Olufemi Solanke is the Chief Executive Officer of Excel Pro Concepts, A Solar Engineering and Publicity outfit in Nigeria, which is a subsidiary of Excel Energy Limited, United Kingdom. In this chat with Public Faces Magazine, he bares his mind on the education in Nigeria, his business and other sundry issues.
Kindly introduce yourself for the sake of our readers who may be reading about you for the first time?
My name is Olufemi Solanke. I am the Chief Executive Officer, Excel Pro Concept Limited. It’s a subsidiary of the Excel energy Limited UK, which has its headquarters in Darlington, United Kingdom.
Share with us your educational background?
I had my Primary Education here in Abeokuta in a Public School. First Degree in Computer Science, Master’s Degree in Mobile Telecoms Management. I actually have two Master’s Degree and all distinction from the University of Glamorgan now University of South Wales, where I read Forensics and Security Application and Mobile Telecoms Management. I really enjoyed my childhood. My Late father was an Engineer, one of the greatest men I’ve seen in my life, he inspired me. A lot of people see and think that I’m an ‘Ajebutter’ but I went to a Public Primary School and a Public High School as well. Towards the end of my Primary education, my parents thought it would be wise to move to a Private School. So, I went to St. Augustine, then to Trinity and from Trinity Schools, I gained entrance into Salawu High School as a boarding student and living in a boarding house was part of what built me up to a strong man. While in school, I was a newscaster and I thought I was going to be an actor, I have this passion for acting then even though my dad was always calling my doctor and I hated medicine to be honest. I proceeded to Ebenezer grammar school, in that school, I fell in love with Sciences. Here I am a data analyst, a Telecoms Expert and a farmer.
How would you compare education in Nigeria and the UK?
They are two different things. As a lecturer in a Nigerian University, I say this an informed point of view that we do not have enough research facilities for lecturers and students alike. Over there, there are specifics and standards to be met even before a university is accredited but here there are no specifics. Computer Science students here in Nigerian Universities write codes in COBOL and take classes at FORTRAN. I can’t remember the last time the world thought of writing code in COBOL because it is outdated, but over there, you would see a High School student, teaching you PYTHON, teaching you Visual Basics because they are open to research over there. But here, people would read and run zeroes back to lectures and exams. All through my Masters days, I only had to write just one examination. All we did was course works that we call brown paper here. One- or two-month submission and you have to do research because these researches are things one can’t forget easily. I still remember all the things I did in my research. I had to come down to Nigeria, worked with a Professor in UNILAG and a Doctor in England, I had to bring in rabbits and a few albino mice for experiment in Nigeria. We put these rabbits around base stations like MTN mast, Airtel mast for six months and fed them. Then we sent out questionnaires to areas around where the masts are, within 30 – 360 Degree radius to the Base Station to get what effect the Mast has on these animals. After all that, getting the animals out of England was quite easy, but dissecting them was another thing, you have to take permissions, it was huge and the stress was worth it. I wrote some publications I sent to Punch and The Nation newspapers on what is likely to be the effects of Base Station around where people live and it was never published.
In a nutshell, there, it’s more of research and implementation and here we don’t do either, but I can tell you that Nigerian has bundles of knowledge. We have smart and great people here. I feel the NEXT Gen is the main thing in Nigeria and I am sure every sector in Nigeria is waiting for folks from this our generation.
With all the knowledge you have acquired, one would think you would be working with a firm but why have you decided to start your own business?
I have worked with other firms. I started working with Motorola Nigeria Limited as a Network Support Engineer while I was serving. They didn’t want to take me in back then because I read Computer Science but I ask them to give me three months and if I can’t meet up, they should drop me, and to God be the glory, I met up with the task and within three months, I started visiting sites as an Engineer and that was the start of my career. After the service, I came back and worked for two years and went to England for my Masters and I was working with Sky Broadcasting Network as a customer service agent where I became the team leader. I proceeded to (HMRC) Her Royal Majesty Revenue, Customers as a task advisor, later to Eriksson and I got back to Nigeria as Network Reporting Analyst. I was responsible for six regions, Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Enugu and Port Harcourt. I worked there for a while and I moved away to start a business. I looked at some aspects of Nigeria’s Economy that are yet to be tapped into. With my background in Advert and Design, I brought a few people from different sectors together to form a little group and this group became a strong group that can get anything done both in Media and in Engineering. I had to put some properties up for sale and move the cash into businesses and the business did well, during the elections, we did a lot of the Adverts, we won a lot of contracts and with the help of God, we are where we are today. Outside that, I also worked with Landmark Holdings as the General Manager of one their subsidiaries and I resigned voluntarily because I wanted to focus more on my business. It has been challenging and with this kind of business that we do, gradually, Ogun State is taking its place in the Green Energy sector in Telecoms and Engineering Sector in Africa.
