In a recent report by the Gates and Melinda Foundation, 41% of women in Nigeria are entrepreneurs, compared to only approximately 10% in the US and 5.7% in the UK. The report further shows that Nigeria has the highest percentage of female business owners in the world. While according to Global Entrepreneurship Monitoring’s annual report, women outnumbered men in the entrepreneur space in countries like Ghana, Nigeria, and Zambia.
This trend is further emphasized by the reality that the average trader or store owner in Nigeria is more likely to be a woman than a man. Setting up a small business is more common for women in Nigeria than men. In some marketplace, there are more female traders than males.
For the pioneering female entrepreneurs in the country, the journey has been tough, but despite the rocky beginnings, their doggedness, dynamism, unparalleled energy and passion in the face of daunting odds, have made them remarkable role models for women and all classes of entrepreneurs across Africa.
On this week’s edition of founder’s profile, we take a look at one of Nigeria’s finest female entrepreneurs, Dr. Mrs. Stella Chinyelu Okoli, Founder of Emzor Pharmaceutical, and a woman who has not only engrained her name and company on the minds of Nigerians, but also carved a space for herself in history as a businesswoman of repute.
Early Life and Background
Stella was born in the ancient city of Kano, Northern Nigeria, in 1944 to the family of Felix Ebelechukwu and Margaret Modebelu from Nnewi, Anambra State.
She started her formal education in 1954 at All Saints Primary School in the industrial city of Onitsha, before proceeding to complete her secondary school education in 1964 at Ogidi Girls Secondary School (Ogidi is the birthplace of literary icon, Chinua Achebe).
Stella proceeded to the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom from where she obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy. This academic achievement was followed by a M.Sc. in Biopharmaceutics which she obtained from the University of London, Chelsea College in 1971.
Stella started her career at the Middlesex Hospital as a Ward/ Clinical Pharmacist, and later had a brief stint as a Pharmacist at Boots Chemist, London.
On her return home to Nigeria, she worked at Massey Children Hospital, Lagos before she joined a pharmaceutical manufacturing company, Park Davies Nigeria Ltd (now Pharma-Deko Plc), as a medical representative and later as a sales manager.
Her venture into private business
In January 1977, Stella started Emzor Pharmaceutical with the initial name, Emzor Chemists Limited, as a small pharmacy retail shop in Shomolu, Lagos. The name was coined from her children’s names (Emeka, Uzoma, and Edward). By 1981, Stella’s entrepreneurial drive led her into the drug importation busines, where she imported both ethical and over the counter (OTC) drugs to meet the health needs of Nigerians. The small Emzor Chemist has since become one of the leading pharmaceutical companies in Nigeria, with over 50 products since its incorporation in 1984.
Ironically, when she floated the Emzor brand in 1977, not a few of her friends and colleagues wondered if she knew what she was getting herself into. They had wondered how she could survive the turbulent world of business, particularly manufacturing. But over 35 years down the line, Stella has not only proved the cynics wrong, but she has also emerged as one of Nigeria’s women billionaires in the business world.
Challenges while starting her business
According to Stella, one of the major challenges she faced while starting her outfit was the unfavourable government policies at that time which favoured foreign multi-national companies to the detriment of local companies.
According to her:
”There have been policies over the years that have favoured the trading multi-nationals, to the detriment and disadvantage of those of us who have invested in the development of the manufacturing aspect of the industry. They are foreigners and could divest, pull out their funds or go back home to their countries. I couldn’t go anywhere, hence, I was forced to do the best I could to ensure the quality and the growth of the industry was maintained. We just had to do our best the only way we knew how.”
She also identified double taxation, drug faking and unlawful importation of drugs into the country as major challenges faced over the years.
Her quest for knowledge
In her quest for growth and self-development, Stella attended several courses across the world, to broaden her knowledge and sharpen her leadership skill. Some of these include The Executive Management Programs for business owners at Harvard Business School, Boston (1997- 1999); implementing Strategic and Organisational Change at I.E.S.E. Business School, Barcelona Spain (1996); Chief Executive Program of the Lagos Business School.
