DUPE KILLA-KAFIDIPE : Running Business in Nigeria, Not for the Faint-hearted

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Women ENTERPRENEURS

Dupe Killa-Kafidipe is the founder of Platinum Fisheries, which has the ultimate vision to help alleviate food scarcity and directly address urgent social, environmental, and other sustainability issues. For three years, Killa-Kafidipe was the Chief Strategy Officer at The North East Children’s Trust (NECT), a not for-profit organisation that supports children orphaned by terrorism, with care bundles including health, nutrition, shelter, counselling, education, recreation, and livelihood skills. She had prior roles in process re-engineering, change management, aviation management and business consulting. Her educational qualification include executive stints at Harvard-IESE and the China-Europe International Business School (CEIBS). A child/women advocate and change agent, Killa-Kafidipe explains to Oyinlola Sale how she has sustained Platinum Fisheries in the midst of an unstable economy

Agriculture is the next oil and yet the economy of Nigeria is not dependent on it. As a stakeholder in that sector, tell us how Platinum Fisheries can make an impact on Nigeria’s economy?

Platinum Fisheries’ goal is not just to produce seafood, but to produce healthy seafood using ethical aqua cultural methods to address urgent problems of increasing shortage of animal protein, Nigeria’s snowballing population and the alarming incursions into our fragile rivers and ultimately, ocean. This way, Platinum Fisheries’ focus is primarily on proximate issues that affect a large swathe of Nigerians significantly. Our business solution, whilst generating decent financial yield, also stimulates productivity and economic buoyancy throughout related value chains to the point where there is visible economic impact on a national level.

Platinum Fisheries will be celebrating its fifth anniversary this June. How did you achieve such a milestone in an unstable economy?

I do not want to be near-cliché about this, but it has been God all the way, Don’t take my word for it in a rush – check my trajectory to Platinum Fisheries: in all the opportunities I have had to learn and grow cross-industry/multidisciplinary skills; in all the people one has been blessed with (from friends and family to mentors and mentees, from amazing team members and critics to forerunners in the different industries one has worked in), I believe there has been an unseen, but definite influence that has made these discrete events seem like an intentional and even linear chain of events leading me to this journey with Platinum Fisheries. So, if I were to ascribe the journey to just one factor, that would be the God-factor.

In what way has Platinum Fisheries helped in alleviating food scarcity in Nigeria?

The hydra-headed problems of logistics, preservation and sub-optimised value chains in the agricultural and related food-processing sectors are well-documented. By the end of this year, the bouquet of products and services offered by Platinum Fisheries will include production and sales of fish and other seafood, farm share programmes, commercial operation of hatcheries, cold store systems, kiln operations, feed mill operations, fish farming training institute and agritourism. So essentially, at least 90% of our operations target yields maximisation and optimising value chains – all the way from live seafood to smoked and frozen fish, there is minimal wastage which directly converts to reducing food scarcity in Nigeria. I feel this a philosophy companies and their decision-makers may consider adopting or adapting. A creative, sustainable and concerted focus on food scarcity alleviation must now urgently be adopted by all.

What are the important things to note to start up a fisheries business?

In fish farming, we like to say that the tripod factors of wholesome seedlings (i.e. fish at their earliest stage), good feed and good farm practice (including water/waste management) make for a good fisheries/seafood business. I can confirm that as broad outlines go, this is correct. However, there is a world of other factors involved. Apart from the generic factors required for any business (a clear vision, efficient planning, an excellent team, premium leadership, risk management, marketing and customer relationship management), there are other specialised/technical factors relating to efficient operations, processes and of course, a specific, technical competitive edge. In summary, a successful fisheries business will tick most boxes for any generic business and for industry-specific businesses.

Entrepreneurs learnt a lot of life lessons during this pandemic, so in what way did it restructure your mode of operation?

Build resilience and flexibility into your business when you do not have to. You will later thank yourself for this over and over again. From deploying technology (to manage operations, finances, customer relations engagement and management) to mindfully building and training your team and last, but not least planning for the proverbial rainy day or year (as 2020 came to be known due to the pandemic), the biggest validation for us at Platinum Fisheries was to see our investments in robust, resilient, but agile systems/structures really pay off and keep the business afloat during the pandemic. We are now considering strategies that would further build on that.

The unemployment rate keeps rising in the country and the agricultural sector has many opportunities that have not been tapped, how has your organisation helped in encouraging the youths to take up roles in the agricultural sector?

We do this in different ways. The average team member’s age at Platinum Fisheries is 28 years. Every job opening or outsourced service is offered first to a local youth provider before any other provider. We do the same with regards to procurement. Ultimately our training institute will be designed with youths in focus. In addition to that, our tours and exhibition service lines targeting school-age children aims to stoke their interest in aquaculture very early in life. This hopefully will translate to proactive engagement as they come of age and positively affect employment rates. Finally, all our CSR commitments are pro-youth and focus on improved employment rates.

How has it been like, in terms of running a fishery business in Nigeria?

In summary – it has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride. Dizzying highs, frightening lows, but holding on and making decent progress has been all the more fulfilling and worthwhile because of it. We have had national policy changes that favoured us, side-by-side with policy changes that nearly broke us. There have been windfalls and droughts. And of course, there was the pandemic and we are still dealing with the fallouts of that. Running a business in Nigeria for a day is not for the faint-hearted. This is why we are genuinely grateful and honoured to not just be here, but also on an upward trajectory.

Is this business capital intensive? How did you manage to finance Platinum Fisheries throughout the years?

If you want to run the business from your garden or backyard with a target of say, a maximum of 500kg or units per annum, then the capital outlay can be modest. However if your projection is anything from 50,000kg per annum, expectedly the figures get serious here. Any position between these two reference points are valid depending on the resources available to you. For us at Platinum Fisheries, we started modestly and gradually grew. Funding was and still is from bootstrapping.

Running a business comes with challenges that might be road blocks, have you come across a difficult time and how did you overcome it?

The beauty (and to be candid, sometimes horror) of running a business is that you have to keep replicating what went well and eliminating what has not gone so well. It would be disingenuous to imagine we have struggled from time to time. What I do to overcome setbacks caused by self or others is to fully understand what went wrong, why it did and what could have been done differently. Most times, it pays to share the big picture of difficult times with team members. They are actually the stakeholders closest to the business and arguably have the greatest influence, even if it is indirectly. Taking responsibility (even if is only because you are the leader) is critical and exemplary. These are some of the ways and attitudes that have helped us forged a way through extremely difficult times.

So what makes Platinum Fisheries to stand out in the midst of its competitors?

Our mission at Platinum Fisheries goes beyond selling products and rendering services for a profit. That immediately sets up apart from the rest. Our methods are sustainability-driven with a commitment to ensuring we do not engage in any activity that further degrades the environment. This is a unique side to our business. We are fully committed to the people-over-profit ethos – be it in product design, human capital management or ultimate vision to supply affordable and healthy seafood.