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From Panel Beater, To Tanker Driver… — The Interesting Story Of Gastab CEO
Alhaji Saheed Omogbolahan Adigun, Chairman and Chief Executive of Gastab Group of Companies, is also the Deputy Chairman of Lagos Zone of Petroleum Tanker Drivers (PTD) branch of Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG). Among other issues, he shares with Nigerian Tribune’s Sulaimon Olanrewaju how having a mentor propelled him to success in business.
How did you start your business?
After I left secondary school, my parents could no longer support me in school, so I opted to train as a panel beater. Even after completing my training, getting money to buy the needed equipment to start the business was not easy. It was while I was waiting to raise funds to buy the equipment to start my panel beating vocation that a neighbour told me about an opening for the training of petrol tanker drivers at Khalil & Dibbo Transport Limited, Ibadan. Initially, my father didn’t want me to do it, but after a while he agreed for me to get trained as a tanker driver.
While undergoing training at Khalil & Dibbo, I realized that there were many opportunities for tanker drivers to make legitimate income on the sidelines. From that time, I decided that if I was fortunate to be employed by the company, I would not waste those opportunities. Luckily for me, after my training, I was employed by the company as a tanker driver. That was around 1987. Right from the beginning, I had plans about what I wanted to do. As soon as I could, I started saving money. Within about two years, I had saved over N1million. I am talking about 1990. I decided to invest the money in a truck. I asked around and I was told that I could get a FIAT truck from the Republic of Benin for N1.25million. The money I had saved was N1.15million. So, I gave out the whole money for the purchase of the truck. But I was duped. I never saw the person again. I lost the entirety of my first saving.
It was painful but I was undeterred. I started saving again. When I had enough money, I bought a truck head that was put up for sale, just the head without an engine. I didn’t have the money to buy a whole engine, so I engaged a mechanic to assemble the engine. When the engine was ready, I hired a tanker to be joined with it. I hired a driver to drive the truck, while I was still working with Khalil & Dibbo. That is how I started the business. The business started on November 5, 1992. It took almost a year before I could buy a tanker.
From my income as a Khalil & Dibbo staff and revenue from my truck, I began planning to get another truck. I first deposited for the tanker because back then, it took about two months to build a tanker. I then tried to buy the truck head but it was a bit difficult. So, I approached Otunba Salmon Oladiti, who got me admitted to a cooperative-like group known as Club 90 at NNPC, Apata, Ibadan. In that club, if you save N100,000, you can access N200,000. I was able to raise the money to buy the truck head from the club. So, I had two trucks. In the spate of about four years, I already had up to six trucks. At this point in time, the revenue from the six trucks at a time was enough to buy another truck. That is how my haulage business started. We thank God for how far He has brought us. I have really enjoyed the mercy of Allah and I am most grateful to Him.
At what point did you leave Khalil & Dibbo?
I didn’t leave Khalil & Dibbo until the original owners of the company left Nigeria. When the management of the company got to know through some envious colleagues that that I had my own fleet of trucks that were lifting PMS for another company, one of the top management staff, Mr Imad, asked me to bring my trucks to Khalil &Dibbo Yard. He said since I had been working with the company, I had always performed well. I was even afraid that I would be sacked but that didn’t happen. That is how my trucks got to Khalil & Dibbo Yard. I was earning salary at the company and I still had trucks working for the company. At that time, I had 16 trucks.
How did you get into petroleum products marketing?
God helped us to grow the haulage business to the point of having hundreds of trucks. I then thought of building a trailer park. We got about five acres along the Lagos-Ibadan express road. Not too far from the trailer park, there was an old filling station. Shortly after we got to the park, the filling station owner offered to sell it to us. I bought it. My initial intention was to make it a diesel depot for our trucks. But at the time we bought it, there was scarcity of PMS. Some of my trucks were supplying PMS to filling stations but they were not selling to members of the public, rather they were hoarding and selling at black market rates. I didn’t like that at all. I then decided to go into PMS retailing to ease the stress that members of the public were being subjected to. So, instead of using that filling station as diesel depot for my trucks, we turned it into a full scale filling station. Right from the beginning, we resolved to sell at rock bottom prices. That has remained the pattern. But the astounding part of the story is that despite selling at very low prices, Gastab filling station has been on the increase. Shortly after that, we built another one at Oke Ado. The mega station that we inaugurated last Friday is the ninth one and there are many others in the pipeline.
How is it possible for you to sell petroleum products even below the recommended rates?
My belief is that the essence of business is to make life easy for others, not to fleece them. This is my business principle. I do not believe that I have to optimize profit. This principle is borne out of two factors; the fear of God and the lesson I learnt from Chief Salmon Oladiti. I don’t believe businesses exist just to make money; I believe businesses exist to meet needs and bring ease to their customers. A business that makes profit its focus will not last the distance. So, at Gastab our desire is to make our customers happy, we make sure that we offer high quality products and services at very competitive prices. As a result, with a little margin, we are okay.
