Young CEOs Making It: Nehri Okwa

Nigeria is a land bursting with a lot of talents in every field. Every Nigerian has a story of how they are toiling to make a living and give themselves, their families and ultimately their community a better life. Lagos, is the centre of all hustle and bustle, no wonder it is called the economic capital of Nigeria. The energy in Lagos supersedes all other states put together, well minus a couple like Onitsha. A whole number of people in the city of Lagos have stories of how they came to lagos with next to nothing or at least a little “Ghana must go” and now they’re one of the forces to be reckoned with in their field. People see a better future for themselves and of course traffic!

Energy plays a huge part in every industry in Nigeria including the entertainment industry. The ups and downs we experience in energy directly (or indirectly) plays a huge part in the investment industry which affects both the music, fashion and lifestyle sectors Nigeria because we all need the stable and sustainable energy for our businesses to thrive. We decided to interview a young CEO in the Energy sector to pick his brain on how he built his company from scratch.

In this first edition of “Young CEOs Making It” we had the opportunity to meet the CEO of one of the top energy groups in Nigeria, Mr Onehrime Okwa, Ceo of Tarius Energy Limited.

He is a native of Urhobo in Delta state and moved back from London in 2008 to start his own energy company.  Despite the hardship in this part of the world, he has found a way to add value to his community. The 1st class holder studied electrical engineer at University College London and worked at investment banks like HSBC and Citi bank in London.

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Mr Nehri Okwa, CEO, Tarius Energy

On asking him about Tarius, he said “We like to think of ourselves as a diversified energy solutions provider. Tarius group is a small group consisting of typical downstream company that markets petroleum products ranging from fuel in your cars, to Automotive Gas Oil (AGO) for generators to Dual Purpose Kerosene (DPK), as well as base oil, chemicals and lubricants. We also have a company called Tarius oil services which is a subsidiary of Tarius energy and is a services company for the upstream companies. We typically work for the likes of your total, exxon oil, companies who are into exploring some types of hydrocarbon in Nigeria. So we are typically into providing equipments, materials and personnel to that sector “.

Asking if the energy sector has always been in his plan or life pushed him to that direction, the Warri bred Ceo said he has always been involved in the oil and gas industry one way or the other. From his dad who worked as head instrumentation for Shell Africa, to his uncle who has always been a part of oil and gas. He has always had an interest and passion for this line of business to create value for people, including they’re shareholders and their community at large.

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The defining Moment to continue with Tarius: Being asked the defining moment he knew he wanted to continue with Tarius, he said “…I did those courses that gave me the business exposure like Corporate Finance, Business in competitive environment. That positioned me to do the kinda stuff I do today and after that I got the core financial experience and exposure. Then again I went into investment banking and once I got a hold of some of the core skills I needed, I was like okay, thats it I have what I need to build up a business and plunge in.

On his biggest challenge: 

Lagos is one of those places that is filled up with energy and there’s a lot of frustrations but you also get plenty of help along the way

“The transition from London to Lagos was challenging but also interesting and rewarding. From the moment you arrive Nigeria with all the madness at the airport and then you come into Lagos and you’re trying to find an office space, open a bank account, register a company and you’re talking to stake holders and potential customers. Nigeria certainly comes across to you immediately that this is an uphill task. Lagos is one of those places that is filled up with energy and there’s a lot of frustrations but you also get plenty of help along the way. It was tough getting through some of those but with persistence you keep pushing and at some point you get a hang of things”.

 

Is the country doing enough to encourage entrepreneurs in your field?

 I certainly don’t think that the Nigerian government does sufficient amount of work to encourage entrepreneurs.

 I certainly don’t think that the Nigerian government does sufficient amount of work to encourage entrepreneurs. I think they could do a lot more just in terms of creating an enabling and conducive environment. I know that a lot of people think that the government should be providing subsidy but I’m more of the view that it should be a free market and I think government  role is mainly to provide an enabling or stable environment, security etc. These are the things that are interesting for businesses.

Speaking on competition in his field, Mr Okwa understands that there is always competition in every business and at Tarius they keep an eye on what their competitors are doing. However, they are more focused on the specific ways to add value for their customers and counter parties.

According to him, the top 3 skills needed to succeed are Patience (especially in Nigeria!), focus and tenacity. In his line of business they are certainly failures and he has had a fair share of it. At Tarius they’re not so worried about failures because they like to see what lessons they can learn from their failures. This strategy has worked well for them as they initially started as a transport business moving petroleum products. At that point, they were able to work around the tremendous risks and how to manage them.

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In business, he believes that if a model doesn’t work for you and your business, it is best to stir away from it and not do it just because other people are doing it. When asked about daily habits, he said “No two days are the same…”  So they aren’t daily habits, but they try to keep their ears on the street and stay abreast of everything happening.

To conclude the interview, Mr Okwa let us know that the drive to promote entrepreneurship in Nigeria is laudable and encouraging and something that can take the country to the next level. However, he made us know that to succeed in any field especially as an entrepreneur, trainings are required. Basic skills in business development, finance which could come in form of formal trainings and work experience in some organisations will give the person a clearer perspective or structure of what they want to pursue.

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