Dr. Gabriel Ogbechie, the MD/CEO of Rainoil Limited, is one of the smartest and most eloquent businessmen that we’ve come across. As the Guest Speaker at the 5th Annual YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Lecture (on Monday, June 20, 2016, at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Island, Lagos), he had practically everybody eating from his palms. So much so that even weeks after, calls and texts have not stopped pouring in on how to extract more from his fountain of knowledge – especially as it concerns running a successful business.
YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, in order to resolve that, visited the 50 year-old astute and astounding businessman on Tuesday, June 28, 2016. The venue was his company’s corporate headquarters (on Plot 8, Block 116, Akiogun Street, By Bosun Adekoya Road, Victoria Island, Lagos) and the mission was for him to shed more light on some issues as they concern business. Sparing us almost another one full hour, the father of three, a Production Engineering graduate of the University of Benin, again didn’t disappoint. Enjoy…
What makes a good businessman?
A good business man? For you to be a good business man, one key thing you need is financial discipline. I insist, a good business man is a man who should be able to see money and keep his cool. You need a lot of discipline to run a business because in business, you need money to survive. If you get a job; say you get a job with Nestle for instance, the day you start your job, there is a table for you, a desk for you, a chair, a computer, everything is set out. But when you run your own business, you not only have to be your own employer, you also have to provide the resources, the structure to support that employment. So, you must have financial discipline to be able to keep your money in the business and not live off your turnover and instead live on the little you make. For example, if you are running a business, you go to a bank, you borrow, let me say N500 million. If they give you and you write a cheque of N100 million and then the bank pays, it doesn’t mean you have money. It is when you trade with that N500 million; when you make N10 million, that is your money. The N500 million is not your money. You have to live like a man who has less than N10 million. So, you need a lot of discipline, you need a lot of focus, you need a lot of self-denial to be a businessman; a lot of perseverance to be a successful business-man.
What got you interested in business in the first instance?
I remember when I was in school, I dare say that I was a very bright student. I left the university at the age of 21, with a degree in Production Engineering. I made a very solid 2.1 in school, but you know, I have always liked the art of transactions, I have always liked making things happen. I remember when I was in school then, I used to joke with my friends that when I leave school, I am going to sell cement. It was funny, but I always liked making things happen. But the moment I left school, even though I got a job and I started working, by the time I was 28, I was already planning my exit. By the time I was 28, I had registered the company, by the time I was 30, going to 31, I had left my job to go do my thing.
What is the commonest mistake that most businessmen make?
The commonest mistake people make again revolves around money, how you deal with money. You are only in business when your income exceeds your expenditure. If you are in paid employment, for instance, your salary is fixed and firm and it is the same every month. In business, it is not like that. This month, you can make N2 million, the next month N5 million, the next month N10 million, the following month you may lose N3 million. But you need to remain focused, you need to persevere, even when nothing seems to be happening. So, one big mistake businessmen make is their attitude towards money, because it is the capital that sustains the business. Once you lose the capital, you lose the business.
What do you like most about being a businessman?
The fact that I am my own man. I mean, my destiny is in my own hands and of course in the hands of God. I am my own man, I decide what I want to do, when I want to do it and how I do it.
What don’t you like about being a businessman?
It can be very stressful. I mean, it is a lot of responsibility. You have a lot of people working for you, you have to take responsibility for them, you have to pay their salaries at the end of every month. I tell my workers that a business gets to a point where…Like in Rainoil, for example, we have a staff strength of like 600 people. When you have 600 people you have to cater for, I don’t have the right anymore to wreck the business, because 600 people with their families, depend on this company for their means of livelihood. Even though I am the chief executive, I don’t have a right to wreck the business. So, I must conform.
What distinguishes you as a businessman, what stands you out, what sets you apart from the other businessmen?
I wouldn’t know, but I know that I am very hardworking. For me, work starts at 8:00am. It has always been like that. When I get here by 9:00am, I feel like I have come late to work. If I step into these premises by 9:00am, I will tell myself, ‘Gabriel, you are late’. Most times when you come here by 8:00pm, I am still here. I also travel a lot. It’s a lot of stress, but you need to keep working.
What got you interested in the oil business; you could have gone into cement which was like your first love, or automobiles and things like that. Why did you settle for oil and gas?
