Her golden dreadlocks, her sporty trainers and her elegant carriage belies her age. Behind her well-glazed glasses, her glimmering eyeballs rolls gracefully. In her understated appearance, Modupe Ogunlesi is the queen of the park when it comes to luxury homeware. She’s been the modern matriarch of Nigeria’s entrepreneurship over the last two decades. Ogunlesi is the definition of luxury, comfort, and elegance, writes Bayo Akinloye
The 2018 Global Entrepreneurship Index (GEI) ranked Nigeria 101 out of 137 countries; the 12th in Africa. The index notes that 58% of Nigerian entrepreneurs are female who are into entrepreneurship because of “passion/hobby”. For Modupe Ogunlesi, passion is a driving force. And it must be for many an entrepreneur.
The Chief Executive Officer of Adam & Eve, Ogunlesi thinks entrepreneurship is driven by the heart as well as the head.
“Working in Nigeria is difficult terrain. If it’s work, then you’ll get tired. If it’s your hobby and passion, you can work 24 hours a day and you’re still going,” says Ogunlesi, lounging beside a luxurious bed in her shop.
“You need to find something that excites your passion and keep at it, then you’re on the path of success. When people tell me everyone’s a fashion designer and therefore they want to go into fashion designing, I look at them because they’re bound to fail.”
She, however, sounds a note of caution: “When you think of entrepreneurship as the easy alternative, you’ve failed. It’s a more difficult alternative. But if you pick a field that you’re passionate about, you’ll be able to fly because you’ll keep on thinking about it. You have to breathe it. You have to live it. You have to eat it. You have to give it your all.”
When is the best time to become an entrepreneur as an adult? If you’re already raising children, the Adam & Eve matriarch says, “I think entrepreneurship is better when your children are slightly older; a bit independent of you. It just makes life less arduous because when you feel guilty about the time you’re not spending with your children and you’re thinking about your business, then I don’t think it’s healthy.”
While many female Nigerians are becoming entrepreneurial, Ogunlesi thinks the stakes are still higher for women and nobody is giving them a fair chance of succeeding in their endeavours.
“It’s not just Nigeria,” she admits. “It’s all over the world. Women aren’t treated the same way as men. A high percentage of women are entrepreneurs most hang in there and must give it their all. They have to be passionate about it because nobody really encourages women to succeed. If a man attempts and fails, there are many people immediately urging him to get up and start again. When a woman fails, one, the husband goes ‘oh, well, it’s expected you know….’ Nobody’s giving you another opportunity to start again.
“And, women, in particular, can’t afford to fail because we have more control over the children. We’re their bigger advisers because the interaction between men and their children are often lesser compared to women’s interaction with children; although that trend is changing now. Imagine if you attempted to go for a master’s programme and you failed, how do you tell your children?”
With a glint in her eyes, Ogunlesi emphatically adds that female entrepreneurs can’t afford to fail.
“More and more women are finding their space because of lack of security; even the law doesn’t really help the woman. The laws are really there but the culture and traditions stop the woman in Nigeria and in most parts of Africa from making demands for things that are hers. So, it means that you must have a fallback. From time immemorial, women have always striven to have a measure of financial independence.”
Then, Ogunlesi talks about having the right attitude towards an enterprise. For her, it is the mindset that pushes an entrepreneur on the path of success or leads an entrepreneur in the opposite direction.
“Carol Dweck said there’re only two kinds of mindset: either the growth-oriented mindset or the fixed mindset,” the Adam & Eve boss explains. “The growth-oriented mindset believes that you must work at things even when they don’t seem to be working well, expecting growth and change. On the other hand, a fixed mindset concludes that if something isn’t working then it’s not right.”
The point: with a fixed mindset, an entrepreneur will find limited success.
As an entrepreneur of over two decades, she urges others: “In being an entrepreneur, you must keep on re-thinking, rejigging, and re-working until you get it right. It’s never static. You must keep on growing otherwise new folks coming behind you will overtake you.
“You must be thinking always in terms of how to grow, and how to make things better. You must challenge your own frontiers and keep on challenging those frontiers; that you have failed today doesn’t mean you should stop; you must not stop. You must be your own competitor all the time otherwise there’ll no long-term success.”
At Adam & Eve, quality, she says, is never under compromise. While she admits that buying habits have changed a bit, the standards of service and products keep moving up.
“We must appreciate the individual craftsmanship, for instance, that goes into the Italians put into making cotton bedsheet feel silky,” Ogunlesi points out. “Work atmosphere must be conducive for workers. When it’s humid, we put in de-humidifiers. When it’s dry, we put in humidifiers. At Adam & Eve, we rarely get workers calling in sick. They’re constantly being trained.”
With 95 million Nigerians living below the poverty line, the relevance of Adam & Eve becomes even clearer, Ogunlesi asserts.
“Adam & Eve is luxury homeware. But what’s luxury? Nigerians think of luxury as ‘expensive’. You can’t make a fool of everybody all of the time,” she begins. “People, who chase luxury are you saying they’re all fools? What does luxury mean? In different parts of the world, the interpretation of luxury differs. The Italians think of it as beauty and elegance. Google’s definition of luxury is ‘comfort or elegance’.”
Ogunlesi thinks luxury should be a perfect blend of comfort and elegance. It shouldn’t be either of the two essential qualities.
“Why ‘or’ as if you can’t get both?” she quips.
