He went into the university with a mind-set, which was to study and become a civil engineer, but in the first semester he failed the course woefully and had to revert. For many, that would have been a setback but that wasn’t for Femi Adeboyejo, an indigene of Aiyepe in Ogun State. His failure at the university was a stepping stone. Now with a Bachelor of Science in Soil Science and presently Managing Director of Brand Aluminium Limited, a construction servicing company, Adeboyejo tells the story of triumph from grass to grace, in this interview with Mary Nnah
How did you get into the aluminium sector?
I went into the University of Makurdi to study Civil Engineering but somehow I failed. I had to move from Civil Engineering to Soil Science. I finished as a Soil Scientist but because I had a passion for construction, every time I came for holidays, I always did my holiday jobs at the construction sites. So my early life was revolved around construction so when I finished from the university, it was very easy for me to put my degree certificate aside and ventured into the construction business but because I wasn’t a qualified engineer, I didn’t want to go fully into something people will begin to ask me questions even though I knew a lot about the industry. So I joined an aluminium company where I became the general manager. I worked there for five years, after which my friend and I started Brand Aluminium Limited.
Is Brand Aluminium Limited a construction company?
We deal in construction related items. We are involved in fabrication and installation of aluminium roofing, windows, doors, partitions, structural glass systems, building renovations and construction.
You graduated as a Soil Scientist and suddenly you jettisoned your degree and went into a construction related business. How have you been able to groom yourself to fit appropriately into the industry?
Like I said, I worked in an aluminium company first for five years, and at the time that I joined the company, they just started, so I was part of the team that grew the company. And I left as the general manager. That alone will tell you that I had acquired a lot of knowledge in the field before I we started. So that was my training ground. I had basic engineering knowledge because I cut my teeth in the construction industry so that quipped me and so I knew practically everything concerning the industry and then I continued to improve on myself.
What in particular attracted you to the aluminium industry? Was it the money?
For me, it is actually a disaster for someone to go into the university with a particular mind-set. I went into the university with the hope of studying Civil Engineering but somehow, I messed up in the first semester. And in Nigeria, once you fail some courses in year one, you are already doomed for failure. So by the time I got my result in year one in the university and saw the degree of failure I was in, I told myself that I was going to be here for a very long time if I insist I wanted to graduate as a Civil Engineer. So quickly, I found the easiest way out which was switching immediately to Soil Science with the hope that as soon as I graduate as a Soil Scientist, I will return to school to study Civil Engineering. But by the time I graduated, my passion was already built so strongly in the construction industry. Luckily then, I had a family friend who was starting his business and he invited me to join him and I said instead of staying at home and looking for a job for many months without any, let me just go over and while away time. So it all started like a child’s play but after two years I discovered the aluminium industry was huge. It was a big business and there was a lot of money in it, so there was no point going back to school to read Civil Engineering again. In fact my failure at school as student in the Civil Engineering department at the University of Makurdi was a stepping stone for me without which may be I would have still been struggling to find my feet in the Civil Engineer industry.
How long has your company been in existence and how has it been for you as a major player in the aluminium industry?
I have been here for 14 years and since then, it has been very interesting and challenging. We started the company without a client or an office, in fact with nothing. As a matter of fact, I borrowed N200 from my boss to go home the day I left my former play of employment. So I was absolutely without nothing, the only thing I had was knowledge acquired over the years. There was practically nothing to fall back on. Luckily I met my partner who was working as an accountant then with firm. We looked at things together and then said okay we want to do this and so we started. I will go to his office, he would have fuelled his car and I will use his car to move around construction sites and then return the car by 4pm and then I will go home by public transport. I did that virtually every day while he was still working and was using his salary to fund the business. I was doing the marketing and field job and within one year, we were able to get an office and he resigned and joined me fully. We put up a small table and two plastic chairs in our office and started.
You are 14 years in the industry. Tell us your success story. How were you able to get a breakthrough, considering how you started?
