Bukky George is the first recipient of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria Board of Fellow’s Award for Excellence in Community Pharmacy, and she did not get this recognition by sitting back in her armchair, sipping wine and chewing some nuts. It has been decades of hardwork, grit and tenacity.
Bukky was born in 1970 to Mr and Mrs Fajemirokun, in Lawanson, Lagos State. She describes herself as a ‘home-girl’ who spent her early years in the Surulere-Mushin axis. She was the ninth of thirty-six children her father had.
In a large family where there are no silver spoons to be shared around, education is usually not a guaranteed right and often the mothers must throw their weight behind their children. Bukky’s mother threw in her support, ensuring that she went to school.
After completing her secondary education at Queen’s College, Yaba in 1987, she got admitted into the University of Lagos to study Pharmacy and by 1992, she had graduated top of her class and bagged a B. Pharm. degree.
Bukky started getting industry experience from the point she interned with the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH). When it was time for her National Youth Service Corps stint, she was posted to GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Nigeria Plc. (then known as Smith Kline Beecham) where she served out the year in units like sales, production and quality control. Afterwards, she worked briefly with May and Baker Nigeria Plc. as a medical representative, before returning to GSK as a medical representative.
She majorly had to relate with clients and medical practitioners through presentations, exhibitions, as well as marketing, and George would later admit that this role equipped her with skills which would come in handy much later in her retail business. She put in the required work and won best sales representative several times.
According to her, “I loved organizing; I was enterprising, and always paid great attention to detail, which is some of the key success factors of a retailer.”
By the time she resigned in 1999, she had risen to the level of an Assistant Manager.
The early days of HealthPlus
After about four years of working, Bukky incorporated HealthPlus Limited in 1996, but it did not become fully functional until 1999 when she resigned from her job. George brought in the same diligence she had put into her job, determined to grow the small store in Ikeja to become an industry brand. HealthPlus retailed products ranging from medicine to nutritional supplements, home medical equipment, mobility aids and natural remedy products.
Many years after, and with several branches and hundreds of employees across Nigeria and Africa, George could nod her head at her successes. It was time to move on to the next challenge – Casabella.
Founding Casabella International
Bukky George incorporated and established Casabella International, a retail chain outfit, in 2008. The Casabella store focused on beauty and grooming products ranging from creams to soaps, fragrances, hair extensions, and the likes.
Speaking in an interview, George noted that her ability to focus on one sector accelerated her success. “You need focus. A lot of people don’t focus. I don’t do that, I run HealthPlus pharmacy, the sister company is called Casabella Beauty, so they are health and beauty, or let’s say pharmacy and beauty; they are both retail.”
With this advantage, it was easy for Casabella to ride on the success of HealthPlus, using the same manpower, processes and procedures without having to create a new structure, thus breaking even in record time.
Holding on to HealthPlus amid a takeover attempt
In 2020, some agents of Alta Semper Capital had made efforts to takeover the company when they appointed Chidi Okoro to take over the day-to-day operations of HealthPlus. That was not all. Alta Semper also terminated George’s position as CEO.
Alta Semper, in a press release issued in September 2020, stated, “The decision to remove Mrs. Bukky George was made in full compliance with Nigerian laws, and follows a long and drawn-out process of engagement,” through which the Board sought to address multiple issues with the way the company was being managed. Despite removing Bukky George as CEO, she remains a director of the company.
“This is necessary for the benefit of all stakeholders and as a result, the majority of the Board of Directors of the Company determined that a change of leadership was required, if HealthPlus was to achieve its strategic goals, and the former CEO’s appointment was terminated in accordance with its terms.”
But George described the incident as a fallout of a failed business collaboration between Alta Semper Capital and HealthPlus, which she was riddled with delayed funding, breached agreements, unmet expectations, dwindling inventory and more.
Her words, “The investment into HealthPlus was meant to enable the company capture the pent-up demand for high-quality yet affordable medicines, healthcare products and beauty supplies, to rapidly expand the company’s footprint across Nigeria, establish a distribution centre, develop B2B channels and e-commerce. Alta Semper Capital undertook to commit USD18 million into HealthPlus whilst retaining me as CEO.
“It was the handiwork of unscrupulous foreign, local businesswomen, and businessmen’s intent on reaping where they have not sown, simply because they now see opportunities from the COVID-19 pandemic, like scavengers and vultures. Health Plus ran into “troubled waters primarily,” because Alta Semper failed to take over the company, thus starving it of funds required to operate.
Other interests and positions
George has a Master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA) from the Lagos Business School and is an alumnus of the Harvard Business School too. She is registered with the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria, Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, and general Pharmaceutical Council U.K.
Bukky George sits on the boards of several companies including the Sanofi Pharmacy Advisory Board where she is Chairman, and Women in Management and Business (WIMBIZ) where she is an Associate Member. She is a member of the Pharma Strategic Committee, a body that oversees the affairs of the Nigerian Pharmaceutical industry.
She has delivered lectures to different audiences (both religious and entrepreneurial). In 2012, she was invited as a panellist to the IFC Euro Week in Frankfurt, Germany. George was also selected for the Fortune 500 Global Women’s Mentoring Program in 2014.
Bukky George was selected as one of the 23 leaders from 18 emerging economies to participate in the 2014 Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women’s Mentoring program. In the same month, she joined the President, World Bank Group; CEO, The Goldman Sachs Group; and CEO, IFC on a panel to discuss Access to Capital for Women Entrepreneurs and the signing of The Women Entrepreneurs Opportunity Facility- the first-ever global finance facility dedicated exclusively to women-owned small and medium-sized enterprises. She has also served as the Chairman of the selection committee for the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Entrepreneurship Programme at EDC.
Awards and recognitions
Bukky George has won the Harvard Business School Association of Nigeria (HBSAN) Leadership Awards for the Entrepreneurship Category. She has also won Woman Entrepreneur of the Year (Access Bank); Finalist, EY Entrepreneur of the Year; and Finalist in the Business Woman of the Year Category of the CNBC All African Business Leaders Awards.