JUWON Lawal, CEO, ABD Fuel Limited is one of the young employers of labour who is doing wonderfully well in marine and oil business. Since he established the outfit in 2007, the business has been growing from strength to strength. ENCOMIUM Weekly had an interview with the Kogi State born entrepreneur on how the journey started, the challenges and many more.
No doubt, you’re one of the young entrepreneurs right now, how does it feel?
It feels great. I give God all the glory.
When actually did the journey begin?
Let me say I have always been an independent person. I have always been an entrepreneur, even right from university days. I grew up as an industrialist and I chose my career in the marine industry, it has since been challenging but God has always been on my side.
When and how did the journey into oil and gas business actually begin?
That was in 2005. That was the time I decided to take the career up having been in the oil industry, especially in the marine sector, that is the core area in marine logistics. Basically, my own company, ABD Fuel came in full force in 2007.
That means ABD Fuel was fully establsiehd in 2007, since then, what has been the experience so far?
It has been full of ups and downs, one challenge or the other. You’re also aware of the fact that the beginning of every business in this country must be a bit tough. Things can’t be that smooth but with the fact that if you’re focused and committed, we will get there and above all with God, all things are possible.
That means Juwon Lawal has always been a focused person and you always thin ahead just as the motor of your company…
(Laughs) You got it right. I am always a focused person and I am committed to whatever I am pursuing. I have always been thinking ahead. I always love to face challenges and emerge stronger, I don’t habour failure in my life.
Was there any specific challenge that, perhaps might have sent you packing from the business?
Just like I told you, I don’t think or comprehend challenge or failure. Instead, I always like coming out stronger out of every situation. The only thing I can call challenge since I started out was when I lost my vessels in January 2010. It really shook me but I quickly got myself together. I restructured and picked the business back again and since then God has been so wonderful to me. I will keep thanking Him for His mercies all through.
Like how much did you start out with?
In the industry, you cannot say you really started out with something. Left to me, I didn’t start out with a penny. I didn’t borrow money or take any loan from the bank. I just put my structure in place. That was how I started getting jobs from people who believed in me. And anytime they asked me for any delivery, I made sure I didn’t disappoint. And I would say, I have been fortunate to handle a lot of good projects including dredging, fueling of vessels and more. All these have really given me a lot of experiences in the business.
Oil business is, no doubt, a flourishing terrain in Nigeria, with your experience, do you think it can continue in that way?
Yes, I would agree with that. Oil business is profitable and it is a very good business if you know the job very well. With all sense of modesty, I would say, I know the job very, very well because I know what I am doing. Nigeria is a place whereby once you have your way, you don’t care about whatever happens to others or whatever the country situation is. Basically, it is a very good business just like I said but most people in the haulage and so on, have a lot of opportunities in terms of getting loans from the banks. But at the end of the day, such loans were not converted to good use. But the people in the core area of the business, who really know what the business is all about, who really know what they are doing, are always careful with their transactions day in, day out. They don’t have such opportunity in terms of getting money from the banks. When they go to the bank, they will request for what they know are not easy to get, maybe as collateral and all that. So, they tend to ignore banks and forge ahead with their business. I know it has not been easy but with God, we will get there. Just like I said, oil and gas is a very lucrative sector and so shall it be by God’s grace. No regret venturing into it.
It would be difficult for people to believe that you started the business without a kobo and now you’re a millionaire, can you shed light on that?
I got my experience and education first, I now made sure my structure was well put in place. So, anytime I write my proposal to any company, I always get immediate and favourable response. Which few of my godfathers in the industry and God on my side, anytime I needed to carry out any supply, they were always there to assist me. They always gave me benefit of doubt. For instance, they may say, take this amount and go ahead with your supply then you come back with our money later. That was how everything started.
Can you tell us about the staff strength of ABD Fuel Limited?
Between 2007 and 2010, I have employed a lot of people including General Manager, Administrative Manager, Operations Manager, Secretary and many more. But from late last year till date, I have downsized because I don’t really see the need of putting so many staffers on ground again, so far they are no longer relevant in the business. I have also employed about seven corps members and also many IT students.
The belief out there is that most young men like you front for some top politicians, who will not want their names mentioned, what is your reaction to that?
I don’t know of anything like that. I have never done anything like that. I don’t front for anybody. It’s a self motivational effort and God that have put me where I am today.
What is your candid advice to those aspiring to come into the business?
I will just tell them they should just think of it very well first. It’s not just having the capital to start with but one must be very honest with the business. If you’re not a honest person, the situation in the industry can easily influence you and before you know it, you will be dishonest. And you don’t have to look at the monetary aspect of it, you just have to be focused and honest if you want to continue with the business.
What have you done to enhance your experience in the business?
I thank God, I have really done a lot in that aspect. I have acquired a lot of experience in the business and other areas, I have been to most parts of the world. I enjoy travelling, I attended a lot of seminars and conferences in oil and gas, shipping, fueling and I have also had very good interactions with a lot of my partners in the Middle East and West African countries.
What is your greatest dream in this business?
My dream is to stabilize fully in the marine industry. I don’t want to go into so many things.
What actually informed venturing into oil business and not any other business?
In the early 90s, my late father was an industrialist, he had a factory where we extracted palm oil. So, I grew my interest from that, I became very interested in the business. I was running the factory on his behalf until he died in 1999. I did a lot of research in palm oil business which also helped my interest in oil, marine and agriculture.
What other things do you do in ABD Fuel?
Actually, we have streamlined our operation but we are marine equipment owners and managers, we are also operators. We do fuel trading, shipping and logistics. We are working towards opening our second office also around Victoria Island, Lagos and ABD sister company which has to do with other core area in the oil and gas sector.
Who is your role model in the business?
In the oil and gas business, it is Femi Otedola. I like him because of his confidence.
Let’s digress a little, on October 22, 2011, you celebrated your birthday, how old are you exactly?
I am in my mid 30s.
We learnt you’re 35?
(Cuts in) I said I am in my late 30s. I may be 35 or 36 (laughs).
Why did you celebrate it in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and not in Nigeria?
It was because I had a meeting in Dubai between October 21 and 23, 2011. After my birthday on 22, I left for Ghana.
You’re young, handsome and rich, how do you cope with women admirers?
That’s a very big challenge for me. At times, I am scared because every woman will always love to come around you and you may find it difficult to know who is who but I am a very cautious person. I cope politely.
Let’s know about your marital status?
That’s not necessary, it is my private business.
Tell us briefly about your background.
I am from Kogi State but I grew up in Lagos State. My father is late but my mother is still very much alive. I attended Government Secondary School, Iyamoye, Kogi State. In 1997, I went to University of Jos, where I had my diploma in Management Science. I now went to Ambrose Alli University, Delta State that was 2001 till 2004 where I studied Business Administration.
- This story was first published in ENCOMIUM Weekly on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011