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Construction Kaiser Limited @25. Speech by Vice Chairman/CEO, Igbuan E. Okaisabor.

Posted on December 6th, 2018

A quarter of a century!!!! That’s the way I like to view it…

With that in mind, I say good evening Our Valued Clients, Captains of industry, our Bankers, Associates, Partners, Vendors, Colleagues, Friends and Family, Ladies and Gentlemen.

A quarter of a century ago, I dared to dream. I dreamt of a company that would not only outlive me, but also employ Nigerians irrespective of tribe, gender or religion, and would execute projects in all 36 states in Nigeria. Are we there yet? Not quite…

Tonight, we celebrate not just Construction Kaiser (or CKL as we call it), but also all the indigenous construction companies in Nigeria (Formwork Ltd., Brickhouse Ltd., Interkel Ltd. Salta Construction, and the others). As research has shown, entrepreneurship is very challenging, only 20% of start-ups make it past the 5th year in the western world, yet, here we are celebrating our 25th anniversary in an environment that is very challenging to do business, for various reasons you all can identify with.

5 years ago, we marked our 20th Anniversary with the theme: ‘The Emergence of indigenous construction companies in Nigeria’, today, this event is themed: ‘Breaking new grounds’. Rightly so, because we are executing projects that are not usually executed by indigenous companies and doing our business in a sustainable way which is uncommon in these climes.

I have heard people ask: ‘Are you a German company’ Who are your foreign partners? or ask, ‘how many expatriates do you employ?’ My response to them would be, we are fully indigenous, proudly Nigerian!

Then I wonder, ‘Is it not possible for Nigerians to strive for excellence? Why are they so surprised?’

For the benefit of people here who were not with us for our 20th Anniversary celebration, I will give a brief history of CKL.

 

Walking through the driveway of the Michelin factory in Port Harcourt in 1992, I saw an expatriate worker of A. Michelletti, an Italian company on a project site, dressed in khaki shorts, smoking a cigarette and barking orders at his Nigerian workers. I noticed that apart from him, all the other workers on site were Nigerians, yet they were able to execute the projects to high standards, which made Michelin continue to award the big projects to them and restrict the company I worked for, KBD Ltd., to the smaller projects. I wondered why Nigerians could not establish and grow construction companies that could work to such high standards, and indeed, at a lower price, since we could eliminate the overheads associated with keeping expatriates in Nigeria.

Having identified this opportunity and determined to make a change, I embarked on ‘Project Construction Kaiser’.

Armed with my degree in civil engineering and no formal business training, I started the journey that has brought us all here tonight.

I thought we should be different, so I named the company Construction Kaiser rather than Kaiser Construction, as most construction companies would do. I chose the name Kaiser, meaning Emperor in German, because we wanted to be as efficient as the Germans yet be the ‘Construction Emperors, or Kings’ of Nigeria.

Starting in my living room in Rumuogba Port Harcourt with 5 staff, I relentlessly pursued this opportunity even though I had little or no financial or human resources to achieve success.

Our first project in 1993 entailed roof repairs of a building in Bonny, Rivers state and the project contract sum was N40,000.00 (Forty Thousand Naira).

Our first major project was in 1995 to develop Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB), Aba branch.

This led to the execution of seven other GTB branches in Warri, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Lagos and Yenagoa.

In 2000, we partnered with Standard Chartered Bank on their rollout of branches in Nigeria and executed 15 branches around the nation.

In 2003, due to rapid growth, we established the Lagos Regional office.

In the same year, we cut our teeth in equipment foundations when Rockson Engineering awarded us a technical manpower supply contract for the civil works construction of the 150MW Omoku Power Plant.

In 2005, MTN Communications named us as the Main contractor for the Eastern Regional Switch Centre Enugu, the only fully indigenous company appointed across the 7 countrywide switches being constructed at the time.

Between 2006-2012, we executed various projects for Marubeni Corporation of Japan under the NIPP scheme.

The projects include:

  •  a 50-flat staff housing estate in Odukpani, near Calabar,
  •  the main civil construction for the 460 MW Sapele plant and the same for the 580 MW Calabar Power Plant.
  • And civil works for the switchyard of the 580MW power plant in Calabar.
  • During the phase of the Power projects, in 2009 we established the Abuja Regional office and the corporate head office.