Simple! When I left the university, I worked briefly in Kano, then joined an oil company. I worked for an oil company for 5 years and I understood the industry. I saw money being made, I understood how to make money in that sector, so I came into the oil sector because that was what I understood. One thing I keep saying is that the most important thing you need in any business you want to do is knowledge. Where I have the knowledge is in the oil sector. But it does not mean that it is in only the oil sector that there is money. I mean, if you drive around Lagos, there are cars everywhere, properties everywhere; how many of them do you think are into oil? I am into oil because I understand oil. So, that’s the key thing. You are into magazine, because I listened to you; you had done Fame, you had done Encomium. You understood how the magazine business worked. And what did you do? You went ahead and set up YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine. So, I always tell people – do what you know, do what you understand. I am into oil because I understand the oil industry.
What would you say has been the wisest business decision you have taken since you started?
I can’t exactly hold on to any particular one because running a business, it’s an aggregation of taking decisions everyday, trying to ensure that you take the right decision. But the best decision I have made is maybe leaving my paid employment to go and start Rainoil because it’s been a fantastic journey.
Since you set up shop, can you recollect any business decision that you took and later regretted?
I have done a transaction that I lost money that really hurt me. But I can’t recollect any particular one. I think that by the grace of God, we have been pretty calculative, pretty systematic, pretty methodical and we have remained focused on what we do. I try not to dabble into things I don’t understand. I tell people that if you come and meet me now that there is an LPO, you can supply Lagos State Government computers and make a hundred million naira. I would say I won’t touch it. Because I don’t understand the computer business. The business I understand is the oil business, that is what I will stay focused on and that’s all I do. So, most of the decisions I take revolve around this industry and it’s because it’s an industry I understand fairly well. That’s an industry I have worked in now for the past 24 years, so I minimize my poor decisions.
Most people attain success in business, but they are not able to sustain it. Where do you think they normally get it wrong?
Business is just like life. It’s very dynamic; change will keep happening. Businesses fail because some of them don’t adapt to changes as they happen. You need to be very, very innovative in business. I remember when we started, our main product was something you call LPFO (Low Poor Fuel Oil), otherwise called black oil. It’s what companies use to fire their boilers – the breweries, the textile companies. I recall one day, around year 2000, I was driving on Oba Akran in Ikeja and I saw that they had dug up the side of the road and there were pipes on the road and I called somebody. I said, ‘What are they laying pipes for?’ He said, ‘It’s for gas’. I said, ‘What are they going to use gas for?’ He said, ‘They are passing gas to their company so that they can use gas to fire their boilers’. I went to the office, I called my staff, I said come, ‘LPFO is now an endangered specie, we need to move away from LPFO because the moment all these companies hook up to gas, nobody is going to buy our LPFO. So, we didn’t wait for the change to happen on us. We immediately started reacting to it and started moving our money from LPFO into developing retail stations. Even though in our early years, LPFO accounted for maybe 10% of our sales, I have not sold one litre of LPFO in the last seven years, because we have moved away from LPFO. So, you see, for you to survive in business, things will keep changing, competition will change, market dynamics will change, customers’ taste will change. Your responsibility as a businessman is to keep adapting to those changes as they happen, not to complain while the changes are happening because the changes must happen. You must take things as they are and try to make money in spite of the limitation. What tends to happen is that a lot of businessmen sit down and keep lamenting why things are no longer how they used to be. No, the challenge is how do you make money with the current reality? So, you must be very perceptive, you must read, you must watch what is happening in the environment and then you must ask yourself how do I adapt or it will affect your business. Competition must catch up with you. Whatever you do, competition will catch up with you. You run a magazine, make no mistake about it, the day people see that you are making a lot of money running your magazine, more people will set up magazines. I built a petrol station and then the petrol station was doing very well. It was obvious, because if you are doing well people will see it. But the moment the station started doing well, we didn’t just sit down there and say this is where God has buttered our bread. The moment you commission it and it is doing well, start looking for the next location, because it is only a matter of time, competition will catch up with that location where you find yourself. But before competition catches up with that location, make sure you have gone to another location. So, the business must keep regenerating itself for it to survive. If you don’t regenerate yourself, then the end is in sight.
