One of the most important traits an entrepreneur should have in order to become successful is passion. With passion in place, a person will have the strength to keep going in business even in the face of challenges.
Oyinlola Mamudu left her trouble-free nursing career after three years of practice to pursue her love for business. She took the bold step and followed her dream. Today, she is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Lomads Ventures Limited, an oil & gas company, as well as the CEO of Beauty 4 Ashes, an event management firm.
In an exclusive interview with FinIntell, the mother of four who is married to a pharmacist underscores the benefits and joy derivable by following ones passion.
You left nursing for trading, what motivated your decision?
I have always had passion to be an entrepreneur, and I think it’s a gift. Doing business has really been a long time dream. Wherever I find myself, I like to look around to see what business opportunity to explore. Right from my school days, I derive joy selling and marketing different goods such as wears, perfumes, jewelries, etc. Even though I studied nursing, which is quite different from what I do now, I love doing business.
I think I studied nursing because of my mother. My mum loves the profession. When I satisfied her for about three years of practice, I moved from what I studied to business, which is where my passion lies.
I eventually registered my company in 1994 as a limited liability company. Initially, we started out as a freelance business organisation –going from one company to another to see what corporate gift we can supply. During festive seasons, we usually supply companies with hampers, diaries, calendars, and different corporate gifts.
You must be well connected to be getting those contracts
No, that wasn’t the case. At that time, the economy was booming and demand for corporate gifts was high. It could also be possible that I got those contracts because I had the zeal and the passion for the business. I never took no for an answer, and no security man could stop me from getting to where I needed to be. At times, the security personnel could be the stumbling blocks especially when you don’t have an appointment with the person you want to see. I just devise means of breaking those barriers to achieve my purpose.
It is also necessary to build customer relationship skills. Whenever I get to a company, I start my friendliness right from the gateman, then to the receptionist and the secretary because it is their boss I want to see. I don’t look down on them as nobody, and I have the charisma to carry people along. People will place barriers to stop you if you are not nice to them. That was one of the strategies that contributed to what we have achieved and where we are today. Just don’t look down on anybody because everyone is important.
Most of the time, it is those workers that will give you information about what job is available in their office. Even though it is their boss that will give the final approval, you still need those workers for in-house information. That is how we usually climb the ladders.
At what point did you decide to join the oil and gas business train?
Diesel business never really occurred to me despite the fact that I was living in an environment where businesses run on generators.
I ventured into oil and gas business because it got to a point where the corporate gifts’ jobs were not paying bills as expected. The amazing thing was that the oil and gas business opportunity that we got came through a staff of a company that asked us if we could supply diesel. The man even showed me where to go and who to liaise with for the business. That was how I started dealing in petroleum products, mainly diesel, around 1997. I always joke that we thrive in the inefficiency of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria. Inadequate power supply created the gap for our business. It is rare for you see a company that does not have diesel generator. Even the presidency always makes provision for that.
Oil and gas business is not like the corporate gift business. The demand for petroleum products is high. People need the product almost every two to three months.
Since the subsidy saga, most petroleum dealers claim the business is no more lucrative. How true is this?
The truth is that the situation seems to be changing. Many dealers will tell you that petroleum business is no more as lucrative as it used to be. People ventured into the business in the past because there was no deregulation.
Then, petroleum marketers were getting products on credit. If you had a petrol station at that time, you could get products on credit and pay later. You could get up to three to four trucks on credit. There was money to play around with then. Most times, before you even remit the money you get another product to sell.
Some people however abused those credit privileges. Today, if you go to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), you will discover that most of the fraud cases, apart from the banking cases, involve petroleum related issues.
After the credit era, we now thrive on integrity. People know that if they partner with us they will get their money back. Some people have funds but don’t have outlets to supply. If you go to such people with your LPO (Legal Process Outsourcing) that you have a company to supply, they will do business with you. That was what the banks also did for some people years back. They gave people money without collateral knowing that once they sell they will remit the money back.
