Adama Salihu

The Chief Executive Officer of Clayfields and Harrow, a facility management company, Ms. Adama Salihu, speaks on the potential in the facility management sector and how Nigerians could tap into the multibillion naira industry. Emma Okonji brings the excerpts:

What does facility management entail?

 In a very simplistic way, facility management is about building maintenance — from electrical to water systems to plumbing to waste disposal. It is what makes a building works and literally speaking, every building needs it. Everybody does it, just that we may not know. When you call your carpenter to come and fix your door, you have done building maintenance. At every point in time, there is something that needs to be maintained in your home and office. Facility management is very broad. If you bring it to the commercial realm, it is more than that. It goes beyond the physical structures. You could expand it to administrative tasks, talking about the receptionist in the office, the guard and so on. The concept of facility management is borderless. As much as people’s lives are being touched in terms of comfort, facility management is taking place. Today, facility management has gone automated, driven by technology.

How big is the facility industry in Nigeria?

It is a developing profession. What we used to know was estate management, which many people go to the university to study. Facility management is an evolving sector unlike other renowned professions like law, medicine and so on. As it evolves, you will find out that it is broad and huge. It is a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide. Abroad, you would hear of facility management companies signing contracts that run into millions of dollars. Even in Nigeria, it is a multi-billion naira industry because it is taking place in every living space you can imagine. From the security man who opens the gate for you to where you park your car, facility management is taking place. As you go to the restroom, it is taking place, as you switch on the lights and put them off, it is also taking place. So, if you look at it, you can imagine the magnitude of the industry.

May 17 of every year is World Facility Management Day. What exactly do you celebrate on this particular day?

It is just like any other day set aside for other professions in the world. It is a way of drawing attention to the business of facility management.  This year’s theme centres on exceptional customer experience. It is to raise more awareness, educate people and encourage networking among stakeholders in the industry. The day is about coming together as professionals in the industry and charting the way forward. The more we raise awareness, the more people understand what we do. It’s also a time to share ideas and challenges.

  

To what extent can new technologies like robots impact the industry, especially in an age where robots perform the tasks of human beings?

As I am, if you give me a robot that can do what a technician can do, I will be happy. Technology is already impacting on the sector globally. Now we have smart buildings which don’t require human beings to manage some of the tasks they used to do before. That’s what is happening abroad. For instance, in the aspect of power, there are technologies that work with sunlight, called solar energy. In some cases the technology switches on and also switches off electricity at the appropriate time when it is dark and bright.

So you don’t need a technician to put on and off lights anymore. If I have one whose only work is to go floor by floor to put on and off lights, with this technology, I won’t need him again. Also, since the law says you cannot enter someone’s apartment to cut them off if they default in paying for service rendered, with smart technologies, I can deactivate them right from my computer. It is just like using smart meter, if you don’t have credit, even if there’s electricity, you won’t have it until you load your card again. So, technology is already impacting on the industry.

Using technology as driver, where do you think the industry can be in the next 10 years?

Someone was asking me the other day whether I was thinking of going into construction. I said no. He asked why. I said I think we were yet to scratch up to 30 per cent of the potential of facility management industry in Nigeria. Imagine each building in the country having a facility management person. Imagine that we have 10 high-rise buildings from Adeola Odeku to Idowu Taylor area, how much do you think we are talking about here in terms of managing those facilities? Within just few metres, we are talking about lots of opportunities. So, the potentials here have barely been tapped. It doesn’t mean something in the nature of facility management is not already taking place at our buildings, but that’s the informal sector. It’s a sector of the economy that had always been there, but it is now being formalised.

What are the opportunities for technology startups and entrepreneurs interested in coming into the sector?

There are lots of opportunities for all who are interested in facility management. The beauty of the profession is that you don’t have to come into the industry and do everything. As someone focusses on plumbing, another person can focus on fixing the air conditioners.  It is almost impossible for one person to do the job end-to-end, just like every industry. For instance, in my company, we don’t do security jobs, but we work with them. If we want to include provision of security to our job, then we would need to apply to the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps. So, in most cases, we work with third parties. You can choose a line of service and you can succeed there.

What challenges do you face in running a facility management company in the country?

