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Sunday, 1 March 2015

Zaron CEO Oke Maduewesi Speaks On Overcoming Widowhood And Her Journey Into Entrepreneurship

Oke Maduewesi is the CEO of Zaron Group of Companies, the Zaron brand is a cosmetics and hair franchise that makes lifestyles products tailored to meet the beauty needs of women of colour. She is a mother of 2 lovely daughters who has fought her way through a very dark moment in her life to emerge brighter and stronger.

Her husband died in the ill-fated Sosoliso plane crash in 2006 while she was 7 months pregnant and nursing their 2-year-old child. In a recent Sun interview, she bared her mind on overcoming the trauma of widowhood and her journey into the world of entrepreneurship. Read excerpts below:

I was devastated because I didn't only lose a husband but also my best friend. His death was a dark moment in my life because I became alone. My husband wasn't rich, but we had dream of where we aspired to be in future, and we both worked hard to get there.

His demise left me lonely. And being a widow, people were telling me different things about how I should now live my life. But amid all those voices, I had to speak to myself. I told myself never to wear the typical face of widowhood. In my tribute to my late husband, I promised that I would do him proud by taking good care of our children. That promise I made kept me focused and strong in the face of every adversity I faced. But there were challenges.

As soon as I had my baby, I came back to Zenith Bank and started working at full steam. During time for work, I was strong and I worked very hard. I refused telling my sad stories to anybody or attracting pity parties at work. But at night, I would cry myself to sleep. My diligence at work got me promotion to senior management level in the bank. With that promotion, I felt more comfortable having paid my dues. But it got to a point where I started asking myself ‘what next?’ I believe that when you get to your comfort zone, and there are no more challenges in store for you, then it means it’s time to move on because you’ll start going down remaining there.

So on getting to my comfort zone, I told myself that it’s time to move on. So, I sold all I had in Port Harcourt and decided to go back to the drawing board. I enrolled to Leeds Business School. I went to school to gain some managerial skill and leadership role so I can come back more skilled in the financial circles, because I believed that is where my future lies.But switching from career to academic was not easy. 

While I was there in UK, I went through depression, because I second guessed the decision I took to quit paid employment. I wondered how I would cope academically because I haven’t done anything academic in years. I wanted to go back Nigeria, but I changed my mind. I was studying to become a better banker, but it was the case studies of global brands and entrepreneurs that we read, that turned out to make me the entrepreneur that I am today.

We read about lots of entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and brands like GM Motors. Their stories about how they built their brands and became great entrepreneurs got me intrigued. I became motivated and aspired to be like them. I challenged myself to delve into business so that some other person would read about me someday.

I came up with an idea of going into production of cosmetics. That was how my journey into entrepreneurship started. It wasn't easy but I kept on believing in myself. I started researching and making enquires. And from my research, the biggest challenge doing business in Nigeria is for Nigerians to embrace Nigerian products. That made me to continue to think on how to tinker and change the perception of Nigerians towards made-in-Nigeria products. 

I did my PEST analysis (Political, Economic, Social and Technological analysis) and I thought how my brand would get that competitive advantage over other brands of cosmetic in the market.
I noticed lots of good Nigerian products are made to look cheap and tacky because they are locally made.

So, I came with an idea of creating a product that looks nice, can compete with the quality of the foreign cosmetic brand, and yet would be affordable for the middle class. I then carved a niche by creating a cosmetic brand targeted at coloured women and would suit our hot weather condition. Those are some of the things that we made sure that the Zaron brand had as our competitive advantage.

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