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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.
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.
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
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.
DDH: So what did the process of accreditation involve?
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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