Dec 2020 – Feb 2021
Delta State, Nigeria
Raymond Ighomrore is CEO of Solemi Investment Limited, Nigeria.
Born and raised in Warri, Delta State, Nigeria, Raymond has always had an optimistic outlook on life. He is of the Urhobo ethnic group, all of whom originate from the southerly part of present day Nigeria. Delta State is part of that area in Nigeria. He cites a great sense of humor as being one of the characteristics the Urhobo people possess.
While he doesn’t seek to make light of serious situations, having a knack to make a light hearted comment at the right time and place is something he feels has enabled him expand professional relationships during his numerous business trips at home and abroad.
He attended Urhobo College in Delta State where he indulged his passion for sport. He was a track and field athlete but also took his academic studies seriously. Such was his love, drive and ability in sport, he was able to represent his school at numerous tournaments.
He went on to attain a diploma in Physical Health and Education at Obafemi Awolow Univerisity in Osun State, Nigeria. Such was his sporting ability, he was able to represent his University at various track and field tournaments. He completed his time at the same university by studying for a degree in Business Admin – International Relations and National Security Studies
AGN: How do you see the business environment in Nigeria?
RI: Very poor. I feel further liberalization is required. This should enable the private sector to operate more freely and flourish.
AGN: What three factors do you feel would be highly impactful in supporting the private sector?
RI: I feel that if the government addressed the following, it would be very helpful:
- Provide a level playing field for all private sector players. For instance during the pandemic the government closed the country’s borders. This had a negative impact on exporters. However, it came to light that the rule applied to most but not all companies. In other words the rule was not evenly applied. On the face of it, such an approach makes a mockery of fair competition and it does not inspire confidence.
- Provision of more easily accessible grants and loans
- Easier access to forex at more attractive exchange rates
AGN: You have been heavily involved in sport from a young age. Why didn’t you pursue it as a career?
RI: While sports was my passion and I still retain an interest in it albeit more as a spectator these days, I felt business was my calling. Having said that there are things about the development of my mindset gained through applying myself at sport that have definitely helped in enabling me grow in business. Self discipline and better realisation of the benefits of perseverance/doggedness are qualities I have transferred from sport to operating in business.
AGN: After graduating you went straight into business for yourself without first working for others. Was it daunting to do so in anyway?
RI: Not to any great extent. It’s really down to confidence in one’s ability, good preparation and sound execution. It doesn’t hurt to exceeds customer’s expectations. Obviously misplaced confidence will not serve one well. Being realistic about what can be achieved in the existing climate with available resources and expertise is key.
I began as a link service provider. My scope of work encompassed; finance, business and project link service provision. This entailed sourcing for goods and services from around the world for end users and dealing with financing and contractual frameworks as needs be.
I started off by being paid on the basis of results i.e. payment after delivery. A bank payment undertaking would be agreed, instruments or processes such as a letter of credit or escrows were employed to create balanced agreements and minimise risk.
I later diversified into construction of residential units. That’s the state of play with regards to things to date.
AGN: You make the transition from schooling to business sound easy. When you first started out, were there no significant challenges you faced as a new entrant without a track record?
RI: The transition from completing university to running my own business was not as stark as it may first appear. While I was schooling I helped my mother run her clothing business e.g. sale of laces, ankara etc. She was directly importing stock herself and also purchasing from local importers. We would supply directly to the major retailers at markets.
That business was a multi million naira concern. I would assist her whenever I was on holiday from school. That experience provided adequate preparation for my solo venture later into the business world.
AGN: You have been in business for over twenty years. How has the landscape changed over that period in terms of doing business in Nigeria?
RI: The landscape for doing business in Nigeria has changed a little but not to the advantage of the common man. The Banking sector has opened up quite a bit but lending to small business owners has not been anything to write home about!
AGN: Talk of the reception Nigerians receive around the world is mixed. As someone who has been to a number of countries on business, what has your experience been like?
RI: I have most visited China and Singapore but I have also visited Dubai, Germany and UK. I have never experienced racism in any of those places. That’s not to say it does not exist. I feel that sometimes some of the stories we hear are due to a reaction to attitudes that a minority of Nigerians display when abroad. Obviously as our population is comparatively large in relation to that of other African countries, a minority of Nigerians can seem sizeable and cloud how people see the majority of us. Let’s not forget bad news sells.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not seeking to downplay the horrible experiences of racism and prejudice that well-meaning and good-natured Nigerians or others have and continually experience. I think it is important not to blur the lines. Sometimes the lines appear blurred when situations are presented out of context. It is undeniable that the playing field is not level in terms of the way global affairs are structured. One does what one can.
AGN: There is much talk about China in Africa. Often parties who are neither Chinese or African seem to be quite exercised about the relationship between governments in Africa and that of China. As a businessman based in Africa who has had direct dealings with the Chinese both in Nigeria and in China, how do you perceive things?
RI: The business relationship between China and Africa is one of the best things to have happened to the African continent. It’s a far better relationship than any other to date, impacting a number of areas positively e.g. trade, infrastructure, finance etc.
In terms of development, China has contributed more meaningfully to socioeconomic development in Africa in so many ways. In my opinion, they have exceeded any input that others have made to the continent.
If I were to stress on this we would be here all day. Talk of the Chinese are trying to recolonize Africa is nonsense. Like any relationship there are imperfections, on the African side some parties negotiate poorly, driven by a desire for personal gain before the best interests of the nation they purport to serve. Obviously on the Chinese side there are those who fall short too.
Of course the Chinese want to sell their excess goods, at times some may simply be seeking to recoup investment and not necessarily make a profit. Who doesn’t seek to do this with excess inventory. Some may use low cost goods as a loss leader in order to gain a foothold in new markets and son on. Like I intimated, expatiating on this could take a while.
AGN: The countries you have most visited for business purposes are in Asia. With the dawn of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) upon us. What are your thoughts on this?
RI: This is a welcome development. It’s left to be seen if our leaders will tap into it in a way that benefits the common man. Look at China’s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative, it exemplifies some of the positive aspects that trade can lead to. We should embrace AfCFTA wholeheartedly as a nation. Hopefully it will also lead to improvement in infrastructure because of the dearth of it across the continent.
AGN: Millions more people in Nigeria and elsewhere are embracing self-employment as a means to put food on the table. There are many ways to grow from a small part-time operator to a larger concern. What observation can you share about the attitude of business people in Nigeria?
RI: Yes self-employment is a key issue here. Many business people in Nigeria do not operate as if pleasing the customer is paramount. It’s as if all they think about is what will benefit them above and beyond anyone else. This must change. We must think of pleasing the customer more and not be consumed by immediate short term gains.
When customers are pleased with services rendered they will always come back and/or recommend businesses to others. That is where profits and gains comes from, acquired over time not overnight.
AGN: What would you like to do in future?
RI: I would like to be instrumental in the development of the real estate sector in Nigeria e.g. making purchasing a home via a mortgage more routine and easily accessible. There is a deficit of affordable, good quality accommodation here. The potential for job creation and positive economic impact is huge.
AGN: How do you like to spend your free time in order to unwind and recharge your batteries?
RI: While in Nigeria I spend my free time with my wife, kids, other family members and friends. I read a lot too. I enjoy reading material that will contribute to personal growth but steer clear of frivolous content.
AGN: When you finally call it a day and decide to retire from business, what would you like to be known for?
RI: I would like to be thought of as a man who in little ways tried to put a smile on the faces of whosoever he came across. I am venturing into politics as I hope to serve my people more directly and bring development to our region in a number of ways.