Recycling waste to wealth
Mr. Charles Nwankwo, the Chief Executive Officer of Tong Da Industries Limited, manufacturers of various nylon/plastic machines and a one stop recycling super market, is a vibrant and astute business leader whose contribution to the growth and development of the recycling business in Nigeria is unrivalled. Starting his business under harsh operational environment, the journey was not only uncertain but strewn with bumps, but with a never say die attitude, Mr. Nwankwo surmounted the challenges and today controls the recycling business in the country. Mr. Nwankwo shared his thoughts on the prospects of recycling business and the Focus of a CEO in this interview with NnamdiNwokolo.
What influenced your choice of business?
I GRADUATED with an honours degree in political science from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria but before then, I’ve been entrepreneurial right from childhood. Rather than go into the conventional trading that the average Igbo man does, my interest was in doing something unique that will impact on the society. Upon graduation, I did a little bit of importation of wires for electric motors but my relationship with the Chinese made us to transform into the production of house wiring cables. Along the line and having been exposed on the benefits of recycling and how the Chinese used it to develop their economy, I formed Tong Da Industries Limited that specializes in the fabrication and sales of fully automated nylon and plastic machineries, such as Extruder film blowing machines, cutting and sealing machines, Pet bottle recycling plant, Nylon washing and crushing machine with dryer, spare parts and accessories as well as nylon and plastic recycling plant. Our objective is to clear the environment of the menace of plastic/nylon pollution and recycle them to create wealth and employment.
What has been your biggest challenge as a manufacturer?
I marvel when I see people complain that the challenges of doing business in Nigeria are daunting and it’s even worse if you are a manufacturer, because the odds are getting bigger. Having said that, is it not surprising that the Asians come into Nigeria with a briefcase, and in our dilapidated and wobbling economy, they start recycling plastics and in six months, the banks are pursuing them for deposits, yet we complain of challenges. What it means is that there is something fundamentally wrong with the attitude of our people. As a manufacturer, I see challenges as opportunities to get to the next level. We need to have a complete attitudinal change in terms of our approach to work, financial management and discipline to get things right. Though there are infrastructural challenges that will stare you in the face, but, brace up to it and move ahead.
Young people complain about funding in business start up, what’s your take on that?
To be honest with you, I don’t subscribe to the school of thought that says you must have millions of Naira to start an endeavour. I was not opportune to have so much money when I started this business but with total commitment and integrity, I was able to surmount the challenge of funding. It is important to state that I so much believe that if you must succeed, you must learn how to serve. In the recycling business, you don’t need money to start, because if you cannot own a factory, you can get into the drainage and start picking used nylons and plastics and supply to factories. I must confess to you that a lot of people have seen their children through school by supplying used nylons and plastics to factories.
The most important achievement as a company:
Tong Da Industries Limited has grown from fabrication of machinery and spare parts to become a specialist and leader in nylon and plastic recycling. We have invested both human and financial resources to get to where we are and interestingly, we’ve set up over one hundred and twenty entrepreneurs across the country. The figures are verifiable. Our strength lies in our ability to readily provide technical assistance to people and our spare parts and after sales service policy. When people complain of funding, it makes me laugh because opportunities abound in the industry. It’s either you are supplying the used nylons and plastics, or you are selling the recycled pellets, or you are working in the factory as an engineer or technician. The recycling industry has the capacity to absorb all the unemployed people in different capacities and put Nigeria back on the part of economic recovery. I’ll tell you that our outstanding achievement is that Tong Da Industries Limited has come to help protect our environment by creating a brand new concept of wealth creation through recycling of old and dirty plastics and nylon by turning them into new raw material which will be re-used to produce new plastics and nylon products.
How much of local content are in your operations?
In terms of human capital, we’ve successfully trained Nigerians that we can now boast of 100% local content. When we started, we had a number of Chinese who helped to transfer the technical knowledge to Nigerians and from time to time, we take these Nigerians to China to update their knowledge. We have strong technical partnership with the Chinese which is our competitive advantage. In terms of machinery, some of these machines are fabricated locally while some are brought in as CKD for local assemblage. The overall idea of localizing our operations is to create jobs and wealth for as many people as possible. It will surprise to know that a large percentage of Asians in Nigeria make so much money from our waste yet we complain of unemployment and poverty. The machineries are environmental friendly and with the right mix, has the capacity to clean up the environment.
On the role of government:
Government has a lot to do for the industry. First of all, in the machinery aspect, they need to give all machinery importers tax incentives or waivers as it will reduce the final cost of the machines. Machineries should be on zero duty and give the importers accelerated access to foreign exchange. Electricity and water are the key infrastructure needed for successful operation in the industry, so, government needs to open up more industrial covens and supply them with constant electricity and water. The machines are fabricated in such a way that it functions 24hrs daily, so electricity is critical. The government needs to do more to invite more private investment in infrastructure as I believe the only way to improve consumer purchasing power is to attract new businesses and investments in the recycling industry thereby creating more opportunities for employment to be able to reduce poverty. The various dumpsites all over the country can be turned into a huge revenue earner for the government, as it has the capacity to create wealth and employment as well as clean up the environment.
Projections for Tong da Industries Limited in the next five years:
Our prayer is that in the next five years, Tong da Industries Limited would’ve become a blue chip company. Part of our success story is that when we started about seven years ago, we were just a player in the industry but today, we’ve taken charge of the recycling business which is a fundamental aspect of the business. Our growth has been phenomenal and we intend to leverage on the growth to take the company to the next level.
What drives you?
If I believe in something, I give it all my best. I like to deal with challenges because I believe that nothing is impossible as I have a phobia for failure. I have also seen that nothing succeeds without the hand of God, so to a large extent, He inspires me a lot. I love what I do and I derive pleasure in what I do. We should always ask ourselves, what is the essence of life; what are your values; is it to make life better than you met it or to let people know that you can make a difference in our own little ways? All of us cannot be in political positions, but we can contribute our little quota to make this country a better place for all. I believe Nigeria can be better than what we are experiencing today and we all have a duty to make this country truly great by unleashing its potentials.
Advise to young entrepreneurs:
The biggest challenge is that positive value systems in Nigeria have been eroded over the last forty years. We truly lack the positive value system that propels people and nations forward. The young ones don’t want to work but they want the trappings and benefits of wealth instantly. The truth is that there’s no short cut to true sustainable wealth creation. Young people must change their attitude in all ramifications.