My most recent trip to Abuja, the Nigerian federal capital, will go down on record as one of the most momentous in my professional and business career.
It brought me face to face with a man whom I’ve previously known only by reputation – a reputation he has rightly earned thanks to his undeniable pedigree as one of Nigeria’s most consequential business leaders, with giant footprints in several of the key sectors of the Nigerian economy.
My meeting with Dr. Taiwo Afolabi, MON, business entrepreneur, lawyer and Chairman of the SIFAX GROUP, gave me an insight, not just into his essential character as a man, his business acumen and his projections for his vast empire and for the Nigerian economy as a whole, but also into his modus operandi and overarching business model, his management of key resources such as time, money and people and how they all fit into the nature of the services his companies deliver to their clients and customers, and to the communities and interests they serve.
From its humble beginnings as a Lagos-based agency named SIFAX Nigeria Limited, which opened its doors in 1988, initially rendering services in freight forwarding, haulage and warehousing operations (as well as adjunct import and export support services), SIFAX Group has grown over the years into an indigenous Nigerian conglomerate with investments in a vast range of sectors, rendering the following services: Freight Forwarding (Sea & Air); Ports Operations; Haulage & Logistics; Groupage; Cargo Consolidation; Warehousing; Ship Agency; Ship Chartering; Stevedoring; Off-Dock Services; Airport Ground Operations; Packing & Removal; Marine Services; Importation & Sales of Crude; Plant Hire; Financial Services and Hospitality.
Under the dynamic and visionary leadership of Dr. Afolabi, the company has built a reputation for excellent service delivery anchored on the skills and commitment of a competent workforce deploying modern and state-of-the-art equipment. In line with its mission statement – which is to ‘build a sustainable, customer-centric business that optimises stakeholder value’, the SIFAX Group has deepened its consumer-focused philosophy that sees its tangible demonstration by way of tailor-made business solutions designed to not only respond to the best interests of consumers, but also to anticipate their needs and concerns well in advance.
In a constantly-changing global business environment, the ability to adapt to new realities, new work paradigms and potentially disruptive new technologies can make the difference between growth and stagnation, progress and retrogression, and between business dominance and the prospect of dwindling into irrelevance. In light of this, the management and staff of the SIFAX Group have cultivated the tradition of constantly reviewing the company’s processes and embracing innovation in a bid to stay ahead of the curve in the delivery of each customer’s unique needs.
It is no secret that beyond its extensive financial resources or the vast range of state-of-the-art equipment and facilities at its disposal, there is a deep understanding that the company’s greatest asset is its PEOPLE. In view of this, the SIFAX Group has created a work culture and environment that places a high premium on the satisfaction of its workforce – a policy that has over the years established the organisation as a corporate destination of choice for employees desirous of building rewarding and fulfilling careers. Attractive salaries, bonuses, allowances, health insurance and pension, among others, are some of the ways by which the SIFAX Group not only attracts the best talents but retains them over a long period of time. SIFAX is also big on career development, via staff training both locally and internationally, as well as regular, in-plant training sessions all-year-round.
One subsidiary of the SIFAX Group that can rightly be described as a jewel in the Group’s proverbial crown is the Skyway Aviation Handling Company Plc (SAHCO). Formerly known as Skypower Aviation Handling Company Limited (SAHCOL), the company is a shining example and a widely-acknowledged vindication of the principle that led the Federal Government of Nigeria to embark on a privatisation exercise spearheaded by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) some years back, and its merits as a component of a private sector-led economy. SAHCO was carved out of the liquidated Nigeria Airways Limited as part of the Federal Ministry of Aviation Reforms of 1996, and was handed over to the SIFAX Group by the FG on December 23, 2009 – after a keenly-contested privatization exercise in which the SIFAX Group was chosen as the preferred bidder. The company was listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange on the 23rd of April 2019.
