At Borky S.G. Bakre and Associates, an engineering consultancy firm he established after returning to Nigeria from Canada, where he studied Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Technology, specializing in Industrial Design, Borky Bakre spends his time conceptualizing solutions to industrial problems faced by his clients. He is also deeply engaged in developing creative innovations.
Today, he has several patents to his credits. One of these is the digital petroleum products meter that would have ended the fraud and corruption associated with the dip stick used today to measure the volume of products in underground tanks of petrol stations. Unfortunately, certain unpatriotic elements in the government, for pecuniary reasons refused to support adoption of the innovation, which could have generated foreign exchange for country through export to other nations. Undaunted, Bakre has put his expertise at the service of several indigenous and foreign companies operating Nigeria, including major engineering companies that faced challenges in the projects they were executing. In this interview, Bakre shares his views on how young graduates can become engineering entrepreneurs.
You once mentioned that any Nigerian engineer who is unemployed is not really an engineer. Do you still feel that way?
Certainly! Engineering is about practice, it is not about the theory. In the first place, an engineer should be able to identify a problem and then set about creating a suitable solution to deal with it. An engineer should at all times be able to find ways to make life a little bit better or a situation better than the way it was when he first came across it. In that case, an engineer must be someone that adds value and so, must be a valuable person. Definitely nobody wants to do away with anything of value. That is the true essence of a real engineer. The key to succeeding as an engineer is that one must be able to add value to existing situations.
If a person goes into engineering as a business or as an entrepreneur, what does he need to succeed in it?
First of all, if one goes into the profession of engineering, I expect that the person must have recognized ab initio that it is about solving problems and he has the passion to solve problems through engineering. Engineering is very close to creation process. If you look at the way the Almighty Father, created the universe, you can see that it was done in layers. From one epoch to the next; from one generation to the other, values are added and new systems created. When you look at the process, from one step to the other there was always that need to uplift situations from where they had been to the next level. For you to choose any calling in life, you must have been able to identify your own potentials. Whether as an engineering entrepreneur you must have passion for what you do and build up on your strong points, strong attitudes and potentials. All these have to do with the inherent talents you came into the world with and it is in your voluntary development of these potentials and talent (note that talent is your instrument of leadership) and utilize this talent to serve society, you will be identified as a leader; success in the field then follows naturally. Engineering is a service-oriented calling and it is mostly practical whether you are developing systems or re-defining approaches to managing situations. Engineering helps to turn science into an art that people can see, feel and use. In other words, it excites society and solves problems. Anyone who is involved in providing the solutions will definitely earn value from running an entrepreneurial engineering business.
How did you begin to discover these things you said in yourself?
It is an interesting story that people have asked me in the past. I recall that in December 2010 I delivered a paper when the Lagos State Office for Special Duties organized a Stakeholders Forum on Innovation and Creativity, 21st Century Skills. I tried to pass the message in the Yoruba adage that says what a child will eat when it is born comes along with the child. What means is that the child is imbued with potentials and abilities that have to be discovered. If a child grows through normal parental guidance with adequate love and show of concern, the child learns the need to appreciate others and render useful service. The moment you begin to think about what you can do to help others, improve your environment and society, you would naturally begin to see possibilities for useful service. From early in life, I was always inclined to wanting to solve problems. This made me develop a curious mind that always sought to know why something was the way it was and stirred up the desire to tinker with things around me. In most cases parents tend to suppress this trait. In my own case, my parents encouraged me. It got to a point where I could sit down and see visions of what could be brought into being through engineering.
Let me go back a bit to the creation process: God created the simplest things first before He created Man, which is the most complex and most important. Before creating Man, the Almighty Father created the world in which he would live and provided the plants and animals that would sustain him. If we are guided by the way God went about creation, we would achieve a lot. Look at the Ajaokuta Steel Plant which is not functioning and moribund. The simple reason is that Nigerian government did not start from training people and making them understand the process of steel making, making the science an acceptable and commonsense thing within schools, from primary to secondary, and encouraging small-scale enterprises that can make basic steel tools like spanner, screwdriver, nuts and bolts, etc, the country would have been primed and ready for the coming of the steel plant. The country would have made great progress through natural organic growth. Instead we put the cart before the horse, built the huge plant that soon became redundant because there was no existing process for it to there was no existing process for it to key into in the country. Once we can follow the guidance of the Almighty, everything works out well.
After your secondary education, did you go for higher education in Nigeria or overseas?
What happened was that I gained admission to study Atomic Physics at the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). I also got admissions in the United States and Canada. I chose to go to Canada.
Why did you choose Canada?
Prior to that time I had read so much about the country. In fact before I reached the age of 12, I had read the whole 22 volumes of the World Book Encyclopedia. I also studied Additional Mathematics because everybody believed it was too hard a subject. So I was always excited by anything that people found difficult, because I always thought that there must be something interesting to learn in whatever was considered difficult. From my wide reading I learnt that Canada had some of the best institutions in the world. Besides, as a geography student, I saw that Canada was a beautiful and serene country with a lot of things to see in nature – the Great Lakes, etc. Initially I studied mechanical engineering at Sault Se Marie University and later moved to University of St. Claire in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Later I switched to Engineering Technology, focusing mostly on industrial design and production process engineering. In the field of engineering, I basically like design, because that is the key to finding solutions to engineering problems. This gave me the opportunity to gain experience that is now helping me do the kind of work I am doing now for companies as a consultant. While I was still a student, I defined exactly what I wanted to do.
