The Chief Executive Officer, Wurvicat International Limited Mrs Atinuke Wuraola Owolabi in this interview with, Dr SAMUEL IBIYEMI recently spoke on why she opted for Electrical Engineering as a female and her interest in procurement of materials exclusively under the control of male engineers. Beside, Mrs Owolabi, a member of the Nigerian Society of Engineers identified access to fund and good policies as main challenge for small and medium enterprises ( SMEs) operators in Nigerian economy. Excerpts.
What are the roles of Wurvicat in Nigerian economy?
Wurvicat International Limited is an indigenous firm in Nigeria. The focus of my company is to do business in area of construction, procurement and supply of wide range of electrical distribution materials such as transformers ( especially the sub-station materials), low voltage products for switches and sockets for contractors designed mainly for industries and real estate.
What are you doing to expand beyond the sectors where you are currently operating?
Already our partners are Schneider electric and Siemens. We promote ISO certified products of these Original Equipment Manufacturers ( OEM) and foreign manufacturers. Indeed, we deal mostly with European countries because of their quality and standard.
We are trying to expand this business in manufacturing our own products. This will start with manufacturing of low voltage products, breakers, switches and socket. During the first phase, we will get all the materials from abroad and then do the packaging in Nigeria. Thereafter, we will develop our own technology and then start manufacturing in few years to come. However, right now, we are still importing.
So , how are your clients responding as indigenous firm engaging in procurement?
We are responding quickly to request of our clients and when a company is known for quality products, clients will sustain patronage. Once the clients know a company for quality products, reliability, perseverance, quality and commitment
At Wuricat, whatever we do, we make sure that we commit 100% of our resources and time to it. We are very reliable when it comes to delivery and we have quality products. We don’t sell sub-standard. As an electrical engineer the aim of coming into this business is actually to let people know that Nigeria has reliable indigenous companies when searching for supplier of standard products. We don’t just sell products, we ask our clients questions to know what to do. Through the questions, then we will know their challenges and try to provide solutions to the problems. We don’t just say “oh when you come in, we want to buy this, we want to buy that”. No, this is not just a business centre but a professional company. As indigenous company, we try to identify challenges and like a medical doctor, we diagnose and make sure that customers are asking for the right products. In return, we ensure that they are getting the right products of good quality that is even cheaper than some standard products outside Nigeria.
So, how do you think the government can assist when it comes to good policy to support indigenous companies?
We don’t really have the right policy because government is not patronizing indigenous companies. I don’t see why government officials will be asking foreign companies to submit quotation for products when we indigenous suppliers are within the country.Most of government officials in Nigeria prefer to place orders abroad. They should try to patronize indigenous provident companies.
If all engineers decided to specialize in designing and construction, where are we going to produce engineers for procurement.
They don’t have explanation to justify the reason they don’t have partnership in Nigeria. They should try to patronize indigenous firms operating in Nigeria.When they patronize us, we create more jobs here instead of going directly to foreign manufacturers. This is the best strategy to promote indigenous companies that will make indigenous companies to grow. Fine, if there are things we need to produce at a certain standard, except the government allows indigenous companies to participate in procurement as a practice so that they will grow. If the government failed to put indigenous companies on the right track, how do you expect us to manufacture standard products and execute complex projects. Allowing indigenous companies to quote for projects will allow them to meet up with standards and then create jobs.There are a lot of people that foreign manufacturers will not employ, but as indigenous, we can engage different levels of people into our organization including holders of Ordinary Diploma certificate and then train them. They can easily see the reason they have to go back to school to acquire additional knowledge.By nurturing them, they will see what others are doing. They will aspire as well do more. So, if they see indigenous companies producing what is being produced in developed world, it will help young graduates to aspire and think of how to do it better.The government should make the environment conducive enough for indigenous like Wurvicat that is just coming up. I am a female electrical engineer and I am running a business that is actually dominated by men.
