Egypt-born Michael Tawadrous, MD of VAVA Furniture, Nigeria, tells ‘Nonye Ben-Nwankwo his challenges establishing a business in Nigeria
Some Nigerians feel foreigners have come to take over the jobs of local carpenters and furniture makers, don’t you think so?
I absolutely don’t think so. At VAVA Furniture, we have over 300 personnel and most of them are carpenters. I am not here to take jobs; I am here to create jobs. We give carpenters access to industrial machinery, we increase and improve their carpentry skills, and we upgrade their professionalism and expertise. Some of them leave us to start their own business and employ other carpenters. That sounds like development to me, I feel very proud and happy when I meet people that worked with us bidding for same jobs we are on.
It is widely believed that the foreigners also maltreat Nigerian workers, treating them as slaves…
Every time I hear this, I feel distasted. We cannot ignore that a lot of members of staff are not treated as they should be in Nigeria, but it’s not an issue of nationality. In my opinion, no industry treats staff as bad as the banks do, and 95 per cent of the banks are solely indigenous. I cannot speak for other foreigners, but at VAVA Furniture, we are all like family. We don’t only have respect for one another, we love one another. If your employees are afraid of you, they would do the right things only when you are around. But if they love you and love the company, they would do the right things even when you are not around. Love is more powerful than fear.
Can you tell us why you left Egypt to establish your furniture business in Nigeria?
A furniture company invited me as an expatriate to Nigeria. A lot of my family and friends back home in Egypt advised me about the terrain I was about moving into. I heard Nigeria was unsafe, undeveloped and poor, that was the wrong image given through the media about Nigeria in other countries. Because of all of what I was expecting Nigeria to be, the moment I arrived, and I saw that was not the case, I fell in love with Nigeria instantly. It did not take me three weeks to realise that this is where I am meant to be.