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Move Back to Nigeria: “Make Sure What You Are Bringing To The Table Is Different!” Read Ugo Ekpemu’s Take on Moving Back

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Move Back to Nigeria is a series on BellaNaija which aims to encourage young and not-so-young professionals in the diaspora who are trying to make the decision of whether to move back to Nigeria. In collaboration with the brilliant team at MoveBackToNigeria.com, we hope to bring you a weekly interview with individuals who have successfully made the leap, considering the leap, as well as those who have tried it and realized it is not for them. MoveBacktoNigeria.com’s mission is to showcase stories of Nigerians abroad who have moved back home and are taking giant strides, often against all odds and to serve as inspiration to others.This, however, does not preclude us from sharing stories of the people who have moved back and are facing various challenges.

Since the Oil Boom of the 1970’s, everyone has always wanted to get into the Oil & Gas industry in Nigeria. In the professional scene, it would appear the Oil & Gas folk have the most prestige; forget the Investment Bankers (apparently!). However, not many people understand the nuances of operating in the industry and the technical challenges and operational bureaucracies that come with the territory. This is why we are delighted to bring you this week’s interview with Ugo Ekpemu who moved back to make his mark in the Oil and Gas game in Nigeria. We hope you enjoy reading this as much as we have.

Please note that Move Back to Nigeria has its career and networking event in London on the 26th of September. {Click here to find out more}

Can you please introduce yourself and tell us what you do?
My name is Ugo Ekpemu. I am a Mechanical Engineer from Abia state, Nigeria and I am a young entrepreneur.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up for the most part in Warri, Delta State, where I was until graduation from High School. After this, I went to Lagos to study Mechanical Engineering at the University of Lagos, graduating in 2005.

What was the motivation behind studying Mechanical Engineering?
Back then, most of my peers wanted to study engineering as it is quite an intellectual path to take. Also, for the most part of secondary school, the subjects I chose were in the sciences, as that’s what I was good at in school. However, at a certain point, I considered studying accountancy, but given my science background, I decided to study mechanical engineering because I could relate to it. It also helped that I was good at mathematics.

What came after graduation from Unilag?
I went for NYSC and worked as a field engineer for an Oil & Gas well servicing company in Port Harcourt called Weafri Well Services. The experience broadened my insight into Oil & Gas. Prior to that (while studying at Unilag), I interned at Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) for 6 months, where I was stationed at a couple of flow stations working with the maintenance team. The experience at SPDC gave me a good introduction to the industry, with hands-on experience on Flow Station operations. The experience at Shell was relevant and helpful to my CV after graduation when I joined Weafri Well Services in Port-Harcourt. In total I was at the company for just under 2 years – my NYSC year plus an additional year. During my time there, my day to day activities involved the typical well simulation operations. The role was quite tedious, with heavy duty tasks such as ‘pumping nitrogen’, rigging up coil tubing, etc; however, I was a trainee and trainees do not get the rosiest jobs on the team. I eventually left in November 2007 to further my education.

Was this when you initially left Nigeria?
Yes, I went to Singapore to study. It was at the offshore campus of the UK’s Coventry University in Singapore. I obtained an MBA in International Business.

You had an engineering background, so how come you chose to study International Business?
Initially I wanted to get involved in engineering management i.e. to study an MBA in engineering management in order to combine my engineering background with management skills, but there were some issues with that at the University, so I ended up doing international business. I was initially a bit disappointed about that, but looking back now, I am glad I did the MBA in international business. I knew I would one day be an entrepreneur as it was one of my ambitions, so that’s why I ultimately chose to study business. The MBA was an 18 month programme, and I finally graduated in April 2009.

With your MBA Degree and Engineering Background, what did you decide to do next?
I moved to Aberdeen Scotland. At the time, my wife ‘to be’ lived in Aberdeen; she had moved over from Canada, so I went to join her. In Aberdeen, I worked for a company called SLD Limited, which is where I got most of the experience I am currently involved in today. The company is involved in R&D work on subsea tools and sensors; i.e. applications for underwater inspection.

