Coleman is 'Dangote' of Cables in Africa - MD
What business ethics can we borrow from Coleman in the last four decades?
Coleman Technical Industries was registered in 1975 as an industrial trading company by the chairman Asiwaju Solomon Kayode Onafowokan. Shortly after, the business looked at converting into manufacturing of coolers because the products brands it was dealing with were Coleman coolers and fridges. Unfortunately that did not work because once the partner notices you want to become a local manufacturer, he is not as enthusiastic as dealing with you when you were just their trading partner. Systematically we moved into other things and by 1998 we ventured into cable manufacturing. We had some hitches at the beginning which led to changing management by 2001, 2002 which was when myself and our executive director, Engineer Michael Onafowokan, who is head of technical productions and the rest of the team started coming in.
In 2009, the company reported that it had grown from a N50 million asset base to N5 billion, what has happened between then and now?
Between 2009 and today, Coleman has become a true reflection of the Nigerian dream. In 2009, we delivered a project that no Nigerian cable company had done in the past, it was the biggest in our time and we could have applied the break pedal at that point and make it our pinnacle but we sought what next and moved on. In 2014, we opened the first high voltage factory in Nigeria and in West Africa. We became the first black African company to achieve that feat, I used that word on purpose because South Africa is a black country but they achieved it when the white ruled.
In 2015, we achieved another milestone with the assistance of Bank of Industry. We became the most up-to- date house wiring factory, and we also became the first coaxial (Television cable) producer in West Africa. We also became the first producers of cat 5 and cat 6 network cable in West Africa.
By 2015, turnover wise, we had grown almost five folds. In terms of capacity, the business had grown almost ten folds.We wanted to solve the Nigerian cable problem because as our chairman would always say, nobody aimed to be the Dangote of cables. We decided as a team that the sky is the limit on what we do.
In 2009, we had 120 staff, today we are almost 400 and still growing. We run one shift with 400 and have another shift we are moving to over the next couple of months. Our fourth factory is under construction in Shagamu, Ogun State and we expect another factory somewhere in the North in 2017. Today, the value of the company is well in the excess of N25 billion and still growing.
I want to have cables in Sokoto touching the edge of the Northwest, in Borno even with the current challenge, Calabar and every part, the same way we have our beverages everywhere in this country. We are the first cable company to officially start opening up depots.
We have applied to the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) and said ‘please give us land, we will pay for the land’ but up till now we have not seen the success of the application. We want to put a factory in Abuja if given the opportunity and we are challenging the government that we can be the solution to her power cable, distribution cable, household cable because we account for more than 50 percent of cable product range in Nigeria that are not produced by our competitors because we have taken bold steps beyond the convention of profit and loss or benefits.
How has the peculiar Nigerian challenge impacted your business?
When we started, there was zero money. We had to go to the market ourselves, walk Alaba International, and convince distributors to give us some money to buy raw materials to produce for that distributor. So there were no free bees.
For any industrialist or person in manufacturing, the support of government is meant to push that sector. If these supports had been there, a lot of people would have achieved more than they have no doubt. We are beneficiary of government support but not at the beginning. We started seeing government support during the 2008/2009 economic meltdown.