When he wrote his first will in 1999, he was 33. His company was three years in business. Perhaps, he was acting on a premonition often touted in this clime that persons like him who rise fast in life die young. Today, Gabriel Ifeanyi Ogbechie is 50. He spoke with Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Ruky Salako on the complexities and travails accompanying a man who became his own boss at an early age
It is raining in Delta State. In fact, at this time of the year, it is raining in many parts of Nigeria. Born on May 28, in the rainy season may not be linked to why Gabriel Ifeanyi Ogbechie named his business Rainoil. Even if inadvertently, the circumstance of his birth has inspired more than a few incidents in his life. Being born during the rainy season has meant that it’s been raining on Ogbechie for the better part of his life.
Safe for a couple of bad turns, which he would rather not dwell on, it’s been raining blessings. It’s raining favour. And try as hard as he does to be discreet, it’s been raining cash. To be more precise, the name, you can say, was God-sent. It actually came from his lawyer who is also a pastor. At the point of incorporating a business name, the man of God had opted for the name ‘Rain’ which he said stands for blessings.
But the blessing did not come overnight. Ogbechie scratched and tinkered to get to where he is. And the discipline he acquired is what he still lives by. Everyone in his office is expected to resume work at 8:00am and not minding that he is the boss, on the few days he gets to work at 9:00am, he tells himself that he is late. This sense of responsibility and mission, moderated by a spirit of adventure has always been with him. This can be exemplified by the choices he made during NYSC.
According to him, at the completion of his tertiary education, he was posted to Cross Rivers State for his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programmme.
“But I wanted to go to the North out of curiosity because I had never been there,” he said. Thus he requested to be redeployed to Kano, “which surprised the officials as every other person was trying to change their posting to Lagos.”
Serving in Kano, according to Ogbechie, turned out to be a very interesting experience. “I got my first job in the State as a factory engineer, in a company called Sharada Edible Oils Ltd. I went on to live in Lagos when Price Waterhouse Coopers offered me a job and later joined Ascon oil, where I worked for five years before I left in 1997 to start Rainoil,” he said.
Undoubtedly, his proclivity towards frequent travel goes back to his father who was a personnel of the Nigeria Police. As a child in Auchi, Edo State, he started primary school around 1972. Each time his father was transferred, the family moved with him. The postings were many. Ogbechie ended up attending five different primary schools within five years in three different states of the federation.
This did not at all distract him from his educational goal. He finished his primary school in 1977 at Queen of the Niger Primary School, Onitsha and went to St. Patrick’s College, Asaba till 1982. He was admitted into the University of Benin that same year to study Production Engineering.
Despite his humble background, Ogbechie’s development has been fast. He left primary school at the age of 11, got into secondary school and finished at 16 and finished from university at 21. He is always proud to tell people he never writes an examination twice.
This rapid progress continued after school. He got married at age 27 and started his business at the age of 30. Had things turned out differently, perhaps he would have regretted his marriage to his heart-throb, Godfrey, whom he met in Kano, just before his 24th birthday. They have been married for 23 years and are blessed with three children: Ebele, Oge and Uche.
“I tell people that I have never had a shouting match with my wife, never lifted a finger on her, it doesn’t mean that we are perfect but we have had a very wonderful relationship. She has been a blessing and has been with me every step of the way, from conceptualising the business, starting the business and growing it. She used to be a banker but left the bank about 8 years ago to focus on the business. She is our Group Executive Director, very hardworking and if I had an opportunity, I will marry her all over again, every man needs a wife who brings stability to the home,” he said.
It is just as well that his wife now works at Rainoil, as she had always been there. In 1994, my wife and I went to see my lawyer and his wife to deliberate on incorporating a company. We thought of several names including Gaboil, but my lawyer, who is also a Pastor, opted for the name ‘Rain’ which he said stands for blessings.
“I felt he was right, so we merged Rain and Oil together and came up with Rainoil, but then I had to look for the magical N300,000 to start the business. Finally in 1996, we supplied our first diesel to a company in Ikeja where we thought we could make N30,000 but we made N45,000 which was exciting and we did the second and third and step by step we are where we are today.”
