By HENRY OJELU
Ubong King is a man of many parts. He is a security expert, serial entrepreneur, philanthropist, business coach and motivational speaker.
Through his company, Protection Plus Services Ltd, the former chairman of American Society of Industrial Security, Nigeria has been in the fore-front of providing critical security services to a broad range of clients.
His Ubong King Foundation has also raised an army of youths with strong leadership skills for the challenges of tomorrow. In this interview, Ubong whose reputation for motivating others, precedes him, shares how he braved rejection, frustration, failures and other life’s challenges to become a successful entrepreneur.
What was your growing up like?
I was born in Obanikoro area of Lagos state to Mr. & Mrs. Nseabasi Thompson Idionkanta. I attended Maryland Convent Primary School, Mende, Maryland Lagos. I was admitted into Federal Government College Ijanikin, Lagos in 1983. A lot of things changed for me after my father’s untimely death at the age of 39 years. I was just 13 years then. I found out early that I did not have the luxury of crying. I had to move on.
What were some of the experiences that shaped your upbringing?
My father was my friend. He was responsible for his family, provided for us and ensured we were safe. That made me to realise that provision and security for the family is man’s first responsibility. I watched him do things and till date I ask myself what would my father do if he was in my situation? Often times I would get the answer from that thought. After he died, his nephew, late Jackson Ekaidem stepped in to assist the family. He was 32 years then but he refused to allow us go astray; he took responsibility for the upkeep of my nine siblings plus his own eight children.
His action taught me that we have a responsibility not to allow the system to decay no matter what, but must intervene as quickly and as much as possible.
Two other things stood out for me about him; he read books every night for a minimum of 1-2 hours on business and relationship management though he was not a graduate. Also, he would invest time in helping people that needed help especially widows and vulnerable people. He gave his life for others. So I learnt to personally develop myself everyday for a minimum of an hour on YouTube and books to improve myself and see to it that I can help others find purpose in life.
How did you find yourself in security business?
Revenge was my first motive owing to the fact that my father passed on as a result of being poisoned by someone. I wanted to join the navy, learn to use a gun, then come back to kill the person who killed my dad. But as I grew up the person by who poised my father died, so I could not take my revenge. Moreso, I became a born again Christian. This thought was the driving force which made me want to learn to protect other people. I read a lot of magazines on security which I bought at Ojuelegba, Ikeja bus stop and CMS in Lagos. These magazines directed my interest that this could be a profitable industry. I watched a film by Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston called Bodyguard and I said to myself, this is who I want to be- a body guard. VIP protection became an interest for me.
The more I studied it, the note I was getting sucked in, so I began to see executive protection specialist, emergency armed response services and secured transportation for VIPs as a path I wanted to tow. Most Nigerian security companies focus more on guarding services and as I read extensively, I saw that there were many other services I could offer. I spent some time working for some companies before I started my own. That was very important because it was like an apprenticeship model for me before I jumped into starting my own. Through that, I understood the market, the opportunities and how to structure my own company.
What are some of the challenges you’ve had to confront in the industry?
Challenges are the cardinals for growth. If challenges come, they are indicators that you need to grow. As a company, we have had many regrets and we have risen above them. One quick one that I can remember was in 2013 when we decided to market our maritime services to companies and we were invited to meet with them. The meetings went well and we were given a task to escort a super tanker. We did not have the right equipment to carry out the task, so we had to rent the equipment from someone else.
We were paid in advance and we mobilized the owners of the equipment, but we did not test the equipment to see if it would do what we wanted. We failed on the task badly. Our clients disappointed their client, and we lost money and embarrassed our client who just signed on with their own clients. I had a meeting with my team and we decided to write an apology letter to our client, refund their money. I personally flew to their office to meet the team on it. They appreciated the sacrifice and told me that we have shown integrity, accountability and readiness to learn. That act made our client sign a 5 years retainership with my company.
What are your guiding principles?
I hate to compromise standards because I know the long term consequences of cutting corners. Business is not for the short term, but for the long term. If you look at the short term, you will only be interested in the immediate gratification of what you can get and you are out. When your vision is on the long term, you choose the services you want to be identified with. You also choose your partners and associates carefully.
You also learn to delegate more and trust that your staffs are knowledgeable too and should be celebrated and rewarded handsomely. This will keep your business alive and healthy. I also took a commitment to help other people win by forming credible partnerships to grow both local and foreign operations.
We committed to ensuring that all leaders were adequately trained for their roles and challenged accordingly. We were deliberate in growing our business and sourcing for businesses around the world rather than just waiting for the business to come to us.
What would you say are your biggest lessons in life so far?
The loss of my father, the failures in my academics, lack of finance and rejection from family were real issues before me but I learnt that it is not what happens to you that matters, but how you react to it. The understanding that there is always another way pushes me to find out how to solve problems. There is always another way-you just have to look hard enough.
What is the motivation behind the training you organize for youths every year?
My flagship event is called “Thinkation.” It is coined out of two words-Thinking and Education. Many Nigerians are educated but they do not think. I had a choice to give up, looking at all that had befallen me, but I refused and fought the challenges till they gave way for me. The indices of Nigeria are very disturbing. With a population of over two million, 75 per cent are youth under 45 years and 45 per cent of these youth cannot be employed because they do not have skills.
In 20 years, these unskilled youth will be adults who will be a threat to the nation. The Joint Admissions Matriculations Board reports that 1.7 million candidates apply for the exams every year for only 850,000 slots in our tertiary institutions. So what happened to the remaining candidates who do not get admissions? The NYSC report that they can only handle 350,000 gradates per year, so what happens to 500,000 others? My mission is to raise 50,000,000 young entrepreneurs to recruit five persons each. Thinkation is a platform where real success stories and business ideas are shared yo young minds.