Ambassador Michael Tawadrous, founder of VAVA Group of Companies which includes VAVA Furniture, a major player in the Nigerian manufacturing industry speaks to Business Day on the operations of VAVA Furniture that stands it out. Tawadrous who is also a special envoy of the World Fund for Development and Planning (WFDP), United Nations OSAA in Nigeria speaks on how government could help indigenous companies survive the intense competition in the global economy. Excerpt:
Briefly tell us about your personal background and the passion that brought your career to life.
Ambassador Michael Tawadrous founder of VAVA group of companies which includes VAVA Furniture. VAVA Furniture is one of the leading businesses in manufacturing of wholesale, retail furniture and interior designs. Our experience has created an edge for us in designing, building and construction of both furniture and interior decoration.
I’m also a special envoy of the World Fund for Development and Planning (WFDP) – United Nations OSAA in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
I am also an official representative at the United Nations (UN) for the IGO Executive committee. A Counsellor at the International Court of Arbitration and a Peace Ambassador at Universal Peace Federation.
In addition, I’m a United Nations- SDG Ambassador (teachers without borders). This is in recognition of my contributions to the United Nations millennium development goals.
Couple of years back, I was invited as an expatriate for a furniture company located in Nigeria. However, I was apprehensive of the enormous change from my comfort zone to an unfamiliar terrain and by the information perpetuated by the media on the status of Nigeria’s Political, Economic & Security instabilities. These stories were quite worrisome that my family, friends and relatives discouraged my transition. However, arriving Nigeria with an enclosed mindset, it was surprising to see that the picture painted about Nigeria was a complete hoax. I observed that the country had the largest market in Africa, the people were incredibly nice, warm & welcoming. Instantly, I felt at home and knew I was meant to be here.
My vision was to add value to the sustainable development of the country’s economy by providing employment opportunities for her people. In line with the local content development, VAVA has employed over 1000 workforce since its inception and more in view. it was of great importance for VAVA as an organization to engage in training and upskilling of these personnel, thereby improving their capability and expertise. It feels satisfying to see individuals who had previously worked with VAVA thrive in other areas of their personal development.
What was the magic behind the re-positioning of Vava Furniture Limited to the path of phenomenal growth and significant strength?
The brand elements used in Vava Furniture that keep them growing:
There are certain factors we have established at VAVA to make our brand competitive in the Furniture and Interior decoration industry. Such factors include; offering the most affordable premium quality furniture for a minimal price in the country. Quiet certainly, no competitor can challenge that. Anything lesser than what we offer could be referred as a disposable furniture – furniture you must change within 18-24 months. Our strategy is to produce locally made premium quality products that can stand the test of time. This drives cost optimization and promotion of local labour in the country, unlike our competitors who import finished products.
At VAVA, excellent customer services, efficiency and planning are key parts of our brand elements. Furthermore, our Human Capital Development differentiates us from others (although this is a more internal scenario). The raw materials we use are also sourced from diverse countries enabling best quality and best prices.
We have robust training and development programs for our employees, this is consistent and in line with modern business practice. It is also a deliberate effort by VAVA to maintain 93 per cent indigenous work force, which is at least up to 35 per cent greater than any other furniture company (operating on our level) in Nigeria.
Finally, at VAVA, we are not oblivious of some of the intermittent challenges, but we have chosen to walk this part as a company.
How can you describe your experience in the last few years in this sector, in respect to day-to-day running of the company in particular, and the industry in general, especially in view of the disruption brought about by COVID-19?
Talking about the challenges that come with the furniture business, we have a way of tackling every obstacle that confronts us. Like every other business, there are challenges, but we have fashioned a way to deal with these numerous challenges. It is never an issue for us to take the next step at our level of development. The rapid outbreak of the COVID-19 presents an alarming health crisis that the world is grappling with. In addition to the human impact, there is also significant economic, business and commercial impact being felt globally. As viruses know no borders, the impacts will continue to spread. In fact, 94 percent of the Fortune 1000 across the globe, and businesses in Nigeria have been impacted and are already seeing COVID-19 disruptions.
The way VAVA was able to run her business with the disruption from the impact of COVID 19: During the lockdown we switched to the use of all available virtual tools and resources. We leveraged on the use of our online platforms to meet up with customer demands. From our analysis, people were able to see the need for comfortability at their various homes. When the lockdown was relieved the demand for office furniture increased. This is due to people adapting to the new way of working from home, thereby availing themselves with the right tools and set up. VAVA furniture was able to meet with these demands of customers.
Provision of services during this COVID -19 pandemic had to be thought carefully. The company ensured to deliver to customers effectively without compromising safety. We strictly adhere to the advised Nigeria Centre for Disease Control COVID-19 protocols which includes; mandatory wearing of mask, regular washing of hands, maintaining physical as well as social distance.
In your own opinion, what other qualities do you think are required or needed for a young entrepreneur to make it to the top in Nigeria?
The first quality a young Nigeria entrepreneur most know is that all successful entrepreneurs must possess self-discipline. Self-discipline is the most important quality for success in life and business.
Second quality is integrity. To get to the top, you must possess a strong moral principle and develop a reputation for absolute integrity. Be perfectly honest in everything you do and, in every transaction, and activity. Never compromise your integrity.
Thirdly, persistence is a strong quality to possess as a young entrepreneur. In the cold face of challenges, persistency is the iron quality of character. Persistence is to the character of man as carbon is to steel. It is an indispensable quality that goes hand in hand with all great success in life.
A Clear Sense of Direction
Another quality that will take young entrepreneurs in Nigeria to the top is to possess a clear sense of direction. Because of the turbulence and rapid change in today’s marketplace, most business owners have been reduced to operating day-by-day, almost like firefighters. They are totally preoccupied with short-term problems and the need to get short-term sales and profits. They intend to spend more time thinking and planning for the future, but they don’t ever seem to get around to it. This is not for successful business owners. You need to set clear targets for yourself and for every part of your business. In fact, perhaps your most important responsibility to your team is to give them a clear sense of direction in their work.
Decisive and Action Oriented
Finally, for young successful entrepreneurs in Nigeria, you must bedecisive and action oriented. Be an analytical thinker and make decisions quickly. Discipline yourselves to be accountable and act.Also, be opened to feedback from these actions thereby improving and learning from your mistakes.
What other things can government do to encourage the success of the local content policy, protect indigenous companies and champion the ease of doing business in Nigeria?
Policies implemented to discourage the importation of manufactured goods to protect indigenous industries and encourage entrepreneurial activities.
Provision of Power is a key element in attracting more foreign investors.
Especially the sort of industries that requires steady power to run their operations.
Evaluation of job creation.
Provision of indigenous industries loan & grants.
Government should invest in new venture
Security of the indigenous companies should be one of the priorities of the government.