INTERVIEW WITH STANLEY EVANS MBE
Stanley Evans MBE is the chair of the British Business Group. He is a supporter of British businesses and has made significant contribution to British businesses in West Africa, India and Europe. In recognition of his efforts, he was awarded an MBE in the Queen's New Year's Honours. Stanley Evans started from humble beginnings and through hard work achieved success. He also loves acting and has put his talents to good use in Bollywood and Nollywood.
In this interview, he tells us more about his role as chair of the British Business Group, its future and his involvement in Nollywood.
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Q1. Hi Stan, can you tell me about you and how it all started?
I probably don’t sound like it, but when I was six, I couldn’t go to school because I had no shoes and we were so poor. It was winter and I had grown out of my shoes. I was home for six weeks. We just didn’t have any money for shoes. There were six kids - a family of eight in three bedrooms.
My dad went to school at the age of eight and left school at twelve. And then he worked down a coal mine. My mother's mother died when she was five years old. She was taken to Dublin in Ireland and given to her mother’s sister, who already had sixteen children. Both of my parents came to Welwyn Garden City in England and got a council house. My mother saw her two daughters die of diphtheria.
I went to Heronswood School, a comprehensive school in Welwyn Garden City. In my final two years there, I joined the Drama Club. When I left school, I carried on with the Drama Club in the evenings. Altogether, 4 years of drama training, character acting and a bit of Shakespeare. Two months after my fifteenth birthday, I had to leave school to work in a factory. We had no money, so I just couldn’t stay in school. My other brother left school at the age of fourteen. I went to night school for seven years and I converted my job to an apprenticeship in Medical Electronics. I ended up designing Cardiac output computers. I then did A levels in English, French and General Sciences.
We were Irish Catholics. I was brought up in a trilingual household. My father didn’t speak English till he was 19 years old. And believe it or not, he was born in 1908. His first language was Gog Welsh, however he also spoke standard Welsh, as well as Argentinian Welsh. My mother spoke Irish Gaelic, until she went to school. So I learnt a little bit of those languages. And I learnt Hindi when I was in India. I can also switch accents. So for the film, 'Boomerang' that I did a few weeks ago, I spoke with a German accent. When I was in India, we had a huge seminar for 70 business groups; I did a voice over in a documentary for the Asia British Business Group. I also did the voice over for a character in the Indian movie ‘Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey’. I did more voice overs in a couple of commercials. I was doing voiceovers in the UK for Capital Radio and GWR in Bristol.
So there we are.
Q2. When did you move to Nigeria, how long ago was it?
I was headhunted by Suzuki manufacturing as their Commercial Director. There’s an old Suzuki factory in Nigeria. I came over and we set up a spinoff company. This is my sixth year and prior to that, I was in India for 7 years running Porsche cars.
Q3. Can you tell me a little bit more about your affiliation with the British Business Group and the other groups?
I head up the British Business Group (BBG), which I started 12 years ago in India. Here in Nigeria, it had been closed by the deputy High Commissioner. I resurrected it and have grown it to 900 members. We have lots of interesting things taking place. The committee, under our constitution, has to consist of a gender mix of 50-50. I will be stepping down. I’m proposing my successor is Dr Ama, a black Nigerian British female. It would be the first time since the 70s that the BBG have had a female and someone of mixed race. This is fantastic.
The Movie Development Group includes directors, actors and an investor. I’m building and developing it.
Q4. How many members are in BBG in Nigeria/globally?
Physically on the ground, we’ve probably got three or four hundred. But then, there’s the diaspora and the highest percentage of these are British Nigerians. We’ve got a membership that ethnically reflects the eclectic mix of UK contemporary society. We have Asian British, lots of Nigerian British and of course lots of females, young females, middle aged females etcetera, which is great.
Q5. Are there any specific requirements for joining the BBG?
You are an automatic member if you are a British passport holder. And the second ability to join is if you are running a British company or if you are a Nigerian company in Britain, so you’re a senior of a company. One example, is someone who is not British, but is a major supplier of medical equipment from the UK. There’s another guy, who is running a company that is using fintech for block chain management. We also have a woman, who is a new member and is a senior of a huge British pharmaceuticals company. So, it is reasonably easy to join if you’re within these criteria.
