Most of us chase security and comfort for most of our lives. That applies to both work and personal lives. Moving to a different country, and changing jobs or career paths, seem like risky moves reserved for the “risk-tolerant types’.Well, below, you’re going to read a conversation with someone who’s not a thrill-seeker and yet was thrown into literal war zones.
Aboyi Olokpo was born in Nigeria. He spent half his career spanning countries that look like a list of James Bond shooting locations. Norway, Germany, England, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Ghana, Cameroon, Congo, and Angola.
And all of that because he worked for Schlumberger, and their guiding principle is: once you start getting used to a place, you get moved to a new job and a new country (the idea is to keep you engaged and on your toes).
Here are the three stories you’re going to hear / things you’re going to learn
- Dodging an Ivory Coast coup and war that lasted ten years
- What is the #1 biggest problem Aboyi finds in every industry, country, and company
- Difference between selling bits & pieces vs. complete system (and why it matters)
Aboyi’s Background & Origin Story
Tell me about yourself.
ABOYI: I started as a field engineer doing measurements and directional drawing. I went on to do quality management – service quality management. So lots of operations – getting things – well, Schlumberger prides itself in being the leader in oil and gas services because they do a better job than most people can. So, my job in that role was to make sure that we did a better job than even the customers expected of us and did it consistently.
That, for me, I think, formed the basis of operations management and, later on, sales because, again, clients are ready to pay a little premium if they have the confidence that you can deliver top-level service. So in my sales career, which has been maybe ten years now, it’s been very much focused on service delivery and quality of service to justify why the client should choose us.
I ask that question every day. “If the customer has multiple options of who can work for them, why should it be you?” And nobody ever says “no” to paying a few extra dollars. I call it the Sleep Assurance Factor – make sure you’re not awake all night wondering if these guys will do what they say they are going to do.
Did you have any adventures traveling to so many places? Anything scary? Or awesome? Or weird?
ABOYI: Yeah! I believe in enjoying wherever you are. Find a story to tell or make a story while you’re there. Mine are varied from dodging rebels to carnivals – all sorts of experiences…
Do you mean that you were running away from like guys with AK-47s in pickup trucks?
ABOYI: At some point, people thought that I was special operations because I tended to find myself where there was an ongoing conflict, or soon after I left that place, a conflict would break out. So, I go to Angola – the first time I go to Angola, the rebellion was still undergoing, and then I went to Congo, and immediately there was fighting. Then one day – one weekend, I remember I was on the Ivory Coast, and I took off on Monday, got to Cameroon, called my people back in Ivory Coast, let them know that I was safely in Cameroon, and they say, “Oh, there is a coup in progress.” And that resulted in war or conflict for ten years.
Then I had to fly back to that environment. I was picked up by the French Foreign Legion from the airport, driven to the Schlumberger base under armed escort to go and secure some radioactive material stored in the base and get ready for an evacuation from the country. And the next day escorted back to the airport by another escort again. I didn’t know whether to feel special or scared.
Wow. Do you have a wife and kids now?
ABOYI: At that time, fortunately, I did not, but now I do.
Haha, I was going to say that it’s a high divorce rate when you’re getting chased by rebels. Oh my goodness gracious.
ABOYI: Good experiences. Recently, I remembered a job I had to do somewhere in Bavaria, in Germany – right on the border with Austria. You know it was a civil age but a very historical place. I remember going up for a drive in the mountains one day when there was nothing to do on the rig and ended up in Austria, close to Salzburg, and it was carnival day. I went into a restaurant with my colleagues and didn’t speak German then, so I had to order lunch.
I didn’t know what to order, so I pointed just like you would do in a Chinese restaurant, and when I pointed to something, and everybody heard what it was, I think the entire village and all the guys in the restaurant gathered around me to watch what this guy’s going to do. And when they brought it out, it was a whole leg of ham. So I asked, “Is this for all of us?” and he said, “No, that’s what you ordered. Everybody else got something else. This is for you to eat”. So, fortunately, it’s more bone than flesh, but it was quite a sight. The people were like, “Hey, let’s take a picture with you. You are a star!”
Do you still have that picture?
ABOYI: No, they took pictures. I didn’t have a photo. This was before the days of camera phones. Now it’s so easy to have quick memories.
