Queen of Luxury in Africa, Jennifer Obayuwana covers Forbes Afrique’s May 2017 issue

Forbes Afrique dives into the world of the Business of Luxury in Africa. A business Forbes
describes as a billion dollar industry in Africa. In West Africa, that market is ruled by Polo
Limited, a 30 yr old business responsible for the proliferation of luxury goods on the
Continent’s West Coast.

With locations in Nigeria and Ghana, Polo Luxury is at the forefront of luxury sales in West Africa. Despite the economic outlook in Nigeria, this is an industry that has maintained consistency in the African Sector.

In the Forbes Afrique cover story, Cartier Africa CEO, Mr Alessandro Patti says, “We (Cartier) see Nigeria as a strategic market with great potential. Being very satisfied with the results with our partner Polo Luxury Group, it was natural to opt for a long-term vision. In 2016, a Cartier watchmaker area was installed in the Polo Avenue at Hilton’s multi brand in Abuja. Over the years, Nigeria and Cartier have developed a strong relationship and we are proud of the development of our activities. Our clientele is made up of connoisseurs looking for the know-how, beauty, creativity and elegance that make Cartier’s success. As far as watchmaking is concerned, generous diameters and complicated movements are preferred.”

Read Jennifer Obayuwana’s interview transcript.
1) What is the story of Polo Luxury?

Polo Luxury is a labor of love and hard work founded 30 years ago by my father, John
Obayuwana. Born from the desire to spread beauty and nobility. Our company was
created to enrich people’s lives with products of the finest quality and craftsmanship.
Over the years, Polo has evolved into an enterprise that consists of Polo Limited and
Polo Avenue that offers a diverse portfolio of the world’s prestigious luxury brands,
such as Rolex, Cartier, Chopard, Hublot, Gucci, and Dolce & Gabbana. My father
played a momentous role as a pioneer in this field, defining and shaping the luxury
industry in West Africa at a time where it was non-existent.

2) Your father is the founder of Polo Luxury Group? How did you come into your position with Polo?

As the daughter of a pioneer in the luxury industry, I grew up with a passion and
interest in luxury and beauty that ultimately lead me into the path of the family
business. I grew up in the business. Every summer holiday, I worked in sales on the
shop floor. I also believe I was equipped for the role early on by studying
International Business Administration at the American University of Paris and
International Relations in Franklin. Those experiences helped mold me into the
woman that I am today. I’ve also pursued Executive courses in INSEAD, Lagos
Business School and Colombia which has positioned me effectively to be able to add
value to the organization.

3) What has been your personal accomplishment for the success of this business?

I am still in the process of self development, evolving and understanding my own
limitations. My work requires that I create solutions that are sustainable and relevant
to our market. Over the years, we have done that through expansion and growthby
opening up new channels and curating the pan African Polo Brand. Personally, I
believe that the notion of success and achievement is merely a journey. I’m excited
about the future but I will never get to a point where I feel like I’ve arrived.

4) What is your special approach to management? As a businesswoman do you think
women lead differently than men in business?

Firstly I would say being a good listener. While a majority of decision-making rests
with the leader, there is so much to learn from one’s teammates when you patiently
listen to their views and opinions. Secondly, I would say service. All great leaders
(women alike) should serve others. This is at the heart of Polo Luxury’s success as a
whole. In response to the latter part of the question, I strongly believe that women
lead intuitively. In my opinion, Women in high-level positions exhibit the same
leadership behaviors as their male counterparts.

5) Polo Luxury group is said to be N°1 Luxury Retailer in West Africa. What direction is
the brand heading into in the future?

We have achieved this through our unflinching commitment to integrity, attention to
detail and impeccable service. Ensuring that our products are of the finest quality and
craftsmanship has guaranteed our staying power as the No.1 retailer in our market
and region. Our current E-commerce platform, thepoloavenue.com is the first of it’s
kind for Luxury goods in Africa delivering across the continent. Offline, we have built
our brand on the foundation of reliability, authenticity, integrity and the go-to
destination for designer fashion brands and high-end Swiss watchmaking brands. Our
goal with the E-commerce platform was to extend that experience digitally.
The site is designed to give users a seamless shopping experience from the web
to the end user. We provide luxury to those who seek high-end authentic luxury
goods and who have the spending power, but may be impeded by proximity to our
store or hindered by their busy lifestyles.

6) Can you tell Forbes Afrique more about your portfolio of brands under Polo Limited?

We are honored to be the exclusive agency for some of the finest and prestigious
watches in the world with boutiques through Nigeria. We are Nigeria’s leading luxury
goods company with the exclusive representation for some of the world’s most
prestigious and exclusive watch and jewelry brands like Rolex, Cartier, Piaget, Chopard,
Breguet, Roger Dubuis, Longines, Montblanc, Arnold & Son and Balmain. Our watches
are cherished and collected not only to tell time beautifully, but for their investment value
and the sense of achievement they offer.

7) Can you explain the business model of the luxury industry in Nigeria ?

Nigeria is the largest market in Africa and with the purchasing power of Nigerians
steadily on the rise, I would say quality partnerships and impeccable one-on-one
service are the working models for our business within the region. We ensure that we
get the best from our international partners, keeping the focus on the best of After
Sales Service. For example, we have a Rolex installed service centre with highly
qualified horologists, trained to the highest standards by our technical partners
Chopard, Rolex, Longines etc. This and many more unique quality service help retain
our leading position in the industry.

8) You’ve launched Polo Avenue over the last few years, a subsidiary of Polo
Luxury. What is exactly Polo Avenue?

Polo Avenue is the biggest luxury fashion destination out of West Africa. Nigerians
are well-travelled, discerning, and fashion forward, so we are constantly on trend to
capture the interest and evolving taste of these clients. Our unique edge is that we
are competitively priced and provide accessiibility to our customers to authentic top
tier international luxury brands such as Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, Jimmy Choo,
Billionaire, Les Petits Joueurs, Dolce & Gabbana, Gedebe among others.

9) You are also passionate about encouraging the emerging african designers. What is
your concrete action to support them?

Since our inception, Polo Avenue has become a steady platform in actively
supporting indigenous brands within Nigeria in particular and largely across Africa;
promoting an increasing appeal and demand for elevating local designers to global
markets. We are so glad to have opened our doors to so many budding local
designers through our numerous ‘Polo Avenue Fashion Series’ events. For a limited
period, we have have had pop up shops open within the Polo Avenue boutique,
showcasing the incredible talent of these promising designers.
The industry here is very dynamic with a lot of innovation and emerging brands
poised to compete on a global scale. We created the Polo Avenue Fashion Series in
2014 as a platform to support African designers and artisans. Designers from Ivory
Coast, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and many other countries can count on
this platform to promote their work. As you already know, the sustenance of luxury
business around the world is based largely on quality. This has been our watch word
and as a responsible organization, we are pleased to support African brands that
show excellence and top quality in their work and influence our shoppers to patronise
home grown talent.

10) The Nigerian economy is experiencing a recession. How does this crisis affect
your business?

Over the many years in business, we have witnessed different economic cycles.
However, we have built a resilient business that should withstand all sorts of market
conditions making us able to adapt to market volatility. We’ve also had to re-evaluate
our strategy in line with the current economic realities and have proactively become
adaptable and flexible.

11) You said in an interview once that « succes is rented, not owned, and rent is due
every day ? What is your secret formula for success ?

I begin each day by telling myself, I have an opportunity to write a new story today. I
would say also say that remaining humble in the knowledge that the past is never
truly a mirror for the future.

 

 

Photography: Ademola Odusami
Production: Chime Group

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