With the emergence of women playing significant role towards the development of Sports in Nigeria, Africa and the World as a whole,SPORT INTELLIGENCE Anchor JOSEPH ODOEKWU and SAM ANOKAM recently cornered KENNY ADAZIE in her office in Lagos. Kenny is the MD/CEO of VP Grasse, Nigeria’s No 1 indigenous and Lagos based astro-turf company, she is Africa’s First female to venture into the astro-turf business. Kenny has a knack for quality and believes that her wealth of experience is capable of making her company become FIFA’S preferred person soon. She bears her mind in this EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW. Please read on.
Tell us what VP Grasse is all about and when it came into existence?
VP Graase is an artificial turf company that are into the installation of soccer turf , Basket Ball, hockey and other related Sports, we also do acrylic surfacing for Basket Ball, we are into general landscaping and all is done with synthetic turf that looks very natural but with artificial turf. We registered in 2013, but the company started in June 2014.
How did you come into this business?
I was leaving in South Africa for 15 years, where I came across astro-turf in one of the exhibitions they did there. Then I felt it is quite fantastic because we really do not have anything like it in Nigeria. Moreover, in Nigeria we have this poor maintenance problem, most pitches are not luscious green, but with the new innovation of this artificial turf, it actually makes it very real. So when I came for my dad’s burial in Nigeria, I showed people around the samples that I had and they said this looks very good. But you know that any business you have to do in Nigeria, you have to be present for it to really make sense to the people, so I relocated to Nigeria, to enable me establish this firm and to God be the glory the rest is now history.
VP Grasse recently identified with the IMSU Alumni through jersey sponsorship in respect to their novelty match against UNN Alumni, what are your expectations from this package?
As an alumni, I know that the Imo State University does not have the infrastructure, landscaping and beauty that it should have. I am expecting that after this whole business convention that is going to take place in Enugu, we can do something for the University. Also, the professors and school management will now see that the alumnus have something that they can do for the University and they can engage us, especially my company, to set up a partnership with the institution and Imo state government, so that we can have a befitting Sports centre within the campus and further encourage Imo Stars to go into Sports. You and I know that Sports is a big thing these days and that would help if we all can work together towards the development of the University as a whole.
Every business is faced with challenges, what are the challenges you are facing in this business?
First of all, when I came into Nigeria very few people knew what astro-turf was all about, what I did was I got a vehicle and branded it all through with grass and that became quite popular and created awareness. Then we partnered with Ebony Life TV and advertised there, so we were the first company to ever advertise on anything that has to do with artificial grass. Another challenge which we had and are still having is that many people do not know what astro-turf is all about and why it is more expensive than the natural grass. In fact, trying to convince the people that we can give them the best is a great challenge on its own. You know that some Nigerians believe that they can go to the internet, look for a product and buy it from abroad, and if this trend continues, how do we retain our employees, how do we survive? We are still creating the awareness, for people to recognize us and get us involved in a lot of constructions such as stadiums, and not going out there to bring the foreign people to come and do this job when we have a Nigerian-owned company that can take up this massive stadium construction and execute it to the best. In Africa, artificial turf has about 3% share, Europe is 45%, then Asia and the rest, so we are still a very tiny few. Sometime in July we were in Fifa’s office at Zurich, I noticed that Africa does not have any representative and you know that Fifa has what we call Fifa preferred person, for you to be that you will have to be a manufacturer and for you to be a manufacturer you will have over a million or two million USD for the mercenary. So we do not get support from the government or the banks, because they look at you as one who have not arrived, they do not give us the loan, they give it to the blue chip companies, it is a continuous challenge that we are facing and we hope that one day we will become an emerging industry that can contribute positively towards the development of the Nigerian economy.
The Dan Anyiam stadium seems to be in a state of mere collapse, as someone from that state, what effort have you made to contribute towards its development as well as other stadiums, airports and artificial-turf related places generally?
First, we have approached the Minister of Sports and met his Personal Assistant Alhaji Bala, we sent in our proposal and have our acknowledgment copy. We also went to the office of the Minister of aviation, as you know we also do Air field turf for airports which is anti-fire, we also went to the International airport in Delta State where we met with the director of operations because we know the airport in Asaba is in a very bad form, we were also looking at them having Air-field turf, but you know what the protocol is like in Nigeria, we have actually taken a lot of steps, but like I said, the challenges is still there. As for Imo state, we have not really approached the governor and his people, but we have sent messages across. At a time, we contacted the brother to the governor of Imo state Mr. I.K so that we can introduce our company and tell them of what we do, and it is only when you have given us the opportunity to come, that is when you know what we do. We are not in the habit of following people around or making nuisance of ourselves. So for Dan Anyiam Stadium in Owerri, artificial-turf is needed. Look at what is currently going on at the National stadium in Lagos, they are trying to revamp it and give it a new look. So VP Grasse can come into Dan Anyiam Stadium and do the needful. I am from Imo State and it will be an ideal thing to have us do the tracking with Tata and then the synthetic turf for the football pitch and the pavilion seating as well. But in all of these, the credit of whatever we achieve in Imo will go to the governor of the state who have built a legacy for the Imo youth during his administration by getting an Imo indigene who owns VP Grasse, to revamp Dan Anyiam Stadium. But like I said earlier about one of our challenges, we are still struggling to make ourselves recognized as an organization that can accomplish this task.
