As I arrived at our appointment at 12 noon on a Monday afternoon, I couldn’t help but notice the vibrant energy emanating from the room. There, sitting across from me, was His Highness (Dr.) Ephraim Faloughi Spiff OON, a true embodiment of warmth and vitality. With his infectious smile and lively demeanour, it was hard to believe that this remarkable man turned 80 on the 17th of November 2023.
Born in Port Harcourt in 1943, His Highness (Dr.) Ephraim Faloughi is a native of Twon Brass in Bayelsa State. A man of vision and a staunch advocate for excellence, he has amassed numerous degrees and fellowships, including honorary doctorate degrees in science and technology and finance. Additionally, he holds a senior fellowship with the Institute of Internal Auditors of Nigeria.
But it is not just his academic achievements that make him extraordinary. His journey to success is one of sheer determination and resilience. Starting as a sales executive at NIDOGAS and later at the West African Thread Company Limited, Ephraim Faloughi’s unwavering drive led him to establish NOVESCO TRADING COMPANY (NTCN) in 1973.
Under his leadership, NTCN flourished into a premier indigenous concern, renowned for its production of high-quality carpets. The company’s commitment to Total Quality Management earned it global recognition and an “Award of Quality” from the Standard Organization of Nigeria.
Driven by an insatiable thirst for success, His Highness (Dr.) Ephraim Faloughi has ventured into various industries, including insurance, information technology, food, and construction. He currently serves as the Chairman of Sovereign Trust Insurance Company Limited, TEEOF Holdings Limited, and De Brass Suites LTD, among others. His contributions extend beyond the business realm, as he sits on the boards of groundbreaking companies in the banking, oil and gas, and publishing sectors.
His commitment to integrity and philanthropy has garnered him laurels both locally and internationally. From the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) national award to the Great Africa Merit Award, Ephraim Faloughi’s contributions have left an indelible mark on society.
As I delved deeper into our conversation, it became clear that His Highness (Dr.) Ephraim Faloughi’s influence and impact extend far beyond his accomplishments. With a “can-do spirit” and a passion for better understanding and friendly relations among people, he has become a charismatic captain of industry and a role model for integrity.
Your journey has been remarkable. What pivotal moments shaped your path to success?
My mother was a young lady who was in a relationship with a Lebanese man, and it was during this time that they had me. That’s how I came about. I spent my formative years in Port Harcourt, where my career took off. Part of my youth included being a rascal and doing all the things that young children and adults do. I was stubborn, enjoyed playing pranks, and what have you. As I matured… you know, as part of growing up, you look at things and your situation and decide to make changes. I observed what was happening around me and made the conscious decision to grow from there. As I grew, I started to shed certain bad behaviours and replaced them with new ones, only to eventually let go of those as well and adopt new ones. It was a cycle of learning, unlearning, and relearning.
How do you define excellence, and how has this definition influenced your achievements?
If I were to define excellence, it would be characterised by being honest, truthful, and empathetic. It is seeing yourself as your neighbour’s keeper and being empathetic towards people who are less privileged. These qualities are what make you a human being, not the accumulation of wealth. They are a reflection of the goodness that resides in our hearts and are demonstrated through our actions towards our neighbours and peers.
One thing I know is that some of my peers engaged in activities during their youth that I didn’t take part in. I never smoked cannabis or experimented with drugs. Those things were never a part of my life. Instead, cigars were my own thing. I would pose with them, and even if I wasn’t smoking, they were always present. I also had a fondness for pipes and still have some of them to this day. We would purchase these pipes from Selfridges, and the aroma they emitted was quite enticing. In those days, we considered ourselves to be fine boys, and the scent of the pipe would often draw the attention of the ladies around us.
