Femi  Rogers: Nigeria Placed to Lead Global Digital Economy

Femi  Rogers: Nigeria Placed to Lead Global Digital Economy

He is an entrepreneur with over 29 years of experience in real estate investment-financing, construction, acquisition, project management, and sales. That’s Femi Rogers, the CEO of Roston Group, a firm that also specializes in the construction of spec homes in Nigeria and the United States. Rogers hails from Ondo State, and a graduate of University of Ado Ekiti now Ekiti State University. He talks to select journalists, including Olaoluwakitan Babatunde about his life and businesses

Walk us through your business journey from the furniture business to the oil and gas industry, and to global real estate investment?

I got into the furniture business during my youth service year while working in an insurance company and felt I had little prospects for growth because I could see some of my superiors who had worked there for over ten years still struggling. Three months into my NYSC, I decided to set up my furniture company. I bought some equipment and started with one employee who was an upholstery. Within three years, we had grown as a brand with an average of seventy staff. We were into upholstery furniture, wooden furniture, hand drills, etc. It was a trendy business then, and we made a lot of sales, and the company was doing great. The business later became saturated, and there was lots of competition, making getting contracts difficult. At this point, I decided to diversify. I gained more insights and ideas and attended international exhibitions and fairs where I met and partnered with furniture suppliers from Italy, Spain, and China.

I went into retail and imported furniture materials, components, and machines. I also imported building materials unavailable in the Nigerian markets. I opened a showroom at Mushin, where other furniture makers would come in to buy our unique furniture components. We sold Laminate boards, imported kitchen doors and parts, and special equipment that helped other furniture makers cut furniture in our warehouse. I was in the business till 2012, when the dollar rate went up during Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, and the importation business became difficult.

Somewhere between the time I was in the retail business, I partnered with a friend to start an oil and gas trading company, where we engaged in buying oil products from importers in tank farms and delivering them to petrol stations. The oil and gas meltdown in 2013 and the inflated dollar rate severely impacted the economy, and the furniture and oil and gas businesses were affected. 

Shortly before the meltdown, I started researching global investments and looking outside the country for opportunities. I decided to explore offshore business rather than depending on the Nigerian economy. I was able to get an entry into the U.S. real estate industry while simultaneously doing my business in Nigeria till the year 2017. I was running my business in Nigeria and developing properties in Nigeria. Still, I had to shut down the companies in Nigeria after considering my time and Viability based on return on Investment. I needed more funds to start a business in the U.S., so I liquidated my funds in the oil and gas and importation business and diversified into real estate in the U.S.

What inspired your shift from the furniture business to the oil and gas sector, and how did you navigate that transition?

A friend of mine approached me with a business proposal in the oil and gas industry, and I saw it as an opportunity to explore the oil and gas sector. I expanded my business and also own other business which include Ornaments and Designs Ltd, an interior fittings construction company established in 1997, and Signways Furniture Ltd, Nigeria – a retail company that has been importing and selling building materials, and machinery since 2001. I equally have investments in Suburban Energy, a company trading in petroleum products.

How did your experiences in the oil and gas industry contribute to your decision to enter global real estate?

As previously mentioned, the decision to explore global real estate was driven by the need to survive due to the continued high inflation rate and the oil and gas meltdown in 2013, which had negatively impacted the economy, and, subsequently, my business.

Can you share a life example of one of the challenges you encountered during your transition from one industry to another, and how you got through the challenge?

When I moved my business to the U.S., I went into the real estate business. I had to go through a learning curve to understand the rules and regulations significantly different from Nigeria’s. One of the first projects I invested in had a bad title, and I almost lost half of my capital but for divine intervention. The experience inspired me to become a realtor to understand the laws and regulations of the industry.

What are the things young people can learn from your journey so far as an entrepreneur?

To survive and be successful in the current dynamic business world, you need to have the ability to envisage where your industry or business is going and prepare for the next thing. You must also have grit, patience, good work ethic, and consistency. The adage, Rome was not built in a day comes to mind. To have a successful and lasting business, you must consistently put in the work and see every bump as an opportunity to learn and grow. Another thing young people can learn is to have business foresight and be able to diversify. Having foresight is also great for entrepreneurs.

What would you say is a significant difference between real estate in Nigeria and Real estate in the United States?

In the U.S., guidelines and regulations are in place to make transactions transparent. There is also enough data to help you make sound business decisions. In Nigeria, information on a property title is not easily accessible. However, in the U.S., you can get much information on the title online. When the information is not readily available, it allows fraud and illegitimate activities. 

Can you tell us about a real-life experience in your journey about an opportunity you got, that you think younger entrepreneurs can learn from?

A real-life experience was when a friend approached me and helped me enter the oil and gas industry. The same thing also happened when I was going into the importation industry. I was a corps member when a friend approached me about executing a furniture contract. After completing this contract, I also decided to continue the business. Integrity and Networking would bring opportunities to your doorstep.

How do you think Nigerian youths can address the “laziness” appellation?

The older generation had better opportunities in their days. The economy was better, and there was less population. Now, the younger generation has to put up with a larger population and competition by technology, reducing the world to a global village. In today’s world, a young man in Ekiti competes with a young man in New York and another in Beijing. Young Nigerians are not lazy. The opportunities the older generations had in their youth differ from those available today. Nigerian youths are striving even with their limited resources.

Confidence is regarded as a far-end drive that the younger generation lack, and it is the nutrient that drives almost every idea and goals. In what way do you think the youth can tackle this challenge?

The Nigerian youth are more confident than the youths from other countries. They are daring and assertive. However, one of the reasons Nigerian youths could be timid is because of our culture. We have been taught to respect and obey the wishes of the older generation without asking questions; therefore, we tend not to challenge them even when they are wrong.

What can you say about ‘Poor reading and writing culture in Nigeria?

It could be because Nigerians lack access to internet data, libraries, or even books. However, growing up, I knew of only one library at Yaba. Aside from university libraries, there are only so many libraries around, unlike the U.S., where there are enough Libraries and resources in every neighborhood.

Technology as a tool for development, how blessed can Africa be to have identified with global technological instruments, and how has it aided development?

The internet has brought down barriers and opened up opportunities. We have gotten to the stage where we are all playing on a level playing ground; that’s why people like Davido, Burna Boy, tech professionals, bloggers, and social media personalities are earning dollars right in Nigeria. Technology is a blessing to Africa.

Where do you see Nigeria in areas of digital economy in the next 10 years?

According to Africa Development Bank, Africa is projected to ‘outperform the rest of the world in economic growth over the next two years’ and, with leadership and strategy, has prospects to be the next world power. With Nigeria being one of Africa’s leading countries in Tech, we are positioned to lead in the global digital economy in the next ten years.

Related Articles