As an operator in the petroleum industry, what would you say was responsible for the downfall of the sector?
Nigeria has its own peculiar problem. The big players at some point where at loggerheads with each other. For instance, if two players are bringing in products, one person might experience high overhead and will not be able to sell lower than a particular price. Meanwhile, by the time the other person is bringing in his own product, he is be able to circumvent certain things which would make his landing cost weigh lower than the first person. And as expected, it is natural for buyers to go to places where they will get products at a cheaper price.
So, the first marketer is stuck until the second marketer has finished selling his own product. In the mean time, while the first marketer remains stuck, his cost of funds will keep going up. He will pay demurrage and other charges. These differences cause problem in the industry.
Also, some marketers create artificial scarcity. There were days in which we stayed at the depot till 1:00am because the marketers created artificial scarcity. Meanwhile, your customers are on your neck that they are running out of fuel.
In this industry, there is a lot we can do if we have funds. A market can never be over saturated in any business. If I want to go into telecommunication today, there will still be market for it; depending on the area of the business I want to go. You just need to carry out proper research before venturing into any business. There are new people coming into this business to thrive while some other people are folding up; that is life.
What other principles have kept you going in business?
Apart from integrity that is keeping us in business, we are also consistent. That is why we have a lot of clients around. We always ensure we do proper distribution of the product we get. We have trucks and we are hoping to get more for effective delivery.
We also learn from past experiences. We have our own ugly stories in terms of wrong dealings. There is a case of a serial fraudster that we reported to the Nigeria Police Special Fraud Unit in 2011. The man was supposed to supply us diesel after we paid him but he absconded. The man is right here in Lagos but he cannot be brought to book because he’s getting protection from some law enforcement officers as well.
We didn’t know he was a fraudster. It was after he duped us that we heard he has done the same to other people. The deal we had with him was a third party LPO. He came with the LPO that he has people to supply and we gave him the product; but when it was time for payment we started hearing different stories. People like that collect products with the intention of not paying back. These fraudsters are everywhere.
But we are still keeping on. We are not allowing those kinds of problems to weigh us down despite the fact that it affected our cashflow. We believe that since the business was built on integrity, it will always bounce back. We make sure that we don’t dent our image.
Presently, we try to minimise our trading with individuals. We also try to avoid third party LPO. And if we must do such, we have to be very sure it is genuine. Again, one cannot be too careful so he or she doesn’t get defrauded. We can only thank God that He has always been our help. You can’t overrule some certain dubious practices. But by and large, I think we are blessed with loyal workers now because we’ve also been saddled with terrible workers in the past.
How prepared are you to switch business once electricity supply in the country becomes stable?
We have other businesses that we do. We are into event management and interior decoration. If there is any policy now to even shutdown the supply of petroleum products, we will not be frightened. Nigerians are jolly good fellows. Our event management company may not be at the top yet, but it’s definitely not far from the top.
Event is something that every company does. You will always have end of the year parties, long service awards, brand and new product launchings, wedding and birthday celebrations, etc. There is no way events can stop in this country.
We have been into the event business longer than we have been into oil and gas business even though the oil and gas business is more visible than the event management outfit. All our businesses have their own lives. The event management is giving us more opportunities to network with people for other businesses. By the time you write letters to about ten companies, maybe one or two will respond.
We are looking forward to having our own event centres around major cities in the country. We’ll be going into partnership with some investors to make this happen. It is difficult achieving this alone since banks are not lending. There are people who have money but don’t have an idea of what to do with it. Some are just afraid of risks.
How favourable or harsh has it been doing business as a woman?
The oil and gas business is a male dominated business while the major players in event management and decoration are women. However, once you are focused and you have good motive and passion for your vision, you will succeed in business.
