Celebrating Shipping Magnate Mr. Greg Ogbeifun At 70
Anne Taylor’s words, “Some people arrive and make such a beautiful impact on your life, you can barely remember what life was like without them” perfectly captures the life of Mr. Greg Utomwen Ogbeifun, a man whose life and contribution to society will continue to speak for his generation for many years to come.
In his characteristic fashion, he walks into his office at 9 am after his exercise at the gym, to enjoy a cup of green tea while listening to music.
His unassuming nature makes it sometimes hard to imagine that Mr. Ogbeifun, is the man of several pacesetting accomplishments: Chairman/CEO of Starzs Investments Company Limited, the Managing Director/CEO of Starzs Marine and Engineering Limited, the first privately owned indigenous ship repair yard in Nigeria, a Marine Engineer with First Class (Combined) Certificate of Competency, a member of the British Society of Marine Consultants and Ship Surveyors, the American Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, the Institute of Directors as well as the immediate past President of the Shipowners Association of Nigeria (SOAN).
The award-winning CEO also sits as a member of the Advisory Board of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC). He is the chairman of the Technical committee to build the Benin City River Port in Edo State.
In spite of all these achievements, he is majorly described by many as a father figure and a help to many lives. It is this that has also gained him utmost respect among peers and mentees.
Celebrating his years at 70, Mr. Ogbeifun speaks to The Guardian Life about his platinum life.
Carving In Stone
Born in Benin City to a home of 14 (6 boys and 6 girls and his parents) to a father working as a carpenter in the Woodwork section in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in Aba, he has fond memories of his childhood.
“I was born in Benin City in the then Western Region on February 11th, 1951. My parents were living in Aba at the time. My father was working in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and was posted to Aba. In those days, if you were in the federal service, you were posted to any part of the country to work and that is why he was in Aba at the time. When my mother was ready to give birth to me, my father then sent her home to Benin. However, after I was born, my mother took me back to Aba. So originally and presently and in the future, I am from Benin, I am a Benin man and my late parents hailed from that famous town.
“It was an era where you had to carry your slate on your head with your chalk in your hand. Then you would cry about going to school because you didn’t want to go, and your parents would beat you and insist that you go to school.”
As he grew, he quickly “realised that I needed to get out of that near-poverty situation. And that helped me stay focused on anything I did in terms of my education, my behaviour, and my character as a child and as a young adult.”
And so he set to work. In 1971, he was awarded a scholarship to go to the United Kingdom to study marine engineering under the auspices of Shell Tankers UK. He recalls that he knew he didn’t want to be a “conventional engineer”.
To fix his dilemma, he would pick up and read the newspapers his father had bought in search of information for other types of engineering.
Grace smiled at him. A Nigerian publication called the Nigerian Outlook published an advert by Shell BP notifying the public that it was offering scholarships to young Nigerians in Marine engineering and Navigation. Out of the over 4,000 applicants who applied in 1971, only four including him were selected.
While many would have screamed for joy, Ogbeifun was in a place of positive confusion. “They (the Shell panel who interviewed him) had been aware that I had also gotten a federal government scholarship to do marine engineering in Guildford University in the UK. Here I am in the middle of two scholarships: One to study a degree in Marine Engineering and the second one to study professional Marine Engineering.”
The moment he found that Shell would put him on salary, his response was natural: He accepted the Shell option as that would enable me to support my parents while studying. After his foray abroad, he established his first company, Starzs Investments Company Limited (SICL) in 1986, and today, it has grown in leaps.
His daughter Iroghama has also stepped in as the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer. Interestingly, it was not an automatic family appointment.
She was brought in by consultants contracted from London to restructure the company to outlive him. Iro, as he fondly calls her, was running her own business in Lagos.
“So when the consultants from London recommended in their reports that they wanted her in the management of the company, I was surprised because two of my children are marine professionals. One of my sons, Osasu, is a Professional Marine Engineer and another one, Efosa, is a trained Naval Architect currently working in Canada. And my mind then was that the marine engineer will probably take over Starzs Investments Company Limited while the Naval Architect will eventually work with Starzs Marine & Engineering.” He stresses that he never doubted her capabilities but lives on the principles that the business be run well by professionals rather than saying a child automatically takes over. Hence his insistence that she would be “given one year of induction after which we would evaluate if she was capable of the responsibilities.”
Everyone was right. Before he stepped down, the company had three ships. Under her, it now boasts of 12 ships.