The beauty of it is, there is no charge. It’s free to join. You do have to pay for your food, when you come for our meetings. We have one meeting a month and the cost of food or ‘small chops’ is five or four thousand Naira. If you compare us with the other two organisations, the Nigeria Britain Association (NBA) or the Nigerian British Chamber of Commerce (NBCC), some of their charges are millions of Naira a year.
Our expansion and growth is as a direct result of my personal networking. I am a bit of an extrovert and tend to mix with people. So that’s why it has worked. We’ve had some very nice speakers at our meetings, such as Rotimi Amaechi, who is the Minister of Transport and Dr Sola. We also have one virtual meeting on a subject each month.
Q6. Do you have to live in Nigeria to be a part of the BBG?
There’s one member, he’s just landed. His wife’s a member as well. He has a company that sells gas generators here. He has just come over, because there’s a contract going for gas generators. This is brilliant news because as you’re probably aware, Nigeria has more generators to generate power than all of the other African countries put together. The contribution to CO2, global warming emissions is dire. Gas generators are hugely clean compared to it. I am something of an environmentalist.
Q7. What are the perks of being a member of the BBG? Are there investment and partnership opportunities?
I consult with companies going into India and I launched Porsche there. A few months ago, I launched McLaren cars, which is big. I’m now launching the last of the major British sports car manufacturers there and signed a Non disclosure, so I can’t speak about it. I also launched Mace, a construction company here. I launched a couple of companies and I’m consulting for three other companies on marketing and search engine optimisation (SEO). I used to design computers and originally qualified in computer technology. I’m pretty busy. I’ve got effectively four jobs as well as being a Commercial Director of this truck factory, which I’ve just left. And also, I do after dinner speaking. So I’m busy 24-7.
A few weeks ago, the NBCC had repeatedly asked me to attend one of their meetings. This meeting was on technology for young people. I agreed to participate in the Q&A part of the meeting. During the meeting, they never once mentioned Britain. The day before, I met with the new Minister for Africa, the deputy High Commissioner and all of the CEOs of all the companies. I even had breakfast with Boris Johnson’s Minister for Africa. She spoke to us about the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC), which is the investment arm of the UK government, the Department for International Trade (DIT) and the UK export finance. All of them are desperate to do business here. So we really do focus on Nigeria and want to help this country. The help that’s there is available to anybody.
They had four panelists at the NBCC meeting in a room filled with young people who wanted to get into the tech sector. However, they never mentioned the UK, they never mentioned Britain, not once. The CDC and the UK export finance would fund technology, as long as it’s 20% UK content. Information like this should have been shared with all the young people at this meeting.
The NBCC didn’t know that the CBC and UK export finance would fund technology with 20% UK content. Now we are totally switched on.
So what benefits does somebody get?
The benefits are the interactions with all of the sectors. If you want something done or you want to meet somebody, I’ve got over a thousand names in my phone. I’ve got their telephone numbers, I’ve got their job roles. Today, I’ve had three people contact me because they want to do various things. Yesterday, I had six. As we’re talking, I’ve got some people coming through now. And I do it all for free, completely for free.
So the benefit you get is the network that you couldn’t buy. You cannot buy the network.
Q8. You said you're stepping down, is that just from the BBG? Or will you be returning to the UK?
No. I will still be here at least for another two years for various reasons. One reason is my other business interests. The second is that I’ll need to go over to launch this other brand in India at some point.
I was offered the role of setting up Bentley in three major cities in Saudi Arabia. I was going to be paid enough money over a three year contract to retire on. I refused and decided to stay on because of the BBG. I know because I don’t charge, that what I do for the BBG members if they went through the NBCC, they’d be paying.
I don’t charge. I don’t get rewarded.
Having said that, I was awarded an MBE for services to British industry. For the MBE ceremony, because of Covid, I could only take one daughter even though I have three daughters. They said if you have it presented by the Lord Lieutenant of Northampton, which is where my home is, we will invite you and three guests to a royal garden party. So I spoke to my daughters and they said I should go for it. I then spoke to Ben Llewellyn-Jones OBE. And he said he would do it. He said I could have sixty guests and that he would pay for everything. So we had a formal handover and it was in the house on the grounds of the deputy high commission. One of my daughters flew over with her husband to be there. I had all my friends in attendance and it was amazing. My daughter was crying, some of my friends were crying, even the men were crying.
