Modupe Ogunlesi, Managing Director Adam and Eve, a lifestyle home ware store, is a household name in Luxury homeware. She is a woman of brains, beauty and Brawn. Ideas, patience and persistence have kept her in business for 20 years and going. The daughter of a Mathematics professor, Ogunlesi tells Adedayo Adejobi the vision behind her company, her staying power, marriage and childhood
Adam and Eve were the first couple. So the shop is about the home. My daughter got married at 21. I was 45 and thought if she had babies, I couldn’t resign and be a grandmother. I looked inwards to see what I could do and have the flexibility only my business gives rather than a corporate world of 9am to 5pm. So that’s where the idea came from. She was also getting married and had a wedding gift list. She walked around Lagos and came saying there was nothing in the markets she’d be proud to have in her home. After the wedding, we decided to replicate a lifestyle home in our store. That was the beginning of Adam and Eve.Did you dream it would be this big 20 years ago?
Not at first – that wasn’t the plan. But when my daughter pulled out of the business, she said it was too sedentary, that she preferred to have a night club, or a restaurant. I moved in to look at it again, so the business needed to expand for me to get an income that will suit my lifestyle. The company has been driven by people’s ideas, which have made a difference. There is a difference between starting a business when you are in your 40s, 50s rather than in your 20s. I tend to take a more studied step rather than just stagger along. Maturity has helped because this country is actually not business-friendly. I employ 30 Nigerians who have dependants and my capital stays here.
When you look back, has it been rosy doing business in Nigeria?
Two things have helped me; the fact that I’m an accountant and maturity. I’m actually risk-averse. I’ve never ask for credit from my suppliers. Staffing is one of the most difficult things in this country. Loyal staff is almost impossible to get. I’m lucky at the moment I’ve got a good trainer. My staff is trained twice every week because at 65, I need some breaks. I have an efficient team.
Why is it difficult to produce home wares locally?
We are hampered. When life is comfortable, it is easier to think outside the box. We don’t have electricity. I run a retail business and I have two generators and still pay electricity bills. Besides, how many people can go beyond affording food? So, when you manufacture, you can’t sell to 100 million people.
What has changed in the industry?
More people have come into the industry, but I don’t think they’ve made an impact. They come in expecting that if they sell high-end products, they would fly off the shelf. It doesn’t work that way. You have to have a mix. Because they are impatient to let it fly off the shelf, they start mixing it with much lower quality gradually getting rid of the high-end stuffs and selling low quality.
What drives you?
It is the atmosphere that we are happy people and alive. If we live the way the developed world live, whereby all their interactions are over the social media, we’ll all be depressed. If you think yours is bad, when you see someone else’s situation you’ll be grateful for the little things you have.
Share your experience doing business in the last 20 years.
If you have a dream, stay with it. But don’t stay stupidly with it. When you hit a wall it’s time to rethink. If you waver during patchy times, then you will never settle for anything because there is nobody that promises you a completely smooth path. Sometimes, the road is narrow, sometimes it’s wide and smooth stony and rocky.
What does it feel like being 65?
Fantastic. When I look back, I could never have predicted that I would be where I am today. When I was very young I thought I would end up as a professor of Mathematics. My father was a professor of Education. His first degree was in Mathematics and I found Mathematics extremely easy. It was one subject that I did not have to concentrate on in class. I did not have to revise; I did not have to do anything and I just kept topping the class. I felt that I would just be a Mathematics professor.
So what changed?
When I went into the University of Ibadan at 16 to the Mathematics department, it was a different ball game. It needed hard work for which I was completely unprepared for. So, when I went to prelim, the mechanics, applied mathematics and I asked if we had started the syllabus. I was the youngest compared to the rest of the class. I doubt if there was anybody under 40, so I felt alone. I told my father I don’t think I could continue.
How did your dad take it?
My father’s view is that whatever you start, you must finish it. If you are studying Law and later decide to change to something else, he advised you to finish the Law first. My brother started studying Medicine and wanted to change to Law and it was a long argument – in the long run he got his way and he studied Law. When I said I was not studying Mathematics but preferred Economics, he said that wasn’t the way to handle life. In the long run, someone talked me to Accounting and I crossed over to the University of Lagos because University of Ibadan did not offer Accounting. I enjoyed the course so much that I advised one of my friends who was studying the same course at the University of Ibadan to cross over the next year. She is the first female President, Nigerian First Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA).
What was life like growing up under a father who was a professor of Mathematics?
I am lucky to have my parents – lovely. My enterprise skills were from my mother. My father had a very informed sense of humour. Looking back, my parents didn’t slap or hit people on the face. We discussed. My mum would say, ‘if your family member can’t tell you when you are being an ass, who will?’ If my older brother messes himself up, I will tell him straight away.
What would be your advice to a young entrepreneur seeking to toe your career path?
The heavens are big enough to take all the birds. Everybody has different creative ideas. You must look at yourself and see where your passion lies. Be original.
What drives your creativity?
My eye. I go out; I look and I listen to my customers.
Are you thinking of retirement soon?
I am not planning to retire. Retirement will come in its own time. Because my work is mental, I cannot retire. My father got his higher doctorate at 70 from the University of London. He wrote his last book at 90. Once you are cerebral, there is no retirement.
Why did you get married at the age of 23?
My parents were strict. We could go out, but we had to be home at 6pm. We had more freedom in the university because there was no lights out. By the time I was graduating, it signalled the end of the freedom, so that was the time to get married.
How did you meet your hubby?
At the university, he was studying Mass Communication. Forty-two years down the line, if I had to do it all over again I will still pick him and he says the same. Life together has been fun. I went out with other people because I must have spent three years in the university before we met. I have always been fat as a baby. Despite being fat people liked me. So if I had a boyfriend who said I was putting on weight that was the end of it. If the boy said, ‘Dupe, you mean you are going to eat that ice cream; aren’t you scared you will be fat?’ I would say, ‘If you are not fanning that beauty about me then you are not mine.’ In fairness, my husband doesn’t look at fat or slim, but the fact that are we formed together. We do not particularly have the same outlook. He is a night person, I am a morning person. But I don’t disturb him. The important thing to me is that I trust him. When that trust is broken you know that is the end. Honestly, right from the bottom of my heart I have no regrets whatsoever. Within a month I knew that we had a connection. I felt I could trust him. There’s a level of protection even as a lad, he expressed towards me, and that shows he is committed to me. He is very protective of me. I am naturally very protective of him too. I will look after his health especially as he is over 60. I also change my cooking methods from time to time.
What’s the secret behind the 42 years of marriage?
I am not silent when I am upset. We listen to each other.
How do you juggle being an entrepreneur, a wife, mother and grandmother?
It’s easier when the children are grown up. I certainly could not say I had this kind of busy lifestyle when the children were young. So, I won’t say for somebody with young children to get so involved outside until I was 40. I would not by myself pick such a busy lifestyle because Adam and Eve is enough. But one way or the other, I got involved in the church, and I think it is the right thing for me to do at this time. Priests don’t marry, so you have CWO which is the umbrella for catholic women. I am a very private person, but one way or the other I found myself being the parish president. I got involved and to my greatest surprise, I find myself in the district.
Away from work, what do you do?
You seems to like designers?
You see me with a Bugatti wristwatch. It is the beauty and not the name. The name puts the stamp of quality on it. If this was another name, I might not buy it because I am not sure of if it’ll go the extra mile. But the confidence that I am going to spend this money and it is going to last, gives me confidence.