Dr Kofi Abban: You can do it in-country

BY: Samuel Doe. Ablordeppey

Dr Kofi Abban (K.A.) founded Rigworld in 2011 and has led a team of young enthusiastic Ghanaians to aggressively grow the company into a conglomerate, delivering services beyond its core oil and gas industry. 

He opened his doors to Graphic Business (GB) correspondent, Samuel Doe Ablordeppey, for an exclusive chat about his company and the industry.

GB: Ghana's oil and gas industry is very new. How did you get yourself so ready to make a timely entry into the industry?

KA: I came to Ghana in August 2010 and started working with Atwood Hunter, a manual semi-submersible rig, as a roustabout, became a roughneck. It was working for Kosmos and drilled the TEAK 1, TEAK 2 and the Banda wells offshore Ghana.

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Working there, I got to know that the industry was young and there were no companies that could embrace or support the industry. I remember at some point when I told some of my mates and colleagues from schooI I was working on a rig, they laughed at me because they thought I should be working with a bank, insurance firm or any financial institution. So, I saw it like a challenge to work and also start my own company and grow a career in the industry.

Challenging beginning

KA: Rigworld was, therefore, incorporated in 2011 when my contract with Menergy have been terminated due to the fact that my own Ghanaian crew members had gone to report me to the offshore installation Manager (OIM) of being extremely lazy whenever I am on deck for my 12-hour shift. My crew took their bags and went to the Helideck that they will demobilse from the rig if I wasn’t sacked .I accepted my termination letter and came back home with nothing. 

I remember visiting my mom in Tema one evening to lend me GH¢250 to incorporate Rigworld. She assisted by contacting her friend to borrow money on my behalf, and that actually started the journey of Rigworld. 

I also remember that those days when we went to places such as the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC), the then regulator of the upstream petroleum industry, as a young man of 27 years to apply for permit for an upstream oil and gas logistic company, my crew /colleagues offshore made fun of it and wrote me off.

But with perseverance and maintaining consistency and focus in whatever I wanted to do I was able to cross that hurdle of incorporating a company and having the permit to operate as an upstream service company. 

We had a second permit to provide offshore labour. It was amazing; we celebrated, but no contract. But we had to move on with the company in order that it will not remain on the shelves. We had to push and push to get something to do but that was not easy, no contracts were coming. I trusted my guts and said to myself entrepreneurs are who they are because their guts, an insight or an idea, that drives them. Being a business owner in Ghana isn’t easy.

Dream on brinks of collapse

KA: Our office at the time was in Osu. I had a partner, who actually connived with his cousin to take the office from us. It was one midnight when I was thrown out of the office. I had to go to Tesano to plead with an elderly man who had a shop at the Santana Market to allow us use his space as an office. I explained I didn’t have the cash but could pay him some amount and the rest after about three months. The man was very kind and understanding and accepted my proposal.

The partnership agreement was based on me bringing my expertise and knowledge of the industry while my partner brought in the finance and physical assets. We had about three computers, two office tables and some window blinds, which I bought.

After packing everything that midnight, I tried to reach my partner on phone but he wouldn’t pick up. This went on for about three days. Later, I found out that it was his own machination to kick me out of the office so that he and his cousin could set up a similar company to do what we set out to do.

So at the beginning, it was me, my partner, his cousin and another lady Sandra who started working in that company. The new office had a metallic table with about six chairs, and another set of three tables and chairs for the computers. There were two ceiling fans without a partitioning. 

Police arrive

KA: After working for about three days, I received a call from the Police Headquarters that my partner had gone to report me to his aunty, who was working at the Police Headquarters that I had stolen all the office furniture and everything. They later came to my office to question me. I explained I hadn’t stolen it and that the partnership was structured such that I will bring on board my expertise and experience, while he brings on board finance and the physical assets. 

