As a woman horologist, I work twice as hard to standout amongst men
Taiwo Kadiri Shita-Bey opted to follow her father’s footsteps as a watch repairer at the tender age of 18.
From observing her father’s passion daily, she dreamt of becoming a horologist like him and despite doubts from several quarters at her ability to manage her father’s company, she has flourished in this male-dominated field. Already 35 years down the line, she has effectively silenced her critics, as her company, Sakson Horological Services has grown from strength to strength. In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, she reveals how she has excelled in her craft, how she handles challenges amongst other issues.
Did you always know this was what you wanted to do?
Yes, and I have been at it for 35 years, since 1985. I became interested when I was just 18 years old and he started teaching me how to repair watches. After about six months, I went to Yabatech for additional training in Horology from 1985 to 1986. After that, I came back to his shop to continue my training in the craft. I’m the fourth born in the family, but I’m the one that developed an interest in the craft.
What sparked your interest in this craft?
It’s God that directed me to it, but my dad contributed too. As a child, when I went to his shop to visit him, I loved the way he handled watches and how he related with people.
My dad, Kadiri Sulaiman Shitta-Bey, trained as a horologist in France. From Cote d’Ivoire, he went to France before coming back to Nigeria to set up his business. The way he handled watches and the way customers appreciated him, attracted me because he’s an honest man to the core.
Did people try to discourage you when you wanted to venture into this?
Yes, people kept discouraging me. Some told me horology was very hard to learn, but I told them I’d try my best and I’m very happy I didn’t listen to them.
What stands you out from others, especially male horologists?
I ensure my workshop is well exposed and very neat. Because of the caliber of clients I have, I always ensure my shop is well arranged. Most of my clients are commissioners, LUTH and UNILAG professors and so on. I ensure my customers can sit, relax and be rest assured that their watches are in safe hands.
Since you started, has there been any time you felt like quitting?
Not at all, because my Dad was always there to encourage me and he was happy when I told him I wanted to learn the work. He needed one of us to succeed him, so when I told him I wanted to learn, he was happy and ready to support me.
How profitable is this craft? Would you say it is worth someone’s time?
It is very rewarding; I trained my two children up to university level with this job. I’m a single mother and I single-handedly trained both of them with the proceeds from this business and aside from this, I know several other things I have achieved from this business. I don’t do any other business, I don’t sell watches because it is not as lucrative as repairing them.
What’s your advice to women afraid to take up jobs deemed as ‘men’s jobs’?
Try and follow your dreams no matter what it is. Anything a man can do, a woman can do better if only they can put in their best. Most women feel there are some jobs better left for men but I’m an example that this isn’t true.
Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
I am up already and I’m still going higher. I have customers from all over the world. The coronavirus affected my business; otherwise, my clients based abroad would have brought their watches for me to repair. They chat on WhatsApp or call to book appointments with me. They trust and have confidence in me. So I see myself going higher, and being a global figure in my craft.
Where do you source your materials?
I have someone that supplies that. If I can’t get the parts around, I import them. I go for high-quality parts because I don’t want disappointment. I don’t expect you to come with a good watch, and I then attach cheap parts to it. There are some engines that sell for as high as N10,000, N15, 000 and even N20, 000. There is a market for luxury watch parts.
Have you made efforts to encourage youths and women to learn from you?
I have many times, but you know people can be lazy. They tell me the job isn’t easy and they can’t do it. Some girls and men have come to learn, but they ran away after a while. It’s sad because I know if they were patient and focused, they would not only learn but also flourish in the craft.
I have thought of organising training, but I haven’t seen people that are interested and serious. Our youths today want quick money; they don’t want to do anything that will require a lot of thinking. They want small work and big money. I don’t want my knowledge to die with me. I wish to see people interested in the skill.
What is the most expensive piece you’ve ever repaired?
An original 18-carat gold watch.
What challenges have you faced in this line of work?
Some customers can be funny; they will come in with one thing and later claim they came in with something else. That’s why if you were coming with new watches, I’d check everything and note it down so you don’t come and start saying something else. One of my customers brought two watches for repair in 2014 and came back after five years for the watch. She said she’d collect N2.5m from me for the two watches. She came with a card and I do give my customers cards. Some misplace their cards, but based on trust, I’d give them the wristwatch because I can’t expect you to leave the watch. But if it were someone I don’t trust, I’d ask him or her to sign at the back.
This woman came with the card after five years that she wants to collect her watches; I told her that I do not owe her. Under the card, you’d see there that watches not collected after three months, you’re not liable for anything again. She went to Barracks Police Station, I called my lawyer, and we transferred the case to command. I told her I’d give her N20, 000, she said no, that she’d collect N2.5m from me. The commissioner there told her I do not owe her, but she insisted and went to human rights at Alausa where they told her that if she goes to court, she’d lose the case. It was then that she dropped the case.
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