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Working with the General: How Pier Luigi Carrodano's stint at Nalcomet Group paid off.- Part 1.

A special interactive session with the Group Managing Director of the Comet Shipping Agencies Group of Companies, Mr Pier Luigi Carrodano, on the occasion of the ISO award and presentation of certificates to six companies in the group namely: Fivestar Logistics Ltd, Comet shipping Agencies Nigeria Ltd, Plantgeria Company Ltd, Danelec Ltd, Danalec FZE and Tethys-Plantgeria Ltd at the Ladi Kwali Hall, Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Abuja Nigeria on Wednesday, 27th October 2010.
Pier Luigi Carrodano

“Shipping is a business for gentlemen but sometimes you have to be a shark to survive” - Mr Carrodano.

Pier Luigi Carrodano dabbled into the maritime trade as a junior partner in a small shipping agency in La Spezia, Italy. This was in the early 1970s.  Upon further contact with many Nigerian shipping factors of those days, he grew more and more interested in the Nigerian market.  Before long he got an appointment with Panalpina World Transport Nigeria Ltd.  for work in Nigeria and he was glad to make his first trip outside his native land.  Upon reaching Lagos he was posted to Port Harcourt where he was able to be appointed agent by a successful shipping company. It is through this shipping company that he had the opportunity to come into contact with General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma,  then a  newly retired army general who was striving out into international shipping. The year was 1979.

Fast-forward to 2010. Time was evening. Location: Ladi Kwali Hall, Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Abuja.  Gathered at this posh ball room in Nigeria’s fast-rising capital in the west African savannah is a party of selected guests.  Aside from the restless paparazzi of press men and ushers, the venue was playing host to longtime associates of the Nal-Comet group of companies: captains of industry in maritime, banking, oil and gas, and electricity power sectors, top echelon bureaucrats and similar fellows.  There was no mean person amongst the seated guests on the floor, a few of whom came with their spouses.  The high table was studded: the Obong of Calabar, Edideam Ekpo Okai Abasi ; the director-general of Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON), Dr John Akanya;  General Danjuma, now officially designated as the promoter of the Nalcomet Group of Companies; Chief (Barrister) Musa Danjuma, the executive chairman of the Nalcomet Group and his wife, Chief Caroline; Mr Carrodano, the group managing director of the Nalcomet Group and his wife, Rosanna, among others.

During the speech making phase, the DG of SON confessed that in all his years at the top of the organization no group of companies had attained the award of ISO certification to six companies in their group in one fell swoop, marveling at the capability of the companies’ management to scale the internationally moderated procedures and clinch the awards. But he warned the managers, who were later called out to receive the individual certificates for their companies, to look out for red flags which oftentimes crop up after the celebrations of the award.  In the worst of cases, he said, the awards were withdrawn from such companies as failed to maintain the momentum of the qualification.  However, Dr Akanya waxed confident again because, as he put it, the group has a General who is actively haring on diligence and performance, referring to General Danjuma.  To many of these expressions, at intervals, there were applauses and rounds of general laughter.  The air was convivial and so many little things were happening intermittently, as is normal for such a celebration of business and industry.

Then the moment came when General Danjuma requested the microphone, to which the MC obliged. Clearing his throat, he looked at the assembly below and began on a historical note. He said he owed great gratitude to Mr Carrodano for his unstinting support and help in nurturing the companies from inception till date.  Looking at Mr Carrodano, he asked, “Luigi, how many years have you worked with me now?”.   “Thirty-five years”, Luigi replied demurely.  It was a signature moment for the whole event and a crowning moment for Mr. Carrodano.  The General thereafter thanked him and told the rapt audience that all the achievements were traceable to the sixty-something year old Italian who has taken to Nigeria as salt takes to water.

When later DDH asked Mr. Carrodano whether this praise was exaggerated, he did not hide the fact that at that moment he miscalculated a little.  He said the actual number of years was 31 and not 35.  And of the praise heaped on him, he said the executive chairman, and younger brother to the General, Chief Musa Danjuma ought to be highly commended because without him the much-needed stability to operate the multiple enterprises on a day-to-day basis would be Herculean if not impossible. Chief Danjuma himself was nonetheless cheerful throughout the event and thereafter because as he also told DDH in an exclusive interview, he never expects the General to begin to praise him in public because it would be immodest.  Hear him, “I have lived with him (General Danjuma) since I was ten.  We don’t need to go to Sheraton Hotel Abuja for him to begin to praise him”.  This deepness of understanding underscores the unity of this family and concurrently seems to rub off well on the management of their family enterprises.