We started like any other business and we wanted to be successful. We were young men and I in particular was newly married with a child that was less than a year old. I must also say that one of the reasons why I left a paid job was because of my wife and kid. I was doing a lot of calculation considering what I was earning then. I knew quite well that with what I was earning I would not be able to buy a car in 10 years nor be able to carter for my wife and children. So I had to resign. So we started Brand Aluminium Limited and because we had the passion to be successful, we put in our best. Every single job we got was for us a lifeline, so when you give us a job, we would put in everything we had to do it. We made mistakes like every other business would do but because we had the desire to be successful, it was easy for us to move from step A to step B and so on. At every point we made a mistake, we recognised the mistake and we worked on it. Over a period of time, we go to a point where we knew that the most important thing for us to survive the industry was to have standard and create a name that people can trust. We got to that point and took that decision. The moment we took that decision to create a standard and a name that people would reckon with, that was the turning point for us. It was a tough decision but by the time the reward started coming, it was huge!
You left a paid job without even having a concrete plan on ground. You said you even had to borrow money to get home that day. So how did you survive it?
Like I always tell people, every young man must ask himself critical questions and one of those critical questions is: Where am I going? And if you are fortunate to be married, you ask yourself: Where am I taking my family to? Now anywhere you chose to go needs resources. So are you going to lead the people you are responsible for to be successful? I had picture of the type of school I wanted my children to go to, I also wanted to travel abroad for holidays and all that. I wanted to live a very comfortable life and when I looked at what I was earning, I knew that would never be realistic with my salary then. So I said if that be the case, I don’t have to waste more time there anymore because by then I still had time to realise my dreams. I was still young, so if I spend the next five years struggling to survive rather than remaining in a paid job that will take me nowhere, it will still be better than taking such decision when I have started paying school fees. You see a lot of people having crisis in life today because they never asked themselves those critical questions while there was still time. For example someone has been working in the bank for 15 years and suddenly he is sacked, and he never had any plans on ground, nothing to fall back on and he does not know how to do any other thing. At that point, he becomes so frustrated. So when I asked myself those critical questions, I told myself that there was no point staying in that paid job and so I left. All my hope was in God and the knowledge I had. It was the right time to take that decision and also I knew that if I worked hard at it, I was going to be successful. Today, the rest is history.
There are other aluminium companies in the country, what stands you out from others?
All we have been working on all these years is to build a name and a brand and so we work towards achieving that always. And we have been very successful at that and we know that we can get better at it. So what differentiates us from others is our standard. We have been able to move from a point where there was no standard to a point where we have standard. We don’t just do whatever we can do but we do what is right. It is important for us that each time we finish a job, someone out there is eager to know who did the job because it was done rightly.
What have been the challenges so far?
There is no standard because the industry is not regulated. This is getting worse by the day. Operators in this industry are lowering standard every day and it has come to an alarming rate right now and that is the one of the reasons we started importing our accessories because you can’t even trust what you buy in Nigeria now. Government is focused on buildings, structures, real estate and all that but no one is focusing on the aluminium industry because they feel it is not important and that is why the standard is being lowered and this has put a lot of risks on structures and buildings. It is because the government started putting regulations on building; that we started having less collapsed buildings. Same should be applicable to the aluminium industry. So what we are doing right now is to try and rally round players in the industry and see how we can come together to form a body so that we can now use to push the agenda to government on bringing regulation into the aluminium industry so that when you go to do a job, you don’t fall short of the regulated standard. So government should regulate the entire construction industry rather regulation some parts and leave out others like the aluminium industry.
What is the future of the industry in Nigeria?
It is huge. It is a multibillion dollar industry and people that know it are catching in fast. You cannot imagine the kind of money that the guys that are doing importation are making in this industry. The people who are manufacturing are also making their own money. Ninety-eight per cent of construction works in Nigeria are done with aluminium so it is a huge market and the future is huge.
What is your vision for Brand Aluminium in a couple of years to come?
Our focus now is on technology. We have gotten some technologies into what we are doing so that we can achieve standard in what we are doing. We have done an app called optimum cut for calculating glass in order to achieve optimisation and it is free. We also plan start vocational school to help build better set of skilled people for the industry. The most important thing for us is for people to get better at what they do.
Considering your story and how you started, what would be your advice to young people?
They must ask them some critical questions when you are still young like when you are between 20 and 25. The answers you give yourself at that time will prove whether you took the right decision or not when you are 40. No one can make you great but you and this depend on the decisions you take early in life.