Dr. Kennedy Okonkwo sits atop a growing real estate company, NEDCOMOAKS Limited, which develops, manages and consults for clients with a dream to bridge the gap in the housing sector in Nigeria starting with Lagos State. The debonair entrepreneur reflected on his baby-steps to greatness, the humbling but inspiring waltz out of despair and how his sector has benefitted from his emergence on the scene in this interview with LANRE ODUKOYA
Your company recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Forte Solar to enable inclusion of solar power distribution to the housing services you render. Could you shed more light on what the partnership entails?
Well, as you’ve already established, the partnership was with one of the leading energy service providers in Nigeria, Forte Oil with their Forte Solar Solution. The driving force behind it is the urgent need to start providing alternative power solutions to the houses that we build.
We have an upwardly mobile middle-income housing bracket that we serve. And to serve them you must be thinking of solutions that will outlive the houses, solutions that would last long and benefit the home buyers.
Over time we’ve had other companies provide such services but you’d end up with little or no after sales solution to support the kind of house we’ve built for the clients. In that light, we sought a new partnership and that is supposed to take us to the next level.
We want a situation whereby as we give warranties on those houses, those warranties are also extended to the solar solutions that are provided, and only a reputable company of that magnitude can provide the service.
Forte Solar has partnered with Jingli Solar, a leading solar equipment manufacturer, in the world today and it’s from China. The people who’d end up benefitting the most are our clients because we want them to experience no noises from generators.
If somebody buys a house from you and the DISCOs are able to provide about 12-hour power supply a day and you get your solar system harnessing some power during the day because we’ve got beautiful sunlight in Lagos especially, it’s the consumers that would end up benefitting.
NEDCOMOAKS Limited came into the real estate sector 10 years ago, how do you think the industry has fared this past decade?
I’ve witnessed a decade where we’d seen a lot of real estate companies go down. Some of the leading companies available 10 years ago are actually nonexistent. It’s just a fraction of them you can find today, but we’re grateful to God because today we have a much more robust industry.
We have more people coming into the sector because people are beginning to realise that the sector is a major contributor to the country’s GDP. So our sector provides about 7.2 percent of Nigeria’s GDP according to the Federal Office of Statistics. It goes a long way to show that the industry is growing and despite that, there’s still a huge gap of housing to fill both at the state and the federal levels.
There are so many new satellite villages that need to be connected via road infrastructure as we begin to say the Federal Government is embarking on housing model (building houses across the regions), most of those houses are coming up in satellite towns and districts. There’s a need to extend good road infrastructure, telecom infrastructure, water and power to those satellite towns.
As a starter in the industry, how were you able to earn the confidence of your first set of clients?
To build trust in the consumers doesn’t happen in one day. But one of the things we’d tried to do is to under promise and over deliver. Anytime we tell our clients we’d deliver a house in nine months, when they come in the seventh month, the house is built and tested. And that goes a long way to gain the confidence of the clients that we serve.
Weren’t you scared by the competition of the existing firms some of which might have been bigger?
There will always be competition but you’d realise that there’s always a place for everybody to play. This because in every sector you have the very big players, you have the upcoming ones too but with innovations, most importantly, with creativity there’s so much we’re doing as added value to the houses we provide.
Today we’re one of the very few firms that provide uninterrupted after sales support for the houses we’ve built. We’re one of those providing houses with extra values such as CCTV cameras, home audio systems, internet services and we’ve just added solar power system to boost the confidence of the subscribers. As innovation begins to come and the economy begins to evolve, we also want to do newer things that would make our subscribers feel better.
How did the sector fare before the officially announcement that Nigeria was out of economic recession?
When they say the economy is out of recession I ask, is government spending the way it used to spend? When you say we’re out of recession, is the dollar rate back to what it was before recession was announced? The answer is no.
Today they’d tell you we’re out of recession and the prices of cars and other commodities are double how much they used to cost. The prices of houses have not increased. What has happened is that the developers have lost their margins.
The number of houses that was churned out this year cannot be equated with what was churned out in this country last year. The reason is that the funds are not available. So, there’s no sector that didn’t feel the recession and the impact of exit from recession wouldn’t be felt in this country until most likely the second quarter of next year.
How did your company stay afloat?
This is the time for creativity. In those times when the economy was quaked to its root, only great men survived. So, we are a young dynamic organisation and we try to be creative in all we do. What we’ve newly added is part of what we do to better the lives of our subscribers.
But you could have taken advantage of the downturn like some claimed they’ve done. Some businessmen have said that the economic crisis like that offers fresh opportunities…
Like I told you earlier, this is a time for people who are innovative to show what they can do. This is the time to bring creativity to play and that’s what my team and I have been doing. We’re delivering our Victoria Crest Luxury apartments, this year, we’d flagged off our projects in Ikoyi, Oniru, Osbourne (Lagos); we’re doing the best we can to stay afloat.
Incessant cases of collapsed buildings in Lagos made the state clampdown on in the recent past; would you say the new legislation has strengthened the sector with regards to quality control?
There is so much the government is doing now in trying to curb the influx of quacks into the industry and standardize the processes. The Lagos State Government has employed over 2000 people in the Lagos State Building Control, they’re supposed to be monitoring officers going from site to site because the state is big and the level of constructions going on in the state is not the same with any other part of the federation.
