It’s a beautiful day great people, and to get you started, we bring you an exclusive interview with the graceful and purpose driven proprietress of Hidden Treasures Bookstore, a thriving specialty retail bookstore in Enugu, Nigeria.
Mrs Modupe Ehirim is a chemical engineer and an ILO-trained business trainer who is passionate about youth mentorship; helping young people find and chart their life’s paths. She is the 2nd Vice-President of NECA’s Network of Entrepreneurial Women NNEW and Vice-President of NNEW Cooperative Multipurpose Society Limited.
In this interview, she talks about her journey- challenges, successes, marriage, inspiration and greatest pursuit in life.
Ever wondered how to begin to make an impact? You can glean one or two insights from this interview. So grab a seat and be inspired……
K.A: What would you say has been the most defining moment of your life?
Mrs. Ehirim: The most defining moment of my life was in 1995 when there was retrenchment in the organization I was working in. We all came to work that morning and some moments later some of my superiors, colleagues and subordinates were without a job. I asked myself “What if I was one of them?” Until then, I had assumed that as long I was a good employee, I had a job for life. Subsequently, I did a lot of soul searching and came to the realization that I was personally responsible for life and all that happened in it.
K.A: There are probably many things lots of people do not know about you, please tell us a bit about yourself.
Mrs. Ehirim: I attended Queen’s School, Ibadan, and Federal Government College, Ilorin. I graduated in 1980 with First Class Honours in Chemical Engineering from the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. I also have a M.Sc. in Process Analysis & Development from the University of Aston-in-Birmingham, United Kingdom.
I worked for the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for 17 years, in Engineering and Administration and took the option of early retirement in 2002. My last posting with CBN was in Enugu. While there, I found that there was no bookstore carrying the Christian books and resources that I took for granted whilst living in Lagos. This led me in 2003 to establish Hidden Treasures Bookstore, a specialty retail bookstore in Enugu. Although, I moved back to Lagos with my family in 2006, I have continued to operate the bookstore with five staff.
I have been in business for twelve years. In addition to running the bookstore, I am a member of the Management Committee for Lady Ibiam Girls’ Secondary School, Enugu.
I am currently the 2nd Vice-President of NECA’s Network of Entrepreneurial Women NNEW and Vice-President of NNEW Cooperative Multipurpose Society Limited. In 2008, I benefited from the Goldman Sachs 10000 Women Initiative which provides business and management education for women entrepreneurs at the Pan African University, Lagos.
I am an ILO-trained business trainer using the Start & Improve Your Business (SIYB) modules and work with small business owners to establish structures which enable them to separate the businesses from their owner/managers. I mentor young people, aiding them to chart their lives’ paths.
I am happily married to Boniface, my husband of 29 years, who hails from Imo State. Together, we have four lovely children.
K.A: Hidden Treasures Bookstores; the birth, the growth, the impact…….
Mrs. Ehirim: Hidden Treasures Bookstore was an experiment to help me figure out what running a business was about. I had taken early retirement and was wondering what to do with myself. I love reading. I picked up a Small Business Administration Guide to Starting Your Own Business from the library. As I read it, I found I needed a business idea to do the exercises in it. My niece suggested that since I loved books, I should use a bookstore. So I used the guide to choose a location, and make other important decisions about starting a bookstore and in March 2003, we opened for business.
HTB opened for business at a time when there was an explosion in the desire of the people of Enugu and the neighbouring cities to improve their lives. The advent of Satellite TV and Internet connectivity introduced books and related resources as a means of satisfying that desire.
In the twelve years of the Bookstore’s existence, we have repeatedly had clients say that the books they purchased from us not only marked the turning point in their lives, but also equipped them to take appropriate steps in the new direction they had chosen for themselves.
K.A: In the next 5 years……..
Mrs. Ehirim: The operating environment has changed significantly from when we first opened for business. Internet connectivity is now more accessible. Online social networking has opened up new platforms for doing business. Bank debit cards, online commerce and payments, ebooks which were just ideas being mooted in 2003 are now intrinsic part of life and business. In the next five years, HTB will have a vibrant online store presence serving clients in all parts of Nigeria. We will also partner with other stakeholders to promote the culture and habit of reading in the South Eastern Region of Nigeria.
