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Humble, amiable, hardworking, and focused. Mrs. Florence Lepe is the archetypal prudent, female entrepreneur, doting mum, and committed Diaspora Nigerian. She talks about how she climbed the ladder of success to become of the UK’s successful business managers.

Q: Family Background
I am in my 60s; I’m from Ikale, Ondo State. I’m the last of four children. My mum died in 1962, I was about four years old then. In a way, I think God put me to come last, otherwise I can’t be in the position I am today. I have one brother and two sisters. My brother is the first, he had to continue his primary school after my mother died, and my sister who followed him had to stop to take care of me. We were not rich neither were we poor. Wealth depends on how you look at it. My dad was the best dad I could ever have and I had a very happy childhood. I have no sympathy or empathy for my mum because I didn’t really know her. My dad tried everything in his power to love us and put us in a straight line the way he believed we should be. My dad brought us up; he didn’t believe that my brother is higher than us.

When my mum died, they took me in 1963 for primary school. In those days, I was not supposed to be in school because my hand could not touch my ears but they took me in regardless, I think to help my dad. Before I finished my primary school, it took a while because they said I was too small so they held us back for two years. I finished my primary education in 1970 or 1971 and I started secondary, modern school. My dad was a small businessman so he could pay but he didn’t. I’m not holding him for it, it’s just the way he understood things. In 1973, they asked me to learn how to sew but I declined because I just believed I was going to be rich, I didn’t know how but I just believed.

My brother brought me to Lagos while he was an apprentice but he couldn’t cope. He had to pass me to my paternal aunt and so I had to hawk in Lagos for a whole year. I’ll sell bread in the morning, oranges in the afternoon and plantain in the evening. My dad came to Lagos few months after and took me back home. Then my brother managed to get a one bedroom ‘face-me-I-face-you’ apartment so from there I started taking shorthand, accountancy and typing lessons. But out of these three, I didn’t know shorthand and typing but I knew accountancy. I should have finished secondary school before I started but like I said, my brother managed to pay a year rent which was a lot then.

But I finished secondary school regardless. So it wasn’t long after then I met the father of my children. I had my first child in 1981. Through the Dad, I came to Britain with her when she was about a year and half. When I got here it was hard, they painted Britain as though it was easy but turned out to be different. I was working in customer service before I came here. When I got here, they asked me to work in a factory, which I had no other option than to do. While working I was studying, I did accountancy and banking but in a way I used it and at the same time I didn’t use it.

When my first child was about four years old, I got pregnant and had a second child in 1986. I was the only one working, their dad wasn’t. In 1993, I heard their Dad had a baby with another woman and that was when I came out of the marriage. While we were in the marriage, because I was the only one working, I was looking to buy a house and that’s how my business came about today. We were living in a pier block in London and I wanted to take my children out of that poverty environment. We were almost going to get a house together when I heard about the new woman. I confronted him about it and he beat the hell out of me, the police got involved because I was hospitalised.

When I came back, this country gave me four policemen, fire brigade, etc. We went to women … we were there for a while. When I got here, I was in Lincolnton and then moved to East London. I didn’t plan to be a landlord in 1993. In December of that year, I was able to buy the four bedroom apartment for the family. At that point, I had already erased my husband’s name. In 1995, I bought a three bedroom and that was how I started leveraging. There is something unique about me; I am very good with money. My first investment in this country was in government shares, like borrow government money, the interest rate wasn’t so high but I just did it to secure opportunity. Today, I’ve got about 14 properties in London. Where I live I got it in 2008 and I rented and renovated it in 2016. So that’s how I run my business.

Q: What is your philosophy of life?
My philosophy of life is you get back what you put in life. You can’t get back what you don’t put in. I don’t go to church but you got to believe in God and obey the law. I believe God put individuals in this world to govern through, like Boris Johnson is the Head of Britain as we talk, so we’re supposed to obey whatever he tells us, otherwise the whole place will be in chaos.

