Morenike Molehin is the founder and creative director of Oak and Teak, a full-service interior design firm. She obtained her first degree in Industrial Mathematics from Covenant University and her second degree in Financial Mathematics and Computing from the University of Leicester, UK.
For the past eight years, Molehin has successfully positioned Oak and Teak as a leading interior design firm. As part of her nation-building contributions, she has given free workshops, trained over 100 people in the interior design business, received entrepreneurial nominations and awards, and is a frequent speaker at entrepreneurship and empowerment workshops.
Molehin is also the founder of The Complete Woman, a ministry that equips young women to fulfill their mission and serves as a co-pastor at the Church of God’s Redemption Christ. Through the Oakandteak Foundation, she focuses on making an impact in healthcare and education.
In an interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she shares her entrepreneurial journey and her passion for empowerment
Share your career journey with us?
As I often say, I started my interior design journey by coincidence about nine years ago. I just got married and our apartment was sparsely furnished with only a few basic and functional items. However, as our finances gradually improved, I decided to enhance the look and feel of our home by decorating key areas such as the living room, dining area and visitor toilet.
Surprisingly, whenever we host guests, they usually rave about the beauty of our home, despite the fact that I didn’t spend that much on what now appears to be my first renovation project. After hearing this repetitive and increasingly predictable feedback, my husband strongly encouraged me to consider turning this hobby of decorating our home into a sustainable business. I thought about it and did some basic research into the industry of interior design and finally realized that I would love this career.
With little to no experience, I started a rigorous process of self-learning interior design techniques by watching a few YouTube videos and reading a few interior design-related articles. Armed with this knowledge, I started my interior design business. Nine years later, I am grateful for this journey. Since then, I have taken international interior design courses to deepen my knowledge of the profession.
You have a math background, how easy is it to switch to interior design?
I firmly believe that what a person studies at university is not the only determinant of his/her best-fit career. My point is that a college education is fundamentally the basis for being able to solve and solve complex problems. As such, my Industrial Mathematics and Financial Mathematics degrees did not limit my career options in any way; rather, they provided me with the foundation for a variety of career and entrepreneurial options.
My original plan was to work in a financial institution, however, after a short internship in banking, I realized that this was not the career for me. So, my first job was as a business analyst at a homegrown consulting firm. I then changed jobs and worked as an operations manager for an Agro-Allied company. It was while I was working with this company that I started my interior business “on the side”. I’ve been doing this — working 8 to 5 and running my business on weekends for about four years.
However, in January 2017, I was having a hard time balancing paid work with my internal business. It was at this point that I made an important decision to leave paid work and focus on expanding the oak and teak interior to the heights I knew it could reach.
Share with us your upbringing and how it affected your character today?
I grew up in a very loving, supportive and overall positive environment – an environment where respect, kindness and generosity are normal. My parents provide their children with all the support they need to achieve whatever goals they want to achieve. I believe this fundamentally affects my attitude towards the world around me and even the way I conduct business.
For example, growing up in an environment that required genuine kindness to others, I usually use this approach with clients and colleagues at work. I believe everyone deserves dignity and respect. It is for this reason that excellent customer service is a strategic focus of our Oak and Teak business. I think if you treat your customers well, they will treat you well (at least in most cases).
Your foundation is focused on making an impact in the fields of health and education, how did you achieve this?
One of the corporate philosophies embodied in our business is to use a portion of our revenue to add value to the societies in which we operate. This is what we seek to achieve through the Oak and Teak Foundation established last May. The foundation was established to upgrade selected infrastructure and overall atmosphere of Nigeria’s public healthcare and education sectors. My experience in the interior design industry has taught me that the look of the environment people live and work in can greatly affect how they feel. In addition to impacting how people feel, our foundation works to equip hospitals and schools with the tools they need to deliver the best possible service.
In 2021, we promised to implement 5 key projects in 2 hospitals and 3 schools. I am happy to say that all projects are on track for completion in 2021. In addition to free refurbishment of the space, we have installed various items such as hospital beds, library shelves, books and more. We aim to do this continuously as part of our contribution to enabling positive change in these key areas.
Your initiative, Whole Woman, what is the idea behind it?
In simple terms, complete women have been established to equip young women to fulfill their destiny. The network consists of approximately 2,000 women of various backgrounds. The ways to equip these young women are mentoring programs and meetings. Areas of focus are spirituality, family and relationships, career and business, finance and investing, personal development and philanthropy.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
Challenges are part of life; so whenever challenges arise, I usually approach them with a positive mindset. Someone once said, “A challenge is an opportunity for (positive) change”. This shows that whenever you face a challenge, it’s also an opportunity to make positive changes. So whenever I encounter any challenge, I ask myself how I can deal with it effectively.
Sometimes, in order to solve a challenge, I may have to use my network of friends and family for support. There is a saying that your network is your net worth. I realize that no matter what problem you are facing, there will always be someone in your network who has experienced something similar. Therefore, I strive to use my network to effectively meet the challenges.
What should women do differently to stand out and sit at the same table as you?
Honestly, I think this generation of women has done an amazing job. They are braver, more enterprising, and more educated. More and more women know what they want. If I were to give any advice, it would be that they should believe in their dreams while recognizing their value to the world as a whole. We don’t need permission to sit at the table, and when we feel the table is too small for us, we build our own.
Many women have put off their careers because of family life or the insecurities of their male counterparts, how would you advise them?
This question is delicate. It’s worth noting that not all women necessarily want to be CEOs or executives. Some women just like to focus only on their family and they get their joy out of it. At the end of the day, what really matters is that we are all able to do what we know is right and pleasant for us. Don’t do it just because others are doing it, or because society says it’s always been. Ask yourself the key question “What do I really want?” Once a woman can answer that question honestly, I think she’s taken her first step toward greatness.
For unmarried ladies, try to marry a man who will make your wishes come true—whether it’s to be a CEO, a career executive, or even a stay-at-home mom.
What is your life mantra?
Everything works together for my benefit.