By Tony Manuaka and Henry Uche

Mrs. Adebimpe  Giwa, Group Managing Director/CEO, Tripple Gee & Company Plc., is an accomplished  marketer and administrator. She emerged as chief executive officer of the company in 2019, shortly after the passing of her husband and founder of the company. Within a few years, she has put the once ailing company back on the path of profitability. In this interview with Daily Sun, she gave an account of the task of rebuilding the company.


When you returned to Tripple Gee in 2018 and subsequently became the group managing director in 2019, what did you meet, what was the state of the company?

When I resumed duty in 2018, the company was at the lowest ebb, and I knew that was a task for me. Then I think the turnover of Tripple Gee was around N250 million or N300 million. 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 over N3 billion. It’s not child’s play, given the circumstances, but then I can say that, with dedication, hard work and persistence, we are where we are today but we are not yet where we are supposed to be. So it’s an ongoing thing.

How big is the company today in terms of figures, size and capacity?

I would start with the size. Then, the entire staff was about 70 or something, but now we’re about 200. And in terms of machinery, we’ve acquired so many machines because, in manufacturing, especially in printing, if you don’t have the required machines, you’re wasting your time in that business. So, we tried to re-equip our machineries and, right now, we have three major machines, we have a Speed Master – five colours, we have Muller Martini – eight colours, and we now have the Nilpeter – an 11-colour machine, which was launched last year. It’s the second in Africa and the first of its kind in Nigeria. We are the first to bring Nilpeter into Nigeria. It is an 11-colour flexo printing machine. The peculiarity is that it can print on any surface.

In other words, you have brought into the printing industry what your competitors don’t have?

As of now, Tripple Gee is the only one that has Nilpeter 11-colour flexo printing machine in Nigeria.

Before you returned to Tripple Gee, following the death of your husband, you worked in other fields, including the oil and gas industry. How did working in those areas prepare you for the task of running the company?

One thing about me is that, 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, before I even joined Tripple Gee at the beginning, I was doing oil and gas, and that prepared me. Then, what I had was Ambos Oil, which was my own company. When I got married to Chief Giwa, I joined the company, and I still had Ambos Oil Nigeria. Ambos Nigeria is basically into importation and processing. So it’s like it’s in the value chain. Because we service companies that produce, we bring in the threads and process for the end users. So, we are in between the value chain. Then, at a point, we diversified into another kind of thread, we call it the embroidery thread, for those people that produce Aso Oke (Yoruba traditional wear). But we had to close down that aspect of the business during the COVID era because there were no parties. But then the thread and the filter paper are still on. We still have a customer base and we service them.

Records show that when you took over in 2019 as the GMD, the company’s turnover increased by 149% within the first six months. What strategy did you adopt to achieve that?

As a marketer, I know that even if you have N20 billion debt with a bank, if your machines are working, you will pay your debts. That’s my strategy. So the first thing I did when I assumed duty was to say, okay, let me go out marketing. So, I went all-out marketing, to the east, to the north, everywhere. Prior to when I left, I had this robust clientele base, but when I left the company lost them. I had to go bring them back and tell them that I was back. That was how jobs started coming in, and we start all over at a fast pace, supplies and all that. And that’s just the strategy, to be honest. There was no particular formula that I could say, this was the formula I followed from LBS, no. I just knew that if your machines are working, you can turn this place around, that has been my strategy so far, and that’s still my strategy. Once your machines are working, you can turn around wherever it is. So, it’s basically my marketing skills that I put into it, plus the Almighty God that crowned our efforts, in addition to the functional machines that helped us before we started bringing in new ones.

There must have been some targets you set for yourself when you started. Have you been able to achieve those targets?

Yes, the targets I set for myself then were just three. First: to turn the company around in terms of revenue; to put the company on a profitability level. Second: to increase the client base and, third: to do a re-engineering of the old system, which was done, let’s say, in max of one year. So, another target has been set. It is to reposition Tripple Gee in the stock market, which is on-going; to put it back into the limelight and to make Tripple Gee a household name, which is on-going now because I know that a lot of people are saying that the company has folded up and stuff like that. But you can see we are moving on.

What have been your major challenges running the company?

The major challenges, I think, one, access to foreign exchange, because our major raw materials are imported. Different types of substrates and other materials. Accessing funds is one aspect of it, accessing forex is another aspect. It has been a 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 is, the processes. We are forced to buy from the black market, which has impacted negatively on our profitability because what you should get at N400, you are getting it at N700. As your paper is landing, it’s already expensive. And there’s a limit to what you can pass over to the end users. So you absorb it, at least the major part of it, and reduce your profit margin. That has been a major problem for us. The second problem is infrastructure deficit. As of today, we don’t have big trucks or vehicles anymore because the cost of maintenance is too high. What we do now is to outsource. And even that outsourcing, the cost for haulage around Ikeja may be N30,000, but to  come here, (Lagos to Badagry road) they charge about N100,000. Third is the personnel. I know that it is not peculiar to Tripple Gee; it’s an overall thing. To get quality staff these days, loyal, dedicated and hardworking staff, is a major challenge. So those are the major challenges I think we have: funding, forex, infrastructure, and personnel. They are big challenges.

