By Udeme Akpan, Energy Editor
TECHNICALLY, there are very few businessmen in Africa with tremendous capacity like Mr. George Onafowokan, the Managing Director/CEO of Coleman Technical Industries Limited, who is also the immediate past chairman of the Electrical and Electronic Sector of the Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria, MAN.
Unlike many investors who simply import and sell products in Nigeria, Mr. Onafowokan, currently one of the executives of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, LCCI, is committed to manufacturing in order to create employment, empowerment, technology transfer, and other multiplier effects in Nigeria.
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Instead of establishing a new organisation, Mr. Onafowokan, who believes in continuity, decided to take over the leadership of Coleman Technical Industries Limited, which his father, Asiwaju Onafowokan (Remo Kingdom), had established as a small family business in 1996. In the past 20 years, George has successfully driven the company to become a $1 billion investment with a strong focus on becoming another ‘Dangote’ in Africa’s cable production. He set out by creating and heading a technical committee to review/audit the structure, systems, staff, and management of the company.
Armed with the recommendations of the committee, which noted the cable needs of different sectors of Nigeria’s economy, Mr. Onafowokan, developed action plans, including the recruitment and training of adequate human capital to produce specialised cables, the first ever to be done by an indigenous company.
However, determined to deepen manufacturing in Nigeria, the company decided not to market or sell any product it could not manufacture locally, thus compelling it to expand faster than other companies in the sector. Mr. Onafowokan, currently the chairman of MAN in Ogun State, insisted on producing only quality products in order to reduce or completely eliminate accidents in Nigeria and other African nations. Unlike in the past, when cables were perceived as premium products, Mr. Onafowokan insisted on producing quality and affordable products, mainly through building the right size of factories, which took him almost 15 years.
Mr. Onafowokan has been able to meet the cable needs sector-wide through the production of power cables, small specialised cables, TV cables, oil and gas instrumentation cables, and high-voltage cables for transmission and distribution. He intentionally delayed all forms of gratification, reinvesting almost 95 per cent of the company’s earnings back into the business for about 20 years, which enabled the company to buy new machines and build new factories.
Under his watch, the company, which is still growing, has emerged as the biggest cable company not only in Nigeria and West Africa but technically in Africa. Mr. Onafowokan has not stopped, but currently retains more than 70 per cent of the company’s earnings because of his strong commitment to building a business capable of lasting beyond his generation. He has led the company to start a new fibre optic cable factory, a 288-core fibre-cable plant that will make it one of the biggest producers on the continent. Mr. Onafowokan is currently planning a groundbreaking for phase two, targeting an increase in capacity of another six million fibres, which will then make it the biggest fibre optic producer in Africa.
Mr. Onafowokanhas began to export the company’s products not only to West African nations, but also to other parts of Africa, as production increased. While inadequate and unstable power and the high cost of diesel have scuttled the operations of many companies, Mr. Onafowokan had the foresight to establish a gas-powered plant in 2015, thus guaranteeing constant supply to the plant at a cheaper cost. With the company’s independent power supply, Colman runs uninterrupted operations that provide regular supplies to domestic and foreign markets. Mr. Onafowokan has over the years sourced almost all the company’s raw materials from Nigeria, thus enhancing local content and empowering indigenous suppliers.
He has provided numerous employment and dealership opportunities for Nigerians, thus helping to place food on the tables of many households and other stakeholders. Mr. Onafowokan has ensured the continual improvement of processes and service delivery through staff development, motivation, and the creation of a conducive work environment with the goal of achieving the utmost customer satisfaction.
Under his watch, the company has provided some corporate social responsibility projects to host communities in Ogun State. These and many other feats would have been impossible without good education and experience. He holds a combined bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance from Manchester Metropolitan University and a postgraduate degree in management and information systems from the University of Salford, United Kingdom, U.K. Onafowokan had worked in Packard Bell UK, PC World UK, and later at Gem International UK Limited as Managing Director before returning to Nigeria in 2002. Clearly, Mr. Onafowokan, who has demonstrated that despite Nigeria’s difficult environment, success in business could still be achieved if the right decisions are made and timely executed is currently inspiring and mentoring young entrepreneurs in Nigeria and other African nations.
Indeed, these and other feats culminated in his emergence as Vanguard Businessman of the Year in 2022.
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