Motivation to join Rig-Serv
So, why did you come to work for RigServ?
ABOYI: Before RigServ, I had left Schlumberger and tried some of my businesses. Some of them got hit by COVID. I wanted to get back in the flow – do meaningful things, but also do it in a company that was small enough that it would move fast.
Having been an entrepreneur for like five years on my own, the need to make decisions, act, and get results immediately was like a tonic. Sometimes you want to solve problems that no one else seems interested in. So, when I found RigServ, I said, “Ah, this is the kind of business that I want to be a part of. We can do something new, and we can do it quickly.”
There is a lot of room for growth not only in the oil and gas sector but also beyond the oil and gas sector because usually, to solve a problem, you first want to find the problem. And if you find it in one industry, the next question is, “Who else can fit this definition, even if they are not in oil and gas?”
So, I see a lot of opportunities for RigServ to grow their services in oil and gas and related industries like chemicals, refining, shipping, logistics, hospitality, food distribution, and medical services. If we can take the same lessons learned, we can make RigServ a trusted partner for many other industries.
That’s why I joined RigServ. They’re also good people. Chris and Chris … they’re quite open people. There is not a lot of hierarchy. There is not a lot of structure. And already, I believe I’ve made some significant contributions in the few weeks I have been here.
One of the first things I’ve done was change how we approach specific projects – from execution-only minded to whole project management minded.
Do you manage projects differently in the operations space? How do you do it?
ABOYI: We provide a specialist service. What we’re trying to do now is to take all the lessons we’ve learned and then go and be part of that conception phase. “Ok, you want to transform and change how you do things? We want to be there with you while you’re thinking of what you want to do so that we can bring all the lessons that we’ve learned into that process at the early phase”. So we’re not just coming in at the end or coming in with a flash and are just in and out, but we want to be there while you’re thinking of what to do and help you form your plan and help you organize for the execution and then the execution will take care of our special areas as well.
A lot of our people come from a supply chain and logistics background. We want to become the logistics partner for a broad range of industries.
Recently we took on a project in a refinery. It’s not on the process side. It’s in the warehouse and maintenance section, where they need to move a warehouse and move a workshop. So, there’s a lot of logistics involved there. We have come in on the ground floor to help them design a new warehouse, design a new workshop, and then view the plan for moving things from the old warehouse and the old workshop into the new space.
The plan will also include optimizing the layout of the new place. We’ll take all the lessons learned over the years.
How are things used? How frequently do they need to access certain items, the ease of reach?
We plan all those things into the new warehouse so that we – the things that get used more often are easier to reach. And also, how do you catalog the new warehouse?
So, it’s a more efficient way of finding things in the new warehouse. We’re not just going to go in there and point on the shelf, and we put it up there. No.
We’ll design: Which shelves get what? What things can be moved by hand? What things need to be moved by palette? What things need to be moved by forklift?
We consider all of it in the design. When you go to the warehouse, people should feel the difference of being in a new place.
Common Mistakes & Problems
When you’re in that broader industry and logistics and supply chain in general, do you see some of them making the same kind of mistakes? Are there any chronic problems in the logistics and supply chain arena that – not just that RigServ could help them with, but you’re looking like, “ Aww, don’t do it that way!” Do you see any common, overlapping problems between different industries?
ABOYI: There are a lot of common issues, but one of the big problems I’ll find in every industry, country, and company I’ve worked with is – documentation.
There can be quite a stack of papers for every item you move, and then the tendency to wear people out. Things don’t get done the way they should be done. A lot of people track their assets with excel spreadsheets, and those are even the good ones. Some people still track it with paper – paper notes.
ABOYI: Yes, you go to some warehouses, and the guy knows that that thing you asked for is somewhere in there, but doesn’t know where it is. Some of it is due to a lack of control – there is nobody to ensure that things are correctly issued, documented, and returned when done with (if it’s a non-consumable item).
A lot of stores are simply not efficient. Someone orders something, or someone needs something, and they ask for it. A new procurement order is sent out and added to the workshop. But it’s not a consumable item, so it’s used but can be reused.
When somebody else needs something similar, or the same item asks for it – again, it’s procured. Suddenly, you wake up one morning and find that you have five items lying around and orders for two more of the same items, but nobody knows that there are five items already in the store.
