Somtochukwu Ezeaniomenyi is the Chief Executive officer, CEO, Som-Tee Group, a multilateral cleaning company in Anambra state. He is a young and dynamic Nigerian entrepreneur currently making waves in industrial cleaning business. Born to Igbo parents of Neni extraction in Anambra state, Somto, in this interview with LAWRENCE NWIMO x-rayed his experiences in the female dominated cleaning business and what triggered his passion to be an entrepreneur. He also spoke on the draw-backs hindering business and what government must do to help young entrepreneurs in the state and country. Excerpts:
May we meet you?
My name is Somtochukwu Ezeaniomenyi. I'm a native of Umuabani Village, Neni in Anaocha Local Government Area Anambra State. I am the Managing Director of Som-Tee Cleaning Services Ltd.
How was your childhood days and family experience?
My growing up was fun. Though I was not born with a silver spoon, it was not too tough because I am the sixth child out of seven and the second boy out of three so I had siblings that are older, though there were ups and down, you know. I didn't grow up in a first-class family and because of that, it was a tough fight, trying to make it through the primary, secondary and then tertiary institutions.
What was your childhood dream?
My childhood dream was to become an engineer but later switched my desire to becoming a lawyer.
Now, you are neither an engineer nor a lawyer, what happened to the both?
Well. Like I said, when I was growing up, actually, my first dream was to become an engineer because I loved constructing and repairing things. But that dream was shattered in my secondary school because I was bad in physics - so, I switched from Science to an Art class and my interest shifted from being and engineer to a lawyer because I felt I was very good in arguments. I never saw me becoming a professional cleaner or establishing a company for business, laughs.
What drove you into Professional Cleaning?
I started cleaning job immediately after my secondary education. Within the one year I stayed at home waiting for admission; I had a friend of my sister that was into industrial cleaning then. My sister linked me up to him and I was working for him as a laborer; that was in 2014 and I was being paid one thousand naira (N1,000) per day because I did more of the menial jobs. The nature of the job was tough for me at that time. Again, it needed strong hands but I devoted my time with him to learning the craft. I worked for him for ten days before he suddenly stopped calling me for works after he noticed that I was gradually learning the craft indirectly. As a result, each time I called my colleagues to know how far, they would say they went for work. Then when I ask my Oga, he would say ‘work no dey.’
What happened later?
In December 2014, a friend of mine whose uncle just finished building a house, convinced me to go and meet his uncle for the job. I had wanted to link the man to my boss because I was scared to take up the job myself. After much persuasion, I later took up the courage to do the job myself with the little knowledge I gathered while working with my former boss and the rest was history. That was the first contract I got in the cleaning industry and it happened to be the turning point of my life because from that day onwards, God made a way for me. As a matter of fact we have done over 600 cleaning Jobs and have worked for varieties of companies and individuals over the years.
Have you encountered any challenge along the line?
There were many challenges. One of our major challenges was Finance. There was no machine which made the work so hard for me and my Team. We were doing most of the jobs manually. it was so hard purchasing working equipments because I always rely on a job to purchase the materials needed. However, I don’t have a vehicle so I made use of the commercials; it was so hard to transport our working equipments to some locations. Due to some bad road networks in the state, some of our client’s locations are difficult to access. Again, most people in Anambra especially Onitsha where I started perceived cleaning as an ordinary work that can be done by anybody, this has resulted to many rejections from contractors and house owners, but so far we are trying to change the narrative. Also, after I gained admission to study at Federal College Of Education (Technical), Umunze in 2015, I was in constant battle, trying to combine work with Education. You know, my Education usually take all of January to September so, I usually face the heat period of ember months as cover-up for lost times.
Did you envisage continuing the work after school?
No. I wasn't serious with the job in any way because I didn’t see myself continuing with it after school. It was more of part time or casual work.
Were there other things you did to survive in school within the January to September months?
Yes. I could remember I sold face caps and shirts around 2016/17. That aside, I was into interior decorations. I decorate people's house; paintings and the rest. I was also doing some menial labours like job man, site work and even served masons. In 2018, I learnt how to do Sharwama and also ventured into doing that too. I did Hypeman job in clubs too. I was doing anything legal called work and I did all these to survive.
Why did you decide to go into cleaning having been exposed to these numerous jobs?
Well, when I finished my NCE program in 2018, I asked myself: what next? Because I realized I needed something to sustain myself. The works I do then had all been part time and among them all, it was cleaning that gives me the profit to believe in. I found out it is something I do with passion. Cleaning work doesn't come always but when it comes, I take it with love. So, after graduation, I continued with it and was only keen to develop it. At a point, I started surfing the web on industrial cleaning and noticed that it is one of the biggest industries in the world. I noticed it was not too conversant in Anambra state then, I decided to carve a niche for myself in the area.
