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How I grew from palm kernel oil seller to int’l businessman

At age 23, he made his first million running his own business after working in his father’s palm kernel oil business in Iyamoye town, Ekinrin…

At age 23, he made his first million running his own business after working in his father’s palm kernel oil business in Iyamoye town, Ekinrin Ade, Kogi State.

Little did he know it was only the beginning of his rise as an international businessman in the oil, marine industry and agribusiness.

Before Mr. Razaq Juwon Lawal founded Africent Group, a management and marketing consulting services company involved in oil, marine industry and agribusiness, he made his first million producing and selling palm oil at age 23.

It was 1994 and Lawal was 14 years old when he started work at his father’s palm kernel oil business in Iyamoye town, Ekinrin Ade, Kogi State.

He describes it as an exciting experience working in a palm kernel nuts extracting business at that age.

“I would always go to the factory after school to work with my father and his employees, and as curious as I was, it was a learning experience for me,” he recalls.

Lawal worked mostly after school and on weekends.

He confesses that the Nigerian economy wasn’t as challenging as it is currently.

“Businesses didn’t require huge capitals to become productive.

“The major hurdle we had back then was access to modern technology,” he says.

Then, most of the machinery his father’s factory used were fabricated locally.

Then his father died in 1999, and Lawal, who was now an adult, began to travel to various countries to explore modern business models and technology and how they could be implanted back home in Nigeria.

He took a number of trips to Malaysia, Indonesia and South Korea.

“It was as a result of this research that Oillet Services was birthed,” he reveals.

While Lawal was involved in the production and selling of palm oil, he provided consulting services to companies which earned him his first million.

This included performing feasibility studies and helping them set up small and medium scale palm kernel oil extracting plants.

But what propelled him to take some of these practical steps as a business man? Lawal says this was due to his passion for industry.

This has been his drive from the very beginning.

He invested a lot of time in study and research to ensure he becomes an expert in the field.

Today, Lawal holds a degree in Business Administration and a master’s in Business Administration and Management from Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State.

He also received professional executive training in agribusiness from Harvard Business School.

In addition to getting the required education to enable his growth and development as a business owner, Lawal succeeded in building the right networks.

He adds: “I ensured that I upheld honesty and sincerity in all business dealings. Most importantly, I deliver.”

Mr. Lawal’s research into the palm kernel oil business led him into oil, marine and agrobusiness. But how was he able to juggle these three?

He explains that part of his services was to supply Industrial generators to factories.

“In 2006 I was called upon to supply a generator to a vessel that was having challenges powering their cranes.

“They had tried several solutions but couldn’t find a reliable one,” he says.

So, he supplied the generator they needed and it solved the problem.

What Lawal achieved is what many business experts agree is the secret to getting more clients in any business venture.

Get your first job done right and several more doors fling open.

Aside spending money for adverts on television or other news mediums, one powerful tool is the word of mouth.

This breakthrough charted a new course for Lawal.

“I was paid very well for my efforts and I developed interest in the shipping and marine industry,” he says, adding that agro business has always been a part of him right from the days of working with his father.

“What you see with Oillet Services and Cropyfy is an evolution of experiences I had from the beginning.”

At the moment, many years after he experienced the exhilaration of making his first million, Mr. Lawal is burdened with running Africent Group, a management and marketing consulting services company he founded, involved in oil and marine industry and agribusiness with offices different parts of the world.

He describes Africent group as a conglomerate with global reach, headquartered in Logistics City Dubai World Central, United Arab Emirates, with operations in West Africa and the United Kingdom.

Lawal points out that, even before the Covid-19 pandemic, they have always adopted a remote way of working.

“We found a way to digitize all our operations to ensure seamless and smooth running of all our business operations.

“Even though business in Nigeria has evolved positively over the years, there is still the issue of safety and security for businesses.

“Our rights and privileges as business owners is not protected as compared to other countries.

“We still have people being bullied within the business space and little or nothing is done about it,” Lawal says.

This stride in business earned Lawal, in July 2020, official membership into the Forbes Business Council, arguably the foremost growth and networking organization for successful business owners and leaders worldwide.

He was vetted and selected by a review committee based on the depth and diversity of his experience.

Before then, in 2013 he emerged winner of the Young Entrepreneur of the Year by Global Excellence Recognition Awards.

Just like any other successful businessman, Lawal has had a lot of challenges in his journey he is not fond of talking about.

He says: “I can’t pinpoint a particular one that stands out as the greatest.

“These are challenges we all go through as Africans and as people trying to build something for ourselves, we do what we can to overcome them as they come and move on.

“You just need a good plan and strategy for whatever challenges that come your way and keep moving.”

Nowadays, Lawal, who is 41, starts his workday at 5am.

He is usually in the office by 7am, likes to start his morning with black coffee because he runs businesses in several countries, and is mostly on the phone and engages in virtual meetings.

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