‘Consistent, sustainable policies will engender growth of entrepreneurship’
Oluwatobi Ajayi is the Chief Executive Officer of Jetvan Automobiles Limited, an organisation that officially sells Mercedes Benz Sprinter in Nigeria, and offers solutions to the sector. In this interview with KINGSLEY JEREMIAH, he discusses germane issues that will enable businesses to thrive in the face of unfavourable environment. Excerpts:
What informed your interests in the automotive sector?
I read Soil Sciences and Farm Mechanisation from the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ogun State. After I left the university, I wanted to be a farmer to fulfil the need to make food affordable for the people. But after graduating from the university, I was posted by NYSC to Mercedes Benz Nigeria. When I got to Mercedes Benz, I recalled all that I learnt from my dad, who was a dealer with Squadron Motors, and I infused them into the business and that set me apart from my peers. I had a deeper understanding of the industry and the management took note of that.
I worked with Mercedes Benz Nigeria for a while and rose to the position of Head of Vans. However, I discovered that the minibus transport segment in Nigeria needed something different. So the idea for Jetvan Automobiles Limited, authorised dealer of Mercedes Benz Sprinter was born to provide a complete, cost-effective and time-efficient transport solution to people, customers and end-users.
How do you feel being one of the youngest operators in the sector, and what are your objectives?
Some years ago it was quite challenging, but now I think I’ve come to settle with it. But till now, it is one of the most humbling things that have happened to me. I am happy about it and I feel honoured.
Now that I am in the auto sector, I want to lead the biggest automotive company in the next five years. That is very achievable. I don’t only dream, I like to follow it up with actions by meticulously planning to ensure that everything is done step by step. And most times, we always achieve it. We are not going to do anything different but to keep up on what we have been doing since we opened for operations in 2015. The first thing is integrity. We ensure that when we tell our clients that a product costs N10 million, it is N10 million. N10 is N10. Our yes, is yes; and no, is no. When we give a three-month delivery schedule, we deliver in three months. That is what we are doing now and that is why a lot of people are coming to us. That is why we are growing faster than expected. We are also using technology to address the issues in the sector. Our services are beneficial and it is faster.
That makes our customers happy to deal with us. Our after-sales service is first class. I can access what is going on in the workshop from anywhere. So nobody can do anything funny, the system is very open.
What have been the challenges so far, and what do you think government can do to makes businesses to thrive?
We started Jetvan in the period of recession so that is the first challenge. As at the time we were setting up the company, the country was already plummeting economically. We had very bold plans but the economic situation of the country has not been as good as we expected. The scarcity of foreign exchange (forex), particularly the volatile nature was a very big challenge, and the bad roads in the country are also giving our customers serious challenge.
Government needs to have stable and long term policies to aid planning. The automobile business for instance is capital intensive and people need to plan. You don’t say you want to charge duty and next year you change; while at the same time cancel it totally in another year. The local market may find a way to survive it but investors will be very wary to put in their money. I have been talking to investors but everybody is just watching the news and just following what is happening. The environment is very unfavourable for businesses. People should make plans and go to bed without feeling like government may change something overnight; people need to trust the government.
The forex challenge has affected our business very badly. It slowed us down a lot. We didn’t achieve much in terms of our projections and growth because of the challenge. The reason we are able to scale through a bit is because we are in the commercial segment and people will have to buy vehicles one way or the other. But is not anywhere near what we projected.
The issue of power is creating a lot of challenges. We thought about assembling vehicles in Nigeria, and one of the big issues raised by our investor is the issue of power. If government can provide power, SMEs will thrive.
What is your assessment of the federal government’s automotive policy?
The idea itself is good. What it could do for a country like Nigeria both in the short term and long term, especially for the young generation is huge if properly implemented. But right now, the foreign exchange challenge has put everything on hold. People who assemble vehicles need forex to import the components.