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Folaranmi Odunayo: Building An Enduring Legacy

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Folaranmi Odunayo: Building An Enduring Legacy


Folaranmi Odunayo2FOLARANMI BABATUNDE ODUNAYO, former executive chairman, Honeywell Flour Mills, laid a strong foundation on which the company’s quality brands are built. In this interview, he shares with FUNKE OSAE-BROWN, his success story and life after retirement.

The premises of Honeywell Flour Mills is a beehive of activities this sunny Tuesday afternoon. Defying the March sun, Okada riders jostle for passengers, who could not continue with their journey in their cars or commercial buses due to traffic logjam, under the Tincan Island Bridge. We also had to make the rest of the journey on foot, as our car driver had to go and make a u-turn under the bridge. Going with him means spending the next four hours in traffic which may mean missing our interview appointment.

Folaranmi Babatunde Odunayo the subject of my interview is already awaiting our arrival. But first he had to tidy up a few things at his desk. As at the time of this interview, he had a few days left to exit his position as the executive vice chairman and chief executive officer, Honeywell Flour Mills. He is retiring. He retired on April 1st, 2014.

Odunayo began his journey into familiar yet strange terrain as the executive chairman 18 years ago. Armed with an empty parcel of land at Tincan Island where Honeywell Flour Mills currently stands, he took on the challenge to build the industry from ground zero.

“As the CEO I was given the task to mid-wife the company,” he recalls his experience. “From a bare piece of land at Tincan Island, approval for drawings, building construction, to equipment installation, looking for and recruiting staff, and then drawing the line for commencement of business. That was quite a unique experience which I was quickly able to deal with. It required a great deal of strength, but from the point on when everything was put in place, it was like there was nothing impossible to do.”

As the pioneer CEO, he laid a strong foundation on which the quality brands of Honeywell Flour Mills have been built. In all, he has put in 22 years of service with the Honeywell Group including four as the group managing director of the entire group, before he left to midwife Honeywell Flour Mills. “If we are speaking of Honeywell Flour Mills,” he tells me frankly, “I would rather speak of 18 years than my entire service with the Honeywell Group for 22 years.”

What are the Legacies Odunayo has left behind? Is the question that comes to mind. And when I ask him, he never hesitated to reel them out even though he is humble enough to use the plural pronoun ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ in his response.

“You can look at it from many perspectives. From ground zero to where the company stands today and it is well recognised in the entire country. Today we have household brands that have been well received by consumers that people speak about. When we meet people that we have never known or met before, and they say: ‘do you know what? Your product is the best.’ That is what is being consumed in my village.’ You can really begin to measure by yourself the brand equity that we enjoy in terms of our products.”

Odunayo believes he has have succeeded in breeding and nurturing one of the finest management that any manufacturing company can nurture which again underlie the success he has achieved. “Nothing is possible without human beings. The machines do not speak but they can be exploited by people to the greatest advantage. We have that legacy of strong and strategic manpower. You can already see that some of the people that are taking over started with me 20 years ago as management trainees. They have come up, grown, matured; they know the business in and out. They have gone through all kinds of training. They have imbibed the values which we have entrenched in the business. I am very proud of that legacy.”

Some of the people,who are also holding forth today, and who have taken over from Odunayo, joined Honeywell from notable manufacturing companies in the country. “They have found it exciting to remain in the service of Honeywell Flour Mills,” he proudly tells me, “and to join in achieving the dream that has been set out for the business. “That is also an important legacy. Without the company also blowing its horns if you go to the industry, when I say the industry, the industry of flour millers in Nigeria, the name Honeywell Flour Mills reverberates promptly as a well managed company with good managers. A company in which we have not had occasion of any of our managers wanting to leave to go and join other managers in other industries rather people in other industries want to come and work for us, so many legacies.”

Odunayo is a graduate of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. He is a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accounts of Nigeria. He attended Kings College, Lagos. He has served in Honeywell Group for 22 years after he began his career as a group managing director.

Odunayo says the secret behind his success story is having a clear objective and staying on it. “Behind any endeavour,” he says, “there must be a very clear objective. And there must be a certain doggedness and strategic initiatives that will drive the objectives. This applies to anything that we lay our hands on in life. We set out to produce high quality brands and to be number one in our industry. The secret is we have strong managers to support our operations, recruit them train them. Two, we ensure that we produce high quality brands. High quality brands are not determined by yourself alone in your laboratory. High quality brands are determined by what the consumers say. We have worked very closely with the consumers to give them exactly what they want over what they see being given to them in the market place. In making their choices based on their day to day consumption, the preference has been to select Honeywell Brands. Through that, we have been able to achieve the success.”

And so for him, success in any business is about finding the customers, retaining them and ensuring they have the customers to take care of what you are able to supply. “That means you will take care of the consumer. Find him, give him what he likes at a reasonable price then you will have success. The factory, the people, the quality control, operations, accounting are all behind achieving that.”

Odunayo’s success story has never been without many challenges which his perseverance has helped him to overcome. “In any business especially manufacturing you can expect a lot of challenges. For Honeywell Flour Mills the challenges are quite unique to the management and to me. There were challenges in manufacturing that were not unique to Honeywell Flours. The challenges of raw material supply, electricity supply. In our case till date we now have three different power stations to supply power to the factory and business. These power stations are what we rely on entirely for manufacturing. If we say we should to be connected to the public power system, we will soon be disconnected because the public supply system was totally unreliable. You can see that over the last eight years in this company, from commencement of business, we have never ever used public power supply. For a business that runs 24 hours a day, 30 days a month and running through the entire year, apart from occasional stopping of production for maintenance. You can already evaluate what kind of challenge that we have. This we have managed to overcome, where you also consider the fact that our production runs throughout the year. For most of the time, we can hardly produce enough. Lost hours meant lost business opportunities so we have to keep the plants running. That has been a major challenge which happily we have been able to overcome. It has come with its cost of becoming a power supply company of heavy training of staff. The largest number of staff today at the power part, a large spare part for generating plant, large diesel tanks for storage, although we now also have as one of the three power plants that we have we have a gas power plant, so we now have gas supply. There are many challenges for manufacturing, heavy overheads, they are just too numerous.”

Odunayo is a lover of books and this love for books he has brought to bear in his position and the executive chairman when he introduced his management team reading. Every week, it is the culture for a member of the team to do a presentation on a book on management this has also helped the human resources department of the company evolve fully.

For anyone who thinks Odunayo is retiring home to sit behind a coffee table sipping from his cup, such person may have to have a rethink as the former CEO tells me he has set objectives to achieve even in retirement.

By: Funke Osae-Brown

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