On his background
I have been an oil man I would say right from leaving the University apart from two years I spent in the Nigerian railways building the railway sidings to the refinery, but for the past 43 years I have been working for oil companies notably Shell and Shell subsidiaries in Nigeria in London and all of Africa and my background is civil engineering.
What motivated you to invest in Safecon, be a part of the management buyout of Shell?
When I came here in the 80’s precisely 1985 I met a group of people working for the company and I was their Managing Director they knew nothing of me, I came in without any hand over notes. I worked straight into the office and introduced myself and all the staff welcomed me. From then on it was a very friendly relationship between me and the staff and I then began to meet the dealers I met the members of the public met people in government, it was so easy to walk into the President’s office and discuss with him – book an appointment with the minister on a phone call and he says please come now and I couldn’t understand that with where I was coming from, where if you wanted to see the President you needed to have to know somebody who knows somebody who is likely to make the appointment, but here a phone call away and you are there. So I found that associating with the people of Sierra Leone and the government was one of those pleasurable things if you have something to offer they took you on. I remember when I first landed, precisely two days to the inauguration of President Momoh as the then President and the Honourable Minister of Trade Joe Amara Bangalie said please Mr Shell man come to the office now now we want to have a meeting – so I got to the meeting only to discover that the whole meeting was called on how to ration twenty thousand gallons of petrol to be able to reach the chiefdoms so that they can come down for the inauguration – twenty thousand gallons of petrol I calculated the amount of money that would give if that was all that I came to sell it wouldn’t pay my petrol bill for the day not to talk about salaries, so I asked the Honourable Minister I said if that’s what you have – we in Shell … there is no way I can handle this one give me a few hours and I would come back and we’ll see what can be done. So I went out of the office picked up the phone and called Shell in London. I said look they have twenty thousand gallons of petrol and they want to ration it to all the oil companies, if that’s why you sent me here then I’m on my way back to London however the President has to be inaugurated and I want fuel I don’t care what you want to do. They said how do you pay for it I said as I am talking to you now I have no idea, but get the fuel on its way let me go and talk to the people and see how we will pay for it. So I went back and immediately had a chat with diplomats and a few people and I made calculations. I said look all I need from you diplomats you can’t be here and want to attend all this inauguration I want you people to forward purchase products from me for six months and this is the price and I would bring fuel and you will be guaranteed fuel for six months but what I want to do now is to get this inauguration going. They said do you guarantee us as the MD of Shell that we will get fuel for six months and at that price – I said yes they said sure you have it, and they poured dollars into the company. Meanwhile Shell sent the products – five hundred tons so the product arrived the night before the inauguration. The minister couldn’t believe it nobody could believe it but that’s it. So with that ease of transaction I moved on and things went on for Shell. They made good money the country got stabilized and so all the fuel scarcity at least before I left in 1990 that was over. Well I went back and worked all around and this opportunity came and N’Doeka who was very close to me called me he said SIC these people want to go, can you come and help us because we staff here know that you can help us we want to remain here. So I flew in, had a chat then I went to Shell and said well can I have the opportunity they said sure if you want to come we will gladly take you to the government, and as soon as they took me to the President the then military President he said if Shell is going to sell to you we will approve the Shell divestment. So that’s it here I am, I am here really not because I want to make money or not make money I am here because I think there is value to be added the country is growing the economy is growing the people are good the system is disciplined believe it or not it is better disciplined than anywhere else on this west coast so the future is very bright so I thank God that we are here I think the bad times are behind us. Now is the time to invest and move on.
What are your plans to move Safecon to the No.1 position in the petroleum industry?
That’s without question we have the best locations. I was actually the Managing Director that organized the buyout of TEXACO from this country and I purified the system I know where the stations are and I know they are simply dormant now waiting for this kind of investment to take place so as for being number one that’s without question we were number one when I was here before, now we are back we’ll be there. We’ll serve the people we’ll splash petrol stations like these we’ll get into aviation we’ll get into the construction market. This country’s program must include road building, the dams and things, we are watching all those so I would leave my strategy as a secret for now but I will assure you that for as long as we are here the system is right we will be number one.
Was there any time that you felt your investment was going in vain?
No that wasn’t an issue one thing I knew from my experience in a number of African countries is that whether you are in a state of war or a state of peace energy is required. So all you have to do is be apolitical, stay focused on your business and provide energy for whoever asks for it at the kind of price the person wants, as cost effective and safe as he wants and position yourself to always frankly advise not to dictate. And so there was never a time I had fear that my investment would be in vain even though it’s not been profitable all through and it’s not unprofitable either, but then the aim was not capital flight my aim was not to invest and take dividends and go away, because if I take it and go away what am I going to do with it wherever I take it to, at the end of the day human being needs just to live – to live doesn’t mean money to live means that you have good company you are active, you are healthy, and there are people who value you around you at the time you are living. So for me I am living when I am in Sierra Leone, so when the challenges are serious that’s when I’m more here because then I know that whatever little achievement I make people are happy to see me and say yes and they tell you their problem, so there was not a time that I could contemplate that – I mean each time there is a depression it gives you room to restructure and you restructure and you re-engineer and you keep on track and like I said energy for the next fifty or hundred years will remain a requirement so we were in the right position and in balance we will always win.