Let’s begin the interview on this note: Can you tell us more about yourself, Mr. John Donnachie? What is your outlook of life? What principles of life do you espouse and which do you want the staff of IBEDC to also key or buy in into?
The key with approach to life and business is that of a value driven leadership (Do to others as you want done onto you). You need to have plans and goals built on adding value and improving the quality of life for all, to ensure you leave a legacy of human and social development.
When you were approached by the owners of IBEDC to be the MD/CEO of the company, what sort of impressions did you have about Nigeria, especially considering the unsavory/unpleasant image or perception of Nigeria by foreigners?
I have worked in Nigeria for 7 years, running two other companies before this role. For me, working in Nigeria had always been on the cards, after working and living in seven African countries over the past 20 years, it was inevitable that I would work in Nigeria,the country with the biggest opportunities in Africa.
What things or factors did you consider before you eventually made up your mind to come to Nigeria?
Essentially, the role presented a great opportunity to learn about new industries, the people and culture etc.
Tell us your impressions about Nigeria so far. Tell us about your experiences when you assumed leadership of IBEDC. What issues/challenges did you meet on the ground when you became MD/CEO? How have you gone about overcoming these issues?
I have loved been in Nigeria, when I got this role at IBEDC, I relocated with my family. My wife and 12 years old daughter are in Ibadan and love the environment. I have had many positive experiences and challenges, with the most challenging being the “rules” of engagement within the power sector. For example, we operate with a tariff that does not cover costs, even at a Gross Margin level. There are huge liquidity issues in the industry, we lose money even before we have paid salaries, we, therefore, have no funds critical investments for infrastructure like metering, transformers, upgrade and rehabilitation of substations etc. We cannot borrow from local financial institutions as the financial position does not allow them to invest in the sector. This, in turn, sends a very negative signal to foreign investors, so they don’t also invest. To resolve these issues, we need to work as an industry (together) using facts and not assumptions in any calculations which is the case currently.
IBEDC came into existence in November 2013.That will be 5 years in 2018. One of the major issues your company faced was terrible shape of electricity infrastructure. What is IBEDC doing to overcome this challenge? What are the levels of IBEDC’s investments in infrastructure in order to boost its services to customers?
We have invested over N20billion to date in infrastructure upgrades and rehabilitation, as you know we inherited a lot of obsolete infrastructure, we have overhauled and strengthened over 450km of overhead lines and cables. We have metered all our MD customers and over 250,000 residential customers and diversified our payment channels. We have also introduced a new billing platform, rehabilitated our customer care offices, invested in safety gears and equipment for technical staff. Most recently we commenced the Asset and Customer enumeration exercise (ACE), a project that will gulp over N5billion.
Please tell our readers candidly; what are the challenges of managing major business companies in Nigeria as you presently face? Indeed, foreign MD/CEOs like you are often shocked about the basic challenges such as lack of funds by banks to critical sectors like electricity. These things are taken for granted in USA, Europe or Asia. How do you lead IBEDC in overcoming its funding challenges?
The main issue is perception and personal agendas. I drive fact based discussions as I have no political or personal preferences. My goal is to please my customers, shareholders and the Nigerian public.
As stated in our letter to you on Well-Respected Expatriate CEOs, Nigerians hardly know and therefore cannot appreciate what foreign professionals like you are doing to help Nigeria in its development. We say “well-done” to foreign CEOs like you. We ask: in what ways can Nigeria assist or enable the private sector contribute its quota to national development? What are those specifics that our nation should pay attention to so as to realize our economic potential as a nation?
We need to ensure we develop and implement the right polices, to create a conducive environment for businesses to thrive. We need to ensure sanctity of contracts, do business in line with the agreements in the contract, generally be true to our objectives within the rules of the game. Also by working together across the value chain can we solve issues.
What are you doing to combat challenges such as electricity theft and poor collections?
This issue is not just Nigeria, it is the whole of Africa with few exceptions, we need to change the attitude of customers to payment for basic services, like electricity and water. Most consumers don’t understand the cost of electricity and we have 47% of our customer either illegally connected or involved in some form of energy theft – by passing or not paying. This must change for the sector to grow and develop.
How have you been able to bring your expertise working in several organization across the world to bear in your present position as MD/CEO, IBEDC?
The key focus for me in the daily running of the business is to agree fully with my Board and management team on the business focus and strategy. Develop detailed plans and invest, whilst supporting and driving the team to achieve through constant monitoring and breaking down barriers for them to deliver on the agreed goals.
Recently, NERC issued a new Meter Asset Providers regulation, what is do you think about this? What is IBEDC doing to meter more customers?
The new regulation. We have always been committed to metering our customers, and have been doing this, despite the challenges. As a major stakeholder in the industry we are open to any policy or regulation that the government believes will move the industry forward. However, I find it difficult to understand why Discos cannot manage this aspect fully, because metering is a major component of our business and the service level agreement.