Mr. Adeyemi Kolawole, General Manager, Avis Nigeria, one of the country’s leading transport and logistics companies, has said that despite the existence of numerous transport companies in the country, massive opportunities still exist in the sector. According to him, only about 20 percent of the opportunities that exist in the sector are being utilized.
Mr. Adeyemi who stated this in this interview with Business Hallmark’s Obinna Ezugwu, also offered interesting career advice to young Nigerians.
You have run this brand in Nigeria for some time. What advice can you give to younger Nigerians on how to run a business successfully?
By way of introduction, we run the Avis brand in Nigeria. Avis is an international brand. Right now it is in about 175 countries. It came to Nigeria in 2006. Since then the brand has grown from strength to strength. And of course, everywhere in the world, Avis is known for providing ground transport and logistics services. That’s why you find us in virtually all the airports in the country.
Having said that, one major thing you must do for your business to thrive in any environment is to study and understand the demands and peculiarities of that environment. Every environment has its own peculiarities. Like I said before, Avis is an international brand and in most countries we operate, we offer self drive service. This is a situation where, after making your bookings for a vehicle, you pick up the key and drive yourself to wherever it is you want to go.
However, coming to Nigeria, we know it would be difficult to run self drive because you can’t easily profile people. You can’t imagine a situation where you give somebody a car and the next thing you know, the car is already in a neighbouring country. This cannot happen in other places, even in South Africa, because they have well established structures for identifying everyone. But here, we understand that it is possible for someone to have two or three passports or identities. So, what we do here basically is chauffeur driving.
Nonetheless, if we are able to profile you, and especially if you are a corporate organisation, we can do self driving. In all, like I said, it is about knowing your environment and adapting to its peculiarities. That’s the first thing you must do for every business you run.
There is also the business model. A lot of times, we go into businesses because we see other people doing it, without studying the business properly. That is a wrong step. For you to succeed in any business, you must have passion for it and you must have taken time to study the business and the environment. When Uber came into Nigeria about five years ago for instance, you began to see a lot of other taxi companies but right now most of them have gone under. Therefore, understanding what you want to do and having passion for it is key.
What are the specific services that Avis provide?
In Avis Nigeria, we have three main businesses that we do. We have the retail business, which is car rental. We also do management service; then we have chauffeur service. For the car rental, which I call retail business, you find us in airports. We do airport transfer, pick up, drop off and the rest of them. If you want to move from one point to another, we take you. We also have the fleet management service. Here we buy vehicles for, and maintain vehicles for organizations – be that staff buses or luxury cars for directors and the rest.
We enter into lease agreement with such organisations and we have many of them. More and more organisations are keying into the service. It is a way of outsourcing as opposed to organisations buying cars and managing them; instead of doing that you give the responsibility to us. We buy and we maintain so that you won’t have to worry about managing vehicles, dealing with drivers’ headaches and all the statutory papers. We handle all those for you and you pay us monthly.
Again, we have chauffeur service. Here we provide well trained drivers for organisations. We would have profiled such drivers, conducted background checks on them, train them and all that. We have a data bank for drivers. Organisations come to us to request for drivers. Even those who already have drivers come to us because they need an organisation that can better manage them. They pay us for the service and we handle the operations. We schedule them for work, manage their leave, health insurance, pension and the likes. We take those responsibilities off our clients.
You render this kind of service from an environment such Apapa with all the traffic challenges. How are you able to cope?
It’s not really a problem because now you can do lots of businesses online. So, even though our administrative office is in Apapa, and we have been here since 2006, we have branch offices outside Apapa. We have one at the Murtala Mohammed Airport; we have on the Island too. This is just a place from where we can communicate with other locations for bookings and the rest. The traffic here doesn’t impact negatively on our business.
But are you disappointed with what Apapa has become? What do you think government can do differently?
Yes, everybody is truly disappointed. Take for instance, about nine years ago, from where I live to my office here was just 50 minutes drive. But now I know I must spend at least 2 hours on the road every day. And I’m talking about just a distance of less than 15 kilometers. It’s a very disappointing situation. However there are constructions going on towards the ports and so on. I also hope that government will look at other means of transportation. I think it’s high time we explored rail transport so that we can have less trucks and containers on the road.
Having done this business for some time, what would you tell anyone who wants to come into it?
