DEBAYO-DOHERTY: With Effective Automotive Policy, Nigeria Can Become Africa’s Automobile Hub
Seventy years after the Mandilas Group berthed in the Nigerian market with the provision of a wide range of first-class internationally renowned products and services, the group has evolved over time and currently operates under two divisions namely – Mobility and Cooling. Between the 1950s when the company introduced the Volkswagen brand with distributorship links to other global auto brands such as Audi, Peugeot, Nissan, Daihatsu, Honda, Kia, and Skoda, it has since become a household name in the Nigerian automobile industry. Currently, one of the leading Toyota accredited dealers in Nigeria, with its subsidiary – Mandilas Aircon Division, maintaining the exclusive distributor rights of the Carrier range of Air-conditioners. As stakeholders in the Group serenade the joy of the 70th anniversary of the legendary brand, its Group Chief Executive Officer, Ola Debayo-Doherty, takes Raheem Akingbolu, through the journey of the group in the last seven decades, touching on its strengths and transformation agenda, which is hinged on strategic alliances and care for the future. Debayo-Doherty, the first African and woman to attain the GCEO’s position since the group started operations 70 years ago, also speaks on the potential of the nation’s automobile industry and the need for government to create an enabling environment with proactive automotive policy that would position Nigerian market as the hub of automobile in Africa.
In a country where mortality rate is high in businesses, what are the factors that have helped the Mandilas brand to remain relevant for seven decades?
Critical success factor for Mandilas over the years has been our commitment to Nigeria and Nigerians. A legacy we have imbibed from the humble beginnings of the founder, Mr. John Basil Mandilas. The Mandilas Group is a learning organization. It is one that adapts positively to challenges in her environment and is resilient enough to come out on top.
Resilience is in our DNA and that has kept us going despite micro and macro-economic challenges. We have stayed true to our mission and vision statements through the years and they are the driving force for the continued longevity of the Mandilas brand.
Secondly, our people, they are exceptional. We put our employees first and staff related payments have remained a top priority for us over the years. Consequently, we have enjoyed strong loyalty and dedication to duty from our employees, which in turn has kept us afloat even during difficult and challenging times when we could have closed shop.
Lastly, we place premium value on business credibility, we live our core values, we value people, and we promote good work ethic and appreciate the people who have stood by us over the years.
What is your view about the Nigerian market, vis-a-vis consumer behaviours?
Nigeria is a multifaceted market characterised by different consumer profiles. Trust and confidence are essential emotional factors. Customers are applying their expectations based on their best experiences in any industry to retail products and services. Disruptors are challenging traditional elements of the service value chain to offer greater convenience, information access, and collaboration, particularly on various digital and social platforms. The effect of market polarization means that businesses must cater to the needs and demands of varied market segments
Consumers have also become more discerning and the premium they will pay for quality and great experience has increased. This simple truth has allowed us to rethink our varied business offerings and to accept the fact that our premium products and services needs to fit into varied consumer lifestyles. As the economy begins to flourish, the purchasing power of citizens will grow, and we necessarily must find an appropriate balance between those who want value and are willingly to pay for it and the burgeoning aspirational market.
Can you give an overview of the current business portfolio of the Mandilas Group in Nigeria?
Our present business portfolio can be divided into two divisions, namely, Mandilas Cooling which is our Air-conditioning Division and Mandilas Mobility representing Motors Division.
Mandilas Aircon Division is the exclusive distributor of the Carrier range of Residential and Commercial Air-conditioners. Carrier you may recall, is the foremost brand in Air Conditioning in the world and the pioneer Air-conditioner in the Nigerian market. As a matter of fact, Norman Industries Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary produced the first room air-conditioner in Africa, many years before any other company could achieve the same feat. We remain the foremost provider of Air-conditioning for domestic and commercial buildings with unrivalled expertise and excellence in sales and after sales service.
Our Motors offering include Car sales, both new and used cars, Fleet Management and Leasing and of course our After Sales Service. Our aftersales business expertise spans seven decades and we have continued to deliver unrivalled service to all our customers across the country. Our workshops and Quick Service Centres (QSC) covering Lagos, Ibadan, Benin, Warri, Port Harcourt, Ilorin, Kaduna and Abuja are manned by trained technicians with a plethora of awards from the 50s till date as a tribute to our continued commitment. For instance, we won the Best Auto Workshop of the year by Nigeria Auto Journalists Association and Best Auto Dealer by The Nigeria Automotive Industry in 2019; Toyota Award for the Best Service Team 2017 and Best Toyota Dealer, 2015, among others.