Q9. This brings me to my next question, what's your motivation for the BBG, particularly as you do it all for free?
So I sit here running the British Business Group because I wanted to pay back to the UK for what it did for me. Before I left the UK in 2008, I was a Commercial Director for a Japanese company. I was running their car division, all of the car dealerships. I had over a thousand employees. When I got my first pay cheque, I had hit the big tax bracket at 18% national insurance. This meant that my deductions were 52%. So I got the cheque and framed it. Someone saw it and asked why I framed it? They couldn’t believe that I took home less than half of what I had earned. They also wanted to know why I had it framed. I said it was because that money was paying under-privileged children, paying for their lives and their guidance. And I was so proud of that.
I have been a UK taxpayer ever since. I still pay taxes in the UK. I make a tax return every year and pay taxes.
The High Commissioner read that out as well as other information he got from my daughter. So people were crying, then I started to cry and I couldn’t give my speech. So I said thank you everybody.
There’s an inspirational story.
Q10. Now, we get to Nollywood, what got you into Nollywood, was it by chance or your love for acting?
My first film was Foreigner’s God, a film by Ifan Ifeanyi Michael. Somebody asked me if I wanted to play an army officer in a film. They wanted someone who could act. It was a long day on set with people arriving late. We filmed all day, right up to 5am the next morning. Filming was at the old 1930s secretariat building. And of course, unlike Bollywood, they generally have only one camera or two cameras. So you’re shooting this film from all the angles, whereas in India, they’d always have three or four cameras. This is the same in Hollywood because money is unlimited. Here in Nigeria, it’s generally privately funded and on a tight budget.
Q11. I'm interested in knowing your thoughts on the future of Nollywood?
In terms of professionalism, certainly with my last film, which was Ehis Godwin Ehingbiramolen’s ‘Boomerang’, with Ifan Ifeanyi Michael’s ‘Foreigner’s God’ and with Imoh Umoren’s ‘The Herbert Macaulay Affair', you’re on a level professionalism that’s at the highest level. It’s really excellent directorial control and production.
On 'Boomerang', the way they maintained continuity was phenomenal. Even to the point that they photographed my feet, photographed my shoes. It was meticulous. Absolutely meticulous.
I don’t know what Nollywood was like five or ten years ago, as I’ve been doing it for three years. I have nothing but positive comments. As I’ve said, sometimes, because it’s on a personal budget, some of the director’s funding is limited to one camera on set. We had three cameras on the set of 'Boomerang'. It was amazing.
Q12. You mentioned Bollywood having access to funding, how are they able to get funding and what can Nollywood do to attract more investment?
So the big thing in Bollywood is that it’s got huge corporations that invest in it. The stars are almost gods there. So there's replication and repeat of copies of films. Licensing there is clean and clear, so the films can be licensed and anybody knows they can show it. Here in Nollywood, it’s difficult to get clean licenses and trust somebody with it. The trust element in India is impeccable, absolutely impeccable. The business ethics there, is as good as Europe. And part of that is the religion there, which gives this ethos of trust - that’s the first factor. The second factor is that because it’s established, it’s now supported by Hollywood. So if you look at some of the Hollywood movies, there’s always a minimum of one Indian in it. In some of the Bollywood films, they also reciprocate, they will have an American element. That’s starting to become more prevalent.
To an extent, the film industry in Nollywood is still in the infancy stages and it will eventually change. I’m sure of it with this Movie Development Group I’m creating. I'm going to try to take it forward as I did with the BBG. I want it to work here and I will help people on it. I’m sure with the passage of time, it will change. We’re probably two, three years away from that happening. Ethiopian airways were the ones that broke the ice, got licensed Nollywood films on the planes. Prior to that, one of the other airlines was getting stolen Nollywood films and pretending they had licensed them. So it’s trust, a lot of it is trust that stops it. Directors are also an emotional bunch as we know, but the directorial control is top draw, absolutely top draw.
Thank you very much for speaking to Gidi Box Office.
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