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Austin Okere talks about fire incident at CWG Plc and other issues

On Wednesday, the day right after Nigeria’s 59tth Independence Day anniversary, Nairametrics interviewed Austin Okere.

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Austin Okere talks about life after stepping down from CWG Plc 

It was a sunny Wednesday afternoon, the day right after Nigeria’s 59tth Independence Day anniversary. As we finally got to the office, a beautiful receptionist welcomed us. Mr Okere was in a meeting, she told us with smiles, but he would be with us shortly. So, we sat and waited, all the while luxuriating in the ambience of a truly beautiful office environment.

It took over an hour before we could see the man. Apparently, he was having a really busy day meeting with some top executives from various organisations. As the Entrepreneur-In-Residence at Ausso Leadership Academy, Mr Okere occasionally has meetings like this where he teaches the secrets to scaling businesses and succeeding as entrepreneurs.

By the time we finally saw him that afternoon, he was headed towards the company’s cafeteria with the others for a lunch break, but as soon as he saw us waiting at the reception, he cancelled his lunch to attend to us. Nice as always, he apologised profusely for keeping us waiting. He also commended our efforts at Nairametrics because apparently, he likes what we do. And soon, we were climbing upstairs to another beautiful part of the office. Here, we would have the interview before he re-joined his other guests for the concluding part of their meeting for the day.

It’s really fascinating how the man is able to juggle all of his daily activities with such ease. Just the day before this interview, he was busy delivering a lecture on entrepreneurship at Pistis Hub for the Founders Conference 2019. And here he was, sitting before us and smiling, though we had just interrupted his lunch.

[READ ALSO: Independence Day: Online transactions hit 2.8 million]

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Austin Okere talks about life after stepping down from CWG Plc 

So, we hit him with the questions

As the interview kicked off, we began by asking about the most topical issue at the moment – Nigeria’s Independence Day celebration. After 59 years of independence, did he agree with those who thought that we had nothing to show for it? Also, what was his opinion on the fact that many companies had collapsed since Nigeria’s 1960 independence?

In answering the first part of the question, Mr Okere noted that it would be erroneous for anyone to believe that Nigeria had nothing to show for her 59-year old independence. However, this was not to claim that we had done so well and should be proud of ourselves, he clarified. He further analysed the situation thus:

“Perception is performance minus expectation. If the expectation is at a certain level and the performance is way lower than the expectation, then you have a negative perception. Because of Nigeria’s unique position and her many resources, the expectation is very high. The performance must, therefore, be equally high to measure up to the expectation in order that Nigeria may have a positive perception.”

In other words, Nigeria needs to try harder to improve. He also highlighted what other well-meaning Nigerians have complained about in the past about a few bad Nigerians giving the country a bad name with their deviant ways. As he explained it, this happened because the country had already failed to measure up to expectation. Therefore, when some Nigerians misbehave as they occasionally do, it rubs off negatively on the country’s image which is already tainted. But all these could change for the better if only the Nigerian Government could strive harder to change the narrative through positive developmental policies. Also, the Nigerian media industry should do a better work of telling better stories about the country, he urged.

His thoughts on collapsed companies

According to Okere, the issue of collapsed companies is not peculiar to Nigeria alone. As he explained, it is a global phenomenon which is backed up by statistics. Citing what he called the stages graph, the businessman explained that about a 100% of companies that start off at a certain time, in three to five years come to what we call the first brick wall. During this period, only 5% of entrepreneur businesses scale through into a phase of growth, meaning that 95% are not successful.

Over a ten-year period, the surviving 5% of companies will experience what he called the second brick wall. During this phase, there are skills that companies are expected to exhibit – skills like capability, positioning, product distribution, succession planning, etc. Any company that fails to exhibit these skills during this second brick wall is going to die. When a company passes through this second brick wall, it either advances to the growth stage or declines. Only 20% of them are able to get to this stage.

 “I think the problem comes when a company has scaled the second brick wall. At this point, the corporate governance in such a company ought to have picked up in order to ensure that the business is insulated from imploding on itself. Unfortunately, governance in most companies tends to be weak. Therefore, they go through decline and suffer a slow but painful death.”