So it was during the meeting that my partner walked in to announce that he was no more interested in the 20% partnership in Rigworld and that he was liquidating all to me and packing all his chairs and tables. He didn't want anything to do with the company. So he picked the two computers that he brought on board. We went to the Registrar-General to amend the documents. Then he also convinced his cousin to stop working with us. So I got to own the company 100% and had another staff as administrative assistant.

Opportunity in challenges

KA: In all these, I saw it like a moment that God was trying my faith and ability to hold on strong because Great success comes from great support from God. I saw it as a good challenge, because in every challenge there is an opportunity or success at the end of the challenge. So I didn't give up. I pushed and pushed.

What most entrepreneurs go through

KA: Lastly, I owned a VW Passat then but I had to go sell the car I bought for GH¢13,000 for almost GH¢6,000 and invest GH¢3,000 in the company. I used the rest to buy a red Toyota Camry which was very old the doors were not even opening; the air condition wasn’t working. So if I sit in the car going for meetings I have to park at a distance far away from the meeting venue so nobody sees it, because the car was extremely old. So most people were laughing that ‘an oil and gas company and look at the car they are using’. But in all these, I was convinced that someday there would be a breakthrough.

There was no money coming and everything was standstill. So with my training background in oil and gas, I decided to  organise oil and gas training programmes. The first programme was in Keta. We had about 140 to 150 people at GH¢200 per person. Trust me, this was a breakthrough as it was our first time making about GH¢14,000. 

So when Keta caught on well with the eight-week course, I decided to multitask and expand the seminars further. After the eight weeks, we started the same programme in Ho, Cape Coast, Kumasi and Sunyani. I did this training across from Monday to Saturday and only go to the office on Sundays, so we could pay staff at the end of the month. The last place was somewhere in the mines, Tarkwa. 

At least money was coming to keep the office until we had a breakthrough when Sea Drill was came to Ghana and needed a company to provide logistics services to them. They visited our office but it was not well structured. But there were not impressed with our office environment so they could not deliver on their promise to give us the contract. 

One Saturday, I went to the office and I called one of the officers at the Sea Drill office in Dubai and he just said to me that, “hey Kofi, am going to try you; am going to give you a small part of the contract.” This was the breakthrough. 

So we started with the supply of only one labour. We took him to Singapore to bring a Rig and from there we started to build capacity.

GB: So how do you get the labour, particularly the first labour?

KA: The first labour we supplied was already skilled so we kind of poached him. 

GB: So far how do you see the capacity building that the government has been doing to train a critical mass of people to play in the oil and gas industry?

KA: I can actually make reference to our operations. When I joined the industry there weren’t many Ghanaians in key high positions. But currently, we have subsea engineers; we’ve DPO’s and others in higher positions as assistant drillers. So in terms of capacity building, we’ve come far but we are not there yet; there is more room for improvement.

GB: Six years into the production of oil in Ghana how have we fared?

KA: I will say so far so good. Tullow, and the Jubilee Partners have done a good job. We have not had any major incidents as compared to some countries. Companies have complied with the environmental policies, the local content policies. When it comes to revenues, from what our leaders are declaring, I think we are not doing badly. This is in the context that currently we have only one FPSO and about to have the second and Yison’s third FPSO. So I think we are still in the early and development stages, so it is ok.

GB: Back to RigWorld. In the medium to long term, where do we see the company?

KA: As a company, we have our long term plan to become one of Ghana’s great success stories. We want to be a major player than we are now in the market. Currently, we are doing greatly in the logistics area.

Oh, already we are doing a lot of diversification. We have Pessure Tech Engineering which is the engineering segment of Rigworld, Transatlantic Services, TransAtlantic Farms etc.

GB: What legacy will Dr Kofi Abban like to leave?

KA: I want to contribute my quota as best as I could to the economy to make Ghana a better place so that we do not have most of our own people travel in search of greener pastures overseas. We also want to create the environment for people to understand and believe that they could also do it in-country.