‘’Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient’’…Steve Maraboli
Life is commonly said to be unfair and thus the promise for which we should we consider the diverse struggles people go through for survival, the exceeding effort and tenacity put into becoming a success compared with the number who eventually “make it” and hopefully make lasting impacts in their generation. The truth is, life won’t seem unfair because the figures don’t add up and the events won’t tally. We all can relate to this but the most important lesson we must learn from life is how to turn our disappointments into strengths and opportunities as exhibited by our Aspire candidate.
He grew up in Warri; southern Nigeria and had his secondary education at Igbinedion secondary school in Benin State Nigeria. Like most Nigerian youths in search of the “ultimate greener pastures”, Paul and a few of his friends determined to travel to the United States. For what he might term as bad luck, he suffered dejection for umpteenth visits to the US embassy for interview, he was denied visa at each attempt; awkwardly, him only of all his friends.
For the potential shame and mockery that awaited him if he chose to go back to his hometown, he decided to stay back in Lagos with no apparent clue of the next step to take. He finally resorted to work out of the popular Idumota Market in his Brother-in-Law’s shop.
That is a brief synopsis of Paul Orajiaka’s beginning. A 37 year old Nigerian entrepreneur, founder of Auldon Limited, a manufacturer of African-themed toys and dolls which depict, promote and teach Africa’s cultural heritage to children particularly the female child. Orajiaka founded the company 17 years ago with $30 but now currently turns out annual revenue of more than $10 million. An employer of a team of well over 400 members of staff with an alarming demand for his toys in Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Kenya and some parts of Europe to mention a few.
The Lagos Idumota Market is one of the busiest informal business hubs boasting of the bottom High pitched hawkers tussling their pieces at every approaching customer to the hundreds of stalls trading on fabrics, shoes and every other household item you can think of. It was here Paul develop his first innate commercial abilities under the tutelage and care of his in-law while carefully observing how both the “hustlers and big-boiz” make the “bottom-line”.
After about four years of assisting his Brother-in-Law with sales and earning his commission, Paul decided to earn some extra income for himself by supplying some of the items a few friends imported to Park ‘n’ Shop (now SPAR). He earner $30 from the first business he did – A Singer sewing machine for Amateurs.
In his one of his visits to Park ‘n’ Shop, he realized the toys shelves which he regularly admired was empty and thought of the supplying to them. With a few inquiries with his Brother-in-Law who connected him to a stall in Idumota, Paul was able to supply Park n shop with toys and also enlarged his scale with his Brother-in-law starting as surety for him. After making his first half a million in the supply business, Paul decided he’ll be a millionaire before the age of 21 and made good his creed when he made his first to Dubai and supplied Park n shop branches.
To preclude the growing inventory in his stock, Paul reached out to suppliers and often had to sell below margin to clear the log. However, they often still owed him. This was the premise for which he got his first stall in Idumota to literally “hustle” his goods to revenue. Shortly afterwards, they moved to their current shop.
Realizing the importance of education and also from the keen push of his Brother-in-Law, Paul enrolled for Accounting at the University of Lagos while yet working for his Brother in Law and afterwards proceed to obtain a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from the Lagos Business School, Pan African University (PAN) to better equip himself for the business world.
In 2014, Auldon Limited launched the Unity Girl Dolls, a set of multi-cultural dolls clad in the traditional attires of Nigeria’s major ethnic groups with an incredible success rate and thus become a tremendous hit among Nigerian parents and their daughters. After trading in toys for a while and realizing the painful fact that Nigerian cultural values were fast being eroded, Paul saw the vacuum and opportunity for a set of 14” Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba with embedded content on rich culture, background and language of the three main tribes they represent. Amaka (Igbo), Ronke (Yoruba) and Aisha (Hausa) – the major characters of the Unity doll, designed in Nigerian likeness, were positioned to inculcate in kids of age 1 – 10 the social values, relevance and natural uniqueness which distinguishes us from the western cultures and the toys which represent them.
Despite the myriad of challenges small businesses face in the form of poor infrastructure, access to bank loan, daunting interest rates and constant power supply amongst a host of others, he re-programmed his anger and frustration into perseverance and resilience; something an average person will most certainly not resort to.
When interviewed on what made his business stand out, Paul summarized his success factors in Opportunity Conceptualization, Commercialisation and institutionalization: you must have an eye for opportunity and strike when you see it, afterwards seek to monetize it and finally, build structures and principles so that long after you’re gone, your business and legacy thrives.
In one of his interviews, Paul states the premises for prosperity even after hard work: “Whatever it is you lay your hands upon will prosper. But before that happens, you must fulfill certain conditions. That’s why the line before that reads: “Blessed is the man who works not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers, but his delight is in the law of the lord. In this law he meditates day and night.” So you must have fulfilled the first lines before whatever you lay your hands on will prosper.”
Orajiaka has been rightfully stated by Forbes as one of Nigerian entrepreneurs making waves in Africa. He is currently studying for a Doctorate in Business administration at Henley Business School of the University of Reading, majoring in entrepreneurship.
From a frustrated young teen in dire demand for a US visa, Paul channeled his disappointment and frustration in God, worked hard, had a vision and has currently become a light to many around him.
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