Ogbechie worked for Ascon Oil between 1993 and 1995 on a salary of N30,000 a month. “I had a long reflection and came to the conclusion that if I make a margin of N1 per litre on 30,000 litres of diesel, I would have made N30,000 which was my salary. In other words, if I sold just one truck of diesel a month and go home to sleep for 30 days, I would have earned my Ascon’s monthly salary of N30,000.
“I set out to raise money for just one truck, which was N300,000 but it took me two years to raise that money. I put proposals together, approached everyone I thought could help, but all I heard were stories. Fortunately, I had the habit of buying shares with as low as N1,000. So when I realised I couldn’t raise the money, I brought out my capital market file and started itemising all the stocks one after the other, I surprised myself because it went into two pages, with a market value N478,000. I took them to my stockbroker, who verified them, sold the ones he could and I had my N300,000.”
Ogbechie launched Rainoil at the early age of 30. It has been 20 years and he is still waxing strong. This was easy for him to achieve because he was focused. “At a time when my mates were busy clubbing, having fun and doing the normal things bachelors do, I was already married, taking care of my family and running my business. I have been taking responsibility for my staff from my early thirties, making sure they get their salaries on the 25th of every month. I was regularly traveling from Lagos to Warri and Kaduna in search of petroleum products for my customers. I took responsibility early and this has helped me,” he said.
The secret of his astounding success, he disclosed, is first and foremost, hard work, dedication, and financial discipline. “You cannot run a business without financial discipline; you must be able to see money and keep your cool. I tell people that if you go to a bank and they give you a facility of N100 million and you can write a cheque of N50 million and it goes through, doesn’t mean you have money, you don’t. If you received a N100 million facility and you made a profit of N1 million and the money becomes N101 million, it is N1 million that is yours, so you have to live like a man that has less than N1 million and not N100 million,” he explained.
The new generation needs to brace up, according to Ogbechie. “When we were much younger, we used to read more, we had a reading culture. I remember when I was in the university, we will go to the library and queue to read newspapers. Those days I will even buy papers and read, we used to take a topical national issue, write on it, cyclostyle and circulate it. The intellectual engagement was much robust. Today the youths are too much on the go. When you engage them, there is no depth. I interview people every day and I see young women and men who absolutely lack depth,” he lamented.
According to him, “Sometime back, a graduate came for interview in my office. I asked her some basic questions which I expected her to know. She looked at me blankly. She said she is from Delta State. I needed her to at least get one question right so I asked her who the Governor of her state is. She had no idea. She said she was born in Lagos and lives in Lagos. So what? You do not have to be from Delta State to know the Governor. On a lighter note I asked her what the latest Olamide song was and she promptly answered and even knew the dance steps!
“As a child in secondary school, I could tell you the names of the Head of State of each African country. We need to urgently begin to re-orientate them, I fear for the generation that is coming after now. Another thing they lack is a sense of history; they don’t know where Nigeria is coming from. We should go back and introduce history into the curriculum, we are breeding youths who do not know about Awolowo, Azikiwe or Ahmadu Bello, or the civil war and I am worried. We need to act fast,” he said.
He is doing his best to leave a worthy legacy for his children. “It is my wish actually that my children follow this line of business, but are they interested? I really do not know. My daughter says she wants to be an artist; she loves to write and draw. She wants to be an author and I am encouraging her,” revealed Ogbechie.
Already, his daughter has set out on the path to achieve her artistic dreams. “She is in secondary school right now and she produces cartoon books. Her school is encouraging her along those lines,” he said.
“My first son has his interests too, so I am allowing everybody to express themselves. If they ultimately pick interest in the business, that will be great, but if they don’t, of course we are not entirely dependent on that,” he said.
Ogbechie stated that Rainoil is built to survive in any clime. “We run a company that is not dependent on Gabriel Ogbechie or his children, anybody can come in as a management trainee and years down the line, aspire to become Managing Director. Let those who own the business be sure of their dividends rather than depending on the children of the founders to be the ones who must run the business. They can own the business but not necessarily run it,” he said.
