Interview: CEO of Teragro, Dupe Olusola is taking the position to new heights

“When infrastructure like roads…are put in place, issues like substandard goods begin to matter less.”

Dupe Olusola, the Chief Executive Officer of Teragro Commodities Limited (the agribusiness subsidiary of Transcorp) recently partnered with consumer good giant, Coca Cola, to produce Pulpy Juice. This makes Teragro the sole local material source for the juice. Olusola is a woman on the rise in business in Nigeria, and is a stickler for high standards. Ventures Africa had a conversation with her to learn more about Teragro and her experience in the industry.

Ventures Africa (VA): Given your earlier professional and academic background, how did you come to be in the agro-business?

Dupe Olusola (DO): What I have found is everything you do in life prepares you for the next step, I think. My degree was in Economics, from the University of Leicester, UK, and my Masters was in Economics of Developing Countries, from the University of Kent in Canterbury, UK. I started out doing SME development as well as private equity. Basically I studied was understanding businesses in Nigeria, for example – principles, policies,

I have a diverse skill set, which I developed from finding myself in different fields at different times, and thus took me beyond my own discipline. I was previously the Director of Resources/Chief Operations Officer of Transcorp, responsible for overseeing our investments in power, agri-business, hospitality, and oil and gas. I joined at the time that the company needed a turnabout, and we believed it could be done. When the opportunity came to handle an aspect of the company (Teragro), I was appointed. I was excited to learn about agriculture, seeing as Nigeria is an ‘oil country’, and I was interested in the diversification and development of the economy.

VA: What were some of the challenges that you met upon assumption of your role?

DO: Immediately I took over the company, I made it a point of duty to understand the management and understand the business in order to run it successfully. My team and I had a strategic documentation of what we wanted to get done. The challenges were a mixture of being in a new industry and working with a new set of people (the farmers). Also, sometimes people are not used to seeing a woman in such a role, so it became critical to let people understand your strength and know that you can deliver.

VA: In terms of diversification, do you have bigger plans for the agriculture sector beyond Teragro?

DO: My key driving force in life is to be able to achieve change in whatever area I find myself in. I’m all about impact, and I’m happy to do that in agriculture and in Teragro. I imagine I will always have a role to play in agriculture in Nigeria, also in terms of creating employment and food security. Once those are in place, the economy will move forward. I intend to use my diverse skill set to influence change in the area.

VA: How does Teragro intend to address the complaints of substandard locally sourced materials to this effect?

DO: Improving on the standard of our local materials is a key challenge because of poor infrastructure, and this makes it difficult to be successful in the manufacturing business. Most times, it is easier for the customer to import the product, especially when you compare costs of production. Therefore, the government must work with all of us as one to ensure that the right infrastructure, which includes electricity and roads, are put in place to encourage business owners and reduce their production expenses. Training and improvement are also key.

VA: What impact do you think Teragro can have on growing Nigeria’s economy?

DO: We run the first plant of its kind in Nigeria. It hasn’t been done before. We’re exploring ways in which Coca Cola can expand to Senegal through our partnership. In terms of a direct impact to the economy, it’s income substitution. We’re finding ways to generate revenue and are trying to reduce the amount of foreign exchange spending of organisations, while growing the agriculture sector.

On another hand, we’re also looking to expand our strategies, and we have included the production of concentrate to our business. In addition, we’re looking to invest in other key crops, such as rice and cassava. In Nigeria, the top five agriculture products are imported, and rice is one of them. The idea is to look out for the top consumer crops that Nigeria spends FX on, and start to produce them locally.

Personally, I find that an interesting way to make a difference is to create a path for more women in agriculture, as there are very few of them. Also to celebrate women in leadership generally, from agriculture to finance, to other disciplines.

VA: Would you say that there is something that you do differently from a man, or just your peers, with your position?

DO: I think these things rely more on ability than sex or gender. Women are becoming more recognized these days for taking on jobs previously delegated to men. I think the biggest challenge that women face is their fears. And this is based on our emotions. When a job of certain magnitude is presented to us, our first instinct is to say no, because we feel that we don’t have whatever it takes in various ways. Why not just say “yes”? That’s a big difference I’ve found between men and women. Men just say “yes, I’ll take it” first, then deal with any challenge that might come after.