I will categorise the challenges into two broad perspectives. First, let me talk about the challenges of running a facility management, and second, as a business. Like every business, facility management also has its own challenges, especially in terms of pricing. Particularly during this economic recession, people are slashing contract sums. Other challenges include inadequate manpower, spare parts problem and forex challenge. Many of the things being used are imported, like the air conditioner and its spare parts. How many are made in Nigeria? Nothing. But mainly, there is problem of talent. Most of the people we deal with are technicians, that is, the people who fix the water system, the electrical system, carpentry, tiling, bricklaying and so on. You and I know that technical schools have taken a nosedive in the country. So, lack of pool of talent is the first and greatest challenge.

The second challenge I see is our clients’ inability to understand the profession. Some people think facility management is just for you to come and clean and park dirt and so when they see a contract running into millions of naira, they scream. There is a simplistic assumption of what the business means, so when some see a contract of about N50 million, they think the company chief executive officer will pocket N45 million and spend only N5 million on the work.

For facility management, let’s say you are managing a block of flats, it is a 24-hour work because water must be there 24/7, lights must be on 24/7, the premises must be clean 24/7 and so on. So if you are in charge of managing such a facility, then it means your people should be on ground 24/7 and every minute somebody is on ground to manage your facility, you have to pay him something because cost is being incurred.  So, in facility management, if you go below a certain threshold in terms of cost, you cannot offer the best service quality.

As a woman, what would you say has made you successful and kept you going in the business world?

It is grit, first and foremost. That’s the staying power and I’m not talking about physical power. I tell my staff that knowledge is very important. Sometimes you see people who look very fragile, yet they’ve got brains and are more impactful than someone who looks big and strong. Grit is the ability to survive and it’s more than determination. It’s about being smart. Determination is what you do to survive. It’s about doing something to survive, not just determining. I’m always willing to do what it takes to keep on going. Especially as a woman, in a male-dominated world of ours, you need grit.

Are you sometimes afraid or burdened, knowing that you have tens of employees to ‘feed’?

Yes, yes and yes. There are over 160 people directly working in the company. If we assume that 50 of those people are married men who have two children and a wife each to feed, that’s an additional 150 people to provide for. It could be scary sometimes, not because it’s too much to do, but it scares me that if I make one lousy or bad mistake, it would have a disastrous effect on the people. It’s scary and keeps me awake at some nights. However, when I’m scared, it doesn’t keep me down, it spurs me to be forward-thinking and look for more opportunities.

 

Tell us one costly mistake you have made in the course of your business and how you were able to rectified it?

There is one that haunts me up till tomorrow. About eight years ago, I got a young man in his 20s and I made him a site manager. I was impressed with him. He just finished his National Youth Service Corps and he had a good attitude to work. Things got more interesting when I realised he went to the same school with my nephew, so it created a sort of bond. I helped him at catching up quickly in the business and he was smart. One day, I looked at him and asked how he got second class lower, despite being smart. He said his father was paralysed and he was the only son. He said he found himself in a situation of having to go home often due to his father’s sickness. He literally became the father of the house. That affected his studies. How sad, I said, and we brushed it off. A year or two into working with me, his father died and he went to see his family. A day or two later, I was expecting him to be back, but he didn’t return. I got very upset and a week after then, the heat was just too much and he resigned. I felt angrier. But you know we get more mature as we grow, so a year later, I realised I underplayed how traumatised the young man was. I should have realised that being the only son of his father, he had naturally stepped into the shoes of his late father to provide comfort for his mother and sisters. It must have been tough for him, which at that time I didn’t realise. I didn’t see his pain then, I was only thinking about work that needed to be done. He had needed my support at that time. From a people management angle, it still haunts me. Why it’s a mistake or regret is that if I faced such a scenario today, I would handle it differently. He still calls me and has a lot of respect for me and it makes me feel worse sometimes. I have never discussed this with him, but one day, if I have an opportunity to sit with him face-to-face, I will apologise to him.

What more do you think should be done to enable women unleash their potential in our society?

 Everyone has a role to play in girl child empowerment. This will happen if we make it happen. It’s not enough to say the government should do this or that. It’s also high time the media started showcasing successful women rather than focusing on men alone.  Women who have broken barriers should also mentor young girls and spur them to success. Where we’ve made mistakes, we should tell them so they could avoid such mistakes.