They were young, ambitious and full of energy. For Felix Oyediran and Oluwole Abayomi, Managing Director and Executive Director, respectively of Powerex Limited, an electrical power engineering service company. From a three-bedroomed apartment as office 13 years ago, they now deal with A-list clients like MTN, NNPC, Airtel, Chevron, etc. Oyediran tells Samuel Ajayi about the companyâ€™s rise. A die-hard Arsenal fan who started learning electrical engineering on the streets reveals that soon Powerex will launch its own UPS and AVR brands into the Nigerian market. Okediran and Abayomiâ€™s story is that of a dream kept alive
The Rise of Dream Merchants
Dreams die but not when the dreamer fails to give up. And that is why it is often said that the only limitation to the dreamer is his or her own imagination. For Felix Oyediran, the Managing Director of Powerex Limited, an electrical power generation outfit, and his partner, Oluwole Abayomi, the journey started in 2004. While Nigerians were lamenting poor power supply, they saw an opportunity. They spotted a niche and they decided to dream. Not just to dream but to actualise that dream. Nigerians wanted alternative and well-filtered power and Oyediran and his partner promised to give them.
â€œWe just wanted Nigeria to develop in the area of power. We started and that was on the 17th of September, 2004. We just wanted efficient and quality power supply. The power supply then was so bad. People were energy-starved. People were just frustrated. We asked ourselves: where do we come in? Is it in the area of power generation or distribution or transmission? We are all electrical engineer, including Biola (sitting there). We knew generation was a no-go area because of finance. We had the experience in power quality but we had no money. We could not do quality power which was what is called power filtering. The power coming from NEPA and generator is not always a clean power. So it has to be filtered. People might not know this. UPS, uninterruptible power supply, had to come in,â€ Oyediran explained.
He added that they had to look at the concept of inverter, which he said is called power storage system and not actually inverter. He said the idea was for the individual to generate power on his or her own through the inverter and reduce the bill being paid on electricity.
And that was when the journey actually started in a three-bedroom flat in Ketu area of Lagos. Oyediran said they started with the importation of inverters and they supplied them to clients who needed them. To him, it is a thing of joy that some of the inverters they imported in 2005 are still with their clients and are still in use. As the dream grew, the three-bedroomed office in Ketu became too small to accommodate that dream.
â€œWe have kept our customers since 2005. They still trust us,â€ Oyediran noted, pointing out the companyâ€™s staff also proved the difference.
â€œThey are not just workers,â€ Oyediran said. â€œThey knew our mission and values from day one. They knew what Powerex was and still all about. The values of this company I tell you as you are here are what the lady at the reception, Queen, would tell you if you accost her. And you can take it to the bank. We actually wanted to be power experts from day one and that was where the name Powerex comes from: power experts. We put this into everybodyâ€™s consciousness. We always tell it as it is and we would never compromise on that because of profit. Any time we bring anything to the country, we always have that in mind.â€
The Clientele Tells the Story of Quality
Powerex clientele cuts across banks, oil and gas major players, insurance companies and others, including the NNPC, NAPIMS, MTN, Airtel, Addax Petroleum, Chevron, UAC Foods, United States Consulate, PZ, Sterling Bank, Niger Insurance, and Honeywell.
With these clients, they needed to go beyond importing or building inverters to proper power quality service delivery. This included UPS, industrial stabilisers, energy storage facilities (which is what is called inverter) and so on. Beyond this, the company also went into power stabilisation services; and this has to do with rural electrification projects where they partner with state governments to maintain power supply in rural areas.
â€œWhen governments give people money for rural electrification, they donâ€™t do much. So we help them handle this via power step-down and solar power system. We have worked in Oyo and Kwara states,â€ Oyediran said.
â€œWe choose who we work with. We work with the worldâ€™s number UPS manufacturer and that is Eaton. As I speak to you, we are their number one representatives in Nigeria. You may go and do your findings. Eaton is a global player in terms of power and aerodynamics. We were also the one who brought Servomax to Nigeria. It is an Indian power company. This was in 2005 or there about. And may I tell you that most of the UPS units we supplied then are still being used till today. Example is PZ Nigeria Plc. We gave them about 25 to 30 units and they have not replaced them. You may go and find out. That tells you the quality of the products we give to our clients. There is another Israeli company that we brought to Nigeria. Though, we are no longer working with them,â€ he added.
Powerex, Oyediran claimed, does not just supply power equipment to clients. To him, what they first do is listen to the power challenges the client is facing and then advise professionally. To him, that is what stands them out. â€œAnyone can push boxes around in the name of alternative power gadgets. But we donâ€™t do that,â€ Oyediran said.
