Chief Adebimpe Giwa is the Group Managing Director (GMD) and CEO of Tripple Gee & Company Plc. As a marketer and administrator, she joined Tripple Gee sometime in 2002. She became General Manager (Packaging), left in 2014 but later re-joined Tripple Gee in 2018 when she lost her husband and founder of the company, Chief Gani Gbadebo Giwa. Adebimpe Giwa is still running the business and taking it to greater heights.
Tell us about when you came back to Tripple Gee in 2018 and subsequently, you were made the MD, tell us what you met on the ground, and the state of the company.
Okay, when I resumed duty in 2018, the company was at its lowest ebb and I knew that this was a task for me. And I set at it, then I think the turnover of Tripple Gee was around N250,000,000/N300,000,000. And I was like look I need to turn this around. And that gave me the spur to go on. Right now, I can tell you Tripple Gee is worth over N3 billion. So, it’s not child’s play, given the circumstances, but then I can say that with dedication and hard work, persistence, we are where we are today but we are not where we are supposed to be. So it’s an ongoing thing.
Can you give us the state of the company, and how big it is in terms of figure, size, and capacity?
I would start with the size. The entire staff was about 70 something, but now we’re about 200 plus, and then in terms of machinery, we have acquired many types of machinery, because the manufacturing, especially in printing, if you don’t have the required machines, you’re wasting your time in that business. We tried to re-equip our machinery, and right now, in our fleet, we have three major machines. We have a Speed Master five colour which we bought; we have Muller Martini, eight colours we bought; and we now have the Nilpeter machine which was launched last year, an eleven-colour machine. There are two of its kind in Africa and the first in Nigeria. We are the first to bring Nilpeter into Nigeria, which is an eleven-colour flexo printing. The peculiarity of this machine is that it can print on any surface. It can work on labels, SALs, PP, and Com. You can also work on flexible materials, POPP, PVC, and LDPE. There’s nothing that Nilpeter flexographic machine cannot work on. It’s an 11-colour machine. We are the first to bring it into Nigeria and the second in Africa.
In other words, you have something that competitors in the industry don’t have…
Yes, as of now, we are the only one with Nilpeter in Nigeria.
Before you came back to Tripple Gee, you worked in the oil and gas industry. How would you see working in that sector prepare you for the task of being CEO?
One thing about me is this: whatever I set out to do I try to put in my best and to be the best there. So whenever I’m going through anything I like, I’m ready for the challenge because I know that nothing good comes easy anyway. So when I left, before I even joined Triple G at the beginning I was doing oil and gas. And so that prepared me, and then I was with Ambos Oil, which was my own company. Of course, after I married Chief Giwa, I joined the company and I still had Ambos oil Nigeria going on. Ambos Nigeria is basically into importation and reprocessing. We are in between the value chain. Then we also at a point diversified into another kind of trade. We call it the embroidery trade. We call it the for those people that produce Aso Oke in the Yoruba language. You know the traditional wear. We’ll bring it in and all that, but we had to close down that aspect of the business when COVID hit.
When you returned, the company had a turnaround of 149% within the space of six months, tell us one strategy that you adopted.
Okay. As a marketer, I know that even if you have N20 billion debt with the bank, if your machines are working, you will pay your debts. That’s my strategy. So the first thing I did when I returned was marketing. I went all out marketing, to the East, to the North, everywhere. Before I left I had this robust clientele base, but when I left, they lost them and I had to go bring them back. That I’m back. I’m back. I’m back. You know… jobs started coming in, and we started all over at a fast pace, supplies and all that, and that’s just the logic, to be honest. There was no particular formula that I say okay, this was the formula I followed from ABS. No, I just knew that if your machines are working, you will turn this place around. That has been my strategy so far, and that’s still my strategy. Once your machines are working, you will turn around wherever it is. So it’s my marketing skills that I put into it plus the Almighty God that crowned our efforts. It’s been my marketing skills, and functional machines that helped us before we started bringing in new machines.
There were some targets that you set for yourself when you got back. Have you been able to achieve all the targets?
Yes, the target I set for myself then was just three. Firstly to turn the company around in terms of revenue. Secondly, to put the company at a profitability level. Thirdly, to increase the client base and to do a re-engineering of the old system, which was done within one year. The next target is to reposition Tripple Gee in the stock market, to put it back into the limelight and to make Tripple Gee a household name, which is ongoing now because I know that a lot of people are saying that the company has folded up and the stuff like that. But you can see we are moving on.
