EXCLUSIVE: Everything about me is the grace of God… Engr Dideolu Falobi MD/CEO Kresta Laurel Limited

By Ikenga Chronicles August 27, 2016

In life, we come across very impressionable people, who are unassuming and very down to earth, considering the achievements in their chosen fields; Engr Dideolu Falobi is one of such people. In this interview with, Ikenga Chronicles’ Murna Danmadami shows his depth of knowledge, commitment and zest for life…

IC:  As the MD/CEO of Kresta Laurel, how has the business environment in recent times affected the company’s operations?

Dideolu:  Kresta Laurel’s business environment in recent times is basically driven by very reduced supply of foreign exchange and increasing demand as in a lot of projects were in the pipeline before the price of crude oil crashed. For Kresta Laurel that basically deals with capital goods, that is, goods imported from abroad, brought into the country and the value we add is in respect of the installations, testing etc., It has been a big challenge. We have not been able to access forex whereas we have a duty to our clients who generally pay us in naira to either open a letter of credit or transfer funds for the procurement of the equipment. In the past one year, this has been quite difficult, so generally it has impacted negatively on our credibility, ability to deliver and also messed up a lot of projects because most projects are funded by funds sourced from local banks at exorbitant rates, and early completion is very critical to the ability to earn the income required VTO pay back the loans. So projects’ synergy has been disrupted, delayed and there will be multiplier effects for all the projects. So for us as people in the value chain, this has been a very challenging time for us.

IC:  Maximizing productivity of personnel and materials in any company is a huge challenge, how have you been able to handle this?

Dideolu:  Kresta Laurel prior to September 2014 was operating like every typical Nigerian company. The only difference is that we had very high standards and were focused on giving quality service. We have good products however we were also experiencing like every other Nigerian company the challenges of the quality of personnel available in our industry. So what did we do? We became very careful with our recruitment process. We were very clear and had defined job descriptions, we looked for candidates who had these prerequisite qualifications to be able to deliver on those job descriptions, we then identified the gap in the existing staff and created training modules to be able to bridge these gaps because we realized that no matter the amount of money that you put on ground, the quality of the personnel managing these resources, operations and the people is very critical to ensuring that there is maximum utilization of these resources. So those were the things we did prior to September 2014, but we were not satisfied as we felt certain things were still missing. We then decided that we were going to restructure our management systems so we can be certified by ISO. So what we did was to do a complete restructuring of our system such that by September 2014 we became the only elevator company in Nigeria that is certified to ISO 9001/2008, and what that means is that we created processes, we formalized the clear processes and structures to ensure those processes are followed and we were able to ensure that what we promise we deliver. I am proud to state that we are still the only elevator company so certified as at today. Notwithstanding, there are still challenges so we keep training and retraining. It is a continuous development structure.

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IC:  Kresta Laurel is synonymous with lifts and has been said to monopolies the market – is this true? What other products is the company into?

Dideolu:  I do not agree that we have monopolized the market elevator. Yes, we are probably the most successful indigenous Nigerian company operating in that market but there is serious competition going on in the market. We have quite a lot of major players and what we have tried to do over time is to continue to improve on our deliveries. Of course, that has earned us an increased share of the market but definitely monopoly is far from it. So let me correct that impression. Now, yes we believe that our processes have seen steady improvement over the years. The reality that people don’t understand about us is that we have reinvested a substantial part of our profit back to the business over the years because the elevator business is unlike other businesses. It is a specialized industry where because of the nature of the personnel that are coming out of our technical schools especially, you need several years of training to be able to make an elevator technician good enough to be able to install our equipment. So what it means is that you have so much that you have to do. We brought in expatriates; they trained our team on the job and in the classroom. We have a training school that is training and retraining on a regular basis. So to be able to do all these we kept on investing. We are using the best tools in the industry, the safest and the best installation tools. We don’t use the scaffold for installation and that is major because they save the contractors a lot of money and time. So, all of these were already in place even before we went for the ISO certification process, but what that certification did for us was to put a stamp of authority on the fact that we have a process that is considered good enough to certify. Sustaining that process, we had to go through a re-certification last year (2015) and I can tell you that was even tougher than when we were getting certificated and we know that it is a continuous challenge. Presently, we are also trying to upgrade to the ISO9000:2015 standards. Of course this means that there is continuous improvement on what we are doing which has translated to awards and recognition. Recently, there was a conference in Finland for the distributors of KONE Elevators worldwide and we were one of the companies that was recognized as having improved tremendously on our services to our customers, that is after sales services and also in terms of our volume of sales.

IC:  Where do we see Kresta Laurel in the next 25 years?

Dideolu:  Wow, 25 years, I hope by then we would have put quite a number of Nigerian elevators into the market. Elevators is not the only business we are into, we are the number one company in the overhead travelling crane business, we have represented perhaps the best crane company in the world which is the DEMAG cranes of Germany which is now part of the TEREX group of USA since 1990. If you talk of monopoly there then yes, you may be right to some extent. We are also into building façade maintenance equipments; some people call them gondolas or Cleaning cradles but basically they are meant to be used to access the façade of high rise buildings for the purposes of cleaning, maintenance and or repairs. On this, we have a partnership with COXGOMYL which is one of the best companies in the world in that sector;  probably number one having installed their equipment in the tallest building in the world and in Europe So, that’s the group we represent here. We are also into the uninterrupted power supply systems primarily to back up our elevators systems and also secondarily to supply to those who need them for other purposes. So, those are the major areas we are into. There are other areas but let me stop at these 4.

