Julius Adeleye is the founder of All Queens Kitchen Limited, a food drinks company. The business administration graduate gained the passion for running a business from an early age. Intrigued by how his father ran his company and managed employees, he dreamt of running his own organisation. That goal has been achieved, despite challenges to having a factory and many staff with distribution across several states in Nigeria.
I started as a sales executive with a company in the company called “IC” which was into milk importation. After some time, the competition became so fierce that it could not cope. So I suggested to the owner that we should turn to liquid milk business because people preferred it to powdered milk. He asked what that would turn into and I said, “Yoghurt.”
“How will that be done?” he asked further.
“We can ask those who are already into it,” I said.
We made enquiries and started the yoghurt business afterwards. We became good at it, spread the product and made money from it.
However, after some time, the man had to travel back to Germany where he came from. The family here took over the business but could not sustain it. There were lots of infightings among them that affected the business. It was in this situation that I left the place to another yoghurt making company. They were glad to have me in their midst because they already knew the exploits we had in my former job. They knew that being the salesperson, I would have had a large customer base that could be an advantage for them.
Thus, I started in the new employment. Unfortunately, the owner was not fully into it. I would collect money from customers and pay into the company’s account. Yet, we were unable to deliver to them, not because we didn’t have the products. Sometimes, the money has been diverted. This became a challenge because of his personal life and attitudes. I looked at the situation and felt I could not continue that way. Even though there was a huge demand for yoghurt in the market, I found myself with a boss who was not ready to meet up with the demands. So, I told myself that I had to start.
In 2004, I started in my rented flat. It was very tough for me then because there was no enough money. But my uncle, who is incidentally my pastor, helped me by giving me some money. I started with that, including my savings and some I have received from customers. Working with three staff, we commenced work from my residence. The product gained early acceptance, which surprised me. Many people started talking about “Elite Clean Yoghurt” and we were able to move it to the Ibadan market quickly. They also accepted it and my sales representative made things happen.
We continue to grow until 2005 when we had to get a whole bungalow at Sango Ota. Then we started to build a factory to comply with regulations. We needed NAFDAC number because it was the only reason why some people didn’t buy from us then. So we started the process by digging a borehole in the bungalow.
Unfortunately, in January 2006, our Ibadan sales rep was arrested while our product was intercepted. He was brought to the federal secretariat in Ikoyi office of NAFDAC then before being locked up in Alagbon prison. Two days later, NAFDAC officers stormed our factory. They arrested me and sealed the premises. I was made to replace my sales rep in Alagbon prison.
It was a horrible experience, but I think it was part of being in that field. After four days, they started to ask me why I went into the production of yoghurt and started to sell without NAFDAC approval. I told them the challenges we had; although I had the forms I could not meet up with the money required. So they said they’ll have to taste the product to confirm that I had not been killing people. They took it to their lab and three days later confirmed that it is “certified okay and suitable for human consumption.” I was very happy when they gave me the approval letter.
But they had fined me before giving the approval. We sought money and paid the fine. NAFDAC later sent someone to monitor and guide me on how to get the products registered. That was how we continued until finally registering in 2007. It has been good from there.
The period when my factory was shut was a black moment for the company. Many of my staff were disillusioned and left. Some stayed and have remained with me till date. I think they saw my zeal and knew I would not give up, despite the struggle. As challenges come, they saw me being there and not running away. My uncle (also my pastor) has been one of the reasons why I continued despite the challenges.
He used to say: “If you want to be great, you have to fight the opposition. There is nothing good that will not be fought for. Somebody will fight you. You have to tell the situation that you will not give up. You have to succeed.” Since then, I always expect that something will come, so I get prepared always.
We started with three staff but today have 45 permanent staff while about 100 are on contract. One thing that keeps people on a job is when they know the company is going somewhere. They see that I am ready to go with the job I am calling them into. They see the example in me. They know that I am always straight with them. I also delegate often and allow them the freedom to make decisions. Only the critical decisions come to me.
My mother taught me how to be disciplined and work diligently. I learnt the art of business from her. But what keeps me going now is the fact that I like to get people engaged productively. I try to engage as many unemployed graduates as possible.