Expatiate on what your outfit does basically?
Excel Pro Concept is a subsidiary of Excel Group of Companies. The one in the UK represents Crude Oil dealings, which is basically what we do in the UK, but I look at what Nigeria needs because I don’t want to get myself involve in Oil and Gas wahala, so I am concentrating on the renewable Energy, Car/property Security, Telecommunications installations, Outdoor Publicity and large scale rice production in Nigeria. We thought about what we can do to improve the security sector because I have a background in security, what can we do to improve little Telecoms where SME’s like yourself can find it easy to communicate within offices at very low cost annually, how can we make the environment very safe with our instant eagle eye CCTV to help the deterring criminals. Like lightening up the whole city without having to run our streetlights on generators. That is what we look out to do. Where an accounting firm would request for accounting software, and we would deliver it to them, we can give you designs that would sell your company, like we say in our company, ‘we know they know you but we know how to make them know you better’.
As a farm owner, we know the problems that large farmers face in terms of provision of water system on the farm. We’re poised to providing a permanent solution to that problem without farmers paying through their nose or burning fossil fuel.
We do billboards, we have a lot of billboards around in the Southwest of Nigeria, few in the East and few in Abuja as well. It’s a huge business for me and it is challenging. So basically, the aim is to gradually introduce Solar system into the country and we plan to make life easier for MSME’s in the years ahead.
Have you ever had cases where robbers have outsmarted your technologies?
I wouldn’t want to go deep for security reasons, but I tell you, they’ll have to try another day!
Do you get your equipment here in Nigeria or abroad?
We get them directly abroad. For CCTV, we buy from Germany or England, we don’t buy products from China. We have partners in Germany and England. These companies call us and say let’s trade and do business with you for four years and if you are consistent enough, we will come to Nigeria to own a warehouse or even a mini manufacturing hub where your government can give us free taxes for a while then we would have certain percentage of our top management staff as Nigerians. These are very good bargains. I have not written these proposals to the government, yet because in four years’ time, I don’t know if I am going to be in politics or not but what I am saying is, Nigeria is a virgin market, I am looking at states like Lagos, Ogun, Oyo and Kogi states as untapped virgin markets, where I think the government of these States today is doing their work and they need to start looking at growing young men with business ideas and SMEs, call them and tap from the knowledge they have. It’s a good thing the initiative government has put in place, but what about maintaining them? Do we run our streetlights on generators while burning money on diesel, and how about going green with a 25-year warranty? They need to ask questions like how we provide alternative way of providing water system for big farmlands, how we light up rural communities. We will put our solar on a 25 year warranty. On our batteries, we will give you three years, on inverters, we will give you five to seven years and if anything happens to them, Our Partners will change them as long as you keep to the terms and conditions.
What are the challenges you’ve faced so far?
There are a lot of challenges. Currently, the products are very expensive because of charges we have to pay while bringing them into the country, it’s a huge sum of money and coupled with the fact that we get our batteries from Germany. Another challenge is the current economic situation because things are so tight. Solar, CCTV, Inverter System, Automatic Gating, Home Automated system where you sit at your office and control the electricity in your house, all these things are not meant for just anybody, they are meant for upscale people. But, ExcelPro concept has taken a step further by discussing with some financial institutions, they are our partner banks and in weeks ahead, we will roll out flyers containing information on how you can approach a bank on to get a Solar panel from ExcelPro Concept limited but you can’t afford the cost all at once, they will check if you are credit worthy. Example if you are a civil servant and your salary comes to your account, they will say they will remove a specific amount each month and at the end of the day, the bank will pay ExcelPro Concept, we’ll deliver to you and within three to four years, you will pay out depending on your terms with the credit institution. Security wise, we want to put in Cameras where we would wire Police car with computer, such that if there is a crime anywhere, you will call the emergency line and they would speed up their camera to where the scene is happening from a remote location, they hand over to the authorities, they strategize and the whole place is secured. Cameras are not put in place to catch alone but also to deter people from committing other crimes.