Tell us more about what you do.
I have been able to render service to so many companies. The fact is that ever since I graduated and returned from Canada, I have never worked as an employee for any company. Let me give an example: when I was in Canada, during the last stage of my training I used to read the newsletter of the specialty packaging company and discovered that they had a problem. So I went there and specifically offered to help solve the problem, which was causing significant losses and affecting productivity. I told the management it did not need to pay me until I was able to solve the problem and if I succeeded, I would then determine what I would be paid. I also requested that they should allow me be at the plant for 16 hours per day (eight hours for observation of the process and eight hours for work). They took the offer and I started. After the first month, the plant manager, a white Canadian married to a Japanese woman, began paying me because he saw immediate and significant improvement in the manufacturing process that increased their productivity. In fact, he invited me to dinner in his house and uncorked a 1948 wine for me in appreciation of what I did. The problem had to do with the quality of the production material supplied to the plant, and it caused a mounting volume of rejects, leading to losses. So I re-designed a key unit so that it could accept the material and this solved the problem, the wastage fell drastically, resulting in higher productivity and substantially reduced cost to the company. In essence I saved them money in my first month there. That was why the man invited me to dinner in his house and uncorked wine for me. That was also the day he began paying me. There were several other instances I solved other major problems for companies in Canada before I returned to Nigeria.
Right now, I have patents for several innovations. I started researching and developing some of them while I was in Canada. I was involved in the design of the automatic planetary gear system used in Ford automobiles. Back then, the chief designer for Ford Motors was my instructor on Engineering Design. During that time too, we designed the Automatic Anti-slide Brake System for Ford Motors. I have been involved in several innovative design projects.
You could have grown in this specialized field of engineering in Canada and the United States. Why did you decide to come back to Nigeria?
Well I don’t have any other country except Nigeria. I felt then and still feel the same way today that I have so much I can contribute to the growth of Nigeria. The issue is that every person has a major role to play in the place where the individual was born. Effectively playing that role is the key to the person’s success in life. That is what I believe. Even if I had become the best acclaimed engineering designer in Canada, I would still be a foreigner; there would always be a limitation imposed by the fact that one is not a son-of-the-soil. That was the main reason why I chose to come back: to contribute to Nigeria’s development and growth.
So when you came back, what was the situation? Given your experience, what was your expectation and what did you encounter?
I was very disappointed with what I saw, because there was virtually nothing to work with. Everything had to be developed from the scratch; more work needed to be done. But somehow, that fitted my natural attitude to things; I saw the situation as the real challenge to be confronted so that the society can grow. Again, if you look at it, you will understand that if it was so easy, then the opportunities will be limited. In essence difficult situations create opportunities to deploy knowledge, talent and expertise. The situation I met on ground did not dampen my spirit, rather I felt motivated, inspired and challenged to seek solutions. One only needs patience persistence and determination to forge ahead. In the process, I developed creative vision. In any situation you hardly find me complain. Rather I want to find solution to the problem.
Engineering students who graduate from our universities may not find ready jobs. You said at the beginning that an engineer essentially creates jobs for himself and others. What advice or tips can you give on how a young engineer can start up as an entrepreneur?
Everything starts small, and when people talk about one-man business, that is very correct because every enterprise starts with one man – in the mind of the man where the idea occurs. When you decide on what you want to do, how far you can go depends on how much you are ready to make sacrifices to achieve it and bring about the solution to the problem. As a person, I invest time, sacrifice comfort and sometimes personal gain as I pursue solutions to engineering problems. It is not the money you make that matters; in fact success is not an issue of money. If it were so, the purpose of life would be totally wasted. The essence of engineering is to give creative expression. If you are in a position and the place is not better than the way you met it, then automatically you are a failure.
To answer you directly, the first thing is that the person must have the passion to build on his/her strong points. You must have a desire to solve problems by engaging in practicals and be willing to move into areas of engineering challenge. You must be able to stress yourself to some extent to achieve results. Right from school, you must learn to be involved in voluntary activities to solve problems. Why voluntary? I have found out that it is easier for you to be benefitted when you render service freely. It is easier for people to accept you and then discover your capabilities when you render service voluntarily. When you solve the problem, the beneficiaries of your expertise would then too happy to pay you and even want to maintain relationship with you, because they would have found you to be valuable to them. From that point on you can become a well paid consultant to them and even begin to dictate your terms. That is the way it works. The bible says a man’s gift makes room for him. It also says a man that is diligent in his business will stand before kings and not mean men. So while in school seek to provide engineering solutions to problems in your environment. Today, nobody wants to do anything except he is being paid for it; because you are putting money before performance, you are not likely to get a foot in the door when you are just starting out. So go ahead and offer to solve the problem first. When you joyfully render service you were not first paid for, you are investing in long term goodwill. In other words, invest in goodwill by rendering free service which creates the opening for paid service that yields more in the long run. What happens is that as you interact with people, the reward may not come in form of money, it may come as favour: someone could mention you to another person who then engages you for money. It could also come in the form of unsolicited knowledge, advice or information about a more beneficial opportunity. Doing voluntary work gives you opportunity to meet a lot of people, share ideas, knowledge, discuss freely and appreciate your capabilities. All these create a path for you to work in the future.
Source : SunOnline