Your major challenges
One major challenge, I think, is accessibility to forex (foreign exchange) because our major raw materials are imported from different types of substrates and other materials. Accessing funds is one aspect of it, accessing forex is another. It has been a major, major challenge because there are so many features that have been regulated in terms of, you can just have your own money that you want to transfer from your accounts, that has been blocked, everything has to go through the CBN and it’s been a lot of bottlenecks. That’s the process. We are forced to buy forex in the Black Market, which has impacted our profitability negatively because what you should get at four hundred, you are getting at seven hundred. As your paper is landing it’s already expensive. And there’s so much you can pass over to the end users. So, you absorb it, at least the major part of it, and you absorb it and reduce your profit margin. So that has been a major problem for us. Secondly, infrastructure. I’m sure on your way here, you saw all the vehicles. As I’m speaking today, we don’t have any big trucks or vehicles ourselves anymore because the cost of maintenance is too high. What we do now is to outsource, and even that outsourcing, a fee around Ikeja may be N30,000, but they charge about N100,000. So that’s the second challenge. Thirdly is the personnel. I know that is not peculiar to Tripple Gee. It’s a general thing. Getting quality staff these days, the loyal, dedicated, hardworking staff is a major challenge. Major, major challenge. So those are the three major challenges we have: funding, forex, infrastructure, and personnel. They are big challenges.
Where do you want to take this company in the next five years?
In the next five years, I would have been taking my leave because I don’t expect that I will be doing this stressful journey till I’m 60. No, and so there’s a plan in place now. I already have a successor who. I’m grooming and she is learning fast. We share the same vision. I can see Tripple Gee in the next five years as the One -Stop business in Nigeria for any kind of printing. That’s one. Two, we’re also not going to be in Nigeria alone. Right now, we are in West Africa. Nothing is stopping us from printing for Italy and others. There is nothing. The difference between us is machinery. If I can get that machine, nothing is stopping me from expanding. So in the next five years, I see Tripple Gee not only West Africa, but a global business partnering with global companies to be a greater business to work with.
Is that to say that you setting up branches in other countries…?
Right now we are not setting up, but we are supplying. We are in Ghana. We are in Senegal, Niger Republic. We are in Sierra Leone.
Do you have business partners in all these countries?
We have people who bring in jobs from those countries, especially secured jobs. High-level secured and classified secure jobs.
Within Nigeria, what’s your share of the market as one in security printing?
You know Tripple Gee has diverse sectors. We are into secured printing. We’re into packaging. We are into flexible packaging. We are into card services and we are into I.T., we’re into commercial (not the calendar type of commercial). We’re into promo cards. For instance, for the past four years, we have been the one handling Dangote promo cards since they started. And we do the same for others. So that’s how our commercials are. We are not doing the calendar.
For secured printing, of course, Tripple Gee is number one because we’re the first indigenous company that started printing chequebooks in Nigeria. We’re CBN accredited, we set the pace. We also print share certificates and the like. The first indigenous company. We are number one in secured printing. Yes, because we are the ones printing licences for your vehicles, and the certificates of many institutions, including the ICAN, and MAN. Then we have the packaging section. The flexo packaging. We are doing virtually all the oil labels for engine oil companies. We are the ones printing (tea) tags.
Flexible is new to us, although not totally new. We are now playing big in the Flexible. I will say for Flexible we are number seven out of 10, but for Flexo, we should be number two, three out of 10, but for security, we are number one out of 10.
Because our commercial is restricted, we are just in our world. Okay, and then for I.T., we have an App, which is called through data. We were the first to bring it into Nigeria. I’m not sure we have another company doing it. That App is to prevent the counterfeiting of any secure document. We used it for Dangote for the first time but we changed it. We do it for only classified secured documents that need security, top-notch security. So it’s not something that is out there for everybody, for those that know it, they come to us and we serve them.
What kind of training do you give your personnel considering the kind of high-level security business you do?
Because we are CBN accredited. There are some stipulated pieces of training that our staff especially those working in factories must undergo. And we also send them out for courses under MAN because MAN usually organises training for different testing for security, QC, for logistics, we make sure that they go there.
And then there’s this one or two companies that we also partnered with outside. We have two in Dubai and we have one in the UK. But we do send our staff in the security unit, especially the OPM, our head of design. They go and learn new technics and technologies and then come back to impact them on our operations. We do this regularly, maybe quarterly, because there are new things that must be learnt. That’s how we’ll be able to stay above our competitors.
In terms of getting the kind of equipment you use for these jobs, do you have foreign or technical partners?
For instance, I’ll take an example, there’s something we called numismatic. Numismatic is a feature that we adopted from cheque printing. And we just enhance it and we add it to the secure. We add it to through data when you want some security features or classified features. It doesn’t need us to go outside. What we needed was a specialized kind of printer, which we have in-house. For instance, our Computer To Plate (CTP) system, we have also upgraded it, and we just bought a new one- the latest so that once the product is going through the printer, it can transfer. You know when something is going through the beta it can transfer the image the way you want on the documents. I won’t say more than that because it’s our trade secret.
