The Guardian’s Special Focus on 50 Value-Driven CEOs of Excellence That Powered Nigeria’s Economic Growth in 2022: Part One
Why Allianzbridge’s reputed as one of Nigeria’s emerging trusted business finance partners, by Akande
In these days of visible global economic headwinds with palpable domestic consequences that have been stifling entrepreneurship, it is not uncommon to find managers and financial institutions that have striven to stand out and stand tall against odds. Apart from the unpleasant inflationary trend, inaccessibility to credit and/or high cost of credit has always been on the top of lists of challenges hindering enterprises in Nigeria from reaching their full potential. This unsavoury situation still persists as the fact remains that few businesses are successful in accessing credit from financial institutions in the country. In 2020, domestic credit to private sector for Nigeria was 12.1 % of the country’s GDP.
According to The Credit Crunch – a joint report by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) some years ago, only 31 percent of the 840 MSMEs that were surveyed in Nigeria successfully obtained facilities from a bank or microfinance institution.
Domestic credit to private sector refers to financial resources provided to the private sector by financial corporations, such as through loans, purchases of non-equity securities, trade credits and other accounts receivables that establish a claim for repayment.
Access to credit is often hindered by the illiquidity of the financial sector, lack of collaterals, absence of credit history of the business intending to borrow from financial institutions, slow turnaround time of the financial institutions in processing credit requests, poor national identification system and low financial inclusion as many businesses do not have relationship with the financial institutions.
But breaking these barriers and providing access to credit to enable businesses operate and attain their objectives are among the qualities that stand out Allianzbridge Finance Limited – a company founded out of an increasing need for contractors and business owners alike to meet their various contracts, projects, and business finance needs. AllianzBridge Finance, has since her establishment, been empowering her customers to take advantage of their business opportunities.
A CBN Licensed Finance Company, Allianzbridge Finance Limited commenced operations in 2018. It operates as a mid-tier Financial Institution, bridging the gap between Commercial/Merchant Banks and Micro-Finance Banks in terms of size of transactions it funds. The Management Team of AllianzBridge Finance is led by Mr. Kayode Akande, the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer.
Kayode is a Chartered Accountant with a technology background; he has vast experience and expertise in Investment Management, Financial Management, Risk Management, Financial Modelling, Pension Administration, Strategy formulation and implementation, and Software Implementation.
He is an Accountancy graduate of The Polytechnic Ibadan and a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, an Associate of the Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria, a Microsoft Certified Professional and he holds an MBA from the Business School Netherlands.
He equally holds different professional certifications for Executive Management courses from ivy league Schools like Harvard Business School, the Wharton School University of Pennsylvania, the London School of Economics and Political Science, Said Business School University of Oxford, London Business School and Lagos Business School.
Akande started his career at the Budget and Finance Department of the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA). He later moved on to the Information Technology Industry, where he worked with the leading software company at the time, Computer Systems Associates (CSA). He later proceeded to the Banking Industry, where he worked for a couple of Banks amongst which were New Nigeria Bank Plc, African Express Bank Plc, and Continental Trust Bank Ltd.
He later proceeded to join in the establishment of the new Pension Industry, when he teamed-up with a group of professionals to establish Premium Pension Limited (PPL), now a leading Pension Fund Administrator (PFA); he became the longest serving member of Executive Management of the Company from 2005 to 2017; stirring the growth of the Company from a zero base in 2005 to over N500billion Asset Under Management by 2017, to become an industry leader within a span of 12 years.
He was the pioneer Chief Compliance Officer of Premium Pension Limited and later the pioneer Chief Financial Officer of the Company. He later became an Executive Director in charge of Operations and Services and later the Executive Director in charge of Business Development & Investment. He proceeded from there to establish AllianzBridge Finance, which has now become the most preferred option for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to gain ready access to short term financing.
With an emphasis on offsetting tedious, cut-throat, and discouraging loan processing procedures, AllianzBridge Finance has built a faster and easily accessible finance option for growing SMEs, offering contractors, traders, exporters, and importers the financial resources required for effective trade and execution of contracts. Reputed as one of Nigeria’s emerging trusted business finance partners, AllianzBridge provides financing for effective trade, providing SMEs with timely access to trade finance, as well as other innovative financial solutions that are geared towards the growth of businesses.
AllianzBridge provides an innovative platform for SMEs and businesses to explore business opportunities that are presented in mid and high-scale projects. According to Akande, “Our funding and services equip SMEs and other businesses with bridge finance, necessary market information, resources, tools and technical support required to help fast-track business growth. We facilitate domestic and international trade finance, assets financing, invoice discounting, contracts and projects finance by providing strategic financing solutions to meet funding needs for each of these classes of transactions. We exploit our strengths in the industry to match our customers’ needs with innovative solutions that are effortless and filled with immediate value for businesses.”
He stressed that “We have built our systems leveraging quality professionals, state-of-the-art technology and strategic relationships that keep our services seamless, innovative and reliable. For the past four years, Allianzbridge Finance has been consistently growing on both profitability and quality risk assets even in the midst of political uncertainties, high levels of insecurity, exchange rate volatility, inflation and the recent outbreak of the Russia-Ukrainian war, which have affected virtually every sector of the Nigeria economy.
AllianzBridge is already delivering on its mission of being “strategic finance partners, creating value for all our stakeholders” and is poised to fulfil its vision “to be the most enterprising finance company, powering opportunities in Africa.”
YAKUBU YUNUSA: Seasoned Architect, Resourceful Entrepreneur, Setting Standard In Nigeria’s Construction Industry
Every indigenous CEO in the Construction Industry in Nigeria desires to be reckoned with, but only a few whose diligent application of technical knowledge, skills and organizational competence have provided innovative solutions to complex projects, have been able to distinguish themselves. No doubt, the Chief Executive Officer, Lubell Nigeria Limited, Architect Yakubu Yinusa is among these few.
A dynamic entrepreneur and seasoned architect, who has demonstrated the ability to lead diverse teams of professionals to higher levels of success in different sectors of the Nigerian economy, Arc. Yunusa occupies a revered spot in Nigeria’s Construction Industry. With a career spanning over thirty-five years, and counting, he undoubtedly has paid his dues and contributed magnanimously to the growth of the sector.
Having secured his first job in 1987 at the Bauchi State Ministry of Works and Housing, after obtaining his first and second degrees from the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) in 1984 and 1986, respectively, one can tell that Yunusa was intentional about achieving excellence from the word go. While expanding his career horizon, Yunusa later took up appointment in the Federal Civil Service and was also at one time a Director at SunTrust Bank Plc.
Aside construction, Yunusa also has brief stints across other industries serving either in Board chairmanship or Managerial capacities. He is Chairman of Stycon Properties Limited and Director of Premium Pensions Limited and was later appointment as Chairman of the Board of the company, Zaymar Transport Company Limited and Asmabell Reality Limited. He is also a member of the Governing Council of Abubakar Tafawa University, Bauchi.
His goals were crystal clear in 1992 when he took the bold decision to set up Lubell – “to build with technique, to construct with devotion”. Thirty years down the line, under Yunusa’s leadership, Lubell has metamorphosed into a formidable and dependable construction firm handling high-profile projects from conception to completion for over 180 clients including Federal and State Governments, and private firms. At a time when the construction industry is infiltrated by some bad eggs lowering standards of project delivery, Lubell continually stands tall as one of the few with nationwide recognition for excellence and professionalism and has over thirty-five awards in the kitty, all thanks to Allah (SWT) and Yunusa’s inspiring leadership and administrative acumen.
The Nigerian Construction Industry is highly challenging and competitive, however, Lubell Nigeria has continued to make remarkable impact, and this has enabled this reputable indigenous firm to add value to the nation’s economy.
On Lubell’s growth strategy, Yunusa said “We have continued to sustain our growth through quality project execution. We work diligently in accordance with clients’ specifications and maintain high standards. We are cost efficient and timely in our strategy. We employ the best hands, provide them with necessary material and motivate them to give their best.
Apart from maintaining high standards, we have always kept to our principles. Lubell has metamorphosed into a formidable and dependable building construction firm with focus on buildings. Though we started with construction of simple buildings, we have built on our capacity, and we have handled complex buildings like health facilities, hotels, multiple layers offices, industrial complexes and others, and the quality of what we haxve done has been our selling point. So, we have been able to retain our clients because we always ensure that they get value for their money.”
While expressing his concern about the increasing occurrence of building collapse in Nigeria, the highly-experienced professional emphasized adequate regulation and quality control by appropriate authorities. His words: “In Nigeria, we think a building has only failed when it collapses, collapse is just one of the aspects of failures. A building can fail without collapsing. What that means is that it fails to achieve its target function. It can fail from design, usability is not possible, durability is weak and then you spend a lot of expenses on maintenance. This incessant collapse of building can be tackled by strengthening regulation and inspection by regulatory agencies, and ensuring materials are of best quality and by ensuring the quality of their application.”
An untiring goal setter and getter, Yunusa attended countless local and international training programmes, including the Managing Strategic Innovation in Business Programme at Harvard University, USA and the Real Estate Investment Model, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). He is a Fellow of the Nigeria Institute of Architects (NIA) and is committed to the betterment of humanity.
CHARLES NWODO JNR.: Transformational Entrepreneur, Vessel of Value Creation, Philanthropist Per Excellence
Engr. Charles Nwodo Jnr., Founder and Executive Chairman, XL Africa Group Limited, and Founder, Knowledge Exchange Centre (KEC), has a background in engineering and stockbroking, as well as Investment and Commercial Banking. He is an Alumnus of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, University of Lagos, University of Geneva, Switzerland, Harvard Business School, Boston Massachusetts, and The New York Institute of Finance at Wall Street, where he graduated with first degree in Civil Engineering, Master of Business Administration, specializing in Investment Management, Masters in Development Policies and Practices, and Professional certificates, respectively. A chartered stockbroker and professional banker, Mr. Nwodo is a Fellow of both the Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers and Chartered Institute of Bankers respectively. He is the pioneer Chief Investment Officer of Standard Trust Bank (now UBA Plc.) and left the bank voluntarily as the Executive Director, Corporate Services to start the XL Africa Group in 2004.
At STB/UBA, he was responsible for setting up and managing the Bank’s treasury function, and developing and co-coordinating the Bank’s hugely successful public sector banking initiative. Some of his last assignments in UBA Plc., include the aggressive and industry changing branch expansion programme, the direct supervision of the Bank’s rebranding and corporate transformation project and co- ordination of the Bank’s Initial Public Offer in 2004. Prior to his tenure at UBA, Mr. Nwodo had practiced as an authorized dealing clerk and stockbroker at the Nigeria Stock Exchange Lagos with supervisory responsibility for daily market trading, portfolio management and investment advisory.
His company, XL Africa Group is a foremost Nigeria services conglomerate, with operation across major Nigeria cities, as well as Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Benin and Niger, and the Group’s services include project and facilities management, Industrial maintenance services, Integrated Cash Management Services, HR Outsourcing, Managed services, Security and Protection Services, Integrated Logistics, Oil and Gas Engineering and support services, and OEM Agency and representation.
As a notable and avid philanthropist, Mr. Nwodo Jnr established the Knowledge Exchange Centre (KEC), as the CSR vehicle of XL Africa Group in 2014 to tackle employability issues among unemployed/job seeking graduates in Nigeria. KEC has trained over 1000 university graduates in employability and entrepreneurship skills, and all the graduates are either gainfully employed or actively pursuing their entrepreneurial aspirations.
A voracious reader, with academic research interest, he is passionate about mental health and girl child empowerment issues. He is widely travelled and watches football and extreme sports in his leisure time.
In his response to his recognition by The Guardian as one of the “Fifty (50) Value-Driven CEOs of Excellence That Powered Nigeria’s Economic Growth in 2022”, Engr. Charles Nwodo Jnr spoke about his career passion, the repositioning of XL Africa Group to the path of remarkable growth and profitability, Nigerian business environment and the challenges of human capital development, amongst sundry issues. Excerpts …
What can you say is the passion that brought your career to life?
I consider myself, as a vessel of value creation and a vehicle of impact for the transformation of my community and the world at large. I had worked in the banking industry from 1997 to 2004. I left banking in 2004 to start XL Africa Group. The aim of establishing XL Africa Group was to recreate the success we achieved in the bank in another vehicle, with a completely different team, and under a different set of circumstances. I needed a different type of challenge to motivate me and the XL Africa Group business model was the exact type of challenge that I needed at that time and I applied myself wholeheartedly and passionately into the establishment and stabilization of the business straight after my tenure at the bank. I would say that establishing XL Africa Group was what I always wanted to do and presiding over the day to day operation of the Group is such a thrill for me that I can do the job for free. XL Africa Group has acquired a reputation for delivering complex projects and value adding solutions everywhere on the African Continent, so in that sense I feel greatly fulfilled.
As one of the leading companies in the nation’s business sector, how can you describe the level of professionalism and astuteness involved in handling XL Africa Group’s business operations in connection with re-positioning Nigeria to the path of wealth creation and economic growth?
At XL Africa Group, we define our standards and values according to global levels, because we do not subscribe to such things as “African time” or “Nigeria factor”, etc. In a globalized world, facilitated by unprecedented advances in technology and sciences, businesses must raise their standards intentionally and sustainably to remain profitable and even competitive in every sector. The internet and social media ubiquity expose organizations in the private and public sector to unprecedented levels of scrutiny by multiple stakeholders and the public at large and this development presents tremendous opportunity for forward looking organizations to leapfrog their local environments and associated local limitations and blossom into international brands. This philosophy is well ingrained in the XL Africa Group’s DNA and shared by our staff. Such a mindset is strongly recommended as an important element for the repositioning of Nigeria to the path of global competitiveness based upon the parameters of economic growth and collective prosperity.
With your experience in the last few years in the nation’s business sector, what other innovative approach can you say has impacted the running of your company, and the industry in general?
The progressive improvement in internet connectivity and available knowledge of Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, small and Big Data Analysis, continue to present opportunities to extend the frontiers of current standards of work and play. For us at XL Africa Group, we have been quick to embrace the opportunity offered by virtual platforms, such as Zoom, Team, etc., as alternative media for official meetings, knowledge sharing and transmission and management of official communication and data, respectively. Virtual work is not just an option in our workplace, but a compelling alternative that offers numerous advantages and benefits for organizations that are able to invest in the appropriate infrastructure and knowledge upgrade required to operate in this space.
At XL Africa Group, the experience of the COVID-19 era, presented us with the challenges of operating as an essential services Group, under the highly constrained situation during the lockdown period, and we adapted this disadvantageous situation to create an environment of continuous learning relying heavily on our digital assets which afford us valuable presence on the virtual platforms for several official activities.
Altogether, our processes are significantly more efficient, our operations and decision making are more agile and swift, and our communication channels to all our administrative and operational touch points are much better and more secure, while our training and staff development is more impactful and exciting, all thanks to our embrace of innovation powered by advanced technology and communication in XL Africa Group.
As an expert, what are your views concerning the urgent need and the steps for Nigeria to attain self-sufficiency in essential products/services through local manufacturing and deepen the Nigerian Content Policy?