At what point did you decide to have a Som-Tee as a brand?
In 2020 during the lockdown season, the vision was to build a standard company and not just a one man company in cleaning industry. That’s why I’m building it as a company; a brand in the industry that would be running even in my absence. I did not want the legacies I had set over the years to just die off. So, I had to set it up to a standard with vision of where we are going to.
Cleaning is a female-dominated field. How does it feel competing with women?
It has not been an easy task. In fact, you can count the number of men in this industry. Sometimes, you find out that site owners have sisters and female friends that do the cleanings for them. However, what has kept me going is excellence. Because it is usually my clients that recommend me to other clients and it is due to our job quality. Over the years, I have found refuge in recommendations. Most of the big jobs we have done so far were gotten from recommendations and referrals and it is due to the excellence in my work.
Are there times you felt like leaving the industry considering its competitiveness?
Of course! There were times I wanted to give up on the industry. It is very competitive and demanding. People outside might not really know these but it is we that are into it that know the level of competition here. You can see people that just started cleaning business yesterday and today, they have all the machines available and you’re still struggling. So sometimes, especially at the initial stage, when the needed finance was not there to acquire certain machines, I felt like dropping back.
Why do you refer your company as a conglomerate?
Som-Tee Group is a conglomerate because we are designed to deal in Everything Cleaning. Som-Tee specializes in all kinds of cleaning ranging from:
1. Domestic/Residential Cleaning which includes Regular Cleaning, Deep Cleaning, Janitorial Cleaning, Carpet and Upholstery Cleaning, Polishing of Tiles and Bricks.
2. Industrial/Commercial Cleaning which includes Post-Construction/Renovation Cleaning, Facility Management/Maintenance, Retainership Services, Training/Mentorship and General Consulting/Contracting.
3. Environmental Cleaning which includes Waste Management and Disposal, Estate/Street Cleaning, Drainage and Sewage cleaning, etc
4. We also have plans of Venturing into Production of Cleaning Substance and also Sales of Cleaning Equipments and Materials. Laundry Hubs, Car Wash are also in the pipeline.
So Som-Tee Group is a Specialized Conglomerate of Everything Cleaning, We are building a company that would be a sort out company when it comes to Cleaning.
What stands your brand out from others?
We offer credibility and excellence. Like I told you before, what has kept us so far over the years is excellence. Our staff works with passion because they see the passion in me. I didn't start cleaning because of the money I was making but the passion I have for it. So, excellence is the watchword and any house we are called to clean, we clean it like our life depends on it.
You established the company even before you graduated from the university, what was the secret behind the feat?
It was Grace from God. I wouldn't have been here as a fresh graduate and an owner of such a brand without His Grace. It was not an easy journey physically but it was His Grace that kept me going. I finished my NCE in 2018, and by 2019, God made this company even grew bigger. In the process of my Degree Education, being able to combine it was a very rough and risky journey but His Grace was there to see me through.
Would you consider going into other sectors if given the opportunity?
Well. Like I said earlier, Som-Tee Group is a conglomerate. We are working towards branching into so many things. We are working towards production of different cleaning materials, sales of cleaning equipments; importation of different kinds of machines for cleaning, procurement services and lots more. Our vision is to build a standout company that can handle anything cleaningIf any opportunity comes aside these; I can grab it as well.
So far, could you name your biggest achievement(s)?
My biggest achievement, so far, is being able to run this company for the past seven years.Som- Tee at seven, many things happened. Building this business up to this level and handling over five hundred jobs alongside going through school and acquiring Two Certificates in Education. That has been the biggest achievement of my life so far.
How many jobs have you been able to create through your conglomerate?
My company has been able to create no fewer than 50 jobs for youths in Anambra state. Both Fulltime and part time.
Where do you see your brand in the next five years?
We should be among the top class cleaning conglomerates in Nigeria because we would be all round in the cleaning industry including environmental, commercial, residential and domestic cleaning. We would also be all round in supplies of cleaning machines and products. So, in the next five years, expect Som-Tee Group to operate beyond the shores of Nigeria by the grace of God.
How well do you think Anambra government has done in creating business opportunities and what is interesting about Anambra man?
Anambra state has done well in all ramifications, such as natural resources, oil and gas, urbanization and structural planning, culture and tourism, religion, education, entertainment, business and politics. Anambra state has improved drastically in all of these sectors over the years. Anambra State has list of notable men and women both old and young in all sectors both in within and outside Nigeria. The people of Anambra are known for being Industrious, hard working and Smart. Despite some challenges they face when it comes to governmental structures and policies, People of Anambra are known for their resilience. They have shown great courage in striving to survive no matter the Economic Situation in the Country. Being Onye Anambra is something one should be very proud of. The people of Anambra are known for their resourcefulness and they are associated with Success and progress Regardless of the conditions surrounding their environment. I am proud of being Onye Anambra.
What triggered your passion to be an entrepreneur and how viable is doing business in Anambra?
To many youths in Nigeria, becoming an entrepreneur might seem like a scary and high risk taking journey, but to me, this unpredictable adventure seems like the perfect path that my life should take. There are many reasons that triggered my passion to be an entrepreneur. I have always admired great and Successful entrepreneurs. Seeing successful people inspire me a lot to become successful. This gives me the hope and makes me believe that becoming an entrepreneur will allow me to network with people who have already built great businesses. I believe that I have enough potential to find the next profitable idea and change the lives of millions of people.
Being an entrepreneur gives me the freedom to explore my creativity. There is a saying that goes thus “Different Strokes for Different Folks”. People have different callings in Life. Being a 9-5er doesn't feed my burning passion for creativity and innovation. I feel like I am simply doing what the society expects of me instead of making a difference in the world. It is through starting my own business that I get to freely express my creative ideas and fulfill my dreams. I became an entrepreneur because I see it as a mandatory journey to take. A strong fire in my heart makes me believe that I have a strong purpose in the world that surpasses the reality of being an employee. As an entrepreneur, I am driven with the need to succeed and control my own destiny. Owning a business gives me no limitations on the profit and opportunities that I can gain.
I look out to manage projects with high stakes because I have enough confidence to execute them. I love the act of betting on an idea and watching it develops, it makes me smile. I have always wanted to use my company to impact people’s lives and also improve the economy with new job opportunities. I am passionate about helping people more than the pursuit of material things, I derive priceless joy when I offer my service to people and see the happiness and joy it creates in them. That is even more than any reward I can get from a Job.
How viable is doing business in Anambra?
Anambra State is one of the fastest growing states in the country. Like many other states in the country, Anambra state is faced with its own unique challenges. However, due to its fast growing economy, doing business in Anambra is rewarding and Profitable. Doing business in Anambra is very promising and I believe that with persistence, perseverance and Consistency which entrepreneurship requires, I will definitely succeed in an economic driven state like Anambra.
Being someone that started from the scratch, would you say government is fair to the youths?
Well. I would say government has been fair to some extent but there are still rooms for improvement. Government still needs to empower the youths because if they are empowered, they would do more. We have lots of youths doing many things. We have youths with visions. If they are empowered with loans and grants, in the next few years, there would be powerful indigenous companies in Anambra state. Again, when youths are empowered, it would reduce the burden of employment on the government.
Aside loans and grants, do you think there are other things youths need to be successful entrepreneurs?
Yes. Youths need to plan. A youth will succeed when he plans himself very well. You must have a mapped out business plan consisting target audience and areas. When you plan yourself very well, work towards it. Have team members on the edge working and doing their specific duties from their own angles. Though there might be setbacks along the way but if you do your risk management very well, you would be able to cope. But you must plan first.
You are a man of diverse skills, you hold TRCN, NCE and B.Ed certificates, and do you see yourself becoming a teacher someday?
Well. I don't know what God has in stock for me but I always hope for the best. I wouldn't say I will not accept it if the opportunity to lecture or teach comes but it would all depends on the condition attached to it. I acquired the certificate quite alright and so if I am meant to practice it, it’s on God.
Would you consider using the skills you acquired as a teacher in training youths on industrial cleaning?
Sorry I didn't mention it earlier. Part of the conglomerate is Som-Tee Training Academy, where all our newly recruited staff is given sound training. Soon we would be organizing seminars to teach people who are ready to learn the craft so as to establish their own company in the future.
Are you single?
Yea! I'm still single.
How do you cope with female admirers?
It is a big challenge anyway but God remains God. I have been in series of relationship in the past but now I'm working on myself and my future. I want to develop myself before thinking anything about relationship again.
Do you have role model(s)?
Yea! My number one role model is Dr. Stanley Uzochukwu, the CEO of Stanel Group. He is my Boss, Father, Mentor and my overall Chairman. Ever since I met him, my vision has widened. I also have the likes of Arc. Chukky Ezenwa, CEO GSS Group, Tony Elumelu,CEO Heir Holdings, Dr Cosmas Maduka, CEO Coscharis Group, and lots more. They are the people I look up to and wish to become like someday.
What is your advice to the youths who may want to toe your path?
In as much as they go to formal schools, every youth should learn a skill no matter how small it is. Having a skill is more or less a second plan. There are skills in writing, producing and even in the tech world. There are many skills that can be acquired in the tech world. It is good to learn and practice a skill. We should also have a vision of growing the skill to make something out of it and above all, always pray to God.