Alhaji Muneer Bankole: From Travel Agency to a Successful Airline Operator
Alhaji Muneer Bankole’s success story is proof of what it means to stay focused on a dream, especially a childhood dream. A fortuitous visit to the airport as part of a family delegation to see off a relation that was travelling abroad was all he needed to ignite an interest in the aviation industry, and a dream of a career in it. A firm believer in God’s hand in the affairs of man, he can only look back today and thank Him for that visit, which marked the beginning of a long journey that has brought him to an enviable position in the industry – as an airline owner.
Bankole is the founder of Med-View Airline, of which he is also the managing director and chief executive officer. The airline, which started as a travel agency, is arguably one of the most successful in the industry today, especially considering the fact that it is relatively young, compared to its peers. But that is because the story of its founder is a study in determination, doggedness, resilience and focus. Those who know Bankole are not surprised at the success he has made of his airline, because they know where he is coming from; they know his pedigree. They know, for instance, that it is hardly possible to write the story of the Nigerian aviation industry without a generous mention of his name. He has worked in all sectors of the industry, rising from the lowest rung of the ladder to the pinnacle. It is the reason it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that he understands the industry like the palm of his hands. The only area he has not worked in is government, as a regulator.
He was part of the success story of Nigeria Airways, when it was the pride of the nation, and was there when the airline started its descent, up to the time the government took the controversial decision to liquidate it. As retrogressive as it was then, perhaps it was a decision that would, many years later, make it possible for Bankole to own an airline.
Med-View has, within the brief period of its existence, taken the aviation industry by storm, competing and actually making its presence felt in major routes that were hitherto the exclusive preserves of big-name carriers. The airline, which began with hajj operations, is now prominent on the Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Djibouti routes and, outside the African continent, on the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and Dubai routes, with an eye on the United States market.
The success story of Med-View is underlined by the history it has made, as the first airline in Nigeria to operate profitably as a public entity. The airline is the second to be quoted on the stock market, but the first not only to declare profit but to also pay dividends to shareholders.
History of Med-View
What is known today as Med-View Airline started in 2000 as Med-View International Travel and Cargo, metamorphosing later into Med-View Konsult. The airline is the coming to fruition of a dream Bankole had nursed for over four decades of working in the turbulent aviation industry.
The company started with three employees as a travel agency, selling tickets to corporate entities on nine per cent commission basis. It sometimes had to forfeit its commission to partners and friends that did not have licenses to operate. What mattered then was building of strategic partnerships, not profit. And it paid off.
Med-View moved from selling of tickets to operation of chatter services, using leased aircraft for pilgrimages and also arranging tour packages. Its entry into the local aviation industry was devoid of the usual fanfare, the reason many were unaware of it. It was difficult, but the company withered the storm.
The first hajj operations that involved 30, 000 pilgrims fetched the company enough money to allow it the luxury of closing shop for nine months, after working for just two months, to savour the success.
Spurred by the success of the chatter business, Med-View decided in 2012 to begin domestic operations. And three years later, it went regional, making inroads into the West African market.
The company’s foray into West Africa was borne out of a desire to promote the socio-economic integration of the sub-region, which is the primary objective for the existence of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). It also seeks to open up Nigeria, with the largest population on the continent, to trade in the sub-region. The idea is to facilitate easy entry by traders from other countries in the sub-region into Nigeria, where they can make their purchases and return on the same day.
The entry of Med-View into the West African market was a smooth ride. Not so the UK route. The company nearly got muscled out of the route for what it considered the low estimation with which the big players view new and struggling airlines. But it was undeterred. Now, having overcome the challenge of that route, it is looking at the US market.
Public ownership of Med-View
The decision to take Med-View Airline to the stock market has turned out to be a progressive one. The company has broken the jinx of privately-own enterprises not doing well once they go public.
In the third quarter of its first year as a public company, it posted a profit of N1.4 billion, with a turnover that was expected to be in the region of N35.5 billion. At its first annual general meeting, the airline paid dividends to shareholders, letting it be known that contrary to widespread belief, the aviation industry is, indeed, not just profitable, but one that can compete with other sectors in terms of return on investment. This is likely to encourage more investors to go into the sector.