K.A: You are definitely a lover of good literature?
Mrs. Ehirim: I’m not sure that I’m a literary person in any respect. However, I love reading books primarily to search for answers to questions that I have at any point in time. For example, in preparing for marriage, I read quite a number of books. After my wedding, I read books to know what to do as things unfolded. When I decided to retire early, I read books about others who had done that and about the changing face of the work world.
K.A: What books have had the most impact on you?
Mrs. Ehirim: The Richest Man in Babylon by George Clason, Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey are books which have affected my paradigms about life in general. All three books caused me realise that I was personally responsible and accountable for my life regardless of the prevailing circumstances in the community I live in. Before You Say I Do by H. Norman Wright has impacted my marriage in ways that no other book has. It taught me that there was much that I could do to ensure the success of relationship with my husband. Perhaps, the Bible is the book that has had the most significant impact in my life. It has caused me to question and think deeply about the challenges that we as human beings face and has brought me to a place of living as a person of integrity.
K.A: What would you say is the most important tip for remaining successful?
Mrs. Ehirim: A willingness to re-examine from time to time the beliefs, paradigms and views that you hold very dear.
K.A: If you could change one thing about your life/past, what would it be?
Mrs. Ehirim: I would intentionally seek out mentors from my teenage years and work with them as I go through school and the early years of my career.
K.A: What is your greatest pursuit in life?
Mrs. Ehirim: My primary goal in life is to be a person of integrity. I want all who come in contact with me to have no doubt in their minds as to who I really am.
K.A: You were the winner of the 2014 Felicia Okonkwo’s “Against all odds, I Know an Amazing Nigerian Woman” writing competition. How did that make you feel?
Mrs. Ehirim: As I stated earlier, I don’t consider myself a literary person. I try to avoid writing because I don’t think my writing skills are developed. However, I really wanted to project my friend, Chigozie Udemezue who I consider an inspiration and a really amazing Nigerian woman and her work and that propelled me to write. Winning the competition reminded me that I could do anything I set my mind to do.
K.A: What are the key things you need young Africans to know, to be able to stand out and make their marks in the continent and on the international scene?
Mrs. Ehirim: They need to know that the best way to learn things is to have someone show you how to do it. However, many of them may never have the privilege of having that someone in their lives. That should not limit them, because, the second best way to learn things is to read books. My mum taught me early in life that, “A book has been written about almost everything that you want to know.”
Again, they need to have a willingness to challenge their beliefs and paradigms about life, and to stand alone and apart from the crowd, when the need arises.
K.A: What major failure have you had in life?
Mrs. Ehirim: I have had two significant failures in life.
- In 1991, I sat for and failed some ICAN examinations. It was the first time in my life that I was failing an exam.
- In 2013, I had to admit to myself that I had been running my bookstore at a loss.
K.A: How did you react to it and how has it changed your perception of life?
Mrs. Ehirim: I was very disappointed and lost some confidence. I found that I had tied my self-esteem to my capacity to achieve in life. From these events, I learnt to separate who I am from what I set out to do. I may not achieve the work goals I set for myself because of unforeseen and unpredictable factors, but that does not make me a failure.
K.A: What would you say are your greatest achievements to date?
Mrs. Ehirim: My greatest achievements are:
- That I am a person of integrity;
- That I have influenced a number of people to become persons of integrity.
K.A: African reading culture, improving or declining?
Mrs. Ehirim: First, let’s define culture. I like to start with the definition from Biology – which defines culture as “to grow in a controlled or defined medium or environment”. Until the not too distant past, the African environment had limited access to literary works.
Much of our history and thoughts was passed on by oral tradition. It isn’t surprising, therefore, that interest in and love for documented works is low. With the increased interaction with other people groups whose pass on their history and thoughts in writing and literary works, we are in transition. As we appreciate more the benefits of their way and see the role it has played in shaping their communities, there is increasing desire to replicate the same in Nigeria indeed in Africa.