Since then, SAHCO has amply demonstrated the rightness of the FG’s privatisation policy by embarking on, among other innovations, the development of business models geared towards achieving efficient and speedy service delivery. As an aviation ground handling company, SAHCO Plc has ensured a continuous upgrade in passenger, ramp, and cargo handling, as well as in warehousing and aviation security by deploying appropriate tools. An RA3 and ISAGO certified company, SAHCO has invested massively in personnel development, state-of-the-art equipment, fleet replacement, and massive infrastructural development. As a result, SAHCO is today a global brand that has won the heart of critical stakeholders in the aviation community, having received the highest international and local certifications, thanks to its ability to provide equipment and facilities that rank with the very best in the world.
It is no wonder, then, that even the BPE takes a proud and proprietary view of the success story of SAHCO Plc, even as the body strives to replicate the dynamics behind this success story in other enterprises. No wonder, also, that SAHCO is today the ground handler of choice and the leading aviation service provider in the West African sub-region. This former loss-making government-owned entity has gone on to win a plethora of awards, most notably that of “Best Performing Stock” for the year 2021, presentation with much fanfare at the 2022 Nigerian Investor Value Awards, in recognition of SAHCO’s stellar performance in creating value on the Nigerian Stock Exchange,i on the basis of its share price, dividend payments, sustainability, brand value, market leadership and business strategy.
There is no gainsaying the fact that a great part of the impetus for the success recorded by the SIFAX Group and it’s subsidiaries is down to the essential character of its Chairman, Dr. Taiwo Olayinka Afolabi, MON. Born on April 29, 1962, he hails from the community of Idokunusi Ijebu, in the Ijebu East LGA of what is now Ogun State of Nigeria. Dr. Afolabi was the first of a set of twins (the other being Kehinde, his now deceased sibling). He completed his primary and secondary school education at Ansar-ud-Deen Primary School in Ondo State, and Baptist Grammar School, Ibadan, respectively. He later proceeded to the University of Lagos, where he obtained an LL.B. in Law. Dr. Afolabi is also a Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Financial Management as well as of the Institute of Freight Forwarders of Nigeria.
His work life began in 1981 when he joined Nigerian Express Agencies Limited. He was there until 1988, when he left to establish the aforementioned SIFAX Nigeria Limited – the forerunner to today’s SIFAX Group.
As important as success and profit-making is to this business titan and his companies is the principle of giving back to society and giving a helping hand to vulnerable (but no less valuable) members of society. Over the years, Dr. Afolabi has scaled up his social investment in leaps and bounds – and the organisation he leads has positioned itself as a veritable exemplar in the area of philanthropy and corporate social responsibility. SIFAX Group has, among other engagements, donated a 1,000-seater Lecture Hall to the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) in Ogbomosho, Oyo State.
Over the years, Dr. Afolabi has garnered recognitions from reputable organisations across and beyond the shores of Nigeria for his accomplishments and interventions (both corporate and social) and for SIFAX Group’s multi-sectoral impact on the Nigerian economy. In recognition of his contribution to the Nigerian industrial sector, for example, he was presented with the 2014 “Businessman of the Year” Award by The Sun Newspapers. The Taiwo Afolabi Annual Maritime (or TAAM) Conference is organized in his honour by students of the University of Lagos and sponsored by SIFAX Group. In 2010, Dr. Afolabi was invested with the Nigerian National award of Member of the Order of the Niger by then-President Goodluck Jonathan, GCFR. He is a proud and active member of a number of prestigious organizations, namely, the Institute of Directors (IoD) Nigeria; the Ikoyi Club 1938; the IBB Golf Club, Abuja; the Building Committee of the Nigerian-British Chamber of Commerce and Industry, among others.
No less important to this high-flying business tycoon is his family life. He and his wife, Folashade Afolabi, are the parents of a daughter, Olayinka Afolabi and a son, Damilola Afolabi. (popularly known as L.A.X., a fast-rising Nigerian recording artist). An avid sports lover, Dr. Afolabi enjoys watching and playing football.