So, what have we been up to the last 5 years?

Some projects executed by CKL over the last 5 years include:

o   MTN West-African Data Disaster Recovery Centre.

o   Bankers’ warehouse, Abuja.

o   Diamond bank Branches on Admirality way and Adeola Odeku, Lagos.

o   Sterling Bank Head Office Annex.

o   Logistics base for Total Cooperatives in Oniru

o   The Campbell Centre, Lagos. I would like to add that it is the venue of today’s event.

Also, we have other ongoing projects as follows:

o   Radisson Blu Hotel, PH.

o   Aviation plaza, Ikeja.

o   El Paso, Abuja.

o   Earls Raven, Abuja.

o   JK Randle Center for Yoruba Culture and History, Lagos.

o   Ikoyi Plaza.

o   70-unit Chevron Cooperatives Estate, Lekki

We embarked on a transformational plans to achieve this.

  1. Improve on our Safety and Quality management systems
  2. To think sustainably
  3. To improve on inclusiveness
  4. To act differently
  5. To solve socio-economic issues

How have we improved on our work safety?

We introduced a safety initiative called ’10 life saving rules.’ This initiative helped our sites to be more aware of the importance of safety and act accordingly. As a result, we were given a safety award from Lagos State Government (LASG) in recognition of our excellent performance in health and safety in the industry and for the introduction and sustaining of an impactful safety initiative.

So have we done about our quality management systems?

At the beginning of the year (2018), we embarked on a goal to attain International Standard Organization (ISO) certification by engaging Bureau Veritas (BV) to audit our processes. I am pleased to mention that after series of audits and corrective actions to implement on processes in our 3 branches, we received a report from BV in November 2018 that we have been recommended to proceed to certification

Second, to think sustainably, we strive to ensure that the business outlives us with the best possible standards to achieve project execution. We cannot claim to be the best in the industry, even though we would like to be. We have invested in relationships and that has brought us this far. We believe that 80% of success in business is brought about by relationships, while 20% is attributable to product knowledge.

In November 2015, we signed an exclusive concrete supply agreement with Lafarge Nigeria to supply ready-mix concrete to all our various project sites nationwide. The aim was to leverage on the technological expertise of Lafarge to deliver high quality concrete. Lafarge is the World’s largest supplier of concrete and aggregates and are present in 80 countries with over 80,000 employees and are almost 200 years old.

Drawing from the fact that 50% of fatalities on construction sites are as a result of weak scaffolding, wrong formwork placement and poor training in the use of formwork. In February 2018, we signed a technical partnership agreement with PERI.

PERI is the foremost Formwork and scaffolding company in the World. They have been around for over 50 years.

This partnership was mainly to enable CKL deploy PERI’s products optimally.

Collaboration is the way to go. We understand that it would create assess to knowledge and people, effectiveness, efficiency, innovation, human resource development, long-term stability, impact, reputation and credibility.

We commend our brothers from across the Mediterranean who have helped develop the critical infrastructure in Nigeria over the last century. However, in the evolving world of BREXIT and ‘America First’ only the foreign companies that learn to collaborate with indigenous companies will stand the test of time and be sustainable.

Introducing inclusiveness is important because we believe that sustainability can only occur when there is inclusiveness. The ability to engage individuals, irrespective of gender, tribe or religion, in the society to participate in a common goal – ‘Project execution.’

We currently employ 226 full-time staff and thousands of casual workmen annually across the 3 regional operations. It might be worthy to note that some of these casuals might have added to the number of unemployed youths who sometimes engage in armed robbery, kidnappings, terrorism or other negative acts if they were not gainfully employed.

In addition, we have a large count of vendors who create value and earn their daily bread working with us. We have kept this inclusion as efficient as possible to enable our business grow while solving other societal challenges in the country.

According to a quote by Akinwumi Adesina (President of African Development Bank) in connection with the migration problem: ‘We want our youth gainfully employed on the continent not at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.’

We make efforts to act differently. This has been embedded in the culture of the team and possibly in the DNA of Construction Kaiser as a whole.

