Tolulope Onalaja: Soft Heart For Real Estate
By Yemisi Suleiman
Tolulope Onalaja began her career in the facility Management sector, working as the chief operating officer of IFS/Draiklinas. Years later, she left to join her husband’s foremost Real Estate Company, RevolutionPlus Properties. Today, Tolu as she is fondly called, who sits pretty as Group Executive Director and her husband, make a dynamic Real Estate team, building a successful business empire.
Born and raised in Lagos, Mrs Onalaja had her first degree in Counselling and Psychology from the University of Ibadan, a Post Graduate Diploma in Management, and a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Calabar in 2010. The business woman who also holds a Certificate in Entrepreneurial Management from Pan Atlantic University, recently bagged another MBA from Loyola University in Chicago.
As the company celebrates seven years recently, Onalaja shares the thrills of working with her husband as a partner, wife, mother, their success secret, as well as issues facing the housing industry in Nigeria.
As your husband’s business partner, how do you two operate without getting on each other’s nerves?
My husband and I divided the entire business; so, everyone takes his or her area of specialty. I am in charge of Administration, HR, and Accounts in all of the businesses in and outside the country. Project teams report to my husband. So, even if he has a requisition in payment, he forwards it to me. If I have anything that has to do with a project, I forward it to him and he will now designate.
How would you describe the experience in the last seven years?
It has been beautiful.
Is it something you enjoy doing?
Oh yes, I enjoy it a lot and it has helped my marriage. We don’t fight and when we do, we settle almost immediately because the business brings us together, we always have something to talk about. I might want to get clarity or he wants me to make payment to a client. So, in such a situation, how do you actually keep malice? We can’t fight, it is impossible.
Again, my husband is not a domineering, typical African man. If you are good at something, he leaves you to be good at what you are good at. He does not drag anything with you. You are still his wife anyways, whatever you achieve. In fact, he brags about me more than himself and it’s something we sometimes laugh about. So it has been fantastic. We have won a couple of awards as Real Estate couple of the year, and have also won several awards together as a couple.
What does winning these awards as a couple of the year mean to you?
What it tells us is that we are inspirations and a lot of people are learning from us. A lot of people have told us that we have shown that it is possible for husband and wife to work together and actually succeed. We have seen ourselves as examples to other people who have started involving their wives in their businesses.
What was life like when you started RevolutionPlus?
RevolutionPlus started in 2014. But, because the business was new, it couldn’t even feed the family nor pay our bills.
I was actually the one paying the bills of the business when we started; I was paying from my salary. It was after two years when things started picking up in bits that he said we needed to join forces. I even used to laugh then, because RevolutionPlus was paying me one hundred and fifty thousand naira in 2016 when I joined, while I was almost earning a million where I was coming from. The business could not pay me at that time, but today, the rest is history.
The company started as RevolutionPlus properties but has now evolved into a holding company; tell us about your evolution journey.
It started as RevolutionPlus properties, which in seven years has given birth to all these subsidiaries. From RevolutionPlus properties we moved into RevolutionPlus Construction. The construction part of the business is in charge of building the houses, while the properties sell the land.
However, during the COVID-19 restrictions, we realised that food was very important apart from shelter and we do residential properties. So, residential housing started booming like never before because everybody now values the home due to the quarantine. So, instead of it being a disadvantage the way other businesses were, it was an advantage for the real estate. People started seeing the importance of having a home and shelter, because if something happens, where do you go? You need your home; you can’t stay in your car. When they were closing down event centers, hotels and the like, they couldn’t close down food and since my husband has always had the vision of having a bakery and table water factory, he felt it was time to actually start his bakery. On my part, I have always loved eateries, so when a friend walked up to me and said she has a passion for cooking and wanted to know if I still wanted to set up an eatery, I said of course. That was how the idea to start up the eatery combined with the water factory and bakery started. So that is the business we will be launching by God’s Grace, between July and August.
You also have a lingerie store-Angelic Lingerie; how do you joggle all these as wife and mother?
I have energy, that is one thing God gave me. I have a lot of strength, a lot of inner strength, and I thank God for the gift. Again, I am naturally multi-talented and I can multi-task a lot. If I don’t multi-task, it’s like a part of me is slowing down. I just want to do too many things, that is what keeps me going. So, I don’t see it as a challenge and of course, my husband and I have worked in the bank for years and I also worked in the corporate world. So, we have some kind of structure in place.
