Olaposi Lawore is leading a team of novel thinkers and efficient builders to deliver top-notch experiential hospitality and residential properties in choice areas across Nigerian cities. He’s the Managing Director of HEREL Limited, a bankable real estate development, and investment company.
Olaposi’s keen interest in drawing as a young boy naturally led him to study architecture at the University of Lagos, and he graduated top of his class with distinction. However, architecture was just a means to an end. His dreams were bigger than just drawing buildings. He wanted to own them and be at the centre of the action, real estate development.
When the opportunity came, Posi was ready; he went above and beyond to impress his employers. He led a project team that closed deals valued at over N25 billion and got recognition from the Federal Government for his community-based project, among other feats. His achievements set him up for bigger leadership roles, which he admitted he wasn’t prepared for but had to learn on the job.
The Business Elites Africa team caught up with the eco-friendly entrepreneur. In this interview, he talks about his early days, struggles, and how he’s catalysing HEREL’s growth amid the current economic uncertainties.
BEA: Let’s start with your days at the University of Lagos (Unilag), where you studied Architecture. How did your career evolve after graduation?
Olaposi Lawore:You are indeed correct, I studied Architecture at the University of Lagos. My career path is dynamic. I am one of those people who, even before I finished, had started working. I was actively engaged in paid employment before graduation, primarily due to internships, then holiday jobs which I took advantage of during the ASUU (Academic Staff Union of Universities) strike at the time. It was one of my longest work periods because the strike lasted over six months. Rather than stay at home, I looked for a job in an architectural firm, which offered services to some of the biggest organisations in the private sector, like banks, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs), and quick-service restaurants.
My career path is somewhat dynamic because I knew from an early age that I wanted to do real estate, so architecture was more or less a means to an end. Architecture gave me the baseline of knowledge that I required to be able to go into real estate actively. I did architectural design and a bit of construction at my first place of employment during my internship at Spaceframes Architect. When I graduated, I went back to Spaceframes and worked there for like a year more. Beyond that, I joined a company known as James Cubitt Development. I worked in the company’s middle-income arm called Previs Development. It was my first experience with real estate. I started working there after my BSc and during my Masters. I was able to work and school simultaneously because the Master’s degree program at Unilag is a bit flexible. So, my schedule was very defined. I did not have that much free time because I was either at work or in the classroom. This was also because I was a distinction student and did not want to be seen as not meeting my academic obligations because of a job. So I tried to balance work and school, and fortunately, it worked out.
So, my first experience with real estate was at the two companies. I later joined Dynasty Real Estate, which morphed into HEREL Limited, the Organisation I currently run.
BEA: What sparked your interest in real estate?
Olaposi Lawore: Honestly, I have always loved to draw from a very young age. I always found myself drawing houses, rulers, pens, and pencils, but I later realised that it was beyond that because I wanted to create buildings that people could experience. I wanted to create buildings that directly impact people’s lives and go beyond just residential.
When I was in junior secondary school, I had a book where I used to write my future goals and ambitions, and I realised that rather than write ‘I want to design,’ I would write ‘I want to own’ a hotel and different properties. So from there, my interest in real estate started to peak. I moved from designing to fantasising about creating properties that can more or less define people’s lives, either commercial or residential.
BEA: Why did you think it was necessary to start HEREL?
Olaposi Lawore: Growing up, I planned to work at a design firm to learn the basics and at a real estate development company to understand the process. I also said I would work in a real estate development company with an affiliation with an investment company. Part of the reason I took that decision was that, while carrying out my research on real estate development, I realised that one of the fundamental problems many real estate companies had was financing. I said that if I could understand the technicalities of design and construction and work in an organised real estate development company where I could understand the real estate process, the next step is for me to move to a financing company. And this was how my career progressed.
I joined Dynasty Real Estate, which was the real estate arm of VFD Group, a proprietary investment company, as head of projects. I grew to become the General Manager/Managing Director. Within the last 12 months, we had an opportunity to merge and become a significantly larger company, which was what birthed HEREL.
The most important part for me was not just about the transition from paid employment to entrepreneurship; it was more about the process, which I think, in most instances, people fail to understand. The process in this context is that I learned on the journey. There was a form of stewardship; there was an apprenticeship because many of the things I know today are not because I’m a master of everything. It is because I understudied a lot of people. I understudied a lot of professionals. I also understudied people who are core entrepreneurs. That helped me; plus, when I was at James Cubitt, I took a certification in entrepreneurial management. That was the point at which I started to pivot towards entrepreneurship development.
At that point, I was equipped with business know-how beyond the technicalities. The truth is that technical know-how is different from business know-how. Being an entrepreneur goes beyond just the technicalities. People become a fundamental part of it, financial and risk management has to become part of it, and the list goes on.
BEA: What were the challenges you faced when you became an entrepreneur?
Olaposi Lawore: One of the key challenges is that nothing ever prepares you for leadership. When you think about entrepreneurship, it is leadership, and nothing ever prepares you for that because you go from reporting to someone to suddenly being in a position where everyone is relying on you to make critical decisions. My most pivotal time was when I was the Managing Director of Dynasty Real Estate. Within the first six months, something that dawned on me was that any decision I took would affect the lives of so many people beyond just my own direct staff.
I thought about this because in any economy, the activities of any business affect multiple people. Take, for example, a development company like HEREL; the list goes from my suppliers to my artisans. Invariably, my activities will determine whether some people have food to eat. So I started having a dialogue with myself, ‘you need to be very deliberate, you need to be very strategic, you need to be very careful with the decisions you make.’ I told myself that I needed to be able to take responsibility and take the lead in a situation, and that was the first challenge.
Another fundamental realisation was managing investors’ funds responsibly. How you manage investors’ funds differs from how you manage your personal money. You’d have to remember at every point in time that you are responsible and obligated to manage the resources judiciously. Beyond funds even, resources generally. I must admit that I struggled a bit in my first year. That’s to tell you that there is no perfect story anywhere.
Within my first year, we made a bit of profit, but it wasn’t significant, and it was because I’m a process person. I tried as much as possible within my first year to build a sustainable brand, and a sustainable brand isn’t just from the marketing perspective. It is also from a structural standpoint, like getting the Organisation’s structure right. That was from human resources to operations to everything you can think of, and once I got that right, the profit margin began to grow from the second year. We were doing about ten times what we did the previous year, which would not have happened if the right process and systems were not in place. It’s that framework that we took into HEREL. We’re further developing that framework because HEREL’s portfolio is significantly larger than where we are coming from and substantially larger than what most real estate businesses are doing today. For you to be able to manage such a structure, you need to have robust processes. You need to have solid corporate governance practices, and you need to have dependable people because you need people to make all of these other things work.
BEA: Are you saying the Organisational structure you established was one of the factors that made HEREL successful?
Olaposi Lawore: Yes. Our processes are unimaginable. We have a lot of corporate governance practices and processes in the system that check me on certain things, even though I’m the one steering the ship as the Managing Director and CEO. The system is not built around a person. It’s built around progress, delivering results, and attaining a certain level of growth. When you build your processes around result delivery, then you realise that the kind of things you achieve is astronomical, but when it’s built around a person, everything starts falling apart the day the person is unavailable. This is what we call ‘keyman risk’ in business.
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