Millicent Duru is the pretty face behind Gisselle Homes. She is the MD/CEO of the property company which she floated in 2013 when she relocated back to Nigeria from the UK where she worked briefly in the real estate sector.
She has also worked with many companies, one of them is McKinsey. Prior to this, she had acquired so many degrees and certifications. The beautiful lady had her first degree in Microbiology and Marketing Management from the University of Port Harcourt and the University of Glamorgan, Wales respectively.
She is a member of Chartered Management Institute UK, Member of Chartered Institute for IT (BCS) UK and International Business Executive. She worked in a real estate company in the UK without really planning on focusing on real estate as a career.
Millicent is a goal-getter who will stop at nothing, once she is set on a course. The lady of many parts has played a key role in Nigerian politics. She recently contested for House of Assembly where she did so well but fell a little short of clinching the victory. Millicent is from Imo State.
Last week, City People Senior Reporter, ISAAC ABIMBADE met this lady in her Lekki office, where she opened up about her five years career in Nigeria real estate industry and what has inspired her so far.
Please tell us what real estate is all about?
Real estate is about property investment, land matters, development and everything that has to do with land. That is what real estate is all about.
How long have you been in the sector?
I have worked in the real estate sector when I was in the United Kingdom but I relocated back in 2010. I did one deal and I went back again and that was how I stumbled in real estate. I came to Nigeria to work with Mckinsey. I had an interview with them in the UK and I came to work here in Nigeria.
When I came back to Nigeria, I was a bit restless because I have always wanted more. I wanted to earn more money, do more things. And I said okay, since I worked in the real estate firm back in the UK, it wouldn’t be bad for me to do it here (Nigeria) too. That was how I ventured into it and I started doing real estate business in Nigeria. It is about 5 years now.
What motivated you to dabble in real estate?
Presently, real estate is done without requisite, due diligence and proper analysis in Nigeria. You know that, in real estate, documentation is key and customers should not be in a hurry without doing the typical things they should do, like making sure the papers are perfected and do the normal search, especially in a country like Nigeria. So, these are the things I saw when I was in the UK and I said to myself it would be nice for me to come in and set the pace in Nigeria’s real estate industry and do things the normal way it should be done because I was coming from a structured place and it wouldn’t be bad for me to set the pace and do the needful.
Can you tell us more about yourself?
You have already known my name as Millicent Duru. I had my first degree in Microbiology from the University of Port Harcourt and I had my second degree in Marketing Management from the University of Glamorgan, Wales and also an MBA from University of Wales, United Kingdom. Then I went to Edinburg School in Scotland to study International Business. So, I have always loved business.
I did Microbiology in school because my parents (father) loved Sciences and everybody in my family studied Sciences. They wanted me to be a Doctor but I couldn’t get up to the cut of mark for the JAMB to study Medicine, so I entered for Microbiology. So, when I started living in the UK, I loved women who are in business. I started reading a lot of books like Financial Times. I actually travelled to do my Masters in Public Health but getting to the UK, I was tripped by how things were done there and I said I am going to set a pace and change how things are done especially in developing countries like Nigeria. It would be nice for a young person like me to come and do something here in Nigeria. That was why I came back.
How did you come about the name of your company, Gissele Homes and what does it represent?
Gissele is actually Beyonce’s middle name. I feel she represents a strong woman persona, who achieved her dreams through sheer dedication and hardwork. My company Gissele is also synonymous with hardwork, creativity, innovation and professionalism. The real estate business in Nigeria is highly fragmented with deluge of unprofessional operators. I wanted to set a different pace and change the way real estate is done in Nigeria. It’s evident that only Gisselle cannot achieve the total change thus membership and coaching is paramount. We are not only looking at satisfying our clients but being at the forefront in changing how real estate is done in Nigeria.
How has the real estate business/sector been since you found yourself in it?
It’s been a bit challenging, not because of the fact that Nigeria is the way it is but being that Nigeria is a bit unstructured. So, obviously you are going to run into a lot of quacks and a lot of annoying agents but if you are able to cement your market and know exactly the people to deal with, it would be a very good place. Real estate is not a daily income, it is not a cash flow kind of business. So, at the end of the day you are not expected to make money everyday but with honesty and consistency you are going to be the best you can be in real estate.
