Bukky George: The Woman Who Built HealthPlus, Nigeria’s Fastest Growing Pharmacy Chain
Bukky George is the first recipient of the Community Pharmacy Excellence Award from the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria Board of Fellow, and she achieved this recognition by sitting in her chair, sipping wine and chewing nuts . It has been decades of hard work, courage and tenacity.
Bukky was born in 1970 to Mr. and Mrs. Fajemirokun, in Lawanson, Lagos State. She describes herself as a “homemaker” who spent her early years in the Surulere-Mushin axis. She was the ninth of her father’s thirty-six children.
In a large family where there are no silver spoons to share, education is usually not a guaranteed right and often mothers have to weigh in on their children. Bukky’s mother was supportive, making sure she went to school.
After completing her secondary education at Queen’s College, Yaba in 1987, she was admitted to the University of Lagos to study Pharmacy and by 1992 she had graduated at the top of her class and obtained a B.Pharm. diploma.
Bukky started gaining experience in the industry from when she completed an internship at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH). At the time of her stint in the National Youth Service Corps, she was assigned to GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Nigeria Plc. (then known as Smith Kline Beecham) where she served year-round in units such as sales, production and quality control. Then she worked briefly with May and Baker Nigeria Plc. as a medical representative, before returning to GSK as a medical representative.
She primarily had to communicate with customers and doctors through presentations, exhibitions as well as marketing, and George would later admit that this role equipped her with skills that would come in handy much later in her retail business. . She did the required job and won the best sales representative award several times.
According to her, “I loved organizing; I was enterprising and always paid great attention to detail, which is one of the key success factors for a retailer.
By the time she resigned in 1999, she had reached the level of executive assistant.
The beginnings of HealthPlus
After about four years of work, Bukky incorporated HealthPlus Limited in 1996, but it only became fully functional in 1999 when she resigned from her job. George brought the same diligence she had put into her work, determined to grow Ikeja’s little shop into an industry brand. HealthPlus retailed products ranging from drugs to nutritional supplements, home medical equipment, mobility aids and natural remedy products.
Many years later, and with several branches and hundreds of employees across Nigeria and Africa, George could nod to his successes. It was time to move on to the next challenge – Casabella.
Creation of Casabella International
Bukky George incorporated and established Casabella International, a chain of retail stores, in 2008. The Casabella store focused on beauty and care products ranging from creams to soaps, perfumes, hair extensions, etc.
Speaking in an interview, George noted that his ability to focus on one industry accelerated his 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 it’s health and beauty, or let’s say pharmacy and beauty; they are both retailed.
With this advantage, it was easy for Casabella to ride on the success of HealthPlus, using the same workforce, the same processes and procedures without having to create a new structure, thus reaching the break-even point in record time. .
Retaining HealthPlus as part of a takeover attempt
In 2020, some Alta Semper Capital officers had made efforts to take over the business 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 published in September 2020, said: “The decision to remove Ms Bukky George was taken in full compliance with Nigerian laws and follows a long and drawn out process of engagement”, whereby the Board sought to address multiple issues relating to the management of the company. Despite the removal of 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 Company’s Board of Directors has determined that a change in management is required, if HealthPlus is to achieve its strategic objectives, and the appointment of the former CEO has been terminated in accordance with its terms.”
But George described the incident as the fallout from a failed business collaboration between Alta Semper Capital and HealthPlus, which it was riddled with funding delays, broken deals, unmet expectations, dwindling inventory and more.
His words, “The investment in HealthPlus was aimed at enabling the company to capture pent-up demand for high quality yet affordable medicines, health products and beauty products, rapidly expanding the company’s footprint across Nigeria , establish a distribution center, develop B2B and e-Commerce channels. Alta Semper Capital has pledged to commit $18 million to HealthPlus while retaining me as CEO.
“It was the work of unscrupulous foreign and local businesswomen and the intention of businessmen to reap where they did not sow, simply because they now see the opportunities of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as scavengers and vultures. Health Plus met “Troubled Waters Mainly”, because Alta Semper failed to take over the company, thus depriving it of the funds necessary for its operation.
Other interests and duties
George holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Lagos Business School and is also an alumnus of Harvard Business School. She is registered with the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain and the General Pharmaceutical Council UK.
Bukky George sits on the boards of several companies, including the Sanofi Pharmacy Advisory Board, of which she is Chairman, and Women in Management and Business (WIMBIZ), of which she is an associate member. She is a member of the Pharmaceutical Strategy Committee, a body that oversees the affairs of the Nigerian pharmaceutical industry.
She has given lectures to different audiences (religious and entrepreneurs). In 2012, she was invited as a panelist at IFC Euro Week in Frankfurt, Germany. George was also selected for the Fortune 500 Global Women’s Mentorship Program in 2014.
Bukky George was selected as one of 23 leaders from 18 emerging economies to participate in the 2014 Fortune/US State Department Global Women’s Mentorship Program. In the same month, she joined the President of the World Bank Group; CEO, The Goldman Sachs Group; and CEO of IFC during a panel to discuss access to capital for women entrepreneurs and the signing of the Women Entrepreneurs Opportunity Facility – the first-ever global financing facility dedicated exclusively to women-owned small and medium-sized enterprises . She was also chair of the selection committee for the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Entrepreneurship program at EDC.
Awards and Recognition
Bukky George has won the Harvard Business School Association of Nigeria (HBSAN) Leadership Awards in the Entrepreneurship category. She also won Women Entrepreneur of the Year (Access Bank); Finalist, EY Entrepreneur of the Year; and finalist in the Businesswoman of the Year category of the CNBC All African Business Leaders Awards.