Ed Okpa isn’t one to rest. the 2003 mayoral candidate, who broke into commercial real estate after emigrating from Nigeria almost 25 years ago, still hopes to bolster Dallas’ global standing, he says, with a few rules he learned back home.
“My father said to me, ‘When you get to America, it’s not about your degree, not about the money you make,” says Okpa, the son of a chieftan. “It’s about relationships. Everybody wants to make money, but we all get into a tunnel of myopic business when we don’t look beyond our ZIP code.”
In mid-March, Okpa was awaiting the arrival of business leaders from Oman, whose biggest trade partner, Texas, exports more than $360 million yearly to the Middle Eastern country. As the sole business representative on a World Affairs Council mission last April, Okpa had invited the group to Dallas to discuss imports, exports, and an arrangement of the likes that “nobody’s ever done before,” he said. But he’s mum on details, save for hints that the plan involves a local university.
As head of the Dallas-based Okpa Co., a real estate appraisal and assessment firm with clients including DART, the Trinity River Authority and TxDOT, he’s come a long way since taking the first job a friend could line up for him in the U.S. It was at the Hilton Anatole.
“I didn’t know what ‘busboy’ meant,” says Okpa, 50. “I thought, ‘Sure, I’ll be a boss-boy. A boss of other boys, maybe?’ ”
“When I found out what it was,” he admits, “I stood in the corner and cried.” The college graduate gave himself two years to land a real estate gig, and after working in retail and taking a few extra courses at the University of North Texas, a professor introduced Okpa to George Roddy, who hired him at Roddy Information Systems Services in 1986.
On his first day, Okpa wore a tuxedo shirt. When a teasing coworker asked if he was off to a party, “I told her, ‘For me, this job is a party,’ ” he says.
In February, Okpa, a Republican, threw a shindig of his own, honoring Gov. Rick Perry. “I told him, ‘Sir, for an immigrant like me to have the governor of Texas in my home … this is like a second green card,’ ” Okpa says. “He laughed so hard.”
Like Perry, Okpa has continuing political aspirations: He’d like to run for mayor again here, he says, with hopes to trim the city’s budget enough to ensure jobs in the governmental sector. Step one? Make all Dallas police officers live in the city.
Okpa has at least one supporter.
The Dallas businessman is “extremely outgoing and intelligent—and he talks a good talk,” says Roddy, recalling Okpa’s knack for making connections. “He’d be a very good salesperson for Dallas.”