So, the government has institutions working, it has material testing laboratory as an agency of the state going around to do non-destructive tests while construction is going to ascertain the structural stability of the building.
Today, we have the building control agents going round to ensure that what is approved by physical planning is what is being built. We also now have the other agencies such as the Lagos State Safety Commission responsible for ensuring that you’re building in a safe way, in a safe environment and that your construction processes are safe for those who will live in it and those living around your construction sites. There are so many steps the state government is taking, and I know that other states will soon start to emulate Lagos State.
Does your company portfolio accommodate developing, management and consultancy for individuals and corporations?
No, we only build our own projects. We only build houses and sell. We don’t do constructions for other people.
What actually drives your innovation?
I’m passionate about our industry, I had a privilege of reading a report some years back and in it they said that, Nigeria needs $363billion to fill its housing deficit. In that alone, I’ve come to realise that there’s so much money in the industry.
If you look at what we had when I studied Psychology at the University of Ibadan, Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needshousing is seen as an existential need, a survival need, when you have food, the next thing you’re looking for is shelter.
So, food, clothing and shelter are the greatest of human needs. So, I saw that anybody who is selling foods or providing accommodation cannot go wrong because everybody must live in a place, even the birds retire to their nests.
I believe there is so much job opportunities in this industry because it provides a great deal of workforce. There’s a huge employment opportunities in it for the under-employed. We provide work for artisans, skilled labourers and unskilled labourers.
Were you inspired in your formative years by some architectural wonders you came in contact with?
When we were growing up we used to come to those houses that were built by the likes of G-Cappa, Cappa and Dalbato, we would cross the Marina from school back then and we would trek to Oyinkan Abayomi Drive and you’d see those beautiful houses being built by the waterside.
They were wonders to behold. I was born in Lagos and I grew up in Lagos too. I knew that I wasn’t going to live on the mainland for a long time because I felt that I wanted to live closer to the water. I knew people who live on the islands don’t have two heads.
When exactly did you decide to become a builder especially because you studied Psychology in school?
At some point in my life, my family was kicked out of a shop that we called a house. This was in Ikeja when I lost my dad. We used to live in the shop and that was my mum’s restaurant in the daytime.
At some point in my life we didn’t have a house and we were kicked outthat was in 1994. I was about to get into the university and I had to go and live with my elder sister from there I went to live with a cousin of mine who trained me in school.
I remember that we didn’t have a house and we had to stay under the Ikeja Bridge for a few weeks before a pastor, Pastor David, said we should come and live in the boy’s quarter of our church.
And seeing my family there, I knew that I needed to do something a lot better after graduating from the university to take care of my family. I had to go and rent a house for them. I knew the future for me required t h a t I work hard.
I had a privilege of working when I lived in Oniru, I got my first set of leases from the Oniru family on 15 to 17-year lease for bungalows that were developed then. I used to have a cousin who was doing contracts with the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) and I was supervising some works for him as holiday jobs. And I enjoyed seeing the projects that he was doing.
When I finished school and that wasn’t there anymore, I did my first major business which was as a real estate agent and I made about N280, 000. I bought my first car and used the rest to take care of myself.
So, when I did that in 2001 fresh from the university, I knew there was an opportunity in this sector, that I was going to make money from it. So, while I was working, I still had my eyes on the sector. I was still doing stuffs like agency, build, design and transfer which was where we started from. We would take long leases, we build house and transfer the houses to the owners after a period of time.
What are the projects you have at hand at the moment?
We just decided to do the Phase 3 of our Victoria Crest Service, it comprises 4-bedroon semi-detached houses, 32 in number, 14 number of 4-bedroom terrace houses, as well as a total of 69 3-bedroom terrace houses and everything in total is 115 units of houses.
They are situated at Lafiaji Lekki-Peninsula, we’ve also decided to touch it up a little bit and it comes with a swimming pool, a club house for residents where they can seat, relax and unwind. It also has gym facility with a 5-aside pitch at the Victoria Crest three.
We’re also completing and handing over our Victoria Crest Luxury Apartments comprising 30 luxury flats that we built by the Pinnock Beach Estate, off the road that leads to the Circle Mall. Clients have taken possession of that on November 1 and we’re handing over that already.
It also comes with a swimming pool and we just have a few units left in that investment. Work is also ongoing on about 500 meters of road network to link up with the existing roads so that people who buy those properties don’t have to drive on untarred roads.
What other things excite you about life?
It’s my family, I think that’s one of the most fascinating gifts God has given me. I have a young family and I love to spent time with them. The greatest thing that gives me joy is the moment I share with my kids and my wife. Those are moments that even a billion dollars cannot buy.
How often do you go on holidays a year?
In a year, being an entrepreneur gives me the opportunity of choosing how I work and what time I work. I can work three months stretch and not have a holiday and sometimes after three months I take a week or two to recuperate. I realise that for each holiday you take, it rejuvenates the mind and you come back fresher with more brilliant ideas to forge forward.
What is actually your favourite fashion accessory?
I love wrist watches and shoes.
What are your best brands?
I have them in varieties- from AP, Rolex, Patek Philippe and so on- what I’m wearing is all a function of what I’m doing at a particular time.
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