Mr. Olufemi Soremekun, a trained accountant is the Managing Director of BIOFEM Pharmaceuticals, the first pharmaceutical company in Nigeria to start using the Mobile Anti-Counterfeiting System (MAS), an innovative technology used to fight the menace of drug counterfeiting. In this interview with Iboro Tonye-Edet, Mr. Soremekun talks on how he has successfully run a pharmaceutical company despite training as an accountant.
Please tell us your full name and a little bit about your educational background? I am Olufemi Olurotimi Soremekun.
I attended St. Catherine’s Primary school in Surulere and Igbobi College, Yaba both in Lagos state Nigeria. Thereafter I went to Florida International University where I read Accounting and International Business.
When did you join Fountain?
I joined in 1995 when I first met my wife. Then she was an executive of the Singles Fellowship
In what areas have you served or are serving in the church?
I have been serving in the Greeters department since 1997. My reason for joining is basically that I’ve always liked to meet people. At the time I joined, I probably felt I could contribute something. I mean, standing at the gate and greeting people- that I didn’t find so difficult. Besides, at that time too, we were only two or three men in that unit filled with mostly women, so a lot of attention was on us. I love the department and everyone there. I don’t see myself leaving there.
in which industry are you operating and for how long have you operated there? I operate in the Pharmaceuticals industry- not as a trained pharmacist though, but more as a businessman. I started my own business (Biofem Nig limited) in the year 2000 as a general business organization dealing in all kinds of trading including pharmaceuticals. Then in 2002, I decided to separate the pharmaceutical aspect of the business from Biofem Nigeria Limited because it involves professionalism. That gave birth to Biofem Pharmaceuticals that we have today.
Why did you decide to invest here seeing that you aren’t a trained pharmacist?
What happened to me was that when I came back to Nigeria finally after my University studies abroad, my dad actually asked me to help my brother (a pharmacist) run his pharmaceutical business. In the process of helping him with the business, I started from marketing drugs which are not basically Over The Counter (OTC) products, because there were professionals handling other aspects of the business. That was where I got the experience/exposure from. So I ran the business for my brother for quite a number of years before I left to start up my own. It was quite straight forward, knowing fully well that you need to have professionals (trained pharmacists) since I wasn’t a professional but the business itself is also a business. So if you have the business acumen, you can actually do it. You just have to make sure that the professionals are doing what they are supposed to do. With the experience I’d had working with my brother and running the business for him for quite a number of years, …as a matter of fact, while working for my brother, there were a lot of things that I did; I was even tasking the professionals and saying why can’t we do this, why can’t we do that… so automatically, that enabled me and emboldened me to say to myself if I were to do this on my own, I know what I need to do.
How has BIOFEM Pharmaceuticals impacted the pharmaceutical industry?
Part of my vision for the company is to be able to impact the profession in so many positive ways that it would move the profession to another level. We have never stopped doing that; whether it is in capability or capacity building, we are always looking at doing that and partnering with the industry. You can’t be in an industry and make money from it and not give back. I strongly believe in giving back. There are so many ways you can give back. It’s not all money, money, money. There are the younger generations who are trying to come into the industry. They need to be guided, to be advised, encouraged, even up to starting their own business. The ultimate goal is to leave the profession better than I met it.
What are the peculiar challenges you faced at the beginning?
Challenges I faced were mainly capital. In Nigeria there is nothing called credit; you are on your own. In most cases its always family you can start with. They’re the ones that would appreciate your passion, and they are the ones willing to take the risk; whereby even if you don’t get to pay back, they can still manage you. However, there are also the SMEs that are there to help. You can see, The Fountain of Life Church is still trying to do a lot of things. Another challenge I also faced initially was getting competent professionals to handle the technical part of the organization.
What are the peculiar challenges affecting the industry?