You emphasize more on machines as your strategy, did you not give priority to your human capital (then) as a matter of importance?
Of course, I did, because I had worked in marketing and packaging for almost 10 years, and I know the in and out of packaging. I didn’t study printing but my passion drove me into learning about printing. Most times my husband of blessed memory, even at home, I asked him questions. I have my notes. I would write everything down and when I get to the floor, I ask, for instance, why didn’t you clean the cylinder? I wanted to know what is the cylinder so that they won’t know that I don’t know. Most times I go online I read and then I’ll just bulldoze my way onto the floor. And that’s how I got all the experience. Somebody asked me, did you study Printing? I didn’t go for printing. It is just now that undertook a professional packaging course. Everything that I knew is on the job. And because I knew about printing, I was able to use the manpower I had then. What I just did immediately was organise a refresher course for them. I sent some to McCombs, a training outfit. Some went to MAN. We were also doing in-house training. We do it at least twice every month to refresh their knowledge. So I just made use of the existing personnel at that time. Luckily for me, the majority of those I left behind were still around when I came back. So it was easy for them to say, ‘Hey, madam is back, action!’ They call me Action Woman. So that’s how we fared. So some of the machinery, we had to update them. Once the money started coming in, we started applying them to buying pieces of machinery. Thank God, today we are moving forward, not only was the company lifted in terms of revenue, it moved from loss to profitability.
But then what is the working condition for staff?
From when I took over, the working conditions of staff had always been a paramount thing, to be honest. My husband put a lot of religion into the business. You know in the Quran, you have to treat your staff very well so he placed a lot of attention to that. Even when the company was running at a loss, there was still a canteen where staff were eating. Salaries were being paid. But once you are using the whole money to pay salaries and you’re not getting it in profit, there would come a time you won’t be able to pay salaries. So in fairness to them, the staff standard was up to date. I just improved on it. what I did was did a lot of promotions to lift the morale and motivation. If you meet this target, you get this as a reward. Then we started the end-of-the-year party and gave cash donations to the overall best employee. You know that gingered the system. Then the meal ticket was increased because they complained that the food was insufficient. Salaries were also increased. We brought in an HR firm to assess the system and all that. More promotions were done.
How about your corporate social responsibility?
Well, in our environment, they know Tripple Gee. Once anything happens, it’s Tripple Gee that will take care of it. For instance, they want to fix the roads or the transformer got burnt. There was a time a fire incident occurred like the next house to us, it was Tripple Gee they were looking up to. We had to bring out fire extinguishers or call the fire service providers. And then when we have jobs, we try to engage the youths. Some of them are in the universities, and once it’s June or July, they all know that there are jobs for them. From the jobs, they get some money for their upkeep when returning to school. We also attend to Islamic organisations and churches; we attend to motherless babies’ homes and other charity organisations. Since the COVID pandemic period, we have been impacting our immediate environment. We buy food items, package and share them. And every month on behalf of Tripple Gee, we cook for like 300- 400 and share the food. Yes. During the Ramadan fasting period, we cooked for 300 people every day. That was done at Gbagada. We do it every day for 30 days once Ramadan starts. And we have been doing that since I took over.
You said you don’t see yourself as a woman? How do you manage your social life with the business?
Whatever I do, I try to be the best in it. When I’m being social, I do it to the fullest. Even when I’m giving I give as much because my husband called me ‘Madam Alasheju’ which means I do things overboard. I don’t know how to do things in half measure. I know that, and when I’m angry, I’m angry. You will know I’m angry, once I’m happy, I’m happy and I’m dancing and enjoying my life. I’m enjoying my life. So I match it. I’m multi-talented. I can multitask. That is how God created me.
Are there some decisions you took in the course of running the business you would say you regret?
To be honest, Yes, yes. In the last three years, what I’ve learnt is that I should not always take decisions spontaneously. Because I’m one person that doesn’t have an in-between one or two. Once I’m upset I take my decisions and that’s it. But in most cases, I think I overdo it. In the corporate world, once you take a decision, to reverse that decision is always difficult, even though I knew this is too much for this person, I shouldn’t have done it this way, so I had to just swallow it. Because of course, it affected me in some ways. So yes, there are one or two decisions but I also know that I’ve been training myself to restrain myself on my temperament. I think the standard I expect from people is too high. So once they are not in that standard I would be like what is wrong with you? And then I believe there’s nothing that’s not achievable, and there’s nothing, there’s no situation that has no solution. Once there is a situation, there must be a solution. I don’t take no for an answer. My staff know me. Once I come in, it’s action. And I want my job done now and now. If there’s an issue, let’s just trash it immediately, for every challenge, there’s a solution. I’m also prayerful.