Aberdeen is seen as the Oil and Gas Capital of the UK, with a fair number of Nigerians living there. What was it like for you there?
We all need to make the best of every situation. Aberdeen was a cold city (temperature-wise), but I enjoyed my time there. I had great friends out there, and was involved in the Nigerian community, the church (Jesus House) and so on. It was a good experience and coupled with the fact that my wife was there with me, I didn’t have much complaints. I certainly miss the people I left there. I was in Aberdeen until January 2012, and then afterwards moved to Texas in the United States to pursue my entrepreneurial dreams.

Why Texas?
We chose Texas because it presents a lot of opportunities to do your own thing especially if you are in the oil and gas sector. While I was in Aberdeen I was preparing plans to start up my own company. I saw that there were some opportunities that could be brought into Nigeria while working under the capacity as the sales manager of the company in Aberdeen which gave me the privilege to interact with different clients globally. I saw a gap in the market for a particular tool which presented an opportunity to bring into the Nigerian market. By the time we got to Texas, I started my own thing by choice. I did not bother looking a job.

Interesting! So what is the name of your company and what do you guys do?
Actually, I operate two companies, the US Company is called Dovaheights Energy LLC, and the Nigerian company is called Dovaheights Energy Limited; same company but two different legal entities. Dovaheights Energy Limited is obviously 100% Nigerian owned. We are involved in underwater subsea inspection activities.  We initially started with subsea acoustic leak detection services using passive acoustics,which is a specialist service we brought into Nigeria. Before then we had more conventional methods for leak detection in Nigeria. This particular service I incorporated into our service portfolio which was based on my experience in Aberdeen, and I had to partner with an Italian company called Colmarboth in Nigeria and also in Texas. Apart form leak detection services, we also have a micro ROV Remotely Operated Vehiclefor vessel inspection, shallow subsea inspection and we are pretty much involved in various aspects of inspection.

This sounds like a business with an intensive capital requirement. How did you go about financing the company?
We have a board of directors and shareholders whom I pitched the business to initially to raise capital. Most of my savings went into the pre-operational setup. We started small in order to manage our resources. For the majority of jobs we did last year, we did not actually own the equipment, so whenever we had a job, we would mobilise the equipment and expatriate in conjunction with our local personnel to complete our jobs. But you are right it is still an expensive venture. I do a lot of travelling from the US to Nigeria and vice versa, but we have to be wise and manage our resources carefully. We started small and are now growing, and have gotten some of our own equipment and developing local competency at the moment.

What proportion of your business originates in Houston vs in Nigeria?
At the moment, 100% of our work revenue originates from Nigeria. However we are working to expand the business we do in the US and be involved in projects via our business development activities. In Nigeria we have a full presence with our wide range of services.

How do you find doing business in Nigeria?
To me it’s a win-win situation. The Oil and Gas business is very complicated and particularly difficult in Nigeria. Operating in the US is easier. However the dynamism of Nigeria makes business good. Things are not so settled here, particularly in Subsea deep water operations. Further development needs to be done, so there is an opportunity for growth.  It’s a difficult terrain and you need to understand the Nigerian system to do well here. Over the years I have been able to develop some solid contacts, which have proven useful to business here. The other important factor about doing business in Nigeria is having a niche and setting up something that stands out in a specialist area. I would not just come back from the US and be involved in procurement or ‘supplying valves’. Everyone does that here. The difference here is your technology and the difference you are making.

So how much time do you spend in Nigeria vs the US and why do you still maintain links with the US?
Last year, it was a 50/ 50 split between the US and Nigeria. This year is also similar. Remember I also have the US business to manage, and also have trade events and conferences to attend out there. Going forward it would probably be a 60/ 40 (Nigeria/ US) split because as one grows and creates man power in both locations, both businesses would still need to be monitored. The reason why it is important to maintain links with the US is because Houston is the oil and gas headquarters of the world and a key technology driver. Also our US links also impacts the way clients perceive you here in Nigeria.

