Sherifat Olabisi Adeleye is a civil engineer by training and profession. She owns a civil engineering, construction and facility management company called Shlaad Engineering Company & Handyman Services. The firm maintains offices and homes from start to finish. It is also in the business of interior decoration, with a special focus on marketing of throw pillows, duvets and others related products.
Sherifat started this business in 2010 on a part-time basis, but went into it fully in 2016. It is not completely wrong to say that Sherifat is proverbially treading where angels fear to tread; she is playing in a profession purely dominated by men. But she remains undaunted.
“The number one thing is that once you are in this kind of business, you do not have to see yourself as a woman any longer,” she tells Start-Up Digest.
“You have to see yourself as a man and you need not be emotional about it. You leave the ‘woman’ aspect of you at home and let people see the boldness.”
She has master’s degree in Civil Engineering, working in construction and facility management firms for 15 years.
The entrepreneur started ‘anyhow’. For her, what mattered was to set up the company first. This was, perhaps, why she started in her home.
“With trainings and determination, I had to learn and re-learn. You burn your fingers in this kind of situation. At the end of the day, you may put your own money, but you will smile when success beckons,” she says.
”I started from my house. That’s how I ran the business for seven years before moving into an office. I had to put a face to my company; I had to put a physical structure. Getting your client is the biggest thing, not really an office,” she explains.
She notes that the journey has been overwhelming and profitable, but riddled with challenges.
Sherifat cannot really say that the number of her clients has shot up. But she believes she is getting there.
“Once you are able to give your clients the best, there is always continuity. Regarding being overwhelming, you have to prove that you can do it, being a woman. You have to be on top of your game; you have to be detailed and you must do the extra work for people to come back. Integrity is something you have to build,” she states.
The construction industry in Nigeria has been on low ebb since 2015 and, especially 2016, when recession hit the country. But the sector is beginning to see growth.
Recent data by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show that the sector grew by 7.66 percent in the second quarter of 2018 from -1.54 percent in the first quarter and 4.14 percent in the last quarter of 2017.
The entrepreneur says though it has been very challenging operating in the construction sector, she has been able to wade through hurdles because of good planning.
“I saw that if you are able to plan your business, it will keep growing,” he says.
Even though there is much emphasis on business plan, Sherifat believes that some of things she has heard in this area are more theoretical than practical or realistic.
“Business plan is a big word. I did not start with a business plan because I wanted to do something side by side my job. But it is more theoretical. Physical implementation is more important. But it is always good to have it. It is always a guide or check on your long- and short-term achievements,” she explains.
For her, trust is something no entrepreneur should joke with.
Furthermore, the entrepreneur knows her clients and market. Her clients are high-end people and the middle-class.
It is not all ‘uhuru’ for her as she faces challenges like other entrepreneurs.
“Our biggest challenge is not even with our clients. Our biggest challenge is with our artisans. They do not want to work and they always look for shortcuts. The tilers in Nigeria do not want to work.
“We have been tempted to get tilers from West African countries. Most of them are from Cotonou. Tilers in Nigeria are not ready to work. Some of our youths are not ready to work,” she laments.
She believes it is high time parents began to educate their children on the importance of hard work.
“We should talk to our wards, that whatever they do, they must do it well. You have to be an expert before you go on your own. Most of the artisans in Nigeria will like to leave as soon as they start. They need practical experience before being on their own,” she admonishes.
As part of her expansion plans, Sherifat is planning to collaborate with the bigger names to reach out to more clients.
The entrepreneur has borrowed money from a microfinance bank before, but it was not a good experience as the interest rate was 10 percent monthly.
“We got stuck in a particular project and the bank was to lend us N1.5 million. But the process and the paper work were just too tedious.”
She believes that there is a need to make borrowing easier for entrepreneurs in the country.
“This is a challenge because when you get a job and make a profit of N700, 000, all the profit may go to the bank. You may notice that you have just worked for that bank. I think the Bank of Industry (BoI) is doing a good job now, but we need more organisations that can do this. We also need to set up cooperatives that can do this,” she recommends. She believes Nigeria, more than ever, needs an entrepreneur bank.
Nigeria has a housing deficit of 17 to 18 million. A number of citizens do not live in homes, while many live in slums and thatched houses.
“This is where the government has to come in. There should be low-cost housing like in the days of Lateef Jakande (former Lagos governor) when people had access to housing and paid little at the end of each month. Individuals cannot do this because they are driven by profits,” she says.
She believes that recession has done more good for the Nigerian entrepreneurship ecosystem than evil.
“Post-recession, entrepreneurship has really done well,” she says.
“Recession taught us a big lesson. In a way, we can say ‘thank you’ to recession because it opened our eyes to the fact that we could open our own business.”
For her, entrepreneurship should be a course on its own in higher institutions of learning. This is because not all students would like to be doctors and lawyers or do white-collar jobs, she says.
“They should train them so that when they are coming out of school, they do not have to apply for jobs,” she advises.
What advice does the entrepreneur have for younger ones?
She responds that parents should train their children to learn that going to universities does not mean they must do white-collar jobs.
“We need to encourage them to get some skills. We need to empower them. It is good for the economy,” she adds.
She has some pieces of advice for her younger self.
“If I had known that this would be the path I would take, I would have started earlier. I would have gone for trainings. I didn’t have to wait for this time to do what I would have done 20 years ago,” she concludes.
Tags: construction and facility management