AYIRI OLADUNMOYE: How I’m Bridging the Gap of a Multimillion-dollar Industry


Eclectic and energetic, Ayiri Oladunmoye, the CEO of Oaken Events and brains behind Atinuda Premium Conference, has a vision to bridge the gap in Nigeria’s event management industry. She is one of the most talented creative women in the industry. Her annual conference that parades speakers from across the world is a reference point. Her tenacity has paid off as she was recently recognized as one of the Most Influential People of African Descent Global Class of 2018 for her ingenuity and innovation as an entrepreneur. With a lit-up face and an adventurous mind, she tells Funke Olaode about her mission and vision

Four years ago, Ayiri Oladunmoye put her vision of bridging the gap in the event industry into reality by organizing an event with speakers from across the globe to help tutor their Nigerian counterparts. Her mission then wasn’t to play to the gallery but to standardize the multibillion-naira empire.

“I saw that the event industry was growing but our standard wasn’t at par with what we had internationally. So there was a need for us to be able to bridge that gap. So I thought it will be important to also bring international and also local speakers with over 20 years’ experience to come and share from their wealth of knowledge to help us build and grow our industry. Because it is a billion-dollar industry like I said, and it is important that we appraise it to a certain level of international standard. So no matter where we are in the world that standard is acceptable to everyone,” she recalled.

The idea sounds impressive given the fact that people are beginning to embrace the industry with open arms and with a ‘guardian angel’ like Ayiri, the sky seems to be the limit. Atinuda, which is the largest event conference in Africa, was birthed by the Oladunmoye, founder of Oaken Events, in 2016.

With a passion for event management, Oladunmoye began her career in the event planning industry, when she planned her own wedding in 2002 and several other events for charity organizations and friends. Urged by family and friends to pursue her passion in event management, led to the creation of Oaken Events, a full-service event design, consultation and management company, in 2009.

A dedicated, oriented and highly creative person in her design concepts, she has succeeded in creating a niche for her brand. Ayiri has organized numerous successful high profiled events within and beyond the shores of Nigeria. Her clients love her because they can be rest assured of her executing their events flawlessly, with a great level of personalization and top most confidentiality.

Besides planning and designing events, Ayiri is highly dedicated to influencing and repositioning the event industry in Nigeria.
“The desire to see continuous development within the event industry sector led to the birthing of Atinuda, borne out of creativity,” she said.

Atinuda is the largest gathering of event businesses in Africa held annually to raise standards within the event industry in Africa. She was also recently recognised as one of the Most Influential People of African Descent (MIPAD) global class of 2018, Business and Entrepreneurship Category.

Atinuda has through the years, brought to her participants, such great and phenomenal industry giants like Preston Bailey, Marcy Blum, Diann Valentine, Christina Holt, Seyi Olusanya, Elizabeth Solaru, Mai Atafo and Adebola Williams amongst others.

Early this month, Atinuda Premium Conference themed: “Commitment to Excellence and Innovation”, which was in line with Atinuda’s goal to create a platform that allows growth and development to take place was organized and also paraded speakers from far and near with the aim to help in building and shaping young entrepreneurs who have made the decision to pursue a career in the event industry. Among the speakers were Ty Bello, David Tutera, Seyi Tinubu, Ndidi Nwuneli, Ifeoma Williams, Samke Mhlongo, Anita Erskine, Bukky George, Chukwuka Monye, Mary Akpobome, Jacqueline Nwobi, Udo Okonjo and Dzigbordi Kwaku-Dosoo.

For Oladunmoye, going into event management was a coincidence or rather passion having studied sociology and anthropology in the University of Benin for four years. She would later explore her talent in human resources for a decade before she followed her passion.

“My background was in HR. I have over 10 years’ experience in HR. I worked in Intercontinental Bank now Access Bank, I was there for 6 years. After which I worked at children international school for another four years. It was at that point I decided to pursue and follow my passion which is has always been event planning. I was always in one committee planning an event when I was at Intercontinental Bank at that time. At some point I decided that this is what I wanted to do,” she explained.

Armed with her past and present experiences, Oladunmoye went on a mission which looked impossible due to lack of funds. But her tenacity and determination kept her going. Along the line she won the trust of stakeholders in the industry.
“It was not easy at the initial stage,” she said.

“When we first staged Atinuda conference in 2016 we didn’t charge a fee, it was open to everybody, we just selected a few event planners, decorators and invited them, and it was just about 50 people. Because it was important for them to see what we are trying to build. We had to bear all that cost ourselves that was 2015. In 2016 we charged a fee and then we have gotten the attention of most people in the industry. And then it was easy to fellow and then of course with caliber of people that we had, it was easy for them to see the value that you are bringing to the table.

“Also, it is important that when we are choosing our speakers we choose speakers that will add value. A participants just walked up to me and said that she couldn’t get up because she soaking everything and all the ideas shared so far were practicable. For me, that is what is key, so we always look at the caliber of speakers, see the experiences they have had and those are the things that we look at in making our selection of speakers for Atinuda. And I will also like to share here, what we try to do with Atinuda is to first grow our business in totality. So sometimes the speakers are not just speakers that we see in the event industry.

“There are speakers we operate in the market space who have proven to be successful in their different fields they have chosen. So as entrepreneurs it is important to hear from them, take those principles, apply it to your business and make it a better business and it will start growing eventually.

“I will say to a very large extent we do have a lot of support from the industry, so there are certain aspect we get to do like a trade by barter, so that helps in reducing the cost. And as much as possible we rely on previous relationship or friendship with other people.”

Like every other profession with challenges, Oladunmoye admitted that the event management industry is not an exception but access to credit facility will play a key role in lessening the burden in the sector.

“One of the major challenges that we had is funding. And that is one thing that people in the event planning industry will tell you that, that is the major challenge they are facing. So currently I am hoping that we can work with the banks or an SME that can provide funding to the event industry,” she noted.

“And that is what we are currently working towards, so we will be able to achieve that and at least give event planners in the industry the opportunity to get access to funds to be able to grow their business. Human resources is also one of the major challenge. To give your clients’ maximum satisfaction requires collective effort ensuring that one gets the best staff each time will also play a key role.”

To thrive in a saturated industry like event management in Nigeria, the entrepreneur said maintaining a cordial relationship is key.
She explained further: “I think it is important that relationship thrives, it is so key and I will say that is one of the most valuable assets that we have in hosting events-relationships. I do not play with my relationships, majority of clients have been clients that we’ve been with over the years. And once you are able to maintain that relationship truly you will have a client for life.

“They are willing to stand up for you, they are willing to defend you. We have families that we have done maybe over three events with their families, the others two or three people will get married in their family and they will still call you. So what is important at the end of the day is the relationship you share and confidentiality.”
This year’s conference was mind-blowing as well as impactful but the take away from Ayiri is still ‘right attitude to work and people’.

”The speakers have been totally amazing, one of them spoke on love, maintaining your relationship with your client. If you do well to your client that’s what they will remember you with, anything you do to your client that will linger on forever.
“So it is better to maintain your relationship with your client. And emotional intelligence is core to your business because the technical aspect of your business just makes up 15%, 85% is what you give and what your client receives from you,” Oladunmoye pointed out.