Attaining self-sufficiency in essential products and services is an important element of the Nigerian content initiative which our government is actively driving ever more vigorously through the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) activities and the Executive Orders issued by the President compelling preferential patronage of indigenous service providers and consultants for key projects in different sectors. The implementation of these initiatives should be expanded to other sectors and services, and should be embraced by the organized private sector as a conscious effort to “BUY NIGERIA” and thus support the growth and flourishing of local service providers and industries. The successful repositioning of Nigeria to self-sufficiency requires the active collaboration of public and private sector operators, and will result from vigorous and sustained actions on the part of all critical stakeholders.
Can you tell us more about the challenges of human capital development in Nigeria and possible solutions?
In my view, the problems of human capital development in Nigeria are multifaceted and the solutions should ideally incorporate multiple approaches. On one hand, there is the challenge of high and growing unemployment as result of the economy not being able to absorb the number of jobseekers being turned out by various institutions regularly.
The other challenge is the related but different case of job seekers being unfit for employment opportunities available in the economy due to outdated and irrelevant academic curricula and obsolete instruction methods and teaching tools. Effective solutions must address the issue of volume, in terms of systematic and sustainable expansion of Nigeria’s economic base and level of productivity, overhaul of the educational curricula in Nigeria’s educational institutions to bring these up to date with current and emerging global and national trends and job demands. Such efforts must be concerted and involve a multi-stakeholder approach.
As part of our contribution towards solving this problem, in 2015, I established KEC (The Knowledge Exchange Centre) as a non-profit vehicle of XL Africa Group. Through KEC, we offer relevant training programmes to meet today’s needs in areas such as digital marketing, entrepreneurship, business resilience and workplace diversity. KEC recognises the importance of investing in youths and helps to break down barriers to employment.
KEC also enables young graduates build their own businesses and to operate stable and sustainable businesses, they need to get knowledge from opportunities such as temporary placements, internships, practicums, and other experiential learning opportunities, which are built into KEC curricula. These opportunities help to put learning into context, equip trainees with employability skills, connect them with employer networks, and build confidence and self-esteem in trainees.
The KEC runs programmes such as the Graduate Advancement Programme (GAP Programme) to give young Nigerians the support they need to launch meaningful careers. The programme consists of a skills acquisition session followed by work experience, and participants are provided with internship and business mentoring opportunities. Participants have access to a milestone-based curriculum that is tailored to their individual needs and focusing on essential skills. GAP is the game changer for unemployed graduates in Nigeria.
Kindly share with us a list of past awards and recognitions attributed to your leadership and advice on how more award-winning CEOs can emerge in the country.
I have received many awards for excellence and dedicated service over the years, and some of them include: Distinguished Service Award by Rotary International; Nigerian Economic Summit Group Appreciation Award; Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers Award for Dedicated Service; Association of Enugu State Development Unions Award; Nsukka Diocesan Catholic Men Organization Award; College of Immaculate Conception (CIC) Alumni Association Award for Exceptional Service (4 Awards); Enugu Association USA Award for Service to Humanity, etc
Why Koins by Primera remains best personal finance app in Nigeria today, by Esang
Mr. Unwana Esang, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Primera Microfinance Ltd, holds a B.Sc in Accounting from the University of Calabar and an M.Sc in Finance and Management from Loughborough in the UK. A financial service professional of more than twenty years, with vast experience in commercial banking, personal banking, retail banking, private banking, programmer, project management, corporate and digital transformation, mergers and acquisitions, operations, technology. He is also certified in Project Management Agile Delivery Management – a member of the Agile Practitioner Association of Nigeria. A member of the Risk Management Association of Nigeria, an Associate Member of the Institute of Directors, Nigeria, and a Fellow of the Institute of Strategic Management of Nigeria, Esang spoke about his career journey in the nation’s financial sector, amongst sundry issues. Excerpts …
Strategies adopted in expanding Primera MFB’s portfolio
Everything rises and falls on your customers. For you to be successful, you need to craft a business with products and services that meet very clearly identified needs of the customers. A few of the strategies we have done is, we have been very deliberate in dimensioning and segmenting our customers. No two customers are the same even in the same industry. We have been very deliberate in coming up with consistent unique customer dimensioning strategies and then following that up with deliberate efforts to understand, elicit the needs of the customers from the customers and then use those insights to look at our businesses, processes, products, the way we deliver those products and services to make sure that it is done how and when the customer wants it, as well as building our business proposition around meeting those needs, delivering value for the customers.
Opportunities, challenges, and strategy that drove growth in 2022
2022 has been a very interesting year as we all know. It has been a year that was really meant to witness strong growth Post-COVID and so everyone was gearing up. We embraced the year, pushed into our transformative agenda even further, and have come out with a new product called Koins by Primera, which is a digital finance mobile application where you can save, invest and borrow.
Approaching 2022, the focus really was not just growing our business, scaling up the business and numbers but deepening our relationship with our customers and that was what made us pivot into asking ourselves if this economy really was to grow after the pandemic. What are the key drivers and how can we position ourselves to be catalysts of those drivers? That is, where our clear focus on the Small and Medium Scale Enterprising sector (SMSE) came about and it was obvious to us that if we wanted to make valuable contributions. For us, we see ourselves as partners for growth, if we want to make valuable contributions to the economic growth of the country Post-COVID-19, we must focus on pushing our agenda in the SME space.
Ensuring SMEs balance sheet, preventing default
It depends on a couple of things, including knowing your customer’s character, capacity, and credibility, which makes it easier to make smarter decisions on who to lend to. We do not lend to everybody; we lend to people whom we have come to know and understand.
How Primera MFB is adapting its services to fintech operations
We are excited by it, and we have embraced it. We do not see it as a threat, rather it as a strategic opportunity because there are several advantages that go with leveraging financial technology for your business. We are part of the movement; Primera Microfinance bank is part and parcel of the fintech movement.
Unique features of Koins by Primera
Koins by Primera is easily the best personal finance app in Nigeria today. Very well thought through, it helps you maximize your savings, it helps create discipline around your savings, so we developed it in a very modular way, right now we started with the savings module, very soon, we will go live with the loan module and then go live with the investment module.
Biggest inspiration as a CEO
The spirit of the average Nigerian – the never say die spirit.
“Efficacy is committed to sealing its leadership as an affordable housing development company in Nigeria” – Ajiboye
Born on 2nd May, 1982, Dr. Oyeleke Ajiboye – an award-winning Nigerian business magnate and philanthropist, is the Founder/Group Chief Executive Officer, Efficacy Group, comprising of Efficacy Construction Company; Law & Logan Energy and Engineering; Metro Agro-Food Processing Ltd; Smartcity Computer Ltd; and Efficacy Healthcare Ltd. He is also the author of Four D’s for Impact: Change, Challenge and Transform Your Life.
He is an alumni of the Lagos State Polytechnic where he studied Electrical/Electronics Engineering before going further to receive a B.Sc in Electrical/Electronics Engineering from the prestigious University of Lagos, Akoka.
Subsequently, he bagged a Ph.D. in Housing and Estate Development and doing a second PhD in Behavioral Finance at the Aston Business School, Birmingham, UK.
He has received numerous awards both locally and internationally in recognition of his outstanding business acumen and sterling leadership qualities, some of which include: the Across Nigeria Outstanding Leaders Gold Award for his excellent performance and contribution to the development of the real estate industry in Nigeria, 2009; Nigerian Real Estate Practitioners Gold Award, 2010; Business Owner of the Year Award 2010 finalist by the Future Awards. He was nominated as one of the 40 Africans under 40 in Business by Nothing Ventured Nothing Gained Africa (2013), as well as one of the “50 Outstanding Professionals in Business in Nigeria by Guardian Newspaper”. He spoke more about the Nigeria’s business environment, efficacy Group’s strategies for success and growth,
Speaking on the strategies that he has adopted over the years in expanding Efficacy Group’s, Dr. Ajiboye noted that “Over the years, we have adopted the mantra “Doing good and doing well”. It encapsulates the several strategies that have significantly influenced my choices and actions in over a decade of running Efficacy Construction Company. People are at the core of our services, we are charged with providing them shelter, and I understand how important that is. So, with my team, I’m always looking out for ways to ensure we give our clients the best services possible, provide affordable and sustainable services and further strengthen their trust in us by not compromising our integrity as a team.”
While describing the success factors that contributed to the growth of Efficacy Construction given the challenges and peculiarity of the Nigerian business environment, he explained that “The growth of the Company has not been a smooth ride. We’ve experienced a lot of challenges, considering the rising inflation and also in the area of human resources as a result of the massive brain drain currently taking place in the Country.
But in the midst of all these, we’re constantly devising new ways of ensuring we are ahead of the curve in our sector. Our focus on sustainable growth and development has contributed greatly to the growth of our Company. We always ensure that our organisational values are promoted, and we are also very committed to empowering our team, with knowledge and skills to improve their competence.
According to Ajiboye, “The construction industry is very important to the development of the economy of any nation, but it is one of the business categories faced with a number of challenges, particularly access to funds. However, we have for long made it possible for clients to pay for projects in instalments over a stated period of time. While that has worked for the most part, it’s also very risky, considering we bear the bulk of the financial responsibilities when Clients are not able to meet up with the timelines.
At the moment, we are exploring other options with minimal risks than the former which also ensure projects are executed efficiently. Some of these options are raising commercial papers, get people to invest in these projects, partner with Family Homes Funds and primary mortgage providers.
Concerning the motivating factors that have inspired his career as a CEO, he said his greatest motivation is a strong desire to succeed. In his words, “I was not born with financial privileges; thus, I have always had to work hard for what I want. I started my first business as a student at 19, and that’s to show how much I had to strive for financial freedom. My projection is that we become a publicly traded company. We are also committed to sealing our spot as the leading affordable housing development company in Nigeria while also generating profit for our investors.”
How innovation drives Capital Express’ unique, customized insurance products, by Odukale
Mrs. Bola Odukale is a graduate of Economics turned insurance practitioner who rose through the ranks to become the Managing Director/CEO of Capital Express Assurance Limited and Deputy Chairman, Nigerian Insurers Association (NIA). A diligent and meticulous amazon whose dream for Capital Express Assurance is to be a leading light in the Insurance Industry driven by tailor-made premium products and cutting-edge technology.
Odukale graduated from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in 1989 and entered into the financial services industry and worked in a finance company for two years, moved to Nigerian Life and Pensions Consultant Limited (now Nigerian Life and Provident Company Limited).
In her words, “I did not know what the company was about but with on-the-job training, I realized it was about insurance and insurance brokerage. It was strange to me because even in the University I never took a course in insurance. With time, I understood what insurance was all about and I got interested. There were people up there who rose through the ranks but very few of them were graduates. But I was well trained and I took interest in insurance. I wanted to know more about insurance and to do more in insurance. I desired to be at the top. Incidentally, my manager then was a woman, I admired her carriage and I said to myself “there is something to this insurance” I understood that for you to have a good career you needed to enrol for the professional exams. I sat for the exams and passed in record time.
My interest in insurance started growing and I spent about ten years in Nigerian Life and Pensions Consultants. At the time I left the organisation, it was at the managerial level. I knew there were many arms of insurance, my desire was to be in the mainstream which is insurance underwriting.
My attempts to be in the mainstream led me to Capital Express Assurance. It just started operations in 2000. Before then, I had registered for my MBA at the Lagos state university in Human resources management. I joined Capital Express as a manger, underwent many training courses, and worked in various departments. Here I am as the CEO of the company, trying to put in my best.”
As a woman, our challenges are multi-faceted. The one that comes to you naturally as a woman is managing career and managing your home as a mother and a wife. This is the first challenge as a young married career woman at Nigerian Life and Pensions Consultants. The fact is that God has made grace available for women to handle the situation. For me, it is, do your best at work and at home front, give your best to the children and your husband. None should suffer for the other.
The other challenge is the one that comes with society. The society says the woman should be at the background, in the kitchen, never to be seen and heard. When a woman wants to advance her career, society sees it as wanting to compete with the man. These are challenges that should be overcome by the woman. I don’t believe in treating someone special because she is a woman. Create value and not sympathy around yourself as a woman.
Growing confidence in the Insurance Industry
A lot of factors have contributed to the growing public confidence in the insurance industry. The regulator, National Insurance Commission (NAICOM) has played a major role in restoring public confidence in the industry. NAICOM ensures that practitioners deliver on their promises.
When I joined the insurance industry, confidence level in the industry was very low. I wanted to run back thinking it was a great error to be in the industry. But gradually, with the advent of different personnel and required cerebral capacities, the regulatory body became more dynamic and focused and confidence level began to rise. New insurance products that appeal to the public began to emerge.
Furthermore, the capitalization of the insurance industry in 2007 helped to build confidence in the Insurance Industry, it gave rise to stronger organisations. For instance, it helped capital Express to acquire life portfolio of thirteen companies. We acquired life portfolios of companies that were not willing to continue life assurance business. Rather than allow the policy holders lose out, we acquired their portfolios and the policy holders were paid their benefits. Quite a lot of them continued with us up to date. That engendered confidence in the public. We had acquisition and mergers and that made us bigger and positioned us to write more businesses and upgrade our technology.
Today, no one can play pranks with the insuring public. Through technology, policy holders have access to their benefits. For instance, Capital Express has a call centre where people can call twenty-four hours to get information and updates on their policies. We sell policies on our website and other technology-driven platforms. Today, we have stronger regulator manned by highly intelligent and cerebral personnel. There are guidelines for the day-to-day running of the insurance industry. The regulations by NAICOM have helped to bring sanity in the industry and build confidence in the public.
The strength of Capital Express
In looking at the strength of Capital Express Assurance Limited, I would talk about our first challenge at inception when we started business in the year 2000. We were not immediately accepted by insurance brokers who account for about 70% of the businesses in the industry, in view of the fact that we were new in the market. They wanted to be sure if we were not just a flash in the pan. Today, however, this hurdle has since disappeared as the brokers have now become a major source of strength, providing a significant percentage of the businesses generated in the organization, thus becoming a major area of strength.
Another major area of strength for us is in our ability to develop tailor-made products for all the sectors of the economy, in retail sector, corporate sector, educational institutions at primary, secondary and tertiary levels, welfare schemes, investment schemes, and many others.
TOMMY ODAMA: Astute Real Estate Guru, Award-Winning Project Manager With A Strategic Edge
Tommy Odama J. Z is an astute real estate consultant with tremendous experience and knowledge in luxury property sales and lettings, property management and development, property appraisals, investment advisory, facility management and publishing. He belongs to the very top echelon of Luxury realtors in Lagos and is renowned for closing some of the biggest real estate transactions in Nigeria. He is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Luxury Villas Group – a multi-award winning real estate services group of companies with specialised subsidiaries offering bespoke real estate services across the entire real estate value chain.
Tom’s thirst for knowledge is insatiable. In addition to earning a certification in Project Management Fundamentals from the Knowledge Train Learning Matter, UK, he is also a diploma degree holder of the Hetta Institute in New York. Tom recently participated in the Harvard Business School’s Real Estate Management Program: Finance, Design and Leadership in 2017. He has also attended numerous seminars, locally and internationally.
Tommy, as he is fondly called by friends and associates, is a Fellow of the Institute of Administration. He is also a member of the Association of Estate Agents in Nigeria (AEAN) and a winner of a number of personal awards including, Vanguard Newspapers’ top 50 CEOs of 2019, the Real Estate Personality Leadership of the Year 2016 organized by the African Prize for Leadership Excellence;.
