‘Funeral undertaking is not business as usual’

The business of funeral undertaking in Nigeria will never be complete again with the exit of the larger-than-life Tunji Okusanya, director of MIC Undertakers who died in the line of duty in the plane that was conveying the remains of former Ondo State Governor, Olusegun Agagu to Akure, the Ondo State capital. Sadly, the masterundertaker was said to have perished in the crash along with his eldest son, also named Tunji, to whom he was warming up to hand the flourishing undertaking business. Man in Business pays tribute to the master undertaker by reproducing an interview he recently granted Saturday Mirror in which he spoke eloquently about what he does best. He spoke to FUNMI SALOME JOHNSON

How and when did you start your funeral undertaking business?

“This business was not started by me. It was started by my father. He was actually a cabinet maker who was involved in making different kinds of furniture including coffins. I grew up developing interest in what my father was making. I have discovered it is faster and easier to develop your business along the areas of your interest. Most people you see around succeeding are succeeding because they have developed their interests along the areas of their passion.

How did you grow the business to its present stature?

I started the business on a small scale and grew it with time. I can only look back to those years of toiling and hard work and thank God for bring us this far. Passion for what you do cannot be overemphasized because that is what will keep you going when everything else fails. You must have a passion for what you do.

Funeral business is not the type of business that you go into with the mind of getting rich quickly. You have to have the zeal and love for the business from within. So whether the money is forth coming immediately or not, you will keep moving on and excelling in it. You also need to do all you can so that the product will be accepted, once there is acceptability, then the sky is your limit.

P e o p l e g e n e r a l l y think funeral undertaking is a strange line of business. How has that perception affected you?

Every business is weird in a way, so I don’t feel any oddness in the nature of my business. Rather I am proud of what I do.

What kind of capital outlay would be required t o start an undertaking business in Nigeria today?

While the business may be described as being capital intensive, it may also depend on which angle you are looking at it. For instance, despite the fact that my father had been in the business of coffin making for years, I started from the scratch when I established MIC. I started with four caskets and over the years, MIC went into production of caskets and other areas of funeral undertaking. Funeral undertaking business is beyond casket making, it is an all encompassing business.When you talk of funeral undertaking, it is not just about making caskets, you need to support youre clients with their descision making as they are in a very emotional place. Depending on the client, you might have to to everything for them, or perhaps they will want you to hand them a guide to prepaid funerals, everyone is different and you must be ready to accepted them. It is an all encompassing business and a very huge one too and that is why it is very capital intensive. In it are casket making, cloth making, hearse, transportation, embalmment and so many other areas.

You, however, don’t have to go into all these aspects to be a successful funeral director. You can focus on the particular area you want to be known for. But as a director, you have to understand a l l t h e s e o t h e r a s – p e c t s of the b u s i – n e s s e v e n though but you don’t have to do them all. It could be likened to an event planner even though it is not exactly like event planning. You have to learn the intricacies of the many parts of the funeral directing business. I believe people should just pay attention and focus on one area. We fail when we just move around into various businesses. For instance, I have a manufacturing section because it is what my father has been doing for years. But I also import from overseas. A prospective funeral director should be able to decide on his or her own if he wants to be manufacturing caskets or he wants to be hiring hearses. He or she must decide on whatever area of funeral undertaking he would like to specialise in. That is very important.

Considering your line of business, do you also pray for good business?

Like every other business person, I also pray as I wake up in the morning that God may bring good business my way. But I am not wishing for people to die untimely. But I pray to God to give me business every day. If and when people have spent their lives and have fulfilled the essence of life and have enjoyed their lives to the brim, then one can pray for such ones.

Not when a person has been suffering all his life and he now dies and people are now clamouring to give such ones a befitting burial. That is a very sad situation. It is always good to take care of people when they are alive and that is what matters most and not the amount of money you spend on them when they are dead.

What advice do you have for would be investors in your line of business?

I would say to them that the value of hard work and genuine love for what you do cannot be over- emphasised in this business. Hard work is inevitable in this business and getting personnel that are dedicated to the job and are willing is not easy. You have to be up and doing and be able to exert yourself vigorously before you can then begin to look forward to enjoying the fruit of your hard labour. I have put thirty years into this business and I can tell you that it requires a whole lot of hard work and dedication.

As a banking and finance graduate turned funeral director, how has your area of study helped with your business?

There are business lessons you do not learn and understand by bagging a degree, neither do you learn them by reading enormous books. Sometimes, the most important lessons in business are better experienced. Education will, however, help you with identifying business ideas and interests, handling competition and developing yourself while managing your business.

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