It is very difficult to find female engineers in procurement but I don’t look at it that way. All of us cannot specialize in designing and construction. All of us cannot be going to the field,we still need certain engineers that will help in sales and procuring products from the right source unlike professionals. If all engineers decided to specialize in designing and construction, where are we going to produce engineers for procurement.
So, when we have the right policy that can promote indigenous companies that are coming up, I think the economy will grow more.
How do you compete with large companies and senior professionals for projects? How are you coping?
In fairness to my senior colleagues, they have been supportive despite being a lady as Electrical engineer and participating in procurement. They have been so supportive, when we walk up to them. First, they know that the products we are selling and received from Schneider and Siemens for instance are good and of quality certified by International certification agencies. Siemens is delivering products for Wurvicat from Germany.So, having these large companies and senior professionals as partners made it easier for us as promoter of quality products to be able to talk to our senior colleagues. This is because when we have the right product with highest standard and our company is well known in the industry by original equipment manufacturers. When service companies requested for products from OEM, they refer them back to us in Nigeria.
Hence, having the right product with standards and able to respond to their request on time holds the key to effective patronage.
How do you raise fund to finance large procurement of equipment and tools needed?
Funding is our major challenge because banks are not ready to help. Banks prefer to release loans to large companies rather than indigenous companies that are just coming up. Officials of Nigerian banks ask for so many things such as collateral that they know will be difficult for small companies to provide so as not to approve loans for them. They don’t even give young companies audience when it comes to loan request. For instance, there was a time my company operated an account with Zenith Bank for six years, however when I requested for loan at my branch despite good attitude of my account officer, the head of the branch was so hostile and did not receive me as a customer. This branch manager neglected me when my account officer took me to her office. She didn’t even look at me. Thereafter, I told my account officer that I was going to change my bank. That was the reason, I opened another account with Standard Chartered bank. Most banks in Nigeria are not friendly with SMEs particularly in helping them to grow.
Banks prefer to release loans to large companies rather than indigenous companies that are just coming up.
They believe that there is nothing small companies can offer them. They can only trust and offer loans to top companies like Dangote, Honeywell Plc and Oando Plc among others. However, these banks have forgotten that these big companies started small like us. So, if we can get banks that can help us, we will expand supply and start manufacturing of wide range of quality products. If Nigerian Banks give us simple digit loan with interest, it will help us. We will bring a lot of products into this country. We registered abroad and have foreign partners abroad from Spain and like RSI ( ISO SEC from France.We have a lot of companies that are well known abroad as partners but our challenge has been funding. Banks are not ready to help grow up companies and if government can come to the aid of SMEs, then, the issue of having sub-standard products will be minimized
So how do you think government can help, what type of intervention do you want from government?
Government can extend to us access to loans for procurement abroad through the Bank of industry. If BoI can assist us to fund procurement of materials from abroad when we secure procurement contract, it will reduce cost of executing the contract and it will help us to create jobs within the country.The government can also come to our aid by having a policy that will enable SMEs have access to loan just like what the acting president is doing now. When you have your form ‘Q’, the SME can easily procure certain things. The banks too should be ready to provide loan to us as support, so that we can expand and create more jobs. We have a lot of programmes that we want to do. We want to do them in such a way that corpers will benefit by going to NYSC orientation camp and employ them. I don’t want them to be unemployed after their one-year experience and be roaming on the street looking for job.They will interact with people. We are creating jobs for them, they will learn and we pay them from the experience they get from here.
So how do you see the future as Indigenous company?
As an indigenous company, the future is bright for us. A lot of people need indigenous companies and particularly WURVICAT International,because we sell good products.
What programme do you have in place to maintain products being supplied to clients?
We try to monitor our products to see that the products are working well. We visit where they installed our products and to check that product was installed properly. We are trying to sign maintenance agreement with some companies in the power sector. When we install a product such as transformer for customer, we don’t just leave it for the buyer. We visit them to check the oil level and temperature so that if there is any problem, we can quickly attend to it.