Of all the hurdles you face in the day-to-day running of the business, are there some that you are unable to scale over because you’re a woman managing a big organisation?

Oh, I don’t see myself as a woman. So, I don’t think like a woman. I did not position myself as a woman. In the manufacturing industry, somebody just told me like two weeks ago, you realize that we are the only ones in this space? And I said, “How can I be the only one in this space?” The other person is digital printing. So, I haven’t seen any challenge. In fact, I tell you that very few men can withstand the challenges I have passed through and scaled through. I can say it any time, any day. And for people who know me, they know what I’m saying. So, I don’t see myself as a woman. It’s not an impediment to me at all. I’m not constrained because I don’t see myself as a woman. And the way I work, people that work with me would say, this one doesn’t see herself as a women and I feel so bad when a woman puts herself in that position: “…because I’m a woman.” I would say, “What are you talking about?”

With what you have accomplished so far and the new targets you have set for yourself, where do you want to take this company to in the next five years?

In the next five years, I would have taken my leave because I don’t expect that I would be doing this stressful job till I’m 60. And so there’s a succession plan in place now. I already have a successor whom I’m grooming. And she’s learning fast. We share the same vision. So, 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 other African countries. There’s nothing stopping us from printing for Italy or anywhere in Europe. The difference between us is machinery. If I can get that machine, there’s nothing stopping me from expanding. So, in the next five years, I see Tripple Gee in not only West Africa but a global business partnering with global companies.

Is that to say that you are setting up branches in other West African countries?

Right now, we are not setting up, but we are supplying. We are in Ghana, we are in Senegal, we are in Niger Republic and we are also in Sierra Leone.

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So 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 jobs.

Within Nigeria, what share of the security printing market do you control?

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 IT. We’re also into commercial printing (not the calendar type of commercial). We’re into promo cards. For instance, for the past four years, we have been the ones handling Dangote promo cards since they started, and others like that. For secured printing, of course, Tripple Gee is number one because we’re the first indigenous company that started printing cheque books in Nigeria. We’re CBN-accredited, and we set the pace, share certificates, and dividend warrants. We are number one in secured printing. We are the ones printing your vehicle licences, the ICAN, MAN, and all the certificates. Then, we have the packaging section. For the flexo packaging, we are doing virtually all the oil labels for engine oil companies. We are the ones printing tags. For flexible, it is new to us. Though not totally new to us, we now want to play big in the flexible packaging. And I will say, for flexible, we are like number seven out of 10; for flexo, we should be number two or three out of 10; but for security printing, we are number one out of 10.

For commercial, because our commercial is restricted, we are just in our world. We don’t really call it commercial, we call it card services. And then for IT, we have an app, which is called True Data. This app, we’re the first to bring it into Nigeria. And I don’t think we have another company. But that app is to prevent counterfeiting of any secured document. We use it for Dangote first time, but we changed it. We do it for only classified, secured documents that need security and topnotch 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 printing you do?

Because we are CBN-accredited, there are some stipulated training that our staff, especially those working in factories, must undergo. And we also send them out for courses under MAN because the Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria usually organises training for different testing, for security, for Quality Control, for logistics, we make sure that they go there. Then there are one or two companies that we also partner with outside. We have two in Dubai and one in the UK. But we send our staff in the security unit, especially the OPM, our head of design, they go learn something new and then come back to impart it. We do this like quarterly. So because there are new things, every time there are new things that must be learnt. That’s how we’ve been able to stay above our competitors.

In terms of getting the kind of equipment you use for these specialized jobs, do you have foreign technical partners?

I’ll give you an example. There’s something we call numismatic – it is one of the features that we adopted from the cheque printing. We just enhanced it and added it to true data when you want some security features. It doesn’t require us to go outside. What we needed was a specialized kind of printer, which we have in-house. For instance, we have also upgraded our Computer To Plate (CTP) system, 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 selling secret.

You emphasize more on machines as your strategy at the beginning. Did you not give priority to your human capital as a matter of importance?