She adds “Nowadays, humans want comfort and elegance. The British want a high level of functionality and that’s what they call luxury. The Italians expect beauty, craftsmanship and the Germans want functionality and durability. In Nigeria, in Adam & Eve, in particular, when luxury is mentioned it’s comfort, beauty and an above-level of functionality.
“When people say ‘it’s expensive’ I believe you must be new to Adam & Eve. Our clients aren’t fools. They know exactly what they’re getting from us. For instance, you pick a Bugatti kettle. Yes, it’s expensive; it’s luxurious. But it’s beautiful. True, an electric kettle is an electric kettle. These days you have Chinese tea that says ‘better brewed at 85 degrees celsius. Are you gonna stick a thermometer into your kettle? No. You’re going to guess. But if you have a Bugatti kettle it’ll tell you what the temperature is. That’s what you’re paying for -that efforts that had been put into it.”
A Roberto Cavalli bedsheet can be a royal treat for a body that desires a memorable night rest. But here’s the point.
“You pick a Roberto Cavalli bedsheet. ‘Wow! It’s expensive’. But what’s expensive? Lie on it and then go back and lie on your own bedsheet and see and feel the difference. When you can make cotton feel like silk against your body; truly, the thing with comfort is this: a happy person can’t spread unhappiness. There must be a deep cord of discontent in you or something making you unhappy that makes you want the next person unhappy,” the matriarch says.
Ogunlesi highlights her point saying, “If you slept and you woke up in the morning with a stiff neck, can you spread happiness? But when you create comfort around yourself it becomes easy to spread happiness. What do we need in this country? There’s too much aggro. We need to spread that little happiness around your orbit. You can only do that when your lifestyle is offering you comfort and beauty because you must feed the eyes first before the body finds solace.
“See, there’re two types of people: the ones who wake up in the morning and say: ‘Good morning, O Lord!’ and the ones who wake up in the morning and say: ‘Good Lord, it’s morning!’ Do you see the difference? ‘Good Lord, it’s morning!’ Obviously, you’ve not had a good night. It’s your personal comfort that makes the difference. There are different things that make you feel in a good place: your space. You don’t need to have everything at the same time. But just pick some things that make you feel good about yourself. You can have a good pillow that’ll support your head properly. You come to your table and everything matches. It makes you feel good. You look around you and you can see beauty.”
Ogunlesi in her late sixties makes beauty, comfort, and elegance look simple. In many ways, she’s an embodiment of the trinity.
“Luxury isn’t just for the people who have money. I know that Nigeria is tough. Even for some, food is a big deal. But we must pick a piece of beauty and add to our lives,” she says. “Look for something beautiful and functional. Good morning, Lord! Good Lord, it’s morning!”
Being at Adam & Eve offers a sublime feeling that soothes the aching body and mind. Ogunlesi says Adam & Eve outlets are deliberately designed that way.
Online shopping has become popular and Ogunlesi believes it can be a source of mental depression.
She explains, “Man’s created in such a way that you must have physical contact to make you feel complete. After all, why did you think God created Eve? He knew that one man alone isn’t enough for happiness. When you go out to do physical shopping, you find contentment and happiness. That’s what we always work harder on at Adam & Eve; we want to give everyone who comes in here that sublime refreshment and atmosphere to feel refreshed.
“People call to ask ‘do you have this? Can you send photographs?’ But I’ll tell them ‘please, come in just for once.’ And people come in, they might not buy much but having walked round the shop they feel better. They’re like ‘I’m glad I came.’ People come more often because of the atmosphere. Your experience of Adam & Eve is more to calm you down. The atmosphere helps you to dream, to aspire.”
With the continued rise in the number of entrepreneurs in Africa’s most populous nation, Ogunlesi urges introspection.
“You must within yourself know what you want. If you keep on expecting that the millions will roll in, you must be compromising a lot along the way and it depends on who you are as a human being: I want enough for my needs. I want enough for some of my wants -you can’t have all your wants. And enough for the instinctive charity that every human being must be able to do.
“If that’s your want, then entrepreneurship will give you that and a bit over. If on the other hand what you want is a private jet and the height of luxury; you want to satisfy all your wants and satisfy all your desires, that’s a matter of greed. You can have your way but you would have had to compromise a lot along the way.”
In entrepreneurship, it’s not by following the crowd that determines success, adds Ogunlesi. She should know better. She’s been there, done that.
“It’s being maverick that breaks the boundaries. You have to work outside the box. I’m passionate about the homefront. I like to entertain in my own home because there I’m in control. Even when I ask a caterer to do the cooking I won’t use their dishes. I’ll use mine; that’s what puts my personal stamp on that entertainment,” says the matriarch.
She, however, suggests that good accounting knowledge can also help.
“My accounting background helps in my entrepreneurial journey. Homeware has always been something I’m particular about. I like my personal comfort. There’re over 10,000 items in this shop and not a piece did I pick online. When I’m talking of the Italian bedsheet, I’m feeling it and I’m touching.
“Each of the carpets here I sank my feet in them to know how comfortable they are. I look at the plates and I look at my style of eating. I know the efforts I put in. We keep on working in the best way to serve our clients. We keep on listening to them because the 22 years haven’t been a waste. It’s only passion that could have driven this business this far,” she reveals.
‘Good morning, O Lord’ boss wants Nigerians to be saying.