Meanwhile, in as much as company collapses are not unique to Nigeria alone, Okere did not excuse the role played by the Nigerian situation in causing the collapse of so many Nigerian companies. As he noted, the absence of basic infrastructure such as stable power supply is a good enough reason to kill off any business. Therefore, the government should take action by exploring ways to improve on the infrastructure (particularly electricity) as well as human resource development, for the sake of building a more sustainable and vibrant entrepreneurial and corporate environment.

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Why he stepped down rather early as the head of CWG Plc

In 1991, Austin Okere founded CWG Plc. For many years, he served as the company’s Chief Executive Officer, nurturing it until it became one of the biggest ICT companies listed on the NSE. But in 2015, he chose to step down from this position for no apparent reason. We asked him why he made this decision and he shared his response:

“A lot of businesses that started off as startups become successful businesses once they cross the second brick wall and do the right things to go into advanced growth. Unfortunately, these same businesses are the biggest enemies of themselves apart of the governance issue I talked about earlier.

 “There’s a certain optimum point that we have to understand. When a company starts off, the founder is the all in all, the most powerful, all-knowing person. He continues to hold the body of knowledge because he has the vision. But the company is the one that has the governance. So, over time, the founder’s power should come down as the company is picking up in terms of the governance. There is a certain optimum point the two should meet and at that optimum point, there’s always a good balance between the founder and the company. And if the founder decides to step down at that point, there will be other successive CEOs operating in that equilibrium. 

“Unfortunately, if the founder delays way beyond when he is the most useful person in the company, the value of the company drops.” This happened because at that stage, the founder was not the right person to lead the company into the next growth phase, he explained.

His thoughts on current developments at the company he founded 

Why then do a lot of founders refuse to step down even when they have outlived their relevance within their companies? Well, the reason is that they failed to develop other interests asides their interests in their companies, Okere explained. In his case, he ensured to develop other interests early on, interests along the lines of entrepreneurship, shared prosperity, and knowledge impartation. He has done this both at Ausso Leadership Academy which he founded in 2018, as well as on an international scale including stints as an adjunct faculty at the prestigious Columbia Business School, his role on the board of the Global Business School Network, and engagements with the World Economic Forum, amongst other important engagements.

At the moment, he only plays the role of Vice Chairman at CWG Plc. We asked him if he was impressed with the company’s current leadership and without hesitation, his answer was an emphatic yes. In his own words, “the current Group CEO of CWG Plc, Wale Adeyipo has been a very good find…a perfect fit,” who has facilitated geometric growth since he took over not too long ago.

His reaction to a recent fire incident at the company

Last month, there was a fire incident at one of the company’s facilities. We asked for an update, the extent of damage, and most especially if the incident could potentially affect the company’s overall performance by the end of 2019. In response, Okere said the incident was quite unfortunate. Luckily it happened at a storage facility and not within an operational facility. This, he implied, made the impact far less than what it could have been. Therefore, he did not think the incident would have any impact on the company’s finances.

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Having said that, the businessman noted that infernos have now become a systemic problem in Nigeria because, “there is always one fire here or one fire there.” Note that on the same day the CWG fire incident happened, the head office of Nigeria’s Unity Bank Plc was also ablaze. Austin Okere believed there should be something that could be done to forestall these fires. Preventive measures such as fire drills and constant maintenance were important, he said. Therefore, the fire department should make it a priority.

We discussed CWG’s stock and its “BLS” status

So far in H1 2019, the company recorded a revenue of N3.9 billion as against N2.5 billion in H1 2018. Profit after tax for the H1 2019 period stood at N149.3 million as against a loss after tax of N25.3 million. So, business is doing relatively well this year. However, the NSE says the company’s stock is below listing standard. This is because as a company listed on the NSE’s mainboard, CWG is expected to have 20% free float but at the moment, it currently has 15.97% free float. This situation makes the company free float deficient. We asked he if could explain what this and he did by stating the following:

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“The NSE listing conditions are clear, and the concessions conditions are also very clear. You mentioned that the company’s free float should be 20% but it’s currently 4% short. I think that there should be a dialogue between CWG and the NSE because CWG (the way we understood it), had met all requirements. There’s a bulk external owner (which is Abraaj Group) that owns 20%. So, in our minds, the free float was 16+20 which is 36%. But we’re told that the bulk holder does not count as a free float. And we said ‘that’s fine, we are happy to take further action towards diluting the other people that are already there. 