One of them is retaining good staff due to remuneration issues. We have seen in the past and even up till now, a lot of pharmacists taken by the Banking and telecom industries because they pay so much and this becomes a challenge for us because we cannot pay what they’re being paid. Now when you even employ them, to retain them also becomes a challenge. If by chance you have such a good training platform, the other upcoming companies are going to look at poaching them so they can achieve what they want faster. However, we at BIOFEM like to take them fresh so they can imbibe our culture; hence we are willing to be patient to show them the way. Indirectly that has paid off because there is a lot of loyalty and a lot of them stay with us. Power is one other challenge. Nigeria should actually be looking at situations where the Pharmaceutical industry is encouraged to do local production. Right now we have a lot of products from India & from China; they started off from somewhere but they had a lot of government support. We are just hearing of so many things now that the government is trying to do but they need to do it much faster. We are interested in manufacturing but we cannot even start on that now because of power problems. The meagre resources that we will have will probably be used for providing electricity. If the electricity problem is sorted out and people have confidence that there’s stable electricity, then probably many of us can venture into manufacturing. Funding is also a challenge. As a marketer, importing products is still an issue because you must have the resources to be able to import the products; you must be able to provide what the banks need to enable you access credits. What if I have not started business or made profit and I’ve not used the profit to buy assets, land, property, then I won’t have anything to give the bank that will enable them give me more credit. So, somebody has to come in the midst of all that to assist. That’s where the government can come in. Abroad, that’s what they look at too. Their government doesn’t expect you to have all the money but there’s some level of credibility that goes into it. I hope in a couple of years, as the credit thing goes forward, I believe we will get there.
How did you raise funds to start?
Basically I raised funds from my wife, friends and other family members. My wife supported me basically with all our savings. She knew the passion I had and she was very helpful in that regard. Let me also add that, suppliers contributed too. It got to a point in our business that when our suppliers saw how credible we were, and our frequency of purchase, we made proposals to them to provide us with additional stock and that helped. That is the difference between us and them. These are people who you buy from regularly, they have visited your premises and they know that you are not going to run away tomorrow. You just have to start with the basic level of risk which is what they did with us.
How big is your operation?
We are all over Nigeria, and we have presence in Ghana since 2009. We are fully registered and operating there. Our partners are in USA, Europe and Asia. We are also into the business of medical devices which we use. A typical example is the Glucometre which we use to check your blood sugar level since it complements the business that we do.
In two paragraphs, advise a young person going into business.
For young people, I tend to use my experience to tell them a lot. By the time I was finishing secondary school, I knew I was going to go into business. My parents were distributors for Guinness and Nigerian Breweries. I wasn’t a student in the boarding school so every day I was at home to help my mom. I would ride my bicycle to help make deliveries; I would help her in off-loading and loading drinks. I would help in attending to customers, doing accounting for her (put all the money together made from the day’s sales and take it to the bank). I could see the business aspect. I could see I had the flair for it. So, I will say, prayerfully get into a business you have a flair for. What you love to do from your primary or secondary school days may help to guide you toward what the future holds for you. Learn to love to do something from an early age. Yes, I may have stumbled into pharmacy, but I am not doing the professional side of it. I am doing the business of running a pharmaceutical company and I am doing it effectively because I have the skills and passion for business.
How has being in Fountain helped your business or career?
Our yearly promises have helped me to face each year with a positive attitude, no matter what my auditors are saying. Fountain’s theme, when I became a member was Philippians 4:13 and it was a daily mantra for us. I have also learned from Pastor Taiwo Odukoya’s life of humility. In all his dealings with people, there is humility and that has infected me. Whatever you have been successful with in life, do not be proud. If God has blessed you and put you in a position where you can bless other people, be humble.
What particular scripture passage have you applied to enhance your business?
What is your personal business principle?
I am a team player and I believe in a win-win approach to my business dealings. I operate on the principle of Amos 3 vs 3. In business, when two people are happy with whatever it is they’ve agreed upon, then it’s easy for everyone to put in all their best to make it succeed.
Share your turning point or a special moment in your business?
When our major product was being faked by unscrupulous elements in the market, we went into partnership with a US-based Ghanaian IT Specialist to introduce the Mobile Anti-Counterfeiting System (MAS) of confirming the authenticity of drugs to the patients. We are the first company in the world to do this and the lesson in this is that God will use your challenges to bring you international accolades. Our fight to combat drug faking has brought recognition from CNN, BBC and Aljazeera. We were visited different times for interviews and our success at saving patients from unnecessary deaths has also been embraced by other pharmaceutical giants as well as the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON).
