Special Interview

‘Proactiveness, Sound management skill secret of successful haulage business’

Kester Ngbemena is the Managing Director of Makine Star and Logistic Limited.Heholds Master Degree in Transport and Logistics. He has been in the haulage business since 2008, moving dry cargoes. He disclosed in an interview with Ranmilowo Ojalumo recently the secret of successful haulage business. Excerpts

Tell us what you do?

Like I said earlier, we move dry cargoes. We haul for companies like Nestle and many other companies that needed us since 2008, and up till now by the grace of God we are still in the business.

How do you describe your adventures for the past 9 years?

It is very interesting of course. Haulage business has a lot of issues in terms of drivers and maintenance. There is high level of dishonesty when it comes to integrity of the drivers. That is one of the major issues. The industry as far as I am concerned has been stagnant. We still have the illiterate and semi illiterate that are running business in the sector. But today, we now have dynamic owners and CEOs coming into the sector and they are more educated. Some of them are bringing new innovations and strategies into haulage business. Of course some few years ago, most transporters were not going through the bank; but the banks are being supportive to some extent now than before.

How would you describe your personal experience in the sector?

Like I said, everything has to do with passion. If you are passionate about any business you are doing, you will enjoy it. It has nothing to do with the monetary aspect. If you are there because you are interested in transport business, you will enjoy it. To me, it is very interesting, but the industry needs a lot of training and re- training from the operators. We need vibrant association with strong voice that can speak for haulage and logistic business as whole.

How do you describe haulage business?

Haulage business is a money spinner. It is highly risky and anything that has high risk also brings high income but like I always say, if you think you can run haulage business as an illiterate; you make a lot of mistakes because there are many things you must put into consideration such as vehicle selection and purchase, type of trucks in a fleet, operation of the trucks, truck maintenance, servicing and examination among other issues. For me, my management style has always being proactive in those key areas. Haulage business is facing a lot challenges in Nigeria generally but we are still in the business by the grace of God. My own prediction is maybe in five years from now, the Haulage business will pick up more because most transporters cannot buy truck now because the banks are not willing to give loan now because of the economic factor in Nigeria. We pray that things should improve. My advice to my other colleagues, those that have truck should hold on to what they have now and maintain it and see how to manage them very well, I believe the demand will increase in the future.

The risk of Haulage business is very high and there is this saying that the business kills quickly, what is your take on that.

(Laughs) I don’t want to agree completely but I agree to certain degree because of our environment and the people we work with. The industry is not what it were 30 or 50 years ago, but you know the industry has orientation challenge, especially the drivers. The drivers have serious integrity problem. This is why we need to make them understand that their job is very important. They need to realize that the cost of the truck and cost of goods they are carrying is always huge. The drivers are stakeholder in this business, therefore we must make sure that they are part of the whole operation, we must give them the right orientation, and we must give them sense of belonging. The drivers are the major problem of the business but if you are able to manage them and every other staff very well, then the business will not give you headache, but if you can’t manage them very well, that is when the business can be killing.

You said in the next few years the industry will be better, why do you think so?

For now, the Nigerian economy is not stable. The banks that used to support us have stopped for now, of course I have an idea of two or three banks that are very supportive, but for now, they are not dealing with us because prizes of everything has gone up, prizes of truck have gone up and it is affecting projection and cash flow but for those that already have existing truck in their fleet, they stand the good opportunity of benefiting more in the future if they can do their maintenance and service very well. Right now, I don’t think most transporters are buying big truck. Prizes of everything have gone up. Prizes of spare part and diesel have gone up between Decembers and now, it is a big change in the environment. We are still talking to the freight owners to increase the amount they paid for the freight. Everybody is facing the challenges; I know with time like I said earlier, everything will get better.

As a Master Degree holder in Transport and Logistics, what does it entail to excel in the haulage and logistics business?

To excel in the business requires excellent management skill. You need to be proactive. You need to be a good motivator. You need to be a management person. You need to carry people along. In my experience in life, I have come to discovered that most staff will perform better if they are allowed to think out of the box. Many staff will do well if they are being given free hand to function, by that they contribute to the growth of the company. So it is always good to allow staff to become part of the system by way of allowing them to be very interested in what they are doing. For me, if I interview you for employment, the first question I ask is where do you see yourself within the next five years? I want to know if you actually have interest in the business, not just because you want to earn salary. I want continuity which is always a big problem and challenge in Nigeria. It is has become a problem to put the right people in the right places; some people are just working because they want to earn money. We are not even interested in that business. If you don’t have passion for the job, you can’t contribute meaningfully to growth of the company. As for me, I have passion for haulage and logistics business and that is why up till now, I am still trying to learn more, develop more and contribute to the industry. What Haulage & Logistics Magazine is doing is fantastic; the magazine always bring stakeholders in the industry together to come an brainstorm, it is very educative and enlightening, and I really appreciate it. That is what I am saying about association; they should always spearhead our challenges and try to present it to the government.