He is also the Emerging CEO in Africa Award organized by the Leadership Magazine, the Nigerian Role Model in Real Estate Awards 2015, organized by the Africa Child Foundation; the National Outstanding Leadership Award by the National Association of Polytechnic Students; and his thriving conglomerate, LVG, which is also a proud winner of African Best Quality Real Estate Services Provider for the year 2015 – an award organized by the African Quality Institute and Best Customer Service Award in Real Estate, 2015, organized by the Nigerian Customer Service Award.
He brought together key players within the Real Estate sector when he launched his Group’s maiden edition of the Fusion of Real Estate, Interiors and Art (FREIA) Event – an annual industry event where experts hold robust discussions on new innovations and development within the real estate space. Tom’s recognition as an authority in Nigeria’s luxury real estate market has resulted in high profile interviews conducted by Arise TV, Channels TV, Silverbird TV and a profiling by the Business Year, a financial magazine with an audience spanning the entire Middle East and Africa.
Why MeritAbode remains the Best Choice for property investment, home buyers, by Oseni
Oludotun Oseni is the CEO of MeritAbode – a leading Nigerian real estate company that thrives on professionalism, quality service delivery and integrity. With his strong background in the Nigerian business environment and well-grounded experience in the Real Estate Industry, Oseni has become a serial entrepreneur with multi-track record of taking creative ideas and turning them into successful products and services that changes lives and provide job opportunities for many.
A graduate of Economics from the University of Ilorin with an Executive MBA (in-view), from the prestigious Lagos Business School (LBS), he is an astute CEO who prefers to work silently and allow his projects speak volume, Oludotun brought the experience gained in a wide variety of industry verticals and markets to provide a creative solution in a country that desperately needs affordable quality houses.
With a vision to be the most trusted property development and housing providers, MeritAbode Nigeria Limited has over the last ten years grown from a 2Bedroom office apartment to an ultra-modern three (3) storey smart building with over 26 Estates in Lagos and Ogun States, as well asover 150 Staff strength which was achieved under his creative and innovative leadership skill.
Given the remarkable achievements of MeritAbode under his watch, Oseni has proven himself to be a force to reckon with in the nation’s Real Estate Industry and has been a great instrument to providing housing solutions to curb housing deficit in Nigeria. According to him, the passion that brought his career to life is undoubtedly, a strong faith based background with a value system that encourages one to steadily improve oneself is the passion that fuels my focus along my career path.
He noted that “As one of the leading companies in the nation’s business sector, MeritAbode Nigeria Limited’s business operations is predicated on professionalism, astuteness and the level of integrity involved in handling all our transaction is a reflection of our drive to contribute to re-positioning Nigeria to the path of wealth creation and economic growth.
The real estate sector is a growing industry and the need to provide affordable housing solutions for the over 200m population is a challenge government and the organized private sector (ops) must address. We have modeled our estates and land banks to suit the financial strength of the market and clientele, this in itself balances the economics of wealth redistribution. Also, our manpower is critical to the success and objectives of the business hence we have carefully assembled a crack team of experienced persons with the appropriate attitude, and of course the place of periodic training can’t be overemphasized.”
He added that with his experience in the last few years in the nation’s Real Estate/Housing sector, innovation is at the core of his approach and business operations. In his words, “It has to be technology! It may appear insignificant but it is germane, from drone – powered devices to capture the land expanse and shoot promotional videos to simply getting coordinates with phones on site so as to chart the land, or is it the innovativeness of software for architectural designs or structural designs and virtual creatives which reduces man hours and attracts diaspora clientele. Technology has come to stay!”
Concerning his views on the steps for Nigeria to attain self-sufficiency in essential products/services through local manufacturing and deepen the Nigerian Content Policy, he explained that “There is no one cap fits all answer here! However, this is a call to political leadership, but imagine if Ajaokuta Steel Company is fixed and working at full capacity, all construction steel will not be imported. (Let’s not go into the economics of how that strengthens the naira against the dollar) Let cash crop industrialized farming be a state backed enterprise with private equity participation then create a robust value chain for manufacturing, so instead of exporting the raw materials and importing them as finished products. We can gradually become a producing economy and stop being a market place for imported goods. Yes, Government policies must be consistent and infrastructures must be in place that supports such objectives.”
In his response to the challenges of human capital development in Nigeria and possible solutions, the real estate guru maintained that “Education is the answer. Remember Nelson Mandela saying “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” our school curriculum are stale, research doesn’t appear to be priority. UNESCO advised that all developing Nations should give 25% of their Annual budget to education! Our budgetary allocation says otherwise. Yes, we have a large talent pool in Nigeria but the requisite skill sets are lacking. The success being recorded in the FINTECH and E-COMMERCE space in Nigeria is a function of all these whiz kids signing up to Y-Combinator programs powered by Venture capitalists primarily from Silicon Valley, USA.”
Quintessential Reformer, Promoting Business Standard, Fostering Global Collaboration at GBB
His character speaks integrity, his expertise define efficiency, his ways are inspiring and his life has become a road map to many professionals who still believe that hard work, good morals and playing according to professional ethics are the only recipe for career satisfaction. This description is most apt for Professor Muhammad Bello Abubakar, the Managing Director / CEO of Galaxy Backbone Limited (GBB) Nigeria. A Professor of Petroleum Geosciences, and an Oil and Gas exploration research consultant to the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). He was born in Gombe on October 3, 1970, Muhammad Bello Abubakar attended Jankai Primary School, Gombe in 1977 and proceeded to Pilot Junior Secondary School, Gombe in 1983 and Government Science Secondary School, Gombe in 1988.
Subsequently, he proceeded to Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU) Bauchi where he obtained a Bachelor of Technology Degree in Applied Geology in 1995 and Masters Degree and Ph.D. in Sedimentology/Petroleum Geology at the same University in 2001 and 2006 respectively. The inspiriting Prof joined ATBU in 1997 as a graduate assistant in the department of Geology and rose to the rank of Professor of Petroleum Geology in 2014. At various times he served as External Examiner and Assessor to Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, Bayero University, Kano and Akwa Ibom State University. He is a Member and Chair of the National Universities Commission (NUC) Geology Department’s Accreditation Panel to various Universities in Nigeria.
Prof. Muhammad Bello Abubakar who assumed office as the Managing Director, Chief Executive Officer of Galaxy Backbone three years ago has not only beautify the organization but has also harnessed cooperation among staff and clients of this public enterprise of the Federal Government of Nigeria which was incorporated in 2006 with the primary mandate of setting up and operating a unified information and communication technology ICT infrastructure platform that addresses the connectivity, transversal and other technology imperatives for Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the Federal Government. The company is also charged with the responsibility of operating a nationwide network backbone to facilitate the digital inclusion of unserved, underserved areas and rural communities towards the realization of the MDG goals.
The ICT sector has been a pioneering and a powerful catalyst in addressing the needs and interests of low-income communities in developing countries like Nigeria. Although, it was only in the last fifteen years that the consciousness of the appreciation for ICT Sector’s role in expanding economic opportunity was appreciated, ICT has been recognized as the engine room for growth and a source of energy for the social and economic empowerment of any country, especially the third world countries.
Over the past few years, Nigeria has the fastest growing telephone subscription in Africa and among the world most populous nation. The importance of ICT to different sectors of the Nigerian economy cannot be overstressed. Sectorial impacts in governance, education, legal system and businesses are daily realised. In all continents of the world, people, organization and countries have continued to witness leaps and bounds in economic, social and political activities through instrumentality of ICT, which has meshed computing, information and communication technology to catalyse development in ways and manners humans never envisaged decades ago.
Given that Nigeria accounts for 82% of Africa’s ICT market and 29% of continental internet usage and sub-saharan Africa being the fastest growing region for ICT adoption, the Federal Government, in its determination to ensure that the nation harness full benefits of ICT, instituted a broadband vision that will see Nigeria as a society of connected communities of high-speed broadband access and connectivity.
Prof. Bello responding to the emergence of coronavirus pandemic and the consequent economic lockdown challenged the attainment of government objectives. He said: “A new and unprecedented demand was placed on the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy to develop digital platforms for keeping the economy up and running. As government activities leaned heavily on ICT during the lockdown in order to reduce physical interactions that could spread coronavirus, one of the value propositions of Galaxy Backbone was born out of innovation in time of necessity. GBB rose up to the challenge of the time with the support of the Ministry by launching virtual interaction platforms that enabled communication and collaboration in government from the Federal Executive level to intra-MDA functions.
Connectivity was established at the residences of key government functionaries, which provided seamless government operations, meetings and decisions for effective management of the pandemic. The advent of COVID-19 brought tremendous changes in the way we work, conduct business and socialize. Galaxy Backbone as the official custodian of the Nigerian state’s ICT infrastructure, prepared Nigeria’s officialdom to the challenges of new normal occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic. The passion was ignited exactly in March 2020 when the first COVID-19 lockdown was announced for Abuja, Ogun and Lagos. Owing to which the Federal Executive Council (FEC) could not hold in the physical space as was the tradition.
The MD / CEO was quoted as saying “I was challenged to think out of the box: the Honourable Minister perceived the possibility that FEC will be postponed because of the COVID 19. So he called me and gave me a marching order. He directed me to make sure that in the nearest future, the FEC meeting shall resume virtually so that government business continue while still maintaining the COVID-19 protocols. So, I quickly formed a committee known as the COVID-19 task team to handle this.
By April 2020, it was possible for the FEC to have its maiden virtual meeting. We all know how the COVID-19 pandemic led to a rapid change in how events and meetings are conducted. There has been a major transition from physical meetings to online meetings and this motivated us to develop a National Policy for Virtual Engagements in the Federal Public Institutions.
Though, the development of the policy was informed by the major transition from physical meetings to online meetings occasioned by COVD-19 pandemic, the policy has paid off, as it has resulted into substantial savings for the country. The policy, is in line with the Digital Economy Policy for a Digital Nigeria and was designed initially to mitigate the challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. This Policy was presented at the Federal Executive Council and the implementation commenced immediately after its approval at the Council. The policy aligned very well with the Digital Economy Policy and Strategy 2020-2030 and that has encouraged us to accelerate its implementation . In 2021, GBB has realized savings of up to N3 billion on behalf of the Federal Government owing to the video conferencing solution deployed and adopted”.
Nigeria and the rest of the world have seen substantial changes in technology over the years, GBB was tasked with developing a platform for shared services that would include domestic and international VSAT hubs, a certified data center, a resilient metro fiber network in the Federal Capital, and numerous redundant internet gateways. Significant effort has been made in this area, and Federal Government entities have all noted a discernible influence.
We may say that there has been a significant improvement in how the government interacts with corporations, the global community, and the general public. However, the organization is aware that, given its enormous responsibility, achieving its goals would necessitate the cooperation and support of other service providers and clients. It is true that GBB offers services that are comparable to those of several other ICT companies, however, hardly any company offering comparable services has the same volume and breadth of infrastructure as GBB had. We are making significant investments in cybersecurity solutions to ensure that the data of any enterprise or individual using our platform is assured, safe and secured. GBB maintains the crucial infrastructure that is critical to the development and long-term viability of Nigeria’s digital economy. Its position in enabling and strengthening organizations is laudable.
The alumni of the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU) Bauchi when detailing the challenges he encountered that tends to inhibit the growth and expansion of GBB as well as the solution he proffered, , he said: “Apart from funding we are very mindful of the challenges posed by cybersecurity. The objective of the cybersecurity partnership initiative is to create a sustainable ecosystem of OEMs, service providers, and local cybersecurity companies and professionals that will leverage GBB business model of delivering cybersecurity services to end users. Galaxy Backbone is partnering with SHELT which is an experienced cybersecurity firm based in Cyprus. SHELT has conducted an extensive security risk assessment to determine GBB’s cybersecurity posture that will help identify the gaps in its current information security infrastructure and processes. The aim of the collaboration is to partner with GBB in developing its core security competence and the delivery of cybersecurity products and advisory services to GBB customers.
Despite the state of the art infrastructure, GBB is finding it increasingly challenging to play in the private sector space owing to the bureaucratic peculiarities associated with the public sector institutions. Although funding is one of the major issues, yet we believe that it can be improved when we commence sweating our assets by delving more deeply into the private sector and onboard numerous off takers leveraging our years of experience of over 10 years as ISO 27001 and ISO 20000 with PCI DSS standard capabilities to support the financial sector.
In furtherance to this, we have sought the assistance of the National Assembly to promote appropriate legislations that would enable the agency to operate as within the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) framework in a bureaucracy-free manner. This would help in ensuring business sustainability and trust as well promoting of proper understanding among all relevant stakeholders to continue to support the contractual nature of GBB operations and services to Government. GBB is in close conversation with Spire Solutions which is a cybersecurity firm based in the United Arab Emirate. It is one of the leading value-added distributors of cybersecurity solutions in MEA that focuses more on collaborating with governments, enterprises and systems integrators to deliver its solutions.
AHMED KURU: Quintessential Professional, Turn Around Expert, Saving Nigerian Businesses from Brink of Collapse
His sterling performance in his first term justified Ahmed Kuru’s appointment by President Muhammadu Buhari as the MD/CEO of Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) in 2015. This good showing earned him another gracious reappointment by the President for another five years term in office in 2021.
The fundamental objective for the establishment of AMCON was to rescue commercial banks and some underlying strategic businesses in Nigeria from the brink of collapse in the aftermath of the global financial crises of 2008 through acquisition of non-performing loans, and to dispose of the underlying assets in the most profitable manner.
According to Kuru, “On arrival at AMCON, we were confronted with another sort of challenge – to recover a humongous debt obligation of over N5 trillion owed Nigeria by a few individuals who wrecked some banks and rendered millions of Nigerians jobless. These are people that are rich, powerful, and mighty. The assignment has not been easy but since we came in, based on the foundation laid by the Executives before us, we have been able to successfully divest 100 per cent of AMCON’s equity holding in all the bridged banks and made some huge recoveries for the country. You will also recall that AMCON also saved Arik Airlines (the largest local carrier) and Aero Contractors (the oldest carrier) from shutting down operations at the nick of time, among others.
If you recall also, AMCON had the mandate to recapitalize the banks and to recover the debts using the various resolutions mechanisms created under the Act, which have been executed effectively. AMCON has achieved the first mandate of purchasing the Non-Performing Loans (NPLs) and providing liquidity to the commercial banks. The Corporation is currently focused on the second and most difficult phase of recovery and restructuring of the bad loans. Recall that AMCON acquired over 12,000 NPLs worth N3.7 trillion from 22 banks and injected N2.2 trillion as financial accommodation to 10 banks in order to prevent systemic failure.
In the area of supporting businesses, AMCON has also done very well especially in the aviation and manufacturing sectors. Our intervention efforts in Arik Air with the support and collaboration of the Federal Government did a great service to the growth of the sector. A similar intervention in Aero Contractors also saved the airline from collapse. As a matter of fact, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) certified Aero, which is under AMCON receivership to commence maintenance services on Boeing series in Nigeria. This is a commendable feat in Nigeria’s aviation industry and there are several other companies that we have saved.
We identified about 6,000 loans with outstanding balances below N100million, which constitute less than 20% of our current portfolio, which we outsourced to debt recovery agents under the Asset Management Partners (AMP) scheme. The scheme has created huge employment opportunities. This has enabled the Corporation to focus on fewer accounts, which make up more than 80% of the portfolio. In our reckoning, if AMCON is able to resolve the nearly 2000 accounts it would have achieved more than 80% of its recovery mandate. In line with our sunset period, we are tinkering with the idea of increasing the threshold of the AMP scheme to N1billion. We have also classified 350 accounts with current exposure of over N3.2trillion into a category referred to as Criticized Assets.
