•Amazing story of 30 years of Lee Engineering

By Edirin Ejoh

Attaining the age of 30 may not sound very unique to an ordinary mind, but to a discerning person, it is a great deal.

In the life of any human, it is an age believed to be the constructive period, when men begin to acquire property, possessions and family. The same can equally be said of corporate entities.

The obvious fact is that not all are privileged enough to celebrate their 30th birthday either as a human or a company. This is why those who appreciate the grace of God that brought them thus far take time out to celebrate in whatever form they chose.

Lee Engineering and Construction Co. Ltd is not an exception in this regard. Incorporated on November 11, 1991, the company is 30 years old and the board and management, led by its Founder and Group Executive Chairman, Dr. Leemon Ikpea, has chosen to mark the special age with a thanksgiving service in Warri, Delta State.

Anyone close to Ikpea, will find it difficult to fault his decision to celebrate the company’s successes and survival through the ages in the house of the Lord. This is because his faith in God as the sustainer of his pursuits is unparalleled.

Beginning

Speaking on how he was able to get this far, he said: “First, it has not been an easy journey considering the environment we operate in. But when you have faith in God and you know what you are doing, the sky will be the limit. As somebody from a humble background, we are not lazy in my family. We worked very hard to cross so many hurdles.”

Talking about working with the intent to be successful, Ikpea pointed out that he does not take pride in envy or being jealous of others. “The good thing is that in my family we don’t look at what belongs to somebody else. We concentrate on what belongs to us.

“So we have that zeal to continue to pray to God to direct us and to show mercy on me,” he stated.

Reflecting on how it all started, Ikpea said: “This year will make it my 44th year in the oil and gas industry. I started from scratch, working with great thinkers and builders.

“In the beginning, we were taking notes of what they were doing during the construction of the refineries. Warri Refinery was commissioned in 1978. I was already there as far back as 1976. I was able to put my head down to know what was going on and what was happening.

“My experience in the refineries helped me to learn more about the industry because I was able to work with the British people – that’s my first port of call. Thereafter, the British handed me over to the Italians. After working with one Italian company, they handed me over to another Italian company.

“I was with them for 14 years. When I was convinced that I had acquired the experience I needed, and had also been able to make a few contacts, I resigned and established my business, which is today called Lee Engineering and Construction Co. Ltd.

“By the grace of God, on November 11, which we call ’11-11′, we clocked 30 years in business. It hasn’t been a smooth journey. There were ups and downs, but we give God the glory that, at least, Lee Engineering and Construction Co. Ltd has attained 30 years. And by the special grace of God, we still have so many years to make and leave a special legacy for the younger ones coming behind us.”

Opportunities

Aside from laying a solid foundation in the construction subsector of the oil and gas industry, Lee Engineering is now venturing into manufacturing.

According to him, “we are not just into construction, now, we are also into manufacturing. Very soon, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria will commission our manufacturing factory. I am sure before the second quarter of next year, by the special grace of God, the President will commission our factory in Warri.”

The idea of transiting from seeking contracts to the manufacturing of necessary equipment and spare parts for the oil and gas industry comes with a lot of benefits for the sector.

First, it engenders technology transfer, saves foreign exchange, builds capacity alongside many other multiplier effects.

The factory, which is said to be 90 percent completed, would help reduce the amount spent on importation and procurement of tools and parts used in the oil and gas industry hitherto imported from different parts of the world.

And upon completion, employment opportunities will be created for Nigerians and foreigners with the right expertise.

Speaking on it, Ikpea said: “I am a man who believes in God. And when you pray to God with all your heart, he will answer your prayers. Challenges are numerous. There are lots of challenges, but we surmounted majority of them to get to where we are today. There is determination, and if the determination is there, and with the backing of God, definitely you will get to your destination.

“This is our 30th year. Some staff that started with me a long time ago are still with us. Some have been with us for 28 years, 29 years, 25 years and 26 years respectively. “Sometimes, you are not able to pay salaries. Some people jumped out because they could not endure. Sometimes, salaries are delayed but they will be paid eventually. But some couldn’t wait because they were in a fast lane. But there were some that, in thick and thin, remained with us. And some of them are directors today. Some are general managers and some managers.”

As a way of further rewarding the dedication and commitment of those who stayed with the vision, some of them have become shareholders in the company as they have been offered shares by the company.

“I have to give some of them some shares in the company because of their hard work and dedication. This was done to encourage them, and let them know that we appreciate them.”

