If Only Industries Could Be Provided With Power, A Lot Of People Will Enjoy — Mrs Adebisi Kuforiji

By Ebele Orakpo

Mrs Adebisi Kuforiji is the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Hindle Plastics Limited, plastics manufacturing outfit based in Lagos. In this chat with Vanguard, the Abeokuta, Ogun State-born computer scientist-turned-manufacturer, speaks on how she ventured into manufacturing, the challenges, and says getting raw materials is very difficult despite the fact that Nigeria produces oil, their major source of raw materials. Excerpts:

Background:

Armed with a degree in Computer Science from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in 1986, Mrs. Kuforiji worked with Société Générale Bank for nine years before leaving Nigeria because she was not really fulfilled.

“I thrived on the training aspect; programming/system design was not really my thing. But the job prepared me for the days ahead. When I left the bank,I relocated to the US and then England. After having my twins 13 years ago, I came back to Nigeria because I was tired of that system.

Relocating to Nigeria:

Kuforiji who insists her first job is being the mother of four children and manufacturer of plastics is her second job, said: “Before I came back, my younger sister’s husband said he wanted to set up a plastics factory from scratch.

I had no idea what that entails but I said if he told me what he wanted, I could do it because I have always believed in Richard Branson’s saying that if someone asks you if you can do something, just say yes and then go and learn. That was exactly what I did. He had massive land and a lot of money to work with. So I took up the challenge. I saw it as a job that would be fulfilling both financially and morally.

I relocated and started to build. I called all the mentors I had in various industries, I went on the internet, and got all the help I could get. One of them is Shoga Sonaike who is in charge of a massive plastics manufacturing firm in Lagos. He put me under his wings and taught me a lot.

Cartel:

Sonaike told me the secret of the business. He said it is a man’s world aside from being an Indians’ world. They hoard the materials, block access to those that you can buy moulds from; those that will give you the parts etc. But I agreed to take up the challenge.

Machines/Moulds/Raw materials:

I had to go to India and Dubai to get the best of raw materials and machines. We have different types of machines – injection machines, blow-moulding machines for bottles, kegs etc. I bought the machines and two moulds at that time. The difficult part was getting raw materials. We are supposed to be sourcing our raw materials from Eleme Petrochemical Company but they never have enough so we import. Imagine us in Nigeria where raw materials for plastics are a by-product of our oil , yet, we don’t have! And because we have to get from India, the Indians monopolized the market and whatever they say is the cost is what we pay. We tried to bring in and we had our fingers burnt. It is a massive cartel; very scary so we buy from them unless you don’t want to produce.

A lot of companies use recycled materials which is cheaper but because we make medical products, we cannot afford to use recycled raw materials. We use virgin because we want them to be as clean as possible. We can use recycled for large jerry cans that people use for fuel.

In less than six months, (November-March), because of the dollar fluctuations, the prices have doubled. We cannot pass the cost to our customers for now, so we absorb it. Going solo: I had a contract with my brother in law because you don’t want businesses to go on for too long so it doesn’t destroy relationship. So we agreed that at the end of two years, I would have employed the staff, run the products and ensure a proper handover. I said: “Look, I love this business. It’s something I would really like to go into. Could we reach an agreement whereby I can do things that you do not do at all?” Incidentally, the plastic firm is just a small part of his business group.

He agreed. Nigeria is unbelievable in terms of market strength. That was how we started Hindle Plastics. Hindle House is where I used to live in England; that was where I had my twins so that name gives me good memories.

My first director in the bank believed in me and in the project and encouraged me. I try to have what we call Personal Network Development; people are always useful all of your life. I brought some other people on board. Nobody produces sitz baths in Nigeria except us. When I had my twins in England, they gave me sitz bath for healing rather than the traditional hot water and cloth. Virtually all teaching hospitals in Lagos use it and we can’t even meet demand; we don‘t have money.

What happens is that if a customer orders 10,000 pieces, we source for money to do 7,000, deliver, collect the money and use part of it to produce the remaining 3,000.

Women:

I do not know any other woman that owns a plastics manufacturing firm in Nigeria. We are very good at selling plastics but I am looking for women in the field and I hope that via this medium, we will be able to come together and form a female plastics manufacturers association.

Challenges:

Funding is one. A lot of people want to invest but as a business owner, you have to think of either going for debt financing or equity financing. For now, I do equity financing. We do not owe any bank. We have a couple of directors that have invested in the business but I am careful so that we don’t go past the 50% for me and have a case of sharing until you lose control. I have very good and supportive directors. Any time there is a problem, they invest. Each mould, mostly made of German steel, and weighs minimum of two tons, costs N2.5m.

We tried to make one here but it started to rust after three months. The ones we get from China have five-year warranty and it can produce between 500,000 and one million products.

So we just need money from Bank of Industry and Microfinance companies or a company to give us money and say ‘ok, use this to run this particular project. Return in three or six months.’ We don’t have such offers.

Selling:

Our sitz bath is our number one product, the others are slow and we have shifted our focus to the sitz bath and we produce the others only on order.

Power:

If only government can provide power for industries, a lot of families will be fine. We are all suffering. Imagine the bakery in my area shut down for two weeks for lack of fuel to power the generator! Let us prioritize ministries, do it step by step, focus on one thing first and get it right. If small businesses can be given power at least 12 hours a day, they will manage it. Without a generator, no factory can function in Nigeria. We have a transformer! Why should a company buy a transformer? But we had to.

Next five years:

Our sitz bath weighs 330 grams at N1,500 maximum while those in US weigh 170g and go for $10 each. It means you are getting what is almost twice the size, locally made and of high quality. We should look inwards. My vision is to have a one-stop shop for medical plastics. Anyone who wants kidney dishes, sitz baths, test tubes, etc., can go to Hindle Plastics.

Source: www.vanguardngr.com

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