There’s a certain Nigerian who is pulling off a feat that would have been thought of as too good to be true if only that it wasn’t. This entrepreneur is proving doubters wrong by venturing into what would come across as unfamiliar territory for many, bossing the turf, and taking home the gold.
While Paul Orajiaka’s current status may seem like the stuff of fantasy land, it is important to note that what now looks like a life of success, accomplishments, and fulfillments starkly contrasts what could be considered a tumultuous journey laden with moments of sunshine as it did false dawns, and flat-out failures.
His was a textbook case of magical results being the product of both unflinching resolve and hard work, and in fact, no ‘magic’ at all. Against the massive odds stacked up against him and in spite of the struggles, the Nigerian entrepreneur has gone on to build an indigenous, reputable toy company in a part of the world where you would usually be considered a joke for thinking up such an idea – not to mention going through with it.
Paul Orajiaka is the brain behind Auldon Limited; a fast-rising toy company which he set up with no more than meagre capital, copious amounts of brain work, and a great deal of hard work.
Being the spawn of an artist who imbibed in him the tenets of putting the “3H” (head, heart, and hands) to work in every undertaking, Paul was always going to forge his entrepreneurial path by employing his head for concepts, his heart for passion, and his hands for creation.
On weekends, Paul and the rest of his siblings would put in work at the craft workshop that belonged to his father. From a very young age, Paul had learned to carve and sell his work. He also kept the proceeds from his work stashed in a bank account, and that may have served up his earliest encounter with entrepreneurship.
But no one would have ever guessed that the one-time small-time artist would one day set up a million-dollar apprenticeship on the very grounds that once stood his modest showroom.
His company, Auldon Toys, was anything but a well-thought-out, foolproof plan to become a behemoth in the African toy industry. It was more like serendipity – a happy accident; one that would probably cause him to now break into a wry smile every time the thought crosses his mind.
After the completion of his secondary education, Paul had his bearing set for the United States of America. He intended to pursue further studies and also seek greener pastures, but a damper was put on his plans when he couldn’t secure a Visa. It was a massive disappointment for him at the time, and he couldn’t have known that the frustration was going to prove a blessing in disguise eventually.
It was during this ‘post-botched-Visa-application’ period; one marked by ‘soul-searching’ and ‘path-finding,’ that it all came to him. Paul was exposed to the true Nigerian entrepreneurial spirit when he got to know of so many young and enterprising individuals in the country raking in fortunes from some of the unlikeliest of places, and this may have sparked alight the flickering embers of his entrepreneurial ‘hearth.’
Armed with fresh resolve, he was determined to have another stab at ‘opportunity’ with his newly found passion for business. Then, Paul was taking refuge at his in-law’s who himself was something of a bigshot in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub. The said in-law ran a business in the notoriously-congested Idumota Market, and Paul assisted in some of the business’ operations.
Even though all that was happening around him had served up more than enough impetus to consider getting started on a business of his own, Paul still recognized the importance of having an education. He gained admission into the Univerisity of Lagos (UNILAG) to study accounting and he juggled his responsibilities at his in-law’s establishment with the academic commitments. Paul also went on to bag a Masters in Business Administration from the famous Lagos Business School.
Before long, Paul decided to carve his path. He joined forces with a friend of his who was making a living out of supplying different products to various supermarkets in the Victoria Island area. Within a few weeks of learning the ropes, he found out about a particular supermarket that was running low on toy supplies and that knowledge was to bring him his big break.
As opportunity is a visitor that seldom knocks twice, he seized the chance to become the supermarket’s toy supplier. What was just happenstance or a chance encounter at best, at the time, eventually gave birth to what has now become one of the largest indigenous toy companies in Africa.
Paul Orajiaka was soon leaving the shores of Nigeria as a teenager, but instead of heading west for academic pursuits, he journeyed to the Middle East for business purposes. His first trip abroad took him to Dubai where he purchased a consignment of toys and sold to big stores back home. The ship had just set sail.
Several trips abroad followed, and the toy business seemed to be on the right trajectory, but a problem soon arose in the form of numerous debts owed him by unscrupulous debtors who were playing a game of chicken with him when it came to remitting funds for products he had supplied on credit.
To put an end to this problem, Paul recognised only one way out, and that meant selling the toys himself – thus, the birth of Auldon Toys Limited; a leading manufacturer, importer, and supplier of top quality educational toys to wholesalers and retailers in Nigeria and beyond. In his bid to establish the company, he was hampered by the paucity of funds and the inability to secure loans. So, he opted to build with what he had.
Paul established his company in 1997 with just a little over USD 30.00. Some years later, like something off the stroke of a magic wand, Paul had erected a whole mall exclusively for toys having only begun with a small store. Currently, the company employs up to 400 members of staff and boasts a turnover in excess of USD 10 Mn annually.
His combination of ‘head, heart, and hands’ also saw him get his creative juices flowing. Paul imparted some African flavour to the toy business when he conceived the idea of the famous ‘Unity Girl Dolls’ which was a tribute to Nigeria’s three major ethnic groups – Igbo, Hausa, and Yoruba.
The entrepreneur had somehow masterminded a subtle toy revolution by adding an African feel to the toy business as a way of preserving culture. Being that he was from an artistic background, it was quite easy for him to churn out adorable coloured dolls, accentuated with the African physique, and clad in unique African print.
Make no mistake about it; toy business is serious business! Most people tend to write off toys as unimportant play-thingies designed to placate kids who are usually prone to tantrums, but they are more than that. They are known to play a role in shaping the ideas of children from an early age and they also have the capacity to influence confidence and sense of self.
That said, the now 40-year-old entrepreneur recognizes the importance of the toy business and has now restructured his enterprise to benefit young Africans. His company, Auldon Limited, recruits, and trains passionate young individuals who share the vision of creating play through work.
Auldon Toys currently adorn the shelves of some of the leading retail outlets in Nigeria and some of the company’s products are also exported to a number of African countries, as well as parts of Europe. The company is also passionate about girl-child education and women empowerment, and it is known to support NGOs that share the agenda.
Through the years, the Nigerian ‘toy mogul’ has been the recipient of numerous awards including the 2016 Global Titan CEO Award in the SME Sector. He was also an Entrepreneur of the Year (West Africa) finalist in 2015, while his story has seen coverage from many local and international platforms.
Featured Image Courtesy: Forbes