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Dr Olufunmi Adegbile is a manager of events. She is a pastor at the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) and the Chief Executive Officer of Royal Spices, an event planning organisation.
In this interview with MODUPE GEORGE, she bares her mind on how her passion for 'presentation' drove her into catering and event management, and the need for every woman to keep adding values to her life. Excerpts:
Can we have a peep into your educational background?
I have always been in and out of school. I studied in the University of Ibadan. I have two Master's Degrees and a PGDE qualification. Recently, I bagged a Ph.D. in Educational Technology.
I believe so much in continuous education, particularly for women. I believe one shouldn't be out of school for more than three years. It's either one is undergoing one management training or the other in any organised school.
What prompted your involvement in event management and catering?
What pushed me into catering majorly is “the presentation”. Some years back, when I was still in the banking hall, I used to complain a lot whenever I attended parties. You would sit on metal chairs and tables; the chairs uncovered while tables were half-covered. The legs of the table so corrosive, food was served in plastic plates while wet spoons were thrown in the food. I actually went into catering because I have been trained by my parents that, whatever you always complain about, you need to do something about. So, I started thinking on how to effect a change.
I started asking myself questions; can't the legs of the tables be covered? Must it always be covered with checked materials? Must names be always inscribed on the spoons? Can't they give full sets of cutlery? I was trained by my mother that it is improper to use spoon to eat rice, but cereals and that was long before I went to a boarding school. Whenever I saw spoon inside my plate of rice, I wouldn't be able to eat. Later on, whenever my friends had parties, I would take some of my things there, set a part of the space with about two or three tables and that was how it all started. I realised people started calling me. Having asked my friends, “who helped you to do this?” and they would say, “a friend of ours.”
I also discovered that even the dishes were not always tasty; the jollof rice was always soggy, looking like the normal rice referred to as “concoction”. So, this was how I started calculating, measuring and checking the condiment as against the number of people to be catered for.
For how long did you work in the bank?
Not too long, I just had a brief stay.
Apart from passion in this direction, what have you done to put a professional touch into this vocation?
Most times, I go on the internet to search for latest development and I travel out once in a while to see how things are done in other countries. However, one funny thing I've noticed about Nigerian caterers is that we combine things from different nations.
The business is dynamic; you continue to be on your toes. When I started, there was nothing like “charger”. We were using stainless cups. Later, we changed to glasses. We later moved to napkins before we changed to serviette and started covering the tooth-pick from sun dust, and then we moved into covering cutlery. We graduated into using napkins to wrap, and then introduced rings which could be very expensive. We ensure that the uniform our servers are putting on is of the same colour, with the colour of the event to make it colourful. In those days, caterers put food warmers on the table and dish out, but it got to a point where we started using chafing dishes, where we dish out from.
What is a “charger”?
“Charger” or “platter” is what we put our napkin on the table and that is eventually where the server puts your food. It's like a table mat; an upgraded table mat.
Do you still practise your profession alongside the catering vocation?
Yes, I still teach and lecture, but occasionally. I'm much more into women empowerment. I am happy when women are empowered. I counsel women and thereafter empower them; particularly single mothers who are widows to ensure that they are able to stand on their feet. I also encourage them on how to bring up their children without them messing around. Nigerian women are powerful; they are not lazy, they are very hard working.
Does your background have anything to do with what you are doing today?
Funny enough, I didn't like or enjoy cooking from the outset. I believe what I'm doing is a blessing from God because when all other businesses I had crashed including the Royal Business School; I don't know what else I can call that period, but it was terrible, the only one that survived is the Royal Spices. When it comes to presentation, I can say my family background influenced me a lot. The way we cooked our ewedu was quite unique. We were always creative about it. You will never find the usual plain okro soup in my house, it must have all sorts of assortments, the omelets must also have all kinds of colours, those were the things I enjoyed doing and this was how I got here. It was not cooking that pushed me into catering, it's the presentation. When the environment is not conducive and the presentation is not right, I won't touch the food.
What are the challenges of event management and catering?
It is employee centred. For instance, you employed a cook and paid her the kind of salary that would make her stay and comfortable and at the end of the day, she just feels that you are the one making all the money and that she too wants to go and set up her personal business or she goes looking for the highest bidder among the caterers. Even for retirement plan, the issue of getting someone to hand over to continue the work becomes an issue. Another challenge is that of the clients, they react in different ways and one has got to manage them well.
If you are given a platform to address the lapses and excesses in the catering\event management industry, what will you address?
I will like to say that we don't have a society willing to constitute itself. There is nothing like association of event managers in the country. I hope to see event planners\managers come together as a body, though this might be difficult because it's not a kind of business whereby people rise to the top through their leaders; everybody gets to where they are on their own.
However, I pray this comes to pass in my own generation before I retire.
Also, I will like to address the issue of rivalry amongst caterers; I see a lot of unhealthy rivalry going on among the upcoming ones in the industry and I see this terrible envy crippling their businesses. The way they talk down on one another, just because they wanted to get a job is outrageous. I want to see a day we will all come together and learn from one another because no one is an island when it comes to anything in life.
Event planning could be time consuming and demanding, as a pastor and a career woman, how are you combining these two
It's by God's grace. I belong to the Redeemed Christian Church of God(RCCG) and I belong to a vision that has been given out to some of us that started out as workers in the church to be good examples to our congregation. Don't just tell me to give, show how to give. You have to go out there in the market place to make money and still be the Christian you are supposed to be.
Can you introduce your better half?
I thank God for the kind of man God gave me. He is not just beside me, he is all over me. He is a zonal pastor also in the RCCG. He has a Ph.D in Personnel Psychology. My husband has always been a source of inspiration to me. When people were very critical of my having to carry food warmers around in the early 90s, he was always encouraging me to move on. When we had job in several places, he would lead some parts of the services, despite the fact that he also had a challenging job.
Sometimes, when I go out to work, I come back home complaining about the way people talked to me and how bad I felt. He would encourage me to ignore them and move on. Also, when I was about walking away from my Ph.D programme, he encouraged me to forge ahead. He's been my fa-ther; my parents died early in life. He is my pastor, role model and mentor.
You look so beautiful, what's the secret?
Contentment! I believe everything is in the mind. I don't have any beauty therapy or any special thing that I use. All I know is that, I must stay healthy through my regular walk-out exercise in the morning and going to the gym in the evening and I also eat well. I realise a lot of women make themselves unhappy because of what somebody says. I am just okay with my calling.
I'm satisfied. Besides, I draw strength from His word. I believe the Christ in me is the hope of glory, nothing else.
How do you unwind?
My Monday is a day off. I stay at home on Mondays to rest except on emergency. My Mondays are for resting, regardless of what is happening in our Lagos Office or here. I thank God I've been able to train my daughter on how to handle her home and by His grace, she is doing fine. I relax with my husband. We gist a lot; he's my best friend.
What advice do you have for women who also desire to live their dreams and have multiple streams of income?
I always tell women, not to be satisfied with whatever level they are; that they must always do something to add value to themselves and to always look out for something new to get pre-occupied with. There is need for every woman to discover herself. When you do this, you know what you are good at and will be able to harness your strength. Then, add passion to what you believe in. Adopt a role model or mentor, somebody you can always call on whenever you have challenges.