Of great interest to watchers of this great man’s trajectory is his recent venture into the nation’s leisure and hospitality industry – with the much-heralded establishment of the Lagos Marriott Hotel Ikeja, a magnificent 5-star affair boasting 206 guestrooms and 44 suites located along Joel Ogunnaike Road in the heart of the Lagos State capital, which, among other delights, offers guests expansive views of Ikeja and its environs. Since its lavish opening, the Lagos Marriott Hotel Ikeja, has raised the bar in the industry as a 21st century leisure establishment and conference venue with its serene exterior and the unparalleled splendour of its interior ambience showcasing the best of contemporary décor – not to mention that much-prized commodity in busy, congested Lagos: ample and free parking space. Located just over 3.1 km from the Murtala Muhammed Airport, the hotel has an outdoor swimming pool, a terrace, a restaurant and a bar offering some of the best cocktails in town, as well as a 24-hour front desk, airport transportation, and free WiFi throughout the property. The hotel offers its guests and conferees a rich sampling of delights delivered via modern facilities designed to make for a most memorable stay.
This uncompromising adherence to first-rate standards on the part of the Lagos Marriott Hotel Ikeja is simply in line with the tradition of excellence that has come to define the global Marriot brand and franchise – and its drive for greater investment in the growing leisure, hospitality and conferencing market on the African continent. Marriott’s development pipeline, especially through 2023, is estimated to drive investment of over $2 billion, a development expected to generate over 12,000 new jobs across the continent.
Talking about investment growth and the Marriott brand, Dr. Taiwo Afolabi has plans of his own, too. Thanks to his committment to exploring new frontiers and the growth-oriented philosophy of the SIFAX Group, the Marriott Hotel experience – as seen in his Lagos venture – will soon be replicated in Abuja. Industry watchers are already gushing over the prospect, saying it will change the face of hospitality in the federal capital.
Like most captains of industry, Dr. Afolabi is an ardent believer in the enormous potential of a private-sector led economy (as opposed to a centrally-controlled system) and its ability to deliver the desired economic benefits capable of exponentially improving living standards for families and communities in our country, creating jobs for our young people, and expanding the circle of opportunity for SMEs, startups, etc. From personal experience, and from long-standing economic indices, the decentralized (but rules-based) economic and business environment is preferable to an economy defined by monopolies in a society desirous of progress and sustainable growth.
One such personal experience played out during my Abuja meeting with Dr. Afolabi and his team. After our lunch at the Transcorp Hilton in Maitama, during which we discussed, among other issues, the reforms and overall policy direction of the new administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu (which Dr. Afolabi agreed will spur the desired growth if faithfully and intelligently implemented), we experienced an awkward, and potentially embarrassing moment when it came time to make payment for the meals and ancillary services. Apparently, such payments, as far as that establishment was concerned, couldn’t be made except through a particular bank’s payment channel and its preferred method. So if you didn’t have the digital resources to conform to that particular payment specification (which we didn’t) you were well and truly stuck (which we were). A clear, unbridled case of monopoly, if you ask me!
To make matters worse, the network that would’ve enabled an electronic transfer of funds was generally down. Needless to say, it was a highly unpleasant episode, not least because it nearly caused Dr. Afolabi to miss an extremely crucial meeting at another location.
In the end, though, we were able to persuade the hotel management to charge the cost of the aforementioned service to our accommodation bill in the hotel. And our blushes were saved. But one brutal but salutary lesson was brought home to us as a result of that episode – namely, the dangers of monopoly, in whatever guise it is presented. I have no way of knowing how many such leisure establishments (in Abuja, at least) are currently operating such an arrangement, or what the regulatory framework is, regarding same. But it seemed like a negation, at least to those of us who underwent that experience, of where our economy, and in particular the service sector, should be headed.
For one, it confirmed the SIFAX Group Chairman in his conviction on the urgent imperative of stamping his corporate footprint (in the form of the iconic Marriott brand and franchise, which, like the rest of the SIFAX Group, would promote an economic paradigm that puts the interest, welfare and convenience of the customer at the centre of its operations) – on the economic life of the nation’s capital city in the not-too-distant future.