Abayomi Awoboku, Chief Executive Officer of ENYO Retail and Supply, is good at pushing buttons – on the game-pad, on the keyboard or on the vast network that is the Nigerian downstream petroleum map. His infectious energy and charisma are evident in the office space and among staff, making it increasingly easy to be enveloped in the company’s warm yellow and blue colours. Tapped in 2016 as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum (WEF), Abayomi has packed his fair share of experience calling the shots within the Nigerian petroleum sector while still under 40.
At ENYO Retail and Supply where he currently calls the shots, a lot of thinking and investment have gone into taking the company from the drawing board to the streets and into our homes by extension. In a little over two years, ENYO, which prides itself as a customer-focused, technology-driven, fuel retailing company, has etched its philosophy ‘Fuelled by Trust’ on the psyche of energy consumers. For some, it is their professionalism that stands out, while others attribute their nascent accomplishments to sound knowledge of the market.
Marine and Petroleum Nigeria sat with Abayomi Awobokun to discuss the ENYO vision and other issues in Nigeria’s downstream petroleum sector.
Downstream Petroleum Sector
The downstream sector is very critical in any economy due to the impact it has on almost every other fabric of the society. Awobokun recognizes and accords the sector its due credit saying “The downstream in Nigeria is a $5 billion by revenue business. It is fundamental in any country because of its scale. It hires labour, contributes its own quota to jobs and job creation, pays taxes; it’s also a recipient of services from other industries like banking and others. Basically, it is an indispensable platform for other industries to thrive.”
He acknowledged that while the sector may be as old as the hills in Nigeria, it has yet to reach maturity. However, therein lies the opportunity because shareholding and ownership are changing as younger generations of entrepreneurs emerge on the scene and even the regulators are adapting. He also thinks the narrative of the downstream industry is more positive, the interface with technology is more interesting as it not only improves the value chain but also affects the lifestyles of customers.
Awobokun notes that though the industry in Nigeria has suffered a negative narrative due to government policies and actions of the operators themselves, the emerging indigenous players are consistently pushing the boundaries with innovations and value added services. “These are interesting times to be in the business,” he said.
Rating the impact of indigenous oil companies
The increased participation of indigenous players in Nigeria’s downstream sector portends well for the country”, Awobokun confirms, adding that Indigenous participation is a critical first step to the growth of local national companies which hopefully will attain regional status before becoming global brands. “I am excited to see the ENYOs and other indigenous companies growing quickly in Nigeria because the next geography for them to expand into is the region and we have seen some local-majors are already poised to compete globally”, he said. He maintains the opinion that it is difficult for any indigenous company to dominate without innovation and as such government policies must adapt to the new entrants who are using an innovative edge to compete.
Sustaining the boom in last mile business
Trends show that the fuels retailing business has witnessed unprecedented boom in recent times with indigenous companies leading the charge. Yet, industry watchers have questioned sustainability of the development.
In this respect, Awobokun opines that human beings will always respond positively to businesses or services that to improve their convenience. He makes a salient connection between the size of Nigeria’s population, growth in GDP and emergence of a new middle class as factors that present growth opportunities for petroleum retail businesses. This reinforces his conviction that provided fuel retail businesses are designed with convenience in mind; coupled with training and that the exchange with the customer is positive; and provided the brands are trusted; there will still be last mile growth. It may be however, at the expense of other brands, but it is important to keep growing.
According to him, “there was time in this country when we didn’t have enough storage capacity for Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG); a few years down the line and individuals and companies have taken pride in building their own terminals to grow their businesses; and now we are probably over-terminalled. Despite all the incredible innovations of the world including solar and gas powered vehicles, I still see the use of derivatives of crude oil even in a clean energy world.”
Financing downstream projects in Nigeria
Nigeria’s downstream sector has been unfortunately labelled a nightmare to the finance industry. Awobokun, however, contends that this is an erroneous narrative. “The downstream petroleum sector in Nigeria is a $5 billion by revenue business and I do not think there is any bank without a substantial downstream portfolio. However, what the banks are careful about is investing in unprofitable downstream projects or where managerial capacity is yet unproven, lacking corporate governance and where there’s previous history of delinquencies in capital management.”
Awobokun also refuted claims that banks are not giving capital support to downstream projects and investments, describing them as inaccurate. He is of the view that what the downstream may be suffering from instead may be the dearth of innovation in management.
Digitization and automation downstream operations
“Digitization is the future of downstream operational efficiency and most of the recent excitement in the sector would come under that heading. Smart stations are being built; the competence of employees of the station is expected to increase; while things like inventory control, management and supplies are now being done automatically and that for me is great,” Awobokun reveals.
He also observed that unfortunately, the market is still way deficient in stations with those capabilities. Those who have those capabilities can assess their performance against those who have remained analogue and the difference would be worlds apart. There are exciting opportunities which digitization presents among which include identifying customer preferences, building intimacy, as well as rewarding them for loyalty to products and the brand.
“Customers are keen on brands that can grow intimacy and reduce the gap between itself and the customers”, he posits.
To deregulate or not to deregulate?
In his words, “I have been quoted many times and I insist that deregulation is a destination whether we like it or not. I don’t think even the government will contest the benefits of deregulating the downstream fully. However, we must all be careful about the journey to full deregulation of the industry. We must ensure that all the agencies are at their optimum and well geared and vast in the challenges of the regime before making the call. We must look critically at other countries that have embarked on the journey and their pitfalls. We are large and the industry is huge with several implications. Deregulation is certainly a progressive discussion but more importantly, we must share with regulators and key players, the pitfalls before pulling the trigger. If done without a properly articulated plan it will become a complex exercise and it will cause hardship that can be avoided.”
