By Lenore T. Adkins, Special to the AFRO
When Emmanuel Irono moved to the United States from Nigeria in the 1980s to attend Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina, he dreamed of working as a banker at a premier financial institution. Instead, Irono found himself cleaning the school’s dining hall and a local Burger King at night to put himself through school and support his extended family in Nigeria after his parents died.
It was that experience, the values instilled by his parents and his business sense that inspired Irono to earn his MBA from Morgan State University, and in 1994, buy out a two-person cleaning operation for $10,000. He named the enterprise Motir Services Inc. – “Motir” being an acronym honoring his late parents and means Memory of Theresa Irono Romanus.
Emmanuel Irono was honored by the Capital Region Minority Supplier Development Council as a 2018 Top 100 Minority Business Enterprises winner. (Photo courtesy of Motir Services Inc.)
Today Motir, located in Northeast D.C., is a multimillion-dollar company with 300 employees and a second office in Prince George’s County. It offers a range of contract services beyond cleaning such as facility management, consulting, IT, construction, and medical staffing. Motir’s clients include municipal, state, and federal agencies as well as commercial enterprises.
“I didn’t know that after I finished my MBA that I was going to be a janitor,” joked Irono, the company’s founder and chief executive officer. “That’s a coincidence, but I like it though.”
In October, the Capital Region Minority Supplier Development Council named Irono, 54, a 2018 Top 100 Minority Business Enterprises winner for his success at Motir and the Motir’s nonprofit charitable arm, To Inspire Strong (TIS) – his wife, Ogechukwu (Ogay) Irono, serves as its president.
TIS’ African Children’s Fund feeds the hungry and supplies education tools to rural school children while providing youth entrepreneurship training and running an AIDS Awareness Program.
In the United States, TIS holds an annual turkey drive in Southeast D.C., mentors local children and sponsors a basketball team for low-income children living in Wards 7 and 8 – Emmanuel Irono formed TIS at the same time he was starting his company.
The development council’s award recognizes business owners of color in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia who have shown “exceptional entrepreneurial accomplishments and made substantial contributions to their communities.”
“Our board of directors and our corporate members congratulate the 2018 Top 100 MBEs on their stellar accomplishments,” Sharon R. Pinder, the development council’s president and CEO said in a statement. “We are proud to add this year’s class of winners to our circle of leadership.”
Irono said the award means a lot to him and his staff, as he is not driven by profit, but by what impact his company has on others. The most important thing for him after he earned his master’s degree was finding a way to help people by creating other opportunities, he said.
“The things that we set out to do, finally we are being given compliments and it shows the kind of company we are,” Irono said. “We’re a company of compassion and social entrepreneurship.”
Irono says his parents died of natural causes in Nigeria shortly after he finished high school and was making plans to move to the United States. He grew up poor in a tiny town in eastern Nigeria, the eldest son of nine children.
His parents’ death showed Irono regardless of what happens, you need to focus on your life to be able to do well by people and to help those that are weak or less fortunate.
From his mother, a devout Christian, he learned how to love unconditionally. His father taught him he could make it, that once successful, he shouldn’t forget to help people, and that God would always provide. These are the fundamental lessons Irono credits for propelling him to success.
“You don’t need immediate gratification because God will reward you down the road,” Irono said. “God has a way to reward you, you may not even know how.”