As for Pier Luigi Carrodano, he began his career on a day he never reckoned with a faraway country called Nigeria.  At the tail end of that career however, the country whose citizenship would soon be sure to him has become the epicenter of his life story; a place where he is at home amongst friends. All the companies he managed to the high acclaim of the ISO:9001 2008 award had been formed to serve the development  needs of the fast-emerging West African economy.  Her problems have become the mill for this crafting of a centre of excellence in quality service delivery.

The following exclusive interview is one of the most encompassing we have been able to have with Mr. Pier Luigi Carrodano about his life, family relations, time in Nigeria and in his native country and his occasions on the job within Nigeria and around the world.  Excerpts:

DDH: How did the idea of applying for the ISO come about for the six companies that were successful in clinching the awards?  And what did the process of accreditation involve?

Mr. Carrodano:  You see during my career I have been in operation in various places: USA, Italy, Nigeria.  Within country I was moving around, especially in the US where I was the general agent of Nigeria America Line, I had to visit many sub-agencies. I had to adapt myself in the various ways of operating, documentation and accounting systems etc. Those systems were different, very far one to another.  In my mind I had always thought it would be very beneficial if there was a standard of doing things which was accepted internationally without having to change or adopt different systems. I therefore have been trying to adopt systems which I thought was very beneficial to our own operations

DDH: But the idea of applying for the ISO must have come at some point?

Mr. Carrodano:  Yes at that time many years ago, it didn’t occur to me that ISO was the solution to such problem, I was not aware yet.  In addition, as shipping agents, we interact with many different shipping lines or carriers from many different countries.  Again, many times we have to follow their own procedures in accounting and in the way records are produced.  So this reinforced my conviction that if we in the Comet Group adopt a system which is accepted internationally, we don’t have to change all the time to adapt to other systems.  But it was in the early 1990s when I noticed that ISO procedure was more and more present in Nigeria and especially the oil companies were giving much more attention to the organizations which were certified by ISO.  Because ISO certification is a confirmation that the recipient of this award is a well organized company and is in a position to provide good services.  So it was at that time that I thought that the adoption of ISO procedure would benefit us in running the various companies and give us the chances to be favourably considered by large organizations and work with them. And that was in the early 90s. At the beginning, I didn’t even know how to start and whenever I was trying to get information, I was told that it is a difficult procedure, lengthy and as if to say that perhaps it was not possible to do it. But then I start to ask myself how do we start?  Now being in shipping, I thought to apply to a classification society like Bureau Veritas, Lloyds Register’s etc.  Our supply boats are under the Lloyds Register and I started to ask them questions and they said yes it is very possible we can organize this for you.  But then I talked to Mr. Giandomenico Massari, the general manager of our Company Danelec Ltd. He is very well into quality system and he is a member of the Nigerian Society of Engineers. He said that no, in Nigeria there is already the Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON) which is the official member body of ISO and is the right entity to grant ISO accreditation.  Then we decided to apply to Standard Organization of Nigeria.

DDH: What year was this?

Mr. Carrodano:  When I discussed it with Mr. Massari it was 2008.  Then the real starting was 2009 in March after we selected a consultant to guide us.  We needed a consultant to guide us through the various steps to acquire the knowledge to follow and implement a system that is ISO compliant. Our practice in Shipping where it is required to maintain a proper system in documentation, way of operating etc., has facilitated our understanding of the (ISO) procedure.  In fact, when we started with the consultant, I think they noticed that Comet was already organized in a good way.  Still there were a few things that needed to be corrected and other to be improved:  this is just an example the advantage a company derives from ISO. 
Mr Carrodano wit a member of staff.

DDH:  So what did the process of accreditation involve?

Mr. Carrodano:  First of all, the awareness of the management and staff of the initiatives to follow an ideal process, uniformly and constantly in the future.  On that I noticed so much enthusiasm from our staff which encouraged me to proceed in full with the procedure to acquire the accreditation. There was a time when it was felt this learning process was taking away some precious time otherwise devoted to the operations.  But when I saw so much enthusiasm….especially I was impressed by the internal auditors who were appointed from our staff and they were sent off to Port Harcourt (office) in order to acquaint them on the the way to proceed and carry out the auditing. I noticed when they were auditing me they were very knowledgeable and I was really impressed.  I mean I was audited by them from time to time and they were doing a very good job.  And no exemption;  I am the MD but they had to find faults ….(general laughter).  I was feeling bad sometimes when I didn’t score well.

DDH: But with all these you could notice improvements in your overall performance or delivery?

Mr. Carrodano:  Yes.  Internally there is a better control of things which reflect in the overall performance.  For instance, we started to issue list of suppliers which we consider reliable.  We screened all of them and we only admitted in the list the ones which could prove competitiveness and deliver quality products. This is just an example.  We have devised a form to sound the level of satisfaction of our clients which we distribute to them to have a feed back. 

DDH:  And now some staff have to be dedicated to aspects of the ISO system monitoring?

