Creating value and the pursuit of excellence in business
Meet Joe Osawaye, Nigerian-born UAE-based serial entrepreneur, best recognized as a pioneer in the evolution of Dubai’s pan-African dining and entertainment scene as the Owner/CEO of KIZA Dubai Restaurant & Lounge. But having grown his businesses from humble beginnings working in his mother’s bakery in Nigeria, washing dishes in restaurants in London to make a living, to eventually building award-winning businesses back home in Oil & Gas and later relocating to Dubai 8 years ago to expand his portfolio in other sectors, including the upcoming launch of a luxury lifestyle and fashion brand BOWLER – we chat with him on the importance of establishing a people-focused culture and commitment to excellence in business…
1. Joe Osawaye, serial entrepreneur and best known across Dubai and the UAE as the owner of KIZA Restaurant and Lounge. But we think we’d hear it best from you? Who is Joe?
I am Nigerian-born and African in my system. I am a husband, a father, an uncle, and lover of life, and the recipient of mercy and grace, and I love to bring out the best in the people that I come across in my life. It’s important to me that I do my best in all that I put my hands on, be it in business or on the golf course, and I’m blessed to have the opportunity to add value to the people that have crossed my path over the years. This is really important to me, especially in mentorship and prodigy relationship. I live my life fully intentionally by building a legacy through giving back. I’ve been so blessed all throughout my life; God has really blessed me, and so I think I owe the world and my source – GOD – to give back from what He has given me.
2. So, Joe is on a quest to create legacy, and this is quite evident as you are a notable name across various spheres and landscapes. What fuels your soul? When you wake up in the morning, what gets you rearing to go?
I think it’s about my understanding of purpose. I don’t think it’s about me just waking up and saying I’m going to do this and that. What drives me is the knowledge and acceptance of has been deposited within me from childhood, right to this day, and so when I wake up in the morning, the first thing that pushes me is a strong sense of gratitude and the need to fulfill my purpose in the time that has been allotted to me. I thank GOD for my life, and I don’t take it for granted at all. It is a privilege to be alive and it is what pushes me to ask myself how I can be of value to the people I am going to meet during my day. Gratitude and the quest to be of great value I would say are the two things that drive me.
3. Naturally you have built a name for your business in business in your own country – Nigeria before you took the steps to relocate to Dubai. Talk to us a little bit about what growing in Nigeria taught you and what lessons led you on the path towards entrepreneurship?
It’s quite tough to do business in Nigeria to say the least. If you can cut your teeth in Nigeria as they say, it’s not that it will automatically be easier elsewhere, but it can certainly give you an edge where things work better; things like infrastructure, systems, policies, and all that.
I was raised in a business-minded family. My mom owned a bakery which I worked at in my early years while my dad was a chartered accountant, running an automobile business as his entrepreneurial venture. During my university days I became the GM of this business. From a very young age our parents taught us the dignity of labour. They wanted us to understand that nothing in life worth having comes easy, and that one must not only be willing to work hard to achieve their goals, but also be smart with the decisions they make. You simply cannot wait around for a free meal. So that was the culture engrained in me as a young child growing up in Nigeria, and as I went on into adulthood and running my own businesses.
My mom also taught me how to get on with people. She is a super extrovert. From her, I quickly learned that business is all about people – people serving people. Business is also about creating solutions to problems, either through products or services or a combination of both. The ability to get on with people along the way is a trait I have developed and am blessed with.
4. What business decisions subsequently led you to moving to the UAE?
I started a telecoms business in Nigeria, leveraging the experience I had had working with and for my parents. My focus also became people, given that this is a trait I had developed watching my mother and how she navigated personal and business relationships. I viewed my employees as my biggest customers – my primary customers. I made sure they were happy and motivated all the time, and that they found joy in what they were doing, because that would then make it easy to serve our secondary customer or external parties who came looking for our products and services. I’ve lived in Dubai for 8 years now and my company still wins awards in Nigeria. People ask me how this is so. I believe it’s because there is employee and customer buy-in already. It’s about them and not me.
I first came to Dubai in 2005. My wife had been visiting the city since 2002 and back then, I was a London boy and more inclined to spend my time there than in Dubai. The moment I arrived in Dubai; my spirit told me I would live here. I just knew it. After 2005 we would come here at least twice a year until we finally relocated here in 2013. We had moved our children to Canada and so it was our time to start a new chapter of our lives in Dubai.
But at the end of it all, as I said earlier, I believe it’s about your purpose. My faith tells me that everything has already been written and that we are to trust GOD to lead us to our various destinations on life’s journey. This is the same even in business. I’m into diverse sectors in business – oil and gas, telecoms, hospitality, and now fashion. To me, it’s all about understanding your purpose in the spaces you occupy and being people-focused every step of the way.
5. You set foot in Dubai. Talk to us about your journey to making the decision to venture in dining and entertainment? What inspired you to start KIZA Dubai and what has the journey been like for you so far?