Well, the transport sector in Nigeria is very viable. It has massive untapped potential. As a matter of fact, only about 20 percent of the opportunities that exist in the sector is being utilised at the moment. Interestingly, it is one sector that many people don’t pay attention to; both people in government and private investors. The transport sector is very critical to every economy. There is no economy that can thrive without efficient transport system. And of course, in Nigeria there is heavy reliance on land or road transport compared to rail or air because of the infrastructure limitations that we have. So, opportunities abound in the sector. It’s a huge market that is vastly untapped.
But like I said before, to do this business or indeed any business, you have to understand the peculiarities of the environment. Again, you need to carve out a target market. A lot of people often ask me if I don’t feel threatened by numerous other companies rendering similar services. I say no because we are clear about our target market. We don’t do point to point. Our own process is clearly defined and as I had noted, we deal more on luxury, armoured and long vehicles. But we also have saloon cars mostly for corporate bodies.
The services you render, don’t they sometimes overlap with those of the regular transport companies?
Not exactly! Those companies are mostly into mass transit, but we are not. Even the buses we have, we rent them to individuals or corporate bodies for picnics, excursions and other events. If you have an event for example, our buses can take you to the venue, wait for you until you finish the event and then take you back. We also have saloon cars, SUVs, mini SUVs for that purpose. It is not as if we have a pick up point say in Jibowu.
These days corporate organisations prefer to use taxi services for their marketing staff for instance, instead of buying cars and paying drivers. Are you also tapping into that opportunity?
Yes, I mentioned that earlier. We have a number of organisations that are signed up with us. It is basically about them shedding the burden of having to manage cars and drivers. Organisations at this time and age tend to focus more on their core area of business. Therefore, those other ones that may constitute a distraction, they outsource them to experts in those areas. A lot of organisations, like I said, have already keyed into that. We provide vehicles and drivers for marketing, operations and the rest.
You have managed to climb up the ladder at a young age. This is a time when our youths are not finding things easy. We have lots of the unemployed and therefore growing restiveness. What can others learn from you?
Yes, it’s a very unfortunate situation. I think we are getting some things wrong. The expectation of the average youth coming out of the university system is to start big. There is often the belief that once you get into the labour market, you will get a high paying job. But the truth is that it’s not often like that in the real world. You must understand that sometimes, you have to start small. Most people you see also started small in the various organisations they run. That is one thing we have to teach our children and younger ones in our various homes.
The lure to make it big quick is leading many youths into a lot of vices. But life is not like that; it is a gradual process. Before you become a finance manager for example, you may have started as a cashier or a book keeper.
But some would say that opportunities to become even cashier don’t exist anymore?
No, there are lots of opportunities. Indeed, most times, I feel disappointed when I hear young people saying that there are no jobs. There are lots of jobs out there. I’m in the transport sector and I know how badly we need drivers. Some years back I learned to move a car around for the first time and I was very excited because I had acquired a skill I could use to feed myself. This is where the skill brought me. If I didn’t know how to drive, I would probably not be working for a transport company like this; it wouldn’t have been possible.
The challenge is that we have a lot of graduates who think they must start big automatically. I think we have to begin to lower such expectations. For instance, we have a lot of graduates who joined us as drivers but who are now managers. They have grown from driving to the top.
Do you recruit only graduates as drivers then?
Not necessarily. If you can read and write, that’s the basic requirement. But there are some who even though were graduates, came in as drivers. And of course, education would always make you stand out; it would always advertise you. So if we see opportunities where you can fit in, we put you. But the point is that most graduates will tell you that they cannot be drivers.
But when you say you are looking for drivers but you can’t find, is it that there are no skilled drivers around?
There are, but again it depends on who wants to do the job.
Why won’t they want, remuneration?
Not really. Actually, we pay times three the country’s minimum wage. I think it’s just the mindset that I can’t be a driver.
Could it also be lack of awareness? How for instance will a potential driver apply to work here?
Anyone who wishes to apply can simply visit our website, www.avisng.com and do so. This is not only in Lagos; we have locations across the country: Benin, Enugu, Delta, Cross River, etc, so it’s wherever you can apply.
The general belief in Nigeria is that there are no jobs. Would you attribute this to lack of skills or lack of opportunities?
I think it’s mostly lack of skill. I passed through the same university system and I know, coming into the field that the skill I acquired couldn’t take me anywhere. But thank God for people who mentored me. But again, you have to be flexible. Let’s say you studied business administration and you say you want to manage Avis. It’s not possible because you don’t know much about the company. So you have to start somewhere.
When you enter the company as a cashier or an accountant, you can then gradually begin to understand the company such that with time, you can now manage it. So, being flexible is key. You can’t say that because you are a graduate, this is where you must start.