As we have always stated, one of the major challenges to AMCON’s recovery mandate is the slow pace of our judicial processes. However, we have continued to engage with the judiciary, and we believe that there is now greater awareness about the role of AMCON which has improved on the efficiency of the process. Regardless of the positives of the law, there are certain situations that are hopeless, particularly where asset tracing has revealed nothing.
At AMCON the fact that we have recovered over N1.4trillion from inception till date is history so, there is not much to add except that it did not come easy because of the challenges that we had to face before that feat was achieved. Despite the AMCON Act and its amendments, the Corporation is still faced with all manners of obstacles from both the obligors and the processes that we have to go through in different courts before resolutions are made. As we speak, AMCON has about 5,000 cases in court, and because we have to follow due process as a responsible federal government agency some of these cases take us many years before they are decided. But we are a forward-looking Corporation that is not deterred by all these bottlenecks. We will continue to engage all critical stakeholders as we have been doing to ensure that these debts are fully recovered within the shortest possible timeframe.
We have enjoyed cordial relationship and collaboration from sister agencies. Recall that on September 16, 2019, the Presidency graciously constituted a committee, which it named ‘Inter-Agency Committee for the Recovery of AMCON Debts.’ The committee is comprised of eight key government agencies – including the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC); Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU); AMCON; Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC); Federal Ministry of Justice (FMoJ); Economics and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC); the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Department of State Services (DSS).
The essence of the committee is basically to assist AMCON in its recovery efforts and pursue criminal lines where one exists. The chairman of the committee is the chairman of the ICPC. The committee is working seriously on identifying cases. A few strategic accounts are being reviewed by the Sub-Committee using an unconventional approach towards the recovery of the debts by preferring criminal charges against the obligors where criminal infractions have been identified.
As a result, the Sub-Committee will not limit its review to the antecedents of the loan transactions but will extend the review into other areas such as tax compliance, the CBN prudential guidelines, filing of returns at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and other regulatory compliance requirements, which the obligors may have violated. Overall, the Sub-Committee is focused on taking measures that will result in outright settlement or plea-bargain settlement between the obligors, the Federal Government and AMCON. The whole essence is to pay the debt and ensure non-occurrence of such malfeasance in the industry.
ZANNA ZAKARIA IDRIS, Wali Of Borno: Pragmatic Entrepreneur, Driving Innovation Through Professional Competence
Zanna Zakaria Idris is a renowned business executive and administrator with over 20 years of leadership experience across major sectors of the economy which includes oil and gas, real estate, and agriculture. He is known as a stickler for corporate values and for his strategic methodologies for turning businesses around in the simplest but strategic way towards achieving corporate goals.
He is the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Kain Energy Limited, an indigenous company with interests in the petroleum industry’s downstream sector. The company trades in refined petroleum products such as Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), Automotive Gas Oil (AGO), Dual Purpose Kerosene (DPK) and pursues an aggressive asset acquisition and investment strategy with a client base spread across Nigeria.
With core values based on teamwork, integrity, commitment, and quality, Kain Energy is focused on marketing, sales, and distribution of petroleum products that are consistent with statutory and regulatory standards, while striving to exceed its customers’ expectations by continually improving the effectiveness of its Quality Management System. The company has carved a niche in eliminating inefficiencies in supply distribution by closing gaps through extensive knowledge of local and regional market dynamics.
He holds the prestigious traditional title of Wali of Borno, which was bestowed upon him in recognition of his hard work and resilience, and he serves on the boards of several companies both within and outside of Nigeria. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management and Banking & Finance, he has attended numerous professional courses and seminars both in and out of Nigeria. He is a committed philanthropist who believes strongly in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). As such, he established the Wali of Borno Foundation, which has thematic missions of assisting the vulnerable in the areas of education, empowerment, and humanitarian assistance.
Year 2022 in perspective
It has been a whirlwind, coming from the backdrop of covid. Every business has a plan, whether it is short-term or long-term, but Covid was never anticipated by anyone in the world, was never factored into any equation, and yet it arrived and ravaged the business environment. It altered the dynamics of the situation. The most important thing in business is pragmatism, or being very practical. You have a plan; you should stick to it as long as everything else remains constant. In reality, and for me, the success of what works is pragmatism, especially in this unanticipated period. There is no blueprint for such events as wars or pandemics. It had a significant impact on our business plans, but we had to adjust them to fit reality. This is how we achieved sustainability while maintaining business ethics. If you are sustaining what you already have, you are a winner. Yet sometimes, every situation comes along with certain opportunities. Kain Energy has been able to leverage on its core strengths and determination to pick up such opportunities along with its strategy of sustainability.
It all comes down to having an effective quality management system and the discipline to put it into action. Discipline is essential in business because things can be written, but it is discipline that will make you do them. You must also eliminate discretion. If people are allowed to do things at their own discretion, it will have an impact on the overall goal because everyone’s thoughts may differ. If the organization’s objectives are to be met, discretion must be eliminated at all levels. Everyone should be aware of what they are doing at all times. The acronym SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) comes in handy here. There is also a need for a deep connection between a company and its customers, there should be an open line of communication between an organization and its customers. The quality of product and service should not be compromised, while giving competitive pricing system because it is a competitive environment. Internally, we ensure that our system can support all of these. We are an ISO certified company that is regularly audited. We have operations in many states across Nigeria, and we hold people accountable to ensure that decisions made at the headquarters here are implemented in other locations. It all comes down to consistency and a continuous effort to improve the effectiveness of the quality management system.
Motivation as a CEO
I will say my value system as an individual has helped me a lot. No business tells you to steal or squander money. Every core value of business is in the Holy Scriptures. I am shaped by my core value of maintaining high integrity, what that means is that I have to be sincere and realistic. I am a team player and I carry my team along in all that I do, because it benefits the company when every employee feels a sense of belonging. No matter how much you know, someone might know more. I look for ways to help people and I accept constructive criticisms. Taking most of every opportunity and communicating a line of action.
Achievements and awards
We are a supply company that is consistently rated “A,” which is the highest standard of performance in the supply industry. Our client base includes a lot of blue chip companies and industries. We are recipients of several awards for outstanding performance, notable amongst which are Petroleum Marketers and Distributors Award of Excellence (2015), Collaboration and Partnership Award (2015), HUAWEI Best Quality Prize for West Africa Region (2016) and (2017), Best Premium Quality Petroleum Products Marketing Company Award (2018) by Africa Quality Order of Merit Award, Oil and Gas Leadership Excellence Price (2018) by African Institute for Leadership Excellence, West Africa’s Fastest Growing Oil Trading Company (2019) by the Institute of Brand Management of Nigeria, amongst others.
Kain Energy in the next five years
We aim to increase our presence in the supply and distribution market, and diversify in the mid-term and long-term. However, with our pragmatic approach, we will be tinkering all along the way due to recent events of covid pandemic and now the Ukrainian war which has altered the geopolitical dynamics, but Kain Energy is going many steps higher in the oil and gas industry. We have a lot of things in the pipeline. We are doing a lot in terms of diversification. To a large extent, we have diversified into real estates, we are also looking at Agriculture, but the security situation has slowed full implementation. Although, the research and development are still on going. It is a plan and it is easy to say anything now, but covid has taught us a valuable lesson and this is why I emphasis on pragmatism. They are works in progress and we will adjust our plans to fit reality.
In all we do, it is our hope and prayer that our work adds value to the growth and sustenance of our national economy, humanity and to the glory of God.
PRINCE DR. OLADEGA ADEBOGUN: A Resourceful Educationist Redefining Academic Standard Through Caleb Schools
He is a dynamic entrepreneur and resourceful educationist with developmental vision who has consistently demonstrated the ability to lead teams of diverse professionals to achieve higher standards in the Nigeria’s education sector. It is not surprising that his achievements have become benchmarks for many professionals who are focused on making positive impact in different sectors of the nation’s economy. Prince Dr. Oladega Adebogun, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Caleb Group of Schools is a pragmatic manager whose vision and competence have contributed to preparing many people towards making their mark in national development.
Distinguished by hard work, professionalism and adherence to due process and sustained by integrity, Dr. Adebogun,at an early stage of his life, had a vision of impacting and transforming the lives of young children, both for God and humanity. To achieve this goal, he equipped himself with the right education and guides his heart with the with godly principles. He studied at the University of Port-Harcourt and the Lagos State University where he obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Educational Administration, and a Masters in Educational Management respectively. He later acquired a Ph.D in Educational Administration and Planning at the Bayero University, Kano,and these degrees have helped to drive his character and competence to international reckoning.
Beyond these degrees, Dr. Adebogun has attended international seminars and management programmes in the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom. He is a registered member of professional bodies such as the Nigerian Institute of Management and he is also an alumnus of the prestigious Harvard Business School where he updated his knowledge through the Owner/President Management (OPM) programme.
Starting his career in education as a class teacher,he later worked, for several years, in public educational institutions, including the Mushin Local Educational District and Lagos Ministry of Education. He was promoted a Principal Inspector of Education in 1991. Propelled by his strong passion for delivery of quality education in Nigeria,Dr. Adebogun invested his experience and financial resources in private school education by establishing the Caleb International School in the heart of the Centre of Excellence in 1986. Built on a strong foundation of academic excellence and moral value, the education institution had produced thousands of people who are proving themselves worthy in character and learning. The visionary founder had served, for many years, as a top executive of the Lagos State Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (APPS).
After decades of exceptional and prized achievements under Dr. Adebogun’s leadership, Caleb International School has grown into a leading educational institution in Nigeria, widely known as Caleb Group of Schools. Currently, the schools under the Group include Caleb International School (Nursery/Primary), Magodo, Caleb International College, Lekki, Caleb International College, Magodo, Caleb British Academy, Ikeja, Caleb British International School (CBIS), Ajah, Caleb Educational Institute, and Caleb University, Imota, Lagos State.Committed and focused, he has made Caleb a household name in Nigeria and the institution is now synonymous with academic excellence and enviable moral standards.
Strategically located in beautiful, conducive and serene environments that enhance learning in the spirit of competition and determination, combined with friendship, fellowship and support, Caleb Schools pride themselves of state-of-the-art buildings that boast of modern facilities such as a multi-purpose halls, spacious air-conditioned classrooms, internet ready computer rooms, various laboratories for the sciences, cafeterias, fully-equipped music room, Food and Nutrition laboratory, Art studios, well-stocked libraries, well-staffed sick bays and a host of other facilities
Given the fact that 21st century is witnessing a rapid explosion in Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the Dr Adebogun led management in its wisdom has put in place well-equipped internet ready computer laboratories, fully stocked with assorted computers and accessories with trained staff in its employment. These computing facilities allow students to use educational and industry-standard software with the intent and purpose of being connected to satellite links on the internet. In addition, all Caleb Schools’ classrooms are fully equipped with interactive board and projectors to bring learning to life for the students. Classroom management software such as NETSUPPORT, MYTHWARE enable their well trained and motivated teachers to interact with the students through their laptops.
Whether it is a career in Medicine, Engineering, Music or Law, success at university begins at primary and secondary school levels. Understanding this, Caleb Schools team of dedicated professionals not only prepare students for success with its rigorous curriculum and high academic and moral standards, but equally through mentoring, coaching and support. This innovative approach, over the years, has brought out the best in every individual , and nurtured and developed the skills and attributes needed for lifelong learning.
A faith based institution envisioned to be a centre of excellence through the provision of opportunities for respectable, highly qualitative and relevant university education that will engender the production of future leaders imbued with ability and integrity capable of impacting positively on their environments while also being globally competitive, Caleb University, Imota, Lagos (CUL) brims with exceptional brains that turn academic potentials into compelling societal relevance. Today, CUL is being ranked among the Africa’s best private universities in research and entrepreneurship development.
In testament to Caleb Schools’ high academic standards, it shelves are covered with different national and international laurels, and many of its teachers are recipients of different reputable awards and recognitions.
On what propelled his passion for quality education delivery, the pragmatic change maker said that “Governments have major roles to play,but they cannot do it alone because of the limited resources at their disposal. I have worked as a teacher in public schools, and as Inspector of Education, and we have seen the gaps in the education sector and I knew that things could be done in a better way. The desire to address these led to the establishment of Caleb School many years ago. The Caleb Group of Schools, from nursery level to the University level, are not just there to nurture and build our students academically, they have been inculcating good values into them. That is why we have been able to produce morally conscious professionals who are impacting our world positively.”
Beyond education management, the Founder and Director, Caleb Group of Schools has touched lives of many people positively through his philanthropic engagements. Speaking on what is driving his philanthropic zeal, the outstanding Chief Executive Officer said that his humble background and childhood experience shaped his philosophy of giving to the less privileged.
His words: “ I was not born with a silver spoon and I know that not all fingers are equal.When I completed my elementary school, my father said he would not be able to send me to secondary school alone out of his four children.Then I thought that would be the end of my academic journey. My mother decided that l should go and learn tailoring. It was after many years that they said I should start secondary school and I am always grateful for that opportunity .Over the years, I have shaped many lives with my education and experience.”
The Caleb University visitor also said that he drew inspiration from a British Christian Evangelist, George Muller, who ran an Ashley Down Orphanage in Bristol, England.
“This evangelist cared for 10,024 orphans during his lifetime and provided educational opportunities for the orphans to the point that he was accused by some of raising the poor above their status in British life. He established 117 schools which offered Christian education to more than 120,000 children. So, I said to myself that if God can use this man, He can also use me for my own generation. God has been so good to me and I should give back to the society by investing in education to support the less privileged.”, he said.
In line with his altruistic desire, the patriotic educationist has given thousands of youths opportunity to be the best they could be by providing scholarship for them. He has also been putting smile on the lips of several Nigerians in need by got them financial assistance.
“Education opens doors of opportunities and gives talents the required wings to fly.Also, we cannot blame our youths if we don’t train them. There are many Nigerians today whose lives could have been more meaningful if they were given education. And apart from giving families in need some forms of financial assistance, providing their children opportunities to acquire education can take them out of poverty. This for me is a long term solution to a societal problem. So, the schorlarships I am giving is just one of my ways of appreciating God’s grace and contributing my quota towards the building of a better Nigeria.”, Dr Adebogun said.
In testament to the appreciation of his impact on the society, the dynamic entrepreneur and educationist has received several awards . Apart from awards given in recognition of his professional contributions, the Initiative for Positive Influence on African Youth, IPIAY, few years ago, conferred a Pan-African Leadership Award on Prince Ola Adebogun as Icon of Societal and Human Capital Development.
According to IPIAY, he earned the Pan-African Prize for Excellence in Leadership for spending over N19 million annually on scholarships for African youths and for providing quality leadership.The organization also pointed out out that Adebogun is a worthy example and an inspiration to African youths, it lauded him for his immense contribution to nation-building, community development and effective service delivery to Nigerians and Africa at large.
IPIAY lauded Dr. Adebogun for his immense contribution to nation building, community development, effective service delivery to Nigerians, and dedication to the service of God, humanity, Nigeria and Africa.