For the new businesses we would be working with Consultants who are experts at what they do. I believe putting the right structures in place along with control, is all one needs in business to succeed.
Neither the business nor the home front has suffered. I am someone who plans ahead, so that is why I said nothing ruffles me, It doesn’t catch me unawares. My children love me for that, and they brag to their friends that their mummy is always there. With all of the businesses that I am managing, I go to the US at least once in every three months to see my children. I ensure they are okay and then, on their graduation day, I am there. I try to balance everything just to be sure that there are no lapses. I always believe that naturally, God gave us women the ability to multi- task; it just now depends on how we develop that potential in us.
What would you say are the major problems facing the housing sector?
The problem we usually have is the cost of building materials, which is a very big challenge for developers. The inflation rate in Nigeria is crazy. For example, if today I say I want to sell this house for 50million, you can wake up the next day and there is an increment in the price of cement. Meanwhile, you have done your contract with your buyer, you can’t go back to them and say you can’t build. So, the longer you stay on a project, the more money you are losing.
Then titling and documentation is another. When you buy a property in America, within 24 to 48 hours, a titling company will title the property in your name and all documentations will be done and recorded in their system unlike Nigeria where it takes a longer period. That is a big challenge. When people in the diaspora want to buy a property from us, and they ask when they are going to get their title, we can’t even give them a timeline because we don’t even know what the timelines are. So, we have to keep explaining to them to bear with us. Those are some of the few challenges that we have.
So, if you have to advise the government on these challenges, what would you tell them?
We have spoken to the government about it. They said they are working on it and that they are digitalising their systems in Alausa. With the digitalisation, we should be able to get C of O in 90 days, from the comfort of our homes without going to Alausa. We are just hopeful that it will see the light of day.
What are your criteria for location when you decide to build an estate?
What we usually do is that we go to a place where we see development coming, we quickly go ahead because once you go after development, you buy it higher. If you go before development you get it cheaper. So that is one of the things we look out for.
Because we preach affordable housing at RevolutionPlus, we don’t pride ourselves in expensive properties. We just want everyone to own a home even if you are just a petty trader. We do not believe that housing should be for some levels of people, we believe that housing should be for all. We try as much as possible to help those who never thought they could own a house to do so.
When you are not working what do you do? How do you spend your ‘me time’?
I swim and I watch movies. Before COVID-19, I used to like to travel but not so much now. My hobby is dancing, I love to dance. If I want to ease stress, I listen to music and dance. I like staying by the beach or poolside. That is where I receive inspiration. I like to read, I used to read a lot. So, basically, that is what I do. I can just do a weekend getaway just to be by myself.
So, who or what inspires you in life generally?
It’s God that inspires me. I am a very good Christian and I’m not apologetic about it. I’ll say it anywhere I go that I am all I am by God’s grace, and one person that has been a major inspiration to me is my Pastor, Chris Oyakilome. He has inspired us so much with the word of God. Looking back at my journey with my husband and how we started in a Face-me-I-Face-you house, it’s really been an inspiring journey.
Another person that inspires me is my husband; he is very hardworking and a giver. He can give his eyes. I told him one day that God made him special; a few of him. I’m yet to meet anyone as generous as my husband. He is generous to a fault and I love him for that. He has taught me a lot about selfless giving; even, when we didn’t have anything, when we were still struggling; he still gave from the little we had. So getting married to someone like that is truly inspiring for me.
What is fashion like for you? How would you describe your style?
I am very simple when it comes to fashion. When I shop, it has to be classy, expensive but simple. I am not one for loud fashion and you will never see me wear bogus jewelry. Anything bogus, it is not me, from shoes to bag. So my style is simple and classy.
If you have to splooge on anything what will it be?
It is jewelry and travel. I like traveling and knowing new places. I love adventure.
Where is your best holiday destination?
I have plenty, but I still want to go to Greece for my wedding anniversary, but because of COVID19, we couldn’t go. Someone just told me about a place in Mexico, I am waiting for ease of travel restrictions and I will start traveling. I am very adventurous and not afraid.
What would be your advice for young girls who look up to you for inspiration?
Be content. If you are a contented person you will go far in life. I don’t struggle. What I cannot afford, I don’t go for it. You will never find my name on a credit list. Anything that I can’t afford from a place of comfort, I don’t do it. I don’t put myself under pressure which is why my husband respects and trusts me with a lot of things.