I moved here 8 years ago to semi-retire. I arrived, played golf all over the UAE for 6 months, and became bored. So, I asked myself what was next, as I believed there had to be more to life. Before I started KIZA Dubai, I went ahead and formed a real estate brokerage firm. I’m big on lifestyle, I love beautiful things, houses, clothes and so I had connected with two gentlemen who had sold me pieces of real estate during a roadshow in Nigeria. I did this for 3 years after which we parted ways to explore different opportunities.
Unbeknownst to some, KIZA Dubai wasn’t originally formed by me. It was started by a childhood friend of mine who had been in Dubai well before me and started it because there was no place where Africans could go and have a good time in a space, they call their own. Nobody at the time knew much about African culture or music and so on when he moved here. I encouraged him to take it to the next level by moving it to a different location. That’s how KIZA Dubai ended moving from Oud Metha to DIFC. A year later my friend moved to Canada, and I took over the business fully.
There was a need and we decided to fill it. There was a need to create a place of our own where we could gather as Africans, tell our story, and have a great time, sharing our culture, beauty and diversity and energy with the rest of the 200+ nationalities based in the UAE. It’s been quite a journey as we have been able to tell our story and continue doing so; something of which I am incredibly proud of. But the main thing about KIZA Dubai isn’t so much the entertainment value of our venue, but the strong sense of community. It’s a safe space to get information, to connect with other Africans who are either living here or passing through. That’s in summary what the KIZA Dubai story is; it’s about community, food, and showcasing the best of African cultures and tastes.
6. So, if someone is new to Dubai, and has heard something about this place called KIZA Dubai, what is it that you have created at KIZA Dubai that you believe piques peoples curiosity on the destination?
Well, most of the time the best form of advertising is word of mouth. I’m sure somewhere somehow someone who has been to KIZA has shared a tale about their experience with someone else. In our marketing, we target a lot of pan-African groups but also do a lot by way of social media promotion, telling our story daily.
We don’t go after success; we go after value creation. We are constantly looking at ways we can improve on the guest experience by adding value to our patrons, and when we do this, there is a natural attraction towards our offer. I’m of the belief that people, and money will seek you out ONLY if you add value. KIZA Dubai is an experience as much as it is a dining and entertainment destination at a premium address. It warms my heart to see that many people have met in KIZA Dubai and gone on to get married, start families or partner in on business ventures together. This is simply amazing to me. That community piece is very much at work and it’s what keeps us growing from strength to strength.
7. Let’s circle back to Joe and his passion for creating legacy. You are currently in the process of rolling out a new luxury lifestyle brand to add to your portfolio of businesses. The brand BOWLER boasts an impressive product line which includes high fashion apparel, leather goods, accessories, and interior design services. Tell us a little about this new venture and what your clients can expect from interacting with this brand
BOWLER is one of my biggest business investments to date as we really aim to make a massive statement in the pan-African luxury lifestyle and high fashion space once we launch. There was no better city to set up our atelier, which is an expression of everything I believe in as it relates to the pursuit of excellence. Gone are the days of mediocrity, and we are seeing clients who set a premium in excellence in service and product design on account of their global exposure. As I said before, I love nice things and am a lover of lifestyle experiences that denote the essence of abundance and so BOWLER is an embodiment of my collective passions. Whether you are wearing a BOWLER suit or carrying one of our leather bags, we aim for you to make a statement. We look forward to being able to show our clients exactly what we mean in the coming weeks. Exciting things are getting ready to take place with the launch of BOWLER.
8. You mentioned earlier how mentorship and prodigy relationship are both elements you feel very strongly about, especially as it relates to building legacy and adding value to the lives of others. Talk to us about some of the things you are doing in this area.
Leadership is by example. Simply put, it’s what you do even when people are not watching and it’s about changing the narrative of how we are perceived. Unfortunately, there is a death in leadership in a lot of countries we come from which results in us having to deal with certain stigmas about us. I believe it is important for people, especially the younger generations, to not fall prey to the narratives that have long been peddled about themselves, whether from a nationality perspective or as Africans as a whole working hard to occupy global spaces. As Africans, we need to own the fact that we are people of excellence and so for me, I work hard to put that stamp of excellence in everything I do, encouraging others especially young people to do the same.
In terms of mentorship, I like to focus on the Gen Y and Gen Z. I’m from the Gen X raised by Baby Boomers and some of us are so set in our ways its difficult to change us. The Baby Boomers have done their part and the world has changed so much. Gen X are already set in their ways and don’t want to learn new things, while the Baby Boomers can give advice but some of it is quite archaic now.
For the Gen Y’s, I think their challenge is such that they grew up with limited support systems, so they often carry an inferiority complex, not by their fault but by the environment they grew up in. But when they see a bigger brother or sister doing something on a certain level, it gives them the audacity to give it a shot because they see possibilities. And so, I’m passionate about creating platforms to reach out to these generations so I can share nuggets from my experiences, and my truth, with the hopes that it will impact younger people.
