Soji Oyawoye is an engaging and charismatic personality. Described variously as boss, leader and mentor, he sits at the head of an emerging pan-African conglomerate, Resource Intermediaries Limited (RIL), with tentacles in Nigeria and Ghana. Fresh off their 10th year anniversary, Allure caught up with Soji Oyawoye, a qualified outsourcing professional, who spoke about his people, his work ethics and his family.
Congratulations on your company’s 10th year anniversary. Ten years is a long time for a business, especially in Nigeria. What 5 things have sustained your business?
Thank you for your good wishes. First of all, I will say our people and this is not a cliché. I have some of the most committed, loyal and creative staff any CEO can ask for.
Our diverse board of directors made up of people in strategy/consulting, legal services, medicine and architecture brings such critical diversity to bear on our strategic thinking which, in turn, provides clear guidelines and scope for management.
Next, our culture hinged on ‘Freedom & Responsibility’ encourages staff to exercise their initiative freely while taking responsibility for their actions. This has seen us using blunders as learning tools rather than punishment with great benefit to the organization over the years.
Our feedback process; regular intentional surveys and interaction with clients and staff deployed to those clients give us invaluable feedback on what is working and what needs to be changed real time.
The God factor; while this is listed last, it is about the most important sustainer of our business. We honour this fact with a monthly thanksgiving service plus an intentional focus on doing all the good we can to all the constituents we can within our sphere of influence.
People talk about outsourcing and one gets confused because we are more used to contract staffing. What is the difference?
That is a very good question because the activities of many supposed outsourcing providers in the market continue to make it difficult to distinguish between them and the professionals.
While outsourcing, as a business practice, is not new in Nigeria, human resource outsourcing on a professional model is relatively new. A clear distinction is that under outsourcing, the outsourced staff is deployed under full labour law certified benefits which are as follows:
Formal letter of employment that is not restricted to time. Such staff remain in employment until they choose to resign or can be exited where no longer required but notice of such redundancy must be given by either party or payment in lieu of such notice. Contract staffing is typically restricted to time lines of 6 months or one year renewable. A contract staff can be exited at anytime even within the specified 6 months or one year period with no notice or compensation in lieu.
Every outsourced staff is entitled to paid annual leave days. Contract staff have no provision for leave not to talk of payment of salary while on leave in their employment contract.
Outsourced staff typically receive year-end bonuses or 13th month basic salary in December (prorated). Contract staff do not.
Outsourced staff have access to medical treatment typically under a health management scheme that is also not available for contract staff.
Job security is enhanced through outsourcing. Personnel Under Management (PUM) can be moved from one user to another within the same provider company due to the fact that the outsourcing provider also provides outsourcing services to other users in diverse industries, making it easier to move staff around should the user they are currently deployed to scale down its operations.
An outsourced staff has access to employer’s contribution of pension. Contract staff typically do not even have pension deducted for their future benefit not to talk of the statutory employer’s contribution of 10% of their salary.
Outsourced staff are typically responsible citizens who are taxed and receive tax cards from their employer. Contract staff do not pay tax.
From 4 members of staff to 4,000; when you started did you dream this big?
To be honest, we actually desired to be much larger in ten years. However, we continue to be amazed at the growth and stability; considering the terrain we operate in where most providers are unprofessional in their conduct and unconcerned about staff welfare. When I reflect on the last 10 years, one question I ask myself is: How did we get here? We were relatively unknown; both RIL and, indeed, we the pioneer staff. And, we had way fewer resources than big companies we were competing with; some of which are multinationals. The only answer I can think of is: It has all been by God’s grace.
You are a Christian and you write books. What is the place of vision and faith in business?
Recently, as I was going through the business plan developed early in 2006 that led to the birth of RIL, I could see that we had a clear vision of the kind of business we desired to operate – right from the culture, people, unique outsourcing model, character, colour scheme and conceptual definition of the business.
Vision is, therefore, a critical part of any business as it sets the tone for every other thing. You really would be walking blind if you do not articulate very well, from start, what kind of business you plan to run; depending, I must add, on who you are – your values and belief system.
Now because only God knows the end from the beginning and even the issues in-between both ends, faith comes in as a critical second. This is because several events and situations would arise on that journey that would make you question your vision a lot of times. We have been inspired over and over again on our own journey by faith in the fundamentals of our vision and business model even against all visible “facts”. Faith, as you know, comes from holding on to what you believe even when the facts say otherwise. We did not get some clarification of that dogged faith until about the seventh year of our business.
