My parents told us master’s is minimum degree we could have –Dr Yinka Opeke

Dr Yinka Opeke is the Chief Executive Officer of Smart Gas & Petroleum Ltd, as well as three other companies. She speaks to OLADIMEJI RAMON about her drive for business and self-development as well as her foundation with focus on care of senior citizens.

You’ve bagged two master’s degrees and studied up to PhD level, while at the same time having your hands in several business ventures. How have you been able to combine academic and business?

My parents told us master’s is minimum degree we could have –Dr Yinka Opeke

It all stems from the mindset, believing you can, identifying and isolating distractions, aligning with really smart people, leveraging my network, and taking each day at a time. I also prioritise my tasks, delegate when I have to, try not to solve problems I don’t have, and I find a way to destress when the pressure is much.

Can you trace your academic journey, in terms of the schools you attended?

I graduated from University of Ibadan, Nigeria with a BSc in Geography, and MSc in Geographical and Information Systems. Later I obtained an MSc in Project Management from Queen Mary University of London. In 2018, I bagged a doctorate from Walden University, Minnesota, USA, where I specialised in Entrepreneurship and Organisational Leadership. I am PRINCE2 Certified and have been privileged to attend several local and international training and workshops. I am somewhat big on self-development. I love to feel smart (smiles).

Your first shot at business was selling clothes and jewellery at Balogun market in Lagos; then you ventured into photography, consultancy, event décor, while working in the bank along the line and also studying. Will it be correct to describe you as restless?

Restless won’t be the ideal word, more of a journey towards self-discovery and self-actualisation. Very few entrepreneurs identify or discover their main craft from the get-go, most of us still have to try our hands on different ventures, and evolve as we go along. The process helped me gain invaluable experiences, work on my character, learn about smart and hard work, build relationships and grow my capital base. It has been a learning curve. I’m sure you know all billionaires have different sources of income, usually there is a main gig, but definitely more than one business venture, so I believe I’m on the right track, especially with the current situation of things in Nigeria and the world at large.

Is becoming a billionaire your goal?

If it comes with the package, why not? Once value creation comes first, money is an added incentive. So, if God tarries in His coming, and grants me long life, then it’s an achievable goal in the very near future.

How many companies have you established so far and how many of them exist now?

Good question because even I need to take an inventory (laughs). I think about 12, most of which were just business names, I never really started them. Now I have four active companies, Smart Gas being the most active. Earlier in my business journey around 2005, once I thought up an idea, I immediately registered the business name – no time wasting. It’s funny because the lawyer that helped with my first company registration is now our company secretary.

Amid widespread unemployment and other difficulties that the average Nigerian youth faces you have made successes. What made your case different?

I don’t think mine is so different because there are so many examples of newly-established businesses during this period. Luckily, I have been a focused person since my early adulthood, and that makes me see opportunities even in challenging situations.

You started your newest company, Smart Gas and Petroleum Limited, last year, amid the coronavirus pandemic, when quite many companies were having a hard time. How did you manage to do that with all the restrictions in place?

I will start with the grace of God, which I believe is sufficient for us all. Then the “me” factor, and how I chose to utilise the lockdown. I lost my dad at the onset of the pandemic, I was grieving, an idea was birthed amidst my pain. I poured my energy into developing a business plan, mobilising a team, developing our mobile app, started manufacturing our cylinders, procuring equipment, and the rest is history.

Why do you think this is a right time to invest in the oil and gas sector, when everyone is saying that the world is moving towards automobiles powered by electricity?

The world is moving towards many things, so it’s hard to say which takes priority because at the end of the day, the little and big innovations are value drivers in their own rights.

Did you do a study of the Nigerian oil and gas terrain before you ventured in and what were the important things that you found out?

Sure, I did. (It) seems like the obvious thing to do; wouldn’t you agree? I researched, my team went to the field, had focus groups, conducted surveys, inquired about government policies vis-a-vis gas adoption amongst other things. We found out it was a timely business, relevant, scalable, with loads of inherent opportunities.

