Abayomi Lambo is the son of late famous Nigerian Professor of Psychiatry and Deputy Director-General, World Health Organisation, WHO, Thomas Adeoye Lambo. Despite his qualification as a Medical Physiologist, Abayomi is making impact in an entirely different field- perfumery. In this interview, he shares his obsession with fragrance from childhood and how he turned the obsession into a successful company.•Abayomi Lambo
I was brought up largely within an academic environment. There was emphasis on hard work, good behavior, honesty and good morals. I thank God for those values because without them, I would have drifted about in life. I especially thank God for my mum, who being the daughter of a bishop, introduced me to prayer and faith in God at a very early age. She had to be both mum and dad when my dad was away in Switzerland on his World Health Organization, WHO job. My parents love perfume and music and I learnt to appreciate both from them. They also fanned my flair for science and books. Books were my main toys when I was growing up. I read medical physiology at the University of Ibadan.
When I was younger, there was this vine of African jasmine growing on our fence. In the evening when we went to lock the gates, the flowers would exude this heady sweet scent. I was so obsessed with smelling them that I looked forward eagerly to that evening ritual. The jasmine is still one of my favorite raw materials even till today.
Challenges growing up
Well, there weren’t many challenges but I really did miss my father when he was at the W.H.O job as he was absent a great deal. University was tough in the sense that having a famous father made some people feel obliged to approach me with preconceived ideas about who I was or made them to think we had more money than we actually did. I was actually seriously victimized by one lecturer- my supervisor actually – who kept on making all kinds of material and monetary demands. He made threats about ruining me and told some people my dad was wealthy enough to finance all his projects. It was probably one of the most horrible experiences of my life. I felt as if he was toying with my future and my life. However, I put in all the extra effort into making sure I performed well so no one would find fault with my school work. I wasn’t sleeping or eating well at the time. It made me to make a promise to myself never to stand in the way of someone else’s progress or victimize someone just because I was in a position to do so. It also made me decide to make a positive impact on the lives of those I come across.
I’ve learnt to trust God and work hard. I’ve also learnt that talk is cheap, very cheap actually and actions matter more than mere words especially in business. I’ve also learnt to empathize with people more. Putting yourself in other people’s shoes makes you a better boss, coworker and friend. It’s also a fantastic attribute to have as someone who develops products for consumers.
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The factors responsible for my success are hard work, faith in God and persistence. Achieving any form of success, big or small requires consistent effort. While we still have a lot of ground to cover, what we have been able to achieve, be it in the form of good products or building a creative brand, has been down to faith in God, hard work in developing really good products, honesty in our dealings, staying creative (we recently developed a new perfume box with an Ankara print) and having passion for the products and the consumers.
My main guiding principle is to ‘do unto others the way I would like to be dealt with’. I think being honest and not playing silly games is always a good place to start.
My company Scent Design Nigeria Ltd is a manufacturer and distributor of fragrances in all forms- fine fragrance (body perfume), functional fragrances (scents used in creams, soaps, hair gels, detergents) etc, air care fragrances and fragrance raw materials. We extract some essences from plants and synthesize some. We also use imported essences. We create bespoke fragrances for individuals as well as unique fragrances for brands that want their own unique scents for retail. We also train and are involved in fragrance consulting for corporate clients who want direction for the fragrances they want to use in their products.
How it started
I started the business from my bedroom, when I was in university, creating fragrances for friends and family. I chose this line of business (I actually think perfumery choose me) because of my love of science and creative artistry. Perfumery is a combination of both.
I realized we have a lot of untapped natural resources in this country for use in fragrances, yet we were importing a lot of perfumes. I started to think that if one could use these abundant resources, it would mean good quality products at cheaper prices. I reasoned that establishing a company that harnesses these resouces will provide jobs for a lot of people and even high-quality exports for the country. I thought to myself ‘we can do this!’ and here I am doing it.
Access to funds is a major one. Manufacturing is capital intensive and is a long term investment. Sometimes I meet investors who want quick riches or quick profits and that can be problematic in the manufacturing sector. Also finding good and reliable workers can be problematic. There are so many lazy and unreliable workers out there. Lack of infrastructure and a fluctuating economy is another. Honest suppliers can also be difficult to find. A lot of suppliers adulterate raw materials to maximize gain. However through these challenges, one has got to be resilient and focused. Leading a business is about solving problems. No one can escape facing challenges. No genuine business has a free pass.
The real asset of Scent Design Nigeria Ltd presently is in the form of intellectual property. The value of our research and development, creativity, expertise, numerous proprietary raw materials that we have developed over the years and the processes like biotechnology that led to their development as well as unique formulations of numerous products.
In the next five years, I see more of our brands in the market, increasing our market share, and having a much bigger factory and lab, having more fulfilling partnerships and achieving greater financial returns. I also hope by then some of the people we have trained or have passed through us as industrial training students would be achieving feats in this industry. I also yearn for greater understanding of our industry and a regulatory environment that truly understands fragrance.
I have what I call role model companies, the ones I watch and learn how they conduct their businesses. One of them is the Estee Lauder companies. I’ve also had individuals who have advised and counselled me through difficult times and whose life values have kept me hopeful. Like Prof Titi Hassan and Prof Adesogan, a retired professor of chemistry.
Advice for youths
My advice is simple, stay hopeful and continue to work hard. You can actually make a difference
Perspective on leadership challenge
I think a lot of leadership crises start when leaders don’t know why they were put in office in the first instance. Leadership is not an ego trip by people who feel entitled to it nor is it for those with personal agendas. Without that understanding, there cannot be people-oriented vision. Secondly lack of accountability, greed and a true willingness to lift people out of poverty. It’s very sad that Africa’s most populous country, endowed with great natural resources is still struggling. Lazy leaders are another problem. I mean leaders that don’t follow through on people-oriented programs and those who fail to plan and execute well. Where there are inadequate leaders who have a sense of empathy, the people will suffer and their potentials become wasted.