Alexander Chika Okafor has avoided the trappings of wealth that many in his position cling so desperately to. He answers his own phone, has no swanky corporate communication executive as a gatekeeper, and you won’t find conversations with him infused with trendy buzzwords. His response is precise and straightforward, with just enough color to paint a detailed picture so even someone with little knowledge of his business will begin to understand just how far he has come.
The 60-year-old Okafor is the executive chairman and founder of the Chicason Group, which has interests in oil and gas, mining, real estate, transport and manufacturing. Okafor maintains a hands-on approach to driving the business that has taken more than 36 years to build. That journey began as a street trader during the Biafran war in Nigeria.
“I came from a poor family. My mother was a fish seller and my father was a farmer and wine tapper. My mother valued education because she didn’t have the opportunity so she wanted all her children to have an education. I was in primary two, in 1966, when the civil war started but we still went to school until 1967 when they shut down all the schools,” he says.
Okafor epitomizes self-reliance. He had to fend for himself and his mother at the age of eight following the death of his father. Okafor started by helping his mother sell akara (bean cake) and before long expanded into more lucrative business ventures.
“During a month holiday, I went to a man who had an agency for newspapers to take me as one of the vendors to sell newspapers. I did that for one month and I was able to earn about $8, which was big money at the time. I sold newspapers, magazines and lottery tickets and used the proceeds from that business to establish a poultry business.”
Okafor was only 12 at the time.
“I started with 500 birds so, by the time we went back to school, I was already earning money. I would come back by 2PM, go to the market and sell magazines and use the proceeds to feed my birds. I used to have about 20 dozen eggs every day. So in the morning, between 5AM and 6AM every day, people will queue up to buy eggs from me before I go to school,” says Okafor.
His tenacity paid off and by the time he wrapped up his business he had $150 in savings, which he gave to his mother before beginning his journey as an apprentice with his uncle.
“That was where I learnt all the business tricks. That is the system we used in our culture. We call it apprenticeship. You must spend five to six years to learn any business and then you get some money to start your own business. You need to study under somebody for five years, without salary, and if you do very well he will give you something to go and start your own business,” says Okafor.
Rooted in this sense of tradition, Okafor built a sizeable business supplying fishing products to customers in Ghana by exploiting a gap in the market. At that time, Ghanaian fishermen only had one supplier of fishing products in Nigeria.
“I did this until 1978, when [Ghana’s former president Jerry John] Rawlings came into power. He closed the Ghana border and seized all foreign goods so I ran back to Nigeria and opened an electronics shop, Chicason Electronics. I would travel to Lagos to buy electronic equipment and fridges and opened a shop in Anambra State,” he says.
Okafor soon realized he had to do something more ambitious.
“I used to always tell my friends that I never want to enter a parked vehicle. Even if it is moving in the opposite direction, I will prefer to jump in and change later to one moving in the right direction. Along the line I saw people going to Hong Kong to buy ladies’ wear and clothing and these boys were driving big cars and they were my mates. They were throwing lavish parties every night. I also wanted that life.”
Armed with $50,000, Okafor began work on his new clothing empire. He jumped on a plane to Hong Kong and made contact with his competitors’ suppliers. That self-reliance came in handy yet again. With no knowledge of the area, Okafor asked the receptionist at his hotel about the best places to make his products and he was provided the business cards of the suppliers. That foray into women’s fashion was a turning point for Okafor. With profit margins of 100%, the money began to roll in and with that a diversification of his business portfolio.
“I never stay in the same place for too long. I have to always keep moving. I used to travel from Onitsha to Lagos every week for 13 years and even now I go to Abuja every Tuesday or Wednesday.”
By 1997, he started importing base oils for lubricant production and two years later established a large storage facility business. He followed this by dabbling in the commodities market with imports of rice and sugar before switching to edible oil and the importation of refined petroleum products. Today, the group has Nigerian brands ranging from lubricants, real estate, soaps and many more.
“Chicason Group is a homegrown and technology driven conglomerate, with a focus on showcasing the African entrepreneurship spirit which Okafor exemplifies. Since 1981, we have continued to diversify our portfolio with a strong focus on integrity and commitment,” says Ari Sengupta, Group Managing Director at the Chicason Group.
That spirit of entrepreneurship looks set to continue. As Okafor grooms his eldest son in the age-old tradition of apprenticeship, his eye is still on the bigger picture – a continued expansion and dominance of his business in every sector of the Nigerian economy and beyond. There is no limit to Okafor’s ambition.
From The Arab World To Africa
In this exclusive interview with FORBES AFRICA, successful Dubai-based Emirati businesswoman, author and artist, Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi, shares some interesting insights on fashion, the future, and feminism in a shared world.
Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi wears many hats, as an artist, architect, author, entrepreneur and philanthropist based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). She currently serves as the CEO of Paris London New York Events & Publishing (PLNY), that includes a magazine and a fashion house.
She runs Velvet Magazine, a luxury lifestyle publication in the Gulf founded in 2010 that showcases the diversity of the region home to several nationalities from around the world.
In this recent FORBES AFRICA interview, Hend, as she would want us to call her, speaks about the future of publishing, investing in intelligent content, and learning to be a part of the disruption around you.
