Early in life, Nnamdi Ezeigbo had a life-changing experience. That experience would later lead him to embrace higher personal values that have guided him to build an emerging proudly Nigerian brand, Slot. He spoke with Funke Olaode about the string of inexplicable changes that characterised his success
His trade name, Slot, goes ahead of him. Arguably, every Nigerian knows that name. Alright, change that to ‘most’ Nigerians. If you still don’t get it, chances are that the mobile communication device in your hands, is not (for the sake of decency), not well prized. If it were, you would know Slot, a name that is fast becoming synonymous with trade in quality mobile phones; even if the name of its owner, Nnamdi Ezeigbo, means nothing to you.
Ezeigbo has rolled out the drums in celebration of attaining the age of 50. But he once tweaked his age to get a job. At the time, it seemed like the normal thing. Fine-tuning one’s age is common place in Nigeria where many fill an ‘age declaration’ form before an officer in the Temple of Justice, who affirms an official seal to the lies.
So, it was no big deal when he presented such a document which was needed to collect Letter of Appointment into a well-paid job. But an eagle-eyed official became his spoilsport spotting the difference between the ‘declared age’ and what he submitted earlier during the process of securing the job. It was a bad day for Ezeigbo who cursed his luck for letting a game which was almost in his kitty slip through his fingers. “I was the only one dropped among 21 of us who were penciled for employment. Honestly, it was painful.”
Out of that bitter experience came a resolve to stick to transparency. Going forward, Ezeigbo positioned himself on the high pedestal of integrity. He took away a moral that has guided him since. “The lesson really is that it helped me that even though if many consider certain norm as right, you mustn’t accept it as normal. That scenario changed my perception about life, on how to do business and it made me a better person.”
After two years of searching for a job that proved elusive, he dabbled into the business of fixing computers with a friend. However, his partner was not converted to doing right. He was running around trying to make money, cheating customers. But he couldn’t be persuaded to join the bandwagon. Of course, this mismatch in value created a rift between them. They went their separate ways and he had to squat in a small bookshop. Within a short period, his integrity endeared him to many customers.
“It is very difficult sometimes to tell customers the truth. For instance, if you want to fix either your computer or television set they would give you an estimated bill of N30, 000. But I would tell them straight that the component is N5, 000 and my fee is N2, 000. Because of my truthfulness, I wormed myself to many customers. My mind was renewed and it became abnormal to shortchange my customers. I am a different person. I find it difficult to tell a lie. I find it difficult to do something that is not ethical. This stance has deprived my company of so many contracts. We don’t care because we are doing the right thing which will pay off in the long run.”
He continued what has become known as the Slot story. “I had no father or an uncle to fall back on. What has always worked for me is that I am a very courageous person. There was nothing to fear. I was coming from a humble background. Somebody who is on the ground is not afraid of falling down. I was only passionate about pushing my business to an enviable position. It was a last resort for me. I was consciously doing it and people were trooping into my office as if I had something different to offer. The only thing that I had working for me was that I added value at a very affordable cost. I was enjoying word of mouth referrals. I was working on people’s computer and they were happy with my work. When the work load was too much, I had to employ my younger brother. I have what can be described as relationship capital. I had referrals to companies and started making some money for myself and was able to put basic structure in place., I also leveraged on relationship to enjoy company’s credit policies. And once they trust you they will be willing to do business with you.”
In 1998, ten years after he set foot in Lagos, he established Slot.
Ezeigbo was born on August 4, 1966 in Sapele, Delta State to Ibo parents from Umuahia in Abia State. His late father worked as a supervisor in PAMOL, a subsidiary of UNILEVER, while the mother was a petty trader.
Ezeigbo’s entrepreneurial spirit manifested early due to circumstance beyond his control. His mother had nine children and the business icon is number one. “I I used to hawk bread for my mother after school hours. I took interest in trade because every time I went out hawking bread I always wanted to sell everything. It wasn’t a privileged beginning but very humble one.”
