Mr Adeniyi Adekunle is a dealer in steel and construction. He is the Chief Executive Officer of SAMAD Group of Companies.
He believes that inculcating the concept of entrepreneurship into the minds of youths at early stages of their lives is one way to stimulate their interests towards taking a plunge into floating their own small businesses.
In this interview with TUNDE THOMAS, the South African-trained builder-cum-entrepreneur tells more on the business lessons he has learnt, how the government and individuals can cash in and reap immensely by investing in the steel sector.
What motivated you to delve into construction business?
I would say the motivation was right from my childhood. I had always loved anything construction. I used to follow one of my uncles who was a contractor to construction sites. Seeing labourers and their foremen at work, I always admired them. I also admired helmets worn by foremen and supervisors at construction sites.
Although when I left secondary school, I immediately proceeded to Lagos State University where I did a Diploma in Religious Studies, my dream to be a builder came to pass when I gained admission to read Building Technology at Hydraform Training Institute in South Africa.
On my return to Nigeria about 10 years ago, I initially joined my uncle’s construction firm before I later decided to start my own company. This was in 1993, I had only N50,000 start-up capital, but with perseverance, the business later flourished to the extent that I now went into both construction business and selling of steel and iron rods.
What is the most memorable experience you’ve had as an entereneur?
There have been several ones, but one or two remained lingering in my memory.
I still continue to remember my sojourn in South-Africa, how I see construction company owners joining other masons they hired to carry blocks, clear drainages and even doing some plastering on buildings under construction.
But here, that is hardly the story, here, the reverse is the case, what you see are owners of construction outfits sitting down in jeeps at the sites reading newspapers or barking at their workers.
I also continue to marvel how God in His infinite mercy multiplied hundred fold the initial capital of N50, 000 which I used in starting this business.
What has been your own experience in the construction industry and what business lesson have you learnt?
My firm has executed several jobs within and outside Lagos State. We were involved in construction of primary schools for Osun State government. But we mainly undertake construction of estates and private buildings for individuals.
In order to ensure that my construction firm tries as much as possible to give our clients the best, I source cement and other building materials directly from the source. Again, this is to ensure that we don’t end up using fake materials for jobs we are executing.
One thing I have discovered after several years in the business is that if you are not careful, the reputation you have built over the years can be ruined if you use fake products as they will affect the quality of job you are executing. I always tell my workers that I don’t mind using expensive products which in the long run may affect our profit margin. My joy is always seeing customers coming back to commend us for a job well done.
Of recent, there has been an increase in cases of collapsed buildings, especially in Lagos State, what would you say is responsible?
This is a worrisome development. It is an unfortunate development. But what I would like to say is that this is an avoidable problem. We can avert these recurring tragedies the moment Lagos State government or those in authority decided to wield the big stick.
There are a lot of charlatans all over the place parading themselves as building contractors. Most of these people are fakes. They are purely merchants of death.
Not only did many of them lack knowledge about modern technology in building and allied sector, they also cut corners in order to make outrageous profits. They use fake and substandard building materials.
There is an urgent need to sanitise the industry. We need to do a surgical operation in the sector in order to eliminate the menace posed to the lives of Nigerians by these undesirable elements and their cohorts.
The irony of it all, however, is that in this situation, what you discover is that government in a way is also not helping matters as they are the ones patronizing the fake contractors most. The reasons these government officials often give is that charges by genuine contractors are often on the high side. But for that, my reply to them has always been that a true professional will never compromise standards. It is either a competent job that will stand the test of time or I keep away. My own cardinal principle has always been emphasis on quality and standard, and if you want a good job, you must be ready to pay for it.
What do you think can be done to sanitise the industry?
Based on my experience in South Africa and several years of practice here, I made some observations which I believe if we can act upon them, cases of collapsed buildings will become a thing of the past.
I sent a proposal to Lagos State government seeking collaboration between my firm, and the state government in organising series of workshops and seminars for building contractors, but up till today, we have not received any formal reply. But I would not allow that to dampen my spirit.
Presently, I’m talking with other stakeholders to organise this workshop.
I believe that with private initiative idea, we may be able to identify problems bedevilling the building industry with a view to finding a lasting solution to the problem.
However, I believe that those agencies saddled with the task of monitoring and identifying defective buildings should not hesitate to wield the big stick the moment any building is identified to be of risk to the inhabitants.
What is your advice to the Federal Government because some people have been highlighting the danger of Nigeria depending solely on crude oil as the major source of revenue?
Iron and steel industry can fetch Nigeria billions of dollars in revenue.
Let government invite professionals and experts who have good knowledge of the sector, and we will be singing a new song.
To achieve the desired goal, government can collaborate with the private sector. Private sector participation will go a long way to ensure that we get a good delivery.
Government has tried its best, let’s try another alternative. The way people handle things in this part of the world is different from that of the Western World. People here are more interested in what will go into their private pockets. If the private sector is encouraged, there will be a lot of changes.
Look at NITEL, we all used to believe that telephone was the exclusive of the rich but see what liberalization has done to the telecommunication sector. If government can allow private investors to come in, I believe it won’t take time to revive iron and steel industry.
I believe all hope is not yet lost for the industry. Nigeria is still going to be a great country.
After getting training in south africa, many would have preferred to stay back there rather than come back to nigeria. Why did you choose to come back to start up here in a tough climate like nigeria?
Right from my childhood, I’ve always have the belief that I will make it right here in Nigeria. What I’m I looking for in another country when I have the skill that can fetch me good money.
There is no place like home. Travelling abroad has opened my eyes to a lot of humiliation Nigerians faced in other climes, most of these young Nigerians that travelled abroad or even in South Africa are often treated like second class citizens.
I’m a patriot, I believe in staying right here in Nigeria to team up with other to build a very strong and united Nigeria.
What does it take to run a thriving business in a tough economy like nigeria?
First and foremost you must be shrewd and also very competent when you are competent, you will be able to execute good jobs that will speak for you, and this in turn will attract good patronage. Then you must also enjoy loyalty of your staff. If you enjoy the confidence and loyalty of your workers it will be easier for you to achieve results. You must also be able to manage your resources very well in order to attain set goals.
What would be your suggestion on how to stimulate the interest of nigerian youths towards enterprenurship?
We have to start inculcating the concept of entrepreneurship into our youths right from even secondary school. Government should introduce entrepreneurship into the school curriculum.
Gone are the days when government provides employment for almost everybody. The situation in our nation today is such that our youth must be made to embrace the concept of self-employment. They must be given that kind of orientation that will not make them to look unto government for jobs after leaving school or combing the streets for elusive white collar jobs.
What would be your advice to youths that could have interest in starting up a construction business?
My advice is very simple aspiring youth that want to go into the business must know within their minds that they have genuine love for the business. Not only that they must be ready to endure and persevere between hoping start making protect. They must strive to make name first before running after money or profit.
If you do good job, your work will speak for you, and clients will start running after you, and when they start running after you, and when they start running after you, money will then come your way.
My advice again is that youth aspiring to go into the business must not cut corners when executing a project for client. Don’t use sub-stranded materials in over to make quick money. When you cut corners, and executes shoddy jobs, you are damaging you own reputation Avoid anything that will ruin or tarnish your reputation.