“But if you know what the market has been doing, the market has not really been in a floatable state generally. And you don’t just do something for the sake of doing it; you do it because there’s value for all stakeholders. So, it’s not just to take a bulk, but to do it at the right time in order to maximise the value for all stakeholders.”

His thoughts on fintechs and tech entrepreneur’s recent pushback against police harassment

Away from CWG’s stock, Austin Okere talked about Nigeria’s growing fintech ecosystem. He was particularly glad about their emergence because they are here to shake up the Nigerian banking sector which, as he described it, was hitherto “a turgid system… a club that was difficult to join…” He went further to describe the banking industry as an old system which has become rather complacent over time.

He, therefore, implied that fintechs are here to change the game. For one, fintechs would go a long way in the effort to actualise financial inclusion, something the banking sector has not been able to accomplish despite many years. He also faulted banks for failing to provide adequate funding to the real sector of the economy, particularly SMEs. As he noted, CWG Plc was once a startup. If the company had been unable to access adequate funding to meet all its expansion needs, it may never have scaled up. So, banks should do better in terms of lending, else fintechs will beat them to that too.

He condemned the issue of growing police harassment of young tech talents which has become rampant recently. He also expressed his support for those that have come together to provide support to anyone that has been affected by the menace.

[READ ALSO: Nigeria at 59: But do we know the History of our Nation?]

The role of Ausso Leadership Academy in building entrepreneurship 

Note that the main reason why Austin Okere set up Ausso Leadership Academy is because of his belief that only Nigerians can come up with the right businesses that will succeed and help Nigeria actualise the economic freedom that it yearns for. According to him, when startups have the necessary skills and capacities needed to expand, they can create more jobs and by so doing, enable shared prosperity and economic inclusion.

How does this man relax, you ask?

Apparently, he derives joy in sharing quality time with his family. No matter what he does, he always ensures a balance whereby he finds time to be with his family. This is very important, he said, because anyone who fails to build a supportive and happy home where he/she can feel loved, will always be stressed. And stress is not a good thing for anyone.

 

Emmanuel is a professional writer and business journalist, with interests covering Banking & Finance, Mergers and Acquisitions, Corporate Profiles, Brand Communication, Fintech, and MSMEs. He initially joined Nairametrics as an all-round Business Analyst, but later began focusing on and covering the financial services sector. He has also held various leadership roles, including Senior Editor, QAQC Lead, and Deputy Managing Editor. Emmanuel holds an M.Sc in International Relations from the University of Ibadan, graduating with Distinction. He also graduated with a Second Class Honours (Upper Division) from the Department of Philosophy & Logic, University of Ibadan. If you have a scoop for him, you may contact him via his email- [email protected] You may also contact him through various social media platforms, preferably LinkedIn and Twitter.

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Profiles

We started PiggyVest to digitize ‘wooden box’ saving method – Odunayo Eweniyi, Co-Founder

Inspired by the local wooden box piggy bank, the idea for PiggyVest was birthed.

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The Financial Service sector has rapidly evolved in the last decade; with several viable startups springing up with innovations, most people never thought was possible. One of the notable startups, currently redefining the FinTech industry is PiggyVest. 

PiggyVest is the first online ‘savings and investment’ app in West Africa, with one mission to give everyone the power to better manage and grow their own finance 

For a company started by six young graduates, their success story is truly inspirational 

Today, Nairametrics profiles one of the brains behind this ethical startup company – Odunayo Eweniyi 

Early years 

Born in Oyo statethe 27-year-old Odunayo spent her early years invested in reading books. She excelled with ease in all subjects at her primary and secondary schools. A feat not surprising, as she is daughter to two professor parents. 

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Odunayo recalls that even though she wished to study Medicine and Surgery, she did not consider herself empathetic enough to thrive in the profession. She went on to study Computer Engineering at the prestigious Covenant University, graduating top of her class in 2013. 