As CEO of an engineering company, how did you come about working as a female engineer and the dream of becoming an engineer?
It started from the time I was in secondary school. I went to St Louis Ikare in Ondo State. On completion, I attended University of Ilorin to study electrical engineering. I went to girl’s school where we were told that if we choose certain science subject, we could study electrical engineering. And fortunately, I was one of the best students in school for science and I developed interest in the course. Initially, my plan was to study Petroleum Engineering with the mind that it is only in the oil industry that a young graduate could make it in life.
I fell in love with electrical engineering. This is because with electrical /electronics engineering, you can fit into any company. So far so good, the Lord has been so great. We are doing well, we are promoting the company. We are making people to realize that having electronic products in various homes, they need to get it from the right place. This is because there are a lot fire incidents in homes and offices annually due to electrical fault. All these faults are from small products but when you get the right products you can be free
In one word, we could blame fire outbreak in homes on substandard products?
Then how do you come about standard because in Nigeria we have Standards Organization of Nigeria monitoring that?
Yes, Schneider and Siemens are well known, they are among the top electrical manufacturers globally. So, definitely they have standard and we tested it. Also the Standards Organisation of Nigeria ( SON) comes regularly to check and inspect our products at our warehouse and sometimes take it to their own laboratory to make sure it conforms to their standard. Then SON always gives us sticker after the inspection and then attach a code to it.
As electrical engineer, will you ever wish your children to study electrical engineering?
Yes. It was awesome, I never knew I could do it. When I started repairing with overall gown while working with ABB Shoreline, I never knew I could do it perfectly.
So, when I was asked to go to the production department to repair and even assemble components, I was so fulfilled in such a way that I have finally arrived at what I really wanted to do in life. even I have not started selling so doing that I was able to know the right thing. Laying hands on these equipment myself was a thing of joy for me.
Doing that I was able to know that this is the right thing we need to put in place. I was able to identify the standard and measurement for copper and all other materials during assembly.
The good thing is that my two children are planning planning to study engineering. One is space engineering and the other one chemical engineering. I am still convincing her to do electrical engineering because she is one of the best students in her school. So, engineering is another ‘one family’ that everyone will love to be because we see ourselves as one, either female or male, we embrace each.
So how do you think engineering could grow Nigerian economy?
Without engineering Nigerian economy will not grow. Engineering is the backbone of every economy. Whether it is in the construction of roads, house and everywhere you go, you will find the need for engineers because they are the backbone of all projects. So, every country should take engineering seriously, if they want the economy to grow.
About Engr. Mrs. Atinuke Owolabi, MNSE, MNIEEE
Engr. Mrs. Atinuke Wuraola Owolabi —Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer WURVICAT INTERNATIONAL LTD. Has about 15 years Electrical Engineering experience, Engr. Mrs. Owolabi is involved in the general management of Wurvicat International Limited and has earned a reputation as a truly accomplished and highly respected professional within the Nigerian Power and Energy Sector.
She is a member of the following professional association: Nigeria Society of Engineer (NSE), Nigeria Institution of Electrical Electronic Engineers (NIEEE), Association of Professional Women Engineers of Nigeria (APWEN) also Society for Women Engineers (SWE) in Chicago ( USA). Prior to setting up Wurvicat International Limited she worked in Shoreline Power — a subsidiary of ABB Electrical Systems and later joined Schneider Electric. While in Schneider Electric she outstandingly contributed to the growth and profitability of the company; with her bold and passionate enthusiasm she made the Low and Medium Voltage Portfolio of Schneider Electric a high ranking brand within the power sector. She is a diligent business executive whose “can do” spirit propels her towards excellence and remarkable success.
She is a golfer and a member of Ikeja Golf Club. She is well travelled and has attended many executive international conferences and seminars across America, Europe and Middle East. She is happily married with lovely children. Other directors, though not involved in the day-to-day running of the company, bring a lot of valuable experience in framing the strategic direction of the company.
This interview was first published on NewsDirect by Dr Samuel Ibiyemi