A starting point is women to say “yes”, then go back and think of ways to accomplish what needs to be done. When this job was first offered to me I learnt that it was in Makurdi, Benue State. I have a husband, I have children here in Lagos. I could have said no, but I said I wasn’t going to think about it, I was just going to take it. You can’t get to Benue with a plane, and I hate road travelling. So, if I was saying “yes”, I was saying that to every part that came with it.

VA: Something interesting you said is how a man would just dive in without thinking, but a woman would think. On the flip side, do you not see this as an advantage that women have? Especially with decisions in your position.

DO: We do have advantages as women, because we’re naturally emotional and analytical. But it can be a disadvantage as well in your career, if you don’t know when and how to apply it. You need female instincts when leading a team; you’re in tune with them and their feelings, and that way you get more from them.

VA: What plans have you drawn out for yourself as CEO of Teragro?

DO: Thankfully, we have achieved a lot in a short time. My predecessor did a lot of work, but not a lot of things were achieved for a lot of different reasons. Within the time that I became CEO and now, we’ve made significant investments in the plant, we’re supplying concentrate for the 5 Alive juice, we’re sourcing for Pulpy Juice, we got allotted 10,000 hectares of farmland in Benue State, we have signed an agreement with an Israeli company for feasibility studies, we have established a good relationship with our farmers, and we have done a documentary with Coca Cola that would be shown internationally.

The first thing I did was outline the key things that I wanted to achieve, and so far I’m literally just ticking them off. We had our challenges along the way, but I’m happy to say we’re having a god season. I’m hoping that next year would be better. It has been a pilot and a struggle, but hopefully it gets easier.

VA: Do you think that you can take Teragro to a multinational level?

DO: We have to appreciate our market and the size of it. We must never underestimate it. A lot of multinationals come to Nigeria in the first place because of the size of opportunity that we have here. I’m not in a hurry to expand out of Nigeria, although we possibly will, because of Coca Cola. I’ve not even scratched the surface of the opportunities that exist here yet. I’ve gotten a number of phone calls today alone, saying they make juice and they need certain fruits. Let’s develop our economy first and not be in a hurry to leave.

VA: Do you think that you can maintain the standard that made Coca Cola select you as a sole supplier of locally sourced materials?

DO: We will not only maintain, we will actually surpass. On a daily basis, we are thinking and planning on what we can do until we get there. When we started, it was “how do we invest in an extraction cup to reduce the oil that spills into the juice?”, now it is “how do we increase capacity and invest in other things?”. We have just recently successfully completed another audit as well. A review team flew in from Egypt to check how our crops and staff are handled, as well as the process we go through to meet international standards. It’s all about how we can develop the sector to the point where we can stand proud, and this is not just limited to Teragro. If we need to develop and expand agriculture, we should be considering Africa and how we can look inward for development and sustenance, so it’s no longer about foreign aid to develop our economy.

Entrepreneurship and MSMEs are key in any economic development, for instance. They require investment. So, if you have this mindset, and consider all of this, your product can never be substandard. If we ensure that we do all that we need to do to meet international standards, we cannot be where we are now next year.

VA: On a more personal level – work aside – what is a day like for you as CEO of a company?

DO: Well, I try to wake up in the morning, if I can. (Laughs). I try and do some exercise, then spend time with the kids before I rush out of the house. We have an early start at the organization, and we don’t compromise that. Usually, I start with my to-do list, then I get a report from my team. And work day continues, and I try to accomplish enough before close of business for that day.

After, I go home, spend more time with the family, then I prepare for the following day. On the weekends, I like to hang out. I have family and friends that I like to do so with. For me, life is all about balance; you can never make one area all of what you are. Having a good life outside of work helps to develop that area as well. So, I enjoy my family, I enjoy my friends, I love doing things like going out to eat, laughing, I love dancing. I generally just love being happy. It’s never all that bad.

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