In the sectors, where the group plays, what are its unique selling points?
We offer value products. We have experience. We understand the terrain. We understand the business. We are continuously evolving to meet market demands.
The franchised brands in our portfolio are global market leaders with an indisputably track record of success over the years. For example, the ruggedness, durability, and innovation of Carrier products is renowned, and the brand is still the market leader globally. Our technicians and engineers are Carrier trained and exposed to global standards in air-conditioning engineering, sales, repairs, and maintenance. Our aftersales and service portfolio is trusted for personalized services backed by competent and experienced personnel.
What informed the transformation agenda recently rolled out by the group?
One of the risks of being a legacy company is being stuck in “the way we do things” mentality and it became imperative that if we were to retain our profitability, viability, and attractiveness in the market space there is a need to regroup, refresh and recalibrate to optimize present and future business opportunities.
The agenda aims to re-launch the Mandilas brand as one of the foremost indigenous companies in Nigeria. We expect to expand our reach and appeal to varied customer demographics in the marketplace. Consequently, our renewed market focus of ‘Committed to You’ is a brand repositioning statement that realigns our business model to be more customer centric. In a nutshell, it is about bringing quality service closer to Nigerians.
In line with this, one of the initiatives we have brought on stream is the Mandilas Quick Service Centres for easy access to quality and affordable auto service. Our mobile auto and cooling service is designed to meet the needs of businesses, residential estates, and individuals at their comfort zones.
Can you please highlight how effective bilateral relationship between Nigeria and other advanced nations can boost businesses and impact the nation’s economy?
Over the years, Nigeria has entered bilateral trade deals with many nations globally, but it raises a key question of how beneficial these trade agreements have been to the Nigerian economy. Adopting an effective bilateral relationship and attracting Foreign Direct Investment is a tried and tested strategy to grow an economy. USA, China, Australia are a few examples of countries that have successfully boosted their economy through this strategy.
An effective bilateral investment in our economy will among others strengthen the Small and Medium scale Enterprises as they are the primary catalyst for the growth of an economy. Effective relations will strengthen our transport and logistics infrastructure, increase forex injection into our economy, build technical and human capacities, encourage transference of modern technological system, boost security and drive greater efficiency and growth.
What are the major challenges affecting the kind of businesses Mandilas does in Nigeria and how do you think government can address them?
As a trading conglomerate, access to timely and affordable funding is imperative if we are to deliver value to our stakeholders. For our AC Division, our products are imported, this puts a lot of demand on our ability to access foreign exchange at the right rate and at the right time. Therefore, policies that will create stability in this area so that manufacturers can quantify the risk and price it in their offering upfront are desirable.
In the 1970s, we had an assembly plant for residential air-conditioners, and we produced the first room air-conditioner in 1972. With the right policies and initiatives, the economy would also benefit from local production. The AC market is growing, and the key drivers are expanding urban population, rising investments in sector and intensified constructions in residential and commercial industries.
For the auto industry, there are great auto policies that are attractive to manufacturing of auto-mobile in Nigeria. But for “Tokunbo”, government can draft some guidelines, regulations on the type of vehicles that can be imported. The country should not be a drop for all sort of cars from anywhere in the world. Nigeria, with its population has the potential of becoming an auto-mobile hub for Africa. What we need to fix it is to drive policies and regulations that support local manufacturing but at the same time develop policies that would protect those investments in the auto industry. Policies for local and foreign investors who want their investments protected need to be clear. There is much government can do to de-risk the auto-mobile business in Nigeria. The realities of our operating environment, infrastructural issues and implementation bottlenecks should be properly evaluated and fully considered in delivering a functional auto policy. We cannot overlook the impact of the importation of used cars and grey imports on new car sales. The government must find a lasting solution to this challenge and create a level playing field for new car investments in the country. The revival of associated moribund sectors such as the petrochemical and steel industries are crucial to growing a thriving auto industry in Nigeria.
Overall, stability in Government policies and appropriate implementation will be beneficial.