A couple of decades ago, ThankGod Eboh was living with his parents in Imo state. Today, he works at one of the top financial institutions in the UK. In between, he ran a poultry business and worked at a Lagos firm earning less than ₦70k each month. In a recent chat, he gave an account of his very peculiar journey.
Where did you grow up? And what was it like?
It was normal, I think. I grew up in Imo state and was raised in a family of seven. We were not middle class in any way, but we were comfortable by our standards. My folks were businesspeople — my mum was a seamstress, and my dad was a trader. We lived in the village until I went to university.
What did you study?
I studied Agriculture at the University of Port Harcourt.
Did you dabble in entrepreneurship as an undergrad?
Yes. But I started before university. I was in primary 4 when my teacher mentioned something about savings, and I started saving.
Saving money in primary 4? Most of us were only interested in buying sweets.
[Laughs] Obviously, the teacher left an impression. Later, I became interested in multiplying what I had saved.
But how does a kid do that?
In my case, I started a poultry business. That actually makes it sound more serious than it was. In reality, I just had a few birds, maybe five, trained them and sold them. That sort of thing.
It looks like making money is in your blood.
[Laughs] I guess. To answer your original question, though, I went back to the poultry business in university. And I also sold books. I remember someone threatened to beat me because I kept saying that I was going to graduate as a millionaire. The guy took it personally.
I don’t know. I still don’t get it because it was just an aspiration.
Haters gonna hate, I guess. Did you succeed?
Yes, I did.
What happened next?
Lagos. I went from the village to PH and then Lagos. But I had come to Lagos before as a member of Enactus. I used to see the buildings on the island, and I thought that they can’t all be owned by the government. So, when I got the chance to serve in Lagos, I took it. I was posted to the Lagos State Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives.
When you finished NYSC, you stayed back in Lagos, yes?
Yeah. I became one of the statistics that we normally quote.
[Laughs] I was unemployed.
[Laughs] How long did that last?
Several months. But I got into one mini-MBA at the Lagos Business School.
Wait. Where were you living?
I was at the corpers’ lodge initially, but I moved to Ajah after I left NYSC.
How were you paying rent without a job?
Remember I had some money saved up. I also had help: A friend I met online helped me with some money. Then I got a job managing a facility; they paid ₦65,000. I did that job for six months.
Why did you leave?
I got another job in a top-tier financial institution in Nigeria. Before then, I was very conscious of the age limit for most corporate graduate roles in Nigeria, which is around 26 years old. I was close.
What was the salary?
About ₦250,000, which reflected my role as an employee working in the strategy department at the company’s headquarters. Thankfully, the financial services sector does not place primary emphasis on your area of academic qualification.
You were at the headquarters and working in the strategy department? That seems unusual.
It probably was. We had a series of competitions during onboarding sessions. It was the positive outcome of these competitions that influenced my team to be moved to the strategy department. The HR head, who was a truly remarkable lady, was keen to develop trainees and staffers in general.
At that stage, did you still have that heavy-duty savings mindset?
Yes! I wanted to leave Naija. I knew I was meant for international spaces. [Laughs]
Your ancestors won’t be happy to hear that.
[Laughs] They should be happy that I left for school, at least. I got a master’s in food production management.
How come you ended up in the financial services sector?
When I was applying for jobs after my one-year programme, I was targeting companies in food and beverages. But it was tough to adapt my CV, which had finance as the major experience. I then decided to apply to a related institution, a fortune 500, and this time my experience wasn’t an obstacle. I got the job.
That’s great. Let’s go back a bit. How much money did you require to leave Naija?
I can’t remember anymore. But I got a full scholarship, so it wasn’t expensive for me.
That is the dream for many people. How did you get a full scholarship?
[Laughs] It took several applications. I can’t really outline the process. But I did have about ₦3m saved before I left Nigeria.
Did that help?
Of course. But it was even better that I got a job before I finished my degree. I was applying and adapting my CV while in school. My cover letters just got better and better.
So are you enjoying your current job?
Yeah. My current employer has a great work culture that presents growth opportunities. Speaking of growth, I got promoted some months ago.
What’s the plan? What happens now?
I’d like to continue growing within the company and, perhaps, explore some of its global offices. Soon, I plan to get an MBA from an American school now that I have the Nigerian and UK university experience. That would be something new.
Indeed. Tell me: What advice would you give a small-town boy or girl looking to make it big?
The first thing to do is read. Read and read. When I got to Lagos, people didn’t believe I grew up in the village. I read everything, both fiction and nonfiction. The second thing is you need to envision your future and start preparing for it. You need to dream big. Your dream shouldn’t be something that can fit in a clenched fist. It should be something you can’t really grasp. As The Alchemist says, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” I was in SS3 when I started looking for scholarships. Look at all the years it took me to finally get it. It might seem impossible but just be consistent in showing up.
The last thing is “Follow who know road”. Friends have a way of influencing you, so you need to be conscious about who you let into your space. This is especially important for young people.