If you strive for excellence, aim to excel in every aspect of your life. You cannot be 100% perfect. It’s important to acknowledge that perfection is unattainable; no one can achieve it except for Christ. If you consistently show excellence and have the ability to articulate yourself, you will undoubtedly make progress in whatever you pursue. This progress will not only benefit you but also contribute positively to society, your country, and all you lay your hands on. Both in business and doing whatever it is you do. By doing it excellently, you will leave a lasting impression on those who witness your work. Consider yourself a vehicle for others to learn from. Your accomplishments and even your failures can serve as valuable lessons for those around you. Embrace failure as an opportunity for growth and learning. Analyse your mistakes, adjust your approach, and strive to gain experience through every setback.
What inspired you to venture into the insurance industry in Nigeria?
Business. Any serious-minded businessman will explore any genuine, legitimate, and worthwhile business opportunity. I was into manufacturing and furniture making, and then I went into trading. Eventually, I partnered with Mr. Seun Ajayi, and together we bought over Lawson Corporation company. We successfully revived it, turned it around, and recapitalized it, and that’s how I got into insurance. Prior to that, I’d also been a broker, so that inspired me to go into insurance.
As a leader in the insurance industry, what changes have you witnessed over the years within Nigeria?
The insurance industry has grown, but it is still far from reaching its full potential. Nigerians have not fully embraced the concept of insurance. As I mentioned in my previous interviews, we tend to purchase expensive cars, just like the House of Assembly and Senate buying SUVs for ₦200 million. Do they insure these vehicles? That’s another question.
You buy ₦200 million worth of vehicles, and when you’re told to pay a premium of ₦5-7 million, you shy away from it. The culture of insurance is not there. This is something that we need to adopt. We should not spend our money on luxurious items without insuring them. Whether it’s jewellery, watches, or even clothes, they should all be insured.
How do you envision the future of the insurance sector in Nigeria?
Enormous. We have 200 to 220 million people in this country. If we could manage to provide insurance coverage for just 10% of them, the industry would undoubtedly experience significant growth. But, like I said, the culture is not there. Even the government is not helping matters because the government should bear the responsibility of insuring all their property. It is only logical that government assets should be insured, but they’re not.
What do you consider to be the key factors for sustaining successful businesses in today’s ever-changing market?
Be consistent and honest. Do not cheat. Refrain from getting involved in situations that can lead to trouble. Instead, let people know where you’re going, your intentions, your objectives, and the purpose of your products and services. The moment you go into the fast lane, you’re bound to fail.
Today, you have young men and women engaging in unnecessary activities that they’re not supposed to. This is a consequence of our failure as the older generation to guide them properly and show them the right path to follow.
You took a step back from working full-time seven years ago. What do you miss the most about being actively involved in the business world?
Everything. Everything, because if you are very active, very proactive, and suddenly you’re not, you feel lazy, and you feel bad. You think, “Oh, how I wish I could do this”. And when you leave the young ones who are to learn from you, you must be there to correct them if they make mistakes.
I miss coming to the office like I used to. I miss going out. I miss engaging in business discussions and negotiations. Some are successful, while others may not be, but the determination never wavers. I miss that.
I’m retired, but it doesn’t seem like it. Surprisingly, now I have more responsibilities as I rely on my children, the younger ones, whom I must guide, shape, and encourage to make the right choices. In a way, I am still working. If I were to handle things on my own, I would go straight to the tasks at hand.
How have you been able to balance your family life with your professional endeavours?
By having a good home and a peaceful home. The wife is the key. If your wife gives you peace and doesn’t nag you, then things are easier. Of course, you know that you must keep every woman happy. Once you have peace in the house, you will be successful, because that’s a very crucial area.
What role do you believe storytelling and sharing experiences play in connecting generations and preserving legacies?
Well, it’s by imbibing what we have learned into the next generation. But the next generation, are they ready to learn or not? That is the key factor—we must impart the wisdom we have acquired throughout our lives. We should teach them what our mothers, fathers, and families have taught us. We should emulate the positive actions we witnessed from them while avoiding the negative ones. It is now our responsibility to instil these values in the younger generation, regardless of whether they are our own children or someone else’s. This is what our nation should strive for – the older generation should pass on these attributes to the younger ones so that they can eventually take over.
