We are pleased to introduce Mr Joseph Carew of Hommaston, a committed Project management practitioner and capacity building enthusiast, highlighted here as one who is already making a living out of ‘giving back’ to society the best way he knows (within Engineering Competence training space.)
Joseph is a founding Director and Chief Operating Officer at Hommaston Limited, a qualitative capacity building company, with multi sector occupational skills enhancement competence and a core operational prominence in the oil and gas sector.
Before we find out more about our MSME Life personality, a little more background on the company he and his partner formed less than 5 years ago, that has progressed in successful service deliveries to world class clients, with participative foot prints on the largest FPSO ever designed in Nigeria… a feat which would have been considered impossible in the then expatriate-dominated oil and gas sector prior to the local content act a few years back.
Hommaston Limited is a platform that enhances inexperienced or untrained personnel and transforms then into cutting edge workforce resources. They process, mostly graduates, who are technically unskilled but are eager to learn and develop themselves, into workforce assets, team leaders, people who can work effectively, supporting Engineering design and Project delivery teams.
Unlike Traditional training methods, Hommaston conducts organisational studies for her clients using tested scientific approaches to diagnose productivity challenges (mostly technical) impacting staff. Based on the outcomes, Hommaston proceeds to design training packages to transform low skilled or graduate entrants into effective and productive team members, able to work and deliver to international standards.
Hommaston Limited uses case study simulations to prepare the trainees on what every expectation looks like, in the COBRA (CoporateOperational Baseline Requisite and Applicable) SKILLS program, and promotes ownership of the client’s vision/mission statement by the participants. Trainees are adequately oriented in corporate ethics and best practices, inclusive of email utility and given Microsoft office, acrobat professional proficiencies. For the engineers, they enlighten graduates on the different engineering disciplines and viable target career options for job hunting.
The company has several teams that work as a synergy to deliver a unique product or service. So the graduates are trained based on their core background. After orientation, which involves technical and non-technical overviews, the trainees are given the workload that suits their job descriptions. Then they will create a dummy project, aimed at developing competence about bidding for jobs coming from prospective clients and quality assurance of documents, ( capacity to perform a strengths/weakness/opportunity/threats – SWOT – analysis of their company’s capacity towards a bid or no bid decision is also passed on.
Pre-test and related evalutions are done at the initial stages to determine their level of understanding and skill set, and therefore determine their training requirements; (its like a need analysis.)
I love creativity. I am passionate about vision. I believe that a lack of vision is the worst defect anybody can have. Most people are poor because they lack vision and focus. I personally derive pleasure from going after creative targets, especially those resulting from “an out-of-the-box thinking perspective” to a successful conclusion.
The African race gives me great concern. We have a huge dependence on the more creative nations of the world. We hate processing, thereby auctioning off our raw materials. This I consider ‘mental laziness’. For example Nigerians focus on the sale of raw materials like oil.
We have 38.9 billion barrels of crude reserves yet can only boast of just 2 ½ refineries Meanwhile, United states has 36.4 billion barrels of crude reserve and they have close to 120 refineries! majority walking on the streets will walk naked if we asked asked to strip of what we didn’t process.even undies are imported or sown form imported materials. I believe that we have tremendous ability to make everything from scratch. Africa is a threat as a race because of our potential to be productive and because no continent has suffered like we have.
Nobody taught a black man to optimise palm wine. Nobody investigated it for them. The engineering of climbing the palm tree and tapping the wine to utilize its raw material in it’s purest form without any white man around. He also exhibited intelligence in the science of tracking of animals and engineering of bush traps to catch them.
These show that we have potential without western influence. This is is why we at Hommaston are passionate about helping to transform young professionals to become true owners and managers of our resources, to be masters of our own territories. Surely this is better than promoting expatriate dominance in the industry.
I started my structural engineering career in the oil and gas industry as a youth corper. At that time, highly skilled labor in terms of engineering was predominantly handled by expatriates. Today I can say through 10-12 years of dedicated effort I have lead design drafting teams void of expatriate inputs to multi nationals at world class standards.
