Allure Cover: Ahmed Mazloum – Made in Warri
By – Jemi Ekunkunbor
Ahmed Mazloum is the Managing Director, Unitop International Limited, an umbrella company that houses, Marine Services, Catering services and civil construction. A product of the Institute Technique Al Amalia, Lebanon, Ahmed Mazloum was raised in Warri by his parents. When his father passed on in1999, the Lebanese Nigerian returned to Lebanon where he started his career with AS Enterprises, Beirut Lebanon, and a Mechanical Fabrication Company as Mechanical Supervisor.
In obedience to Lebanese regulation, Mr. Ahmed joined the Lebanese Military service in 2002 and was honorably discharged in 2003. Having missed Nigeria so much, he returned to Warri shortly after his discharge and got employed by Unitop International Limited, Warri, as Operations Manager. He has since grown through the ranks because of his remarkable contributions, and even co-established Unitop Catering Services Limited with his brother Khoder Mazolum.
He has received many awards and accolades for his contribution to the growth of the companies, as well as the Warri South community where he operates.
A Warri “boy” at heart, in this interview, Ahmed talks glowingly about his work and his beloved city Warri that he is so proud of.
You seem to have your hands in many pies. Which came first and how did the others follow?
Well, yeah; as entrepreneur, you need to seize every opportunity and make the best out of it. Unitop International was the first and that is our marine services arm.
What got you attracted to catering?
It’s very funny to be honest; we were contacted by a client to renovate a rig for them because the rig was vandalized during the crisis. When we were about rounding off the project, the country manger asked if we knew a good catering company. My brother, Khoder who is also my partner in Unitop International, we saw a good opportunity and decided to seize the moment and float a catering company. We were awarded the contracted, we employed capable hands and here we are today a fully, running catering company.
There is a wide Gulf between catering, logistics and civil engineering services. How do you move from one to the other and run them all efficiently?
We have a good structure and every arm of our business has its own MD that runs the day to day and report to the shareholders.
What was it like doing business in Warri during the ethnic crises that rocked that region knowing you could become a target?
I grew up in Warri and it is home for me. Warri is also a small city, everyone knows every in a way so it was not so bad. Also, I didn’t see myself as a target, but the crisis started effecting the businesses and then, social life. That was a blow for us.
Did your brief training in the military help?
Yes, it helped. It helped me understand responsibility at a very young age and to know that nothing comes easy.
What solutions can you proffer to solve the problems of the Niger Delta especially your area of operation?
Warri is the financial capital of Delta state. The leaders, youth and government need to come together and understand that a better Warri is a better Delta State for everyone. We need to provide a safe environment for investors to come in and invest. This would provide more jobs, more funds will circulate and it will mean more taxes for the state.
Warri is lovely city, the people are lovely and welcoming, but they are angry with the Federal and government, always taking a lot and giving them back so little. It’s time the state reaches out to the youth, to provide better education: with better education comes better awareness that will lead to a better and safer Warri. This will bring more investors, more revenue for the state, better social life for Waffarians, and ultimately, lead to a healthier and safer environment.
Warri is a gold mine; the possibilities are limitless with the right leaders in control. Education and security is the key to a better Delta state.
How did you come to settle in Warri?
My parents moved to Warri when I was 5 years old and I grew up there,
Coming from Lebanon, how was the first culture shock for you?
I think you should ask me instead how it was going to Lebanon for the first time, as all I knew then was the Nigerian culture.
I was 11 years old when I first visited Lebanon. It was different, and coming from Warri not even Lagos, it was a completely new experience for me. I was not used to the culture. I could not even speak Arabic very well then and that made it very difficult. I felt out of place, but my father was very eager for me to know my roots. So, he insisted we schooled there. As I went to school there, I got hold of the culture but my heart was in Nigeria. Any time we were visiting Nigeria, I was always so excited to be coming back as Nigeria felt like home for me.
My dad passed away when I was 16, so we didn’t visit Nigeria again. But immediately I clocked 18, I told my mum I was leaving for Nigeria because according to the law in Lebanon then, there was compulsory military training. I was not allowed to leave the country. So I stayed and served. But immediately I finished the service, I came back to Nigeria and I’ve been here ever since.
After your military training, you came back to Warri. What did you miss most?
I missed my siblings, the family, but I missed my mother the most and the comfort of being in your parent house where everything is available. Coming back to Nigeria at a juvenile and naive age, after a long time, to stay alone was scary even though I had my older brother here. He really tried to bridge the gap, but nothing can measure to your mother’s care and love. A mother’s love is priceless.
You have had a steady growth in your career, what has worked for you in that region?
First, I must be thankful to God. Good services played a big role. Secondly, good business partners, and thirdly but not lastly, having a good team behind me, allowed me have enough time to seek for bigger opportunity without worrying about the company.
You operate in communities in Warri South Area. In what way has your company helped in addressing youth restiveness in that community?
We try our best, reaching out to the youth in many ways. We sponsored the community football team, we employ the youth and train them, to enable them grow in the company.
Although you have lived long among the people there, have you ever envisaged being kidnapped?
It has crossed my mind, so I was careful where I went and at what time. I am thankful to God it never happened.
Would it be right to say you were made in Warri?
Proudly! I be Warri pikin o I no even dey hide am sef.
What tribe have you adopted as your own in Nigeria?
I grew up with the Urhobos and Itsekiris. I guess I am a little of both.
Between Urhobo and Itsekiri, which do you speak?
I speak a little Urhobo, the basic greetings and stuff. For Itsekiri, I can ask how are you?
What are some of your favourite Nigerian foods?
Banga soup and starch, owoh soup and boiled yam. I also like amala and ewedu, and of course, the Nigerian jollof rice.
When you are not in Warri, where do you take time off to be?
Lately, I spend most of my time in Lagos or travel out of the country.
Should we expect a new addition to the Unitop Stable soon?
Yes. We strike when it’s hot. We have just started a new venture called BMS. It’s a marine solution company that will help with the traffic in Lagos.
Do your beard and tattoo affect how people perceive you and your business in the corporate world?
I am me, my beard or tattoos don’t affect my abilities to deliver my services. I know at first sight, you won’t see me as the person in the cooperate world. But once you engage me, your perception would change.
You featured in the movie, Merry Men. Do you have plans to venture into entertainment?
I am a business man, any profitable opportunity, I will jump into it. Entertainment is something I am looking at; so we would have to wait and see if I can venture into it fully.
You like wearing traditional outfits unlike other MDs who wear suites. Why is that?
I like the Nigerian attire. It’s very nice, comfortable and versatile. Sometimes, I mix with western attire which looks very good as well.