entrepreneur profiles: Ogbonna Abarikwu
Ogbonna Abarikwu is the Founder and Principal of the CK Group, Inc. which (CK) derives its name from the first letters of his first and second child’s names. The company’s core areas of expertise include: Transportation Engineering, Land Development Engineering and Technical Service. CK’s mission is to provide quality service, develop an outstanding reputation for community service and fair business practices, be recognized as an industry leader and an unparalleled place of employment. To achieve these goals, Ogbonna sets and promotes the standards that everyone at CK follows by working diligently to deliver quality and cost effective engineering solutions to its client’s project needs.
Ogbonna’s idea was simple: establish a model small-size engineering consulting firm where the interest and well being of employees and clients would be key while creating an environment where individual talent and hard work would be recognized and adequately compensated, regardless of class, creed, or race.
Twelve years ago in a spare bedroom of his northeast Phoenix home, armed with his dream, the support of his family, determination to succeed, the willingness to work hard, an old personal computer and $400 in software, CK Engineering was launched. In its first three months of inception, CK secured its first project, and by the middle of the first year, Ogbonna moved from his spare bedroom to an 800 square feet office space in north Phoenix. That same year his first employee(this employee is with him to this day) was hired and by the fourth quarter of 1996, 2 more employees were added to the team. CK became an S-Corporation in 1997, and by the end of the year sported a 5-person team. Between 1998 and 2000, CK’s staffing fluctuated between seven and nine people, and in the first quarter of 2001, CK relocated to a new 3,400 square foot office facility that Ogbonna designed and built to provide a better working environment and space for growth. By 2005, the company had grown to a staff of 16 and had expanded its services to include Technical Services. It was time for a re-branding, a new logo and a new name: CK Engineering became the CK Group, Inc. 2007 finds CK entertaining its first federal government contract and a huge million-dollar contract with the City of Phoenix.
CK’s staying power revolves around mastering the market and the needs of current and prospective clients, hard work, common sense, fairness and honesty. Ogbonna monitors the market by dialing into project sources, legislations, socio-economic trends and forecasts, participates in professional organizations and knows and studies the competition. Ogbonna and CK go the extra mile to satisfy its clients.
Ogbonna arrived in the States 27 years ago from Nigeria to attend the University of Colorado College of Engineering. The call to be an engineer runs deep and derives from his family history. His father was a mechanical engineer, his oldest brother, whom he joined in Colorado, obtained a Ph.D. in civil engineering and his older brother holds a mechanical engineering degree from Ashton University in Birmingham, England. Though he loves engineering, his true passion is in continuously seeking out challenges and finding feasible solutions to them. This is manifested in his tendency to quickly replace an old challenge with a new one. Examples of this include: starting CK at the same time he and his wife, Connie, were beginning a new family; going from a 12 person staff build-out projection to 65; designing and building an office building rather than leasing space; and competing for projects at the highest levels. He believes that it is all about being in the right position to help improve the quality of life for his family and staff while providing outstanding quality products to his clients. “It is all about the American dream.”
To live and work to build his dream, Ogbonna, with the full support of his wife, a medical doctor who also runs her own small business, has developed a tag-team approach in taking care of the needs of their children. They alternate dropping and picking their children up from school, taking them to camp or events, making the beds and cooking dinner. Suffice it to say that, they have a well-oiled partnership at home.
Ogbonna believes in giving back to the community in which he lives. For example, he has served on the State Foster Care Review Committee and worked with his local church donating time and materials to help impoverished families through projects such as repairing churches, schools and erecting new homes under the Habitat for Humanity. He is on the Father’s Day Council that promotes and supports the American Diabetes foundation. This year he leads the CK Group in sponsoring a golf tournament to benefit the 100 Club, an organization that supports killed or critically injured police and firefighter’s families.
As a professional, Ogbonna is involved and is an active member of several industry organizations such as the: Society of American Military Engineers, Institute of Transportation Engineers and American Society of Civil Engineers, to name a few. These affiliations are also involved in community issues and events that include charitable organizations.
Ogbonna believes in building his business one brick (staff, project size and diversity, material and equipment) at a time – “the old fashioned way.” This approach has allowed him to better prepare (minimize risk, stress, staffing, funding, cost of funding, and expertise) for steady, gradual growth.
He believes also that leadership is best expressed by example. He does not ask or demand anything from anyone that he would not do himself. He strongly believes in honesty and integrity, and that these elements result in trust. Trust therefore encourages friendship and confidence in ones ability to perform. CK’s mission and value statements reflect Ogbonna’s philosophy. He constantly emphasizes these values to his staff and clients resulting into the ability for CK to enjoy a 95% client retention rate.
As a small business owner, Ogbonna strives to establish a creative, rewarding and productive work environment by developing policies in consultation with key team members. He encourages further education, acquisition of board certifications and licensing. He hires degreed engineers for critical phases of work, an approach that has proven time-efficient, cost-effective and exceptional quality products.
Adversity is the primordial battle for Ogbonna on his journey as a businessman. Concerns keep him focused and challenge him to think outside the box. He is continuously faced with how to best win the loyalty of his preferred staff, “the winning team,” competes for and brings in new work, and dealing with unpredictable events such as 9/11 and recessions. He also has to contend with the ever-present stigma of being a minority owned small business and overcoming the stereotypical sentiments that minority owned businesses are generally underachievers.