Engr. Margaret Oguntala is the vice president, Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), and a member of various professional bodies as well as CEO Bamsat Engineering Services. In this chat with NKASIOBI OLUIKPE , she made it clear that gender is not a limitation for any woman who sets out to succeed. Excerpts:
What is the name of your firm and what do you do there?
I am an environmental consultant; I also have an engineering firm. The name of my firm is Bamsat Nigeria Limited.
Can we have a brief of your journey into engineering practice?
I graduated in 1986 and after my youth service; I started work with an international company as a sales executive. There I rose to the post of sales manager.
Later I started my own business in a small way by collaborating with a company that imports industrial chemical. I would buy from them and sell, and eventually I diversified into other areas. Later I got a few engineers to join me and then we started Bamsat Engineering Services. We do construction; we do fabrication and lots more.
Today, as chief executive officer of a company, we have a lot of other areas that we have gone into, like fire and safety, which is what we do for First Bank Nigeria Plc.
Why did you decide to go into private practice rather than being a paid employee?
I started as a full employee, later, the exigencies of my life, because my husband was a paid employee and was away for a number of times, the children were growing, and I realised that I needed to be ground, get a job that was flexible enough for me to handle my home and my career. I chose to start something by myself, become self employed and be able to manage my home; and that really helped. While he was away at work, I was at home, had a flexible job, I could even participate in the PTA in my children’s schools, I held executive committee positions in some of the schools even to the point of being chairman of the PTA. So, that helped me to watch them grow.
That was my major reason, and of course, I found out that it was better.
Ever since, haven’t you had course to say, oh, maybe, I should have remained a paid employee?
Of course, there are times when there are no businesses at all; a number of times, people don’t value the consultancy job. They are like, is it not just brain work? Sometime, in Lagos, we did Environmental Impact Assessment for some people. It took the whole of two years before we could get them to pay us. And we have to do other things. Another company took us to Akwa Ibom to do an Environmental Officer Report and when we finished, even though we had an award letter, they were like, maybe, they shouldn’t have paid us that much. When stuffs like that happen, it could be frustrating. And the climate is such that there are a number of companies that are struggling for few jobs. But in Bamsat Engineering, we have also done construction, drainage and all of them. Sometimes, it can be really tasking. But then, it falls on every business, it is only left for one to persevere.
If you were to have the opportunity of starting all over again, what are those things that you would have loved to do differently now?
One of those things that I think I would have done better is that from the beginning, I didn’t really map out exactly what I wanted to do before starting. I guess I just started because I had the need to start a more flexible job, but I didn’t put my plans down properly. With the benefit of hindsight, I could have sat down, articulated my move in a better way.
So, if I had to start again, I would sit down and say, this is what I wanted to do and I would just face that only from the beginning. I was doing feasibility study, I was selling chemicals and at one point, even I became confused.
So, what is your view of women in private entrepreneurship? Do they have equal privileges with their men folks or are they being underrated or marginalised?
Well, my view of women in private entrepreneurship is that the market is just as wide as it can get. There is no issue of marginalisation. What people want to see is your level of competence and the fact that you can perform; the fact that you would deliver quality service. That has nothing to do with gender, it’s a mindset. If you are able to do all of that, then the sky becomes your limit.
Entrepreneurship is the ultimate for anybody, but especially for women. It gives pleasure when you are able to put a smile on peoples’ faces.
Entrepreneurship is the ultimate for anybody, but especially for women. It gives pleasure when you are able to put a smile on peoples’ faces.- Engr Oguntala
The natural role of a woman is taking care of people’s need. If you find yourself as an entrepreneur, then its better for you. So, in our society, there is nothing like marginalisation in my opinion. We have equal opportunities. But of course, we have our own limitations as women. Its not a matter of marginalisation or discrimination, they are just natural things that come naturally to you by virtue of your gender; but they don’t limit you because even after doing all of that, you would still balance up because you have people working with you to whom you should be able to delegate. Being able to delegate saves us the trouble of having a gap when you have to take care of domestic issues.
Being self employed has given me the flexibility which I needed to actualise my passion for service to my professional body and community.
The natural role of a woman is taking care of people’s need. If you find yourself as an entrepreneur, then its better for you.- Engr Oguntala
Since, you started, how would you assess the business of engineering?
Engineering is the bedrock of developments and this is a developing country, where you have a lot of engineering going on. A lot of infrastructural developments are taking place. What you need to know is that you must make sure that you deliver quality service in anything that you do.
In engineering services, you must always ensure that you deliver quality services. Once you do that then you get more jobs. Each job would get you another job, and another job and another job, and there is so much going on to put so much food on the table.
Even though, we are told the country is out of recession, how have you been pulling through it?
Well, it’s been tough for everybody in Nigeria, but then knowing that it’s a temporary situation, I restructured and realigned my priorities so that we wouldn’t have cause to spend money when we didn’t have to. That kind of adjustment, it’s not been too difficult but it’s tough. We are not quite out of the woods yet.
In engineering services, you must always ensure that you deliver quality services. Once you do that then you get more jobs.- Engr Oguntala
Diversification is another thing that one should always look into. The recession has thought us that we need at all times to have a multifaceted economy. Then we need to encourage local content, if we have all of that, the recession will go away easily.
What are the challenges you have had to face in the course of doing your business now?
The major challenge was finance. When I started I didn’t have much money, which is why I had to collaborate. That reduced my margin and my market, so, at the beginning, I wasn’t too competitive. And when you are going into projects, at best, your client would give you mobilisation, but for consultancy, they don’t even give you anything. You do your job and present your bill.
I think, Nigeria needs to encourage development by having a centralized bank that would give low interest rate loans. BoI is doing a lot of jobs now, but there was nothing like BoI when I started. That would be a lot easier because capital is the main issue.
What is your success tip and why would anybody want to leave the legion of firms out there to patronise you?
I have a passion for excellence service delivery in anything that I do. Not just engineering, I have held positions before; I have been given responsibilities before and I do my best to discharge my responsibilities as best as I can.
In my practice I have a passion for quality service delivery. When you do your job well, you get more referrals because your job should market you. People would repose their confidence in you.
This interview first appeared in Daily Independent