We Want to Change the Perception of Transportation Business – Chidi Ajaere, chief executive officer, God Is Good group of companies
At age 21 when his peers were still sowing their wild oats and depending on their parents, Chidi Ajaere was literally forced to grow up; assuming not just the position of the father of the house, but also the chairmanship of God Is Good, GIG, business empire. The sudden death of his father, Edwin Ajaere, in the hands of some daredevil kidnappers on March 17, 2009, changed the course of his life, placing on his young shoulders, the responsibility of carrying on the family business from where his father left off. Ajaere, who turned 25 in June 28, is no doubt well equipped for the task of running the businesses. With two bachelors of science degrees in Business Administration and International Business Studies from Canada and a postgraduate degree in International Business Studies from Griffith University, Australia, Ajaere is no doubt set to take the GIG Group with interests in transportation, oil and gas marketing, real estate as well as microfinance, to loftier heights. The flagship of the conglomerate is the popular God Is Good Motors which Ajaere says boasts of over “450 vehicles active on the road every day.” In this interview with Adekunbi Ero, general editor, Ajaere unfolds groundbreaking plans to rule the transport business with innovations. Excerpts:
Finding yourself as the chief executive officer of GIG business conglomerate at 21 when you were perhaps least prepared for it, what were the challenges that you had to contend with?
Enormous, the challenges are enormous especially in the kind of business that we are in. We are into a couple of businesses like transportation, oil and gas marketing, real estate, and microfinancing. Initially, when I took over active management, it was difficult because I decided to come up with long-term plan like 10-year basic vision for the group and it was kind of difficult bringing the managers together to effect these changes. But I led by example; I was able to take the bull by the horns and it was easier for them to actually fall in line. Now, we are getting in tune with the vision and where we are taking the business to. The other challenges are the normal everyday challenges that people and businesses face – insecurity, bad roads, poor electricity supply in running businesses. So, basically, I will just break the challenges to human resource, getting the right people to actually do the job and poor infrastructure.
The death of your father at the age of 45 was so sudden and most traumatic given the circumstances. What lesson about life has this experience taught you?
Well, the lesson that experience taught me is immeasurable; I can’t express it in words. But one of the serious lessons it taught me was that life is very short and while we live in it, we should live it selflessly. We should be able to contribute to humanity, things that would outlive us. We shouldn’t just concentrate on ourselves; we should reach out to the under-privileged because we don’t know when the time to leave will come. And when it comes, what will people remember you for. Even though my dad’s life was not very long, in his short years, 45, he was able to achieve a lot of things that I am sure in those moments, he would have been very proud of. And he would have been very proud of the fact that he raised very disciplined children. He took time to raise us. You know, when he disciplined us, sometimes, we used to say our dad was too harsh, wicked and all that, but we loved him in spite of it. But now, we see the relevance of those things he inculcated in us and we appreciate those things more now. Wherever he is, he will be very happy. So, I have learnt to just live my life selflessly and to grow the business, earn money and help humanity. It has taught me love also. I am closer to my family – my brothers and my mum. They are basically like my best friends.
Most one-man businesses die with their founders but yours has continued to grow from strength to strength, particularly the God Is Good Motors. Is there anything you are doing differently?
I think the first thing I will say is structure. Now, the idea of sustainability like the continuation of business legacy is dependent on both sides like the founder and whoever is going to take over. There are various reasons why this happens. Probably the founder didn’t set enough structure on ground for whoever is going to take over or may be the founder did set enough structure on ground but whoever is supposed to take over wasn’t interested in taking over or the founder wasn’t able to identify a suitable person to take over. I mean, it’s only in Nigeria that people say it’s only the first child or this or that. In our family business, if I wasn’t interested and I have capable younger brothers that probably would be able to run it, why not. Even if they are not interested, we could recruit somebody to do that job. And then in my own case, I will say love for the founder really matters. We greatly miss him; he was our mentor. Fortunately for me, I was very close to him and I understood where he was going to and the kind of empire he wanted to build. He was very passionate about building something and giving back to society. My father was somebody I had a lot of love for and he always carried me, my brothers and my mother along in the business and made us fall in love with it. Because I understood where he wanted to go to, so, when I came in, it was easy for me to actually continue the business from there. What happened was that I decided to run faster than probably he did because he believed so much in me. My dad used to call me a machine. He was very proud of me and all I also want to do is to make him proud too.
I love what I’m doing; I love working in my family business, I love leading this business and because I have love and passion for it, it makes it easier for me. So, I think for a business to succeed, from the founder to whoever is going to take over, that person has to have love, has to have passion for the business. He has to be ready to work and have a vision and back it up with hard work.
The transportation business is a very competitive one. What is the strategy that has made you stand out among others?
Well, there are many things we are doing that I believe others are not doing. First, our staff are well-motivated. Financially, we are able to motivate them. We also invest a lot in training them which also helps them. Apart from helping us, it helps them develop their skills and they are always very appreciative that we spend money to train them.
What kind of training do you give them?
We have external training and we have internal training. We have people that we invite to train them in-house for a couple of days. And then we also send them out on training. For a couple of years now, we’ve been sending some of our senior managers out of the country, like Dubai, to actually train and expose them to new ways of doing things. Also in the country, we bring in first grade consultants to train them especially in customer satisfaction, customer care and leadership qualities. The whole idea is to change the way people perceive transporters and the business. Before now, when you tell people you are a transporter, they think you are an agbero. How do we change that? I don’t want my company to be seen in such derogatory light and I don’t want to be perceived as an agbero. So, we decided to adopt a new model. We invested in infrastructure and on our staff. When you go to most of our terminals where we operate now, we can tell you proudly that we own the best transport facilities around; a place where people can go, sit down in our cosy lounge; or visit our restaurant to eat. Our staff in the transport industry are the best dressed. Our senior managers have official cars; these are not obtainable in other transport companies. These help to reshape how people see transport business. And I am happy that people are actually copying what we have on ground.
Talking about the vision for the GIG Group, where exactly are you taking it to?
I told you earlier we are into a number of businesses. The basic vision for the transport company for example, the God Is Good Motors, which you all know, is that I decided to set a standard, set a pace to be the leader in transportation through the right customer service; absolute customer satisfaction. I decided to carve a niche for ourselves because I wanted to pioneer a transport model that is obtainable outside the country. I came into the system, I saw what was on ground; you see a situation whereby people wanted to board a vehicle and they had to deal with the guys they call agberos. You had to deal with insecure public environment to board their buses and I decided to come in and change most of these things. Many people could not understand and they say so, why people in government, governors, our presidents, when they go out of the country and they see how things are done out there, why can’t they replicate it here. And in my own sector, the private sector, I decided to look and see what I can do in my own little world to make a difference and I found how it’s being done out there and I decided to create our own model after what is obtainable out there and we started building gradually. We started placing emphasis on customer service; customer service is basically the engine of this business. I mean when somebody pays you his money, you need to treat him with utmost respect. That is the training we give to our drivers; we call them captains by the way. When somebody is paying you money for service, you have to give him the best service until he gets to his destination. You have to treat your customers as kings. The same thing we are doing in transport we are also doing in oil and gas, we are also doing in real estate and microfinance. So basically, our plan is to conquer the southern region of Nigeria. Right now, we’ve been able to achieve about 40 per cent of the southern region and we are still pushing.