The story about the development of women entrepreneurship in Nigeria would be incomplete without mentioning Mary Nzimiro who started as a petty trader and worked her way up to become a renowned merchant and principal agent of the UAC for the whole eastern region of the country. The rise and rise of Mary Nzimiro would inspire you to boldly chase your dreams.
Mary Nzimiro was born on October 16, 1898, in Oguta community, Imo state, Nigeria. She is the first of six children. Her parents were Chief David Onumonu Uzoaru and Mrs Ruth Nwanyiafor Onumonu, while her father was appointed a Warrant Chief, her mother was a well-known palm produce trader. Mary’s mother paved the way for her to become an intelligent businesswoman. Mary’s parents were goal-oriented and were one of the first families to build a two-storey building in the late 1910s.
Mary attended the first primary school in her hometown, the Sacred Heart Primary School. She then went on to St. Joseph’s Girls’ Convent in Asaba, and graduated in 1920. By the following year, she had started trading in palm oil, salt and European merchandise. Basically, the entrepreneur in her saw a number of opportunities in the colonial period.
Mary Nzimiro’s husband worked for UAC in Port Harcourt, as a clerk, and later rose to become a manager. Mary added textiles and cosmetics to her items of trade. She was first a retailer before growing into a wholesale trader and then direct importation of goods. Seeing that trading was a more lucrative business than his job, Mary’s husband retired from UAC and joined his wife in her business. Her trading business expanded with her owning several shops in Port Harcourt, Onitsha and Aba.
Business growth and expansion:
Although she sold different goods, Mary’s major moneymaker was textiles. She was known for Indian Madras, damask velveteen, etc. In fact, she controlled the textile trade in southeastern Nigeria. She also delved into manufacturing men’s undershirts which led to the birth of Nzimiro Industries Limited. As a result of her strong business, she became an agent of the UAC, becoming the company’s main representative for Nigeria’s Eastern Region in 1948.
With profits pouring in from her business, she was able to acquire plots of land, houses and other properties. In addition, she owned several Companies’ shares, stocks and bonds as well as exotic cars such as Jaguar, BMW, Range Rover, Peugeot wagons, and trucks. She opened two petrol stations, one with Agip in Port Harcourt, and the other with Total in Lagos. Mary Nzimiro became one the richest individuals in West Africa with several assets.
Mary Nzimiro supported many in various ways. She gave money, helped clear debts and built needed facilities. Mary and her husband in 1949, established the first secondary school in Oguta community called “William Wilberforce College.” It was later renamed Priscilla Memorial Grammar School in memory of her daughter Priscilla Nzimiro who died shortly after graduating in medicine from the University of Glasgow. In 1966, after her husband’s demise, she established the Nzimiro Memorial Girls Secondary School as a way to contribute to girl child education.
Mary Nzimiro died at the age of 94 on January 16 1993 in Oguta, Imo State Nigeria.