Nigerian Courier Companies Coming Up – Sofola-Ibukunoluwa | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Nigerian Courier Companies Coming Up – Sofola-Ibukunoluwa

Posted: Aug 2, 2015 at 12:01 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Omolabake Sofola-Ibukunoluwa is one of the wonder MDs in the country. After joining United Courier in 2011, she turned the fortune of the 23-year-old company around. In an industry dominated by men, she steers the company affairs steadily despite the great competition from international players. In a chat with Hazeez Balogun in her Lagos office, she speaks about the challenges of her peculiar industry and how she made it to the top.

When did you join United Courier?

I started my career 15 years ago. I have been in the marketing sector all along. I have worked with various companies over years and now I am with United Courier. I started my with a security firm, then I moved on to Rosab international. I joined United Courier as the Chief Operating Officer (COO) but not soon after I joined, I was made the Managing Director (MD) of the company.

Having worked in the marketing sector for long, what were the peculiar challenges managing a courier service?

United Courier just like other courier services is a logistics based business which comes with a lot of challenges of its own. Having a female in this sector is not common especially for a company like ours which have branches in 32 States in the country. But for me, I try to look past the challenges. Since I joined, I have been finding ways to rejuvenate the business. I thank God that things have been going on well, and nothing major has gone wrong since I joined.

The courier sector is about monitoring people and packages in various parts of the country, and that is not an easy feat when you have so many people and so many packages. I will not say that we have totally conquered the business because it is always an on-going process, but we have been able to have a working formula that has made us successful.

Courier leaders I believe are the foreign ones like UPS and DHL, how is the local businesses faring while playing with such global giants.

That is a very big question you asked there. One of the challenges that we indigenous companies are facing are the big players, these international companies. And it is not really their own fault, it is this mentality that many Nigerians have. Instead of us buying into what we have, we will instead buy things from outside the country.

We have big Nigerian business who are constant patrons of the courier industry, instead of them patronising our own indigenous companies, they would rather patronise these big international names. We however have been able to wriggle our way out of this predicament. We make sure that our standards are very high and they meet international standards. If we are going to compete with the big names, we should also offer the same standards that they offer. And to make it better, we are cheaper than they are, so it is working for us. We give good services at lesser charges.

That however does not take the competition away, and the Nigerian factor is still there as well. That is; patronising foreign companies over Nigerian ones even when they offer better services at cheaper prices. I urge more Nigerian companies and even foreign ones to be more patriotic by patronising Nigerian goods and services. That alone will help strengthen the economy and create jobs.

The local business itself is too eroded. Every transport service today now operate courier services, this must make things difficult for established companies like yours?

The competition in the local sector too is stiff. Like I said, we do not compromise in quality and this sets us apart from the others. The sector is wide enough for everybody. There are sectors in the industry that are yet to be explored. So it is a free entrance and free exit market as long as they have their licence. Those transport businesses that are into courier now, I believe they have their licences to operate. We cannot say they should not operate. Most of these companies I believe operate on a very small scale and their patrons are usually not regular customers. I don’t think any corporate organisation will one to patronise park couriers. There rates are lower because they have their buses but most times their only work along the routes of their vehicles. We work around the country, and we have our own fleet. We make use of various transport modes. We transport packages by air when need be and it makes parcels get to destinations faster. I don’t think car park couriers will do that.

We also offer security for packages, everything we carry is well secured. In a nut shell, local competitions are welcomed, and they have their own patrons, but we are more professional at what we do. We mostly work mainly for corporate organisations.

What when there is an accident with parcels?

The courier business has to do with logistics, and there is no way you are handling logistics that you will not factor in eventualities. Accidents happen. In our company, we have insurance on everything we move. No matter how big or how small the package is, it is properly insured.

Asides from insurance, on our own, we have a monitoring process that ensures that mails do not get missing or damaged. We work with many financial institutions and contents of many of this mail might be very valuable or important. We make sure we monitor mails and other packages. There is also a tracking system that makes us know where what parcel is at any time. To avoid mix-up, we make sure that we label the packages appropriately. After all that cautions we take on our part and there is still an eventuality, then the insurance will cover that.

Our transport system is very poor and roads seem to be what we depend on most, how does that affect your business?

That is one of our major challenges. Even the roads we have, many of them are in bad shape. Airports too are not many. But I believe that things are getting better. They have commissioned some rail roads, so we expect that as these rails become operational, things will improve.

You were into marketing before you joined the courier industry, what did you want to become as a child?

As a child, I wanted to be a doctor. I had always wanted to be a doctor. Funny enough, I am from a family of lawyers. Though my father is an engineer, his twin brother is a lawyer, my brother is a lawyer, my cousin is a lawyer, so the law was a trend in the family. Since everyone was a lawyer, I wanted to stand out. We have only one doctor in the family and she is out of the country. So I decided to be a lawyer too.