After secondary school his father couldn’t afford to send me him to a university. However, one of his father’s friends encouraged him to work and save money. Determined to succeed, he worked for four years to raise the money to go to school. This episode of his life instilled the passion for hard work in him. There were school fees to be paid and he had to assist his parents. The money he raised was able to take care of his school fees for one year until his parents were able to pick it up.
His parents had discouraged him from pursuing university education, preferring instead that he should go to a polytechnic where the fees were cheaper. “It was a terrible moment in my life. I always wanted to go to the university. I did everything possible on how I could force my parents but it didn’t work. I gained admission into the university including University of Ife a couple of times my parents would ask me to wait for the next year. I worked in Sapele to save money, while young boys like me were using their money to club, I bought books with my money. I made up my mind at that early stage to be different. I distinguished myself from the crowd. I knew the only thing that could put me be at par with these rich children was education.”
Things changed for good forever for Ezeigbo in 1988. It was the year he came to Lagos as a student of the Yaba College of Technology from where he bagged a Higher National Diploma in Electrical Electronics. Ezeigbo’s thirst for more knowledge, again, took him to Lagos State University where he bagged a degree in Computer Engineering. In the course of running Slot, he has since moved on to acquire two Masters degree and has been able to study at Harvard.
The company which Ezeigbo started with just two support staff in 1998 has become a conglomerate with several outlets and 700 staff. Slot has 60 outlets scattered all over Nigeria with the intention of conquering the African continent.
In all of this, Ezeigbo says jokingly that he owes his trade name to his numerous customers. He explained how he came about the name. “In those days, there were lower models of computers with two kinds of processors which is the brain behind the computer. There are two types of processor: the slot processor and the socket one. The slot processor that looks like card is more effective, robust and rugged. I always recommended it for customers. That was basically how they started calling me Slot.”
The high point of his business, so far was the introduction of TECNO into the Nigerian markets in 2006.
Setting the record straight between him and his former partner, Nokia, he said the intention really was not to drive Nokia out of Nigeria but to make the market more competitive. He explained. “We didn’t get the kind of service we expected from Nokia. We provided after sales services and if the product is beyond repair we would replace it. Of course, we were running the company at a loss and I said to myself it is high time we came up with something that would actually compete with Nokia. That was how we brought in the TECNO brand to bring reasonably priced phones to Nigerians.”
His marriage is as old as his business. He got married in December 1998 to his wife, Nkechi, a native of Asaba in Delta State. The union coincided with the establishment of his business. “One of the things that worked for me was that after my experience with the age falsification episode, I became very religious. I became very sober and wanted to do things the right way. I prayed for a wife and it took me six months to achieve that. I said now that I have not made money was the best time to look for the right woman. I lived in a small apartment in the outskirt of Lagos, Meiran to be precise after Abule-Egba. Most of my friends lived in Ikeja and on the Island, but I said I needed to go somewhere my money could afford and at the same time marry a woman that I could manage.
“My wife played an important role in my life. She is a very strong woman, a very wonderful person. When we met we saw ourselves as people who were destined together. It was more of collaboration, partnership and she complements me. That has also helped us to have a wonderful relationship. The union is blessed with four wonderful children who are gradually carving a niche for themselves. My first son is studying medicine.”
Ezeigbo is an ardent lover and supporter of education. He is also a philanthropist who speaks at different fora on entrepreneurship, encouraging young people. He currently has two foundations: One in the memory of his late father, Anthony Chibike Ezeigbo. The other is the Slot Foundation, set up to help young people to become employable. What it has done is to set up an academy which would have cost N150,000 but at a subsidized rate of N50,000. His next move now is to continue to help young entrepreneurs grow, achieve success and expand to African countries. One of his immediate plans is to launch a book that teaches sustainability of business in Nigeria against all odds. It is titled ‘Entrepreneurship: The Slot Way.’
QUOTE: It was a terrible moment in my life. I always wanted to go to the university. I did everything possible on how I could force my parents but it didn’t work. I gained admission into the university including University of Ife a couple of times my parents would ask me to wait for the next year. I worked in Sapele to save money, while young boys like me were using their money to club, I bought books with my money. I made up my mind at that early stage to be different. I distinguished myself from the crowd. I knew the only thing that could put me be at par with these rich children was education