What is a typical day like in the life of Mr. Ogbechie? “I wake up in the morning, say my morning prayers, when I have the time, I go for a walk within my estate, go to the office and do my work. In the evening, possibly go to the club, play tennis, gist with the boys after which I go home to my family. That is my pretty straightforward simple life,” he said.
The Rainoil boss is passionate about Tennis thus he sponsors the Rainoil Tennis Tournament and Masters Cup. “Every year we bring in players and the best man wins some good money every year,” he said.
If he were opportune to live his life all over again, Ogbechie wouldn’t do anything differently. “God has been very good to me, when I look back at the past 50 years, I can only give thanks to God. My growing up was actually very humbling as a kid, I really don’t know what I would have done differently. When I look back I wonder what I would have done differently and how God has been very good to me, if I had to relive my life, I would be glad to go through this route again,” he said.
The oil magnate revealed that of all the world’s great figures, he wishes he had met a man like Nelson Mandela because he is a global icon. “A man who was incarcerated for more than 25 years, yet he came out, forgave those who persecuted him. An African, who was elected to be president of his country, ran for one term and said he wasn’t running for a second term. He has done things that are so un-African. So he is a man I admire. I was on a flight to Johannesburg a while ago and seated in front of me was His wife Gracia Machel, I went to her, greeted her and shook her hands, and for me it was the closest I could get to meet the sage himself,” he disclosed.
If he were to live the life of someone else, he would gladly opt to come as Barack Obama. “I like the Barrack Obama Story, I wish I could be him for one day, I have read his books, I have followed him, that’s a man who has broken several myths and it’s just because he believes ‘Yes we can’. That regardless of what you think are your limitations, you can achieve. This is a man who was a first time senator, not enough financial resources, but he believed he could be the president of the United States, not once but twice, that is a man I would love to be for just one day,” he said.
His ultimate goal, he said, “is to run a very successful downstream oil and gas company, by the grace of God, we have been able to come very far. We currently own about 40 petrol stations across the country, two tank farms in Oghara, Delta state and Calabar, Cross River state. We own a fleet of about 80 tank trucks to distribute petroleum products across the country and six ships with which we import products into the country.
“Someday I wish to build a refinery; it’s something I am looking at very seriously. The crisis we have in the country today is that the demand for the dollar for importation of petroleum product accounts for more than 30 per cent of the total demand in Nigeria. So what the country needs to do as a matter of national emergency is to take that demand for dollar from the petroleum sector out of the equation because we have the crude oil.
“The only reason why this is happening is because we do not have refining capacity. If we are able to refine our crude oil and meet our local demand for product, then we can have a stable Naira. We urgently need to expand our refining capacity and Rainoil is looking forward to adding its own value in the refining space soon,” he said.
In his bid to give back to the society from the fortune heaven has bestowed on him, the Rainoil boss established the Gabriel Ogbechie Foundation. “We have a lot of people on the scholarship scheme, a lot of people I do not know. We pay school fees, medical bills and all kinds of support. At the corporate level, we have an annual budget for CSR where we pay all kinds of bills and give support. As God blesses you, you must find a way of giving back to the society, it is something I am very passionate about.
“I have a lot of compassion in me to help people. As you grow and as God blesses you, the more you realise that your needs are actually very little. Far more of what you make actually goes out to other people because your needs and your life are too small to be the purpose of your life. You must find a way of reaching out and helping people, assisting the elderly and weak which is what gives us a just and balanced society,” he said.
The oil magnate is still struggling to come to terms with the fact that he recently clocked 50. “I have always been the youngest among my peers, going to school, getting married, starting my business and all. This is a time for me to reflect, take stock and give thanks to God for all he has done for me. I tell people that the successes we have recorded at Rainoil is only by the Grace of God. Nothing makes us different from the next man, but for the faithfulness of God.
“Being 50 is a time of sober reflection because you are at the latter part of your life, take serious stock in your business and personal life. See how you have added value to your generation and work out those things that are important in life among which is family, have time for your family, do not be an absentee father, bond with your family. And for the business, it is a time to do serious scenario planning, and prepare for succession. I wrote my first will in 1999, I was 33 and already running a business. I had a wife and a son already then. You need to have a say even when you are not there,” he said.