And the exciting revelations of a fellow of engineering turned entrepreneur
As emphasis on local content grows stronger, the need for companies from the oil region to fill emerging gaps in the oil industry seems more glaring, and could be what ‘Call Bob Nigeria’ represents.
According to the chairman of the logistics company, George Chukwulewa Okoroma, a fellow of the engineering profession CEO of Gambeta Groupe, his ability to spot a gap that showed up while he was doing engineering jobs has turned into a huge business and the emergence of ‘Call Bob Nigeria’.
In an exclusive interview with Businessday, Okoroma, who is president of the Association for Consulting Engineers in Nigeria (ACEN) and an engineering consultant revealed the steps that gave birth to Call Bob Nigeria and how the young professionals in the oil region can emulate the strategy.
“Engineering is development and no nation survives without it. After my graduation, I worked with a construction firm for a period and I saw I would be very good as an entrepreneur, so I decided to set up my own firm called Gambeta Nigeria Limited (now Gambeta Groupe). I have done business with a multinational oil corporation (Agip) at Obagi and other locations.
“So, I saw a gap in their facilities to provide equipment for construction and some movement of personnel and materials to their various locations. I noticed this gap in the logistics services. Yes, they provide their own vehicles but they sought to lease too from vendors. So, I set up a company called Chilewa Investment Ltd, exclusively for long leasing. Somewhere along the line, we noticed some gap and that some persons are not just looking at long but short leases. The multinationals in emergency or to meet an immediate gap would call for short lease vehicles (two or three days) while the long lease is still running. They may be in Lagos or Abuja and would want some equipment and vehicle on ground here in the Niger Delta. They would need the services from local companies in the region. We were getting calls for short services.
“When the calls became serious, and we had a young man who just graduated at Masters level from Imperial College in the sensitive course of Management (Technology & Entrepreneurship), I said okay, can you call Mr Bob. Somehow, the idea just flashed to say, why not call this business; ‘Call Bob’. That is how Call Bob came up as an enterprise. Today, we have a company called ‘Call Bob Nigeria’, and the MD is a well-schooled young man with civil engineering like me but he is more into technology, entrepreneurship, business development, etc. He is able to come up with the idea of translating those calls into business in the area of leases. He has done so well.
“Every business comes with its own challenges. Under long lease, you go to bed as soon as you have handed in the vehicle, but in short lease, you have frequent challenges. You deal with different clients, different locations, etc. So, it is about the issue of how to track the vehicles.
“So, Call Bob Nigeria in collaboration with Burnsley Technologies Limited came up with fleet management solution, drivers improvement device, which we now installed in these vehicles so that in real time, we know where the vehicles were, how to intervene or make replacement of a vehicle, etc. We would have vehicles in the pool as back up.
“Call Bob is there any time for such short leases and those interventions especially in movement, human resources and materials to any location, especially in the oil and gas. Some may think Logistics is not core engineering practice but they have to know that Engineering encompasses many areas. Logistics deals with engineering, too. It’s all integrated, it’s a business chain.”
The CEO of Gambeta Groupe and fellow of the Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE) who was pioneer chairman of the Omoku chapter gave details of how the company functions in the short term leasing space.
Details: How Call Bob deploys competence:
As we speak, we have over 20 vehicles available at any time. They cut across SUV, Hilux which is more in demand, shuttle buses, etc. Most of these oil companies move their staff and so they need the buses for about two weeks and back-to-back for crew change. Call Bob is ready and is very useful in the oil region.
Investment opportunity beckons
Expansion is on our mind. We have clients who know who to call now. So, we are looking for investors to come in under our umbrella. We take their vehicles and we give value to the vehicles, maintain them and make them readily available for lease. Any investor with some spare cash can buy vehicles and bring to Call Bob.
The world now is about partnership. No one man has it or knows it all. So, we are open for investors.
Another area is our technology can also be extended to fleet owners. With Covid-19 and the insecurity that may come, the strategy is useful; in case of accidents, hijack, diversion, etc. We have also intervened for other vehicles with technology. Our camera-based technology can give analysis of what actually happened. It is developed by our Nigerian technologists in partnership with those from Morocco and South Africa. We are all Africans.