Today, even the few people who do not like his disciplined but humane approach to management cannot deny that Prince Dr. Oladega Adebogun is one of the exemplary entrepreneurs and CEOs whose contributions to national development, in recent years, cannot be ignored.
OLUFEMI BAKARE: Astute CEO Committed To Bridging Energy Gap In Africa
He is a silent achiever whose humility, simplicity, and hard work have undoubtedly contributed to his meteoric rise to success. Not only that, but his high level of professionalism in completing tasks on time without compromising quality speaks volumes about his growing desire to inspire the world. Olufemi Bakare is the Group Managing Director and CEO of Fenchurch Group, a leading infrastructure-focused conglomerate with interests in Power and Energy in Nigeria and West Africa.
Fenchurch Power, Fenchurch Energy, and Fenchurch Michelson make up the group. Fenchurch Power was founded with the goal of developing, operating, and building Independent Power Plants (IPP), as well as maintaining power distribution networks. Fenchurch Energy provides advisory and project management services to operators in the oil and gas, power, and infrastructure financing sectors of Nigeria and the West Africa sub-region, while Fenchurch Michelson provides engineering and project management services to operators in the construction and energy sectors.
A business executive with over 20 years of diverse expertise in business management and implementing operational strategies, he has led the growth and development of Fenchurch from a single logistics company to a strong presence in the energy and power sectors, particularly in the development and ownership of Independent Power Plants (IPPs) and mini electrical power distribution grid systems across the country to bridge the power gap and contribute to the country’s economic development.
Prior to founding Fenchurch, he worked at Petroconsultants- MIA (IHS Energy) UK and Zenon oil and gas Nigeria. He sits on the boards of Zeric Energy Resources, Terra Green Limited and the Sickle Cell Aid Foundation of Nigeria. In recognition of his Entrepreneurial Competence and Service to Humanity, he received a special recognition award from the Rotary Club in 2020, and his company received a special recognition for Professional Excellence in the Power Sector from The International Facilities Management Association (IFMA) Nigeria Chapter this year. In this interview, he discussed issues in the power sector, as well as how Fenchurch Group is changing narratives.
How would you describe the state of power in Nigeria?
Since its inception, the power sector has undergone fundamental changes as well as some improvements. It has progressed from the erratic power supply under NEPA to PHCN, which is still erratic to some extent but is improving and will continue to improve once all sector players decide to work properly together.
Let me explain: we are not generating what we need fully at the moment, as we all know, nor are we transmitting fully the little that is generated to the last mile, implying that distribution is also not fully adequate; these are the issues we face at the moment. However, some new generation assets are in the pipeline and should be operational within the next 1-2 years; more importantly, on the distribution side, DISCOs are now adopting a model in which they look to franchise some sections of their network out to private power companies who will make the necessary capital investments to upgrade the network in the said area and share revenue with the DISCOs, this will see a much more stable power supply. In summary, we are moving in the right direction, we just need to move a bit faster.
What is your organisation doing to improve the power and energy situation in Nigeria?
Fenchurch is committed to bridging the gap and providing our clients with dependable 24/7 power supply. Fenchurch Group is an infrastructure-focused conglomerate that includes Fenchurch Power, which builds and operates independent power plants (IPPs) as well as underground distribution network systems (Mini-grids) for efficient power distribution.
We take our clients off the national grid and provide them with 24/7 power; we sign agreements that guarantee a 95% uptime; and in most cases, we raise the necessary capital and do all of the development upfront, without the client making any payments until we start providing the power. However, we collect bankable securities from them. Our clients typically require more than 2.5MW. All of our generation plants are powered by clean energy/gas, though, we do have some diesel in the mix, but we have begun to phase it out as a climate change responsible company; in fact, we have begun to incorporate some level of renewables, such as solar, into our energy mix.
Ours is simple; we have what it takes to provide 24/7 power, and that is exactly what we have been doing; we have a client with approximately 28 load centres, and we built a 24km underground distribution network to properly serve them. We are currently constructing a 5MW IPP and an 11km underground distribution network in Ado-Ekiti for the Ekiti State Government, as well as a 7.5MW IPP for a large industrial client in Ogun State.
At Fenchurch Group, we are forward-thinking and dedicated to the development of power infrastructure in Nigeria and throughout Africa. In fact, we are currently in discussions with some DISCOs to take over some areas under the franchise model, where we will invest resources to upgrade the infrastructure in those areas and provide embedded power generation capacity if necessary to ensure that the residents are properly serviced.
What are the opportunities in the Power, Energy and Infrastructure Value Chain?
There are numerous opportunities embedded in the value chain of power, energy, and infrastructure. These opportunities range from generation to distribution, as well as consulting and advisory services and equipment supply.
In the power industry, for example, you could supply transformers, RMUs, meters, or cables. Fenchurch Power, which builds, owns, and operates power plants and mini-grids, is an example of a developer/owner.
You can also provide a variety of services in the energy industry. For example, through our subsidiary Fenchurch Energy, we provide consulting services to various technical firms and even financial firms/banks that lack the in-house technical capacity to evaluate projects that come to them for funding or project monitoring for projects to which they have disbursed funds.
Infrastructure-wise, the opportunities in the industry are enormous. These are typically PPP (Public Private Partnership) projects. In my opinion, there are numerous opportunities for concessions or privatization. The government should engage the private sector to rehabilitate our national grid, such as, TCN in the power sector
At Fenchurch Group, we are currently in talks with a state government to take over two of their water dams on a concessionary basis; which in turn will lead to efficient water supply in that state to the benefit of the people.
What are the challenges faced by your organisation and how have you been able to overcome them?
Initially, we encountered difficulties with the DISCOs because they perceived IPP providers as infringing on their territories and stealing clients, but over time, they realized that we are all partners in trying to improve the power sector in Nigeria, and that if they did not allow us to collaborate, only the diesel sellers will benefit in the end, which is not sustainable for us as a country. Today, we have a cordial business relationship and currently have ongoing projects with some of the DISCOs.
Funding was another challenge but we were able to discuss with our bankers and also educate them properly on how we have structured our transactions to ensure they are properly de-risked and bankable. Currently, we are trying to engage with the development institutions such as AFDB, AFC, BOI, Afrexim and others. The reason behind this is that power/infrastructure projects need long-term funds and most banks cannot do more than seven years and at interest rates that are not really sustainable for infrastructural projects.
What are your organisation’s plans for a sustainable built environment through the provision of clean energy?
As a company, we are committed to making a positive impact in the communities and countries where we operate by providing efficient and dependable power solutions powered by clean energy. Our IPPs are powered by gas, a cleaner energy source than diesel. Where CNG and piped gas are available, we use them; we are also incorporating solar into our power configuration for clients. We are currently in discussions with a church interested in establishing an IPP. Our proposal to them includes a gas-fired power plant as well as massive solar panels all over their roof.
As a socially conscious company, we are acutely aware of the issues surrounding climate change and its impact on our society, as well as the consequences if we as a people do not take active steps to reduce emissions.
We are Nigerians; we live on a sea of gas; and as such, we will continue to use what we have in abundance to power our industries for economic development and growth; and, where possible, we will incorporate renewable and sustainable resources to reduce carbon emissions.
Are there plans by Fenchurch to use gas towards enhancing the nation’s power situation?
Nigeria has an abundant supply of natural gas. Fenchurch is committed to using gas to power our IPPs. In fact, we are currently planning our own gas compression facility; we are backward integrating to ensure an adequate and consistent supply of gas to power our plants for our clients and third-party sales.
Can you tell us about your organisations CSR initiative?
Through our CSR initiatives, we make a concerted effort to positively impact our community. Our strong desire to give back to society has led us to embark on a number of initiatives in education, healthcare, environmental improvement, and development programs.
Some of our initiatives include partnering with Orange Ideas; an NGO based in Lagos, Nigeria, which distributes school bags, stationery items, and financial assistance to the underprivileged in society at the start of every school year for primary and secondary school students. Also, we partner with the Sickle Cell Aid Foundation in Nigeria. Recently, we sponsored training in gas power generation systems for young engineers from Ekiti State at Mantrac Nigeria and Schneider Electric, we are also in the process of setting up a scholarship scheme for students at a federal university of technology.
Where do you see Fenchurch in the next Five years?
To the glory of God, we are making very good progress in our sectors; we began our power business in 2007, and we have built a solid reputation and gained the trust of our partners, which include equipment suppliers and financial partners, over time.
With the 2023 elections approaching, whoever is elected President will be focused on power, and we are ready to support that development narrative and drive.
In five years, Fenchurch Power should have 400MW under management and at least five franchise areas providing 24/7 power to various residential and commercial clients.
We are currently implementing significant internal changes to ensure that we are well positioned to achieve this level of growth, including governance protocols, processes, and controls, the use of information technology to improve efficiencies, ISO certifications, and so on.
LYDIA ERHAHON OKODOGBE – Remarkable Amazon, Indefatigable Designs Specialist Behind Nigeria’s Global Brand Of Luxury
Lydia Okodogbe, Managing Director of Eleo Design International Limited (formerly, Eleo Trust Enterprises) and the CEO of Eleo Design Centre, a first of its kind one stop group of luxury building products showrooms representing top building design products brands around the world.
Her expertise in the design and construction industry is proven through years of professional experience, certifications and awards. A thoroughbred with excellent decision making skills and a good risk manager, Lydia graduated from the University of Benin and holds a bachelor’s degree in education. Her passion for style and creativity as a child led her on a journey from being a fashion designer and the owner/manager of a beauty Centre while studying at the University of Benin, Benin City, to pursuing a career in interior design and decoration. She studied Interior Decoration and design at the prestigious KLC School of Design, Chelsea, London. She has two diplomas, one in Natural Fragrances and Cosmetics Formulation and another in Soap and Candles, from the Grasse Institute of Perfumery, France, well renowned for being the perfume capital of the world.
In her words, “As a woman in the design industry, it hasn’t entirely been a smooth ride considering that the Interior design industry has continued to lack the recognition it deserves in Nigeria, that’s why you find the role being hijacked by other professionals and non-professionals. Many people believe all there is to interior design is specifying furniture and accessories or choosing colors and floor tiles for a project, but it goes well beyond that. There are technicalities about the profession, way more than the general perception. This vague perception of interior design has contributed to the lack of standardization and required support from the government as it is in other countries, take for instance in the U K. Interior Designers as creatives are known to be researchers but the right environment yet to be provided to enable them contribute their skills and knowledge to the development of the building sector and Nigeria at large”, she said.
Lydia has contributed greatly to the development of the interior designs industry with experience spanning over 20 years and has successfully carried out numerous projects that cuts across hospitality, commercial and residential industries, locally and internationally. Following a rigorous and extensive evaluation process, Lydia was the first Nigerian to become an associate member of the British Interior Design Association in the year 2006. With a Master’s degree in interior design, currently in view at the University of Hertfordshire, UK, she is widely acknowledged for her continuous efforts towards taking the design and manufacturing of furnishing products in Nigeria to the next level. She owns and manages the first all-automated curtain and blind manufacturing factory in Nigeria, and as well owns a product line of personal care goods such as bed linen and towels.
Sadly, majority of interior design projects in the country are outsourced to designers abroad, especially to countries like South Africa and the UK. Please don’t get me wrong I do understand why these happens, we must understand that Nigerians work hard and play hard so I know that every Nigerian who can afford the best for their projects definitely wants to get the best hands, best products, and the best services available to them even if it means going across the Atlantic to achieve it. But we must know it has an effect on our economy and prevents the ability to create a proper monitoring and regulation as obtains in other professions in the building industries for example where a building plan building design plan by a foreign architect or firm must be done in collaboration with a registered Nigerian Architect for it to be approved for use.
We have a good number of interior design professionals and companies who offer highly standardized qualities in terms of skill, products, and service delivery. Eleo Design I can affirm is one of such companies with remarkable, assured and proven expertise in the design industry.”
Beyond her specialization in the building design and construction industry, Lydia works endlessly to build a next generation of women adequately positioned and empowered to take their place as leading figures in the society. She is a mentor to many youths, children and women’s rights activist and a strong advocate for the education and empowerment of the girl child.
“With Gidanka, we are providing the next generation of hospitality services” –Abiola
He is an enterprising Nigerian whose resilience and passion for excellence has seen him create value-adding solutions irrespective of challenges that comes his way. For him, every challenge is an opportunity to innovate. Mr. Olajide Abiola is the chief executive officer of Smart Residences Limited; a company that is committed to providing the next generation of hospitality services by redefining the concept of serviced rental accommodation in Africa. He is also a co-founder of KiaKia Bits Limited, Nigeria’s leading peer-to-peer lending platform.
Operating under the brand name Gidanka, which means “my home” in Hausa language, Olajide has successfully raised the bar in the hospitality industry in three years of starting the company. With a military background, having served in the Nigerian Army for 12 years before being honourably discharged in 2008, it is no surprise that he is organized and exemplifies every virtue of discipline and tenacity in everything he does.
According to Olajide who holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Ilorin, the need for a special type of hospitality service that combines the best of private homes and the efficient services of five-star hotels prompted the establishment of Smart Residences with the goal of filling a vacuum in the industry. Currently, the company only provides its services in Abuja with serviced apartments spread across Kuje, Jabi, Katampe Extension, Wuse and Asokoro, however, plans are in top gear to expand to other major cities in Nigeria and other African countries.
“There is a demographic of accommodation seekers that has changed over the years, particularly the appetite of millennials, which has led to a growing demand for a special type of accommodation that combines luxury, aesthetics, and comfort. We have been able to dominate the market in just three years. It is on record that we have the highest number of serviced apartments in terms of units in the Nigerian market today. We have apartments in five locations in Abuja, which will increase to six once our properties in Maitama are completed.
“We are constructing the tallest residential building outside of the Central Business District; it is a nine-story structure with 110 apartment units. It also has the highest number of elevators of any residential building in Abuja. It has the largest rooftop and seven elevators. We plan to launch our services in Kano and Lagos by 2023. We actually build and remodel, and we operate under the brand names Gidanka and Home Away. Earlier this year, we were assigned the triple B rating by Agusto which has enabled us to raise over N3 billion from the capital market to fund our projects. It is one of the major breakthroughs we have recorded this year”, he said.
For a company that commenced full operations at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, many wouldn’t have expected it to survive a period that brought an end to some businesses across the world, but Olajide’s managerial prowess was enough to steer the company through the stormy weather. “We were just six months into the business when the pandemic struck, but while a lot of people panicked, we were very confident because our serviced apartments are a hybrid of homes and hotels.
So, while hotels were feeling the heat, we actually grew quickly due to the services we provided. While hotels were experiencing a general decline in occupancy, we were seeing our occupancy trending at 75 to 85 percent because there were travel restrictions but people needed to work from home, and Smart Residences was able to provide people with homes equipped with amenities and services that allowed these people to work from home. We see challenges as opportunities to actually learn new things that will contribute to research and development and provide us with the necessary market insights,” he said.
Smart Residences has continued to attract high net-worth clients such as embassies, multinationals, aviation companies, and top financial institutions, as well as renowned organizations such as the United Nations and European Union, owing to its value proposition of comfort, efficiency, functionality, privacy, and safety.
“We have been able to attract a diverse range of high-end clients because we deliver on these value propositions: functionality, aesthetics, comfort, privacy, and security, which is why we say we are one of the best, if not the best, in specialty accommodation Like I said earlier, within the serviced apartments and short-let market in the country, we are the biggest”, he added.