I don’t know a better way to do business than to deliberately make social impact while seeking profits.’

Right here in Construction Kaiser, we are aware of the diverse socio-economic issues in the country which can affect the growth of our business. For this reason, in 2016, we introduced a business strategy called ‘Creating Shared Value’ (CSV). This strategy was adapted from a business case study undertaken by Michael Porter and Mark Kramer from Harvard Business School (HBS). They simply explained that the CSV model refers to the policies and operating practices that enhance the competitiveness of the business while simultaneously advancing the economic and social conditions in the communities it operates in.

This concept has been applied to our business as a guide towards addressing key issues that affects the nation and the growth of the construction industry and has been engrained in our company strategy.

We identified that youth development is in fast decline and the usual culprits include:

  1. Lack of entrepreneurial skills.
  2. Limited apprenticeship, vocational training and skills acquisition programs.
  3. The need for technical on the job training.
  4. Leadership skills especially in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and its related fields.
  5. Lack of sustained partnerships with third parties with similar goals.

These needs encouraged us to set up a not-for-profit organisation called the ‘Kaiser Foundation for Social Development’ (KFSD) in 2016. The purpose of the foundation is to address and eliminate obstacles that hinder social and economic development among children, youth, women and men. KFSD envisions a Nigeria where social and economic development is achieved through training, mentorship and empowerment.

How has the foundation handled this….?

The foundation has 7 schemes currently to handle these issues. They include;

  1. A STEM Construction Summer Camp for teenagers.
  2. A Mentorship program to provide guidance for the teenagers with interest in construction.
  3. Scholarship to assist with financial aid during undergraduate studies.
  4. Undergraduate training in soft skills such as entrepreneurship, leadership, communication and presentation skills amongst others to make them more employable.
  5. Graduate Entrepreneurial Scheme for fresh graduates with 0 to 2 years working experience.
  6. Artisan Training Program on how Artisans can handle construction work in a qualitative manner, safely, efficiently and timely.
  7. Research Collaboration Scheme to advance development and innovation in improving the competitive advantage of indigenous stakeholders in the supply side of the construction industry in Nigeria.

Key achievements thus far:

  1. On the STEM program, we have had 3 summer camps and students from 26 secondary schools across Nigeria from 2016 to date.
  2. In the last one year, we have mentored 28 teenagers, out of which, 6 of the students participated in the STEM Summer Camp Program.
  3. In 2017, we collaborated with Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF) and Arcskills to train Artisans on our sites in specialisations such as Carpentry, Masonry and Steel fixing.
  4. The first edition of the undergraduate training in soft skills kicked off in November 2018, with the final year students in University of Lagos studying construction-related majors.
  5. We signed a partnership with the University of Lagos on Scholarships, Internships, Undergraduate training on soft skills and research collaboration to tackle competitiveness, sustainable livelihoods and inclusion among construction industry stakeholders who operate in the formal and informal economy.

 

Overall, we are working towards building an industry were the local content would increase greatly. By local content, I mean you and I as indigenes of Nigeria, would have a substantial share and opportunity in the management and ownership of companies in the Nigerian construction industry.

We trust that this will help to groom entrepreneurs and create employment in construction and other sectors. It would further assist in foreign exchange savings, which in turn would strengthen the Naira with the participation of improved indigenous workers in the construction industry.

We at Construction Kaiser have had the privilege of working with great Nigerians with honour and integrity, who fight our cause, not because of any personal benefit that they can derive by their positions, but because of the service we deliver and the quest to achieve a greater and more developed Nigeria. We remain grateful to you and assure you that you will be remembered by future generations for your sacrifices!

For those who believed in us when there was no reason to (except for the fire you saw in our eyes), we thank you!

To our vendors and sub-contractors who have worked with us through those crazy deadlines, we appreciate you!

Talking about sacrifices, we thank our friends here today, family  (including the women in my life-my mum, mother in law, my wife and 3 daughters) who have had to put up with our long hours of work and our frequent travels.

Finally, I would like to leave you all with a Greek Proverb, which goes thus:

‘A society grows great when old men (and of course women) plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in.’

As you sit down to enjoy this evening, I ask you to please think about that tree you would plant, whose shade you might never sit in.

Thank you.