My target audience are the real leaders, those I call the future, those young men and women out there full of hope and enthusiasm to exploit the best life can offer.
Our African prerogative focuses on the ‘dying’ rather than the ‘living’. With the little exposure I have gotten, I have realized that the western countries concentrate on the young ones and the children in their planning and everything that they do. They make sacrifices for them, respect them and give them preference.
If you go to their restaurants, there’s always provision for the sitting of a child or baby, even in the type of food they are served. This is because they realize that young people and children are vulnerable but also represent the future. But unfortunately here, we are looking at the chief, the baba, the father in the house who is dying yet eats the biggest chicken. We have a reverse mentality. So my target is the young graduates, they are the future.
How long has the business been in existence?
There were many phases. Firstly, the vision aspect of creating a business plan, doing the research before we could put the pieces together to what can be practically implemented took 2 years. Registration was in 2010, and the implementation phase was around December 2012.
There are companies who worked for 10 years to achieve what we have. But I think it was probably Gods timing. At Hommaston, we have our unique and invisible position which we all know you cant see on the orgchart but located above – the CEO, the COO…, we call that officer the SEO, the Supreme Executive Officer, God almighty and we are grateful to him.
What are some of your proud achievements?
Within three years of operation, we were able to get ISO certification. Most companies take 6 to 7 years to achieve that. We were able to create an attractive package that got the attention of a multinational here in Nigeria. We got that contract as a trial, but lots of hard physical and mental work by our team churned out an outstanding delivery which has led to several others jobs. We have also contributed to capacity building or graduate trainees in the design of the largest FPSO in the world, and that project is still on.
We have worked with many of the major companies in our sector and also play a prominent role in the Oil And Gas Trainers Association of Nigeria. Within a short period, we have delivered about 8 projects with 5 commendations. We delivered everything profitably, on time and on budget.
Did you seek bank funding?
Having worked with GTBank for a few years, I knew what loans were. I knew what happens when they go bad. So initially, I was determined to never go to a bank for a loan.
When my partner evaluated the collateral requested by the bank, he agreed with me we cannot go down that ally. So I decided that we collect some start off loans from friends who really knew us and could vouch for our integrity. The loans kept us till we got our first invoice. When the invoice came in, we paid off the loans with interest.
Though we had stabilized, we still needed working capital to take us through the next couple of months. So we did what is called invoice discounting. In a sense, this is a sort of a bank loan, but it is based on your demonstrated ability to do the work, the quality of the contract, and the grade of the client.
I am not averse to banks but I prefer you “use them” don’t go to them “for help”. For example say you have a Purchase Order of maybe N100million, and you can do the job for less – 70million. That’s a 30% markup? Yet you know that the bank can give you credit at maybe 19% for the whole year (the accumulated interest is not actually fixed for the 12 months). If you can conclude your project within 6 months, direct every payment to them, you take your money out early once you are done. That way your interest payment is lower and your margin is maximized.
Challenges faced initially?
Experience has taught me not to make plans based on enthusiasm but rather on established facts. For instance, we had to think carefully about the time to leave paid employment. Interestingly, my wife had just had a baby when I left.
The operating conditions abroad are different from here. In terms of the training, we investigate, do the diagnosis of those operating using these things and where they have challenges we build basic courses that are adaptive to our own environment. But the way we interact, our working methodology, our culture, all of these things also affect our delivery. So we take cognizance of all these and create courses which we think should be standard courses. This is not easy or cheap.
What are your current challenges?
In the market, multinational companies were asking the graduates to find foreign qualifications and certifications. What if they cannot afford these? Or the parents are struggling and he is out of school. If he cannot get a foreign education, that means that his hope of working in the oil and gas sector is dead. That is our challenge. The Hommaston challenge.
Because there is no standardized recognized platform to confirm that the graduates are well trained, some of them are stuck. Even when you create the mechanism, have a central platform for the graduates where they can hone their skills working on a live job, people still frown at it. But it’s much better than where the graduates are coming from in terms of their ability.
What has helped you sustain your business so far?
We are dynamic, No more old classroom presentation style, chalk board and literature materials at Hommaston.