She has also held several professional leadership positions which include Chairman of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Group of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, member of Economic Summit of Nigeria and member of Health Matters Advisory Board of Nigeria. She served as a Non-Executive Director of Guaranty Trust Bank Plc from April 22, 2010, to July 24, 2014.
She was awarded Doctor of Business Administration (Honoris Causa) by Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka.
She is a recipient of the Member Order of Niger (MON), and Officer Order of Niger (OON) awards from the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, among others from several local and international distinguished groups.
After the unfortunate death of her son, Chike, in 2005, Stella started the Chike Okoli Foundation in 2006 as Non-Profit Organisation founded with the aim of fighting poverty and diseases by raising awareness on the Cardiovascular disease. She also runs the Chike Okoli Centre for Entrepreneurial Studies at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka and has trained over 1,600 entrepreneurs/students in the science and spirit of entrepreneurship. It has also reached over 5,000,000 people across Nigeria on lifestyle interventions.
Dr. Stella married her late husband, Barr. Nnaemeka Okoli in 1970, with whom she had three children.
Meet Adebayo Ogunlesi, Nigeria’s investment banker shaking up Wall Street
Though his name does not ring a bell like Aliko Dangote, Otedola and Mike Adenuga, Ogunlesi is equally a “billionaire” in his own right.
Some refer to him as a “silent billionaire”, and this is not a wrong statement about the man who has stakes in a number of airports around the world, including Gatwick Airport, the second-busiest airport by total passenger traffic in the UK and the ninth-busiest in Europe.
Adebayo Ogunlesi, a Nigerian who started out as a lawyer and later an investment banker, has spread his wings around the globe and is now currently the Chairman and Managing Partner at the private equity firm Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP). Though his name does not ring a bell like Aliko Dangote, Otedola and Mike Adenuga, Ogunlesi is equally a billionaire in his own right.
Adebayo hails from Makun, Sagamu, Ogun State, and was born on the 20th of December 1953 to the family of Dr Theophilus O. Ogunlesi, who later became Nigeria’s first Professor of Medicine in Ibadan.
He had his primary education there in Sagamu and then attended the prestigious King’s College, Lagos before travelling to England where he bagged a B.A. with first-class honours in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford University.
He went on to pursue two degrees concurrently at Harvard, and in 1979, received a J.D. magna cum laude from Harvard Law School and an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School.
He worked as a law clerk to Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall of the United States Supreme Court from 1980 to 1981, and as an attorney at Cravath, Swaine & Moore – a law firm in New York City till 1983.
Armed with his MBA, Adebayo made the switch to investment banking when he joined First Boston Investment Bank as an advisor on a Nigerian gas project in 1983. He also worked with the Project Finance Group, as a financial advisor to several clients on the transactions of North and South America, the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
Other places Adebayo worked include the Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) (earlier known as Global Energy Group) where he advised clients on strategic transactions and financing for some years, before becoming the Global Head of CSFB’s Investment Banking Division. He was appointed member of the Credit Suisse Executive Board and Management Committee in 2002, and became the Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Client Officer of CSFB between 2004 and 2006.
While at the CSFB, he was also lecturing at Harvard Law School and Yale School of Management.
He was appointed a member of the Board of Directors of Goldman Sachs in October 2012 and became Lead Director on the 24th of July, 2014.
Ogunlesi, the investor
In July 2006, he founded a private equity firm Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) in New York City, with CSFB and General Electric as the first investors; and assumed the role of Chairman and Managing Partner. In the same year, GIP bought London City Airport an international airport located in the Royal Docks in the London Borough of Newham in the City of London. GIP later sold off the airport after a decade.
Three years later in 2009, GIP invested £1.455 billion to acquire the majority share in London Gatwick Airport, a major international airport near Crawley, Sussex, England. Another three years after in 2012, GIP bought Edinburgh Airport, said to be the busiest airport in Scotland in 2019, handling over 14.7 million passengers.
GIP also bought Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori in February 2018.
