Olabode Makanjuola Making His Marks in Aviation and Shipping

He is a business revolutionaire in his own right. Olabode Makanjuola, CEO, Caverton Offshore Support Group seems to possess a magic wand in aviation and shipping; making his career life a subject of keen interest, writes Funke Olaode  

Olabode Makanjuola, Chief Executive Officer of Caverton Offshore Support Group is far from being a green horn. Having made his mark for over two decades in aviation and shipping, he isn’t just your regular silver-spooned individual. Aside from pedigree, his solid academic background matched with shrewd business sense put him in a good stead in the corporate world.

Although his rise in business may be steady and gradual, he grew and learned under the stable of his father and Caverton Boss, Aderemi Makanjuola. The quiet, humble and unassuming Bode as he is fondly called may have learned the ropes but he is gradually becoming his own self in decision-making in business sense since the leadership mantle fell on him as Chief Executive Officer of Caverton conglomerate.

Focused, diligent with an outstanding administrative skill, there is no air about him during an encounter with this reporter on a sunny afternoon at the expansive premises of Caverton Training Centre located at Murtala International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos. It was during a courtesy visit by the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace, Festus Keyamo, SAN to the Caverton centre. That the Minister was flabbergasted by what he saw on ground was an understatement. With the state-of-the-art facility, one of its kind in Africa, there is no doubt that Caverton has placed Nigeria on the global map as the largest indigenous aviation industry in Nigeria and the West Africa.

The seed of intellectualism in Bode was first ignited at the ivy league Adesoye College, Offa, Kwara State after which he proceeded to Kings College Taunton, Somerset, United Kingdom for his advanced level between  1994-1996. He would later move to University of Leicester England between 1996-2000 where he read Mechanical Engineering, City University Business School, England for Master’s degree in Shipping Trade and Finance.

Armed with solid academic degrees from reputable universities, Bode began his career in 2000 as industrial trainee at Elder Dempster Nigeria. Right there, his future as a business mogul had been laid out. Between 2002 and 2006, he was LPG Trader/Business Development with Le Global Oilfield Services. In 2006-2007, he was Operations Director/Chartering Manager, Caverton Marine Limited, in 2007, he was an Executive Director, Caverton Offshore Support Group prior to his current role where he sits on the board of a number of bluechip companies.

Since then he dabbled into the business world, navigating several commercial trading contracts with the NNPC, Nigerian LNG and a number of international trading companies.

Excited about the progress made so far, he went down memory lane.

“Caverton actually started out as Carverton Marine Company with our Chairman Mr. Aderemi Makanjuola in 1999, with its own fleet of LPG tankers.  In 2004, we saw an opportunity to explore the aviation space, specifically through rotary aviation.  At the time, that space was only occupied by foreign companies that were servicing the oil and gas industry.”

For him, it was a very long journey to recognition.  At that time, no one was willing to give a new Nigerian company contracts, especially one without experience or whatever the opportunity to explore that space which is quite understandable. Safety is a critical element in the aviation sector which cannot be sacrificed on the altar of sheer sentiment.

“You have human lives in your hands. And the oil industry is probably the most stringent sector that you find in any part of the world or in the aviation industry. The common cliché you often hear is that if you want to succeed in this sector, you need to build the infrastructure.  It is not enough to go out and just buy a helicopter or buy a six-wing aircraft and all of that. You needed to actually build the facilities, like the hangars, which at the time didn’t exist. Most people just bought whatever aircraft they had and just left them. And that gave rise to our hangar which is behind us. This was the first hangar that we actually built. And then we built the first intercity helipad which is located at Ozumba Mbadwe.”

While exploring onshore and offshore work, Makanjuola considered the possibility of commuting by air as an added option in the services provided. And with the emphasis on local content development, the sky was indeed the starting point for Caverton.

“And also for us it was a way of bringing Caverton to the public, to actually let them know that we are here,” he continued.  “Fortunately, with the closure of the bridge and everything, the oil companies started to take notice. And then that was the advent of local content development.”

As Caverton grew, some multinationals started paying attention to its services which are top-notch. This led to contracts from Multinationals such as Shell, Total, Chevron and a number of other IOCs as well. 

“We became the largest offshore support services company that was offering both aviation and marine service. But in terms of growth, we also sort of started looking at  our wider aviation industry and we realised that there are two areas that we were really lacking and that was training and maintenance.

“To train a pilot costs a fortune and to do major checks or major maintenance also. Literally we have to fly the engines out of the country, wait for clearing and bring them back. There was a shortage in terms of well-trained engineers. We spend millions of dollars on training our pilots because pilots have to go through what you call the recurrency training. It is not enough that you know how to fly; you always have to go back to upgrade yourself every quarter, every six months. There are very few of these simulators in the world.  You can only find it in Dubai, United States and Europe. We would end up going to the UAE. And a lot of times after a long journey, the only slots our pilots would be able to find, would be maybe like a 3 am or  2am. Slot. If they could even find a slot at all. We decided to take the bull by the horns. The economy was dwindling, forex was now basically making it unbearable. It is very expensive to actually go out.”

Having identified the problems, Caverton swung into action and built the Maintenance and Repair Overhaul Organization, MRO through support of the then government via the aviation intervention funded by the Bank of Industry during President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. Today, Caverton has a fully operational MRO where they can assemble aircraft there, strip them and  re-spray. All the training is done locally with international standards.

“We don’t send our aircraft out any longer. We actually have partnership with the Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Air Force, and even the Presidency. So, all their aircraft are in our hangar right now. Also, we have a very good relationship with the Original Equipment Manufacturer, OEM. The likes of Leonardo and the rest of them that the government buy their aircraft from. Today, we serve as an intermediary when it comes to equipment and maintenance. We will fix it. So, the president helicopters is there. We have got two Air Force helicopters. We actually just finished maintaining two helicopters from Benin Republic. The idea is basically creating a hub within the Sub-Saharan African region. It has grown the economy and prevents capital flight. We used to spend close to $2 million a year, sending people out. We had issues with visas, flight delays and hotels. We invested in this and we are proud to say it is also EASA certified. We have had other countries coming for training such as India and Egypt.”

Over the years, Caverton’s success is built on the pillars of innovation, professionalism, safety and unwavering dedication to customer’s satisfaction. And the management is proud of its achievements and the positive impact it has made in the Nigerian aviation and maritime sectors.  Its Training Centre houses the first-ever full reality AW-139 simulator, as well as a soon to be commissioned AW-109 simulator. These simulators enable the company to provide comprehensive and realistic training to their pilots, ensuring the highest standards of safety and operational excellence.  Recently, it acquired a new helicopter, Bell 429 for its offshore operations in Cameroon, that brand is the first to operate in West Africa for the oil and gas market.

Not resting on its oars, Caverton is expanding and diversifying. Its Marine Boat, locally made with world standard, when launched will be the largest provider of waterways transportation across Lagos State and by extension Nigeria at large.    

“We are dedicated to aviation and lately marine boats. We are currently working with the state government to address water transportation in Lagos. If you want people to get on water ensure that the boats are good. You can’t actually afford the boats, so the next best thing is to say why can’t we build it here? But if we are going to build them here, then we have to build them to a certain standard that meets people’s needs.”

Happily married with wife and children, for leisure, Bode is an avid polo player with a love for horses and is currently President of the Lagos Polo Club. He also enjoys fishing and  watching football. He is a longstanding supporter of Arsenal football Club.  He is the Vice President of the Nigerian-Belgian Chamber of Commerce as well as a board member of Sickle Cell Foundation Nigeria, a way of giving back to the society.

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