, is not a simple task. For a woman, it is even harder. You need not wonder why this is so, not especially when you remember how ‘culture and religion‘ consciously subjugates women, and restricts how far they can go in a conservative society like Nigeria.
Fortunately, we have ‘power women’ doing great things amid the furore; talk about breaking the walls of closed borders. One of such women is Arinola Okeowo, the CEO at Ultra Signatures – ‘an emerging business hub with a variety of value offerings across media, fashion, properties, talent management significantly covering modelling and ushering.’
Arinola is ‘an experienced Realtor, a Media practitioner, a well-seasoned sales expert, digital marketing expert and entrepreneur with a huge interest in Fashion, Entertainment.
This is how our conversation went:
How has the journey been leading the team at Ultra Signatures?
Oh well, the journey hasn’t been a smooth one, like every other business striving for growth in Nigeria. Especially because Ultra Signatures houses other subsidiaries. There’s the clothing line, there’s the agribusiness which specialises in crop and livestock production. We have a media firm where we do brand management, brand consultancy, media consultancy etc. We also have the modelling arm where we supply ushers for corporate and social events.
So, it’s really tasking, but constantly reminding myself on why I started the company in the first place has kept me on track and with that, we keep overcoming the barriers thrown our way as we make efforts to be the best.
At first, Ultra Signatures started off as a ‘one-woman’ show, I was the only one handling all of the major work the company, but now, I have other hands onboard assisting me. I do not like to call them workers or employees, I prefer to address them as partners in progress who are assisting in building the dream. We work together on the farm, run the media arm together to ensure it delivers and gives clients the best value.
Ultra Signatures also has a board of directors that sees to the general running of the company so I am just grateful to God for where we are currently.
What are the significant hurdles you’ve passed through in your journey?
I think the major and most significant hurdle was starting up. Being the only one running a business with big dreams. Dreams bigger than this young lady who just wants to make an impact and doesn’t want to be limited by cultural and other barriers the society has set against the growth of women and young business owners.
Convincing prospective clients that I am good at what I do, I can be trusted with every penny they intend to part with, they can trust my company with their brand etc. has also been a major challenge, but we are growing and overcoming.
Another hurdle that reared its ugly head in the agribusiness arm of the company is the recent lockdown imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19. Our farm is located in Epe, Lagos, and the restrictions on movement in March really affected the business. There are several other hurdles from government policies and the challenge of regulators that has dissuaded us from going into other new business ventures we plan to launch this year, but those are just normal as a business owner, you can’t expect everything to always run smoothly or as planned, that’s just almost impossible.
Changes, in all ramifications, come every time. Is there something you do differently to approach change? Especially as there’s a pandemic currently ravaging economies.
Well, in business, I have learnt that If you do not move, you will be moved or people will move away from you. You need to follow the trend closely and adjust or you will be sent out permanently.
Before now, our farm was strictly offline, you had to travel all the way down to the farm to have access to our produce but since the outbreak of the pandemic, we had to take it online. Also, other members of the team had to embrace working from home and this actually made us realise that aside from the production aspect of the clothing business, we really do not have to be physically present to get things done.
So now, we restricted production days to twice in a week, we now receive orders online and send them out through dispatch riders for our farming business.
What if Artificial Intelligence comes on board to do the same thing you do?
For the kind of business we run at Ultra Signatures, it’s almost impossible to have machines absolutely replace us. There’s still a need for the human factor or contact. For a machine to make clothing, you need the human to direct it. Even though we operate mechanised farming, you still need humans to monitor and put things right.
As much as I know artificial intelligence is gradually taking over, I am confident that the human brain will still be highly needed to conceptualise ideas that AI will run with, you will still need humans to create media strategies, though we might have to reduce the number of personnel. When we get to that bridge, we will definitely cross it.
Is there something you hope changed about your industry in Nigeria?
Oh my! there’s a whole lot.
So many things have to change with the way we run business in Nigeria.
Firstly, for our clothing line, our major nightmare is intellectual theft. We have an in house graphics artist that brings most of our ideas to life before we transfer them on clothing. And, after we release these designs, we start seeing others in the industry steal that idea exactly as they are.
Meanwhile, I am glad the federal government recently banned the importation of maize. With an abundance of land, Nigeria can afford to produce food to feed its citizens and neighbouring countries. But, it’s really sad that we still depend on the importation of farm produce.
The proximity of our products to market, getting good pricing for your produce, adding value to your produce so it can command good prices in the market. Enabling business environment, good and supportive government policies that enable small businesses to thrive rather than strangulate them are the huge threats we have faced, I could really go on and on.
I really do hope these changes.
Another decade has started and people like you with it. What should we expect from you and Ultra Signatures? This time as a change agent.
Expect something great, something different, something beyond the norm.
Our aim at Ultra Signatures is to be one of the leading business enterprises in Africa. We are building an empire, a responsible business culture that’s customer-centric. We are building something phenomenal, one that will inspire women – both young and old, and challenge them to shatter glass ceilings and break down any barrier set to limit them.
We are going to change how the farming business is in Lagos and Nigeria as a whole, providing every household with fresh farm produce when they need it.
What don’t we know about you?
I think I appear to a lot of people as a workaholic but what most people don’t know is that I’m a goal-getter who goes beyond the surface to get things done.
What are you into outside of work?
I watch a lot of movies, I am a family person too, I love to spend quality time with family and friends.
Omoleye Omoruyi… an apprentice web/game developer, novelist, sensitive to happenings in the world. Meet him @Lord_rickie on Twitter/Instagram