Indigenous company

Asked how his firm was able to compete in a sector where indigenous companies experience retarded growth, Ikpea identified commitment and timely delivery of quality jobs as some qualities that distinguish his company. 

“There are some contractors or business people that you give opportunity to but they waste it. We are not that type of company where you give an opportunity and then trash it away. We are a very responsible company.

“We ensure we discharge our responsibilities creditably. We don’t abandon projects. We don’t abandon any responsibility, even from any of the IOCs that we have worked for. We take them seriously and we give them first-class quality jobs,” he added.

Continuing, Ikpea added: “In some cases, when you are told it’s a Nigerian company that did this job, you may doubt and think it’s a company from France or Germany, or from somewhere else. But we are Nigerians and we do it to the best of our ability. Everybody admires our performance. Everybody admires the services we are rendering in the industry. They like our performance and they patronize us. They give us additional responsibility and we carry it out and everybody is happy.

“You cannot give responsibility to someone and after   relying on the person, he disappoints. You cannot go back to the same person, next time. So, for us, if we have signed an agreement or contract, we face it squarely. We ensure that we deliver and that has been what we do to always stay afloat. There are many companies that we started together with, but they are no more on the radar.”

Future

For Ikpea, although the celebration of 30th anniversary is a milestone, his eyes are set on how to make more impact and remain relevant to the economic development of the nation.

Asked what plans for the company in the next 30years, he said, “By the special grace of God, I pray he keeps us alive, I’m sure in the next 30 years, oil will still be there, and if oil is no more there, gas will still be there. In the next 30 years, the company would have gone to the top because I’m laying a solid foundation for the group.

“So, in the next 30 years, a lot of Nigerians would have been trained. And those who are trained would have also started establishing their own companies, and then the economies of Delta State and Nigeria would have also improved greatly. That is my goal and vision.”

On entrepreneurs nursing the idea of venturing into the oil and gas industry, he said, “I don’t think we should always focus on oil and gas. Let everybody focus on their talents or skills. Some people think when you come into the oil and gas industry, the next day you will make money. It doesn’t work that way.

“The reason mine is different is that it is my first job. I was able to study and discover what was going on there and developed an interest. And with that interest, I was able to grow for 14 years studying what was going on in the industry.”

Analysing the performance of indigenous companies operating in the sector, he said, “The problem with us Nigerians is that some of us are not serious. Some of us are just concerned about getting the money right away. Money is not everything.

“The first thing is to ensure that you ask your conscience ‘’am I ready to learn and grow?’’.

On those who engage in blackmail to secure jobs, he said people who do so usually don’t go far. They eventually crash, he noted.

Giving a word of advice, he said: “You can’t climb that way. Get what belongs to you, handle it properly, deliver it properly, then as you are delivering, you will be given another opportunity. That is how it works. We never blackmailed anybody to get what does not belong to us.

“Success in the oil and gas industry as in any other enterprise comes with tenuous striving, thus Lee Engineering engages in a lot of biddings. They bid for different projects, while they win in some cases, they may not be very fortunate in others.

But losing should not make them lose hope or resort to unwholesome acts.

“The ones we win, we do them very well so that when newer opportunities come, we can also grab them. The ones we lose, we say they are not for us. Those we lose due to blackmail from other people, we discover that, at the end of the day, they crash. So that is life,” he said.

Government

On indigenous companies, Ikpea said: “All these big companies are mostly companies from South Korea and other countries. If such companies have been encouraged in their countries to the extent that they have been able to go international, what stops Nigerian government from supporting those of us who are serious.

“Now, we are building a factory and we have more than 2000 people on our payroll. What stops the government from encouraging us with loans, tax holidays and several other incentives to allow us to grow?

“They can say there are some projects, let Lee Engineering do them because if Lee Engineering does them, it will be able to absorb thousands of Nigerians that have no jobs. If such an opportunity is given, you can imagine how many people will benefit directly or indirectly. But what happens here is that more opportunities are given to foreign companies.

“I’m not against it because for a foreigner to come here it means he or she is good. But the fact that they became solid was because they were encouraged by their governments before going international. Nothing is stopping government from also encouraging some of the indigenous companies in Nigeria to be fully empowered. By doing so, our indigenous companies can go international. “We can start from Ghana and then to Angola, and start moving towards Europe and to other parts of the world. Nothing should stop that because the money comes back to our country.”

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