Mr. Carrodano:  Yes.  ISO procedure is a continuous evolving process. It’s not that we get the certification and we forget about it because it is a process that is to be continued in the future.  So we have recruited a staff dedicated to follow and ensure we are correctly applying the ISO procedure and that the records are properly kept.  For instance, there must be records of operational meetings, records of management meetings.  Within our Managers and Staff each Company have appointed one MR (Management Rep) who relates with SON and  Internal Auditors who audit Managers and Staff regularly.

DDH: So these rigorous methods add to the confidence the oil companies have in ISO-accredited entities?

Mr. Carrodano:  Yes, for them it is an assurance that an accredited company is well organized and therefore do not expect any serious short-coming from its services. And same confidence is reposed by European Companies too: when I tell a manager in Europe that we have got ISO award, he congratulates us. We are more credible and respected. I am also reminded that it takes a lot of dedication to maintain the ISO certification.

DDH:  From your overall experience, this ISO certification is not for small companies because you have to have some reasonable structure to see it through?

Mr. Carrodano:  Yes, it’s not due to the difficulties in adopting the procedure. Also a very small company can understand and follow the system, but this call for some investment, so if the volume of operation is very small, in my opinion it is more difficult for such company to meet the cost associated with maintaining this procedure even though benefits could be derived by adopting ISO quality system.  

DDH: General T Y Danjuma at the Abuja event publicly attributed all the success to your hard work and coordination.  Is the praise exaggerated since you work with an executive chairman who reports to work?

Mr. Carrodano:  First of all, what General Danjuma said pleases me so much, I must say.  Of course, it’s an exaggeration; more than an exaggeration.  I think at that moment General Danjuma wanted to remember the first time when we started.  But there is no way that anyone, not just me, could have reached the stage where we are without a proper organization, without a chairmanship to stabilize the whole organization.  Let me tell you why, in my opinion, the General mentioned this:  because I am a kind of pioneer, in the way that amongst the whole organization, I was the first one that started with him.  His brother, the chairman, joined us in 1986, as the executive director.  Later he became chairman.  Without our chairman, I could not have a chance to express myself in my operation and if I am still here, it’s also thanks to (Chief) Musa Danjuma. Our chairman has the capability to in still faith in what we are doing.  And he has the capability to ensure that the organization can perform at its best because he is a leader who is able to stabilize the company.  I notice this when there is a serious problem within the organization, he is the only one who can really face it and solve it.  I mean without him, I could not do much.  I would say that one of the main reasons I am still in Nigeria is because of him.  Now the General in that his remark, I think he wanted to remember when we started.  It was a very small company if we compare with the Comet Group of today.  And the association with the General was from 1979 when I was the agent for one of his companies.  At a certain point it was decided to set up Comet Shipping Agencies to serve Nigeria America Line, his (General Danjuma) Company, which we did in 1984.  But it must however be made clear that the Executive Chairman is the number one promoter of the activities from the beginning when he was the executive director and I was the general manager.  I have always been under him.  Then in 1999 we were made Chairman and MD, respectively.  I feel privileged to work under him. 

Mr Carrodano wit Mr Bogusz Ratajski of Euroafrica Line.

DDH:  At this juncture, permit us to peep into your grooming for work in the maritime industry.  How was your entrance into the sector, was it planned or did you just dabble into the trade?

Mr. Carrodano:  It was peculiar in two ways.  One, I don’t know why but I always felt attracted to the shipping and forwarding activities. Those activities expose you internationally in a very interesting field.  Then, this is very personal:  it happened that my father was sharing an office with a small ship agency and I was helping my father as a young man after the high school.  And from time to time, I was given a chance to also help in that agency when foreign ship’s captains were around, to act as a sort of interpreter even though my knowledge of the English language was far from good. It was than a natural step for me to devote more time attending to the need of that agency till I was officially employed. This is how I started in Shipping.

DDH:  What year was this?

Mr. Carrodano:  This was in 1964, it was a small establishment, a family office. But again sometimes you learn more in smaller companies.  Why? Because this was a small shipping company in La Spezia and in a small company you learn more because there is not a proper structure for which an employee cover a specific role, you have to do many things.  So I was involved in customs clearance, ship’s agency, stevedoring, administration, issuing of disbursements account, invoices etc. I was boarding vessels with Port Authority officials to extend “free pratique”. And then following the stevedores operations.  But in a big company, maybe you are in charge of a specific field.  As a young apprentice, I was exposed to a variety of operations, I liked this very much. At that time Saturday was a normal working day. Most of the Sunday mornings I was still going to Office to complete pending matters. In any case ships must be attended also during the Festivities. I have been carrying out this lifestyle throughout my working in Italy, till 1973. That is I developed the experience which was very useful to me when I came to Nigeria on 16th July 1973.


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