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The Mandate to Affect Budding Nigerian Entrepreneurs
Oct 17 2016
One could become successful by being born with a silver spoon or it could be earned through hard work and sheer determination to rise to the pinnacle in one’s chosen career or professional endeavour. The latter largely agrees with the Holy book’s saying: “Seeth thou a diligent man, he will stand before Kings and not before mere men”. The story of Chibuike Achigbu, CEO, Chimons Limited and Commonwealth Economic & Investment Commission (CWEIC) Chief, attests to the fact that a rough and tedious background shouldn’t be a setback in attaining great heights in life. Rather, it should be the inspiration needed by a young man to actualize his career goals. Against the odds In the beginning, young Chibuike’s very humble background compelled him to skip meals and take to menial jobs such as working as a bus conductor, in order to buy basic things like a pair of slippers. Needless to say, education (elementary, secondary and tertiary) was not the easiest of things for him. However, like Daniel in the Bible, the spirit of excellence upon him did make the difference. Chibuike will never hesitate to tell whoever cares to listen, that though he emerged from a below-par economic background, his survival instincts cannot be dismissed. According to Chibuike Achigbu, “I was born into a poor background. Survival was no mean task. I had to do all manner of odd jobs to survive. It was that tough. But I had an uncle who was a principal as a role model. I saw his children eating good food and wearing nice clothes, so I wanted to be like them”. Role Modeling or Self-Inspiration Unlike today, where young ones no longer have role models, he inspired himself through his uncle, whom he saw as one. He was a pioneer student at the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), where he read Petroleum/Petrochemical Engineering Technology, graduating in 1988 with laurels as overall best student in Petroleum Engineering and with a departmental award. Not willing to settle for less, Chibuike did a Masters Degree program in Public Administration, specializing in Political Economy at the University of Lagos (UNILAG). In 2009, he was at the Harvard Business School, Boston, USA for a three-year program in Entrepreneurship and Leadership. Again, in 2011, he was awarded a postgraduate certificate in Business Strategy and Leadership Development. Cutting His teeth As a young graduate of Petroleum / Petrochemical Engineering Technology, Chibuike cut his professional teeth as a Youth Corper with Mobil, where he learned the ropes. “I did my NYSC in Mobil. As a young graduate, I went to work every day in helicopters. They would pick us from where we lived in the bush, drop us at the offshore platform. Imagine a 24-year-old in a place, with dolphins and fishes as companions. And if it was raining, I would hold one of the pipes to keep warm. I would remain there till the helicopter came for me at 5 p.m”, he recalls. His venture into startup business was not without its usual challenges. He had to look elsewhere outside his professional calling to raise capital. He leveraged his relationship with his brother who resided abroad. “I raised fund by selling football boots. I had a brother in Russia in the era of Perestroika, who used to send football boots to me every week. Every Monday, I would go to the airport, pick them and race to the National Stadium, Surulere to sell. I earned his trust, because I was honest, remitting his money appropriately. He was encouraged and did introduce his friends to patronize me”. This emphasizes integrity and honesty as cardinal points in earning the trust of others, either in business or life in general. From selling boots, Chibuike went on to selling wristwatches, chandeliers, earrings, etc. “Within 2/3 years, I was able to save some money”, he reminisces. And then, he started brainstorming on what kind of business to go into. He says, “For sure, I know what I wasn’t going into. I wasn’t prepared to be like the regular trader”. Focus and Conquer As a qualified Petrochemical professional also highly trained and skilled in the art of business and entrepreneurship, the marketing cliché “focus and conquer” became his guiding mantra as he decided to go into something along the lines of his professional competence. “I always wanted to go back to my profession; I decided to go into LPG business by setting up my first company, Chimons Limited, a gas refilling plant in 1994”. In view of the company’s growing profile and demonstrated competence, in 2006, Chimons successfully managed a bid team that won the first ever contract for the successful lifting of LPG from NLNG into the domestic market. The company became one of the first six off-takers selected by NLNG which was a no mean feat for the young indigenous company. In collaboration with other stakeholders, the company has advanced from 40,000 metric tonne LPG consumption in 2007 to 400,000 metric tonnes in 2015. It is projected that by the end of this year, the figures will be in the borderline of 500,000 metric tonnes. Aside this landmark growth, the company looks forward to the completion of its terminal in Delta State, in the coming year. From one refilling plant, it expanded with several plants, parading state-of-the-art installations and equipment. The company has also expanded its offerings, to birth a sister company in construction industry. “As a businessman, when you see an opportunity, you move in. It is very important to diversify and consolidate”, he counsels. Success begets Success His enviable business acumen and entrepreneurial ingenuity goes before the Chimons CEO. This, perhaps explains his recent appointment as a member of the advisory board of the Commonwealth Economic and Investment Commission (CWEIC). “I didn’t lobby for it. It came to me as a surprise”, he says while explaining. “Sometime last year, I went for a conference in Malta. President Buhari and the Queen of England were there. I don’t know the parameter they used in selecting members for the board. I just got an email that I was needed by the management of the Commonwealth”. CWEIC has been in existence for quite a long time, but was reformed in 2014. At the Chimons boss’ maiden meeting with the CWEIC, “they said they were impressed by what we do and my qualifications and that I had been selected to join the board and that was it”, Chibuike Achigbu says, trying to figure out what earned him a seat on the board of the commission. The CWEIC Mandate CWEIC is a not-for-profit organization, with a mandate from the Commonwealth Heads of Government to promote trade and investment across the 53-member countries. The CWEIC has a small secretariat based within the Commonwealth Secretariat office in London. “The purpose of the council is to promote trade and investment, by facilitating engagement between government and the private sector within the Commonwealth”. It is the apex organization representing private sector businesses within the Commonwealth and it is the only institution with a remit to promote intra-Commonwealth trade and investment. The CWEIC is also responsible for organizing the Commonwealth Business Forum alongside the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. The Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwumi Ambode also sits on the board of CWEIC, as Vice President. Benefits to Nigeria’s Business Community In the face of the current economic recession in the country, the goal for Mr. Achigbu is to ensure that more Nigerians and organizations become key players in the Commonwealth region. “We have to work hard to help them connect with the opportunities out there”, he explains. Eventually, CWEIC will set up an office in Nigeria, so that the commission can begin to create awareness, with a view to aiding businesses in Nigeria and finding out how they can access the market within the Commonwealth through export of goods/services. The American President, Barak Obama, talks about markets all the time. That is how countries develop. In Nigeria, attention and focus on crude oil should be reduced. The minister of trade should be the most important minister because trade is what gives you a favourable balance of payment as a country”, he enthuses. No doubt, the story and achievements of Chibuike Achigbu, despite all odds, should build some confidence among enterprising Nigerian youths. One will agree that in someone such as Chibuike Achigbu, Nigeria has a hope of becoming a great nation, once again.