Bukky George is one woman who refuses to stop reaching for the sky. With 70 Health Plus and Casabella branches across Nigeria, she undoubtedly remains The Queen of Retail in Nigeria.
Mrs. George is a multi-award winner for Excellence in Entrepreneurship, Healthcare and Community Service; including Winner 2015 W Entrepreneur of the Year (Access Bank), Finalist EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2015 and Finalist in the Business Woman of the Year Category of the CNBC 2014 All African Business Leaders Awards.
In 2010, when we had the award winning pharmacist on our cover, she had just 10 Health Plus and 1 Casabella Branch under her belt, but it was clear that she had plans to expand into every corner of Nigeria, a goal she is well on her way to reaching.
In the interview, she opened up about her childhood and the inspiration behind Health Plus.
Here is an excerpt from the interview below.
- Growing up you had a difficult childhood. Tell us a little bit about your life as a child.
My mum raised my sisters and I single handedly, while working long, hard hours in the Catering Department of Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH). We were always broke and I knew the meaning of “co-operative loan” from the age 6. We did not always have what we wanted, but this brought out the best in us. Mum sewed most of our clothes and baked our birthday cakes. Though my life growing up was devoid of luxuries, we were happy. My dad passed away in 2005 and he tried his best in his own way.
- Your mother in particular was and still is a massive influence in your life. Tell us a bit about her.
My mother has great pedigree. Her mum was a great home maker. Her dad was one of the first to own a television in Ibadan. She and her siblings schooled in England. My mother sacrificed all to give us the best she could afford at every stage of our growing up. She carefully picked our schools, we went to school dressed smartly, and we always had dolls and other toys and plenty of books. She taught me how to sew, embroider and bake. For two years, she assisted me and my sister when we were living abroad with our families, allowing us to achieve our full potential. Mum is a health freak. She is very particular about what she eats and she exercises. She is slim, healthy, fit and strong for her almost 74 years. I always say she influenced my belief in natural health, small wonder one of Health Plus’ bias is the recommendation of natural remedies and nutrition.
- Why did you originally choose Pharmacy?
I studied Pharmacy simply because I was a science student. Medicine was the obvious choice at the time, but I wanted to have time on my hands to pursue my other interests like sewing.
- When you graduated, you won 5 awards, and you mentioned your mother was “on top of the world”. What made it such a memorable occasion?
Oh yes, my parents were ecstatic. I was the best graduating student in the College of Medicine in 1992. Not just the best in Pharmacy School, but the best out of Medicine, Dentistry, Physiotherapy, Physiology, Pharmacology etc. After all that sacrifice from my parents, after all the hard work (I weighed 50kg when I graduated), it finally paid off.
- The inspiration for Health Plus came when you were sitting at the back of a church and the words “community pharmacy” came to you. Walk us through that moment. Would you call it an epiphany?
Yes I would say it was. After internship and NYSC, I worked a total of four years with May and Baker and Smithkline Beecham. I prayed to God to guide me regarding the work of my hands and I heard “community pharmacy”. I hit the ground running and I have never looked back since.
- One of the things that you mentioned in setting up the business was making sure that the Standard Operating Procedures were set in stone and strictly adhered to. Why were they so important?
The origin of Health Plus is hinged clearly on articulating and documenting our mission, vision, core values and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). SOPs cover the way we do things. SOPs allow for standardization as the business expands. They allow for predictability. It is what the McDonalds of this world do well. SOPs ensure that the customers experience is the same from store to store.
- You had to leave your business just 2 years after inception. Why?
My husband got a scholarship from his company to study for a Masters at The Imperial College, London, which also covered his family accompanying him. God made a way by bringing us a wonderful pharmacist –Ochuko Omaniaye. He and his team held the pharmacy together. We had one branch then. Using our inbuilt standardization, everyone was trained in the Health Plus way. Our customers were loyal to us. Our suppliers were part of the success story. Health Plus survived and thrived in my absence; I was gone for almost four years.
- You came back and set out to expand the business. What did it involve?
First, I recognized I needed to enhance my business skills, so I went to Lagos Business School for the Owner Manager Programme, a move that was crucial to our growth. God supernaturally provided us some amazing locations and loyal staff. Using my own funds and later bank facilities, we expanded to 6 branches plus another 4 for the rest of the year. We also recently started Casabella which aims to be the one stop shop for beauty solutions for men and women.
- What do you think makes you so tenacious?
I guess I am passionate about excellence. I aim for perfection. I hate maintaining the status quo. As believers, we are to show forth the Excellency of God in all we do
- What inspires you?
Change inspires me. Striving for excellence inspires me. Solving challenges inspires me. My personal mantra is to every problem, there is a solution.
Source (Bio): WIMBIZ