BY OMONIYI SALAUDEEN
Unlike most civil servants who see government employment as a means and an end to financial fulfillment, Mr. Efiye Bribena voluntarily bowed out of the Nigerian Immigration Service as an Assistant Comptroller to do business. Today, he is a successful entrepreneur with particular interest in importing, contract bidding and real estate. He shares the secret of his adventure in this interview with Sunday Sun. Excerpts:
The fear of retirement is the beginning of wisdom. How did you prepare yourself for the challenges of private business before your exit from the Nigerian Immigration Service?
That’s a very relevant question. Before I retired from service, I had been very much interested in creating wealth. Even while in service, my orientation had been more out of government. One, I made several efforts to educate myself. I was in service when I studied Law, but my first degree was in Business Administration. Maybe that also helped me to be inclined towards the private sector. In the course of my service, I realized that for you to be in business and for you to really thrive , you need to have some knowledge of Law because that defines your rights and the rights of others that you deal with. That helped me to prepare myself for retirement. A lot of people are afraid of going into business before their retirement because they see government employment as a means of making money, especially in an institution like Nigerian Immigration Service. But because that was not part of my objectives, I started looking out and preparing myself to leave service and then go into private business. So, with the slightest opportunity I had after putting in 22 years in service, I quietly left to pursue business as a trader. It’s basically my mindset and my training that prepared me for business. It’s interesting to note that there are lots of people in government who are not working but are only interested in making money. I could have put in 35 years because I joined the immigration service quite early. I left after I had put in 22 years. So, I still have about thirteen more years to put in, if I wanted.
Were you not afraid of your decision to pull out of service, knowing that the business environment you were about going into is full of uncertainties?
That’s true, but with guidance from God, I have no cause to regret. I am a strong believer of Christ. With his guidance, I have a lot of confidence that it is well. So, that fear is largely taken care of. If you are in service with the kind of my own faith, it will get to a level where you become uncomfortable with the way people make extra income to augment their salaries. A lot of people cannot survive on their salaries as civil servants. When you come to the conclusion that, if you continue to live on your salary; good or bad, it cannot help you much, that will embolden you to take the right decision to venture into business. When I left service, my salary was N65,000 or thereabout, which couldn’t really take me home. So, it wasn’t difficult for me to try doing something else for myself. Many people are afraid of going into private business because they are making something on the side.
With that amount, it’s like something with nothing literally.
How did you grow your business to the level you are today as an importer of different items?
The mistake a lot of people make is that they believe they need a huge capital to start a business of their own. The greatest capital you have is your intellect and the information that you have. With information and your skills you can grow something out of nothing. For instance, I do business with some oil companies and I remember that our first order with Elf Petroleum then was less than N25,000. From there, we started growing the business until I went into other stuffs like construction and things like that. You don’t need huge money to start or grow your business. Find out, most successful businesses started with little or nothing.
But even at that, you are bound to face some challenges in sourcing capital at one point or the other. How did you surmount this challenge initially?
Yes, for a successful businessman, there is no way you will not need capital. But the fact is that once you have a thriving business and proper structures are put in place, you will have access to capital or funds when you need it. And the way to do that is to build up your business in several ways, so that you will be able to access capital, because there will always be a need for security. So, as you build your business, you need investment you can fall back on when it’s time for you to seek additional funds. That’s why it’s advisable to invest in stocks, property and have little savings. There was a time I used my house as collateral to get funds to execute a contract and I almost lost the house because my clients were not paying. But by the grace of God, by the nick of time, they were able to make payment that enabled me to recover my property. So, those challenges are always there. But as a wise businessman, you start to grow your business and make investment along with it because no bank will give you money except you have some securities to give to them.
Was there any point in time when you probably felt that you didn’t make the right choice of business due to one challenge or the other?
Well, it’s not all businesses one has done that are successful. There are instances when you feel a business decision is not right. Yes, we have had those experiences. I have been involved in trading, contract bidding and real estate. All these come with their challenges. But I don’t feel I ventured into the wrong business. Of course, there are business decisions I’ve taken which were not the right decisions.
How do you survive as a businessman in Nigeria’s competitive market?
You have to go through the learning curve. If you chicken out before going through the learning curve, you can never make success out of any business. In any business, there is always a learning process where you probably make some losses and recoveries and all that. In a competitive environment like ours, you need to go through the learning curve. If you make losses, you need to persevere and learn the tricks of the trade until you are able to go on a cruise control. One thing that has been my driving force is that I ensure that whatever we are trading in is of right quality. That’s what will sustain your business. Now, we do some imports from China and you discover that a lot of people go to China and bring all sorts of nonsense. But I tell my manufacturer clearly that whatever product produced for me must come with a warranty which most of them are reluctant to give. Again, I am willing to provide after sales service. That makes a lot of difference. A lot of people bring in container load of goods and once they sell it that is the end. I don’t do business with that kind of mindset. I’m in business to survive. So, I ensure that everything I need to sustain my business is put in place. Your name and reputation is what sustains you.
Every Nigerian is seen as a fraudster in the eye of the international community. How have you been able to sustain the confidence of your business partners abroad?
It’s a matter of trust. I started importing without traveling out of Nigeria.
How did you do it?
It’s a matter of looking for reliable manufacturers and ensuring that you satiate your obligations to them. Once you are able to ensure the genuineness of manufacturers, it is now left for you to also show your genuineness of purpose by meeting the terms and conditions of your transactions. If you are going to trade by 30 percent deposit and 70 percent balance payment before shipment is done, you ensure you make your payment. Once you do that, you don’t have any problem. Once in a while, if you have difficulties, your suppliers will understand. People have problems when they want to be too smart. You can’t get a line of credit until trust is built. And you can only build that trust when you meet your line of obligations.
What’s the secret of the success you have achieved so far?
I think it’s God and having faith in Him. It’s also about doing the right thing at the right time. You need to have a good sense of judgment to take the right decision at the right time. You have to depend on your good sense of judgment to make the right decision. Two, you have to be focused in whatever you are doing. Like I said, there must always be a learning curve in any business you do. I remember somebody who requested my assistance when he took a decision to go into trading in yams from the North to sell in Lagos and I encouraged him to do so. He went and bought a trailer load of yam worth of N600,000. But by the time he got here, he could barely get N150,000 out of it. That brother got discouraged and could not continue with that business. But in business, if you want to be successful, you have to find out what went wrong. Was it the specie of yam that was the problem? Was it the way it was transported? Was it the storage? Having answered those questions, you make another trip may be with less amount this time around. In doing so, you discover your mistakes and begin to grow the business back again. For me, the key is learn your business and persevere.
From your own experience, between those who look up to retirement benefits in their old age and those who have their eyes on things they can do with their own hands, which one is better?
Source : SunOnline