With what you said earlier, it means you also believe in what many people are saying that the drivers constitute huge problems to this sector

I believe so; the drivers constitute one of the major challenges we face in the industry today because of their integrity. The drivers are always seen as illiterate. Then drivers on the other hand always see themselves as being used by the owners of the business and they also always have the feeling that the owner of the business is making a lot of money and they are the one doing all the job, so they misbehave a lot. This is where the place of training, retraining and orientation comes in. We need to give the drivers training and proper regular orientation. But we as the company owners should also try and see if we can get educated people as our drivers; may be people with OND, HND or BSC. As a matter of fact, I am sure many graduates will be interested in the driving job if the remuneration, and insurance and every other benefit is there, I am sure they will probably be interested. Of course we should benchmark what we do in Africa especially Nigeria with developed countries like United State of America among others. You will see that the truck drivers in the advanced countries are very proud of their job and they are happy that they are truck drivers. Unlike in Nigeria where truck drivers feel they are being used. They are not happy on the job maybe because of remuneration, maybe there is no insurance. This is something the operators in industry have to look into to see how we can improve the welfare of the drivers. I remember Dangote have tried to open an Academy to train drivers. Such thing is one of the things to improve on drivers’ knowledge. Stakeholders in the industry can as well open an academy for drivers just like Dangote. This type of move is good for the industry but it is a way forward for the industry.

What is the solution to the problems the drivers constitute to the industry?

The drivers always have more than 1million excuses every day, but I have always said that haulage business is not for anyhow people. It is not meant for illiterate or semi illiterate. As a haulage and logistics company owner, you must know the essence of insurance and tracking of your trucks. You must embrace innovations. You must be very sound in management. Then give the drivers sense of belonging and also try and insured your drivers; these are what is obtainable in the developed world. It is high time we benchmarked. Whatever we do here should be what they do in the developed countries.

What would you say has been keeping you afloat in the Haulage business for the past nine years?

Well, strategic management and achieving development result has been my business strategy. In this business, there is need to be strategic in management decision or else, things will not work well and that is why many haulage and logistics companies are dying every day and many company owners are having problems running their companies. Besides, I like to pursue result that will bring development, so achieving development result has really helped me. As a matter of fact, Nigeria is still a developing and transiting country. We need to build capacity and this has to do with training and train the trainers. When you get trained, you will also train other people. If we don’t build our capacity as a country in area of education and management, we cannot really move forward.

Can you boldly say you are fulfilled in this business?

Yes, I am fulfilled because, like I said earlier, passion was what brought me into the business. I like large operation, I like rendering services to business and I am doing it up till now, so I am fulfilled but I can do better because there is always room for improvement. The sector needs a lot of improvement, even in advanced countries, truckers are very important; they are well trained. The drivers and the technicians are also well trained, so the efficiency of all the operators brings improvement into the sector. We also have the problem of bad road to contend with, this is also another area that can bring improvement into the sector.

So what success strategy would you recommend to the new comers in this business?

Before recommending any strategy to anybody, I will first and foremost ask if the person actually has passion for the business and to know if he’s really and sincerely willing to do the business. Then the next thing is for the person to be exposed to the practical aspect of the business, to know how the business works and of course he must go for training before starting the business. Apart from all these, a new comer into the business should not quickly go and take loan from the bank; instead, try and source for money from another source but not bank loan. You can start with used trucks so as to understand the dynamics of haulage business in Nigeria because every country has its dynamics, then as money starts coming in, you can then begin to think of brand new trucks. But I must also say that haulage business is not a business you will float for somebody to manage and you the owner will not involve in it; you have to be fully involved, that is why I said earlier that passion is the most important thing.

What is your candid advice to your colleagues in the industry at this critical period in the country?

We should manage our resources very well. With the current situation in the country now, there is no room for waste, so try as much as possible to cut off anything consider not important because I have discover that many transport company owners are wasteful; then we should be fully involved in the business because I discovered many haulage and logistics company owners are not fully involved in the running of the business, some company owners just hand over the running of the business to somebody and then travel abroad and try to manage the business from abroad, it doesn’t work that way.

Some haulage companies are complaining that there is no business; is it the same at Makine star?

That is part of what I am saying. One other important thing is your contract. Try as much as possible to have signed contracts with manufacturers; without that, it may not be easy, but I must say that there are goods out there to carry. Nigeria as a country do a lot of importations and many companies are producing; so for me, I will say the business is there, I don’t really know about others; it may not be as it used to be but honestly, the business is still there.

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