Painting is among occupations ‘reserved’ for men. This is connected to the rigours that come with it and the subtle patriarchy system in the country. But Omobolaji Shittu, a graduate of Business Management from the University of Lagos (Unilag), has been carving a niche for herself in the painting industry. The Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) entrepreneur, in this interview says women should not be shy to challenge any unfavourable stereotype or belief.
Daily Trust: How have you been coping with your occupation?
Omobolaji Shittu: I am the founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Bolat Paints and Chemicals. I had my primary education in Lagos and my secondary in Mayflower, Ikenne. I have a second class upper degree in Business Management and I am undergoing my MSc programme at Unilag.
I displayed leadership and entrepreneurial qualities from my childhood. This culminated in the establishment of Bolat Paints and Chemicals in 2018. My entrepreneurial dexterity has earned me grants and awards, including TEF 2019; Nigeria’s Under25 Entrepreneur 2019 and Young Entrepreneur Eloy Award 2020.
DT: What made you choose painting with the seeming idea that it is a male job?
Shittu: I have always loved colours, and I play with them a lot, and sincerely, when I finally decided to start my painting career, I was almost discouraged by the notion that it is gender-restricted. I knew what I wanted, I knew my passion and what drives me, and I went for it regardless of the noise.
DT: Would you say your gender is a plus or a minus in the profession?
Shittu: To be honest, at the start of the business, it was quite difficult. When I introduced my brand to prospective clients, they would look at me twice to be sure if I truly knew what I was saying.
However, over time I have met countless clients who are highly impressed. On a percentage, I would say it was 70 per cent minus at the start, and it is 85 per cent plus now.
DT: How do you handle competition, especially from men?
Shittu: In an industry dominated by men, it is not surprising that a young woman like me would be scared. So, yes, I was scared at a point, but I didn’t allow my fear to get the better of me. Instead, I focused on my products and introduced quality offers that would make my brand competitive. And as the popular saying goes, “A quality product sells itself.”
DT: You are a TEF alumnus, how has this added value to your goals?
Shittu: It has really helped me to connect with other African entrepreneurs. I had a one-year entrepreneurship programme with TEF.
DT: So what do you like most about your work?
Shittu: Being able to transform a space/building. Thus, no matter how fine a building or structure is, if it is not well painted with quality paint, it will obviously look basic; same with an old building.
Colour is an art, it has a way of making people happy. You can’t pass by a newly painted house and won’t notice it. I derive joy from seeing a house looking good; not just looking good, but being painted with quality paint.
DT: What is your dream project?
Shittu: To build a successful paint brand that will be globally celebrated with 35 per cent market share and manufacturing over five million litres of paint per annum. By so doing, I will be creating more employment, launching a painting academy and a colours app.
DT: What is the best way to exhibit painting?
Shittu: Painting can be exhibited in numerous ways. Personally, I believe in manipulating it through creativity.
DT: Is there really a future in painting?
Shittu: Interior and exterior painting cannot be underrated, because that is the beauty of any construction. Painting brings out beauty to the construction site when concluded; it brings calmness, and it also increases the value of any property. As long as the world is not coming to an end today, there is certainly a future in the painting industry.
DT: What was actually the path you took to get to where you are?
Shittu: The first step was that I believed in myself. The grace of God has helped me pull beyond my expectations. Indeed, hard work, determination, consistency and perseverance, and most importantly, God, are my factors to where I am, and where I am aiming to be tomorrow.
DT: With the current “quick money syndrome” among youths, how do you think this can be curbed?
Shittu: There are still lots of determined young people that want to follow due process in making money. It is associated with the mindset. Most individuals feel they can’t make it through hard work, which in the end, pushes them into frivolous activities. While others allow peer pressure instill covetousness in them.
However, hard work has its due process, which when followed judiciously, pays off in the end. Hard work is a decision and a goal. An individual must first decide to choose the part of hard work in order to succeed. I made that decision years ago, which brought about me laying the foundation, by starting a fabric and textile business when I was in school. I did that because I saw it as a stepping stone to my goal of having a paint company.
DT: How did Bolat Paints come into existence?
Shittu: Like I mentioned earlier, I have always loved to play with colours, even while I was tender. And subsequently, it became a goal to set up a paint company, and here we are today.
DT: Any word of encouragement to those struggling to have their own businesses?
Shittu: Stay focused and determined. Believe in yourself, knowing that you can achieve anything and everything you set your mind on. Don’t forget the God factor also, because without Him you cannot achieve anything.