Executive Chat with Parvir Singh, Group Managing Director, Stallion Group (Automobile Division)
[dropcap]P[/dropcap]arvir Singh is not the type, who likes to sing his own praise. But a close encounter with him reveals why the Gulf’s richest Indian family, the Vaswanis, could afford to entrust in his care entire Stallion Automobile Group in Nigeria. Since completing a Masters Degree programme at New Delhi University, 31 years ago, all he has ever done has been to SELL. For eight years, he worked with Modi Xerox Limited in India as Major Accounts Manager, selling office automation products to corporate institutions and government bodies. Afterwards, 1993, Singh relocated to Nigeria to assume position of Managing Director, Stallion Group’s Automotive Division. His appointment resulted in sales quake in the nation’s auto marketing sub-sector. He introduced what was known as by-two-get-one-free, offering three Honda cars for a price of two. As a result, Stallion sliced deep into the saloon vehicle market in the country, a success, which later turned sour, as competitors accused Stallion Automotive Division under Mr. Singh’s management of engaging in under-invoicing. Without trial, the then President Olusegun Obasanjo’s civilian regime deported owners of Stallion, popularly known as Vaswani Brothers. The government also attempted to shut down Stallion Group. Singh remained on ground, managing the crisis-ridden automobile marketing company till 2005, when he backed out and joined Alliance Autos Nigeria Limited, then exclusive distributor of Nissan and a subsidiary of CFAO Group, as managing Director. But less than five years afterwards, Singh returned to Stallion Group as Group managing Director, (Automobiles). Under his management, Stallion Group now runs an automobile assembly plant and also holds exclusive franchise dealership of Skoda, Volkswagen, Porsche, Honda, Hyundai and Nissan.
Singh’s responses during this exclusive interview with Motoring World’s Editor-in-chief, FEMI OWOEYE, prove that he has perfect understanding of Nigeria’s political and economic tunes. He sounds Nigerian. He would use the pronoun, “We”, when referring to “Nigerian”. On behalf of the nation’s auto industry, Singh makes developmental recommendations for the incoming administration of the Retired General Muhammad Buhari.
Motoring World: By May 29th, there will be a change of government in Nigeria. As a leading player in the nation’s automobile industry, what are your expectations from the next regime under the leadership of Retired General Buhari?
Singh: My expectations are that we need to prepare the country for industrialization. Industrialization creates jobs. And jobs feed families. And that’s how a nation grows. So I mean, it’s very simple for me. Build infrastructure. Build industry. Build the skill of the people. Employ those skills so that the country can move forward. That’s the idea.
Motoring World: Are there things you would have wanted added or taken off the nation’s current automobile policy?
Singh: Talking about the automobile policy, we need to be specific. It needs to be a policy that is based on industrialisation. We don’t need old second-hand cars into the country. We don’t need to be a country that is merely dependent on second-hand cars from other countries. We need to be a nation that produces, a manufactures and creates goods and services, which all of us can be proud of. That’s what it is.
Motoring World: You would recall that it was reported in the previous week’s edition of Motoring World that the incoming regime would review the auto policy. What’s your take on that?
Singh: Why not? One must always review one’s actions. There is no harm in reviewing one’s actions, as long as it takes the country forward. One needs be dynamic. One needs to break away from mistakes of the past, learn from what went wrong, analyse situations and set objectives of how to go forward. I don’t see anything wrong in that. I mean reviews are always there, so long as it is in the best interest of everybody. We are talking about a country, we are talking about human beings; we are not just talking about any industry specifically. It’s a bigger question.
Motoring World: How do you plan to make Nissan affordable to average Nigerian motoring public, especially, those who have been dependent on imported used vehicles.
Singh: As you asked me earlier, you asked me about local content. We have to build up and develop local content, local skills; local products and localize everything, you know: Think local, act global. That’s the slogan for today’s world. Think local, act global. You have to work on those principles. Principle of business always remains the same.
Motoring World: To date, how many Nigerians are in the employment of Stallion Automobile Group of which you are a Group MD?
Singh: In our group, just in the retail centres, we have a thousand people. We have similar number of employees in the manufacturing. And it is a thing that is constantly growing. And it will grow with time. That’s why I said the jobs are in the industry. You need to industrialise.
Motoring World: In running an auto assembly plant, how do you cope with Nigeria’s level of infrastructural development, especially power supply?
Singh: Of course it’s a huge challenge. Do not let me simplify anything. We can only advise that the government takes a realistic view, because there is a need to take care of developing the country. And it’s all about leadership. The leaders are there to lead the country to the right direction. And they are the ones to put the right people in the right places so that things can get done the right way. It’s a big challenge, no doubt. But we believe that the people in authority realise this too and are working towards putting it right.
Motoring World: What level do you plan to take Nissan to in Nigeria?
Singh: That’s a very complicated question. Nissan has to be number one in Nigeria. That’s the level. That’s what I’m here for, to make sure and ensure that Nissan has its rightful place under the Nigerian sun.
Motoring World: Since Nissan took off in Nigeria, what challenges have you faced within the country’s business environment?
Singh: Well, challenges of doing business in Nigeria are as unique as the challenges of any developing country. There are huge problems we all have to cope with; there are infrastructural problems, problems of governance. And I’m sure strong leadership in Nigeria would be able to turn around-Nigeria is turning around; I’m not saying it’s not turning around; but we need to move forward, you know what I mean. We need to be where developed countries are. I mean that’s the target. That’s where we need to be.
Motoring World: To have Nissan Assembly plant in Nigeria is, no doubt, heartening. But one wonders if there are plans for local content sourcing and development?
Singh: Local content sourcing is what we all have to take very seriously, because that’s what adds value to a product. In terms of value, we need to keep increasing it. You know a lot of industries in Nigeria have shut down, because of the local content element. There have been a lot of issues in the past by which lots of companies, which were manufacturing things for the auto industry, like tyres and so on, have closed down. And we need to take this seriously. We need to study this from a 360 degree perspective in terms of analysing what are our strengths, what are our weaknesses, what are the threats, what are the opportunities the country offers. We need to seriously sit down, brainstorm and put answers together and move forward, because time doesn’t wait for anybody. If you don’t take advantage of time, you get left behind.
Motoring World: You studied history and worked in Xerox. Why and how did you find your way into the automobile industry? Why not another industry?
Singh: May be God. God destined it for me (laughed). It’s destiny. It’s my destiny.
Motoring World(laughed): What has the experience been like, working in the auto industry for over two decades?
Singh: It’s been exciting. It’s a very complex industry. It has a lot of learning to be done. And it’s an industry, which creates a lot of jobs. And that’s what my interest is. It’s an industry, which is a significant contributor to any GDP in developed world. And it’s one of the most labour-intensive industries in the world today. So that’s what it is.
[box type=”info” align=”aligncenter” ]”…we need to prepare the country for industrialization. Industrialization creates jobs. And jobs feed families. And that’s how a nation grows. So I mean, it’s very simple for me. Build infrastructure. Build industry. Build the skill of the people. Employ those skills so that the country can move forward.” – Parvir Singh[/box]