Of course I did, because I had worked in marketing and packaging for almost 10 years, I know the in and out of packaging. I didn’t study printing, but my passion drove me into learning about printing, and most times my husband of blessed memory, even at home, I asked, what is the cylinder? I had my note, I wrote it down, when I got to the floor, I would say: “why didn’t you clean the cylinder?” I wanted to know what the cylinder was 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 on the floor. And that’s how I got all the experience. Someone asked me a question: Did you go for a printing course? I didn’t go for a printing course. It is just now that I’m doing a professional packaging course. Everything that I know was on the job. And because I knew about printing, I was able to use the manpower I had then. What I just did in the immediate was to do a refresher course for them. I sent some to McCombs, a training outfit. Some went for MAN. We were doing an in-house training; we were doing it for at least twice every month to refresh their minds because some of the machines were obsolete. So, you know when there’s no activity, it also affects humans. They just came to work and ate lunch. But when they saw the activities, everybody was gingered, and everyone was ready to adjust. So, I just made use of the existing personnel at that time. Luckily for me, the majority of those I left when I was leaving were still there. So it was easy for them to say, “Madam is back, action!”  They call me Action Woman. So, that’s how we fared. We had to pair some of the machines. We had to update them. I just sent for rollers, update this and that. Work was in progress. Once money started coming in, we started applying them, buying machines, and all that. That’s what we did. Thank God, today we are moving forward. Not only was the company lifted in terms of revenue, it was lifted from loss to profitability.

What is the current working condition for your staff like?

From when I took over, the working conditions of staff had always been a paramount thing, to be honest. My husband put in a lot of religion into the business. You know, according to the Quran, you have to treat your staff very well. So, he paid a lot of attention to that. Even when the company was running at a loss, there was still a canteen, staff were still eating one meal a day. Salaries were being paid. But once you are using the whole money to pay salaries and you are not getting 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 that I did a lot of promotion to lift their morale and motivation. Okay, if you meet this target, you get this as a reward. Then we started End -of-the-Year party, where cash donations for the overall best employee was rewarded with about N200,000. You know that gingered the system. Then the meal ticket was increased because they complained that the food was insufficient. It was increased, salaries were increased. We brought in a human resources firm to assess the system and all that. Of course, the KPIs, a lot of things were done.

As an organization, what do you do for your host community as 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 like the transformer gets burnt. There was a time there was a fire incident 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 first service providers. And then when we have jobs, we try to engage them. For instance, some of them in the universities, once it’s June, July, they all know that definitely there will be jobs for them, from there, they get some money and they keep it to go back to school. We also attend to Islamic organizations, churches, Motherless Babies Homes and all that. And then from time to time, since the time of COVID, we try to impact our immediate environment. We buy rice; we package and share because everybody now is food first. In the Ramadan period, on behalf of Tripple Gee, we cook for like 300 people every day. That is done at Gbagada. We do it every day for 30 days once the 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 l business?

That’s a big question. In fact, the chairman of Tripple Gee wonders. If you see me in the boardroom, I’m talking and acting. When you see me at (Owanbe) a Yoruba party, you won’t know it’s me because I can dance. When I’m being social, I’m being social, full social, whatever I’m doing, I do it to the fullest, even when I’m giving, I give as much because, my husband used to call me ‘Madam Alasheju’ that means I do things overboard. I don’t know how to do in- between. 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. When my husband was alive, I cooked his food fresh because my husband never ate next day food. He never even ate morning food in the afternoon or afternoon food in the evening. Yes, for those that know me, for twenty-something years. Well, I enjoyed it. I would do breakfast fresh, he enjoyed it. In my packaging office, I have a kitchen. I’ll do his food first, and he eats his food fresh. So, I will say I’m a special being because I’m multi-talented. I can multi-task. That’s how God created me. As I’m even talking to you, I’m thinking of one or two things in my mind.

Do your children have these traits?

Well, I think my children are independent. By the grace of God, none of them is dependent on me. Because that’s the way I trained them. I trained them to know that look, life is full of challenges. There’s nothing that comes easy. However, you solve your problems. You don’t think that there’s one mommy there, or there’s one daddy there. Some time ago, I was in Dubai, and I asked them to talk to me on any challenges they were facing, but they wouldn’t. They come to me as their last resort. So when I see people their age asking their father… my own children, the way they are trained is that life is full of challenges, and you must face it.

Have you ever thought of expanding Tripple Gee beyond Lagos?

Well, we used to have an office in Kaduna. In fact, we just closed it down because of insecurity. But we are trying to build an annex along the Lagos – Ibadan Expressway.

Are there some decisions you have taken in the course of running this business that, if given a second chance, you would like to do differently?

To be honest, yes. In the last three years, what I’ve learnt is that I should not always take decisions spontaneously because I’m one person who doesn’t have an in-between. 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 retrieve that decision is always difficult. Despite the fact that 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 restraint 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? For instance, like somebody is coming into my office, and he is dragging his feet. Dragging your feet for what? And then my own is, there’s nothing that’s not achievable, and there’s no situation that has no solution. Once there is a situation, there must be a solution. So, I don’t feel comfortable when people tell me that the situation in Nigeria … which situation, when people are building mansions. Those people that are building mansions do they have two heads? So, 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. I don’t drag anything. If there’s an issue, let’s just trash it immediately. For every challenge, there’s a solution. I’m also prayerful o!