Some other GIP Investments In the Transport Sector include Terminal Investment Limited, Port of Melbourne; Pacific National; Italo; Access Midstream Partners; Biffa Group Limited; Port of Brisbane; Great Yarmouth Port Company.
GIP also had stakes in infrastructure assets around the world, with selected equity and debt investments in several sectors. The company manages a portfolio of combined annual revenue greater than $46 billion, and investments of over $51 billion for its investors.
The company is an infrastructure investment fund that makes both equity and selected debt investments. It has investments in high-quality infrastructure assets in the energy, transport, water and waste sectors.
In the energy sector, Gip has investments in Guacolda Energia, Freeport LNG, CPV, Saeta Yield/Bow Power, Hess Infrastructure Partners, Vena Energy, Naturgy Energy Group and several others.
Ogunlesi is now a Member, Board of Dean’s Advisors at the Harvard Business School; Member, Leadership Council of New York at Harvard Law School; and Member, Global Advisory Council at Harvard University.
He is also a Member, Board of Directors of the Partnership for New York City Fund; National Board of Directors NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Board of Trustees NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital; and the King’s College Old Boys Association.
He is a member of the District of Columbia Bar Association. He taught a course on transnational investment projects in emerging countries, as a lecturer at Harvard Law School and the Yale School of Management, while also working at Credit Suisse First Boston.
In October 2012, Ogunlesi was appointed to the Board of Directors at Goldman Sachs and became Lead Director in 2014. There is no confirmed source of his net worth, but Wallmine estimates that Ogunlesi is worth at least $22.5 million dollars and owns at least 66,677 units of Goldman Sachs stock as of 7 May 2020.
In December 2016, Ogunlesi was named among business leaders that would be part of Donald Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum, but the forum was disbanded 8 months later.
Ogunlesi was given The Award of Excellence by The International Center in New York, and in 2019 was cited as one of the Top 100 most influential Africans by New African magazine. He is still actively engaged in several volunteer works across Africa.
Atsu Davoh is building ways for Africans to easily acquire and spend cryptocurrency
Atsu Davoh has gone from failed projects to running one of Ghana’s most innovative startups.
In recent times, the tech space in Africa has experienced immense growth, with the introduction of several key players and disruptors across various sectors. One sector that is also rising is the cryptocurrency space with Africa experiencing greater crypto ownership and trade volume.
The number of Bitcoins processed on a single day reached its highest value at the beginning of 2021, as more people displayed interest in the cryptocurrency. Due to its fast adoption, more fintech players have created platforms that have made trading with cryptocurrency easier. One of such players is Atsu Davoh who calls himself the “product guy.”
Atsu Davoh dropped out of college (Carleton College) in the United States and moved back to Ghana to help innovate on Africa’s financial infrastructure. Atsu first discovered Bitcoin in 2017 during the first boom when it became mainstream. Before then, he and his co-founder Samuel Baohen had been involved in many failed projects.
He developed a USSD system where people could buy bitcoin through their phone numbers, like tying crypto to phone numbers in a native way. This was one of the first iterations of Bitsika.
Atsu was invited to Join Binance Labs Incubator by Yele Bademosi where he got $150,000 after graduating from the incubator. Bitsika went on to raise around $900,000 from investors. This brought the total seed raised to $1,050,000.
This USSD system worked in Ghana but didn’t work in Nigeria. Atsu and his team then pivoted the platform to a donation crowdfunding platform, which allowed people living in other countries to send donations to African nationals in need of the funds before finally building it into a cross-border crypto remittance platform.
Bitsika users can deposit and remit money across multiple currencies using the app, with all monies deposited in Bitsika stored in USD credits or stable-coin.
Bitsika has over 50,000+ downloads on Playstore and processed nearly $40 million in 2020 with $18,872,474 in deposits, $17,890,807 in payouts (withdrawals), and $3,189,834 in internal peer-to-peer transfers.
Despite a few unfavourable regulations surrounding cryptocurrency in Africa, the market has shown no signs of slowing down as more people are building products that will make trading seamless.
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