Ganiyu Shonubi is the Managing Director, Gaso Furniture Ltd. In this interview, he captures his experiences in life and business
For someone who resided abroad, what lured you into the furniture business?
Initially, I had been importing furniture and some other household equipment, which I sold to friends or equipped my houses in Nigeria. After some time, I discovered that the demand was getting higher. I looked around and realised there weren’t any standard company where people with refined taste and the wherewithal can really purchase home and office furniture. This spurred my interest and I drew out a plan for a three-phase project. With the first two phases completed, we are now ready to embark on the third phase, which is birthing our manufacturing firm in Nigeria. The company clocks seven this year.
Have you always been in furniture business?
I have always been into furniture and I was the African sales representative for Heylen Meuble in Africa. Heylen is a very big company in Europe and is into the production and sale of furniture. My experience and understanding coupled with my records made me a partner. Though, I still have affinity with Heylen because all our products come from them, it is more like our mother company in terms of production, at least until we fully set up our own production arm here.
But before furniture, what were you into?
I was into the importation of cars, trucks and spare parts. This was more or less the first job I did when I got to Belgium. Even though I still have a huge interest in that area, my love for furniture business seems to be taking over.
What was your mission to Europe?
Like most Nigerians who travel out, it was for the pursuit of a better life. I got to Belgium as a boy and lived there for 26 years. While in Europe I started with some menial jobs and when I had saved enough money, I started exporting spare parts to sell in Nigeria. After that, I exported cars, trucks before I got an appointment with Heylen, and rose through the ranks to become their sales executive in Africa. Based on my mastery of the English language and their own language, which is French, I was able to push their operations in Africa because I speak both languages well.
Why did you return to Nigeria?
I came to expand my business. I didn’t fold my business in Belgium, I still go to Belgium at will and my interests over there are well monitored.
Any challenges running your business?
The only challenge is what every other company in Nigeria faces— electricity. Our showroom houses expensive furniture which requires a 24-hour cooling system and this translates to relying on generators, which are powered by diesel every day.
What attraction does Ibadan hold for you to site all your businesses there?
I made a silent vow to contribute my quota to the development of the city. Logically, Lagos, Abuja, Port-Harcourt and all other big cities would have been the choice locations for my business, but I want to be part of the change that Ibadan is experiencing. I want to be part of the people that will rebuild the city and bring back the glory of the past and I see this coming to pass very soon.
Are you from Ibadan?
I’m from Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, but I was born and bred in Ibadan and this explains the love I have for the city. It is home to me, it is where I have most of my friends. I am always relaxed whenever I am in Ibadan compared to anywhere else in the world.
What fond childhood memories can you recall?
I wasn’t born with a silver spoon but I was lucky to have a mother who would always strive to give her children the best of everything. She was a businesswoman who shuttled between Ibadan and Ijebu-Ode. I think it was in Ibadan that I first got attracted to business, while watching the way my mother handled her clients. My primary and secondary education was in Ibadan, after which I travelled to Belgium where I did some diploma courses and later enrolled in a college where I studied business administration.
What were the challenges while you were abroad?
I couldn’t speak the language, neither did they also understand mine. It was pretty hard trying to survive in that kind of environment. Also, I wasn’t prepared for the weather, I only had with me clothes that were suitable for Nigerian weather and to make matters worse, I didn’t know anybody. I went there unprepared. I was lucky to have met a Ghanaian on the streets of Belgium who spoke English. He took me in and we lived together for years. He taught me the language. It wasn’t rosy and many back home expected me to become rich instantly because I was in Europe, not knowing what difficulties I was going through. I’ve had my own fair share of rough times while struggling to survive but I thank God I am alive to tell the story.
So, how do you unwind?
If I am in Belgium, I go to nightclubs but here in Nigeria, I stay indoors listening to music or watching movies. Sometimes, I attend parties.
Did you meet your wife in Europe too?
She is half Belgian, half Congolese. I met her in a restaurant in Belgium. She is the best wife any man could possibly ask for. She left her businesses and family abroad to relocate with me to Nigeria. At first I felt she would quickly get tired of Nigeria as she doesn’t speak English, but she is learning the language.
How would you define your style?
Simple and classy. I try not to overdo things when it comes to dressing up. I like to wear native attire. I am not a designer freak. Maybe when I was younger but not anymore. However, I am stuck with Salvatore Ferragamo. Most of my shoes are mainly from that brand.