‘SMEs must acquire right capabilities, competencies, structure to remain in business’

Kemisola Gabriel is a business expert that helps organizations and businesses optimize their processes to become more efficient and productive to deliver value to their consumers. She has a B.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering, M.Sc. in Industrial Engineering, and is also a Certified Project Manager (PMP) and a Lean Six Black Belt Professional (CSSBB). In this interview with BUNMI BAILEY, Gabriel discusses how businesses can eliminate wastes from their processes and manage costs in operations to deliver products and services. Excerpts:

You are a supply chain professional with over 10 years’ experience across different sectors from oil and gas to retail, automobile and manufacturing. Can you tell us more about this?

I started my career in the automobile industry before transiting to the oil and gas sector as a process engineer. I have gained experience and expertise in the retail sector. Currently, I am helping organizations and businesses in the consumer goods sector, optimize their processes to become more efficient and productive to deliver value to their consumers.

With your expertise in business operations, helping businesses optimize their processes, operations and models for increased efficiency and productivity, how can you evaluate Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) growth in Nigeria?

The growth of SMEs in Nigeria is on a steady rise but hampered by a lot of difficulties and challenges.  SMEs constitute about 90 percent of all the businesses in Nigeria creating more than 80 percent of employment in the country. The contribution and growth of SMEs have been known across different parts of the world to be the backbone of major economies through employment opportunities and income generation. In the case of Nigeria, SMEs have performed below expectation due to a combination of problems which ranges from unfavorable business and environmental related factors, capability issues, instability of governments and changes in policies. SMEs will only be able to perform its critical role of driving sustainable growth and development as it is done in developed countries if it is given the needed support and momentum it deserves. SMEs have greater potentials in Nigeria and with the right support they can leap into global businesses and contribute significantly to the Nigeria Economy.

From your experience in helping SMEs, what are the biggest challenges affecting them?

Apart from the external factors which are beyond the control of the SMEs, Business Structuring and Management is a fundamental issue with Nigerian businesses. According to statistics, most businesses do not survive or transcend the life of the business owner. There are no clear transition plans and strategies to ensure business sustainability. Most businesses in Nigeria usually revolve around the business owners and in the advent of death or difficult situations, their business also goes underground or into extinction. We have seen a lot of businesses in the early 2000s that were thriving but have gone into extinction. We need more African businesses especially that of Nigerian ones to think of building sustainable businesses which will transcend the lifetime of the business owners and one way to ensure this is by implementing the right structure, processes and systems early in the businesses. This is one edge the developed world has over us. They have transition plans, systems in place which allow their businesses to survive different business challenges and be in operation for a long time after they are long gone.

How can the government address some of these challenges?

The government will have to create an enabling environment and create favorable policies that can support the growth of SMEs. More so, the business owners must take the responsibility to acquire the right capability to ensure their business is organized in a structured manner for growth and sustainability.

Tell us about your mentoring programme in raising the next generation of female leaders and the inspiration behind it?

I am a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) mentor for young girls empowering the next generation of female leaders in STEM. Having spent over a decade in the industry, my giving back initiative is to support young girls to achieve their career aspirations. We have few role models for girls in STEM and that is because the number is not encouraging especially in male dominated environments. More women keep leaving the STEM careers either at entry or middle careers due to several factors from stereotypes to unconscious bias and unfavorable workplace culture. We need more support systems and mentoring to support young girls to navigate their careers early on while balancing their family life and work.

COVID-19 has disrupted a lot of business activities forcing entrepreneurs to take drastic steps in order to remain in business. The preventive measures taken by the government has left start-ups as one of the most vulnerable. What innovative ways do think start-ups can take to remain less vulnerable and win in this tough situation?

It is important for startups at this moment to understand that the business terrain has changed and most businesses going forward must embrace the use of digitals and ability to do businesses online. This will lead to significant reduction of fixed costs of most businesses. Therefore, it is important for business owners to re-evaluate their operating and business models and pivot if necessary. As a result of the rise of artificial intelligence and the digital economy, there will be further disruption in the future, and it is only the businesses that are prepared that will remain and keep doing business.

What survival tips would you suggest could ensure the sustainability of SMEs in Nigeria?

SMEs must acquire the right capabilities, competencies, structure to enable them remain in business. In terms of sustainability, SMEs must collaborate with one another and leverage the strength of one another in order to benefit from the economy of scale, reduce their cost of doing business and edge the stiff competition from larger companies.

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