When we train people, we customize the training modules instead of off-the-shelf courses. We do a lot of scientific work, use active game technology videos to support delivery.
Research on competitors as well as market acceptance has aided us coupled with the use of more appreciative methods that keeps our doors open.
We have started and are currently developing a method known as game technology. You can actually work through all facilities, operate files and everything on game technology on your laptops, etc.
What kind of business plan did you have at inception?
It was professionally written. Because all business plans have a template approach in which there are certain elements that are crucial to all stakeholders ie. the owner, the market, the regulators and potential investors. We also used Business pro to develop parts of our business plan because even though it is like a fixed template, its very detailed.
Did you train formally for what you’re doing now?
Yes,I studied structural engineering. I spent 14 to 15 years working in world class engineering firms. So I have the skills. When I got into project management, it gave me a higher up view of the entire business. I had an in depth perspective to how businesses are run and what is expected by stakeholders and customers.
Also, I must have had business IQ as a child as I was always doing things to raise revenue. But when I read the book, Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, it transformed my understanding of what business is about.
Securing finance is about how you would optimize it, (invest or utilize), to make sure that you do not lose it. Are you able to sustain what is given to you and add to it?
In Nigeria, a lot of trained artisans have no platform, and are lacking cutting edge skills. Nigerians do a lot of skilled labor importation while there is a huge population of artisans here in the country. That is our predicament. So, optimizing these skills is what we will invest in. Everyone who wants quality will find it locally rather than having to import. We are investing in the future.
What forms of IT does your business employ?
We use basic software at Hommaston, ie PDF Acrobat, Microsoft Office Suite. We also lease very high tech software that we use in our training exercises. Asides the software, we also use a router, and fast internet connectivity.
Have you been able to separate personal finance from business finances?
Sure, we have a Hommaston corporate account which is very separate from my personal account. I do not toy with the separation. I never mix monies from both accounts.
Do you think your business may suffer from keyman risk?
Our corporation is about four years old and we are already working on a succession plan. We have very brilliant people in our team. They have come to master relevant skills and they work excellently. If a man’s child is not greater than him, then he is a failure.
We have people who understand us, speedily learning to be like us; they produce excellent analysis on projects and issues. Sometimes, when they write a letter, you can hardly tell the difference. We believe that in two years, we would confidently say that we have successors.
Where do you see your business in 5 years?
Currently, we have started the processing of standardising our certification for use globally and thus moving towards accreditation by the International Accreditation Service of The United States so that our papers here in Nigeria can be used anywhere in the world.
So in the next five years, we should be the leaders in what we do. We will not be limited to Nigeria. We believe that even the international market will see us as a force to reckon with.
Which established company do you benchmark against?
Every company has their vision and mission. I can not benchmark a trending business against another business. Every successful entrepreneur would want a Mercedes Benz as a reward for his achievement. I admire the spirit of the pioneers of Mercedes Benz. Carl Benz is dead, but the vision of what he intended to do, which was to provide a car with durability, strength, and also luxury, transcends generations.
But I believe I am more equipped than Carl Benz was. When he started his business, his methods were what he developed over the years. But I have what he already worked on as my raw material to get further. I also look at Bill Gates, Microsoft. Predominantly, both men utilize the keyword ‘service’ to humanity in their businesses. For Bill Gates, that is what has made him the richest man in the world.
Do you have any regrets?
My only regret is that I did not read ‘Rich dad Poor Dad’ when I was 15. I wish I had the knowledge and appetite for reading and knowledge like I have now.
Advice to entrepreneurs
As an entrepreneur, you need to have vision, focus and purpose, which are key drivers of your success. If you do not recognize and respect life, you can enhance it. You need to respect your market, be passionate about what you give to humanity.
Businesses are meant to enhance humanity, to add value to the society. If you chase the money, you will lose the market. The market has the power to give you the money. If you have a heart for people, the spirit of good will give you a platform to advance.
You need a winning idea that you can make productive. If you have a convincing business plan, any sponsor will release money without you pleading for it. Integrity is also important, say what you mean, and do what you say. Integrity is a very scarce commodity, people have experienced it with you, they will always seek more of you
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