Temitope Joseph, executive director, Tebenaj Automobile Solutions Limited, in this interview with KELECHI EWUZIE stresses the need for organisations and government to address the issue of capacity in specialised sectors to boost national productivity. Excerpt:
I hold a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from Babcock University and an MBA from the Lagos Business School. From my undergraduate days up until I enrolled for the MBA programme, I had worked with a private indigenous company, Samdor Associates, where I was involved in all aspects of business activities; from customer relations and retention to marketing to employee motivation, operations to mention a few. It was a small organisation; however it had massive influence in shaping my career path in business administration.
After my MBA degree, I worked with Procter & Gamble, a multinational company, as consumer market knowledge manager for West Africa. It was a very interesting and eye-opening experience for me in the corporate world. In the midst of these I got married and started raising my family.
I would like to add that my MBA degree presented a platform of learning and exposure for me. The MBA from the Lagos Business School is not the usual MBA offered in these parts of the world; given the case study methodology used. The LBS MBA offers you a practical approach to business management.
I would say my inspiration comes from the challenges involved in running this kind of business, and also the fact that the automobile industry in Nigeria is very young and there is still a lot to be done. The most important motivating factor for me is the fact that it’s a male dominated industry and most times I want to prove that a woman can also do what a man can do. That by itself pushes and drives me.
Tebenaj Automobile Solution is a professional one-stop modern automobile solutions facility co-owned by my husband and I. It was established in 2012 to provide world class vehicle repairs and maintenance solutions to both individuals and corporate organisations.
We are a customer oriented workshop with commitment to excellence. If you examine the Nigerian automobile industry, especially the maintenance aspect you will notice there is a need for quality and professional service. And only the industry leaders and dealers have been able to provide these making it out of reach of the average Nigerian.
Tebenaj Automobile solution was established to bridge this gap by providing quality and professional services at affordable rates to the average Nigerian. Our automobile industry is very young when compared to what obtains in other developed economies.
Though other big players also have the tools and equipment, we bring other value added services at much more affordable rates. That is one of the things that single us out from other big players.
Also, what differentiates us out from other players is our philosophy of customer (vehicle owner) and consumer (vehicle) first; hence everything we do is tailored towards customer satisfaction. No amount of marketing can be productive if the customers interest doesn’t come first.
Our operation and diagnosis of the likely faults from any vehicle brought to us is 40 percent done with computers while 60 percent consist of human interface, by this, Diagnosis are accurate and repairs done are faster and more accurate. The industry has a long way to go, but with new players like us in the industry, things will move up.
The challenges that we face at inception are different from the challenges we are facing now. Back then we faced a lot of challenges that I wouldn’t say are peculiar to the business, rather they are common to businesses in Nigeria based on the environment we operate. The electrical challenge is there, resources meant to develop the business had to be diverted to acquire a generating set and Transformer. Financial challenges, even security too are an issue. However, we have tried as much as possible to work around and overcome most of these challenges.
Today, another major issue we experience is that of human resource. Most Nigerian schools don’t offer automobile technology as a course, they either offer electrical or mechanical engineering or the likes which has put a strain on organisation like ours getting capable hands. Hence we have had to severally train, and also encourage our technicians to unlearn those things that negate the modern approach to automobile repairs.
Again our educational system has really not helped because our universities don’t offer courses in automobile technology. What we discovered is; in place of that, we have just few technical schools in various localities which offer these automobile technology courses.
This is a major challenge but we have been able to overcome them by extensively retraining our technicians as soon as they are employed. We train them on the various new vehicle mechanisms and the use of these modern tools.
One thing I come across regularly is the fact that after training some of these technicians, they may want to move on to something bigger in future- which is truly encouraging, because it shows they have learnt significantly from us. We try to reduce this by making them responsible for others, the authority motivates them. The funny thing is our employee training also helps us retain staff, reason being avenues for professional automobile training in Nigeria are few.
Well my leadership style is what I refer to as hands on. It is participatory in the sense that it involves everyone in the organization. My leadership style is not strictly from top to bottom. I operate something I would like to call an open door policy where anybody can walk into my office and share experiences with me. I have a personal relationship with my staff and that has really worked well for me.
Dealing with competition
Competition, I will say, brings out the best in any organisation. If you are in any business, competition is good for you because it keeps you on your toes. By dealing with competition, what we have basically done is to establish a process where we get feedback from our clients at all times and also keep ourselves updated with the latest work techniques and systems.
Customer relation management is really key for us because through this interaction, we know what is happening in the industry and also our customers give feedback on repairs and their expectation from us. Through such comments and also regular researches, we look inward and map out strategies to better improve our services.
Work and family balance
That is a very tough question, however what I would say has helped me in balancing the two is discipline. At the inception of this business, I realised the business appeared to be taking a lot of my time.
You know when it’s your personal business you can even decide to work 24 hours, you just go on and on and on. I made concerted effort to ensure that I control the business and not the other way round. It’s not easy but by controlling the business I have tried as much as possible to set and obey my rules.
Apart from that, delegation and planning has really helped me create that work/Family balance. I delegate both at home and in the office. I don’t see anything wrong with delegating because through the process of delegating, you are training someone and you can also learn. Above all, I thank God for his grace and my very supportive and understanding husband.
In the next five years, I see the Tebenaj brand as one to be reckoned with in the automobile industry. At the moment the company’s operation revolves round vehicle maintenance and repairs and sales of OEM parts. However, I strongly believe there are other areas that can be leveraged on and we see the company playing in those areas. In our current capacity which is vehicle maintenance, I see us taking a top lead in the next five years.
Secondly, areas like automobile spare parts, training and education on automobile repairs, training and education for corporate organisations are areas we would explore more. There are so many opportunities in the long run.
Finally, after the next five years, we are looking at Tebenaj Automobile Solutions being globally relevant with the mindset to delve into dealerships, manufacturing of automobile parts and accessories etc.