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Sunday, 20 March 2016

The secrets of my success -Chief Mrs Zhikrah A. 'Folake Akanbi


Ex-banker cum businesswoman Chief Mrs. Zhikrah Aduke Afolake Akanbi is the CEO of Libragold Group. A company with diverse business activities in the travels, tourism and aviation industry, vis; Libragold Travels & Tours Ltd, Libragold International Relations Consulting, Al-Furqaan Hajj & Umrah services and LTG Image Makers. A group of companies she has successfully stared from inception 19 years ago.

A versatile business woman of impeccable character, she is an active member of Women In Management, Business and Public Office (WIMBIZ), a member Nigeria British Chamber of Commerce, Nigerian American Chamber of Commerce and member of the Tourism and Hospitality committee of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI). This, and an alumnus of Lagos Business School (LBS),

Though a good social-mixer, Akanbi is the writer of Divine Wisdom for Happiness. She is also the initiator and President of Corporate Women in Islam (CWI). She recently shared with us the secrets of her success in this interview with Paul Ukpabio.

As a young lady, why did you choose to go into business and later earn these awards on display in your office?
(Smiles) I have always liked challenges. Like I always say, every business or institution has its own peculiarities and challenges. Libragold, which I started 19 years ago, has not been different. We have been an organization involved in all facets of travels and tourism, aviation in general, performing excellently in all our areas of operations, vis; packaged tours, local and international flight ticketing, educational tourism, health tourism and pilgrimage operations, that’s the Umrah and Hajj. My policy in life is to always put in my best in everything I do.

Nineteen years how have you been able to weather the storm?
We have been dealing mainly in retailing of airline tickets, hotels all over the world, as well as the Muslim pilgrimage. So we have trade partners and representatives all over our client’s main destinations. However, for a company with multi-class services like ours, we have had to face challenges and we always overcome them, using our professionalism and experience.

When you started off as a young entrepreneur, did you ever think you would remain in business for this long?

Oh yes, ‘cause as a young girl, I have always said I would be a successful business woman, even though I didn’t know which direction business would take me. I just loved the art of making money and turning things around, having grown up with both parents who were into business. My parents are successful, very successful, so I thought, if I want to be successful in life, I have to own my own business, meet people, make money and turn things around to my benefit. So it wasn’t a surprise to many that I studied business administration in University. When I was in the banking and financial sector, everywhere I worked, my bosses would look at me and tell me ‘Folake you are not meant to be here. You have so much potentials to explore and plug into your own thing.’ Such phrases also encouraged me to quickly leave the bank and start up on my own, which I have never had any cause to regret.

Your kind of work involves working with government agencies and professional bodies, as a female, how do you build and maintain strong relationships?
I belong to different organisations and associations and though committee work is a lot tasking, I always try to create time to attend important meetings of my sector’s regulatory body, as well as contribute my own quota mostly in writing. After every exercise of main Umrah and Hajj for instance, I write a report, noting vital observations and send to the necessary regulatory bodies, to assist in preparing for the next operation, and that’s how I’ve been operating over the years.

Can you say something about the stampede that took place during the last hajj?
May Allah bless and accept the souls of all those departed into Aljanah Firdrous. Usually on the first day of Mashaer, I mean pilgrims movement from Muzdalifa to Mina and Jamrat for the throwing of peddles, there is always so much anxiety; no matter your societal status, everybody wants to throw pebbles early morning at same time and get the better part of hajj rites completed quickly, forgetting that by the time its 7am in Saudi Arabia, you have full blown sunshine. I mean scorching sun. Meanwhile, the Saudi authorities knowing what their weather is like that, and also knowing the massive crowd during hajj, has laid down plans and timings for countries and each group’s visitation to Jamarat.

In addition, the authorities are always disseminating information, such as notification of uncontrollable crowd at a particular point, information on why people should not go wondering around in hot sun, and advice on drinking of plenty water to avoid getting de-hydrated and so on. In fact there are screens positioned around mina and jamrat, where you can view happenings around specific areas. This is not creating excuses for what happened, however, from my own point of view, I would adjudge what occurred being the result of the big crowd concentrated on a particular spot coupled with people trekking long distance in hot scorching sun. They arrived the spot de-hydrated, but still wished to continue with faith in their hearts to throw their pebbles, go back to their various tent and have a well deserved rest. Even when they stood still in a spot for minutes, the insight to make a u-turn was not visible. However, having said that, we thank God that none of our pilgrims got caught in the stampede.

How did you manage your crowd of pilgrims without getting hurt?
I would say that its God’s doing. Secondly, planning and effective management supported by intensive prayers and constant communication cannot be ruled out. We give each of our pilgrims free Saudi call sim before departing from Nigeria and through this we ensure effective communication. Here, we invest in logistics. For each of our operations we travel to Saudi with at least two of our operation staffs, medical personnel and a group of Islamic spiritual leaders. Despite the manpower we have within the group, we still employ the services of serious minded Saudi residence personnel as pilgrims coordinators who work together with our team from Nigeria. Our believe is that no matter how good our operation staffs are and no matter how frequently they visit Saudi, they can never know the cities and spots inside-out like those who live and reside there.

