AfricaSignal recently had an exclusive interview in Lagos with Nigeria’s charming and quintessential David Kolawole Dada. Friends and partners call him KDD. He is the Chairman of OceanSpring Transnational Limited, He is also the Founder and Managing Partner of Solid Rock Group of Companies. He talked about his time in South Africa, current business ventures and other things.
Here is an excerpt…
AfricaSignal: You were a Lead Speaker at Homeowners Building Guide Conference 2021. What was the motivation for your presentation?
KDD: My intervention at that Conference was on maintenance culture and risk management. Nigeria has a problem maintaining facilities. Our street furniture, surveillance systems, road networks and other infrastructure are not exactly in good shape. With the adoption of IoTs (Internet of Things), we are heading for serious trouble. My facility management Company, Solid Rock Group operates in Nigeria, South Africa, UAE, Germany and some other places. There has been advancement on policy issues and practices reflecting trends and growing concerns. Nigeria has not caught up. Even the way we acquire and categorize services is subsistence and perhaps archaic. That is why we must continue to promote awareness empowering people for better decisions and sustainability.
AfricaSignal: You have just said so much in a few words. Let’s break it down a bit starting with facility management. Isn’t that word “facility management” just a fanciful term?
KDD: The fact that some people in Nigeria could regard it as fancy shows how far behind, we are. In other climes, it is so professional that your plumbers, electricians and other handymen charge you by the hour. Your house can be repossessed over default on cost of renovations. Facility Management is the only reason human beings have a place to work, play and live lives. That is why every organisation can measure productivity and exposure to danger based on how well a facility is maintained.
AfricaSignal: Does that mean you have a plan for tackling this problem?
KDD: It goes beyond planning. At Solid Rock for instance, we have started implementing a five-years plan that should make us sit pretty on top the value chain. Solid Rock Facility Management now runs as a Group comprising of Nationally registered entities in all the Jurisdictions where we work. Additionally, we have floated Solid Rock Continental to mainstream diverse country operations, provide additional capacity in civil engineering and real estate’s development as well as consolidate our knowledge sharing capabilities.
I am also the Chairman of OceanSpring Transnational. The company has excellent capabilities in communications, media, technology and development services with a pan-African global outlook. It is easy to appreciate the kind of magic we can perform at a single board or management meeting. We have taken the pain to build critical one-roof capabilities so that investors and stakeholders can have peace of mind doing business with us. This also provides valuable opportunities for our stakeholders under Africa’s Continental Free Trade Agreement regime. The kind of solutions we can provide in facility management, infrastructure, development and other areas will enrich lives and empower African people beyond present limits.
AfricaSignal: You talk like you own the world. Is there something we are missing?
KDD: I am just a simple man who has benefitted immensely by virtue of working relationships and having good people as members of my team. We quarrel but I listen, and then we allow superior practical argument to serve as course of action. We share the credit for success and responsibility when things don’t quite work out. We learn and move forward together. Those are some of the things I learnt from my boss, Cyril Ramaphosa.
AfricaSignal: Which of the Ramaphosa are you talking about?
KDD: The same President Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa that you know, President of Republic of South Africa.
AfricaSignal: You mean he is your employer?
KDD: He was the last interview checkpoint when I was employed in 1999 by Molope Group of Companies at Visagie Street in Pretoria.
AfricaSignal: Can you tell us more about this?
KDD: I vividly recollect, it was a relationship that started May 1999. I was scheduled for a job interview at Molope Group. Earlier that day, I had met with the Managing Director Charl Marai and Human Resources Director Enock Qoma. They said I performed excellently. My final hurdle was an in-person meeting with the Chairman of the Group, Mr. Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa. At that time, he was the Chairman of the South African Black Empowerment Commission.
At about 6pm, I was ushered to the 4th floor to meet Mr. Ramaphosa who had just arrived in the company of Jabu Mabena. Our meeting lasted for less than 10 minutes. He asked “David, I am the Chairperson of the South African Black Empowerment Commission. Why should I employ you, a foreigner”? I replied ‘France won the world cup in 1998. Out of 11 players that played and won the finals for France, 8 players were not born in France, but they won the glory for France’.
We had a minute of silence in the room and with a nod of approval, he asked when I could resume. That was how I resumed immediately.
AfricaSignal: That encounter must have been quite epic!
KDD: Yes, it is. Interestingly, fate has a way of playing out. When I was writing my final year thesis at University of Jos in 1995, my project topic was on the “Successful Democratic Transition in South Africa, Lessons for other Countries in Africa”. It was during my research on this subject that I came across the name Cyril Ramaphosa, and the role he played as the Secretary General of the ANC, and in drafting the Constitution. You can imagine how excited I must have felt when I sat with him in same room four years later as he became my boss.
AfricaSignal: How would you characterize him as your boss and Mr. President?
KDD: Cyril Ramaphosa is a great man! My journey and times at Molope Group was a splendid one. I started as a Projects Coordinator and got promoted to manage Molex. Molex was a joint venture initiative between Electrolux South Africa and Molope Group. I was part of the team that installed kitchen equipment at Carnival City Hotel and Casino in Brakpan. I played an active role in bringing Game Stores to Nigeria and opening Palms Shopping Mall Lekki in 2005. Game retail franchise was to provide more than 5000 direct and indirect employment opportunities in Lagos, Enugu, Abuja and Kano. None of this would have been possible without his leadership and support. He really commits to black empowerment, local content and increased minority participation.
AfricaSignal: Let’s get back to your business affairs. What is your drive?
KDD: I am in the business of making things work better. Africa’s population is in excess of 1 billion. Nigeria is comfortably 20% of that number. Our quality of lives now depends on how well we are able to bring innovation to bear on traditional methods, creating and facilitating purpose projects that could enrich lives, and finding new ways to use business for greater shared prosperity. That defines my philosophy and business direction over the next 25 years. Sustainability is key, and that is a culture I would like to bring into practical business leadership across Africa’s infrastructure, finance, trade and service sectors.
AfricaSignal: You don’t believe this is just a dream, do you?
KDD: Everything you see in the world once existed in imagination. They came into being because someone felt there should be a better way of doing something, and there should be a way of doing something people couldn’t initially do. That is the same challenge Africa and Nigerians are having today. We are trying to catch up with the rest of the world without losing our identity, freedom and future. Any indigenous business that is able to incorporate this idea is more likely to be sustainable and successful.
Based on that principle, I can practically help more governments, businesses and people to succeed. In other to do that, I must be able to articulate that perspective as discussed in this interview session for easy grasp. People of like minds can understand, and then we can easily reflect those values on businesses. That is also why I am using OceanSpring Transnational and Solid Rock Group as arrowheads for my partnership engagements. It is not a complicated matter, and it is no longer a dream. These are concrete actions which are bound to get better with every passing day; and the opportunity in our environment clearly provides favourable assurance for those who can discern and are prepared.
(Edited by: Samuel Odebowale)