INTERVIEW: I was rejected by Nasarawa University – Young Nigerian businessman recognised by Forbes

Henrich Akomolafe is one of the 28 Nigerian global influencers
Henrich Akomolafe is one of the 28 Nigerian global influencers.

Henrich Akomolafe is one of the 28 Nigerian global influencers recently listed on the fifth annual Forbes Africa 30 Under 30.

Mr Akomolafe, 26, is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Akotex Nigeria Limited, one of the leading elevator manufacturing companies for high-rise buildings in Nigeria.

According to Forbes Africa, the 30 Under 30 list brings 120 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 in four categories featuring 30 in each: Business, Technology, Creatives, and Sport.

PREMIUM TIMES recently met with Mr Akomolafe to share his experience as a young entrepreneur. Excerpts:

PREMIUM TIMES: Your profile says you developed an interest in entrepreneurship and engineering at a tender age of 8, what inspired you as early as that?

Akomolafe: I wasn’t inspired because I never wanted to be an engineer. But at that age of eight, I only already had that entrepreneurship zeal. My dad is a businessman and my mum a businessperson. I am the only boy in the family, I am the one who goes on errands for the family. So my dad as at that time advised me to start thinking of new business ideas.

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PREMIUM TIMES: When you heard of your nomination, what was your reaction? And how do you feel being selected?

Akomolafe: In 2015, immediately I finished my university education and I was thinking of what next, I posted on Facebook that before 2030, I am going to be on Forbes.

When I got the call that I would be on the business cover, I was not so super excited, because I had always had the feeling and here it is.

Since my zeal is to be on the billionaires’ list, not the under 30, it is a signal that I am on the right track, this is the first indication and the next indication should be on the billionaire’s list.

PREMIUM TIMES: Currently in Nigeria, how do you think we can empower our youthful population?

Akomolafe: Presently, I think I am already empowering our youthful population because right from the 20 employees we used to have three years back, we now have about 80 employees and they are all below the age of 40.

Some of them I don’t even know because I have maintenance staff in Gusau, Maiduguri, Birnin-Kebbi, Port Harcourt, Ado-Ekiti and so on

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So if other employers can do the same and empower people, then we have a lot of youth who should already be in the system and probably making Nigeria proud.

PREMIUM TIMES: As a computer engineer, do you have a business background before now?

Akomolafe: I initially wanted to study Economics and Math because I had this passion to be a very young entrepreneur. But when I got to Ukraine after being rejected at the University of Nasarawa, I was told the department was filled already.

I had the option of studying the Russian language for a year or to opt for Computer Engineering, which will require a background in Physics and Technical Drawing. So I was given one week to study all those things. And then I made it, then I became a computer engineer.

After then, I was looking for something to align the business and technology, so I went to Spain. I studied IT Strategic Management. That way, I was able to merge business and technology, so it brought me back to the entrepreneurship biz.

And after I graduated, my dad who started the elevator business called me. So I had to leave my IT business.

I was offered an internship at Microsoft but I rejected it and went to intern at MP Lift in Spain for four months, which was a good chance for me because I got to know the manufacturers and managers. So when I came back to Nigeria, I had a good negotiation because I already worked with them.

And in order to understand the system, I travelled around all the places we have a project. I started picking up and then I got the project with FAAN Abuja, where I presently have like three units, and then FIRS and some other residential community projects. I was able to pick up with my tech know-how and my business knowledge and my personal relationship.

PREMIUM TIMES: Attaining this height, what can you say were the challenges? And how did you overcome?

Akomolafe: One of my major challenges is my age. Because at the age of 24, you are telling somebody to buy an elevator of N50 million, because the cheapest elevator you can get is like N10 million, no one will want to take you seriously. Because they will ask if you know the worth of the money, they will question if you even know anything about elevators.

But I was able to overcome it because I really know what I am saying. I understand the methodology of the business, I understand the mechanical, architectural, electrical job, so it gave me this impact because I’m really very conversant with technology.

So if a 60-year-old man is coming to talk about money, I’m talking about technology, so which one will you go for? You will definitely go for me because I really know what I’m saying.

And then when I came to Nigeria in 2016, the availability of the currency was a big challenge. If we were buying an elevator for a million naira in 2014- 2015, now you’re buying it for like N10 million. So you could see the price difference in the US dollars.

Business trust also was a challenge.

PREMIUM TIMES: What is your take on the new Not Too Yung To Run advocacy?

Akomolafe: For now, I am not looking at politics. Though I have the interest to run for governorship in the nearest future, for now, I am focusing on the business because I don’t want to be poor to be a governor. I want to be on the billionaire’s list first.

So first of all, Not Too Young to Run is a very good idea. Because we have young guys that have a lot of good initiatives like me. I’m doing a lot of things. And I think if we give young guys the opportunity, they will do better

When I was in South Africa, I had a conversation with other nominees and I was impressed because these are guys that are really doing great. So if the youths have more access to power, I believe Nigeria will do better.

PREMIUM TIMES: We are presently faced with the challenge of out-of-school children, what do you think we can do to take these kids off the streets?

Akomolafe: Personally, I feel our government should invest more in education because if you check out this investment in education is really poor, we invest in things that are not relevant.

If our budget for education can be increased by 30-40 per cent, it is going to take these kids back to school and it is also going to add economic value to our country. Because when these guys are well educated, when they grow up, they’re going to add value and employ people.

Also, change our educational system to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

PREMIUM TIMES: What do we expect from Akotex, now that you have been recognised out of Nigeria?

Akomolafe: Presently in Nigeria, we have no elevator school in Nigeria, so I am talking to my partners in Spain to start up one in Nigeria.

Hopefully, we are starting our own factory soon. We want to be the first manufacturer of elevators in Nigeria and in sub-Saharan Africa.

I just finished a job at Kwara State University, which was just opened last week. I also have my elevators at the University of Portharcourt, University of Maiduguri and Imo State University.

So I want to create a strategic partnership with the universities to see how we can start up something because an elevator needs a lot of skills, it goes beyond being a mechanical or electrical engineer.

I have few mechanical and electrical engineers that have been working with me for two years now and have still not picked the required skills.

And now Nigeria is an emerging market, high rising buildings are emerging, an elevator is now like a luxury style for residential buildings. For instance, about 60 per cent of buildings at Guzape Hills (Abuja) have elevators.

So being on the list doesn’t change our zeal and focus, we are here to stay and already making an impact in terms of employment, though we want to employ as many of unemployed engineers as possible.

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