Do you ever fear that you might fail while venturing into a new business area?

No, I am excited to learn from my mistakes, however, due to my experiences over the years, I make better business decisions, and take more calculated risks.

At what age did you first venture into business?

About 24 years when I was doing my NYSC in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.

Did you inherit any of your business or academic streak from any of your parents?

For the academic part, I took that from both parents. My dad had a PhD and my mum was a professor. We grew up knowing a master’s degree was the basic minimum we had to achieve. For the business part, it was after my mum passed on that my aunt told me their grandfather was an Igbo man (laughs). I guess that explains it.

What kind of people were your parents?


My dad was more permissive while mama was the disciplinarian. My dad was a diplomat for a very long time, so he moved around a lot. My mum was the primary caregiver, however, my dad knew how to compensate us well, if you know what I mean.

What was growing up like for you?

It was decent and I would say privileged to a reasonable extent.

Which of your parents had the most influence on you?

Both, because they had different attributes I admired and aspired to imbibe. None outweighs the other.

What was it like for you losing both of them within a space of 11 months?

I can’t explain that. All I can say is I was raised by strong parents, and I must soldier on. God has also blessed me with relationships and support sytems that help ease the pain and manage the void.

Can you talk brieftly about a foundation you inaugurated in their memories?

The Raphael & Rosaline Opeke Foundation (Raph & Rosa) is the not-for-profit arm of Smart Gas, established in loving memory of our parents. Our focus is to supply adult diapers and bed mats (Macintosh) to senior living homes and community hospitals for their older adults. Our medium to long-term vision is to establish senior living homes that will cater for older adults who are generally able to care for themselves, however, assistance from professional caregivers will be provided. Activities and socialisation opportunities will be provided within the facilities as well. Though there is the general belief that our culture frowns on putting our parents in homes, we strongly believe there is a market for those people who prioritise the care of their aged parents above myth and culture. We solicit donations from, and seek collaborations with individuals, corporations, and government agencies.

What was your childhood ambition and will you say you’re living your dream now?

To be honest, I can’t remember if I had any. Now I am living in the moment, living and learning. Living my dream won’t be how I will like to phrase it, but I am living an intentional and purposeful life, consciously balancing the things that matter to me. I celebrate my little and big wins, learn from my mistakes, find time for family and friends while nurturing scalable ventures.

Are you likely to study for further degrees or certifications?

Degrees, no! Certifications and executive courses, yes. Investment in self has been one of my greatest accomplishments, you can’t place a premium on it.

What do you say to young people who admire your successes?

I pray they find the resilience to stick to the grind, the discipline to build good character and nurture good relationships, patience to grow and learn, and the courage to dream big.

What have you had to sacrifice for the successes you have made?

Time, money and relationships basically. You lose money sometimes. I let go of negative vibes all the time. More importantly, I try not to have regrets because like I said, I try to be intentional in my choices so I look for areas to make up once the time and resources permit me.

What are your ultimate goals?

I am not sure there is an ultimate goal per se. I naturally have audacious goals, so while at it, I must ensure I’m balancing things and enjoying every moment. I don’t procrastinate or wait for a vacation before I can enjoy the simple things. One of my co-workers says “chop life before life chop you.”

What will you say to a lot of Nigerian youths that are giving up on the country and fleeing abroad?

Whether you leave or stay, remember God’s grace is everywhere. I’m not in their shoes to speak to their choices. The bulk of what your journey will look like lies in your actions and inaction, which are also tied to your character and revolve. It’s advisable to have a plan, some level of financial independence, good support systems, don’t overstay your welcome, join chambers of commerce in your locality, and strive to be on the right side of the law. Most importantly those they associate with or take advice from will determine how far they will go. More grace and God’s speed to them all.

Source: PUNCH.

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