How were you able to put funds together to start this business?
It has not been easy. I have a chairman and my partner actually, who believes so much in my dreams, in me and my team of professionals. We didn’t obtain loans from banks, they are personal funds. For me to look at a property and put it on sale which is a huge amount of money then it’s been God and my partner is a man who shares the same idea and believes in investment. So putting funds together wasn’t an impossible one.
Ever since you started earning money, when did you make your first million?
(Laughs) I won’t be able to calculate it in pounds now but my first million was really more than 1 Million and this was back in 2007. As a young man doing business and made such an amount of money was scary actually, we partied and did the entire normal thing a young boy will do actually, but thank God for the mother I have, I was able to invest 60% of it into property and the money is still working till now.
Do you have an interest in politics?
Well, I have been asked that question many times. The thing is, I know a lot of Politicians, the ones that plays in the big leagues and I have very good ties with a couple of them. My constituents are presently talking to me to look in the direction of politics. We are consulting and praying to God for directions to go. We don’t want to get into politics for its sake, we are looking at a situation where in a few months, we’ll be setting up a foundation, me and my friends, CEO CitiSide, Bisi Oloyede, Dallas the CEO of Open Gate and we are consulting with top politicians that can come into play with the foundation. Bisi has started his own, and I’m launching mine on my birthday September 19. We want to help the less privileged. I am not a politician for now, but I am consulting and I want to look at kids of Mama Sadia (Iya Eleja) who has made her grades and can’t afford to go to school. I want to look at the son of a carpenter who can’t afford GCE or Jamb. I want to gather all of them, have a free raffle draw for all of them and we’ll ask Mama Basira who is busy hawking to pick any paper, whoever she picks wins the money. We want to look at 50 or 100 of those and see how we can help them quarterly. Like I said, we are consulting and still asking God for directions. But beyond that, I really don’t have to be a politician to make a mark. I want to do things that my children will look back in years to come and be grateful their father passed through this country. We all need to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves if we are doing the right thing.
If need be, will you go into politics?
We are still praying and 2019 is still far. By the time we launch our foundation, we are likely to know where we are going.
With the busy schedule at work, how do you balance it at home?
It’s not very easy. All I will say is that it’s been the grace of God and to be a man is not a day job. I don’t want to put all hands-on deck because that’s the word we use in Nigeria, let us remove the
hands on deck and roll up our sleeves (Laugh). So when you roll your sleeves, you can’t go to bed because you know there are jobs to be done. God is helping us to balance everything.
What is your favourite colour?
I love blue.
With the high dress sense power that you’ve got, how do you manage female advances?
When you are taken, you are taking. If you say because you get female advances, you don’t want to look good again then you have something else coming from the madam. The truth is, Nigeria has got so many beautiful people so discipline is the key word here. There has to be a line that must not be crossed. That way you keep some people away. Hold your head up high and keep praying to God for his grace to keep holding you.
How do you unwind?
(Laughs) I love to watch and play golf and video games. There are a lot of beautiful places in town to visit, so I hang out with my friends with a bottle of red wine and listen to cool music. There we do business too because we are all there. I love to travel too. I am a diehard Chelsea Fan and I attend almost every home game to tell you how much I support Chelsea.
Lastly, kindly tell us your mentor(s) and your words of advice for young and aspiring entrepreneurs?
His Grace, Most Rev. Adebayo Dada Akinde, the Archbishop of Lagos Diocese, Susan Oman, she is an Author, I read her books a lot. Barrack Obama, I’ve been following him before he became president. I love his oratory prowess; he speaks from his heart and soul. That is what I want, love and aspire to be. For the young ones coming up, I want to tell them the sky is the starting point, once you are consistent with what you are doing, be faithful and truthful. Don’t break your word when you’ve given them.
Referrals are the key, once few good people can refer you, and then you are good to go.