Thanks for that. Finally, what advice would you give to Nigerians in diaspora thinking of moving back home either to start up a business or to get a job?
First of all I will advise you to do your homework, do a feasibility study on what you want to do. You shouldn’t just pack your bags and jump in blindly. Don’t just assume everything will be ok if not you risk finding yourself in a tricky situation. You should investigate your different options and know what you are getting yourself involved in.

Personally I would advise returnees to get into business and be entrepreneurs, and if you decide to do this, make sure what you are bringing to the table is different. Something that will stand you out, so you just don’t come back and join the bandwagon of suppliers or vendors in the industry.

With hard work and perseverance, you should be successful.  You also have to be passionate about what you do. Don’t expect to break even within a year or even in 2 years, it can happen anytime, even in months. As long as you are passionate, resilient, hardworking, then you will be good. Also try to get people to work with you; you can’t do it alone, form partnerships. To me it’s better to have 30%-40% of a company generating $1bn a year than to have 100% of a company generating $10,000 a year.

MBTN helps Nigerian and African professionals from across the world connect with career and Investment opportunities. We also organise networking events, conferences and workshops that give you the required tools to get ahead in your career in Africa or elsewhere. Find out more at www.mbtnglobal.com. Follow us on Twitter @mbtnglobal and Instagram @mbtnglobal

12 Comments

  1. www.anemistyle.com

    September 12, 2014 at 10:30 am

    Insightful interview…This is so true ” it’s better to have 30%-40% of a company generating $1bn a year than to have 100% of a company generating $10,000 a year”

  2. yinkz

    September 12, 2014 at 11:18 am

    Good Initiative….I like how pple identify the gap in the market and capitalise on it. Hope you know Revenue Officials will soon be haunting u for a piece of the pie. Meanwyl in case u need a tax manager or accountant, pls provide your contact and yes I am looking for employment.

  3. Thatgidigirl

    September 12, 2014 at 11:36 am

    That’s my headmistress’s son!!! Wonderful woman, bless her heart….

  4. Dozumtchi Concepts

    September 12, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    Am impressed. Am also an entrepreneur, you must keep pushing, don’t expect the break through within a year or two, however it can happen. but u just need to apply technology inorder to make a diffence in the market.Also, as an entrepreneur, you must be actively involved in the business.

  5. PaRay

    September 12, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    Where there is a will, there will be a way. Ugoo you’re absolutely right. You don’t find diamond nor gold on a well travelled road. Pa ray.

  6. Segunbaba

    September 12, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    Success in business often come as a result of 2 things, the first is background experience in your field, and the other is trial and error learning, correcting mistakes as you go along, I think Ugo Ekpemu has experience knowledge of his industry, with the right business ethics and attitude he is closing in on success fast. By the way Houston Texas is beautiful, I miss my Richmond home near the Houston Library, I miss Sugarland. Nigeria needs us all the more. My route is now Abuja Airport-Manchester UK Airport. We all have roles to play, I wish we can get rid of being a Nigerian, oh dear!

  7. Tina

    September 12, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    Wow congrats Ugo. Very insightful journey that I will have to tap into. Welldone, you have captured it all in your statement. Definitely lookingforward to going through that route.
    It’s good to hear great news from our Aberdeen family.
    Love to the family.

  8. bankole

    September 13, 2014 at 11:13 pm

    Lovely interview mate. Keep up the good job. Soon Doverheights will be at the top.

  9. enohor

    September 16, 2014 at 10:26 am

    am impressed and this is kinda inspiring we enroute

  10. Omo O

    September 16, 2014 at 9:30 pm

    Well done, Ugo! I am really happy for you! You have done really well since leaving Aberdeen! Really fab news from our former Aberdeen crew! Bless you!

  11. Olufemi olaleye

    June 20, 2016 at 3:33 am

    Conger and Nice one bro.

  12. Olufemi olaleye

    June 20, 2016 at 3:34 am

    Congrats and Nice one bro.

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