Youthfulness, yearnings and yielding to the inner strength make her stand out. Shrewd and systematic, she serves enterprise with style and success. The glint in her eyeballs and the grace of her countenance, all point to a woman who sees nothing but the top. Her youthful and spirited personality combined with an unparalleled commitment to her passion and vision has immensely impacted on her growth as an entrepreneur. An alumna of University of Massachusetts, Boston; Brunel University, London and Harvard Business School, Iroghama Ogbeifun- Obuoforibo, Founder /CEO, Hairven Ltd, is a passionate and goal-getting entrepreneur as found out by
Funke Olaode during an encounter with an Edo state born business mogul who is making a mark
Fiddling with her fingers and staring into an empty space, Iroghama Ogbeifun-Obuoforibo, founder/CEO of Hairven Ltd still recollects with nostalgia how she rose to the top of her game. She smiled shyly, then heaved a sigh of relief as someone who has found fulfilment in her journey of life. For Iroghama, she can boldly say, ‘passion has got me here’.
With a marine engineer father and a mother who is a medical doctor, she had the whole world at her feet as she headed to University of Massachusetts, Boston; the United States where she was admitted to study medicine. She would later dump medicine for Biology and Psychology graduating in 2007.
“My father was telling everybody that cares back then that her daughter was studying medicine. He was disappointed when I told him I had dumped medicine for combined degrees. He was further confused when after graduation I came back home with loads of human hair. My father wasn’t satisfied with my career line, in 2011, I was sent to London for a Master’s degree in Health Promotion and Public Health at Brunel University, London. He said ‘I have already sent you to school, first of all, you said you wanted to be a doctor and then you changed your mind and you said you wanted to be in public health, now you changed your mind and you are running a business, saying you are selling shampoo and conditioner.’ But I think, all in all, he is proud of me now, because he has seen that I used the education, which broadens your mind and just sort of opens your mind to possibilities,” she recalls.
While traversing both Europe and America just to fulfill her parent’s desire, Iroghama had her plans of becoming an entrepreneur, which she nurtured carefully and gradually. She was only 23 and even once said “she is not afraid to be a CEO’. Speaking about her journey into being an entrepreneur.
“My entrepreneurial journey began years ago when I set up Hairven. Having seen hair business in a newly emerging market in Nigeria, and I decided to set up my own brand as hair care products specifically targeted to care for hair essentials. While trying to get NAFDAC to approve my hair care products, I stumbled upon The Next Titan in 2013 a reality TV show which aims is to nurture emerging entrepreneurs. I applied and was lucky to be selected among other fantastic young entrepreneurs to go into the house. On the show, I got engaged in numerous business tasks over a period of three months with other 16 contestants, and at the end of the day, I emerged the winner, and I went home with N5 million and a brand new ford car which was a turning point in business.”
From winning the first The Next Titan, Iroghama has grown from a one-man business to a company that empowers 50 other families. Apart from manufacturing her products, she currently has two salons with ultra-modern facilities in Port Harcourt as well as a spa, business cafe, fitness centres and also facilitates training and workshop for young entrepreneurs. With that, is gradually building a lifestyle brand to cater for needs of Nigerians.
“The confidence that I developed during my time on THE NEXT TITAN has definitely contributed to who I am today with my core values,” she said.
Her life is not revolved around the beauty industry solely as her intelligence, leadership quality has seen her embracing bigger responsibilities. In 2014, Iroghama was recommended by a consultant firm, during a corporate restructuring of Starzs Investments Company Limited (SICL), to serve in an executive capacity in the company. In September 2014, she was officially appointed an executive director and subsequently, she assumed the role of the chief operating officer, SICL, a ship-owning and marine logistics provider with a fleet of vessels providing offshore support to various international oil companies.
Her youthful and spirited personality combined with an unparalleled commitment to the vision of Starzs has immensely impacted the overall growth of the company in a short while.
Iroghama is an alumnus of the Harvard Business School OPM program and a member of the Institute of Directors (IoD) and Women in Management and Business (WIMBIZ). She is the Chairman, Finance and Membership Committee of the Shipowners Association of Nigeria (SOAN). She is also a Director of Eaglewatch Security Company, a security company that was established in 1999 to provide professional security services.
How has it been in the last six years? “Well, it has been six years of growth, six years of evolution, six years of expansion and overcoming challenges,” she said.