DUPE OLUSOLA: Savvy, Innovative, Result-Driven CEO, Repositioning Transcorp Hotels for World-class Services
She is one of the shinning lights in the Nigerian Hospitality Industry whose competence and achievements cannot be ignored. Dupe Olusola – a Nigerian business executive, is the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria-based hospitality company, Transcorp Hotels Plc, subsidiary of the Nigerian conglomerate, Transnational Corporation of Nigeria.
Equipped with both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from University of Leicester and University of Kent, respectively, Dupe was appointed to head Transcorp Hotels by the existing board members in March 2020, becoming the second woman to lead the organisation. Before joining Transcorp Hotels, she was Group Head of Marketing at United Bank for Africa (UBA) and was involved in leading all marketing efforts of UBA Group’s 23 countries of presence. She had previously served as Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria-based agricultural company, Teragro Commodities Limited, the agribusiness subsidiary of Transnational Corporation of Nigeria Plc (Transcorp Plc). She was appointed to the position in 2014.
In 2015 as CEO of Teragro, she was named on Ventures Africa’s 10 Most Influential Nigerian CEOs
In this brief chat she had with The Guardian in response to her recognition as one of “The 50 Value-Driven CEOs of Excellence That Powered Nigeria’s Economic Growth in 2022”, Dupe Olusola, spoke on her achievements, Transcorp Hotels’ growth, the Nigerian hospitality industry, amongst other issues. Excerpts
When you came into office May 29, 2020, what were the challenges you met on ground and how were you able to overcome it?
I became Managing Director/CEO at a very interesting time – at the onset of the COVID pandemic. It was indeed a trying time for all. To curtail the spread of the virus, the government enforced some restrictions that made most hotels shut their doors.
However, despite the unprecedented twist, we continued to implement innovative strategies aimed at adapting to changing guest demands. For example, guests more than ever cared about how clean their hotel rooms were; our “Clean Stay” programme helped to reassure guests that we adhered to the highest standards of cleaning. For what it was worth, they knew our hotel is one of the safest public places they could be when it concerns hygiene. We introduced our drive-in cinema, encouraging people to come out to have fun while remaining in the comfort and safety of their cars.
If you are looking for one word that helped us surmount the challenges posed by COVID-19, it is INNOVATION. We learnt a lot about guests and how their preferences were changing. Good thing we knew them well and we were already putting some of their new demands in place. As business travel reduced, we introduced more leisure offerings that our guests embraced. An award-winning business hotel became a hotspot for leisure, and it was amazing to see our guests indulge in all the great options we made available. So, today when people talk about the convergence of business and leisure travel, which they called Bleisure, I tell them the convergence happened at Transcorp Hilton Abuja in 2020.
How would you rate the level of hospitality business in Nigeria today compared to how it was two decades ago?
Hospitality in Nigeria has always been great, but as expected, it has been evolving with guest demands. As the definition of luxury continues to change, hospitality brands are meeting up with guests’ demands. However, one major difference has been technology. Technology has improved the way hospitality services are delivered in Nigeria.
Today, guests can compare rates, make a reservation online, complete their booking, check what is available at their destination online to be able to plan ahead and make the best of their stay. Technology has given the guests a lot of power and has called hospitality service providers to a higher level of responsibility. It is in our best interests to offer our best to guests now, as we understand how much impact a negative review can have.
In summary, hospitality companies have raised the bar and are constantly working to improve guest experience. It is amazing to be part of this growth!
What can you say is the magic behind the growth of Transcorp Hotels Plc in recent times and the obvious significant expansion in excellent services?
Simply put, the magic is the people and by the people, I’m referring to our amazing guests, stakeholders; our dedicated and hardworking team, who day-in, day-out work to develop innovative strategies in order to provide a seamless and more valuable experience to our guests. This is why Transcorp Hotels Plc is Africa’s leading hospitality company, listed on the Nigerian Exchange Group (NGX). We own Africa’s leading business hotel Transcorp Hilton Abuja and another award-winning hotel in Nigeria’s South-South Transcorp Hotels Calabar.
We are also the proud owners of Aura by Transcorp Hotels, a fast-growing digital platform for booking hotels, apartments, and experiences. We launched Aura by Transcorp Hotels last year as part of our asset-light strategy. Aura by Transcorp Hotels is an online platform for booking hotels and apartments, as well as experiences. The platform is helping us expand to places it would have otherwise taken us many years to expand to. Today, we have over 5,000 rooms and counting across different hotels and apartments nationwide. With Aura by Transcorp Hotels, we are leveraging the power of technology to fast-track growth.
Also, we work closely with different stakeholders and introduce innovative offers to continue to improve demand, even as we expand our business. We are delivering a world-class event centre at Transcorp Hilton Abuja in 2023. We are also working on a new five-star hotel in the heart of Lagos, Africa’s big apple.
However, we could not have achieved this great feat without the hard work and commitment of our people.
How would you describe your experience in the last few years in the hospitality sector especially regarding the effects of COVID-19 in business, generally?
My experience has been nothing short of eye-opening. Despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been phenomenal. I became MD/CEO of Transcorp Hotels Plc just when the lockdown was already in place. We went from over 70% occupancy to 5% occupancy. Through the uncertainties, we didn’t know what this would mean for us, and we were left with tough decisions on whether to shut down, how to manage staff, and how we minimize the losses. I was up for a challenge, but this was an unexpected one, however, we pulled through and we came out strong because of the amazing team at Transcorp Hotels Plc. They were there to support me as I navigated my way through an unfamiliar environment, and they continued to drive innovative ideas that have helped us produce record-breaking results.
During this time, we focused heavily of domestic tourism and our leisure market, introducing new initiatives such as food deliveries, drive-through cinemas, staycation packages, workspaces and more. We also focused heavily on safety initiatives, and this is why we introduced the Clean Stay program across our hotels. We also launched our asset light strategy, Aura by Transcorp Hotels. Aura by Transcorp Hotels is a digital booking platform that allows users book unique homes, hotels and experiences across Nigeria. No matter where you are, you will find accommodation.
In the last few years, we have also won several awards, we have recorded significant growth year-on-year and hosted more world leaders and events. It’s been an incredible experience. Transcorp Hotels have gone through many phases in its corporate existence, but has also been able to maintain its steady growth and corporate integrity over the years. What factors can you ascribe to this achievement?
Our performance over the years has been very impressive, trending consistently above the industry average. We owe this to various innovative strategies we have introduced to keep generating demand, creating new market segments, and maintaining the very high standards we have always been known for. For example, in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak, a lot of hospitality businesses had to shut their doors, as social distancing was critical to reducing the spread of the virus.
Similarly, organizational culture is also a key factor. Our core values are Excellence, Execution and Enterprise. These three “Es” are the key pillars upon which our organisational culture is built. Excellence means the highest level of effectiveness in achieving real results. There is no one way to define the highest level of effectiveness, but one thing is constant; the highest level of effectiveness (or excellence) cannot be achieved without integrity.
With enterprise comes innovation, and the only way to execute with excellence is to maintain a high level of integrity that ensures every stakeholder is committed to our common goal. Our core values have certainly helped us build and maintain a culture of integrity and innovation at Transcorp Hotels Plc.
With the works you have put in place over the years, where do you hope to see Transcorp Hotels in the next ten years?
I see Transcorp Hotels Plc as a leading hospitality company globally and I want to see us continue to grow to different parts of the continent and the world over. Our philosophy is deeply rooted in Africapitalism, and we have a strong sense of purpose to improve lives and transform the continent through our business operations, as we continue to build the Africa of our dreams. Through Transcorp Hotels, we are redefining hospitality in Africa.
What is your advice to young and up-coming CEOs in Nigeria?
Nothing is impossible, continue to break the glass ceilings. Be open to opportunities that come your way and do not let the fear of failing to keep you from taking a chance on things. Do it afraid; it is better than not doing it at all. Also, you are not an island, network and collaborate with like-minded people, and foster strategic partnerships for optimal growth.
HAKEEM SHAGAYA: Young, Resourceful, Integrity-Driven CEO With A Penchant for Excellence
Hakeem Shagaya, the Managing Director and Chief Executive Office of Karmod is a resourceful professional with uncommon ability to transform innovative ideas into enterprising businesses. Distinguished by his innovativeness and sustained by his competence and integrity, he established Karmod in 2014 out of his passion and desire to simplify construction through the application of world class technology in Nigeria. According to Shagaya, Kamrom was set up to provide unique solutions that could take care of the challenges he noticed in the real estate and construction sector in Nigeria.
In his words, ”at the time, I felt the real estate products and services were being provided in Nigeria appeared complex and expensive. I did my research and realized that we could provide solutions through the provision of world class fabricated container homes and office space for variety sectors in Nigeria.”
A well-grounded individual, young and dynamic entrepreneur, who walked his way through the ladder of wherever that he finds himself, Shagaya’s solid educational pursuits have also helped him to navigate every facet of his career endeavours. He was at the elitist Adesoye College, Offa, between 1993-1999 for his Secondary School education, before moving to Taunton, Somerset UK for his ‘A-Levels’. His quest for education took him to the King’s College from 2000 to 2002, where he bagged a B.Sc degree in Information Management & Business Studies. Between 2002 and 2005, he was at the University of Sheffield for his Master’s in Management of Science, Technology and Innovation, and subsequently at the University of Manchester Business School in 2007-2008.
Proud of what Karmod Nigeria has achieved, the Hakeem Shagaya-led diverse team of competent professionals are restructuring the company and preparing it to provide better solutions in Nigeria and beyond.
With this development, he explained that “We have provided fabricated containers and cabins for Camps, Homes and Offices over the years and we want to continue to dominate that market, but the market is not as big as it should be. So we have decided to go into the provision of affordable housing. Last year, IFC made us one of the ambassadors for their health green building certification. We want to become a net manufacturer and supplier of affordable houses to the real estate market. We have plans on building our factory that has a cement board plant, steel rolling plant among others. Once this is achieved, we plan to go public.”
Apart from providing world-class prefabricated facilities, his team has continued to positively touch lives of many Nigerians through Karmod and Asolar with numerous CSR engagements.
Karmod Nigeria is not just in Nigeria, it is an international company with offices in over twenty-one countries and providing roof fabricated construction products including using alternative methods – polystyrene, cement board, etc.
“We have been in Nigeria for about eight years and have done over 300 projects with many more ongoing in different sizes. Hopefully, we are expanding towards Lagos next year. But the Lagos strategy has to be different based on our experiences in other places. We built businesses in the Northern Nigeria for long period of time and we work with a lot of health organizations, embassies, security agencies, arm forces, rural communities development organizations. Therefore, we are coming to Lagos on a more detailed strategy. Meanwhile, one thing should be clear, we are not in the same market with people that cut and build with containers, we are very different, our production facility can do close to about 150 units a day
Alsowe are very busy in Kenya and Uganda, providing services with many of our Nigerian staff. Presently, we are building a huge workers’ camp and some very efficient Oil and Gas camps in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria”, he added.
Giving his assessment of the Real Estate Industry in Nigeria in the last five years, Shagaya agreed that the sector is growing everyday and collectively, nice houses are being built across the country, and believed that better quality is still coming up.
He stressed that “Nigerians are desirous of cooler designs every day, energy efficient designs, many people are putting Solar panels on their homes and people are going for more minimized designs. If you look at the nineties, everything was P.O.P with different designs but now we have street lights, fresh windows, nice doors, so, I think the real estate business is becoming more cosmopolitan as the Nigerian population is becoming more cosmopolitan. There is an aspirational feelings that more people living on. However, there is still a lot of work to do in the area of affordable housing. That is, why we say the only way to make affordable housing work is by mechanization.”
Working in line with his CEO’s vision with strong corporate governance, Karmod Nigeria has successfully delivered hundreds of spectacular prefabricated building construction projects to some of the most popular brands, as well as government institutions both State and Federal levels in Nigeria.
Speaking on the corporate values that have driven the company’s growth, he noted that ”Professionalism is key and adherence to ISO Standards has been at the top of what we do. While we are focused on providing affordable solutions, quality is very important to us. Our affiliation to one of the world-class companies in Turkey has also helped to structure our operations. We are service providers, there are people who need homes really quickly, many more need offices, camps, schools, class room, we need a mortgage systems that is efficient.”
Determined to raise the bar of excellence in the sector, the outstanding entrepreneur, who is also the CEO, Asolar Systems Nigeria Limited advised young CEO’s in Nigeria to be focused, create a speciality for themselves and look beyond the Nigerian challenges.
AGU OSOKA: Principled, Service-Oriented Genius Helping Businesses Grow With Innovative Technology
He is an exceptional team leader with excellent problem solving skills, a firm believer in the concept of goal setting and actualization of same, an astute manager of resources who has succeeded in raising the bar when it comes to delivering excellent results through professional and organizational skills, Dr. Agu Osoka, Chief Executive Officer Biosec Solutions Limited, is no doubt a principled genius considering his managerial acumen, administrative prowess and business intelligence which he has used to position Biosec Solutions amongst the leading establishments in the country.
Talking about the company, Osoka said Biosec Solutions Limited remains at the vanguard of providing state of the art solutions for identity management, leveraging on the use of core biometrics, enterprise software solutions and mobile applications. An Identity Management Consultancy firm with core biometrics, smart card, token based enterprise architecture strengths with cumulative experience of over 30 years.
He stressed that Biosec Solutions brand has also become synonymous with innovation and resilience in identity management consultancy as it offers biometric services across the whole value chain of identity management from the enrolment, physical identity, smartcard, verification and harmonization between disparate identity databases. ”We are not just an IT firm doing metrics, but, we are biometrics firm applying subject matter expertise to the identity management issues in Nigeria”
On strategies adopted in expanding its portfolio over the years, the highly focused Osoka explained that Biosec has been operating for over 10 years and has been fortunate enough to have numerous projects executed to the satisfaction of its clients which has brought about so many referrals and recommendations that has adequately helped the company to expand especially in a period like this when Nigeria has started pursuing the digital economy, Biosec has been in a prime position to put in place an efficient system in terms of strategic direction and implementation.
Talking about the most challenging project executed, an Administrator par excellence, Osoka, in his words “everything in Nigerian is challenging, there’s nothing that is simply not somehow complex but at the moment we are the custodians of the National Identity Management Commission Biometric System with the responsibility of ensuring that the system is optimized for certain enrolment problems. The Biometric system ensures that you are who you are as it checks your biometric against every other persons and that is quite challenging because of its importance and also, managing the technical challenges against the non technical challenges in government is something that we will continue to manage and get better with”.
On the Important lesson that has shaped his career as a CEO, the Biosec boss posited that he has learnt many lessons but integrity is key, he stressed that being able to do what you said you are going to do irrespective, is very important. He added that he has also learnt to be patient especially when dealing with public sector, and lastly, the strategy of good mentorship is also key as one need people who can give good counsel, people you can seek advice and as well put you in check as you are going along.
Commenting on the rise in crime rate despite the introduction of NIN, Osoka opined that the security agencies would benefit so much if they can leverage on the biometrics as it makes their work a bit easy, “Biometrics will make their work less cumbersome if it can be leveraged on, I know this because we designed the Police Criminal Investigation Database, with this, if there is a person of interest in Nigeria, they can find out who the person is by running them against the database and check if they have a criminal record in the police database. So this will help the police do their work better and eventually reduce crime, but again, this is for the security agencies to leverage on its processes” he stressed.
