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#BehindTheBrand: Seyi Adekunle of Vodi - LeadPreneur
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#BehindTheBrand: Seyi Adekunle of Vodi

Seyi Adekunle, a graduate of geology, started out as a teacher during his Service year at Akwa-Ibom state where he taught Physics and Mathematics at a secondary school. His passion for business led him to the popular ‘Aba Market’ where he ordered shirts and boxers to sell to Corp Members like him. He didn’t realize then that he was the beginning of the success story of The Vodi Group.

As the Project Director of Vodi Tailors and Umbrella Company which has Subsidiaries such as Vodi Clean, Vodi Training Institute, Vodi Debbo (For Women) and Vodi Textile, he has redefined style by creating unique bespoke designs, becoming a leading brand in the fashion world.

The road to success hasn’t been easy. Vodi started first as just shirt makers in 2001 with him being the only tailor to owning factories. Leadpreneur caught up with Seyi Adekunle and asked him questions to know how he founded and has continued to run Vodi Group, along with what motivates this serial entrepreneur.

What is the Seyi Adekunle Origin Story?

I was born in Lagos State, but I am from Ile-Ife Osun State. I had my Primary, Secondary and University Education in Maiduguri. I went to the University of Maiduguri and I studied geology. I am married with 3 children.

How did Vodi Story Start?

It wasn’t ‘Vodi’ at first. It was ‘Testimony Fabrics’. I just registered it as a business name and we did not know how, but we knew that we were on to something good. With diligence and hard-work, the sky is your limit. We started in the year 2001, precisely July 2001 as a Corp Member then in Akwa-Ibom State. I found myself having so much time on my hands and I felt I shouldn’t be wasting away. I was then teaching Physics and Mathematics in a Technical School. I had so much time. Aba in Abia state was just an hour and a half to where I was serving and I felt I should take a journey there. I didn’t know it something I was going to live my whole life and a lot of people and generations are going to depend on that singular decision I took. I saw fabrics at Aba and thought I could make shirts and boxer shorts to sell to my fellow Corp Members. That was in 2001 during past President Olusegun Obasanjo’s Administration and there was a clamp down on the importation of foreign goods.

I started selling and thought it wise then that the best name for the brand was “Testimony Fabrics” but two years down the lane, I felt I needed a shorter name that is more African. After thinking, I remember I had this friend then at the University of Maiduguri and her name was ‘Vodi’ which literarily means beauty in Fulani. It is actually spelt ‘Vwodi’ but the ‘W’ is silent.  Since it is silent, we removed it and that is how Vodi was given birth to. Ever since we started as a business name and we started growing from one to two and today we are where we are.

Growing up, did you always want to be a tailor?

I was still writing test in the bank, going for interviews. I did not know that this is what I will end up doing. I just took the Aba trip as a stop gap not to be idle. At that time, God blessed my business and I thought I should just make a life out of this. The reality outside school is different. When you’re in school you think by the time you’re out of school you will just get employed but while in service, reality started setting in and I found out that it is not the way we thought. We didn’t know there were so many people out there that are better qualified. Then, the banking industry was booming. Banks were being opened and recruiting everywhere.  I loved the way bankers dressed in sparkling white shirts. I wanted to look like them but at some point, I changed my mind.

When did you recruit your first Tailor?

When I started, there was no tailor. It was just N3600 stipend that was being paid to me as a Corp Member. That was what I used in starting. I did not recruit my first tailor till September 2003 but then I was using tailors in Aba before then.

Did you go to Business School?

I didn’t study business in school; I wasn’t opportune to go to any Business School. The street taught me everything I learnt and I learnt on the job and people. I get advice from people from corporate organizations.  The chat I have in my engagement with different kinds of people on a daily basis shaped me to whom I am today. If I have the opportunity, I will go because I still think there are so many things I have not learnt yet.

What is the first lesson you learnt in Business?

Taking risks is one of the first lessons I learnt and it is a two-edged sword. It is either you take a risk and win or take a risk and lose or take calculated risks. But don’t be too careful because, if you’re too careful, it is not good for business. Now being competitive in the real sense, you just have to have the winner mentality. Be first in everything you do. In terms of creativity, I want to be the best. I strive to be the richest of the fashion designers in Africa.

Who has impacted you the most when it comes to how you approach work?

The one that has had the most impact on me is a man. The founder of National and Panasonic. A Japanese entrepreneur Konosuke Matsushita. Of course, never met him but read books about him and I just got thrilled by his lifestyle, how he started. From the age of 9 persevered against all calamities. Once I read his book, I never recovered. I just wanted to be like him. I saw share ingenuity and hard-work.  A man despite all the disasters that befell him, he still went ahead to become the greatest entrepreneur of all time.

How were you able to transform the Vodi brand to become a formidable brand, and when?

After 10 years in the business I realized that we had to do things differently, so I talked to a friend of mine, Taopheek Babayeju who is a management consultant and the CEO of iCentra Consulting, they helped us on our transformation journey. It is safe to say that everything you see here today is anchored on what iCentra did for us.

What drives and inspires you?

Very simple, it is passion. When passion drives you, it gives you this extra energy. Everything inspires me; nature, my environment, people. I have great designers around both in this country and abroad that inspire me on a daily basis.

What was the most challenging time in your Business?

I am going through one of the most challenging periods in my career right now. How can you explain when a man that has worked so hard for 17 years and a major part of his savings is in a financial institution being regulated by Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) for the past nine months and you cannot get your money out. Amidst other challenges that every other young entrepreneur goes through in this country like Power, Capital and even Labour. Those are enough challenges.  You now have money genuinely kept and you do not know what is happening. For me right now it is challenging but I just have to carry on, pretend and keep working.

How do you balance work/life?

Work is life. They are interwoven. Even when I take time out to unwind, I still talk business. Business is everywhere for me and also life/leisure. I enjoy working. On the job, I still unwind. It is interwoven for me.

What are you currently learning?

I am hoping to learn Mandarin. This is because that will eventually become a global language. It is a Chinese language and when you talk about the world economy, there is no country in this world that doesn’t do business with the Chinese. It will be a very big advantage for me in the future if I can speak this language very well.

What book are you currently reading?

The biography of Konosuke Matsushita, my mentor. This is my favourite and I have read it several times.

Any advice for a budding entrepreneur?

The same advice I gave myself 16 years ago. There are three things, important virtues: Talent, Skill and Knowledge. These are the ingredients to grow and sustain any business. These virtues all work together and are necessary to be successful in business.



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