BY OGE OKAFOR
Ken Onuegbu is the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Tricare Pharma Limited, Lagos. Tricare Pharma is a pharmaceutical company fully incorporated for the purpose of marketing and distributing pharmaceutical products in Nigeria. A pharmacist by profession, he learnt the ropes in pharmaceutical management since graduating in 1991 from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Onuegbu has worked in pharmaceutical big names like Emzor Pharmaceuticals, Roche Nigeria Limited (now SWIPHA), Afrab-Chem, Maydon, ChanMedi-Pharm and Dafra Pharma, where he rose from pharmaceutical sales representative to become Country Manager/CEO. Onuegbu is a merit award winner (MAW) of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Lagos State, an alumnus of Lagos Business School and a national officer, Association of Industrial Pharmacists of Nigeria.
In this chat, he spoke about how his passion for the job led to setting up his business, his cutting edge as an administrator as well as how he is managing the challenges facing the pharmaceutical sector.
What prompted you to start your own business?
Well, it’s because of obvious reasons. I am motivated by the success achieved by great Nigerians and great leaders in the world. I want to be like them as well. As a core entrepreneur, I have always nursed the dream to drive my personal vision and do similar things such notable Nigerians have done in their chosen and successful careers. So, when I felt that the time was right and having put in close to 24 years in corporate service, I decided to call it quits and incorporate my business.
But of course, fear is the only thing that keeps people from actualizing their personal ambition. The fear of the unknown! The ability to conquer that fear will go a long way to determine and shape your future progress. I faced my fears frontally and if you ask me, I can tell you that I was able to conquer that fear and then took a step ahead to do something for myself and for generations yet unborn. I resigned from my position as the Country Manager/CEO of a multinational company in Nigeria to join forces with my partners to fully run Tricare Pharma as a company not only for the present but also for the future.
What were the challenges you encountered when you set out to incorporate your business?
The challenges were quite enormous but at the same time very interesting. Of course, these challenges are necessary ingredients in life and your ability to succeed to a very large extent depends on how well you are able to manage the hurdles before you. First, the Nigerian economy has been turbulent for some time now. The fluctuating Naira does not help to promote good planning in business.
For any new company, a major challenge is the startup capital. Tricare, as the name implies is a partnership venture between me and two of my very good friends with whom I have mutual understanding. We are managing the challenge very well and we hope to surmount it very soon.
A third challenge is not having the right people on the job. What makes a company great is actually not people but the right people. Finding the right people nowadays is like embarking on a one month prayer and fasting session seeking a solution. The Nigerian workforce is becoming something else. In the course of doing business, you will find out that a larger chunk of the workforce do not understand what it takes to work for an organization. Factors like attitudinal problems, lack of passion on the job, lack of commitment and some doses of unethical practices all describe what Nigerian workforce is for some group of companies or sectors. Do you continue to hire and fire? It creates some instability in your plans. But of course, it’s dangerous to keep a non performing staff a day longer than necessary. Deadwoods in the system are better flushed out before they inflict serious injury in the psyche of the organization.
Then is the challenge of chaotic drug distribution in the Nigerian pharmaceutical sector. I am happy that there seems to be something coming up to handle this. But along the line, we must find a very veritable way to fit in; fitting in not in the wrong way but in a value adding way and that is keying in with some of the policies defined by the regulatory authorities.
How are you managing to stay afloat despite the chaotic drug distribution network?
First of all, we know that the pharmaceutical business is not an all comers affair like the selling of crayfish or shoes. It’s a highly regulated business and a professional one for that matter. Hellen Keller, the popular blind American woman once said, “If you cannot take the heat, get out of the kitchen’’ You must therefore understand the language of the business and be prepared to take the heat before entering into it.
One of the things we try as much as possible to do is to recruit professionals who will go all out and make sure that the people we are supposed to serve get value for their money. We also try as much as possible to have qualified distributors who have fulfilled all the conditions as stipulated by the regulatory authorities pertaining to the practice of the profession. Not cutting corners and always trying to be very ethical and professional in what we do has helped us to survive the turbulence. We shall continue to move forward. We may stumble and fall, but the language we understand is to try just one more time. Success and celebration must surely come with God on our side and Tricare on God’s side as well. We are very lucky to have brands that people know are of excellent quality and clinical efficacy. This has helped us a lot.
Did you say Tricare products aren’t made here in Nigeria?
Yes, all our products are done through contract manufacturing. We don’t have a manufacturing plant here in Nigeria. The manufacturers are based in Asia but we are trying to make an incursion into Europe. We are also looking at the possibility of locally manufacturing some of our brands but these are long term projects. It’s my desire to identify one or two companies here in the country that can give us what we want. The search is already on and we wish to make it happen soon to enable us inject some local contents into our business philosophy thereby creating more job opportunities for my fellow countrymen.
So, why do most pharmaceutical products consumed in Nigeria manufactured overseas and a lot of what we do is marketing and distribution?
So many factors are responsible for this. The cost of manufacturing in Nigeria is unnecessarily too high and unbearable too. It takes a lot of guts and sheer determination to invest in a country where you know that there is poor infrastructure and almost total collapse in power generation. These are the two engine blocks of any manufacturing investment in any country. Take the case of power generation for instance. I empathize with some of these local manufacturers because of what they are going through. When I check the amount I spend daily to run my generator at home, I can then imagine how much pharmaceutical giants like Emzor, SKG, May and Baker and the rest are spending daily.
This is because power supply in Nigeria is almost not there and this makes manufacturing cost very high. But thank God that in the last few months, there have been some relative improvements which I want to believe will be sustained. Whether it is a well-orchestrated master plan or default as a result of a rise in water level, we are praying that the improvement be sustained because it will put some life in what we are doing. For now, the Nigerian manufacturer is undergoing quite an enormous challenge that if care is not taken some little gains we have achieved may be wiped off. And as an investor, you will always want to recoup, at least make some profits that will keep you going. But when you are spending a lot of money on diesel and there is no good road to transport your products, not to talk of manpower because the mentality of the Nigerian workforce is very poor from my little experience, then we need to do a rethink. Why am I in business? Manufacturers have seen all these as very big challenges and it’s also one of the major reasons why we haven’t seen a quantum leap in that area.
What is your assessment of the pharmaceutical industry in Nigeria?
The pharmaceutical industry in Nigeria is still budding. I am not rating the industry so high but we are making significant progress. We are making progress in the area of trying to sanitize the system, particularly drug distribution. Drug distribution is very chaotic and unpardonable because we have allowed some mess to creep in. I believe in what the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria is presently doing, coupled with cooperation and understanding of all pharmacists and stakeholders in the country, putting things in the right perspective and proper shape. I believe that in the next four years, a lot of quacks will be removed from the system and a lot of unprofessional attitude will be curbed. There is actually light at the end of the tunnel.
Source : SunOnline