Your company’s name is Rainoil, how did you come about it?
(Laughs) Very interesting. In 1994, when I wanted to incorporate the business, my wife and I went to meet a friend of ours who is a lawyer and we told the lawyer we wanted to start an oil company. Then, we started bandying names around. Why don’t you call it this and that oil and my friend who is a lawyer and a pastor said, ‘Gabriel, rain stands for blessing, why don’t you call it Rain Oil’. And I said, ‘You know what, you are right, but instead of Rain Oil, we are going to merge the Rain and the Oil to get one word which is Rainoil’. And that was how Rainoil Limited was incorporated in November 1994 and it’s been really good. It was quite prophetic because Rainoil just got up and ran.
What’s your dream for Rainoil?
My dream for Rainoil is that Rainoil shall be a dominant player in the downstream sector of the Nigerian oil and gas industry and we are very much on course, to realizing that dream.
Earlier on, you said something about your wife. How did you meet her and what was the attraction?
I did my youth service in Kano, stayed back in Kano, and in May 1990, a few days to my 24th birthday, I went to visit a friend of mine and we were in his room. We were playing chess, we were seated on the floor. I wasn’t wearing a shirt, I was in my shorts, making some very serious strategic moves in chess and then this lady walked in to see my friend and in the midst of a very serious game, she was talking to the guy and distracting us and then I looked up and saw this fair, naturally pretty girl with her hair just flying to the back. That was my first contact with her. One thing led to the other, I got to know her, a couple of months later, we started dating, a couple of years later, we were married.
What’s her name?
Her name is Godrey Ifeanyi Ogbechie.
Can we meet your family, the kids? Tell us about them…
Yeah…God blessed me or blessed us with three children. I have two boys and a girl. My first son, Chukwudi Ebele, who is in the university; my daughter, Oge, who is in secondary school and then the baby of the house, Uche. Uche just rounded off primary school. He would be going to secondary by September.
Away from work, what keeps you happy, what keeps you busy, what keeps you engaged?
Away from work, I love to play tennis. I am passionate about tennis. As you can see, I am watching the Wimbledon tournament that is going on right now. I even sponsor tennis tournaments. I’ve played tennis since I was a kid. My recreation revolves around tennis. Although, lately, I have not had enough time to play tennis as I would have loved to because I keep getting more and more engrossed on work.
It’s obvious that God has been nice to you, what more do you want from Him, what is that thing that God still hasn’t done for you?
I wake up every morning, I pray to God and I thank Him. I always tell Him that we have come this far not because we are too hardworking or we are too intelligent or because we are too smart. It’s just the grace of God and for all what He has done, how far we have come, we just remain very grateful and remain very thankful. Is there anything He has not done? No! He’s done what I expect Him to do and I thank Him for all what He has done. However, life is a journey. We keep walking it. Success is a journey, it’s not a destination. People may say we are successful, yes, we may be successful, but the success only asks for more hardwork to maintain it. It’s easier to become a rich man than to remain a rich man. So, we are still on that journey.
What fond memories of your childhood can you recollect? Where did you grow up, what were the things that happened then that you can still remember?
I had a very interesting childhood. I started my primary school in Auchi in 1972. My father was a police man, we were always going on transfer and I ended up attending five different primary schools within 5 years in three different states of the federation. I went from a primary school in Auchi in the current Edo State to a primary school in Obolo Afor in the current Enugu State. From there, I went to Ohafia in the current Abia State; from there I came back to Enugu Ezike in the current Enugu State, before I ended my primary school in Onitsha in the current Anambra State. So, my primary school was more of itinerant, moving from one place to another. I grew up in the police barracks. I remember when I was a kid growing up in the barracks, all my friends were barracks boys and we were very close and then in Onisha, I would see a friend who was just living on a street in Onitsha, and I just wondered, how can you be living on a street, how do you have friends when you just live on a street inside town on your own? I couldn’t comprehend it you know, because growing up in the barracks was fun. I had a very eventful childhood. From there to secondary school, university and then moved on with my life.
He died in a plane crash, right?
