‘My Inability to Speak English Nearly Ruined My Dream’

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Mrs. Oluwabunmi Agbeni, Chief Executive Officer of Bismid Cosmetics Limited, a leading name in cosmetic products in Nigeria, is a skin care expert whose journey into the beauty industry started when she went on a quest to get her badly damaged skin rejuvenated. Mary Ekah writes about her journey so far and the one particular challenge that almost destroyed her confidence

“Everything about one’s life is decided by the Almighty God and all things are in God’s hands,” she started off philosophically, telling of how the dream of running a one stop beauty store amazingly came into full swing “When I started, I never believed it could be this far and big.”

While in her youth, Mrs. Oluwabunmi Agbeni, presently the Chief Executive Officer of Bismid Cosmetics Limited, a leading name in cosmetic products in Nigeria with headquarters located in the heart of Surulere, Lagos, loved everything that has to do with beauty; whenever she saw any woman that was beautiful, she usually took out time to admire her. She even found beauty in architecture. “Whenever I saw beautiful houses, I took time to admire them too. So beauty in any form usually attracts my attention,” she said.

But her formal journey into the cosmetic world started when she mistakenly burned her skin with a substandard body cream. It damaged her tender skin and, being a teenager, she wanted to get her skin repaired by all means. This led her to visit a local skin care expert who inspired the young Agbeni. “What really moved me was the warmth that surrounded the woman that owned the beauty shop,” she recalled. “When she saw me, she welcomed me warmly and then took time to educate me on how I should take care of my damaged skin and what I should use while repairing my skin and after the damage has been repaired.”

Speaking further, Agbeni said, “I was so worried about my skin because it was really damaged then and I thought that was the end for me, and I kept asking her if truly she could do anything to repair my skin and she assured me that it will come back to normalcy. She gave me some words of encouragement saying it was not over yet because I was really crying and worried that I may not get my skin back. After two weeks, my skin was totally transformed. It was so unbelievable. And after another two weeks, everyone was stopping and asking how I did it. That inspired me the more and so I decided that I was going to learn about how and what this woman did to get my skin back to normal within few weeks.”

However, after making up her mind to learn the trade, Agbeni was discouraged by a friend who came up with the excuses that such trade was not meant for people of her calibre, saying she was not well read nor educated to the standard of going into such learning.“This friend of mine said so many things to depress me,” Agbeni said. “She said I had a low educational background that such job was not meant for my calibre and all sorts because I could not express myself in English Language.

It was actually true that I had low educational back ground and that I could hardly express myself in English then. In fact, I was worried myself of how I was going to manage it; if I had customers, how was I going to communicate with them? I had just a school leaving certificate then and then, I went to school just for going sake. I never really studied to further my education. We were 32 in class and I usually came 32nd after exams. I was just going to school, I didn’t really know the essence of education and so I was never serious in class at all. And since my parents weren’t educated too it was never really their business whether I studied hard or not, they were so sure they were not going to pay my school fees to further my education and so I continued with this nonchalant attitude about education till I graduated from secondary school without being able to expresses myself in English Language and that was a big barrier for me.”

But that very determined teenager was not deterred. For her, she had already made up her mind on what she wanted in life and so no amount of discouragement was going to make her change her mind.

“Despite all the barriers around me, one thing I remembered and that kept coming to my mind was the warm welcome I got from the woman that repaired my skin – the one who inspired me. She had this warmth in her, she wore a smiling face always and was so welcoming in a way that she gave me the confidence that I could approach her and tell her I wanted to be like her in future. So I summoned courage and went to her. The moment I got into her office, she gave me that warm smile again and I was encouraged the more to tell her that I came to find out if she could teach me her job. “Madam, can I learn this work?” I asked. And she said to me, “why not”. And that was it! She sat me down and began to tell me a lot of things about beauty and how I can make it in life through the beauty business. I was so happy that I caught her attention so easily. It was as if I won an American visa lottery. And I said to myself, why was that friend of mine telling me this job wasn’t for persons of my calibre?”

On her way home from the beauty shop, Agbeni stopped at a second hand cloth market and chartered a handful to get herself set for class the next day. “I went to the market and got some second cloths because I really wanted to learn and so had to start the next day. When the woman saw me the following day she was surprised. I told her, I wanted to learn and that I was starting right away. She was surprised at my attitude and so after six months, I had learned so fast. Then whenever I came home from work, I usually had this inner feeling that someone was always beside me telling me what to do. Then there was this particular problem about how to remove acnes on the face – they called it millions acnes and they come up so many on the face and it usually gives us problem then and one day I told my boss we should use a particular idea in solving the problem and because she was a good listener, she listened to me and we tried it and it worked. That was how we were able to solve the problem. My boss became so proud of me. She was always saying it loud that she was so proud of me and always spoke so well of me. In fact that earned me the envy of other workers because she had about 15 other workers there too. It was so much that every other worker hated me and at some point they started calling me names like, “I too know”, “Omo Oga” and all sorts.