Also, we educate our pilgrims richly on the tenets of Hajj and Umrah. Prior to travel date, we embark on eight weeks of intensive weekly Hajj seminar covering all areas such as living in Makkah, Madina, inter state traveling, coping with Saudis even when you don’t understand their language, you can still communicate, perform the rites, importance of exercising patience at all times, understanding and cooperating with our pilgrims coordinators and operations staff and so on. We always ensure that all our pilgrims attend the eight weeks of hajj seminar and upon arrival in Saudi, we conduct daily lectures and prayer sessions, where we disseminate information and explain all sms messages received from the authorities mostly on conduct, welfare, pre-hajj days and the 5 days of Hajj. The sms messages are always in Arabic, so we always ensure our pilgrims attend our daily lectures and prayer session and translate these sms so they would understand the importance of the information been passed to them. All these processes help in no small way to control our people while taking them through their hajj rites efficiently.

After being there this long, are you still faced with challenges?
Our activities and operations are sometimes affected by Government policies, airline policies and of cause you know these airlines come from different countries all over the world. Top on the list of challenges is unstable foreign exchange rate; especially for tour operators like ours who makes online payments, forex transfer for services and so on. Conversion rate has been fluctuating amazingly in the last two years. Also we sometimes face stringent policies originating from partner countries, which usually affect sales. Though we have regulatory bodies such as International Air transport Association (IATA) for the Airline and the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON). By and large, some challenges we face, we see as obstacles that we have to overcome and that’s how we have been operating over the years. And this is not peculiar to airlines alone, its so with hotels we sell too. I guess going by the world economy, everyone must just get used to the system of managing risks and challenges, that’s one thing that has helped our growth.

How do you cope in this male dominated sector?
In all honesty, in all men dominated sectors, you will still find a woman making waves and in stiff competition with the men. Ordinarily in hospitality business, women are literally endowed more than men in this sector. However, in the pilgrimage tourism sector especially the umrah and Hajj, it’s a peculiar religious tourism that requires, sound knowledge, expertise and professionalism. Aside been a knowledgeable Muslim, you must have sound managerial skills in building and coordinating an empowered workforce. When we diversified into the Muslim pilgrim operations, what we did was to categorise the operation into 3 vis; Admin Operations, Customer relations/welfare and spiritual, and with all these, sincerity of purpose is paramount. These are what we have in I don’t work alone, just that I coordinate my workforce and all the daily activities. We have over the years built a good customer relation’s team and a feedback mechanism, which has helped us tremendously in creating a difference in the sector.

How do you balance the demand of family with your work?
I would say that my lifestyle and work balance is excellent. God has simplified all things for me. My chairman is my husband and he’s been so very supportive. We share ideas, strategize together and ensure execution effectively and efficiently. I have my space and time. Managing the home front effectively is about time management and not loosing focus. The children are all grown now, so the situation is less tense and I am more relaxed, and over the years I have been able to surround myself with good people who I’ve trained to work at my pace, and of cause with advanced technology, communicating and putting things in order has been a lot simplified for me with video calls, face time, skype and so on.

Amazing that you have been in one business for so long. Don’t you get bored?

Never bored! You know when you are engaged in a venture you are passionate about, and you give your all into it, you will get more innovative and adventurous, and that has been my driving force. Each time I attend training, seminar or conference, I come back as a better person and swing into action, creating avenues for more services to be rendered to our seemingly growing clients.

When you are not working, what other things do you do?
I am very passionate about my kitchen. I love to cook and I am always cooking when I am in the house. I also read a lot and love to write. I have been writing ‘Wisdom for Happiness’ as a hobby, using Quranic and Hadith quotations to inspire our daily life. It’s quite educating, motivating and inspiring. I’ve been doing this for 10 years now. Though people don’t know I am the person behind those, only those close to me know that I write. I hope to author a book soon.

You seem very energetic, what inspires or gives you the strength?

I do between thirty five and forty minute of brisk walking every morning, followed by stretch exercises to rejuvenate the strength in me and like I said earlier, I read a lot and research on new things to be done.

Would you say that you have in anyway contributed to the development of the sector?
Remember, I mentioned earlier that as a pioneer female tour operator in the Umrah and Hajj sector, my company pioneered the Moulud Umrah and monthly Umrah that is now becoming popular with the Muslim elites. We started this venture in 2005, immediately we obtained the tour operator’s license from the defunct Directorate of Pilgrims Affairs (DPA), now National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON). Immediately we commenced this monthly operation, we quickly introduced stop over in UAE; Dubai and Abu Dhabi, stop over in Jordan with a few days in Israel are some of our unique selling services. 

In the last 11 years, We have had Umrah monthly for different purposes and in-fact during this period you discover that with just #300,000 you could enjoy 3 folds benefits of performing Umrah conveniently in a less tense and more relaxed environment, performing 2 Jumah; 1 in Makkah, 1 in Medina within a travel period of 9/10 days, you’ll also have enough time to relax and shop, you still get the benefits as much as any other umrah. Things are usually cheaper during this period referred to as shoulder season. You see, religious tourism depends on your faith, your relationship with your God and how you wish to spend out of the riches He has bestowed on you in His ways. We are ever ready to yield to calls for assistance on customised packages.

6 comments:

  1. May God Almighty Allah continue to strengthen ur success & add more flavor to sweeten d purpose of ur creation. Happy to have u as my MD

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  2. My dearest MD. Ilaliamom in shaa Allah. May Allah continue to increase u in health, wealth and wisdom. May somebody shout a bigger amiiiin

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  3. More grace to ur elbow, boss with vission and extraordinary ability. Proud to work with you

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  4. May Almighty Allah continue to support your vision, despite all these achievements, I can see that there is still a lot more to come. Illali amon in shaa Allah .

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