9. How do you connect with the young people you encounter either locally or in other parts of the world if at all?
That’s the beauty of the internet, isn’t it? Once you put your message out there, it can connect with people from different parts of the world while soliciting different responses. I recently started dabbling with Tik Tok and am having fun sharing my day-to-day experiences and seeing what speaks to the younger people. Some people aren’t called for business. Some carry the ambitions of working for companies and doing well at it. I hope that through my messages and the platforms in which I’m a part, that they find nuggets that will be applicable to their pursuits and life goals. My message is really about the entrepreneurship journey, highlighting that running a business is the ability to bear pain for a long time and remain focused on the mandate. It’s important for my mentees to understand who they are in relation to their purpose as this will guide what they do and how they go about doing it.
10. What would you want Africans living in Dubai or those aspiring to live in Dubai to know about what it takes to make it in this Middle Eastern mecca?
If you look at the UAE, it’s a place of vision. The bar is set very high here so if you are coming from the private sector with ambitions to climb high on the corporate ladder, you’ll struggle if you don’t carry a fighter’s or winner’s mentality. In a nation where 200+ nationalities, reside, everyone is putting their best foot forward.
If you are an employee, you must understand the space you are coming into. Become a person of value and be aggressive about developing yourself. Understand the importance of practicing delayed gratification. I say this to our team of employees and the people I mentor – do not waste your time and money on frivolities and commodities that add no real value to your life. It is more about the content than the container. If you are average in disposition with solid content, you will be embraced here. Understand the industry in which you play and aim to be the best at what you do. Go in there with the aim to solve problems. Going into any environment and becoming recognized for your efforts is about understanding what the pain points are and where you are operating. Seek to become a problem solver.
Another thing that I believe is important to one’s success in Dubai, the greater UAE, or any other destination for that matter, is to have a clearly defined vision for yourself. Have a vision that’s so big that you’ll need your source. In my case, my completeness is in GOD as my source, and so I can’t separate myself from GOD for He is my source
The third point is to look for a mentor that is already doing. There are a lot of people saying they are coaches, but they have not done anything. Talk to someone who has failed, or gone without food, not because he’s fasting, but because he can’t afford it, and through the struggle, they have been able to figure out how to get out of the difficult times. Speak to people you can trace where they made their first bit of money from. Look for real people with credentials and be willing to learn, to grow, to be of value, invest in yourself, and aim higher for yourself. After all, you can only be taken seriously if you are serious about what you do.
Lastly, I’ll say one must understand the power of grace. Everything is about grace and appreciating the gift of life, the gift of breath. Appreciate that GOD is orchestrating things behind the scenes. Faith is like a radio. You can’t see the radio waves but when you tune in, you begin to hear the message! Lean on your faith in the good times and the tough times. The UAE has made successes and failures of many people, and this was all founded on the decisions they took and the mentality they carried along the way. It’s an environment that gives back what you put into it!
11. What does the notion of having an identity mean to you – as an individual and in business? What sort of habits do you think one must adopt as they build on their identity?
The talk about identity is multi-faceted. I feel like it’s important to understand agendas. Identity is who, what, and how you identify with something. Because I’ve entered the realm of the unusual, I find my identity in what GOD says about me. That was settled within me years ago, so in every space I enter, I come in with confidence in GOD and what He has placed in me. I’m a partaker of grace and that brings out the energy in me that allows me to achieve.
I also don’t get wrapped up in the low talk. If you are a Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods – you are simply good at what you do, so it doesn’t matter your background but rather what you bring to the table and how much time you spend building on your craft or developing your talent. It’s important that we always have the right perspective and motivation. We need to get it right, even as we dissect the notion of identity. We must steer away from entitlement and be willing to put in the work that will result in excellence and bring value to people, society, and our families. Let’s not get caught up with distractions but rather focus on our reasons for being here and how we can be people of impact.
12. Joe on travel across Africa. Which places in Africa would you one day want to visit?
Egypt – they say it’s the cradle of civilization. I want to see what sort of technology or mathematical deduction was needed to build the pyramids.
I’m hugely fascinated by Rwanda and its leadership. I think it takes a certain level of leadership style to achieve what they have despite the history they have experienced. Ethiopia is one of the only African countries that were never colonized. I’d be keen to understand how that has impacted their sense of pride and identity because of the fact – that they weren’t colonized.
13. Any last words from Joe Osawaye to our readers?
We must stop making excuses and understand we are playing against people in different parts of the world and landscapes, which means more is required from us. These are the same views I carry in business – ensuring that we do the work so we can stand out so that we are exemplary to each other as a team and to the customers who interact with us in business. Let’s be diligent about activating great ideas and being bold about shifting the African narrative, especially as Africans live in global environments.