Despite all the intimidation from both my senior and junior colleagues, I just made up my mind that nothing was going to stop me from forging ahead. My boss’s name was Mrs. Adam; I can’t particularly remember her business name that is if at all she had one, because it was a local enterprise that mixes herbs and other organic materials for people to use on their skin. She is now a very elderly woman and has since moved to the United States, after retiring from the job. So I learned the fundamentals from her and then later went abroad to develop my skills in skincare.”

In a short while Agbeni became an expert in her trade; she became so good in virtually every aspect of beauty and after two years of learning and developing her skill in skin care, she felt it was time she established her own business. That was how Bismid came to be! The name Bismid was coined out of her two children’s name, Bisola and Olumide.

Now, 15 years down the line, Bismid Cosmetics products are very popular amongst the stylistic and fashionista Nigerians who care about their skins. “We have been in the business for over 14 years now. My husband, Alhaji Lukuman Agbeni, the Managing Director, and I run the business and it has been awesome working with him over the years. We are into cosmetics sales and services; that is our speciality. We give special advice on how to maintain your skin without getting it damaged. Our cosmetics are of various range; we have for black complexion and for those who just want to maintain their skin colour as well as for those who want to lighten up their skins to whatever shade they want,” she said.

Recalling how it all started and some of the challenges she had to pass through to get to the level she is today, she noted, “When I started 15 years ago, I faced a lot of challenges, especially when I still couldn’t express myself properly in English Language. Then there wasn’t much awareness about skin care up to the level we have today and when I started, I had a lot of issues to contend with. And because I deal with mostly the elites who were more educated than I was then, when they walked into my office, the way they composed themselves usually scared me. I usually lost my balance and was unable to communicate properly with them. It got to a stage that I wanted to quit the job due to my inability to neither express myself in the English Language nor communicate properly with clients. I then remembered why my friend had said it wasn’t a trade for people of my calibre. I then understood what she meant. I felt then that even if I couldn’t speak good English, I should be able to express myself in a simple way that the clients would understand but I couldn’t even do that then.”
Luckily for Agbeni, she also had another friend, a student of English Language from the University of Lagos who she talked to about this major problem of hers that was making her lose control of herself.

“I went to another friend of mine who studied English Language at the University of Lagos. I said to her look I have this problem of being scared to express myself in English in front of my clients. I told her I was always afraid to make mistakes.

And she said to me, ‘everyone is learning every day, no one is perfect. Just speak it anyhow it comes, make mistakes and get corrected and with time, you would be perfect.’ And that was how I started speaking English anyhow I could and also started reading books on English privately and with time I started picking up. In no time, I stopped responding in vernacular to customers and would speak just English even when they spoke to me in Yoruba Language. When a customer comes in, I will first attack him or her with the little English I had learned and by the time we started talking, I would have built up so much confidence to face them,” she recalled with so much amusement.

Bismid’s success story and that of its founder, Agbeni, is a tale of God’s divine mercy and grace that spans over a period of about 20 years starting from when she started off as an apprentice at a local shop and up till today when Bismid is renowned as a company and its products well sought after. And for each day, Agbeni is thanking God for His miraculous grace upon her life and the divine wisdom bestowed upon her to excel in her calling despite the challenges she has passed through.
Presently, Agbeni, whose spoken English is extremely fluent, having had to go through series of training within and outside Nigeria to develop herself personally and professionally, is certified with proficiency in English Language coupled with computer literacy. Now she can face all clients of all calibres and tell them everything that she needs to say without batting an eye. With a build-up of clients over the years from all parts of Nigeria, she offers the best facial treatment, skin burn removal, cream mixing for skin tone, fair and dark skin that provides extra smooth, shining and glowing skin.

“Our Bismid Whitening UV Defense SPF30 is designed to whiten and repair with combine effect of instant smoothening, whitening and refreshing. It repairs the skin after solarisation; it gently balances and softly protects the skin while revealing your natural glow. Bismid Perfect Whitening cream on the other hand whitens and conditions the skin, helping the skin to keep essential nutrients. It contains vitamin C and caprice trig and we guarantee maximum customer satisfaction,” Agbeni said.
“As at today, I have over 130 ranges of products made by my company, I am computer literate and I do research on the internet most times. I have also been abroad for advanced studies on beauty and skin care technology in a school in Bangkok, Thailand,” she said. Bismid range of skin care products has been developed with active components to provide total care for all skin types. Whatever your skin type there is surely a matching product. Her services also include facial scrub, body scrub and general skin treatment, spa and body massage, manicure and pedicure, skin care consultancy and so on.