This is a first in a series of features tagged Hard Talk we will be bringing to you with a focus on successful people that have risen up the ladder through their visions, dedication and hard work to make a difference to their lives, people around them and the economy in general. These features focus on people that you can relate to in terms of the challenges you may face in the struggle to build yourself as individuals, build your businesses, which in turn will build our communities, country and continent. www.onobello.com is hoping that the people featured here will be a source of inspiration to all young people out there working hard to make a difference.
The first entrepreneur to grace our Hard Talk feature is Mr Kola Karim, CEO of Shoreline Energy International, a company in the business of power generation, transmission and distribution and telecommunications. Shoreline operates businesses in different African countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Serra Leone, Tanzania and Uganda.
Mr Karim is known for his excellent business and management skills, he’s transparency in the manner he conducts business has been rewarded as he was chosen as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2008. According to Mr Karim he is growing the business around structures that can be passed on to generations being that he is from a large extended family of five brothers a sister and married with three children of his own.
His career goes far back as 1988 when he started work at Guardian Royal Exchange UK as trainee just after he graduated from City University, London. He then moved on to work for a top UK organisation, H.K Beaumont & Associates as a part of the senior management team. Apart from being the CEO of Shoreline, hehas a large group of companies he controls including Costain West Africa where he is Chairman of the Board.Mr Karim’sAlumni list is long and includes Harvard Business School.
In an exclusive interview, Mr Karim takes us on a tour of his business.
OB: Tell us about yourself?
KK: I am Kola Karim, 42 years old, born in Lagos, Nigeria, grew up in England and back in Lagos again doing things. I am the CEO of Shoreline Energy International Plc. We are a holding company with involvement in a lot of areas in business. Engineering is our core business and that’s ranging from construction into oil and gas services, which is our main forte.
OB: What inspires you?
KK: The inspiration in my work is all about what we are giving, if you look at Africa the biggest value is our core business, which is energy and infrastructure and that is where we have chosen to do business. Construction as an example is a very important and integral development of any nation and we are into that. Another part of building economies is power and we are into power, we are one of the foremost companies to go into that in Nigeria, we are also into oil services and logistics. For us the key is to develop and make a difference to the growth of our country and continent.
OB: How did you build your business?
KK: Shoreline started as a trading company, I came in 1993/1994 and took a small trading company from my mother and we built it to several businesses. We have been very blessed with opportunities. It wasn’t by design, most of what we have done is by how opportunities have risen and have been bestowed on us, we have grown our businesses by acquisition, looked at targets in the Nigerian economy, got opportunities for acquisition and gone in to acquire these businesses to grow them to the next phase. That basically is what our major drive is.
OB: In your business today what is your greatest fear?
KK: The greatest fear in business is government and in Africa the most important drive for any business is the government’s decision and laws that drives the potential of businesses. Nigeria has come a long way, just take a look at the banking sector, 10-15 years ago you could not get a bank to finance a 25million Naira deal but today its nothing. Realistically I would say the democratic structure since 1999 has done a great deal to the Nigerian economy. Also the framework of government has done a lot as well, if the right framework and government policies are in place then the economy will in turn grow. Take a look at what the government has done in telecommunications, in year 2000, the government realised that NITEL cannot be a viable entity so they realised that they needed to privatiseand bring competition, they invited five companies and today issues telecommunications is history with millions of users.
The government today realises the issues with the power sector, realistically what they should do is privatise the power plants, the power generation companies which in turn makes it important for people like myself and investors in that area, its about doing it well.If the government can do this, I promise you that in the next 24 months Nigeria can have a stable power supply. Theproblem is not generating the power or distributing the power itself, the problem in itself is in the will of the owner and this time it will be with the private owners to make it work. Why did NITEL fail and Airtel succeed? Its simple, one its private sector driven and in as much as it remains government driven we will never achieve a stable power supply because the dedication and commitment of the drivers of that business is not there or driven like the private sector. As it is government driven presently, if a core distribution zone is not earning money they have to call on the central bank to give them money but if I own it, I have to make sure that it performs, I have to make sure management collects the money, I have to make sure management gives proper services to its customers, that is what it takes and that is what is important.