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IC:  Engineers are usually looked at as stuffy people; how are you able to combine your passion for photography and music with your engineering career?

Dideolu:  I believe whatever you are passionate about, one should create time for and I also believe that if you are sufficiently organized and create a good team and get them properly organized, you will always have time to follow your passion because sometimes the best innovations, the best of creativity, the best of improvements do not come only in the course of the business. It comes when you take your mind off, when you go out of the box and that is what I do with my love for photography and music.

IC:  You have been a great promoter of the music industry and you have put together some very laudable projects in the past, let us know about them and if we should look forward to another promotion?

Dideolu:  I started my interest in promoting artistes from a purely humanitarian angle. I used to work at Apapa and there was a physically challenged young man who used to entertain us basically to raise money to keep body and soul together. I took an interest in him and I spent some good time trying to train him, took him through some processes and encouraged him to do performances around Lagos. I supported him and got some of my friends to back him up and I didn’t do it alone. Anything I do, I have a principle of sowing a seed and getting others to help me water it. So, I got a lot of friends who came on board and we really promoted him, we took him from singing in the street corners to the studio and he released his first album. I then allowed him to go on and find people to manage him because managing artistes can be very difficult and I didn’t really have time for that and that was how my direct involvement in promoting artistes first came up but before that I had an informal interest in the arts especially music. In my university days I used to be spellbound by the likes of Onyeka, Christy Essien Igbokwe, Sunny Okosun, King Sunny Ade. These are fantastic artistes who put a lot into stage performance and I really fell in love with them. They had it all; dance, costumes, good lyrics – I mean responsible lyrics and they had good beats to go with it. They were gentlemen and ladies. God bless the souls of Sonny Okosun and Christy Essien. So, those are the areas of my romance with music and then I took a business step about 10 years ago when I held a Concert which had the king of Afro beat and juju, King Sunny Ade and Dbanj (Koko master) on the same stage, but music business is really not my forte. So, of course we got our fingers burnt a bit and we crawled back to our cocoon. So, occasionally I step out to support artistes that I am interested in, and I have a few artistes that I still support from time to time but it is an informal thing. Just to give them a nudge and a bit of support here and there.

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IC:  We understand you have some musical actors in the family?

Dideolu:  Well FTK is a band basically made up of my twin sons who have decided to merge my love and probably their own interest in music. I noted passion and talent in them, and what I have done for them is what I did for other artistes by creating an environment to succeed; send them to music school to hone their talents and understand music, also to dance school to help them improve on their stage performance. I am giving them the little support I can afford to give but basically whether I would come back to the entertainment and music industry as a business, I am not sure. I don’t think it is a business I understand and I will try to stay in my area of strength when it comes to business.

IC:  You made mention of sowing the seed principle, what is your relationship with God?

Dideolu:  Everything about me is the grace of God, I mean everything. That summarizes it. Whatever I am, whoever I am, all the glory goes to God. I believe that there are certain principles laid down by God and in applying them you need the grace of God for them to work. So, I have a very wonderful relationship with God. To quote my sons, “I am proud of my relationship with God”.

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IC:  How do we make Nigeria better?

Dideolu:  For the young ones. It is important and I always advise young people to acquire knowledge in your area of operation or interest and outside your area of interest. It is important to seek for knowledge. It is a lot easier these days, get on your computers, tablets or even phones and browse the web, all the information you need is at your finger tips. It is very important because that is a major crisis today. Music and Entertainment have taken over everything. An average young man today is following D’banj, wizkid etc and only wants to be like them, nobody seems to really care about studying. It is important to acquire knowledge because at some point in time, you will loose interest in all the “Effizys”, Secondly, they need to work hard. Thank God that it is now obvious in our nation that shortcuts are becoming impossible. That is the reality of the change we are talking about. We are moving from the era of shortcuts to the era of realism where you need to work hard to get results. So, I advise young men and women, acquire knowledge if you are interested in anything make sure that you study, if you need to get trained, go and get trained. I always refer to something the former president General Olusegun Obasanjo wrote in his latest book which to me is a compendium of knowledge notwithstanding the controversies it generated – he said when he was leaving government as head of state in 1979, he decided he was going to go into agriculture and the first thing he did was to enroll at the IITA Ibadan to study and understand the theory of agriculture as well as the practical. It is critical to understand that going into any venture without studying what you are going into is a disaster waiting to happen. So, acquire knowledge and work hard, be dedicated to whatever you are doing and be close to God. For the generations ahead of us; it is unfortunate a lot has been messed up. I guess we just need to go back to those days when values were important. Don’t just say welcome my son/daughter. Congratulations but ask how did you get what you are having. I think when we go back to where values matter and we re-orientate ourselves, and we would probably get it right again.

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