Charting A Better Course For Nigeria.
As a major player in the industry, he opines with sadness that now, Nigeria does not own a single national ship plying the oceans, this is shameful. There is no Nigerian fleet trading globally in existence, whether it is privately owned, or publicly owned or public-private partnership owned. Nothing.
This country, as at the time Obasanjo left office as a military head of state in 1979, had 29 ships owned and managed by Nigeria National Shipping Line (NNSL) trading worldwide, flying the Nigerian flag, bringing in our imports, taking out our commodities.
Can you imagine the number of people that fleet was employing? We had the operational head office in Liverpool in England then and the administrative office in Wharf Road in Apapa.
It was national pride that our flag was all over the world. When Obasanjo came back as a civilian president in 1999, there was not one ship left.
Nigerian National Shipping Line with all those ships was liquidated in 1995 due to bad management and a series of other issues. That platform that created jobs for Nigerians, trained Nigerian mariners, and seafarers, provided opportunities for maritime lawyers who signed the contracts, for maritime insurance firms that insured the ships, and everything associated with maritime and shipping, once that platform disappeared, everything disappeared. And that is where we have been from 1995 till date.”
He also highlighted that despite the existence of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) Oron, there are no ships for trainees to get their sea-time on.
Again, as a Nigerian whose in-depth professional experience and clarity of vision have made him serve in different Shipping and Maritime related Ministerial and Presidential committees, he noted that he is at a disadvantaged commercial position as a Nigerian in a Nigerian market.
The passionate Ogbeifun says that it is about time to look into the Nigerian Maritime industry as this concerns the Nigerian economy and job creation.
He is currently working on a legacy project, the Starzs Shipyard expansion project on the Oil & Gas Free Zone, Onne, a project which when completed is expected to provide about 800 direct employment and 2,000 indirect employment when completed for indigenes and residents of Rivers State.
“You may be aware that my state governor, His Excellency, Governor Obaseki appointed me to be the Chairman of the committee to build the port which is now called Benin River Port in Edo State. So that in itself is a major project which is already ongoing and if I am able to actualise that, that is another huge legacy by the grace of God, that I will be leaving for my home state and for the future generation. And then of course, more recently is my automobile workshop which is more of a hobby for me. I want to establish a workshop that is of international standard. What do I mean by that? The processes are going to be totally ICT driven. Another key driver is the training of the people and the skill I want to give to them. It is important to note that there is a “Technical Training College” in this town (Benin) which I want to link to the workshop so that they can use the workshop as their training center for the industrial training of the children in that school. All the three projects are legacy projects.”
The automobile workshop, Diverse Engineering Supply Limited, will be dedicated on February 11th when he turns 70 and serves as his birthday present to himself.
For The Love Of Health And Kindness
For a man clocking 70 on the 11th of February 2021, Mr. Ogbeifun can easily pass for 60. We ask him how he feels about this and he says that he is more than thankful for having great health,
“I am grateful to God for his faithfulness in my life, more importantly, I am in sound health, and I mean sound health. I don’t have any iota of sickness in my body, no iota of blood pressure, no diabetes, nothing. So that is the first thing I am grateful to God for. The second thing is the great opportunity I have had overtime to give back to my industry from what I do as a marine engineer. As an entrepreneur, it has helped me to touch lives, to impact lives, particularly mentoring young people, and right now all I am doing is finding a way to leave a legacy behind for the younger generation to benefit from.”
This promise to give back, he is already fulfilling with his commitment to helping the less privileged. Worried about the high unemployment rate among the Nigerian youths, he incorporated Eaglewatch Security Limited which today has over 600 Nigerians on its payroll.
He, however, says that although he has not been so lucky with staying married to one wife, he is immensely grateful that God has blessed him with eight (8) children, and “must not also forget to thank God for giving me a good wife at this stage of my life.”
The Guardian Life asks him, “What is your best colour and what does it remind you of?” He said Sky Blue reminds him of calmness and the awesomeness of God, especially when he is on the ship in the middle of nowhere and you look to the right and left, to the east to the south, to the north all you see is the thick blue ocean. Naturally, he loves to go on a cruise with his family to enjoy the calmness [of the colour], together with the oceans.
As he clocks 70, what are the biggest lessons life has taught him? He says, “The greatest lesson is that this world is not our home, we are only passing through. And the biggest lesson is to endeavour to leave good footprints on the sands of time as you pass through this world.”