As a consulting engineer, I have a network in Africa. As the treasurer of FIDIC Africa, (Federation of Consulting Engineers) with headquarters in Geneva, we have the opportunity to reach out. We leverage this platform to penetrate Africa and they get to know Gambeta and Call Bob.
We urge Nigerian content companies to support us so we can develop our capacity.
Attitude of drivers and vehicle maintenance issues, a critical issue
Beautiful! These two factors mean a lot, but technology will tell you the number of hours the vehicle has been on the road. You have the time to plan and know when to run and when to maintain. That is why we have drivers’ improvement system. Most times, you do not know what the driver is doing on steering, but with camera and geo-fencing, you know what the driver is doing; sleeping, over-speeding, etc? It tells you that a driver is sleeping and you will be the one to call you and accuse him of sleeping. Of course, the drivers are conscious of this fact. A driver can tell you he is on the way to Aba but head to Ogoni, but this technology will tell you really where the driver is heading to. The fleets are well managed and you have value for your money.
We are in a pandemic situation in Nigeria, and Call Bob can be of help especially to move palliatives and foodstuffs. We are available to support. We can take a token for fuel. Its just to help the government. We are a local company and we have drivers from all the ethnic groups in the state for local convenience and feedback. Call Bob is ready to offer help.
Repositioning in the outsourcing era
That is why we are beefing up operations. Oprah Winfrey says there is nothing like luck but all about readiness meeting opportunity. We still want to boost our fleet despite the difficulties of manufacturers not being open yet. What we are trying to do now is to make sure our vehicles are put in proper conditions. The economic era coming would be tough. The oil companies want nothing more than 50,000 km logged but we expect them to reduce that. What we are doing is to beef up by refurbishing. We can make the vehicles be in very strong condition. With price of crude oil the way it is, we expect low profile. We are ready.
We can also look out for people who want to dispose of their vehicles.
The silent mentor
How his work and influence helped the younger ones and helped engineering.
I am so glad that I have been a silent mentor to many people. I have influenced and mentored a lot of young people through this group and through the IOCs such as Total E&P. Total wrote a profound statement on me during my investiture as ACEN president. They attest that I have trained many engineers now in the IOCs, NDDC, ministries, etc. During my investiture, a crop of young men and women formed themselves into Gambeta Alumni. It made me happy because I hear about Harvard Alumni. My own little way in this region has created alumni of a brand of engineers. There can be no better evidence of what one man can do to bring up young professionals.
In business, I think I am a reference point. I set up Royal Fortress in Omoku which has spurred many hotels in Omoku and Port Harcourt. One man in Agip built a hotel to model Fortress. Krisdera Hotels & Resort Ltd was modeled after mine though it is bigger. There is another in Egiland (Titikpe). The owner stayed in my hotel and eventually built a big one. I am happy about this.
I speak French and some of my clients and guests are attracted to me because of French language. We contributed our own little quota. In Total, I was the first indigenous person in Orashi region to start this kind of services. Other companies emulated this model and waxed strongly, too. Today, we have many others.
We provide vehicles and good drivers. This is important and critical. Businesses are going down and fleets are also going down. We have over 60 drivers in companies. This is also support to the community. We are a recruiting firm with certification. We are member of Nigerian Employers Consultative Assembly (NECA). We have about 40 graduate-attachés seconded to Total E&P. We generate taxes to the government through many ways, PAYE, etc. We are a member of Port Harcourt Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (PHCCIMA).
Message to young people
Please focus on entrepreneurship. That is the way to go now that there are no jobs. Government may not have enough resources to provide jobs for everyone, so innovation, creativity, dedication, and commitment are the only way. Once you have these, you are good to go.
Please, take Rivers State and help it to become the hub of entrepreneurship, the hub of engineering and technology so that a time will come when we will be giving jobs to people from all over the nation and beyond. It is doable.
I use this opportunity to commend the Rivers State government for all the actions so far taken to protect the people against the ravaging COVID-19. I can only appeal to the FG to support the state because here is the major centre for expatriate community in Nigeria.
(First used in BusinessDay Sunday online)