He maintained that Biosec Solutions Limited is a reputable organizations that enjoys partnership with organizations with key strengths, such as Idemia Company, a company that provides the core technology for NIMC Biometrics System as well as new technology for over 60 countries around the world, the company also partners with the Nigerian family to have capacity to assist on issues of enrolment and opened to more strategic partnerships.
A service-oriented patriot, Osoka, therefore, disclosed that As NIMC database has grown over the years, Biosec Solutions Limited expect to see a lot of value added services come out from that as people are expected to leverage more on identities of people to offer services, s the firm will be speaking with a few agencies and private sector organizations that have value added services in order to introduce identity management into their systems and make the process seamless and transparent for the end users.
“Clients pay for CEO’s problem-solving passion” – Akin-Olugbade
Akinbo Akin-Olugbade is the Managing Director of Kawai Technologies Limited, one of the largest supply-chain management companies in West Africa. With a Bachelors degree in Engineering from the University of Warwick, United Kingdom, he started his career in the Office of the Chief Accountant, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), as a youth corps member. In this interview, Akin-Olugbade reveals the secret of his success as a chief executive.
Describe the driving force behind your career?
The main feature that has been consistent for me over the past 20 years is problem-solving. I would say that the ability to identify problems and, more importantly, being able to solve them have been the driving force for learning, growth and what successes I have been able to find in my career over the years.
How would you characterise Kawai Technologies Limited’s business operations in relation to re-positioning Nigeria on the path of wealth creation and economic progress as a leading and strategic company in the country’s supply chain and procurement?
Wealth creation in any society is a function of economic activity. The more economic activity a society can muster, the faster wealth creation occurs in that society. Over the past decade, Kawai has done her bit by managing supply chains for some of the biggest industry players in the country, contributing to the buildings and other infrastructure that drive economic growth and wealth creation.
On the operational side, you should understand, in-depth, your clients’ businesses and their exact requirements – not what the clients want, but ‘why’ they want what they want. If, as a business, you can understand the ‘why’, then the business can offer much higher service delivery, and can go into deeper relationships with clients, which, ultimately, is more satisfying for both parties, and genuinely brings about more business and creates wealth, both in the businesses and society.
What additional novel strategy, considering your recent experience in the country’s procurement sector, do you feel has improved the operations of Kawai Technologies and the sector as a whole?
A big part of our growth strategy was enabled through the utilisation of the right technologies to underpin our operations; specifically, several years ago, we moved from traditional back-office order management processes to a fully integrated Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, which gave us the ability to massively reorganise how we manage order flow, and the volume of orders. The system is cloud-based, transparent, accessible and helps us with quality management and audit of our operations. To keep up, other industry players are starting to deploy these kinds of processes and technologies.
What are your opinions, as a professional, on financial investment, effect of governmental regulations on the supply chain management and logistics industry, and how these opportunities might be seized?
On financial investment, this really depends on where you want to deploy capital and for what purpose. My wife and I have spent the last few years getting really involved in the start-up and ventures ecosystem, backing companies from insuretech to e-commerce, film industry to export sector, transportation to fintech – these are all bets on the future, and what that future might bring. But the biggest bet always has to be on oneself; so, I double down and re-invest massively into my business, growing our team, our skillsets, our tools to return better value and services to our clients, and to ourselves.
From a government standpoint, there are so many things that need to be changed, updated and just generally re-built – the red tape is excessive. One hundred per cent inspection of cargoes, for instance, is ludicrous in this day and age – the sheer volume of cargoes makes this cumbersome and unnecessary. Separate inspections by various agencies is also just time-wasting, and we all know why the agencies want to inspect separately. Tis sort of thing is simply not done in other countries, where efficiency is the order of the day.
Lastly, we need to address our fees – for example, Nigeria does not really export perishable produce like bananas and such, whereas you can find Kenyan and even Ghanaian produce on supermarket shelves worldwide. Why? you might ask. It is because we have some of the highest export tariffs in the world, meaning that our goods are simply not competitive. Nigeria cannot compete on the international stage until a lot of things change.
Can you elaborate on the problems with human capital development in Nigeria and potential remedies as a mentor and career coach?
First, we need to realise that the world has changed, and COVID-19 was a catalyst for a lot of the more recent changes, especially around remote working. There are young people in our midst that have learned to code and are earning serious foreign exchange-based income from their bedrooms across Nigeria – a laptop, an Internet connection and a commitment to work are all you need in the world now. On the flipside is our environment: no electricity, no water, security challenges, transportation challenges and then, to top it all, the value of naira savings erodes almost daily.
A lot of people have given up and left for countries with more stable long-term prospects for them and their families. Our leaders need to wake up! We need to invest heavily in production-based centres, manufacturing, infrastructure such as electricity, railway, water and technology. This is the way. To individuals, I say learn a new skill in your spare time; you can now learn practically anything from the comfort of your own screen and become certified online. Take advantage of this and upskill. You will find personal satisfaction from learning something new, and often it may end up being the road to a new job or career.
How did you lead Kawai to be named the eighth fastest-growing company in Africa by Financial Times of the United Kingdom? Do you have any tip for the development of more honourable Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) in Nigeria.
In this regard, we simply followed our core philosophy: be the best you can be and get good at what you do. That leads to deep understanding of your business. Allow the business to then exploit that understanding for efficiency gains, cost amelioration gains and, of course, growth. The Financial Times simply recognised that growth, and it was in line with the criteria they were looking for across Africa; the ability to thrive under pressure. We, like many others before us, showed that it is still possible to build a business in Nigeria that works.
Tips for other CEOs? Don’t take shortcuts. Everyone, these days, is enamoured by tales of 300 percent growth per year from the fintechs. This is not the way and is not sustainable; it’s what leads to boom bust cycles in businesses and the markets. Target modest 15 to 20 percent growth yearly: organic growth. Over the long term, this almost always beats out the fast high growth businesses that eventually fold after three or four years. Consistency is the name of the game, and, sincerely, if you have a passion for problem-solving, your clients will reward you for it.
How Tiamin Group is moving Nigeria towards food security, by Aminu
Tiamin Multi-Services Global Limited, a construction company but sharing the unwavering commitment of the Nigerian government to create wealth and transform the lives of the rural population, is among companies, indigenous and foreign, that are moving Nigeria towards food sufficiency.
To save the country from the thirst for foreign exchange to service multi-billion-dollar rice import bills, the company decided to ease out of the construction industry for agro-business. This is to support the government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) that seeks to, among others, arrest food insecurity, generate employment and achieve industrial growth, with particular emphasis on rice production.
With Alhaji Aminu Ahmed as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Tiamin Rice Milling Company ventured into mechanised farming, employed no fewer than 800 direct staff and 2,000 others on casual basis when production fully took off.
Before the rice factory, which was built on 11 hectares, took off, Ahmed had assured that the company, when commissioned, would produce 600 metric tonnes of rice per day. As it stands, the company seems to have exceeded the target.
The company had, however, traded with China to the tune of $15 million in the last three years.
Events regarding the decision of the Federal Government to close all land borders introduced an accidental to the demand and supply of rice, which remains a staple food in the country. This resulted in the urgent need for the production and processing of rice locally.
Tiamin Rice Limited was incorporated in Kano State, in 2016, to execute various forms of businesses in the agro-allied industry, including production, manufacturing, processing and packaging of rice. In 2017, the integrated rice mill, with a daily capacity of 320 metric tonnes, began production with more than 200 staff and about 300 casual workers.
The high demand of Tiamin’s products and out of the company’s strong belief that agriculture is key for the Nigeria’s socio-economic revival, the management felt there is no better way to support the government than in giving confidence to investors. For this reason, it decided to establish yet another high-tech ultramodern integrated rice mill of 600MT daily capacity on eight hectares along Maiduguri road. The Kano and Bauchi rice mills target over 500 direct staff, and 800 casual workers.
The story of commercial farming in Nigeria will be incomplete without a mention of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Think of the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), which has supported a lot of rice farmers.
Tiamin benefitted from Department Finance Development (DFD)’s support for farmers. In December 2019, it got CBN’s PAS Phase 2 intervention of N1.65 billion. In 2020, under the Differentiated Cash Reserve Ratio (DCRR) Window, the company got N1,689,690,000 for some machineries in its Bauchi rice mill.
Within two years, Tiaman repaid the intervention funds. It also expanded production capacity and engaged in numerous Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects, including re-construction and furnishing of a 35-capacity bed hospital, fencing and rebuilding of the quarter-guard and gatehouse, as well as tarring of the access road to MOPOL 52 Barracks in Challawa, Kano State. MOPOL 10 Bauchi Barracks was also remodelled. This is in addition to the construction of model primary schools in Udubu and Zabi villages in Bauchi.
The company’s two integrated rice mills, with a daily production capacity of 920MT, will require 331,200MT of paddy to operate at full capacity.
In February 2021, under the DFD, the CBN introduced the Private Sector-led Accelerated Agriculture Development Scheme (P-AADS). Tiamin immediately indicated interest in participating again in the scheme. It processed and paid the Bauchi government all encumbrances for the allocation of Certificate of Occupancy for a 10,000-hectare farmland in Udubo, Gamawa Local Council. Under this scheme, yet again, the DFD identified Tiamin Rice as one of the first companies to qualify for the P-AADS fund to the tune of N10,956,469,510. This has since been released.
Tiamin’s participation in the P-AADS programme will translate to the production of about 60,000MT of paddy; by extension, this will increase the total production capacity of paddy in the country by about 1.70 per cent.
The 10,000-hectare farm project is expected to provide over 2,000 jobs for skilled and unskilled workers. The rice mills and farm, operating at full capacity, will boost smallholder rice production among the rice-growing communities in Bauchi and other North East states.
He stated: “It is our conviction that through the CBN’s P-AADS programme, we can transform our fortunes from a food-deficit nation to a food-surplus country, if we borrow a leaf from Bangladesh, a country that we share similar economic indices with. In the last decade, Bangladesh has been in production-surplus of rice, feeding its 164 million population with the highest average rice yield in South Asia. Within a decade, the country became the world’s fourth largest producer of rice.
The success story of Bangladesh in reducing poverty and managing hunger through rice production, is a good exampleThe progress in its agricultural and socio-economic sectors in the last decades is what informed Tiamin’s decision to seek collaboration with Techgen Engineering Limited, a Bangladesh agro-allied company with the sole aim of efficiently utilising their System Rice Intensification (SRI) techniques.”
Tiamin’s two rice mills will require 216,000MT yearly to produce at full capacity, as the company strives to source about 45 per cent of its raw material (i.e. 60,000MT of paddy) from the 10,000 hectares farm in Bauchi.
He added: “It is our plan to also engage rice farmers’ association and other stakeholders within the North East region through a backward integration with our Rice Seedling and Seed Multiplication Factory. Additionally, it is also the policy of our company to, as much as possible, train and use locals as our workforce at all levels.”
ADEDEJI ADENIYI: A Trailblazer Driving Growth And Creating Value Through Corporate Governance
Engr. Adedeji Samson Adeniyi, Group Managing Director and CEO of Toptech Engineering Limited, is a strategic thinker and exceptional business executive whose charismatic approach to life has made him a shining light in the engineering profession.
A graduate of the University of Ibadan where he bagged a first degree in electrical engineering, he belongs to the school of thought that believes that an investment in knowledge pays the best interest. Pursuing this mindset, he proceeded to the University of Port Harcourt for a master’s degree in engineering management, which was followed by an MBA (Marketing) from the University of Liverpool, where he is also pursuing a doctorate degree in business administration.
Prior to his elevation in 2021, he was an executive director at Toptech Engineering where he was responsible for product development, joint venture management, customer fulfilment, marketing coordination and revenue generation. While serving in this capacity, he was also the Managing Director of Discrete Technology Limited, a subsidiary of the company. Aside from his corporate experience, Adeniyi supports initiatives that involve mentoring, leadership and people management through his “Oil4YourLamp” Foundation; a coaching platform whose objective is to train the youth and the underprivileged.
He is a Certified Data Center Design Professional, an active member of Nigeria Society of Engineers, COREN and an Uptime ATD expert.
Year 2022 in perspective
The 2022 business year presented diverse opportunities and challenges to engineering service companies like Toptech Engineering. Barely escaping the chaos created by the Covid-19 menace, many businesses suddenly realized that there might be more than one way or method of providing customer services. The bid to embrace the new methods provided some unique opportunities for service companies who had solutions that aided this new quest. Businesses became more aware of the Business Continuity Plan (BCP) requirements, the need to optimize spending, the importance of making work/business more adaptable and responsive by taking advantage of practical online tools, and the necessity of having multiple incomes or revenues that will feed businesses with both the local currency and US dollars, a major currency denomination for global business.
This business pursuit created one-of-a-kind opportunities for engineering service providers. The infrastructure requirement that is driving this sudden awareness has turned into an opportunity, making systems integrators more relevant. Systems integrators who received the necessary training to deliver such infrastructures became more important than those who were not proactive and paid a high price for failing to adapt. Another exciting post-covid-19 threat development is the massive pull on social media handles and the increase in the entertainment industry’s use of online apps, resulting in the need for additional infrastructure. One such opportunity created by awareness is the recent push by both local and foreign investors to build data centers in Nigeria’s business space. Datacenters house most of the infrastructure upon which most of these recent changes in Nigeria’s business space thrive.
Creating a niche for organizational growth
The skill gap and high levels of staff attrition have been significant challenges for businesses like ours. We have consistently mitigated this by increasing our training budget year after year in order to train more people. Many of our former employees who now work for multinational corporations have highly specialized roles. We have always regarded this feat as our community’s contribution to the advancement of technology in Nigeria. To help further this community contribution, we have strategically established Toptech Academy: an institution that provides hands-on training for technical people in our area of core competencies. Our dedicated staff, which includes former employees who now work for other organizations, references from previous project delivery, and esteemed clients, have greatly aided our business’s growth, and we continue to improve on a daily basis.
Scaling hurdles in the Nigerian business environment
In Nigeria, the ease of doing business remains a significant challenge. While we appreciate the government’s efforts, there is still much room for improvement. Dollar-denominated transactions are prevalent in Nigeria’s technology sector, and the inability of businesses to source sufficient forex within the approved official window rate legitimately remains the monster that the government must defeat. Many service companies are now operating from other African countries such as Kenya, Rwanda, and Ghana because they provide an environment in which they can earn and source forex for their services. The disadvantage is that they help to provide a thriving economy and employment for neighboring countries while the homeland misses out on potential opportunities.
Furthermore, according to a PWC online report, SMEs in Nigeria contribute 48% of national GDP, account for 96% of businesses, and employ 84% of the workforce (https://www.pwc.com/ng/en/events/nigeria-sme-survey.html: Accessed 26th November 2022). As a result, tax laws should be more favourable in order to keep them thriving. For example, tax laws that focus on the total revenue of an engineering firm that does procurement and engineering services may be misleading because direct procurement costs that come in and go out to foreign manufacturers can account for up to 90% of total revenue, while the actual income to the systems integrator or engineering firm is the service cost or professional fees. As a result, the emphasis should be on their actual earnings.
