Over the last 15 years, former Miss Lux, Mrs. Helen Ibidunni Ighodalo (nee Ajayi), has no doubt dominated the events management and decoration business in Nigeria, especially in Lagos and Abuja, the federal capital territory. Her entry into that space really changed the headlines.
For instance, everyone is still talking about the 15 amazing days of great discounts and wonderful giveaways she instituted to push the boat out at that landmark. Mrs. Ighodalo’s fame as an events manager is awesome, if not legendary. A former beauty queen, she deploys an amazing precision and attention to detail that results in the complete transformation of any open space into a spectacular setting. The narrative behind her foray into the events management sphere will make a good read any time and any day, and this is a fact that can be verified from her past works. It all started while she was waiting to gain admission into the University of Lagos to study Medicine. This was her father’s choice, and being that she loved her sire very well, she also fell in love with the medical sciences. But unknown to her, providence had charted another course for her. Due to an inexplicable error, Helen’s admission letter to study medicine was somehow mixed up, and sent to someone else, all to her dismay and disenchantment. No amount of tears could reverse the human error. The young teen, then, was left with no choice than to study another science-related course. This, in a way, made her ambivalent on what career to pursue. Each day, she came up with one career or the other; “I want to be a pilot,” she would cry to her husband, Pastor Ituah Ighodalo, the next day, she was thinking of becoming an engineer. At a point, she gave up on her indecisiveness. While still in school, then Helen Ajayi, participated in a beauty contest that did not require her to wear a bikini, which she eventually won. That was the beginning of a new stage in her life.
“I was based on a salary, despite the little perks that came along with my reign. From the monies paid, I saw myself through university. There was always a holiday job for me, which helped my finances. It was during a particular holiday job in an oil-servicing company that God pushed me to the direction of my purpose. I was a receptionist there, but somehow I was given the responsibility to organize the company’s social events. From luncheons to birthday parties, I was in control of the functions and events. I had no experience, but I was able to add one and one together and delivered well.”
Her innate talents and inherent efficiency were so admired that when she was about going for the National Youth Service, her boss gave her a blank cheque to fill in any figure.
“I never expected this. I was so shocked I didn’t know what to do. It was so generous of him. At the same time, I didn’t know what to do? What figure should I write? I asked my colleagues and they suggested I write a sum in six digits. Something inside stopped me from doing that. I went home with the cheque and came back the following day. I went directly to see my boss and thanked for his munificence and generosity, but insisted that he write down whatever sum that came from his mind.”
With monies received, she bought a piece of land. Years later, fate crossed their paths together again. The boss’ mother passed on, and he (the former boss) wanted her to take care of the burial ceremonies. From the band to the decoration, he blindly trusted her with such a huge task. From that single task, Helen Ighodalo built an enviable client base. From thence, through referrals, her fledgling outfit, Elizabeth R, became one of the most sought-after events management companies in Nigeria. Over the years, the company has positioned itself to provide total and complete events management services - from start to finish; including logistics, decorations, media coverage, entertainment and catering. As a testimony to her astuteness, there is The Dorchester, a 3000-capacity events hall in the upscale Oniru area of Lagos Island. A pacesetter with a penchant for excellence, the Elizabeth R headquarters has become one of the most beautiful landmarks on Awolowo Road in Ikoyi, Lagos. It is almost impossible for anyone to pass by and not give it a long curious stare. The exterior, which is done in marble, accentuates the design and architecture. On the ground floor is the recently-opened gift shop which made an impressive showing and spectacle, during the last Valentine season. This was because it offered rare and very attractive pieces, and it sold out, even to the surprise of Helen Ighodalo herself. The first floor houses the different departments in the company, a conference room and the office of the CEO. As many do not go beyond the welcome-and-greeting area, the eye-pleasing, soft-furnishing there combines with the artistic presentation of a bowing mannequin to convey a strong message of warmth and willingness to serve. The top floor is dedicated to the bridal store called Avant Garde, which stocks some of the most exquisite designs for a most memorable wedding. Helen Ighodalo hinted on the possibility, very soon, of an official opening of the building, which is even still taking a new lease of life.
“That is why we moved it to the present location on its 15thanniversary. I was in my 20s when we started this company. I knew what I wanted, but I could not guess we would come this far and make such an impact in the industry and in the lives of many people. I am very happy to see the number of people who used to work here but have since moved on to do their own thing. That, undoubtedly, is our greatest achievement in 15 years. I must however add the fact that we still keep a warm relationship with all of them. We are like a family. We plan on being here for a long time. It would be nice to have an official opening, but it has to be well-done and at a time all my valued guests and clients can attend. That is the challenge. Again, we are very busy.”
Certain things remain the same in the events management equation. This is particularly so for Elizabeth R. Helen Ighodalo likes to think that even if its logo and other marks of identity are completely removed from a particular decorated space, many will still guess correctly whose job it is.