As an entrepreneur too and the designer behind House of Hend, a luxury ready-to-wear line that showcases exquisite abayas, evening gowns and contemporary wear, her designs have been showcased in fashion shows across the world.
The Middle East is known for retail, but not typically, as a fashion hub in the same league as Paris, New York or Milan. Yet, she has changed the narrative of fashion in the region. “I have approached the world of fashion with what the customer wants,” says Hend. In this interview, she also extols African fashion talent and dwells on her own sartorial plans for the African continent.
In September, in Downtown Dubai, she is scheduled to open The Flower Café. Also an artist using creative expression meaningfully, she says it’s important to be “a role model of realism”.
She is also the author of The Black Book of Arabia, described as a collection of true stories from the Arab community offering a real glimpse into the lives of men and women across the Gulf Cooperation Council region.
In this interview, she also expounds on her home, Sharjah, one of the seven emirates in the UAE and the region’s educational hub. “A number of successful entrepreneurs have started in this culturally-rich emirate that’s home to 30 museums,” she concludes.
Kim Kardashian West Is Worth $900 Million After Agreeing To Sell A Stake In Her Cosmetics Firm To Coty
In what will be the second major Kardashian cashout in a year, Kim Kardashian West is selling a 20% stake in her cosmetics company KKW Beauty to beauty giant Coty COTY for $200 million. The deal—announced today—values KKW Beauty at $1 billion, making Kardashian West worth about $900 million, according to Forbes’estimates.
The acquisition, which is set to close in early 2021, will leave Kardashian West the majority owner of KKW Beauty, with an estimated 72% stake in the company, which is known for its color cosmetics like contouring creams and highlighters. Forbes estimates that her mother, Kris Jenner, owns 8% of the business. (Neither Kardashian West nor Kris Jenner have responded to a request for comment about their stakes.) According to Coty, she’ll remain responsible for creative efforts while Coty will focus on expanding product development outside the realm of color cosmetics.
Earlier this year, Kardashian West’s half-sister, Kylie Jenner, also inked a big deal with Coty, when she sold it 51% of her Kylie Cosmetics at a valuation of $1.2 billion. The deal left Jenner with a net worth of just under $900 million. Both Kylie Cosmetics and KKW Beauty are among a number of brands, including Anastasia Beverly Hills, Huda Beauty and Glossier, that have received sky-high valuations thanks to their social-media-friendly marketing.
“Kim is a true modern-day global icon,” said Coty chairman and CEO Peter Harf in a statement. “This influence, combined with Coty’s leadership and deep expertise in prestige beauty will allow us to achieve the full potential of her brands.”
The deal comes just days after Seed Beauty, which develops, manufactures and ships both KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, won a temporary injunction against KKW Beauty, hoping to prevent it from sharing trade secrets with Coty, which also owns brands like CoverGirl, Sally Hansen and Rimmel. On June 19, Seed filed a lawsuit against KKW Beauty seeking protection of its trade secrets ahead of an expected deal between Coty and KKW Beauty. The temporary order, granted on June 26, lasts until August 21 and forbids KKW Beauty from disclosing details related to the Seed-KKW relationship, including “the terms of those agreements, information about license use, marketing obligations, product launch and distribution, revenue sharing, intellectual property ownership, specifications, ingredients, formulas, plans and other information about Seed products.”
Coty has struggled in recent years, with Wall Street insisting it routinely overpays for acquisitions and has failed to keep up with contemporary beauty trends. The coronavirus pandemic has also hit the 116-year-old company hard. Since the beginning of the year, Coty’s stock price has fallen nearly 60%. The company, which had $8.6 billion in revenues in the year through June 2019, now sports a $3.3 billion market capitalization. By striking deals with companies like KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, Coty is hoping to refresh its image and appeal to younger consumers.
Kardashian West founded KKW Beauty in 2017, after successfully collaborating with Kylie Cosmetics on a set of lip kits. Like her half-sister, Kardashian West first launched online only, but later moved into Ulta stores in October 2019, helping her generate estimated revenues of $100 million last year. KKW Beauty is one of several business ventures for Kardashian West: She continues to appear on her family’s reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, sells her own line of shapewear called Skims and promotes her mobile game, Kim Kardashian Hollywood. Her husband, Kanye West, recently announced a deal to sell a line of his Yeezy apparel in Gap stores.
“This is fun for me. Now I’m coming up with Kimojis and the app and all these other ideas,” Kardashian West told Forbesof her various business ventures in 2016. “I don’t see myself stopping.”
Covid-19: Restaurants, Beauty Salons, Cinemas Among Businesses That Will Operate Again In South Africa As Ramaphosa Announces Eased Lockdown Restrictions
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation announcing that the government will further ease the country’s lockdown restrictions.
Restaurants, beauty salons, cinemas are among the businesses that will be allowed to operate again in South Africa.
The country is still on lockdown ‘Level 3’ of the government’s “risk adjusted strategy”.
President Ramaphosa also spoke on the gender based violence in the country.
“It is with the heaviest of hearts that I stand before the women and the girls of South Africa this evening to talk about another pandemic that is raging in our country. The killing of women and children by the men of our country. As a man, as a husband, and as a father to daughters, I am appalled at what is no less than a war that is being waged against the women and the children of our country,” says Ramaphosa.
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