BELOXXI: MAKING THE BEST OF THE WORST
I have read books and listened to stories to find that great and noble ideas start as serious jokes, and in the Beloxxi project I saw it evolve before my eyes.
I knew a man close to ten years ago that used to import biscuits. It was this little job that brought our paths crossing. It was not planned, but it happened through a little story I did in my former place of work. That triggered an inquiry on who did the story, and later an invitation that later created a relationship that has stuck till now.
In that encounter I have had the privilege of learning from the Beloxxi project how people grow and would be willing and glad to apply it - not necessarily to build my manufacturing plant, but to grow every little idea I have so that I would be celebrated some day.
President Goodluck Jonathan was there. The former President Olusegun Obasanjo was there. Governors were there. Ministers were not lacking. Corporate CEOs were in abundant supply. Many other top government functionaries flooded the venue.
That was actually deserving because what an indigenous investor did in Beloxxi, just one man was worth celebrating.
I am sure the man behind the mask who I would plead for his understanding to mention his name, Obi Ezeude, President/CEO, Beloxxi Industries Limited, never knew 98 percent of the high caliber citizens until he came up with the idea.
That tiny intention that grew larger has brought him before kings and the nobles, and also made him a king and a noble. That affirms the Bible in Proverbs that a man diligent in his works is elevated by the same works to sit with kings. That would make me agree more with Michael Williams in his evergreen work Secrets of Personal Magnetism that the 'the entire existence is founded on thoughts.'
It was on March 3, 2003 that President Olusegun Obasanjo rolled out a long list of banned products. My friend's business was a thriving one, and its item of trade was biscuit, and biscuit was one of the items in the no-import list. The day after the announcement, I rushed early to my friend's office in Ekololu,
Surulere, Lagos just out of concern to know how he took the surprise. He paused for a moment and allowed a broad smile to take over his face. And he replied, 'Ikenna that is no problem at all. But what I would not involve myself is an exposure to overzealous enforcement agents who would want to make meat of the announcement.' What about the ones he had ordered and were on the way, he said those ones would still come without a problem. But he added a statement that made me leave his office happier than I came. 'Ikenna, it seems the ban will be a blessing that would fasten by intention of building a factory in Nigeria some day to produce biscuits because my training in Business Management makes me understand that no nation grows relying on imports alone. I have passion for manufacturing because I know I have grown to a level that I don't labour for myself again, but for the wider society to impact it positively.'
Some few months after, the story changed when he invited me to attend his meeting with officials of the US EXIMBank as media representative. The officials were there to inspect his plans after a facility had been granted him to build a factory. Their visit to Lateef Jakande Way, Agidingbi, Ikeja convinced them that the money given the Nigerian was not the usual way they brand all of us 419, even when most of us are not.
The journey to realizing that dream he muttered to himself and later to friends had stared from there. In about August 2006, I got a text message from my friend that he had transformed from importer to manufacturer. The Beloxxi Cream crackers, a world-class product, was born. It was a big bang to the Nigeria market that least expected it. Interestingly, the product had more than 60 percent local raw material content. It had a bold green-white-green mark on it and an accompanying slogan 'proudly Nigerian' stamped on the pack.
How would the product reach the consumer for acceptability? Ezeude introduced another ingenuity. He sent thousands of the packs of the biscuits free to people. Each pack came in a UPS parcel wrap with a letter in it urging the receiver to send names of friends to Beloxxi so they can get theirs. On the day the consignment came to The Sun Publishing, the entire reception was filled with biscuits. Among over 700 workers, about 90 percent went home with Beloxxi Cream crackers. As the receivers went their different ways, so did the fame of the wonder product spread. I am sure they also had one word of prayer for the person they never knew that brought them packs of good biscuits unsolicited. The marketing strategy worked. The prayers worked too. The two spiraled into a leap of acceptance for the product.
People in authority also got the biscuits. They exclaimed wow, how this be Nigerian product. It excited their interest and advices came to the biscuits maker to make a move for government encouragement. He did and it worked. Beloxxi got tax waiver as pioneer sector for five years. And he told me one day that the savings from the waiver is what he ploughed back to build a bigger place, a four-production-line outfit in Agbara, Ogun State - the one that attracted the interest of the nation two days ago.
Because he had promised to produce the items he sold as importer in Nigeria someday, he last year built a sweets/confectionery plant also commissioned by Mr. President.
I was not in his pocket, but I don't need to do such magic to know that there was never a place he stacked money with which he built the factories. But he had in abundance the ideas in him. These ideas took the breathe of life at his instance to put it to work and generated money, advices, efforts, contributions, encouragements, incentives, prayers kind wishes and today, here he is. Good ideas have conceived and put to bed wonderful products the world admires. It has provided jobs directly for hundreds and will do more. It has thousands who benefit as distributors and sundry stakeholders, even media houses that benefited on congratulatory messages, service providers that made the event possible and many more.
That teaches me that every good idea I have which I put to work grows larger than me and stretches to add much to existence, much more than I could imagine.
It shows me that the failure of an individual is also a failure of the entire system. It in spires me that I should not just sit down and brood when things take a turn not hitherto anticipated. That from every ash, aces arise, from every test testimonies come, from every cross is potential crown. Import ban did the magic. He followed it up with positive action. With first hand knowledge of how it all started, I commend and congratulate my friend and also learn from his example. I also urge the government to give more impetus to Nigerians with ideas so we can grow and shine like Beloxxi.