Retaining these clients, Oyediran said, has been the greatest joy he has since Powerex started. To him, getting these big players to sign them in was very easy; but keeping them and their trust is a different ball game entirely. And what has been the secret? Oyediran provided an insight:
â€œThese are clients who donâ€™t joke with quality. They are top professionals in their various fields. We donâ€™t just sell them products. No, we donâ€™t do that. As lawyers do, we take their briefs and come to our office and we design for them. We do it as a turn-key project even if it is not a turn-key. We procure it and do the engineering. Most people in this industry just import and sell. We donâ€™t do that. Equipment we give to customers, we check to make sure they meet specifications.
â€œSome clients might come and say they need 500KVA but in actual terms, they do not need more than 200KVA. I know that if I sell 500KVA, I make more money but for those customers, 300KVA will be a waste. I have 500KVA but 200KVA is what you need. Such customers will always trust me and I will not just turn my back. I will always ensure that I give them warranty and ensure the equipment works very well. This is how trust is built and sustained,â€ he said.
â€˜Our Works Advertise Our Qualityâ€™
Oyediran said Powerex does not make much noise. He said many have been asking why the company does not advertise or make the noise for them to be noticed but he always tells them that the quality of the jobs they do for clients will always tell their story.
â€œLet me tell you something,â€ the electrical engineering graduate said. â€œMost of the jobs we do and the supplies we make are referrals. Those we have worked for always tell others. I can tell you that for free. In fact, one client can tell about us to two new ones and they will start doing business with us. That is why I said beyond the noise and marketing, which I believe play their own parts, the quality of our jobs also markets us. But let me say, we will be doing marketing from time to time. We are not saying we wonâ€™t do.â€
Challenges to the Dream
â€œWe also have to deal with competition which does not want to do things in a more thorough and qualitative way we do things. It is a major challenge. Let me say we also have issues with manufacturers at times. There was a supplier that gave us a product that he wrote three year-warranty on the carton but by the time we opened, the parts started dropping off. In fact, we could not supply the material to our clients. It was a loss to us. When we called him, he said when we were to place the next order, he would give us the parts. Of course, we never went back to him,â€ he revealed.
He explained that beyond these were unfavourable economic climates that are not helpful to business. Oyediran said the economic downturn of 2008 really affected the company but they were able to weather the storm thanks to clients who had faith in them. To him, banks too donâ€™t help matters.
â€œIf you have a project and approach any of our banks, you are likely to be turned back. That is the reality of doing business in Nigeria. Another thing is instability in the political environment. We have been talking to some investors for some time now, but they are reluctant to come in. We have worked so much them on them but since elections are approaching again, they are afraid to come. They donâ€™t want to burn their fingers.â€
The Dream Getting Better
Oyediran said the idea now is that in five yearsâ€™s time, they would have handed over Powerex to people like Abiola Olaleye, their head of procurement, and they would have diversified into manufacturing.
The astute entrepreneur pointed out, â€œThat is the dream. We would have really expanded. As we are now, we are integrators. We buy from Eaton or Servomax. Our clients call us and we supply and maintain. But it has come to time when we should be able to manufacture UPS and AVRs in Nigeria. The plan has reached an advanced stage and we have factory we are working on. We have partners. We have our products and it is called Vectronic. That is our brand.
â€œWe have UPS and AVR under that brand name. We are also doing battery charger and everything you need. Powerex is the name, Vetronic is the brand. We are also doing phase-assure. If you have NEPA and generator and power goes off and you donâ€™t want to stand up, we make sure that you start your generator with phase-assure and even programme it to work for about four hours and then go off.
He added, â€œThe UPS I am using is Vectronic. That is to tell you how far we have gone.Â In five yearsÂ time, it will be household name. Right now, we bring CKD (completely knocked down) forms of UPS and AVR and we assemble all of them and we have done it for MTN, Airtel and different clients.â€
My Life Outside Powerex
Engineers are generally seen as serious minded people who are always devoted to their jobs. In fact, they are practically married to their jobs. But Oyediran said he is not one of those people.
â€œI unwind,â€ he said. â€œWe work fromÂ MondayÂ toÂ Friday. My brother, there is need to relax and unwind. If I tell you one of the ways I unwind is going to the farm to eat fresh fruits with the kids you wonâ€™t believe. But I do. I also ensure that I spent quality time with my family that hardly sees me during the week.â€
Even when Wole, his partner calls, they tell him. â€œCall back. He is watching Arsenal.â€ Oyediran is a die-hard Arsenal fan.
Even if he does not unwind, the dream of two young men in their early 30s has remained alive. And by the time their brand name, Vectronic, hits the market, they would have said the beginning has been more than half done.
And the power of failure, by then, would have been overcome for Oyediran and Abayomi.