Adding things to the store you don’t need costs you a lot of money; sometimes, these things are specialist equipment you cannot sell to anyone else. So you have to find a way to use it. These are some of the kinds of problems you see everywhere. Stores are just increasing and not adding any value to the business. That’s a widespread problem.
The Rig-Serv Difference
Many other companies sell WMSs ( Warehouse Management Systems), RFIDs, and other related stuff. How is what Rig-Serv does different from these companies?
ABOYI: These companies sell bits and pieces of tools, but do they sell the system? And will they be there to ensure that you learn how to use the system? Are they there to coach you to the point where you feel confident and comfortable using that system?
I’ll give you an example.
A lot of companies, you go into them, and they are undertaking an ERP implementation. But it’s so cumbersome to condition people to change to a new way of working. And not everyone has the patience to go through it. So, yes, you may have this fantastic ERP system that includes inventory management, but the question is, is it being used? When you implemented that system, did you really understand the cost of keeping it up and running?
A recent conversation I had with a client was: “Is your company big enough to afford an ERP system”? If the answer is no, then what other systems can we introduce so that the people on the floor who actually have to do the work will feel that this is a help to them and not a hindrance.
When they are putting things together to ship, they must record each component they add to the box. Sometimes they don’t do it because they focus more on getting stuff out the door than recording things.
So what happens is this:
- The person responsible for tracking says, “Ok, I’ll write it down in my notebook, and when I’m done, I will sit by the desk and enter it.”
- By the end of the day, he is exhausted, and he says: “You know what, when I come in tomorrow morning, I’ll do it.” Eventually, “I think I’ll come in on Saturday and do it.”
- But the reality is that he didn’t do it on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Now it’s Friday, and his wife is telling him: “Hey, we need to go and visit grandma – take the kids and go and visit grandma on Saturday.” So, it’s never going to get done.
Suddenly, you don’t know where anything is. You don’t know that you have 0 stock of a particular item and the day you go to do a shipment. You realize that you cannot do it. The job is delayed by two weeks, or it gets canceled, and the customer has gone to someone else.
So, if you introduce a system on the top floor, the guy wants to know what is going on so he can control his costs and his inventory. On the ground floor, it has to be easy for the person who has to do the legwork to use it. So, the solution must be a global solution for that particular company.
Give the supply chain director or the maintenance director all the information he needs while making it easy for the person on the ground to use the system. They say garbage in, garbage out.
The Future of Technology
On the technology side, are there any new, fancy technologies that you’re excited about?
When RFID came out, everyone thought it would solve everyone’s problems, but it did not.
Is there anything coming up in the upcoming years that you’re keeping track of or you think your client should keep an eye on? Like a promising technology? Or an innovation about a different way of doing things?
ABOYI: RFID was a significant step forward and still needs to grow. It’s one of the solutions we still offer to our customers. It helps you give an account for every item in your warehouse at any time and very quickly count things. But its use is limited to things that don’t have to undergo a lot of stress. So we don’t want to break or damage the sensors.
Today, we have 5G telecoms and the internet of things, and I think that’s going to be a great leap forward. Will you need things like RFID? Very much likely.
Will RFID technology improve to the level where the sensors can tolerate a more harsh environment? I believe so. If you’re going to put an RFID chip under your bomb and the bomb goes off, end of RFID, right? So, well, we don’t deal with bombs [laughs]. Quick scans, printer codes, etch codes, metallic components – some of them have been around for a while
But the real question is: when items are mobile, how do I know where they are? How do I track how they’re being used?
We have some handheld devices that quickly scan things as they move around. So, let’s say you shipped something from a warehouse, and it gets to a user location. When it gets there, the guy just has to point at the item – whether it’s a barcode or an RFID.
Also, we have optical computer recognition.
So the tool takes a picture and then figures out what it is?
ABOYI: Imagine a Google Lens, for instance. A similar system where you point at an item to scan your database and scan the internet to come up with a description for that item. Even if you don’t know what it is, just pointing your camera or phone at it, it will go over it and say:
“Hey, the nearest item I can find in your warehouse to start with that looks like this is described like this.”
“I couldn’t find it in your store, but I checked on the internet, and here’s the best feature description for that.”
When you cannot embed sensors, this solution will work for you.
Awesome! Thank you. Thank you.