The ENYO story
The CEO revealed that ENYO is affiliated to Folawiyo Energy Company and was founded by shareholders who are very experienced in the energy value chain. These shareholders provided capital and ENYO has been able to leverage the experience of the shareholders and the board led by Mr Tunde Folawiyo. According to him, “We sought patient capital and without throwing numbers around some of the investments we have made, we have exceptional results to show. We have made progress because we have a great board and strong management team. Also, we have never been delinquent in any capital allocated to us.”
Awobokun further stated that ENYO’s raison d’etre was to provide efficient and reliable energy services spanning across all white products and some value added services to customers wherever they may be in Nigeria. This is why ENYO deploys proprietary technology in situating its stations; a feat the CEO takes pride in. He said “We invest a lot in research technology to locate the right places for our stations, therefore, our sites show up and are a relief to our customers. We happen to turn in places where people were looking for the right solution.”
ENYO also places a premium on the quality of equipment which it deploys at its stations. “The quality of equipment we buy is very competitive; very few competitors, maybe apart from the IOCs, have the quality of equipment we have installed at our stations. Some are visible, some are underneath the concrete and some are in the tanks,” M&P gathered.
There is also emphasis on Health Safety and Environment (HSE) training, a lingering principle the CEO imbibed from his many years of operating in the industry. As a result, ENYO dedicates one hour weekly to training its staff at the forecourt. This in turn has translated into a sterling safety record and courteous customer relationships.
“ENYO has been able to expand rapidly over two years because consumers have told us in many ways that they trust us. We have invested time, capital of our shareholders, innovations, and we are consistently testing to understand government policies and the best way to implement them. What customers do for us in return is to patronize us. We averagely have 1,500 transactions per station in a day and I doubt many competitors can boast of such patronage,” a visibly impressed Awobokun revealed.
Furthermore, the CEO shared the company’s vision of pioneering the LPG cylinder circulation model in Nigeria to deepen usage of the product. He said “We recently launched our own brand of LPG called “Superior Liquefied Gas” and we call it that because we have invested significantly above the market for our size in the quality. We are also looking at driving it technologically so that customers can place orders for the product online. We certainly are not keen on selling the bottle. Our basis model is that consumers must be able to buy the gas without having to pay for the bottle. You can swap your bottle with ours and come back to pick yours or frankly leave your bottle in your house and use ours; we will deliver to you and you pay for the liquid content only. We see that as something that is meant to be stable in the next 24-36 months.”
ENYO has also invested in tank trucks and directly owns 70% of its fleet. Awobokun, who admits to a deficit in trucks available, says it is only because of the quality they are after and the investment involved. Meanwhile, it is not every day that you come across a petroleum tank truck with a line of the national anthem inscribed on it. With this initiative, ENYO is investing in changing the notorious narrative around fuel trucks and their drivers, as it considers the logistics of transporting petroleum products a national service and believes it is important for the drivers to carry that burden whenever they drive.
Apart from fuel sales which is the company’s mainstay, ENYO has introduced value added products at its stations such as a car maintenance set up called ‘Vehicon’ where free car diagnostics other maintenance services are carried out. The ‘Reelax’ brand is ENYO’s bespoke convenience store where customers can shop as they refill. ENYO is also in partnership with another first class downstream competitor to retail their blended Castro lubricants at all its stations.
The company has also initiated several Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects some of which include ‘MedTech’ an overseas training programme for mechanics; and the establishment of a Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) centre for children which is conducive for learning about robotics, 3D printing, everyday technology, solar energy and its uses. The centre is the result of a partnership with the Co-Creation Hub (Cc Hub) led by Bosun Tijani.
On expanding into the sub region, Awobokun asserts that ENYO is presently focused on the Nigerian market and will bide its time to attain the level of maturity needed for such a venture. He says “I must tell you that we are probably consuming more fuel than most of our West African neighbours put together. ENYO is focused on expanding our goods and services within the country in the first instance; and while opportunities abound regionally and beyond, they will always be secondary to us as our mono-focus is on Nigeria. If we stayed in Lagos alone we would do well, but we are currently in 14 states of the country out of 36. Also, a lot of the regions are growing and there is a lot in the eastern part of Nigeria that has not been fully harnessed.”
Abayomi Awobokun is a young entrepreneur who has his sights set on making an outstanding difference in Nigeria’s downstream sector. His values are deeply rooted in Christian belief and his perspective to life is constantly attributed to his religion and spiritual growth. According to him, his professional progress has been largely attributed to mentors.
“For the last 15-17 years, I have been fortunate to have good mentors. At the Lagos Business School, Prof. Pat Utomi and Doyin Salami were mentors. At Oando, I had dozens of them too; Mr Wale Tinubu, Mr Boyo and lots of people who were my line managers at different times. At ENYO, my board; Mr Tunde Folawiyo and other members of the board provided the framework that I thrive in,” he says.
He is keen to be part the debates arrowing into the future about more positive things not just in the downstream alone but beyond. He also draws inspiration from his family and ENYO’s 700-strong workforce.
You would think that with so much on the CEO’s plate, he wouldn’t have time to spare for social activities. You’re wrong. Awobokun brags about being the undisputed FIFA 2019 champion and challenges anyone who thinks otherwise to do battle with him.