The RIL Benevolence Fund is a unique CSR initiative.Can you explain it to us?
We established the RIL Benevolence Fund in 2010 as a CSR initiative for the indigent and needy wherever we operate across Nigeria. The fund provides for medical support, school fees payment, accommodation and related needs of non-staff members that come to our notice. The fund is financed from specific and definite money set aside by the company each month (even from when we were making losses), contributions from staff at the monthly Thanksgiving Service (first working day of each month) and donations from friends and associates of the company.
Many people want to set up a business but are scared and feel ill equipped. Give us a quick master class with 3 core values for the budding entrepreneur?
All successful businesses succeed because they solve a problem. Considering the fact that there are many problems out there, it goes to show that there are many budding entrepreneurs that should be thriving if they can solve problems. Look at UBER for example.
Second core value is to recognize that the business idea and not capital is the next most important requirement. What exactly is the business idea? What, exactly, is the solution proffered and for what problem? Is the solution proffered at a rate and in a manner that those who have the problem can afford to pay for the service or product? Once the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, capital becomes easier to source. Besides, many solutions, these days, do not require large capital. They run on mobile applications or internet platforms; again like UBER, Facebook, Google, Linda Ikeji’s Blog or recruitment app Jobberman.com are good examples.
Third key value to succeed as a budding entrepreneur is to recognize that your personnel are your greatest asset. My advice is for people to build the talent you want rather than buy them (poaching) for start up businesses. Recall that your vision is unique and, usually, you are not likely to find the right people for your vision and where you do, not usually at costs that you can afford. So, engage people with the right attitude to work and life. Then, invest in them in transforming them to the people that can buy into your vision and own it; not an easy process but highly rewarding and cost effective in the long run.
You speak a lot about people management. Ten years down the line, what do you say to the people of RIL and how have they helped in actualizing the vision?
It is important to stress that while some doubted the need to care for staff, including those deployed to various organizations on outsourced basis, we recognized early that our people are our greatest assets. We continue to be transparent and accessible. While others doubted that this would be sustainable as a business model, we were forming lasting relationships, one staff at a time.
Clearly, our staff have played a great role in actualizing the RIL Vision and they continue to do so.
Your chairman was your former boss in your banking life and most of your core staff have stayed from day one. What is the place of loyalty in business?
My Chairman, Mr. Alex Okoh, has gone on (through the years) from being my boss, to mentor, to brother. While loyalty is key in sustaining a business, I must say that a critical responsibility to extracting that from your people lies in leadership which is where Mr. Alex Okoh also excels. As a leader, you must be transparent and build trust while investing in your staff in a way that they can see themselves in the future of the organization.
When the Minister of Trade and Industry, who was special guest at your anniversary party, spoke, he said RIL is a company built on integrity. How did you and your team get it right?
A good part of getting it right stems from the quality and integrity of the board of directors made up of Miss. Osarieme Ezekiel, Dr. Ebun Bamgboye, Arc. Ido Ohiwerei and Mr. Alex Okoh. Their guidance coupled with proper corporate governance structures, right from start, enables Management to run a credible, responsive and responsible business.
Let’s talk about the home front. Building a world-class company takes time and demands attention. How did it impact your home and what lessons are there for work/life balance?
I must admit that the home front has paid a huge price in the success of Resource Intermediaries over the years and credit goes to my lovely wife, Olabisi Soji-Oyawoye. There are times where exigencies of work take one away from equally critical needs at home. But my wife has been my greatest encourager and, indeed, adviser in people management and business etiquette over the years. What I do and advise is to intentionally make out time for the home and, for those moments, shut out work completely while also bringing the home to work as often as possible during corporate events.
In summary, an executive must create a balance of both work and home as both are intertwined for a successful entrepreneur. As it is said, you can’t really be said to be successful where you fail in one of these two critical life endeavours.
Where do you see RIL in the next 10 years?
We have a decade of good work behind us but a very challenging 10 years ahead of us.
I see RIL becoming entrenched in the human resource outsourcing sector as a people-focused organization, inspiring recognition of outsourcing as a professional management practice in Nigeria and beyond.
Our tag line says it all: “People management is at the heart of all we do; easing business burdens is why we do it.”
By Remmy Diagbare