Yes, George Enenmuo died in the unfortunate Bellview plane crash of October 2005. It was an avoidable waste; very hardworking man, very focused, very determined. George Enenmuo taught me that with determination, you can do anything. He was also a man who built an empire from the scratch. He is a man I still admire. He actually brought me into this industry. If not for George Enenmuo, maybe I would not have been in this industry. I worked with him for 5 years, I learnt the ropes from George Enenmuo and may his soul forever rest in peace. Amen!
Most people would want to attempt business, but they usually entertain and nurse this inexplicable fear. How did you overcome yours?
It’s very easy. I didn’t look too far. I broke it down into small achievable targets, and the starting place for me was how much am I earning? I was earning X amount of money. What else can I do to make that money? So, I set out just to do something that can give me the amount of money I was earning and from there grew the business. You see, don’t look too far. It’s like you want to build a house, you get the land, you do the foundation, take up the blocks, you do the decking. If you want to build a house and you are waiting until you have all the money before you start, you are not going to go far. Just break it down into small targets. Okay, can I get some money to do the foundation? When you do the foundation, can I get some money to do another thing? But having said that, the Bible will admonish us that you don’t put your hand on the plough and look back. Once you put your hand on the plough, look forward, there is no going back to Egypt.
You just said something about God and I recollect vividly that prior to delivering your lecture at our event, you prayed first. What’s your relationship with God? Are you a pastor or you are just one man who loves God?
I am a Christian, I love God, I acknowledge God, I put God first in everything I do, I store my best to do the best I can for God and I keep telling my wife that someday, I am going to be a pastor (Laughing). And I hope it comes to pass (More laughter).
What’s your personal definition of success and when can a man be said to have really succeeded?
A man succeeds when he begins to add a lot of value to the society. A time comes when your personal life becomes too small to be the essence of your being, because as God blesses you, at some point, you will find out that your need is actually less than 1% of what you have. So, at that point, it becomes a matter of how much are you adding to the society, how much value are you adding to the community? You see, we need to learn from other people. I look at a man like Bill Gates. Today, he is spending all his time running the Bill Gates Foundation. He comes to Kano; for an American, Kano is in the middle of nowhere. He comes all the way from America and goes to Kano, donating money for polio, to take care of malaria. For me, that is success. Success is not about oh, I am the richest man in Nigeria, the richest man in the community. For all that wealth that you have, if that wealth is just to cater for the needs of yourself and that of your family, for people to say that you are the richest man, then you have not achieved success.
When is the best time to move from being an employee to becoming an employer, having passed through that route before?
The best time to do that is when you don’t have much to lose, when you are still young. The more you delay it and the higher you go up the career path, the more difficult it becomes. I left my job when I was just 30. I was less than 31 when I walked away from my job. I was young, I didn’t have much care in the world. If I had failed, it would have been easier for me to pick the pieces and move on. Just before you came, a friend of mine came. He is an executive director in one of the banks. We are peers, we are age mates and then he looks at me and says you are lucky. It’s difficult for us to leave now. They wish they can do what you did, but they are too far up there that they can’t start. Because to start a business, you have to start from the scratch. Why a lot of businesses fail, businesses that big men start, is that they start the business with a lot of overhead. You are just starting the business, you want to go abroad, you want to fly business class or first class, you want to park four cars outside. All that is overhead on the business and it’s difficult to do that when you are just starting the business from the scratch. The best time to start a business, if you really want to start a business, is when you are still well under 40.
As an employer of labour, what is the best way to cope with a staff who is good, but not disciplined?
A staff is good, but not disciplined? It’s about applying weight to what you call good and how bad his indiscipline on the business is, and also how good is his good? Is he good enough that he is bringing in so much money into the business; is he so indisciplined that his indiscipline is an impediment to other people doing what they need to do? But I would tell you one thing that my boss and mentor, George Enenmuo used to tell me. He will say, “Gabriel, a company is like a boat, we are all in a boat, we are paddling on a boat so that the boat can keep afloat. Then, while we are paddling, one man is busy fetching water into the boat, trying to capsize the boat; Gabriel, which one is better? Do we keep that man or throw him overboard so that only him drowns or do we allow him to capsize the whole boat so that everyone drowns; which one is better?” We all agreed that it is better to kick that man overboard (Laughter). So, the question is, if a man is good, but he’s very indisciplined and his indiscipline is threatening to capsize the boat, you know what I would do? I will throw him overboard. I will fire him!
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