“When we started in 2013 we were focused on products and we were manufacturing our product in South Africa. So in the last couple of years, we slowed down with that because of the move and the shift in foreign exchange rates, the challenges we get in forex sort of made it difficult to compete with our competitors within Nigeria in terms of importing as well as all the other attendant challenges that come with it. So that has led us to go back to the drawing board to explore all the option of manufacturing in the country.
“We are currently working with some consultants to come up with a plan for setting up an extensive end-to-end customer to a manufacturing plant in Nigeria. The plans are hopefully all things being equal maybe that might be emerging sometime in 2020. So over the last six years, we have grown our presence in Port Harcourt which where I am based now. We are expanding the brand name as a service provider and not just a product provider and also working on this cosmetic manufacturing idea that we have.”
At 23, Iroghama said she wasn’t afraid to become a CE0 and now at 34, she has not only fulfilled her dreams, but she has also grown to embrace a bigger responsibility in a conglomerate.
“I am 34 now, I don’t think I understood what a CEO was at 23 when I first launched my hairline products. I think I just wanted to run my business without understanding the responsibilities that came with it. So obviously in the last six years, there has been personal growth, I have had the opportunity to work in my father’s company. It is a shipping company, and we own 11 vessels working offshore, we support oil production as an export process in the oil and gas industry. I am currently the Chief Operating Officer of the organization and I have been doing that for 5 years.
“So obviously that has groomed me as a professional and as an individual and it has helped me to understand corporate governance, structure process, systems, managing people and certainly that experience and knowledge is being put to bare in terms of helping me significantly from all that I am learning and exposed to. So yes in terms of being the CEO now and still continue to be the CEO, I think that I have been exposed greatly to what it takes by understudying my father closely to actually be responsible for the welfare of individuals and people who work for you as well as the interest of your shareholders who have invested in you as well as your customers who are obviously believing in your product and service to trade their money for value.”
From being an emerging entrepreneur 11 years ago to becoming CEO and now an employer of labour. Is Iroghama living her dreams? Her response was sharp: “I can definitely say that I am fulfilling a purpose, I can certainly say that I am on the part that I am proud to be on and I feel privileged to be on. So maybe you could say yes, I am living my dream. Waking up every morning and seeing what was nothing and has become something, is definitely worth it.”
Giving a few tips on how to succeed as an entrepreneur, Iroghama said being focused is key.
“For me, for young entrepreneurs to succeed they have to be focused. I will be telling them ‘focus on your focus’ if I could draw from the words of my mentor, Tara Fela-Durotoye and I think I key into that. So focus on your focus and stay true to it and then in staying true to it now comes tenacity and consistency. And then discipline helps you to also remain, so even when the time comes when you are tempted to do other things discipline keeps you on track. So I am telling a young entrepreneur that they can focus and they can be disciplined and then I don’t see why you shouldn’t succeed.”
Iroghama as a successful entrepreneur is also a doting mother to her twin girls.
“Motherhood has taught me patience.” Beaming with smiles as she looked around for her beautiful angels. Continuing. “Business taught me patience, motherhood has taught me how to forgive myself. In fact, a lot of people ask me, how you juggle everything. Motherhood has taught me the importance of structure. I realize that I can’t be everywhere at the same time, so I am learning how to set up structures around me, even in my home, that will enable me to be effective and achieve the objectives that I want.”
Apart from her business, Iroghama is also passionate about giving back. Her passion lies in women empowerment.
She said, “Yes. I really have a passion for women empowerment. It might not be money, but more of ideation. Being able to take up female entrepreneurs, come together, come up with ideas and help them bring those ideas to reality, in terms of practicality. Then seeing how it can go from a thought in their head to actual execution stage. I am looking forward to an opportunity where I could actually do that on a better bigger platform.”
It has been a fulfilling 34 years of following her passion and fulfilling her dreams. Where does she see herself in the next six years?
“I will be 40 in the next six years. Recently, I was elected chairman of the finance and membership committee of Shipowners Association of Nigeria. The first woman to occupy that position in the history of the association. It’s quite a feat and I am the only woman in the exco. So another 6 years from now, I am aiming for a higher position within the association. I am hoping to be a more recognized voice within the industry and the beauty industry, giving all the other projects that I have lined up. So by the time I am 40 I definitely want to have achieved a lot of those big dreams that I have in my head. I would like to be a symbol in the industry, both oil and gas and beauty/manufacturing that people can reckon with. I will like to be a thought leader not just thought leader because of my thought but for my actions and what I have been able to achieve,” she stated.