As a bookstore owner, I see a slow but steady improvement in reading culture. There is more awareness of different literary works. Booksellers in the past introduced their clients to books, now clients inform booksellers about books which have seen or heard of via the Internet and satellite TV. The Internet is also providing a platform for indigenous authors to showcase their works and find a following through social media. There is a growing awareness of and access to literary works. With the improving enabling environment, we are bound to see discernible improvements in the reading culture.
K.A: The social media is a subject on everyone’s lips these days, what do you think about it? …the hype, impact, opportunities……
Mrs. Ehirim: The social media, in my opinion, has simply made it easier to connect with the people you will ordinarily want to interact with. Of course, as with all new things, there is a lot of misuse and abuse and there is a lot of hype about that. However, there is a lot of positive impact too. Here I am, being interviewed for Konnect Africa magazine. We met via social media and this interview will be seen by many other people in different parts of the world.
My friend, Chigozie Udemezue, recently started a kitchen for Igbo cuisine and does business only on her Facebook wall. She takes orders from people in different parts of the world who ask her to prepare delicacies and deliver to their friends and families in different locations in Nigeria. Her business inspired another friend living in the UK to start a similar one there. Talk about the positive impact of social media.
The social media space holds tremendous opportunities for us in Africa for those who think strategically and who apply the common sense rules of face – to – face human interaction and networking.
K.A: How do you remain relevant in your industry, year after year?
Mrs. Ehirim: The primary way I have adopted is to study what is happening in the book trade in other parts of the world.
K.A: Despite the enormous challenges surrounding the Nigerian business environment, why is it important that women rise to their place in business?
Mrs. Ehirim: Women demonstrate more patience in passing on skills to others around them. As women rise to take their place in business, they acquire skills for effectively operating and managing business entities. They become part of a growing army of people who will pass on business knowledge and skills in practical ways to the coming generation.
K.A: Honest Conversations on Naija Housewives; the inspiration, the focus and the impact……
Mrs. Ehirim: I feel that marriages that are in crisis or that have failed receive so much promotion and exposure. Inadvertently, the impression is created that there are few, if any, successful marriages. The truth is that successful marriages abound but they are not hyped by the media. The inspiration for Honest Conversations on Marriage on the Naija Housewives platform is the desire to help others understand that many issues that arise in marriage are common to most, if not all marriages. The difference between success and failure is knowledge of how to handle these issues. In the Conversations, I share principles of marital success I have learnt along life’s way to encourage others in the direction of success in their own relationships.
K.A: Having been married for almost 3 decades, what counsel will you give to singles and young married couples?
Mrs. Ehirim: For singles and young married couples, since you cannot practice as an engineer, a doctor, a pharmacist, a teacher, a dancer or any other profession, without going through a necessary preparatory training program, do not attempt to go into marriage without some form of preparation. There are many good books which do justice to the needed preparation. Long after their wedding ceremonies are forgotten, they should purpose in their hearts to continue to study principles of marriage and practice what they learn.
K.A: A successful marriage is?
Mrs. Ehirim: A successful marriage is one in which the couple have a mutual commitment to learn to love and live with one another, and together work through all the challenges that they may encounter in their union.
K.A: Marriage is not…….?
Mrs. Ehirim: Marriage is not always “living together happily ever after”.
K.A: Any life guiding principles/quotes you will like to share?
Mrs. Ehirim: In every adversity, there is a seed of an equivalent or greater benefit. – Napoleon Hill
K.A: Highly recommended books for 2015…………
Mrs. Ehirim: The Jewish Phenomenon: Seven Keys to the Enduring Wealth of a People by Steven Silbiger
Reallionaire by Farrah Gray
Love, Sex and Lasting Relationships by Chip Ingram
All three books are not newly published books. However, in my opinion, they will challenge young people to give thought to some of what I refer to as the building blocks for their lives.
K.A: Nigeria and Africa will truly rise when…………
Mrs. Ehirim: We, Nigerians and indeed Africans understand that no one outside our continent cares for us as we care for or more than we care for ourselves. We are the ones who are best suited to champion our cause. We therefore need to awaken and take responsibility for doing whatever needs to be done in and for Africa. Others may lend a helping hand, but the buck stops on our table.
You can reach Mrs. Modupe Ehirim on: