Nigerians at home don’t like those in Diaspora telling them what to do –Dr. Emeka Chinaka, Princi Wines boss

By Christy Anyanwu

Dr Emeka Chinaka was among the caucus that formed the Nigerian Association of Pharmacists and Pharmaceutical Scientists in America (NAPPSA). The professional association played a major role in assisting late Prof Dora Akunyili in securing the drug regulatory template of the United States Food and Drug and Administration (FDA) which guided the reform of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) when she was the director-general. While practicing as a pharmacist, his entrepreneurial skills found expression in the establishment of a wine business with the goal of providing quality wines to the Nigerian market. In this interview, the chief executive of Princi Wines talks about his foray into winery and related issues.

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People generally complain about the difficulty of starting a business in Nigeria. How did you cope with the challenges of starting Princi wines?

It is quite well known that Nigeria is a very difficult place to do business but with persistence you will persevere. I have always believed that whatever one has to do if you stay focused you will achieve it, especially when your values are getting certification. It is important for the government to create enabling environment to help investors set up factories that would generate employment for our youths. A known fact is that the tough business environment has discouraged some investors who wanted to set up industries in Nigeria.  Currently we import these wines but I think it would be better for us and the government if we could set up a factory here. We have a partnership with a company in France. In the near future we will bring the technical know-how home. By so doing, we will be creating jobs and adding to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), but like I said, the government must create the atmosphere for businesses to thrive.

Why did you venture into wine production?

I’m a wine lover. I have tasted virtually every wine you could think of in the whole world. I have been to different wine tasting events but I didn’t get that quality I desire. That was what prompted my entrance into Nigeria. When I visited Nigeria in 2011, I didn’t get quality wine in the country and I said why not, Nigeria should be able to get that opportunity to have better wine. That was what prompted my entrance into Nigeria and why I ventured into wine. Princi Penal Wine is produced in Bordeaux, the capital of France. It’s all red wine. We have non-alcoholic and we have three flavours.  Our products are crafted with the best grapes from a very rich vineyard in Bordeaux, France. Currently we have three great flavours namely Princi Pinal, Princi Cabernet Sauvignon and Princi Merlot.

What’s your management style as an entrepreneur?

I love people around me. I like to have ideas from everybody because you cannot be master of all. Give people the opportunity to put their own ideas on the table.  I don’t micro-manage anybody. I love to get ideas from everybody, have their inputs and that allows you to grow.

Growing up, who influenced you to become an entrepreneur?

My parents, but they are not business people. They are educationists. One thing I learnt from my father is that he knows how to read people.  If you sit down with him,, in five minutes he will know who you are and tell you what you can do. So, I took that aspect from him and it has helped me in dealing with people.  I have been in managerial position for good 25 years in America settings. My parents were most influential in my life. But in terms of business, one of my best role models is Warren Buffet. He doesn’t like to engage in any business that doesn’t have to deal with retails. He likes to do businesses that have to do with retails. He explained the reason for his acquiring shares in Gillette. He said that every man in the whole world would at some point need to shave their hairs off and also the women. If you keep buying his product everyday there’s no way he’s not going to get something in return because people are going to be shaving their hair off. He’s a very creative guy, he’s not a greedy man and he’s a long time strategist. He strongly believes that business is  long term continuity and most of his businesses are long term enterprises.

Tell us a bit about your growing up?

I would consider myself a lucky child. My parents were well off a little bit; I was on TV in the defunct  East Central State before the old Imo and Anambra states were created out of it, We had a show called Juvenile Jury. Every Sunday I was on that show for six years on NTA Enugu and Aba, answer questions from other children – that was why it was called Juvenile Jury.  Chinwe Onubuogu was one of the ladies mentored by Ukonu of the popular Ukonu’s Club. We had audition with Chief Zebrudaya & Co every Friday and Saturday before our show would come up on Sunday. I enjoyed my elementary school days. I went to St Augustine’s Grammar School, Nkwerre, a secondary school in my home town. From there I went Federal School of Arts and Science, Suleja and Federal University of Technology before leaving the country.  

What was being an undergraduate like during your university days, especially now that several students are cultists?

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I wasn’t a cult member but I was in a fraternity when I was in the University of Colorado. You have to have a certain GPA to be accepted as a member.  If you have less than 3.5GPA you won’t be in our fraternity. I was of member of Phi Delta Chi in the United States (US). It’s a social fraternity. It was a model of the same club that Wole Soyinka brought back to Nigeria but things changed over time.  When I was at Federal University of Technology, Minna, they wanted me to be a Sea Dog; I went through the initial part of the process but on the very last day (he laughed) I disappeared and ran away. Life has been good. I’m very grateful, not everybody is as lucky as I have been.

What really prompted you to travel to America for studies?

I wanted to be a doctor from the onset. When I went to school at Federal University of Technology, I Minna, to study Chemical Engineering I was not satisfied. I was there for two semesters and then travelled out in 1980. I didn’t go to the US straight. I was in Europe for a quite a time. I felt the US was a better place for me. I got to the US and went back to school. I have two degrees in Pharmacy, and I practice as a pharmacist in the US. I have a pharmaceutical company in the United States, Chinaka’s Pharmacy, which is a retail outlet. I’m also a licensed pharmacist in the US. I also ventured into solar business.

Having been abroad for more than 25 years, what’s your relationship to other professionals in the Diaspora?

We actually helped to form the Nigerian Association of Pharmacists and Pharmaceutical Scientists in America (NAPPSA). Late former Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof Dora Akunyili, was the first keynote speaker we invited to our event. She did very well. She told us all the challenges in the Nigeria pharmaceutical industry. We helped her to get the regulatory template of the United States Food and Drug Administration, the agency of the government that controls foods, drugs and drinks. The template NAFDAC is using today was given to her by FDA. She brought it back and deployed it effectively, though I am sure that there have been relevant modifications to suit the Nigerian environment.

I have strong relationship with the African American community and Nigerians in the Diaspora. I’m involved in most of the activities and that is why I say I don’t want to be a politician because I’m also in politic. There are certain places I influence a lot. I am still a board member of the Nigeria Pharmaceutical Association, United States.   

Would you like to go into politics to clear the wrongs in Nigeria?

Some people are called out to be politicians but I’m not. It doesn’t mean that I’m not connected to politics – I have done some political things in the Diaspora. I was elected the president of my town union but I’m not really there to play politics, I’m there to clear things that were messed up, turn things around. I succeeded in doing that and the people were happy and they wanted me to be the leader but I was not interested; I’m interested in doing things right. In Nigeria it’s difficult to come down here and tell people what to do. I have been around, I have listened to people in politics, close friends and I’m not impressed with what I’m seeing now. It’s difficult to deal with the politicians here, given that one is coming from outside.

Being a well-travelled man, what’s your favourite food?

I like Nigerian food – garri and fufu. I really enjoy lots of seafood when I travel to China. There’s something unique I found out about that culture, also in Japan. You never see Japanese or Chinese enter a restaurant and eat by themselves. They always come with a group of four, five or seven people and take a large table. I think I like that kind of family gathering. They share the food on the table, I really like it. I see that again in the Middle East. In Dubai, if you go to their family houses, they don’t eat alone.

I like traveling a lot. I have been to so many countries. I like adventure but lately I have not been privileged to do that because I’m not in a good position to be traveling. I want to focus on growing Princi Wine, strategize and make the wine the finest in the world.

What lessons have you learnt about life?

Persistence, endurance and patience are three lessons I have learnt. You have to be patient. Things don’t come overnight. You have to be persistent; you have to have that endurance to make sure you succeed.

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