By NBF News
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•Solomon Ubaka
For the Milling Director of Flour Mills Nigeria Plc, Chief Solomon Ubaka Obichukwu, experience could only bring out the best as well as impact more on the productivity and the profit margin of the company.

Having worked for forty years in the establishment of Flour Mills Nigeria Plc, the company that shares same history with Nigeria, Chief Obichukwu believes that Nigerian workers can be the best in their career and retire handsomely if they can stay longer in an establishment.

He speaks more on how his experience has improved products in the company, industrial relationship and providing affordable products for Nigerians and Nigerian workers.

What keeps him on
Retirement age of 35 years does apply, but it takes a lot to stay that long. The most important thing is that you have to be healthy and also you have to love your job, the interest and the challenges. But if you love your jobs, challenges would be secondary and you may even stay beyond 50 years on the job. This is because one gets better with experience on the job. The company also wants you to impact your knowledge on the younger ones, who are equally yearning for more knowledge.

The experience has also impacted positively on our products, as we have been able to bring in lots of innovation to keep us at the top. All these are what has kept me this long.

Flour Mills as an employer
Flour Mills Nigeria Plc is a good employer, pays well and takes care of the staff and pays more attention to expansion to keep staff in the job.

In terms of welfare, the company's tentacles go beyond the staff to other members of the family which most companies do ignores. The company permits staff to bring their family for the end of the year party. A lot goes into making Flour Mills the best employer in Nigeria.

As I said earlier, my being in Flour Mills for 40 years is not because I do not have better offer but for job satisfaction.

Secondly, the company pays well compared with other companies in the food sector. Moving around does not really add more, as it is believed that a rolling stone gathers no moss. Invariably such a staff will also be losing because at retirement , it is the terminal salary that will be used to calculate one's benefit.

Hence, moving around, even though the salary may be increased, but the number of years will be low. In the long run, the ultimate total sum such staff would get would be nothing compared to a staff which stays in an organisation for 20, 30 or 40 years. It is job satisfaction and good salary.

Climbing the ladder
One has to work extra hard to get to the top of the ladder either in business or carrier wise. I came in as a trainee and after the initial training, I was assigned my first responsibility. However, one has to work very hard to be moved to the next level. That is from miller to assistant chief miller, then chief miller to production manager to man the factory. Then if one continues to do well, one moves to the director level.

Though it is a believe that one cannot assess self, but having been forty years in this business, I can assess myself because I assess people.

I assess myself as being very productive. I said this because since I have been in this company and taking care of shouldering the responsibility of taking care of the products that are coming out of Flour Mills, we have been number one in quality.

The job satisfaction has been responsible for doubling my efforts to produce the best for the consumers.

Of course, if one has the best products, many end users will be itching for your products. This also would lead to expansion in capacity utilization through construction of more factories in order to satisfy the consumers, the end users of the products. We have enjoyed that tremendously in Flour Mills. No doubt I would say my productivity as well as that of the company is high.

For example when I came into the company, the capacity was only 600 tons. But now we have grown from 600 tons to 6,200 tons that makes us the second largest in the world, and with our new mill of 3,500 tons, that should take us to about 10,000 metric tons a day. That definitely will make us the largest flour milling company in the world.

The company had only two major products, Flour and Bran when I joined the company. The bran was for the animal food. However, within a few years in the '60s we started the production of Semovita, which I met when I joined in 1972. In 1972, some other products like whole wheat, pasta products were added.

In the '90s, I researched into whole wheat to bring up what we have now as Goldenvita. We also have other products like confectionary flour. Presently, we have noodle flour on a special request for companies into biscuits manufacturing, KFC and some bakeries. We have various types of products depending on what the customer wants. As at now we have over eight different products, the bread flour, the biscuits flour, the confectionary flour, the noodle flour, the whole wheat flour, the wafer flour and the customised flour which is about four depending on what the customer wants.

Management/workers relationship
The relationship is very cordial, for Flour Mills to be very peaceful. We have never had strike or any dispute between the management and the staff. That shows that the management takes good care of the staff. Since I joined the company, there is an established relationship where the staff discussed with the management and agreed on how to move on progressively for the company to grow. That is what makes the company grow and the stock is doing well in the capital market. Our profit margin is okay and this is because there is industrial harmony with both junior and senior staff.

Flour Mills is a group and for the group we have about 5,000 staff strength inside Flour Mills, we have the flour, rice, cement, fertiliser, all within the group.

On giving Nigeria good products
Experience makes better whatever one is doing. When I joined the company, using Semovita as an example, Flour Mills had the monopoly. However, the challenges crept up when other competitors came in.

It's only somebody who has experience that can be on top of those challenges in the competitive world. So with my years of experience I continued the research on Semovita products. Not to just make it something to eat, but one that has added value for the end users.

We have to give it value to make it nutritious through adding vitamins. Also, we need to make it easier for the housewives to prepare in the kitchen as well as make it look nice. That is all what Semovita is all about. It's not just a product from the wheat which is endosperm that one throws into the market. Ours is Semovita, which is semolina plus vitamins which we put in.

Apart from the natural vitamins in the wheat, Semovita also has amino acids and other nutrients. All these make Semovita unique and that is what we are given to the public and it is because of years of experience that we have been able to do this, which most other companies cannot do.

Product re-launch
Our marketers do return with complains that Semovita is different from others in the market, but we continue to educate them that Semovita is not the same as other semolina in the market. We can do the same, which is the white but it is not good because it is only carbohydrate. We thought it wise to move away from starch food to give Nigerians, food that contains vitamins, proteins because we know meat and fish are costly, while most Nigerians do not eat vegetable as much as they ought to.

As such, we decided to make Semovita very rich, not only just being a carbohydrate food, it is also a proteinous food that can give the consumer all the nutrients needed in the body. Therefore, we researched and brought in high technology machinery with our experience to be able to extract valuable part of the wheat which contains protein and amino acids to add it into the semolina.

The research has been a secret, but we have decided to make it known to the public what the Semovita contains.

There is no secret about it. It is true if one takes Semovita and subject it to laboratory analysis with other semolina in the market, one will discover that Semovita contains more in terms of the values, proteins, amino acids and other vitamins and nutrients.

Affordability of products for workers
The product like Semovita is not just carbohydrate. We are putting into the market the kind of ball food that goes well with all kinds of soup, even you can eat Semovita alone without meat or fish; one would have gotten the necessary nutrients. Though meat and fish are also good, but our assurance is that Semovita is very rich, richer than most other carbohydrates or ball foods. Semovita is cheap when compares with yam, cocoyam which are all more of carbohydrates.

Also, for affordability, there are different units, the10kg, 2kg and the smallest which is 1kg and sells for N150, it is packaged with student or small family in mind and it can last up to two weeks, it is packaged actually with low income group in mind.