When troubles come what do you do?
Obviously I run to God to remind Him of His promises. We conduct praise, worship and prayers every Monday morning in my Head Office. Wisdom and knowledge is key, because trouble will always come but if your anchor is firm, then there is assurance of overcoming it.
The kitchen is everyone’s favourite room, well maybe not everyone but it’s no doubt the engine room of every home and also the main core of major messes. Most times, we rely on scouring powder to scrub grease off our pots or harmless pesticides to get rid of those creepy insects. Interestingly, there’s a whole world of other unusual cleaners and surprising refreshers just perfect for your kitchen which you probably never knew about but they stare at you right in the face every time you open your pantry or cabinets.
These items are not just money savers but what I like to call the Unusual Kitchen Heroes.
Pastor Taiwo @ Sunday Service
January 28 Sunday service was indeed an awesome one as it was the first Fruitful Vine service for the year. Pastor Taiwo, while speaking on the topic Receive Strength, told the congregation that God’s covenant with His own is always for their benefits. According to him, when the calling is from God, it is a covenant and it is to bless. “When God calls you, He enables you to fulfil purpose,” he said.
Using Sarah and Mary as examples, Pastor Taiwo said that God’s promise to His children will always come to pass irrespective of the circumstances. Also speaking from Hebrews 11:8-11, he stated that once a believer can understand his or her identity in Christ and hold on to His word, such a believer will walk in the miraculous. “Man can lie and disappoint, but God can never lie. If He has spoken it, He will bring it to pass,” he stated.
He then urged all never to be weary as God is faithful to bring to pass His promises in their lives.
Pastor Taiwo’s full messages are available on CDs and DVDs at The Fountain of Life Church Tape Shop.
“WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT”
Pastor Nomthi @ Sunday Service
While encouraging the congregation at the January 28 Sunday service, Pastor Nomthi emphasized the importance of having faith in God.Speaking from Mark 9:23, which is the promise for the week, she said that everything is possible to those who believe. “God is able to do anything for you, but He wants you to trust and believe Him,” she said.
She therefore urged them to believe God's word for every situation and then watch out for a positive turnaround.
“THE GOD OF PEACE”
Pastor Taiwo @ Thursday Showers
Christians have been reminded that the level of their understanding of their covenant with God determines their benefits and manifestation. And this reminder came from Pastor Taiwo at the January 25 Thursday Showers service.
According to him, for believers to command the miraculous, they need to have an understanding of God’s covenant with them which was sealed by the blood of Jesus Christ. This covenant, he said, makes them complete, perfect, fit and qualified for every good work. “You are special to God, He is your father and He is a God of peace. But you need to understand this to command the miraculous,” he said.
Speaking from Hebrews 13:20-21, he said that the more believers walk closely with God, and keep knowing and discovering Him, the more they become transformed. This, according to him, is the benefit of the covenant they have with Him, “God will not relate with you if you are not in covenant with Him. So, your role in the covenant is to believe God’s word and allow Him to work in your life for His glory,” he stated.
He then admonished them to always remember that their covenant reality is not based on human opinion but on their identity in Christ Jesus. In his words, “You have a stake in the kingdom of God because you are in the new covenant. Be conscious and live in the realisation of the covenant you have with God.”
“WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT”
Pastor Nomthi @ Thursday Showers
Pastor Nomthi at the January 25 Thursdays Showers service admonished the worshippers not to be tired of seeking God’s face and consent in life’s situations because He will always come through for them. “No matter how dry and thirsty the land is, God will answer you if you will seek His face,” she said.
Speaking from Psalm 63:1-2, she said that the problems they face should rather make them look up to God with an assurance of receiving His solution, rather than make them turn away from Him. According to her, He is always working things out for those who trust and wait on Him and will reveal His power over their situations. “Keep trusting God and never give up on Him because He will never leave or forsake you. He is working things out for your good,” she stated.
Agatha Amata’s story of success as a nationally syndicated talk show host is a study in persistence, perseverance and God’s favour. In this revealing and thought provoking interview with Iboro Tonye-Edet and Toni Kan, she traces the path she has trodden and speaks of what she has learnt from trusting God and learning to give back.