ALHAJI Akeem Abiodun Amusa, the Chief Executive Officer of H2O Tech, a table water production company based in Lagos. He retired from Ess-Ay Holdings and Group of Companies, to break the Asian monopoly of table water production in Nigeria.
In this no holds barred interview with ENCOMIUM Weekly, the diminutive chartered accountant who has his ears on the din in the market place, gave an insight to where he’s headed with his new company and much more…
Let’s know who Alhaji Akeem Abiodun Amusa is?
I am a retired chief executive, Ess-Ay Holdings and Group of Companies, Adebola House, Opebi, Lagos. After my retirement, I went into my own business called H2O Tech Industries Limited, for the production of table water in 75cl pet bottles and 19 litre jar for water dispensers. I am a professional accountant, a fellow of ACCA, England and Wales. Also, a fellow of ICAN.
You’re a chartered accountant with a lot of work experience, now you’re into bottle water business, why not establishing an accounting firm?
Accountancy firm is highly populated now. It’s still being controlled by the super powers of the day including Akintola Williams and Co., Ijewere and Co., and others. All these are known in accountancy circle. Besides, having clocked 59, I want to be in an industry where I can employ the young ones. So, that they can become very useful to themselves either in the cottage industry or be able to have something as big as what we have in H2O Tech. If I should venture into accountancy now, probably I will be carrying files to those who could be my children. Besides, my first daughter is a chartered accountant, the other one is a medical doctor, the third one, a petroleum engineer, then the fourth one is a chemical engineer. So, I think I need an industry that they can come into in the latter stages of their lives.
That means you’re laying a solid foundation for your children?
Can you recap your experience in Ess-Ay Holdings?
I joined what was then known as Fototek in 1984, that’s in February. When I joined the company, I would say I met it in a very rudimentary stage. And by the grace of God, through team work, I was able to draw the company from what one can call a private company to what we can now call an international entity. When I joined the company in February 1984, I was called audit manager and throughout that period, I was able to bring a lot of development into the accounting and management of the company. By the grace of Almighty Allah, the company moved from two branches at Surulere, Lagos and Benin, Edo State. Then, we were able to open more branches in Port Harcourt, Jos, Maiduguri, Kano and all the rest. The company was able to establish about 19 branches in Photo Palace which came in around 1986. Then, when photographic materials became a very big problem, we also entered into partnership with AGFA to be the sole distributor of photo products. By this, I mean machinery, film, chemicals and papers and we’re able to make a mark in that sector. Until 2003, when things started tilting to technological end, camera phones came into being. So, there was no need for anybody to go to any studio or photo laboratory. You can have your pictures by yourself and also get the result instantly on your camera phone. So, this gave us the impetus to diversify into something else. Along the line, we were also into printing, that came in 1987. So, with the printing press, the Fototek and lately Rite Foods Limited, which is into sausage roll production, I was able to move from Audit Manager to Group Audit Manager. In 1987, I became the Controller of Operations. That same year, I became General Manager, Operations. In 1997, I became the Executive Director, Finance and Administration. In 2005, I became the Group Managing Director of the company. I stepped out in 2010 when Rite Foods was three years old. Since then, I have been trying to find my own feet in my new line of business which, by the grace of God, going by our age, I will say the sky will be the starting point in no distant future.
You were also with United Bank for Africa (UBA), for a while, can you tell us a little about your experience there?
When I left school in 1973, my first place of work was United African Company (UAC), their PAN Electric Division which was then at Ebute Metta, Lagos. So, I stayed with the company from 1974 to 1978 when I now left for United Bank for Africa. That time, the management was in the hands of Europeans but luckily I worked variously in their administration department, means and credit, account department where I left in 1981 to pursue accountancy in the United Kingdom.
What is special about this table water business as far as you’re concerned?