OB: How does it feel now to look back at all your hardwork and see all you have accomplished?
KK: I feel grateful to God for being very supportive but I don’t feel fulfilled yet because we are young with age on our side. As a family owned group our aim is to continue to grow and hopefully grow generations of business of what’s not in Africa. If you look at the history of Africa, generations of business suffer after some time and that is a very serious problem. Its either the father makes a lot of money and the children loose a lot of the money. So all we are trying to do is see if we can build a business that will transcend from us to our children and to their children and continue to grow. butWe are building around structures, around very formidable strong personalities who understand the business and this is very important and the key is for us to keep doing this.
We are building around the building of things, people always need a car, building shopping malls, people will always shop in a growing economy, power plants, people need power, construction. You build businesses that is based around necessity and that’s the focus for Shoreline. In Nigeria, Ghana, Serra Leone, Uganda where we are operating core businesses, core values and core principlesthat will be passed from one generation to another because its not about the individual, its about driving that business.
OB: Tell us about doing business in Africa in spite of the issues of democracy and corruption, how have you been able to overcome them and still be successful?
KK: Corruption is everywhere, it’s all down to how you see it and value it. The most important thing as a business is to look at your core values, what are you out to achieve, what are your aims and objectives as a business. African values needs to change in terms of everyone bringing something to the table. In Ghana, we are in telecommunications and construction, we are doing something, we are employing people so it is going to be difficult for someone to ask me for a bribe, we are giving to the society, we are paying taxes and we are a corporate social responsible company, we are training people and adding value. The new generation of businesses should be out to do business in the right way.
OB: What advise do you have for young entrepreneurs in today’s economy?
KK: First and foremost dedicate your mind to what you want to achieve, what I see from a lot of young people is that they have the ambition but don’t have the drive, there’s no point of being ambitious without a drive because they can’t achieve anything. America is known as that last land of opportunity but Africa is the future of opportunities, that’s the way I see it because where else in the world do you not have good roads, proper telecommunications, proper transportation, natural resources that has not been blended or operated properly with all these things, there lies the opportunities. To me the international communities views of African countries lies the opportunity to build formidable businesses that will create jobs, that will grow our economy and society but in turn we must remember that we must be corporate, social and responsible citizens and that’s the only way we can make a difference. Today, Shoreline we employ 9,000 people in Nigeria, things have been tough in the last three years, we have been faced with the option of letting some of our employees go but we have weathered the storm because of what we trying to achieve and hopefully it will turn out well as we are focused and dedicated, we will achieve what we want to.
OB: Tell us about your collection of memorabilia?
KK: My brother and I are huge Rugby fans so we collect a lot of Rugby memorabilia around the continent; we have the original shirt worn by Francois Pienaar here, we bought it five years ago at the Rugby Sevens Cup at the auctions there. We have the original Led Zeppelin guiltier signed by Led Zeppelin at an auction years ago. We have also sponsored the Hamilton Football Club shirt for the past three years so if you are watching them play on Sky sports, their jersey have got our logo Shoreline Energy on it. We are looking into doing something with football in Nigeria, we have been sponsoring the Polo tournament for quite a while, my brother Tunde and I are ardent players. I think sport is such a strong value drive to the creation of a strong society and in a place like Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa sports like football is a unifying tool that can be used to solve a lot of our problems.
OB:How do you unwind?
KK: I spend a lot of time around horses and play Polo, I enjoy Polo, the community and friendships I have built around it over the years and most importantly, the sanity around doing something I love because it is a passion, for me once I sit on a horse I forget about everything else because more importantly you have to think of your own safety so I can’t be thinking of other things on a horse. It is escapism for me.