Mrs. Shirley Okharedia, proprietress of Temple Preparatory School, Ilupeju, believes that business success hinges on passion, commitment and a firm belief in God’s divine intervention in the affairs of His children.
My name is Shirley Okharedia and I joined The Fountain of Life Church in 1995. I served as Pastor Bimbo Odukoya’s Personal Assistant. I worked in the Church Care Department; the Beautification Department; the Greeters Department and now I am in PBOF.
I was trained formally for this but most importantly I like working for kids, so the first chance I got to set up my school, I grabbed it.
Setting up a business has its challenges. First of all, the finances. You have to have enough money to set up the kind of standard you want. Having said that you can always start up from less than your choice standard, then work it up to your standard. For me, my biggest challenge was not that, really. It was thinking that people who know you would support you and realizing that help does not always come from the people you know. Help comes from God. He always sends you people that you least expect to help. That was what happened with me.
I started Temple school with a summer programme in 2004 and the summer programme was full. I had over a hundred children.
All their mothers were so excited and I thought it would translate into the school but come September, I had only 7 children.
That was not only psychologically devastating it was emotionally devastating. I said Oh God what is this? O Lord, I groaned. I grumbled and I almost lost the joy of working with the children. But I now realized that it wasn’t about the numbers. It was about what I wanted to do.
So, I decided to enjoy every day and enjoy every child and
when the numbers came, I cannot tell you. Suddenly the numbers started growing but I was really surprised that people I thought would support me didn’t initially. It was as if they were saying: “let someone else try her out and let us see before we come,” you know something like that.
To start a school, I would say look out for three things: location, then the clients; make sure that you have the right population you are targeting. This is very important because education is not cheap. You have to make sure that the people you are targeting can afford to pay for you to maintain your standards. Then you must be ready to train and retrain and retrain your staff. The biggest investment is in the structure and the resources and the
next biggest is your staff.
Raising funds was a bit easy for me at first. I had some money saved up, then I got some support from the bank. Because I had a good relationship with the banks, I was able to approach them.
For a lot of people they don’t have such relationships, getting funds may be difficult for them. But see, whatever you have just start. I was not doing any business before then but I had been banking with First Bank for a long while. Now, it was not just
First bank that supported me. Skye Bank supported me too. The people in charge of Skye Bank at that time knew me and knew that if I chose to go into the education sector, I would do well. So, it was more out of the fact that they knew me that they supported me.
I started out with my savings and my gratuity from Grange School. All this while my husband was watching me to see how I was doing, whether I was serious and committed. I wrote so many letters and proposals, then in our second year, I came to work one day and I told my staff; it is either I sack half of you or cut your salaries in half. By that time our number had increased but many parents were not paying fees, so the numbers didn’t balance out. They all opted for half salary. It was tough, it was tough, it was tough.
I remember I had thanksgiving when we took over the payment of salaries from the Chairman, my husband. He paid our salaries for two years. There was no month we did not get paid but the money did not come from that business. In fact if the money had come from the business we would have closed down since but he paid our salaries for two years.
Now, we have two campuses; one boarding house. That’s a lot for a school that’s eight years old. I have a lot of people who want to sell their schools. They say they want to sell then they ask me: “how are you doing it, how are you keeping up?” I say to them; having done all just STAND. Do everything you have to do and just leave the rest to God. Before setting up Temple, I worked at two different schools. I worked in a school in Ikeja called Beehive then I went to Grange where I ended up being the Head Mistress and Vice Principal before leaving to set this place up in September 2004.
We have a big operation. Temple is big for a school that is just eight years old. We have over 600 children and 80 to 100 members of staff.
My advice to a young person going into business would be: make sure that it is a business you love to do even if you don’t have money coming into it. That is so important because even if the money is not coming in, that passion must be there to sustain you. So, you have to have the passion, you have to have the commitment, you must give it your all; all being your emotions, your psyche, everything, your knowledge. You must be prepared to be up to date with information about that area you want to go into so that you are ahead of your customers and competitors.
My business has benefitted so much from being in Fountain. Pastor Taiwo; all his messages, all his counsel have to do with “if you can do it, go on, and lead and train other people.” I remember when I was going to resign I went to see Pastors Taiwo and Bimbo. Pastor Taiwo said, “God may just want you to resign. What if God wants you to resign” That’s what he said. So, I said yes, I am passionate about what I do, but what if the passion is no longer there? So, I decided to go with Pastor Taiwo’s advice. And that was how it happened. I read up on leadership books. I listened to his tapes, to Pastor Bimbo’s messages and all of it put together, just encouraged me to do it.
When I think of my business, the particular scripture that applies most is Ephesians 6 verses 10 – 19. I always zero in on “Having done all, STAND.”
My personal business principle is simple: I focus on the child more than the business. That is what I kept saying at the management meeting I had yesterday. This is a ministry for me. If it was about money I know how to go after money. It is about the child. Education in Nigeria has focused too long on academic excellence, academic ability leaving out the child’s total development. To me, I believe every child can succeed at something. That is my personal ethos and philosophy to education. Every child can succeed at something and it is my responsibility to discover it. That’s what I try to pass on to my teachers. Everything I do has to do with one thing; at the end of the day, the children must succeed at something; music, dance, singing, whatever.
The turning point in my business came quite early. I think we were still about seven and we were not increasing. That was when I made up my mind that if God would not bring the increase, well maybe God wanted me to work with the seven, so I focused on the children I had. People also kept telling me to advertise but I have always believed that your work will sell you, that the good you’ve done will speak for you but when The Fountain of Life Church started its magazine, I said If I am going to advertise it should in my home church and that was how, when I started advertising in The Fountain magazine, the parents learnt about what I was doing with the children but the children were the best advertising because they would go to the salon and to the club and people would say you behave so well, what school do you go to? And that always won the hearts of parents. So, it was the children that made it happen for me.
My spouse has a special place in Temple. When I mentioned to Pastor Bimbo that we were starting a school and I was looking for a Chairman, she said: “what is wrong with your husband, why can’t he be your Chairman?” I said “nothing ma, I never really thought about that, but won’t it be like a family business?” and she said, “so what? Put your husband as the Chairman.” I said, “ok” but when I approached my husband he was quite reluctant. He said, “no, nobody does that” but after I convinced him that that was what Pastor Bimbo said, he accepted and he has been, apart from God, the second greatest source of inspiration and help that we have had at Temple.
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