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Your best assets in business are in people – Dr Ikenna shares secrets of success

Dr. Ikenna Okongwu manages a number of businesses, teams, and close to 5,000 employees, providing leadership support, best guidance, and audit solutions, creating bespoke action plans for growth and development per outlet in the Nigerian food industry. He was born on 4 March 1970 in Sheffield, England. He moved to Canada in June 1970 and…

Dr. Ikenna Okongwu, a board member of Chicken Republic

Dr. Ikenna Okongwu manages a number of businesses, teams, and close to 5,000 employees, providing leadership support, best guidance, and audit solutions, creating bespoke action plans for growth and development per outlet in the Nigerian food industry.

He was born on 4 March 1970 in Sheffield, England. He moved to Canada in June 1970 and returned to Benin, Nigeria in 1973 where he attended nursery and primary school in 1973 at the University of Benin Staff School.

In 1977, he moved to Enugu in 1977 to continue his Primary School at Ekulu Primary School, Enugu. He started secondary school in 1980 – Federal Government College Port Harcourt (1980 – 1985) – Mathematics Prize in Class 4.

Okongwu studied Medicine at the University of Jos, Nigeria between 1985 and 1991 where he earned distinction in anatomy in 1988 and emerged as one of the best graduating students in 1991.

He also has a postgraduate diploma in human resources from the Thames Valley University, London (2001) and a master in Management (MiM) at the Smurfit Business School, University College Dublin, Ireland (2011).

Okongwu is currently doing a Master’s Degree in Business Administration (MBA) at the Henley Business School Africa, University of Reading, United Kingdom.

Over the years, he has worked in a number of Nigerian-based and international organisations. This includes serving as Senior House Officer – ECWA Evangel Hospital, Jos (1993 – 1994), YUM Restaurants International (KFC), England (1994 – 2004), Assistant Restaurant Manager, Restaurant General Manager, Human Resources Manager, and Area Coach MBCC Foods Ireland Limited, Ireland (KFC Franchisee), Head of Operations and Trainer (2004 – 2012) Devyani Nigeria (KFC Franchisee), Operations Leader from 2012 to 2015.

He was appointed Chief Operating Officer at Food Concepts PLC to Division Managing Director, Operations to Executive Director in 2015, Okongwu now sits on the board of Food Concepts Plc, owners of Chicken Republic, Pie Express, and Chop Box.

In this interview, the medical doctor turned food entrepreneur discusses leadership, character, and how he is helping to shape work-life culture for the next generation of leaders.

Kindly tell us about your new role
My role involves taking responsibility for decisions made by the board company, in addition to my current role. Being on the board certainly means we are accountable for what happens to the company. It is a challenging role but I think it will be good for me to explore myself as an individual, and see how much more I can contribute to myself, the business, and society in general.

What avenue are you exploring to help young people draw from your wealth of experience?
I think I will continue with the area of mentoring which I have been doing for a while now – it is more informal and I feel there is a lot more impact I can make in people’s lives, especially young people.

I am focused on mentoring and trying to get people to believe in themselves, to grow, not just from a career point of view but also on a personal level and how they view life, how they think, how they can deal with issues related to their personal goals, vision, and dreams.

From a work perspective, I take so much delight in seeing people grow from their current roles and also see them move to their next level as well. This is much of a two-way approach; to look at the individual from a personal level and also from a career perspective.

On the business, are there plans to expand and what areas are you looking at?
As a business, we have an expansion plan, obviously, and we stick to it. The whole idea is to move the business into areas where people are not aware of Chicken Republic, around the east of Nigeria. We have expanded significantly in the east. We are in Port-Harcourt but now we’ve looked into Enugu, Abakaliki, Owerri, Aba, Umaiah, Onitsha and we’re looking into newer places in the east as well.

We have places like Uwehyi, Awka, they are all coming up. It has also been exciting when you consider that there are other parts of Nigeria that are still virgin territories where even though we have Chicken Republics in those locations, there are still target spaces to penetrate in those places.

What would you say has been your biggest seller so far?
Chicken, our value meal remains a good and an outstanding one in the industry. This is because people have identified the value in it. Expectedly, they keep coming, we keep seeing what we can do in ensuring that our customers are happy at all times from the price, the product, and the service point of view.

With the insecurity, how have you been coping with the logistics and supply chain?
It has not been easy, but we get by and deliver the high volume of demands. Insecurity is a challenge no doubt about it and I won’t say it is easy, but we do get through we make sure our customers get what they want.

We have a great team in place that ensures that we have our products in stock at all times. Apart from insecurity, there is inflation, and fuel scarcity recently. The truth is that doing business in Nigeria will teach you the need to adapt quickly and make adjustments to ensure business success and the customer is happy as well.

Who will be an ideal customer for the Chicken Republic, your target customer?
That’s a tough question. Everybody is our customer but again we have to look at the youth. Everybody is welcome into the Chicken Republic; when we look at the youth and what they bring to the brand, we have to move along with the times, and technologies for them. I mean the Chicken Republic is open to every single customer basically. We also understand that youths will grow old, they will have children too. So we’re building a brand not just for today but for the future.

Advice to young Nigerians?
It’s not easy for the youth today, no doubt about it because going to the university is a challenge, getting a job is another challenge, but I think my advice will be that they should be the best in anything they do. So when you’re in school, you need to maximise your time and apply your skills while in school. You are not just going through school but you are allowing the school to have an impact on you as an individual, when you come out and the job is not available, you can always get yourself something to do with the skills you have acquired.

How are you helping the company to develop the next generation of leaders to take over from someone like you?
I tell people the best thing to do in any business, is to take care of people in the way that they love. If you look after your people, they will look after you. If any business understands this, he or she will be able to identify what the customer needs are.

So when you fix the people and the people are delivering those results that are sustainable, even when you step back, those individuals will carry on that drive and the stakeholders will be happy that there is a sustainable plan for the continuity of the business.

We always want to exceed our customer’s expectations and that will only come from getting the best from the workers. You have to be honest with people. Encourage them to do things right and improve on things they are already doing well. Be empathetic. I have worked and continue working with different individuals; it can be black or white and different religious and ethnic divides. For me, what matters most is that you are ready to work and deliver optimally.