Journey through the industry
The day was March 3, 1970. Bankole, as a secondary school student, had accompanied his parents to the Lagos Airport (many years before it became Murtala Mohammed Airport) to see off his sister who was travelling to the United States. As the sister waved goodbye to his sobbing parents as though she was embarking on a journey from which she would never return, Bankole felt an instant attraction to the aviation sector seeing the aircraft take off, and began to nurse the ambition to work there.
Bankole had an uncle who studied in England and worked with Nigeria Airways as the personnel manager, directly with the airline’s general manager. The uncle called him to his office one day asked about his plans for the future. He had no hesitation in telling the man about his desire to travel to the United States, the common dream of secondary school leavers at that time.
His uncle offered him a job at the airline, but he turned it down, preferring to work at the Federated Motor Industries (FMI), at Apapa. He later took up menial jobs with the Lagos State Development and Property Corporation (LSDPC). The jobs included bricklaying, and he was involved in the building of what is known today as Festac Town, which provided accommodation for participants at FESTAC ’77. Some of the houses in the town bear symbols he inscribed on them, which meaning is not known to present occupants of the houses, but known only to him. He has photographs to prove.
Bankole’s involvement in the building of Festac Town may have been a menial job, but it provided him opportunity to learn about housing construction. He learnt more about housing construction at the Industrial Training Centre in Surulere, and also did a course at the L.A. School of Building in London. The training equipped him with the knowledge and expertise to build houses, such that today, housing construction is for him a passion. He built his own houses.
Return to Nigeria Airways.
Bankole’s rejection of the offer to work at Nigeria Airways and preference for FMI was purely a sentimental one that had nothing to do with better package. It was hinged on the fascination of working at Apapa, which held the same attraction like the Lekkis and Victoria Islands of today. Everybody wanted to either live or work at Apapa, because of the three broad categories of environment that constituted the area, namely, G.R.A, the European and business environments. Having had enough of Apapa, he returned to Nigeria Airways to take up the job he was offered earlier, perhaps with the luck of still having his uncle in charge of employment.
Bankole joined Nigeria Airways in 1978 after obtaining a diploma in Business Studies in the United Kingdom. He instantly fell in love with the job. Workers looked impeccable in their white shirt and black trouser uniform, with black tie to match. The environment was an attraction in itself, with the opportunity of seeing and actually meeting hundreds of travelers every day. The habit of dressing well has remained with him till date.
At Nigeria Airways, he did an aviation management course, a four year commercial cadet programme that he completed in 1983. He learnt about the operation, management, commercial and cargo activities, as well as basic aviation laws. The training qualified him for a career in the airline.
Bankole had a distinguished career at Nigeria Airways, holding different important positions that saw him serve in several of the airline’s regional offices around the world. He describes the liquidation of the airline by the administration of Olusgeun Obasanjo as counterproductive. He said with 75 per cent of the properties at the Ikeja G.R.A, the airline’s assets far outweighed its liabilities, adding that rather than fold up the company, the government should have invited a technical partner to take over its management. At the time the airline was liquidated, the country had about 60 bilateral air services agreements that were not utilized.
Path to the top
Bakole had a rough ride in his primary and secondary education, struggling most of the way to provide for himself, having lost both parents at an early age. After working at Nigeria Airways, he thought about going to the university to study law, but had to go to London for the course in housing construction. He later went to the Lagos State University (LASU) to study Law, but couldn’t complete the full course, and ended up with a diploma after two years. He returned to the same university for an LLB, but was posted out of the country to Saudi Arabia after three years.
He took his transcripts with him to the American University in Saudi Arabia (now University of Business Technology) where he ended up studying Business Management, finishing with the best grade of 4.5 CGPA that still stands till date. On the strength of his performance, he was offered a teaching appointment at the university, but he turned it down because teaching wasn’t in his plan.
Living virtually in the air
It is no overstatement to say that Bankole virtually lives in the air. That is what his job entails. He is either travelling to locations where Med-View has operations to strengthen the business or visiting virgin areas to explore new opportunities.
With so much success in so short a time, Med-View may well become the reference story in Nigeria’s aviation industry, sooner than might be expected