There are some levels of grass-to-grace stories that sometimes make one doubt its authenticity. One of such is the sudden turnaround in fortune for Dr. Poly Emenike, chairman of Victoria Island-based Neros Pharmaceuticals Limited.
In a typical African setting, it is expected that a child primary education starts from 4 to 6 years (away from the myth of putting your right hand across the head to touch your left ear) and possibly gained admission into secondary school by the time he attains the age of 11 or 12 years. This is not so in the case of Emenike.
At the age of 32, with a wife, children and a thriving enterprise, the hustling young man reportedly enrolled as a pupil at Ansar-Ud-Deen Grammar School in Surulere area of Lagos, oddly wearing school uniform like his far younger schoolmates.
The butt of jokes at the time, many thought the jeers he sometimes received and the strange looks onlookers gave him would make him throw in the towel. Nay! Emenike forged ahead with the quest for higher knowledge that he missed out during his formative years. And in 1988, the effort paid off as he completed his O’ Level. His hunger for academic excellence further drove him to University of Lagos where he obtained his BSc and MSc in 1997 and 1999 respectively. Just when you think that the Neros boss has seen it all, he capped his academic laurels with a doctorate degree at the International School of Management, Paris, France in 2012. Also, in his kitty are certificates from Harvard Business School and Lagos Business School / Pan African University.
Before you start thinking ‘What a rosy life he has,’ let us look at his humble beginning and why he had to delay his secondary education until the age of 32.
Born on November 28, 1955, at Nnanka in Orumba North Local Government area of present day Anambra State to a peasant farmer and a petty trading mother, the pharmaceutical icon is the sixth child in a family of eight. He was baptised and enrolled in schools managed by the churches even though his parents were not Christians. In the face of abject poverty that overwhelmed his family, Emenike struggled to attend primary school but his ambition was huge.
“In those days, as we went to Church, we passed through the house of the richest man in the town, Chief Aaron Obijiofor. He owned a Zephyr 4 luxury car, which everybody admired. On the wall of his house was an inscription ‘A. N. Obijiofor & Sons.’ I recalled then that anytime I played on the ground, I would scribble ‘P. I. Emenike & Sons in the sand.”
It was when Obijiofor built and commissioned the biggest house in Nanka town in 1964 that Emenike saw policemen for the first time and he was thrilled by their dexterity at controlling the traffic. This scenario, he admitted, inspired him greatly.
However on completion of his primary education in 1971, the teenager dream of gaining admission into secondary school was cut short despite passing his Common Entrance Examinations in flying colours.
Posted to Uturu Ihie which was considered far from his village, he sought for admission with his mates at a nearby school. To his astonishment, he was not allowed to go. Another attempt to go to Christ the King College (CKC), Onitsha, was also frustrated.
When life was becoming unbearable in the village, he was sent to live with his maternal uncle, Philip Ezebilo Umeadi, a lawyer Onitsha. So in 1972, he arrived in Onitsha to start a new life.
“A few days after I arrived in Onitsha, my uncle told me that my new job was to serve as an office boy which entailed going to court with him, where I got most of the law books. He also allocated to me the task of cooking food in his house. He assured me however that he would be saving my salary for me.”
Among other things, the young man was also in charge of collecting transport fares from clients for out of station services, car conductor for his uncle’s right-hand steering car and also in care of his law books. Despite performing his chores diligently, Emenike derived no satisfaction as he sorely missed the classroom he loved dearly.
The matter was further worsened by his classmates from CKC, Onitsha who occasionally visited him on their way back from school on weekends. Rather than being comforted by their visits, he was emotionally traumatised by them. The return of his uncle’s wife, Nora and their daughter, Nneka in 1973 meant additional responsibility of school runs and hawking pastries for his aunty-in-law.
After spending what looked like eternity (three years precisely) in his uncle’s house without being allowed to go to school, Emenike started putting up an act of resistance. With the intervention of his elder brother, Emenike was sent off to Benin City, Edo State, to learn a trade. But the journey was short-lived as he resolved never to suffer the same fate that befell him during his short spell with his uncle. He returned to Onitsha in 1974 and started apprenticeship in the business of shoe making. A year after, with the meagre sum of N300 his uncle saved for him, Emenike started his own shoe business, trading on rubber slippers. A business he felt would not guarantee a future of wealth and comfort he desired –for he wanted to drive a Volvo car like Alhaji Kadiri and his brother, both of whom he bought wares from in Lagos. To better his lot, he decided to embark on international trade.
“It was difficult to make such painful decision to stop a vocation in which one has been involved for five years and plunge into a new one, which is relatively unknown,” Emenike recollected.
He was convinced he wasn’t going to fail but first he needed to sort out certain things, settle his senior assistant and what was left, he divided into two his savings and jetted out in 1980. That was –for him –the beginning of international trade on clothes.
This explained why he took daring steps when challenged. He kept faith with his plans, allowing nothing or anyone to distract him. His suicidal mission to Vietnam, with only $150, travelling on bikes, tricycles and being harassed by immigration for insufficient funds was a story in determination. It was a journey that brought him breakthroughs and immeasurable wealth.
In the course of his struggling to remain afloat, Emenike’s encounter with Dr. Napoleon Hill’s writings early in his business career completely transformed his outlook on life and business as well. The works of Hill, he disclosed, drove him to the pinnacle of his successes in life. Emenike first came in contact with the work of Hill in 1978, in mysterious circumstances, when he bought a copy of ‘Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude’ co-authored with Clement Stone. With his little level of education then, he was greatly inspired by the teachings that he read it repeatedly for two years. Owing to its numerous references to ‘Think And Grow Rich’, he bought a copy of the book in 1980.
Since the day of Emenike stumbled on Hill’s writings, he has remained his apostle as he owed about 95 per cent of his success stories to the application of the principles Hill advocated in his various teachings.
The pharma billionaire realised the role of education early in his business life. Despite his educational setback, he took correspondence courses both locally and internationally that could help in his businesses. Luck however ran out on him one day when he wanted to enrol as a member of Institute of Management, he was required to fill details of his O’ Level Certificate. That was the momentary setback that fired up his zeal to complete his secondary school education and reach the pinnacle of his success.
Despite opposition from close friends and relations, he enrolled to continue his secondary education from where he stopped at Ansar-Ud-Deen Grammar School, Surulere, Lagos.
Today Emenike sits atop immense wealth. There is no gain saying the fact that Emenike has found the wealth and fame he earnestly desired. His ambition to compete with billionaires like the oil mogul like Femi Otedola, telecom guru like Mike Adenuga and Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote has been met. From being poor and hapless, the 60-year-old has advanced from trading in rubber slippers, to clothing and now into pharmaceutical business. Artesunate, the anti-malaria drug he discovered and imported from Vietnam, is today a household brand, amidst other successful pharmaceutical brands.
Far from his ambition of owning a Volvo car, Emenike has added a Rolls Royce Phantom to the collection of classic automobiles in his garage. Besides, Neros Pharmaceutical, the firm he founded, has been rated one of the leading brands in Nigeria. The company has grown into a multi-billion dollar ultra modern factory, located in Ota, Ogun State employing thousands of Nigerians and as well, produce world class drugs with branches in Ghana, Angola, and Democratic Republic of Congo among others.
Looking back to his years of struggle to date, the billionaire has this much to say:
What more can a man ask for?
Source: CityPulse Nigeria