Bottle water business, as we can say, is in the hands of the Chinese and Indians. Most Nigerians that are into it are still at the lower rung of that industry. So, we can change the pattern and the psyche of most Nigerians that not only the foreigners can bring about good and quality products. In H2O Tech, we have come to redefine quality to be all encompassing. Right from the materials, processing, fire output, even in delivery, everything is quality. Also, in the approach of the staffers to the customers, quality is also exhibited. There are so many other table water producers but all these I have said made H2O Tech unique. Our investment into H2O Tech is into hundreds of millions. So, you can’t compare us with somebody in Ikorodu, who is running what can only be called a cottage water business.
Would you describe table water business a profitable one in view of the cut-throat competition?
Initially, maybe for the first one year or two, one should not expect a very high profit because the machines and materials used are very expensive. Equally, competition should also be considered but I wouldn’t say there is competition per se because I believe people are competing for nothing. What they are only doing is playing with prices and when you’re playing with prices, you’re under cutting yourself. That means that you’re not really going to use quality materials for production. In H2O Tech, we manufacture our bottles, and these are different from those picked in the dust bins or recycled. What they are doing is just to use price to undercut those who we can call genuine manufacturers. So, profit should not be the emphasis in the first instance. That should come later.
How large is your distribution network?
First, we need to thank ENCOMIUM Weekly for the weekly adverts and regular publications. We have one big customer in Kano, another one in Abuja, there are many of them in Lagos also but we’re redefining our own major customers which should be hospitality industry and we are happy we have got Excellence Hotel, Ogba, Lagos and few others hoping that some other big hotels will patronize us soon. We would also be supplying supermarkets. Those are the places we have medium income earners who appreciate quality and will want to spend any amount for it.
What of the skill and technical aspects of the business, did you learn all these before starting out?
Before going into water business, I will say for about six months, I was doing what one can call computer run lessons. I downloaded so many articles and publications on water technology from notable universities and in-between we have to put some staffers who had worked in some notable and big time manufacturing outfits. For instance, the person in charge of our production, he was from an established bottle water manufacturing company, ditto for our quality controller who has about 15 years work experience spread over three notable water manufacturing companies. Then with my own general knowledge in administration, finance and all the rest, I think we have the synergy which I believe in six months, I should be an authority in water technology by the grace of God.
Is this venture capital or labour intensive?
Water business is capital intensive. Our bottling machine is automatic which needs no human intervention. It’s in three stages. All our machines are very expensive, they run into millions of naira but what’s important to us is quality. You can’t see any particle in our water because all the particles that were not arrested at the first and second stages, will be decisively arrested at the third and final stage. Also, the issue of odour or whatever will be captured on the arrow. With that, I will say we are on the same pedestal with those who have been in the market for quite a long time.
Do you also suffer multiple taxation?
Multiple taxation is something any businessman should be prepared to accept. Right from local to the federal government, there are so many duplications of taxes. There are some you don’t even have any control on, you just have to accept them as part of your business. Sometimes, they are not negotiable. Over time, maybe with more reasonable people coming into the business, and those that are running our affairs getting to be more professional, I think there’s bound to be changes in the system as time goes on.
Ramadan is here again, what should Muslim brothers and sisters be expecting from H2O Tech?
We have a lot for our Muslim faithful all over the country by way of going to notable mosques and Islamic gatherings to display our fliers. We are also going to donate about 300 packs of water to Ramadan programmes on NTA and LTV 8. On both programmes, our fliers and water will be given to those who are able to meet their conditions on the programmes. We are also planning to send some packs of our water to SOS at Isolo, Old People’s Home, Yaba and some other centres that need care and attention. We have sent SMS to some of our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters about a week ago that they should consider our water as part of their gift packages for all Ramadan lectures, anniversaries, marriages and other ceremonies. We can also customize the label to reflect any of these events. So, we are giving a lot during this holy month of Ramadan.
Who is your pillar of support all this while?
My pillar of support is, of course, Allah. But on this work, my wife is also my pillar of support. She has really been very supportive. She is the marketer, distributor, public relations officer and all that. Also, ENCOMIUM has been behind us, may Allah thank you people the more.
- TADE ASIFAT
This story was first published in Encomium Weekly edition of Tuesday, July 31, 2012