What do you do and what do people know you for at Gissele Homes?
At Gisselle Homes, we do a lot of things that have to do with real estate, we do planning and development, which is my core area of competence. I have people who come to me that I have so much money, I don’t know what to do with it. I help them plan their investment returns. Sometimes, I tell them how to invest. Some of them want to do short term investment and some of them long term investment. So, it’s my duty to advice them on how to get their returns on investment exactly when they need it.
Right about now, I am doing a construction for two companies, one of them is a big company. One of them is on Admiralty Way, Lekki and the second one is in Banana Island in Lagos here. I am not a builder neither have I been an Architect but I have done a bit of building project because I am a details person. I started an estate in Ikota Estate called Oxford close. It was my concept. As at when we moved in there, it was just like a slum, filled with nothing but I used my concept to develop the place to what it is today. Because I came from a place (UK) where you can turn anything to anything; you can even turn water to wine. Real estate is about concept, your ideas, what you believe when you see.
A lot of people come to the community and they are like I am not going to invest here because it’s not developed. Little do they know that when you invest in somewhere not yet developed, you can develop it and turn it to what you want it to be and you can even have so much returns on investment. In Nigeria today, there is no where in the world that has the kind of return on investment we ever have, especially in equity. And that is the main thing we do, we sell properties for clients.
Tell us a bit about your parents?
I am from Imo State, my mother is from Edo State. I have the most supportive parents you can ever think of, very lovely brothers and sisters. My parents are very civil, educated and humble. My father’s name is Mr. Marcel Duru and my mother’s name is Mrs. Rebecca Duru. My father worked as an Insurance Broker, in fact he did so well that they moved him back to Enugu and Ebonyi State to open branches there. My mum was a teacher/lecturer and an astute business guru. She is the best, smart and in fact, she is phenomenal.
My parents have a quarry company, where they supply granite to different construction companies in Ebonyi State.
Tell us about your interior service?
My interior business is actually a side hussle. I do wholesale home accessories to very exclusive interiors. My clients run through our CD roms, then we place the orders for them from here after going through their designs, then send it to our Italian partners. We do a lot of international procurement for different clients from building materials furniture.
How has moving back to Nigeria been since you moved from the UK?
Moving back to Nigeria was the best thing that happened to me. I have always known I would come back because I don’t want a mediocre life. I have always been a business person even when I was in school back then in Port Harcourt.
Moving back to Nigeria, I discovered that some of our young women are lazy, unemployed, bitter and frustrated. They sometimes want what you have but hardly would work for it.
Same would come close two you to know what makes you thick and then go about gossiping because that is their prefered job. I have seen some that would call me to teach them how to start a business without capital, but for them, they want manner to fall from heaven very xxx and competitive behind you, they trying to help them.
I have made a conscious effort to learn from every good, bad and ugly situation the most important thing is to keep moving and never stop. In real estate, I see the women as my colleagues and not my competition as I know we have different skills.
Real estate is about networking but I thank God for giving me the spirit of discernment. Whatever has happened to me so far was because I allowed it.
I have friends who say to me that I am always busy, but little do they know what business entails.
The experience and the discussions I have with people at different meeting is enough for me to be anything I want to be.
How did you get a breakthrough in the real estate?
I have a lot of clientele base, cut across mid-tier to luxury real estate. Basically, I lived in the UK and I have a lot of people who call me to ask if I have property, people who tell me they have only two thousand pounds and ask what they can do with it, and I tell them to do this and that. I have an Uncle, like a family friend, so, he needed a property in Nigeria and he called me that he needed a property and I told him I have a friend who can sell to you but at the end of the day the lady wasn’t serious about it.
So, when I got back to Nigeria from the UK, I called him up if he had bought the property and he said no, so I started looking for property for him and I remember my sister at Stanbic ITC mentioned to me her friend’s anty had a property in Lekki, funny enough, this is the property behind my office. So, I called the man, the man said go and price the property for me and get me the documents for search. So, that gave me a lot of money. I ran back to UK, came back again. I closed the deal on trust, we must have intergrity in life.
Why did you decide to run for a political post?
The environment and the living standard of people inspired my political move and also to impact people positively because there is so much suffering around us.