Without a succession plan in place, be it in business or in a country, everything will eventually crumble.
As you approach your 80th birthday, what reflections come to mind about your legacy and impact?
Being continuous and being grateful to God. The biblical saying goes, “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength, they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”
If by chance you become fourscore, it is not due to personal strength or one’s own goodness or good deeds, but rather by the mercy of God. Once there is God’s mercy upon you, everything falls into place. So, my legacy is to strive to draw closer to God and to make a positive impact on the lives of others. It is important to never look down upon anyone, including those who are less fortunate, as we are all equally created by God.
I’ll tell you a story. When I was growing up in Port Harcourt, there were some uncles that used to mistreat me, look down on me and verbally abuse me. Somebody told one of them – he’s late now – that they should not treat me that way because they did not know what I would become in the future, “Today he’s like this, but you don’t know what he’s going to be tomorrow”. And this is why I advise against underestimating people. The cleaner, the messenger or the tea maker in the office may grow and become somebody. If you are alive to witness that growth, they’ll now look you in the face and bring up the wrong you did them.
I worked while growing up. I used to drive taxis in those days, I sold ice cream, I worked as a steward in a hotel, and today, here I am. All of us have a beginning; we all do. We’re not born with silver spoons in our mouths. It takes hard work and dedication to grow, as long as it is done with integrity and without resorting to deceitful means.
As you reflect on your journey, what do you consider to be your greatest achievement, and why?
Trying to be nearer to God. A lot of my friends wonder what I’m doing attending a white garment church, but I firmly believe that all roads ultimately lead to God. Whether one identifies as Christian or Pentecostal, we each have our unique paths towards seeking salvation and connecting with the divine.
We all enjoy, we all boogie down and so but when it comes to worshipping God and looking for God’s mercy, I don’t joke with it. That’s my greatest achievement.
How do you stay motivated and passionate about your various endeavours at this stage in your life?
Observing the young ones doing the right thing brings me joy. Witnessing the growth and resilience of the businesses I have fostered, even in the face of challenging economic circumstances. That gives me satisfaction, and I smile.
How did your 80th birthday celebration go, and what does this milestone mean to you?
On the 14th, one of my sons-in-law organised an event for me. I just showed up as a guest. On the 16th, my children had another celebration planned. I went and enjoyed myself. On the 17th, my actual birthday, my wife and I opened our house to guests.
This milestone means a lot to me. When I turned 70, God blessed me with my first grandchild, who celebrated his tenth birthday on the 11th. That was the greatest gift I ever had, and that has spurred me to see myself reflected in their growth. When you see your grandchildren, you see a reflection of yourself in them. It is truly a remarkable blessing from God.
This milestone inspires me to remain grateful to God, to continue doing good deeds, and to be kind to others. Despite the current dire situation in our country, I implore the government to empower the younger generation to take charge. We are all growing older, and it is difficult to comprehend why my agemates would still hold positions of power within the government.
What are your aspirations for the years ahead, and how do you plan to continue making a positive impact in your various roles?
I need to encourage people when they are on the right path and offer guidance when they stray. This country needs the younger generation to take over the government, do the right thing and be focused. It will reduce unemployment, all the 419 and yahoo-yahoo. Empowering them will go a long way because a lot of youths don’t have jobs, and that leads them to learn evil ways, which is not good for the nation. Nigeria is a great country with immense potential. However, for it to truly flourish, it requires the involvement and leadership of the younger generation.
I plan to be a positive role model to everyone in my life by doing the right thing and voicing my opinions when it’s necessary. At this age, what can you do to me if I don’t speak the truth? It is my duty always to speak the truth, even when it may be inconvenient or unpopular. I refuse to turn a blind eye to the truth and contribute to the nation’s downfall. Why should I see black and say it’s white? This is what is killing the nation: our politicians not speaking out and not saying the truth. They are being very deceitful. Why don’t they let the youths be? Why do they want to disrupt things?
I need to stand tall in speaking out. That’s what I need to do now.
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