Your stations are usually specially designed and huge. Why?
There are three reasons for this. The first is that we want to beautify the landscape of Ibadan. It is our own humble way of adding to the beauty of the city. If you get to our New Garage station, it is not just a filling station, it is a community centre. We deliberately made it so to enhance the beauty of that area. The same thing with our new Ojo/Shasha station. With this, we are boosting the economy of those areas.
The second reason is to create employment opportunities for many people. You cannot employ a person for a non-existing job. We make most of our stations mega, to create employment opportunities for our people. If you have a small station, you employ a small number of people. If you have a big station, of course you are going to need more hands.
The third reason is for us to be able to serve more people. Our new station at Ojo/Shasha can attend to about 40 motorists at a time. That means people do not have to queue for long to get served. This reduces waiting time and increases productivity.
You have mentioned the name of Chief Salmon Oladiti a couple of times. What is the relationship between the two of you?
Chief Salmon Akanni Oladiti is my father and mentor. He is a pillar of support to many people, especially in our industry. He is a role model to many of us. Specifically, he taught me the fundamentals of business. He taught me about the need to scale up business. He imparted to me the virtue of hard work. He does not believe in free money; his belief is that the harder you work, the easier it is for you to make it in life. So, he has helped me to grow. He has molded me. I can say that I owe much of my success to his mentoring. I pray that God will continue to enrich him. I also pray that he will never know a better yesterday.
What are the challenges you have faced over the years?
There have been many challenges but I have learnt over the years to look beyond the challenges and make my vision the focus. I told you, at my first attempt in business, I lost over N1million. The value of that today is over N15m. Was that not enough for one to back out? But if I had backed out would I be able to share the success story today? Looking beyond the problem is one of the virtues I learnt from my mentor, Chief Oladiti. No matter the issue; accidents, disappointments, whatever it is, he will always be calm. If it is an accident, his concern will be the safety of those involved. Once, there is no loss of life, he will not lose his cool.
I have come to learn that in business, and even in life as a whole, there will be challenges. I have had my share of these; I have been betrayed, I have been slandered, people have ganged up against me, I have lost money and I have missed opportunities, but I don’t allow any of these to weigh me down. If you allow challenges to weigh you down, you are out. But if you look beyond the challenges, you will bounce back, it is just a matter of time.
You are currently the Deputy Chairman of Petroleum Tanker Drivers. How did your journey into unionism start?
It started around 2004. I was still at Khalil & Dibbo. At Mobil Depot Unit in Lagos, the chairmanship of Petroleum Tanker Drivers Branch of NUPENG was usually zoned. At that time, Khalil & Dibbo was agitating for it to be zoned to the company and that one of the drivers would be the chairman. I was not interested in any post but the members wanted me. Knowing that I would decline, they reported me to one of our elders, Baba Ajibi. He invited me to his office and asked why I wasn’t interested. I told him I would be travelling to Saudi Arabia on holy pilgrimage. He asked for my passport to see if he would also be able to make the trip. I innocently gave him my passport. He then seized it and directed me to heed the call of my colleagues. At that point, I had no choice but to run. I contested and won. Thus, I became PTD chairman for Mobil Depot. I thank God that we had a successful tenure. With the support of PTD National Chairman, Chief (Dr) Salmon Akanni Oladiti, I became the Deputy Chairman for Lagos Zone of the PTD.
What is the role of PTD in ensuring adequate supply of PMS to all parts of Nigeria?
PTD plays a major role in PMS availability across the country because we move the product. PTD cooperates with other stakeholders to ensure that Nigeria is properly served. You must have observed that in recent times, we have not been having fuel scarcity. That is principally because of the leadership we have at the national level of PTD. Chief Salmon Oladiti has really transformed the association by introducing proper structure and capacity development. Members are properly trained to guard against reckless driving, they undergo regular medical checkup to ensure that they are medically fit and do not constitute any threat to members of the society. We must also recognize the contribution of NUPENG president, Comrade Williams Akporeha, the General Secretary, Comrade Afolabi Olufemi, and the executive members. We also have to acknowledge the role of Mr Tunji Oyebanji, MD of 11Plc and Chairman of Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN), as well as zonal chairmen of PTD, especially my chairman, Comrade Akinlolu Olabisi.
What is the focus of Alhaji Saheed Omogbolahan Adigun Foundation?
God has really helped me considering my background. I never imagined that I would get to where I am today. So, the Foundation is my way of helping others to rise in life. We support widows, orphans and the less privileged. We give scholarships to indigent students, we support artisans to start their businesses, and we sponsor pilgrims to Saudi Arabia and Jerusalem. It is just our own little way of bringing succor to those who are hurting and helping those with visions to actualize their dreams.