Q: What are the challenges you faced while climbing the ladder of success and for a woman, how did you overcome?
In my head, I know I’m a woman and I’m African but when you deal with people in this country, they believe you are stupid. To be able to get mortgage, there was no problem because I always walk in line. I have no credit advice or anything but to get people that will do my job, some may even want to marry me. When they deal with me within few days, they know I’m not an easy woman. Up till today, I control men; at least people working with me include about four to five men. As a woman, I feel that is my major obstacle. But there is nothing you can’t overcome once you are determined. I don’t go out with anyone who works with me. I don’t even go out with any man.

Florence Lepe 1

Q: Why did you refuse to remarry after your husband left?
Well, for my first marriage, if not for my Dad, I wouldn’t have been married; I think he knew that if he didn’t put his leg in, I wouldn’t do it. The way women are treated in Africa doesn’t agree with my head. I don’t want to marry a white man, I prefer a black man. I need a man that brings something to the table.

Q: What are your success principles?
It is that you should have integrity and be truthful to yourself. You know this African notion of praying doesn’t go down well with me. Don’t get me wrong, it is good to pray but action is what will deliver you from your evil. Also, obey the law of the land and make people know who you are, don’t deviate. What is good in our culture let’s do it, what is not good, let’s drop it. Be very real and authentic.

Q: Tell us about some of your unforgettable moments, both pleasant and unpleasant
Pleasant was when I had my first baby. Unpleasant was when my sister died in front of me in 2017 when I went to Nigeria. I could say that Nigeria killed my sister whether directly or indirectly because the hospital didn’t want to take her in.

Q: How do you socialise, unwind and relax?
A: I go to parties but not often. I go on holidays a lot. I walk, I jog, I go to the theaters, I got white friends, I rely more on them than my black friends because whatever I’m doing, I don’t think my black friends will have time for it.

Q: What’s your assessment of the UK property market? What expert advice will you give anybody?
My last property was gotten in 2018. It was easier to own a property in those days. But now I think it is over-priced. Salary doesn’t go up as inflation or house price but having said that, if we black people have love, two or three people can come together and buy a house and still progress because they see money to be there but because we don’t have love, we don’t work together. Even when we have a good intention, when we start, within few months we scatter so I think that there is still money to be made. It is a medium to long-term investment; it’s not just money to be making from the beginning. I have been in this market since 1993 and you have to read about the law. I’m sure if we can click together, we can make it.

Q: For the benefit of young people, what was your experience like when you got to the UK?
Nigeria is a different world than when I left in 1983, almost 40 years ago. The thing I noticed about Nigeria is that everything is about God. People do not believe in themselves again, all they want to do is pray. And even though we say we believe in God, we are not truthful. If anyone wants to come to the UK, my advice is humility, lie low, don’t think you want to make it in two minutes, even Rome was not built in a day but don’t forget your success purpose. When I came to this country, I worked in a factory, was a cleaner and did all sorts of job. Nobody can make you successful except yourself. Believe in yourself. Don’t believe in the negativity behind being black. This country discriminates but it is a good society. Whatever you put in life is what you will get back, be positive about life.


Q: Do you believe that you are fulfilled in life?
A: Of course, I believe. I have three children and they are doing very well. My middle child has been working with me since 2009. They are my priority. I thank God none of them has gotten into jail or is into drugs. We are unique and doing fine. Once you are contented in life you’ll be happy, so I’m contented and I’m happy.

Q: What legacy would you want to be remembered for?
A: First of all, I’m a believer of women right. It’s not only in Africa that women don’t have right but Africa just has it in excess, so I believe in women right. In Africa, not just Nigeria, we lose talent and that is why we can’t survive. If I’m in Africa today, I can’t do what I’m doing. UK gave me the power. I think people; my neighbours, family and everybody will remember me for how kind I am because I don’t like people suffering, so I help. It is not only money I give to people, I also imbibe in them something more than money. Also, people will remember me for self believe. I don’t try to blend in.


Q: Are there things you would have loved to do that you haven’t done yet and are there things you have done that you wished you didn’t do?

A: I don’t believe in regret because I don’t see what is happening happening behind me. But for something I’d love to do is that I’d love to get loved. I travel around the world so it’s not for finance. So if I get a man, it would be good. My children are grown ups, they can live on their own terms. But I have no regret.


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