Generally, some people still believe women cannot handle some types of businesses because they feel we don’t have the heart to do so. It is a mentality we develop around here. In developed countries, women are given opportunities to prove their abilities. But here, some people won’t entrust some things to women; forgetting the fact that women work harder than men. Some cultures and religions don’t allow women to have a say in decision making; although western education is gradually helping to change that orientation in some aspects of our lives.
What other challenges do you face on the job as a woman?
Accessing funds is one. I attended an empowerment programme for women and we were told why it is difficult for women to access funds. They proved to us that because women are highly emotional, they sometimes carry that into business. Whereas, when it comes to business, emotion shouldn’t come to play. For instance, if a woman is in charge of giving out loans, she can emotionally give out a loan to someone that doesn’t qualify for it if she feels that the person’s case is genuine.
Also, when it comes to arresting a suspect in fraud cases, women are perceived to be weak in taking such decision because they are perceived to often temper justice with mercy.
There are also certain business meetings that you can’t go to in the middle of the night because you are a woman. Most big business deals are not concluded in the offices. It is just the paper works that are done in offices. Business deals are concluded in clubs and joints; places where you don’t expect a woman to be at 10:00p.m, not to talk of wee hours.
It even makes it worse if you are a married woman. For example, if you have an urgent appointment where contract worth billions of naira will be finalised and your child suddenly falls sick and needs surgery, what decision will you take? These are some of the reasons why men dominate certain businesses in Nigeria.
Do you get advances from men just because they want to give you a contact?
Yes. I get that a lot. Some men just look at you and want to take advantage of you. It is up to you to take a stand. Most times I wonder what is it that they want to give that will worth such disrespect. It is not just equitable. For example, if you give me a contract, it is my duty to get the job done, get my share and give you your share of the money. So I see no reason why someone would now want to take advantage of me.
If you want government to address one thing now, what would that be?
It will be for the government to make avenues for businesses to thrive. This should be government’s primary responsibility. But knowing the kind of government that we have, it is everyman is for himself.
Government has dampened the mindsets of people. Look at what they have turned the educational sector into. It is the private schools that are now thriving. Even the so-called federal schools of today are not comparable to what they used to be. Very few parents can even allow their children to attend the same federal schools they once attended because the quality has dropped.
Nigeria is still being called a poor nation because of our mentality. For instance, when you see a policeman, the orientation or mentality he has does not go beyond collecting ₦20 or ₦50 from commuters. It is still the same mentality when you see the way they live in their barracks or relate with people. They can’t think of living outside that mentality and becoming more useful to the society.
It is every sector of the economy that needs drastic improvement. We should be able to stand tall and be proud to be a Nigerians.
How rewarding has it been?
At least we are putting food on people’s tables and reducing the rate of unemployment in the country. When you employ people and they can look forward to a salary, you are giving them hope in one way or the other. It is when there is no income from anywhere that some situations become terrible. There is no income that is ever enough; not even in this country. But if you live a simple life without trying to impress anyone, you will live healthy. This is one of the things I like about the white people. The white sometimes wonder how Africans throw parties and provide free foods and drinks for hundreds of people. These wasteful habits make us poorer as a nation. Some people even go as far as borrowing money to throw parties. That is why event companies like ours cannot run out of business. But the truth must be told, we just need to change our orientation as a nation.
What is your advice for upcoming entrepreneurs, particularly young ladies?
I will advise them to follow their passions. Whatever you have passion for, just follow it and improve on it. It might be rough at the start, but don’t give up. The road to success itself is not smooth. If it’s not rough, it will not last. If you are determined in any area of business that you have passion for, you can make it and get to the top of your career.
Upcoming entrepreneurs should also be focused on anything they do. And once they are not discouraged, they will get to the promise land. They should also not see any business as too small to do.
How do you relax?
I play golf.
(Interjects) No wonder you are looking pretty and smart?
(General laughter) Thank you. I am a member of Ikeja Club. I enjoy playing golf. I have been playing golf for the past five years now, and I’ve even won some trophies.