Motivation as a CEO
As a CEO, leading a business is not easy in Nigeria, especially leading an engineering outfit. In engineering, you must deal with more than just engineering; you must also deal with human challenges and a complex operating environment, and you must still deliver your services professionally. My training as an electrical engineer from the University of Ibadan has greatly aided me in dealing with the leadership challenges that have arisen on the job, as we were taught to be flexible, agile, and precise. This background has helped me develop an ‘adaptation instinct,’ which allows me to anticipate and act quickly. Furthermore, the management training I received at the University of Liverpool has shaped my disposition to learn in action over the years. My most effective learnings were always acquired while I was involved in the action and activity of leading. I try hard not to miss the critical lessons.
Furthermore, as a CEO, I strive to encourage only legitimate transactions because it makes decisions making more straightforward and faster. Optimism is equally a massive catalyst for growing innovation. Therefore, every CEO must ensure a vibrant air of optimism to foster innovation within the workplace, as this is needed for business sustainability in Nigeria. In my view, No business can survive in Nigeria today without this ambience of optimism.
Toptech Engineering in the future
Toptech Engineering Limited aspires to be West Africa’s leading systems integrator within the next five to ten years. To a large extent, we have visible footprints in the financial, oil and gas, manufacturing, telecommunications, services, and public sectors. Furthermore, we are prominent in the design and delivery of extensive data center infrastructure.
OLOLADE VALENTINA ABUTA: Quintessential Amazon, Resourceful Entrepreneur, Adding Values To Lives Through Real Estate
The enthusiasm to take on challenging task and make a success out of it, diligence, adherence to high standards and professional ethics, astuteness and hard work are the attributes that have placed her name among the shinning lights in the Nigerian Real Estate Sector today. Dr. Mrs. Ololade Valentina Abuta, Group Chief Executive Officer, Gracias Group is a woman of substance whose entrepreneurial engagements have helped to connect the dreams of many Nigerians to reality.
Ololade Abuta has made resourcefulness and innovative solutions the hallmark of Gracias Group’s identity, and this has made it easy for the organization to spread its tentacles beyond real estate investment and management, into real estate development, construction, hospitality, energy, and logistics businesses.
Driven by innovation and passion, the goal-driven optimist was born almost forty years ago in Festac Town, Lagos State, Nigeria. She is the second of four children of a retired fashion designer and a businessman. Understanding that nothing good in life comes easy, she has successfully nurtured her dream of becoming a value creator with good values which made it easier for her to build bridges at every phase of her career and entrepreneural journey.
Starting her career as a Nollywood actress, the University of Lagos graduate featured in few Yoruba movies and produced two – Madaru in 2008 and Ogiri in 2010. Industrious and focused, she left the screen to pursue her entrepreneural desire. Starting with buying and selling, Dr. Abuta at a point owned a wine shop on Aladelola Street, Ketu, Lagos, and on Adekunle Banjo Street, Magodo, which she managed between 2011 and 2013. Proud of her humble beginning as a sole proprietor, she later expanded on her business by opening a fashion store on Association Avenue, Magodo in 2012/2014.
Speaking about her entrepreneurial journey, the charismatic real estate professional stated that “Life itself is challenging and I do not think any legal business is too challenging for me to venture into. So when some people tell me that looking for money is hard, I always reply them that living in poverty is also hard. I ventured into business on a small scale by selling clothes and jewelries. I later moved to selling wines and I owned and managed a boutique. During that period, I was an independent real estate marketer selling properties and getting commission. All the experience I had doing all these was handy when I started Gracias some years ago. And with my full time involvement through the company, I was confronted with bigger challenges, which I believe always come with providing innovative solutions and human resource management.”
She added that “It has not been easy because the real estate sector in Nigeria has its peculiar challenges. Even after doing our due diligence, the landowners – omo onile and land grabbers sometimes come with their games, which disrupt your plans, and if not well managed, may destroy the relationship you have with investors and other stakeholders. Added to this is the problem of documentation and regularisation. We have been able to tackle these challenges because the Gracias Group’s team of professionals, are challenge-driven, and we are committed to fulfilling the agreement we have with our clients and investors. Sometimes, because of these challenges beyond our control, we go extra mile to give clients and investors value for their money, at the expense of our profit.”
Asked about the factors responsible for Gracias Group’s continuous growth, the value-driven Chief Executive Officer noted that “Gracias Group’s’ ability to constantly deliver projects ahead of schedule and meet up with investors and clients’ expectations is attributed to the high professional capacity it commands. This is in line with our corporate mission of providing world class professional services in our areas of core competencies.
Our culture of teamwork enables us bring together the best professionals which underscores our ability to deliver the best solutions to complex clients’ demand, at the shortest possible time. It is not a surprise that this organization has grown from our core business, which is real estate investment, management and development, to become a reputable group of companies that is now involve in construction, hotel business which is hospitality, lease and sales of equipment, logistics and energy supply. And in real estate which remains our major business, Gracias Group has been recognized among Nigeria’s top real estate disruptors.”
Nigeria has a housing deficit of about twenty million and Gracias Group has made it one of its prerogatives to bridge this gap, and that is why the company introduced affordable housing projects with flexible payment plans. Over the years, thousands of subscribers have trusted the firm to deliver their dream homes, just like hundreds of investors are trusting the company with their money.
In her words, “For over a decade, we have been helping clients build amazing residential and commercial properties across Nigeria. Let’s deploy same professional skill and competence for your project. At Gracias, we are poised to bringing your dream of owning a home to reality. We have a customer experience and satisfaction based on business ecosystem that gives the best, yet professional services and product delivery. Furthermore, given our experience and competence, we now pride ourselves in the deployment of modern technology, software and machine learning to better understand and cater for client’s needs.”
Based on her assessment of the Nigeria’s real estate sector in the last few years, she said that though the number of players in the industry has continued to increase, the challenges facing the players remain largely unsolved. According to her, ” Because of the increasing demand for housing which emanates from population increase, we now have more companies taking advantage of the opportunities being provided by this increasing demand. However, we are still having situations where a particular land is being sold to different developers simultaneously. This brings ligitations and even loss of investment on the side of real estate companies.
Beside this, our documentation process still drags slowly unnecessarily. I believe that the regulatory agencies can strengthen the ways things are currently being done so that the process of documentation can be made less cumbersome and faster. The cost of fund is relatively high in Nigeria, and the more property development projects are unnecessary being delayed, the higher the cost for investors. This affects return on investment and sometimes encourage corrupt practices in the sector.”
Admired for her amiable character and managerial competence, Ololade Abuta’s ability to listen and understand clients’ needs allowing her to continuously deliver above and beyond their goals and expectations. While maintaining that due to her strong interpersonal relationship skill, Gracias has acquired an exceptional and distinguished network of clientele within and outside Nigeria, she stressed “I can say that I am among the most approachable Chief Executive Officers of top real estate companies in Nigeria today. Apart from being easily accessible to our realtors, this personal trait has been making it easier for me to handle clients’ complaints when things don’t go the way they envisaged. This has really been an added advantage to this organization.”
Over the years, Gracias has provided real estate investment and housing solutions to its diverse range of clients, from individuals to corporate bodies, and industrial organizations. Some of its projects and products include: Juvenile Investment, Coral Cities, Ruby Estate, Goldstone Residences and Gracias Courts.
Proud of Gracias Group’s impactful corporate journey, the Ololade Abuta-led management team is forging ahead to explore unparalleled opportunities for professional development while maximizing real estate asset value for all its stakeholders.
Looking ahead, she said that Gracias Group will continue to improve on its processes and sustain its integrity. In her words: “We want to be the reference point for real estate investments, management and development in Nigeria and the world over and we are focused on accelerating the execution of our growth strategy while continuing to build on the strength of our brand — in helping our clients share knowledge and create innovation and in bringing positive change to the communities in which we work and live. I am incredibly excited about our journey so far, and truly believe the best of Gracias Group is yet to come.”
A multiple award winner, Dr. Mrs. Ololade Valentina Abuta was awarded as Female Developer of the Year 2018 by Real Estate Developer Award (REDA). The Founder, Gracias Foundation was also awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree in Construction Management and Estate Development by the European American University in 2019.
In her view, young professionals who are just starting their entrepreneurial journey should see challenges as opportunities to provide superior solutions, and advised them to work hard, diligent, persevere and prioritize integrity.
WUMI OGHOETUOMA: Teenage Prodigy turned Software Guru; Making Businesses Thrive with Innovative Technology
In the face of the economic crunch and inflation problems that have characterised recent years, a lot of businesses have shut down. Some others are still operating but barely surviving. In spite of these, there are a number of businesses that are up and thriving, and doing their bit to keep the economy afloat and help other businesses scale through the times. In this category, we have Crown Interactive Limited, a software company devoting its time to creating a bouquet of business support systems that help other businesses address some of their most pressing challenges. At the helm of Crown Interactive Limited, is Mr Wumi Oghoetuoma, its Founder and Chief Executive.
Born in Lagos Nigeria, Wumi Oghoetuoma had his early schooling in University of Lagos Staff School and St. John’s College, Lagos Nigeria, before proceeding to the United Kingdom for his A’levels, and first degree in Computer Science at the Kingston University. Becoming a Pilot was the childhood dream for the young Wumi Oghoetuoma, but family influence would nudge him in a different direction.
“I wanted to be a pilot but my family said to me that if I want to be a pilot I should go and pay my school fees myself. They said that the way of the world is computers and therefore, I needed to do computer science. And they asked me how many pilots own airlines, but if you do computer science, you can own your own business. That was what they told me. They were right and I am truly grateful” he recounted.
As a young graduate of computer science at the time, most of the opportunities seemed to be in Networking or Programming, but for Wumi Oghoetuoma, he needed to settle for an option that he loved and was good at, and neither Networking nor Programming cut it for him. The allure instead was in Business Analysis and Solution Design.
He did some work after his graduation before returning to Nigeria briefly. The plan was to use the opportunity to start a business, but things did not work out as planned and so Oghoetuoma returned to the UK, after his service year.
Wumi, the teenage entrepreneur …
Being the last child in a family of five children did not give the young Oghoetuoma enough opportunities to start managing people early, but he also observed how much of an energetic woman his mother was and toed her steps.
“My early days of entrepreneurship actually started when I was in secondary school. I used to go with my sister to win the contract for the end of the year party, to go to the market, and we will hire the women there, we will buy firewood, we will buy sack of rice, we will buy all the things and they will come to my house and they will cook the jollof rice and cook everything. And we will pack the food in my house and my sister will pose in the school as the caterer. But I did the most part of putting those resources together. And then we would delegate to our friends who wanted to be part of that business to be responsible for drinks because we knew that they had to pack up the bottles at the end of the party” he narrated.
In this way, the young teenager started training his eyes to seek out opportunities, and implement them. And also to manage resources to get a project actualised. Less than two decades later, he was taking the entrepreneurship to a whole new level, when he founded Crown Interactive.
How Crown Interactive started
After returning to the UK, Wumi Oghoetuoma was pushed to consider getting a job by his sister, but the pull was more towards getting his business started in Business Analysis and Business Process Re-Engineering.
In 2005, with support and encouragement from his friend, Oghoetuoma started Crown Interactive. The focus at this time was on Strategy and Business Analysis Consulting for Self-Service and Business Process Automation projects in Telecommunication and Financial Services companies. He gathered some more experience providing technology and business analysis services and consulting for global organizations such as Oracle Corporation, AOL, Virgin Media, Altech UEC, Channel 5, Tiscali UK, and Thompson Reuters among others.
However, it became clear with time that if Crown Interactive was going to become too relevant to be ignored, it needed to focus on providing affordable solutions for emerging markets and ultimately global markets, the best place to be situated was in Nigeria. It was on this premise that the company moved it’s Head office to Nigeria in 2012.
In a typical case of ‘Business supporting Business’, Crown Interactive has devoted the last 10 years to building a bouquet of software applications designed to automate critical business processes for Back-office operations workflow, inventory management, customer management and billing and Supply chain management. The firm’s software applications (CICOD) are used by organisations involved in Utilities, Manufacturing, Inland Revenue Services and SMEs.
“Our solutions take care of the business layers in terms of the process automation that a service providers organization requires. For example, customer management, billing, order management, inventory management, the whole business process automation, and so on. With all of these, Large Enterprises have an alternative local content provider in us while SMEs also have a much lower barrier to entry in enabling their technology needs” he said.
Key among the company’s strategy to expand its portfolio is the CEO’s mantra – too relevant to be ignored.
“There is a constant improvement as we take on even more customers; we understand their pain and my mantra to all my colleagues in the office is that we must be too relevant to be ignored. So, you are not giving us an opportunity just because you like us but you are giving us an opportunity because you have a problem and we can solve it. The benefit of being local is that we are a local company building to global standards and the time is coming where local content in technology will be what everybody is going after just the way local content worked for the oil sector. And we must be positioned to be the number one local content partner”.
Next on the agenda is going global. Even though the products were built locally, the problems they solve are borderless and so will also solve similar problems in different countries and economies.
Inflation and Economy challenges – “it is not a cost problem, but a revenue problem”
In the face of the economic crunch and inflation problems, a lot of entrepreneurs are taking the tough decision of downsizing, rightsizing and paycuts. For value-driven CEOs like Wumi Oghoetuoma, the approach is different. For him, the problem is best addressed as a revenue problem instead of a cost problem.
“I don’t think we have a cost problem, I think we have a revenue problem. We need to increase our revenue rather than looking for easy ways to cut cost. Yes, entrepreneurs have to take tough decisions, but those decisions need not necessarily be negative decisions. We need to increase our revenue and we have the products and solutions that we need that can help us increase our revenue” he said.
Taking the products and solutions global, is one step in increasing revenue generation. More importantly, this step would help the company better match global standards of remuneration. As a software company, Crown Interactive falls under an industry that is badly hit by the “japa” waves. To address this, the company is looking to earn globally, so that it can match the global pay scale.
Trust but verify – he says
As a value-driven CEO, one of the lessons Oghoetuoma shares is ‘Trust but verify’.
“Our Chairman, who I say is definitely a great mentor to me, told me something in the very beginning of our journey together, he said ‘trust but verify’. It was a bit upsetting for me when he will ask me a question, I would answer and then he will say “show me”. He trusts me now but it was very upsetting in the beginning. But I had to use it on my people, and it worked. If we have an issue, tell me like it is so that I can manage the client, I can manage the expectations. Do not blindside me and make me a liar before the customer because that embarrasses me and it embarrasses the business” he explained.
As a leader, one continuously has to request reports and updates from the staff, which may in turn be presented before investors, customers, and the public. Imagine what happens when a CEO presents in public, information that he cannot personally vouch for? It becomes an embarrassment not just to the CEO, but to the entire organisation and team.
More importantly, this practice will keep a CEO entirely in the know of everything going on, and better equipped to make better decisions. Rather than receiving summary information that simply says all is well, he can get all the details, decide what is not working and what to do about it. This practice can be quite critical to a healthy work culture, and robust decision-making where the staff understand that they can present all the gory details, and let the CEO make informed decisions.
Crown Interactive has had several things work in its favour, from the choice of investors and partners, to the persevering team that have pushed through over the years. One striking part of the discussion is that the regulators have been a part of their success story.
According to Oghoetuoma, the Power Sector is a major sector they operate in and they believe that the regulator thus far has contributed to their success story. The products are built in alignment with the requirements already laid out by the regulator. Not many businesses can say the same. For most, it is more a case of surviving in spite of tough regulations.