Technological innovation is the panacea to economic development
Bob Arison Machineries Limited is an indigenous company with a vision to be a leading multidisciplinary service company specializing in the importation, procurement and repairs of heavy generators, construction equipment, cranes, dredgers, and swamp excavators to the shipping, oil and gas, construction and dredging industries. The managing Director/CEO of the organization, Engr. Bob Ario is a professional Marine Engineer who graduated from the Maritime Academy of Nigeria Oron and Arab Maritime & Transport Academy, Alexandra, Egypt. The widely travelled Engineer spoke on the Focus of a CEO in this interview with NnamdiNwokolo and JohnSylvester.
What were the principles that helped you to get to where you are now?
It is not easy sustaining a business in Nigeria as the challenges are too many because you’ll provide your own infrastructure, apart from this, there are no indices to guarantee your daily survival. 90% of our graduates are jobless. A country with such joblessness, criminality becomes the order of the day. Because we glorify wealth irrespective of its source, there’s that temptation to fall back to criminality. Luckily for me, I’ve resisted that temptation by applying the principles of honesty, perseverance and a strong belief in God.
What informed your choice of business?
I worked with the defunct Nigeria National Shipping Line (NNSL) for over a decade where I obtained Marine Chief Engineer Certificate of Competence. In the course of my professional career, I travelled widely and the exposure and contacts I developed made me to leave paid employment to start importation of goods into the country. For example, I started with the importation and sales of domestic appliances. You know when you succeed in a venture; so many people will venture into it. When it got saturated, I diversified to the importation of fairly used generators, and moved on to the production of new ones at a point. I later ventured into machineries and construction equipment. Having identified that the construction industry has a wide range of opportunities and ever growing, but unfortunately this sector in Nigeria is widely dominated by foreigners, I floated Kadima Construction Company Limited and with access to equipment, our aim is to bridge the gap in the industry and provide employment opportunities for our teeming youths. Our focus is to break the monopoly these foreign companies have in the industry.
What has been your biggest challenge in running your business?
The challenges of the business environment are so daunting and overwhelming. To do business in Nigeria, an average entrepreneur will provide his electricity, water, security and so on. These are challenges facing the Nigeria entrepreneurs, as there are many setbacks to contend with. We have all it takes to be a great nation, good climate, great people and abundant natural resources, but failed leadership has been the bane of our development. Entrepreneurship is germane to any National growth because, they are the greatest number of employers in any society; until we begin to take entrepreneurship seriously in the country by creating the enabling environment for businesses to thrive, there’s no guarantee for economic growth.
The organization has ventured into so many things; do you have the technical knowhow to deliver on all you do? My training as a Marine Engineer broadened my worldview that I can favourably function in any engineering field. My training is an added advantage and that is what has really helped me to drive this organisation to the top level it occupies in the industry. The construction industry is a wide area to be covered, so what I do is to bring in people with diverse competence to help drive the vision of the organization. We have a team of qualified technical experts with a combined experience of over forty years in diverse engineering fields. We’ve also developed partnership with foreign technical partners to stimulate technology transfer.
We had a vision for the company right from the onset and the actualization of the vision has been a combination of divine providence, aligned with diligence integrity, focus and especially excellence of project execution. In this sector, you are evaluated by your track record and we were able to establish a widely-acknowledged track record amongst stakeholders for being a company with world-class standards in terms of quality of jobs done and customer service. These are some of the elements which have created a distinctive organizational brand for us as a company because all our clients know that the moment we are commissioned to execute a project, we do everything we can to surpass client expectations.
What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learnt over the years?
I keep saying it that integrity is an excellent characteristic of leadership. Leadership boils down to integrity. What we have in this country are people who pretend to care for the wellbeing of the country, but they are after self aggrandizement. Discipline is also the bedrock of leadership because without it you cannot achieve goals in your life. I’ve watched many successful leaders and I’ve come to realize that they have discipline, they are honest, and their word is their bond. Good leaders also get the job done. A good leader doesn’t give excuses and he doesn’t shy away from responsibilities. Some people make things happen, some watch things happen while some others wonder what happened. A good leader should also try to develop himself to be abreast with recent happenings in the industry as well as mentor and develop people under his care.
What are the critical factors for building a sustainable business?
The critical factor for building a sustainable business is honesty and uprightness. Many still don’t believe that you can run a business with the highest level of integrity and still succeed. Honestly, from experience, honesty is the biggest virtue to build a sustainable business. You can hardly succeed in any venture when you are not trustworthy. It is important to stress that your level of honesty will attract people that will assist you to build your business. It was our credibility that really helped us to sustain this business to this level. A successful entrepreneur builds and empowers people in his organisation. You need to develop a dependable human resource to run the business even when you are not there.
How much of local content is in your operations?
Training and retraining is one area we don’t joke with. We have developed a pool of local professionals with diverse competence as this has helped us not to depend on foreigners. It will interest you to know that Nigerian professionals can compete favourably with their foreign counterparts, so I don’t understand the craving for anything foreign especially now that the economy is in a comatose condition. For example, when we brought sound-proof generators, we dismantled it and studied the components to allow us produce it locally. I also traveled abroad and studied the generator companies and the machines they were using and we brought in the equipment to help us fabricate the products locally. We did not wait till government bans the foreign products before doing our own. From the onset, I’ve always believed in our ability to do great things given the same opportunity like the expatriates. I am a strong believer and advocate of technology transfer to our people.
In the next five years:
Our outlook in the next five years is to build this company to certain level where we will stand on the same pedestal and compete favourably as well as break the monopoly these multinationals companies have in the industry. We intend to be the leading player in the industry through the provision of innovative, high quality, and affordable services in our market niche, with a view to achieving the benchmark for all construction companies in Nigeria. My focus is to build a world-class conglomerate that will outlive my person. We have carefully strategised to equip everybody in this organization for the global challenge ahead.
Advice to young professionals:
You need patience and fear of God to become whatever you want to be in life. You cannot build a sustainable business by cutting corners. For example, I started this business with the little savings I made and my honesty and integrity attracted people that invested in my ideas. Young professionals should build their integrity to an appreciable level and their honesty and integrity will attract people to invest in their ideas.
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