INTERVIEW (Mrs Omon Anenih-Mordi)

Women in Business: Turning Your Passion into a Profitable Business

The Fidelity SME Forum is a weekly radio programme organized by Fidelity Bank Plc to educate, inform, advise and inspire budding entrepreneurs in Nigeria with knowledge and expertise that will enable them build sustainable and successful businesses. The interactive radio programme features subject matter experts and model entrepreneurs as guests on a weekly basis to share their insight and unique success stories. In this interview, Mrs Omon Anenih-Mordi, CEO, Blue Mahogany Ltd gives valuable insights on “Women in Business: Turning Your Passion into a Profitable Business”. 

Q: Tell us a little about Blue Mahogany Ltd

Omon: We are an interior design firm, we were established in 2006 and we handle projects around Nigeria and in the UK as well. We offer design services and we also project-manage them to conclusion.

Q: How did you get into the interior design business?

Omon: At the time I was halfway through a PhD in petroleum law and I wasn’t happy. There was the promise of being a high flying corporate lawyer and earning loads of money but I wasn’t fulfilled and I just thought to myself, if I could do something and I didn’t have to think about a career or I didn’t have to think about making money what would I enjoy doing? At the time, I did not even consider interior design as a career but then I started doing my research and I discovered that there are actually courses in interior design and that was how my pursuit for interior design as a business began.

Q: Why is it called Blue Mahogany?

Omon: I wanted a name that people would remember, I wanted something that would stand out and would make people want to know more about it. I liked the paradox of two things that normally wouldn’t go together. You’ve got “mahogany” which is never blue, you’ve got “blue” which is a cool contemporary colour whereas mahogany is rich and traditional and I think that sort of defined me as a person and my design style and aesthetics. It also defined the place I was at that time in my life.

Q: Work us through how you started. How did you get into this as a business?

Omon: At the time I was doing my PhD, I had about a year to complete it, but I had been brought up to believe that whatever you have to do you have to do it well, so my first step was doing some research about what colleges or schools were offering interior design as a degree because I felt that I had to be a professional and be the best at it. I did not finish my PhD and I had the option of taking a couple of years off and coming back if I changed my mind or if all else failed. The last thing I did was to call my parents and tell them. That was probably one of the scariest things I had done.

Q: At what point did your parents agree with you?

Omon: It took my dad a few years to agree with me but I left anyways because I was really convinced that, that was what I wanted to do and I also had to prove to myself and my family that it wasn’t just a frivolous pursuit. A few years later my dad saw one of the projects that I had completed then he told me that he now understood why I did what I did.

Q: How long have you been in business?

Omon: 12 years

Q: How did you start off as a business and who was your first client?

Omon: My first client was a young couple in the UK, they did not have very much to spend on their project but I was just so grateful that somebody was willing to give me that responsibility. I was paid 50 pounds and a bottle of red wine for my services. Then I got to take pictures of the project that I completed which was very important, and that was the beginning of me getting paid for my services.

Q: How were you able to structure it as a company and coming back to Nigeria to set it up?

Omon: When I first came to Nigeria I had hoped to get a job with an interior design firm. There were not any at that time so I decided to move Blue Mahogany and start it up here. I did not have the right structure in place, I had passion and I was hardworking but those things only took me so far, I realised that the business was growing beyond anything I could contain or control so I sought the help of some experts. I found a business consultant and a HR consultant, at some point I spoke with the Fidelity Managed SME team and they sort of helped me at a time when I was completely overwhelmed.

Q: What were the things you felt that caused you not to be structured?

Omon: Well I never had a business plan and very clear goals, I did not know much about physical planning and budgeting. There was no reward scheme or no means of appraising the team accordingly, it was dependent on how I felt at the time, which is no way to run a sustainable business.

Q: So how did you restructure and how did everything turn around for you positively?

Omon: The biggest difference for me was learning to let go, I was trying to get involved in everything, even though I had some staff, I wasn’t allowing them to grow and develop themselves. So that was the most ground-breaking thing, realising that the business is not just about you and if you intend to be successful and still have a life you have to let go.

Q: How many staff do you have?

Omon: Full time we have 10 staff and a couple of support staff, we also have a wide network of freelancers, and we have some contractors we engage from time to time.

Q: What will you say is the biggest challenge in the business space in Nigeria for you?

Omon: My biggest challenge is people, I am naturally introverted and that is something I have had to overcome over the years because it is difficult to design for people and not wanting to engage with them. In addition, talent has been a huge challenge.

Q: How do you source talent?

Omon: By any means possible, we have tried all sorts, but sometimes it is just being open to meet people because you never know where you might meet someone who is talented.

Q: What are the challenges you have faced in the business sense of thriving in Nigeria?

Omon: Anything from crazy traffic in Lagos to power supply to people not quite understanding what an interior designer does.

Q: So what does an interior designer do?

Omon: An interior designer and a decorator would be like the difference between a plastic surgeon and a makeup artist. A makeup artist is there to make your face look pretty but a plastic surgeon will go back down into the structure of your face and tweak things around. Therefore, I think that is what interior designers do, it is more than just superficial, it is actually going into the “bones” of a space and making sure, it works for you.

Q: Is there such a thing as bespoke interior design?

Omon: I think interior design by definition should be bespoke because it is about creating something out of nothing and creating something that is unique, that fits a particular need and solves a particular problem.

Q: What is the hardest thing for you as a businesswoman in Nigeria?

Omon: I’m happy and proud to be woman, but I don’t first think of myself as a woman, I don’t walk into a room thinking I would be treated differently or whether or not I would get a contract because I’m a woman.

Q: Looking back is there anything you would have done differently?

Omon: One thing I would have done is a bit more research and learning about the business side of things. I do not think I spent enough time very early on learning about how to run a business and that is something I did as I went along. I do not plan to be in Blue Mahogany forever so I realised that it is something you really have to plan. Another thing I would have done differently is put structures in place earlier on.

Q: What is your advice for entrepreneurs?

Omon: You should remember that it’s not just about something that you’re good at, it’s not just as simple as being passionate about something, there’s a lot of hard work that goes into it and you need to continue to grow and develop yourself and your business.

Q: How many years did you struggle before you realised that the passion was not enough to grow the business?

Omon: The first five years.

Q: Are you on social media and how can people reach you?

Omon: Yes we are, our handle on instagram is @bluemahogany_ and on facebook it’s @BMbeyonddesign.