If you are appointed as the Minister of Sports what will you make your first priority?
When you look at Nigeria back in the days, you will see that the only thing that bring us together is Sports, whether Hausa, Yoruba or Igbo. These days that is no longer the case, people do not get worried again whether Super Eagles or Super Falcons are playing, the glory of those days are gone. Someone like Chukwu Ndukwe who was an ex-international footballer still wants to identify with entrepreneurs like us that are going into Sports and give it a meaning. One of the things I will do if appointed as Sports Minister is to revamp all our national stadiums in the country, and also create a mini-training pitch where people can train. One of the things we launched today is the VP Grasse Sport-in-box, the idea behind it is to have government agencies establish mini multi-sports centres in rural areas and have all these talents that are just wasting have access to small multi-sports area where they can showcase their talents and link them up with scouts that are seeking talents. Then scouts can get people like Chukwudi or Hassan or Tunde and then they can say thanks to VP Grasse in partnership with Kogi or Imo state government. so one of the things I will do is to ensure that most localities have at least a 5-aside pitch, no matter how small where people can go an enhance their talents. Apart from football, multi-sports will involve basketball, volley ball, hockey. So as a minister, my believe will be that our people really have talents and put the necessary structures in place just like you have in western countries, where kids will have an opportunity and they will not necessarily have to go and register, because with Sports, there is cohesion, and recreation, unity.You do not need to be a member of Ikoyi club before you take part or have a multi-million Sports centre for a child to participate because you are in a Sport environment.
Is this line of business a male dominated line of business?
Yes it is a male dominated line of business (Laughs)
Are you also seeing yourself as the only Nigeria female in a male dominated business?
Actually I am not seeing myself as the only Nigerian female in this industry, I am the first African woman to venture into this business. I remember when I went to Germany for artificial turf conference in 2015, this conference takes place once in two years, and that is where we see the big players in the industry, one man from Turkey noticed me and said “Oh you are the only woman in our midst” and others laughed. So to the best of my knowledge, I am the only woman. Though it is a male dominated business but as a woman when we have interest in a business and venture into it, we bring different concept to it. I spoke earlier about the branded vehicle, it was the first ever in Nigeria and Africa but it was done by a lady, and a lot of people wanted to take pictures with this celebrity. It has been challenging, fun and interesting. There are more plans that I have in this industry not just in Nigeria but in Africa as a whole, but I will narrow it to West Africa, because when we even talk about the 3% shares that Africa has, it involves South Africa, Morroco and Egypt and these that I mentioned are the three countries in the industry that are more into the share in Africa, so it is quite an interesting journey.
Your company have existed within just two years, how far have you gone?
Yes we are a small company that have existed within two years, but we have really done a lot, we did something with FIRS at their head quarters, we have also worked in Kano, Kaduna, Owerri, Port Harcourt, Akwa Ibom, Enugu state and some villages there and in Ogun and Lagos as well. We have been all over the place and we are now fully going into Sports because we know that Sports is massive,we want our government to also have us on board when it has do with anything related Sports construction, because we are a registered company known for this, we are not just selling key holder and then bringing in another product by the side, astro-turf is our main business. So we are trying to build an organization, an organization that will represent this industry in Nigeria, West Africa and Africa as a whole. We want to invite our foreign partners in the nearest future where we will have our exhibitions and they will come to be part of it. I mentioned East Africa and Uganda earlier, we are hoping to invite them in the future where they will come and eventually buy from us, that will generate revenue to the Nigerian government
What is your overall vision?
Our overall vision is to become a manufacturer of astro-turf. For now we still import and one of the challenges is that we do not get the desired loan, we need millions of dollars to actually get to that level of manufacturing. And if we start manufacturing we will become FIFA preferred person in Africa, and if we do that it means that we do not just rely only on government to run 5-aside programmes, we will get projects directly from FIFA, they can send us to Burundi, Burkina Fasso, Ghana and so on, and we can also do most of this small projects that FIFA are sending to most companies in Europe to execute. So for us to have VP Grasse as FIFA preferred person in Africa in the long run, we need to be manufacturing to achieve this.
On a more personal level, do you play football and if no, what sport do you do?
I used to play football back in the secondary school, I’m a midfielder I wanted to join the Super Falcons, but my mum stopped me (Laughs) you know how our parents behave, and that stopped my Sporting career. They have this believe that you want to go and do Sport when others are becoming Engineers and Lawyers and so on. But that did not take away my passion for football, at least I am still relevant towards its development today.
Are you a fan of any football club?
I am a fan of Arsenal (Laughs loud). Yes! we might not be winning trophies for now, but I stand by my club and that is what makes you a fan. We do not move around like you have the Chelsea and the Manchester United fans who easily move around when their teams are not doing well. I love Sports I love football and Table Tennis as well, I love it and I also play Table Tennis.
On a final note, during the unveiling of the IMSU Alumni jersey, you requested for Jersey no 23, whats the reason for your choice of that number?
Like I said earlier my company was founded in the year 2013, there is no 2013 in a typical jersey number for a football team, so I chose to settle for the first and last number of that year which is 2 and 3, and that is how I arrived at Jersey no 23.
Thank you very much for making out time to talk with us
You are welcome.