I aborted my master’s degree to be a first class entrepreneur

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He had an apparently clear path marked for him to become an egghead. Graduating top of his class from the Federal University of Technology, Minna, Jude Abalaka, Managing Director Tranos Contracting, was expected to return for post graduate degree and possibly a career in the academics.

But the Physics graduate and engineer decided to take a different path. After national service, he partnered his friend to establish a fledging company that had to compete with big names in the oil and gas industry. Surprisingly, they succeeded.

Then Abalaka went solo to set up his own firm, which has today become an octopus. In this interview with Inspire, the entrepreneur, tells the story of his rise.

Did you see yourself becoming an entrepreneur?

Straight from my NYSC, I had always been an entrepreneur. I started a company called Nadebo Energy, with a friend of mine in 2002.  I was there as a director until 2009 before I moved on. What I was doing at Nadebo Energy was more of oil and gas engineering projects. Then we did a project with Total. We were the only Nigerian company on the project and we delivered it on time and below budget. Those projects are still running on floating production and storage unit.

What has your upbringing to do with your decision?

After I left the Federal University of Technology, Minna, graduating as the best student, everybody thought I was going to acquire my Master’s degree, but I stayed back to start the company with my friend, because I saw a lot of potentials. I decided to be an entrepreneur because it gives you the ability to create what regular job can’t give you. What I was looking at was to create an avenue for people who would be free to become the best of what they could be, building a company was not about making money.  If the company is good, money will come. Money was not the attraction, but leaving a legacy was.

Building Tranos

There’s always that time and chance to build a name and a company. When we started, our customers were people I knew personally. They were four or five customers. Because I had already had a lot of experience in oil and gas, I brought it into work. As I said, I put diversity into it, then the business boomed as we diversified, the space we had in Victoria Island became small, then we moved to a larger space in Ilupeju, now we are in Ogba which is larger than the other two. We have moved from oil and gas into other things, because the other small companies that we were ignoring were giving us income as well and we embraced them for many reasons. The oil and gas business comes once in a while and the procedure is quite tedious, but other ones take less time.

So you are not a generator-making company per se?

Not really, we are solution-focused company. We have a customer we have produced hybrid-generating set for. We did that because there was a clear problem that requires us to produce that. We do contract manufacturing, we have all it takes to say we are a generator-making factory, but that will be narrowing our capability. We started with engineering and automation, but now, we have combined that with a world class manufacturing standard. If someone comes now that he wants a thousand server rack, we would build it for the person, the same thing for some who want a distribution panel, we have the same capability that can help in both cases. We don’t want to see ourselves as a generator-making company, we are more than that, because we have unique capabilities that can do various projects.

What sacrifice did you make to get here?

My philosophy is that to achieve something I need to put my all. I can’t really tell you what I missed out. I just knew I was heading towards something great and all I had to do was to do what was needful.

Your company will be a decade old soon, what are your success factors?

I personally have been on this journey for 15 or 16 years, I think, we first started servicing oil and gas specifically and we’ve done a lot. Talking about my own personal experience, I’m a physicist by training, and I’ve attended many phases of training, LBS that is Lagos Business School, Cambridge Georgia, the business school for engineering in Cambridge, a number of them. In the last 15 years, I can say I’ve been through many trainings, not just the training in a classroom environment, but experiences as well.  I mentioned that we started servicing oil and gas and we’ve done quite an extensive work in oil and gas. We did some work for Shell, through another customer of ours, we built for them automated generator, which we commissioned, some months ago. We’ve done work for a containment system, it’s a large one, you might not notice it from the picture, but that thing is about 15 tonnes, quite heavy and large, it was actually used for pipeline repairs.

What are the challenges?

I don’t see challenges, I see opportunities. The shortage in power supply is an avenue for us to build more generators.  In the Telecom industry as well, we’ve done a lot, I remember that we had this customer who we were doing some other things for and we noticed that they kept on having issues with their power system, so we took it upon ourselves to do some experimentation, to understand their problems and find solution. It was sometime in 2015. I think that we finally found the solution and we deployed them last year. So, right now, we have close to 2,000 sites with their systems and I’m not just talking about generators, their power systems, I’m talking about systems that are hybrid, they are automated, so we have sites that have generators connected with solar systems, so you don’t need to run the generator all the time, when there is solar energy it uses solar and turns off the generator.

A company as big as yours needs trusted personnel. How are you able to monitor things?

We’ve had a lot of experience. I personally, and my team, talking about my team, we like employing young Nigerians.  Younger Nigerians have this hunger to learn and for us that’s what we look for, these are one of the things you see us doing, it’s not about me, it’s really not me, it is not like I came out and said let’s do this and we’re doing it, they are actually even the ones coming up with ideas, even challenging themselves to achieve these things. I think right now we’re close to 100 or so  employees, and for each of these people, we look for certain qualities.            

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