So I wrote the West African Examination Council (WAEC) exams and I did not have physics. I decided to stay one more year and try again and I did not have my physic for the second time. I told myself that I could not keep staying at home. I tried to change my course. I went to the polytechnic to have a OND in Marketing. That was how I found myself in the marketing world. After my National Diploma, I had my Industrial training as a customer service officer, by then I had fallen in love with marketing.

After a while I decided to go back to school. I went to Ife to study Philosophy and Sociology. I was so passionate about marketing at that time that any break I had from school or any strike, I will go back to my previous place of work to work.  After graduation I was sold into marketing already and I got various jobs till I got to where I am today.

You wanted to be a doctor, will you are a fulfilled woman?

Yes I wanted to be a doctor when I was younger, but I can say that I am living the dream at the moment. When I look at life for what it really is, I can say I am living my dreams. The real dream is to be the CEO of a multinational company. From the way United courier is heading, I can say that I am fulfilling that dream.  The company is on its way to go global.

You have a peculiar dreads on, these days it becoming trendy for people in the corporate world to keep such hair. We have people like Charles O’tudor, Steve Babaeko doing similar hair.

No o, this is just a personal thing. The truth is that my husband like the hair and that is why I keep it. As a married woman you will want to balance your married life and do what your husbands like. But I must say, before I got this job I had to wear a wig. I did not what they may pick up or do not like. so I kept it hidden at the time.

Is it a natural dread?

No I made it.

In recent times, marketing has been given a bad name in Nigeria. Companies exploit young girls and trade them for sex object to get them customers, how do you feel about this?

As a female in the industry, I must say that I have witnessed such in the past. But I must tell you, nobody is going to force you to do what you don’t want to do. if you are a decent person and from a good background, I don’t see any reason for you to sell your body to get clients. If you are confident in what you are marketing there is no need to go all the way. The worst the person will say is that he is not buying. I also learnt that it is happening to young boys too. That when they go to market to some women, these women demand for sex. They don’t need it, they worst that will happen is that they will not make a sale.

I know that it happens and for me, I did not fall for such or engage in it and yet see where I am today. I believe that the woman’s body is her temple and should not be used anyhow. That man you sleep with today maybe your in-law tomorrow, you never know.

Going back to your work, Courier services makes use of motorbikes a lot, but nowadays, many cities across the country have decided to ban motorcycles, how do you fare in such situation?

It was not a decision that went down well with us. Motorcycles are very important in our business, so it was a big struggle for us. But one thing I know in Lagos the governor has the interest of Lagosians at mind when he made that decision. He is very understanding and he was more concerned about the safety of life of Lagosians.

To comply with the governor’s directive, we need to buy motorcycles that are over 200 (cubic centimeters) CC. This is more expensive than the usual Bajaj we used to buy. Usually buying a fleet of motorbikes is something we do periodically. If we buy them today, we plan to use them for five years before discarding them and getting new ones. Imagine this new directive coming just barely a year of purchasing the regular motor bikes. We’ll have to abandon the bikes that are meant to last 4 more years to buy a new set which are even more expensive. The loss was much and I am sure it affected all courier companies.

We pleaded with the governor to give us more time which he did. He gave us a little grace period, which lasted some months. That ended at the beginning of this year. Many are now buying the 200cc bike. We bought some too. We still have smaller bike plying the inner roads where they are still allowed to ply. And the bigger bikes ply the bigger roads. The problem is, these small and big roads link into each other. We may want to deliver at a place that could be reached through small roads, but to get there, the bikes will have to cross a few big roads. It is still complicated, but we are working on how to perfect it. in the meantime, we make sure that our clients are satisfied with our work, and that is what is more important to us.

Any word for the girl child out there who want to be like you?

A lot of Nigerian you are losing focus these days. They do not have good role model and that is why some of them are taking unto fraud and other vices. The youth should be more focused on trying to be successful in the academic so that they can become useful to themselves. They should know what they want to do and believe they can achieve their goal.

How can the government make your industry better?

Like I said earlier, the issue of infrastructure is more important to us. The road, the airports, the rail roads, the water ways should all be overhauled and make very functional. Those are the areas we would like the government to work on. Also, I would ask Nigerians to patronise Nigeria. These foreign companies we see today, they were patronised by their own people and that is why they are where they are today.

If we keep patronising foreign companies, then how will our own companies grow to be international? We should remove that mind-set that only foreign companies are good. We have world class companies in Nigeria all we need in patronage from our own people. In United Courier for example, our clients are surprised by our high stanbdars. If they did not patronise us, they would not know that a Nigerian company can deliver so well. The government also need to be involved in the drive to patronise Nigeria services. Asides from patronising Nigerian companies themselves, the government should also champion the drive in preaching buying Nigerian.

I notice you don’t wear make-up, is that a personal decision?

No really, it has to do with the nature of the job. And personally too, I don’t like looking loud. I like to be moderate.

You must have been a bookworm as a child

Not really, but I had a very strict father, he was a disciplinarian and he always pushed us to study hard which I did. But it is not like I am always in front of a book all the time. I can say I was just a normal kid when growing up.

How did you meet your husband?

I will like to keep that private, thank you.