Finding her Co-Founders 

As an undergraduate, Odunayo had already taken an interest in Coding and Artificial Intelligence and expected to take further studies in it. However, this did not happen immediately, as she started with job-hunting after graduation.  

“The first thing that happened to me was that I went for a job interview, and I was asked to quote a salary and I did. When the offer would come back, the salary they offered was 80% lower than what I expected, so I rejected it, she recalled. 

Subsequently, she teamed up with a couple of friends from her university days, and they came up with the idea of PushCV. Recounting the decision to team up with them, Odunayo says,  

We all were amazing engineers in schoolSomto once built a miniature airplane, so I was pretty confident that a joint venture with them would produce amazing results. 

The other team members were already working on a discount card startup called Parolz, and she joined them to work on this for some months, while simultaneously still jobhunting with Oluwafemiand Somto was working on something called CV Flash, to help people who couldn’t write CVs properly or did so with terrible English. 

Odunayo became a Co-founder at CVFlash, helping to write the CVs for clients. She was also writing for TechCabalZikoko, and later worked as Editor of TechPoint AfricaAll of the income from these jobs kept her going, and was also being channeled into getting the startup off the ground.  

Soon enough, PushCV came to the forefront of their interests, when clients started requesting that they help them ‘push’ their CVs to employers. The friends decided to collapse Parolz, and concentrate their energies on the startup raving with the most attention from users 

To differentiate PushCV from others, they started pre-screening candidates, so that only the best candidates would be sent to employers. Their activities attracted attention, and by August 2014, they got their first investment from Olumide Soyombo’s Leadpath Nigeria – an office space in Yaba, and a cheque for $25,000 

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How Piggybank was conceived 

By the end of December 2015, the team came across a tweet from a lady, about how she had saved N365,000 by putting N1000 in a wooden piggy bank daily. They decided then, that finding a way to digitize the concept would help salary earners save towards their financial goals.  

They launched Piggybank.ng on the 7th of January 2016, as a ‘savings-only’ platform, and the fully tested version was ready for public use by April 2016. Gradually, the brand grew by user-recommendations and testimonialsThese free adverts were a testament to the team, that they were helping with a real need in our society. 

Three years later, in April 2019, they rebranded to PiggyVestand started offering direct investment opportunities to users, allowing them to combine discipline plus flexibility to grow their savings and investments. 

Users can now use the Quarterly savings options, save towards financial targets, or lock funds away. They can also take advantage of investment opportunities on the platform. The company currently serves 350,000 users, helping them save and invest combine billions of Naira every month, that they would probably be tempted to badly spend.” 

Not a roller-coaster experience 

About her several experiences as co-founder, Odunayo said 

“The journey was full of self-doubt, and it took a toll on my self-esteem. The first thing I learnt was that I had to be adaptable, people don’t give you money then use your own For the first two years of running the company, I had to work a side jobwith the entire proceeds invested into running the start-up. 

The team was made up of six-persons at start-up, although only three people are listed as Co-Founders – Odunayo Eweniyi, Joshua Chibueze, and Somto Ifezue. Each person on the team had their specialty and strength, so it was easy to assign responsibilities. There was no accountant in the team, so they managed their finances themselves, noting that there were months, when they could not even pay themselves. 

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Further education, honours, and recognitions 

Odunayo got certified in Full Stack Web Development (Computer Software Engineering) in 2018, as well as an online certification from the Harvard Business SchoolOdunayo is also CISCO certified. The Oyo-born tech founder says that she has intentions of furthering her education. According to her LinkedIn profile, she is currently undergoing a Master degree in Finance (banking) at the SOAS University of London  

“I draw inspiration from my family. They believe in me so much, that it is hard for me not to believe in myself. she said in an interview 

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In 2019, Odunayo Eweniyi was named one of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 – Technology, and one of 30 Quartz Africa Innovators. In the same yearshe was named SME Entrepreneur of the Year West Africa, by The Asian Banker’s Wealth and Society, and is listed on Forbes Africa list of 20 New Wealth Creators in Africa 2019. 

She sits on boards like thAdvisory board of TrainFuture in Switzerland, the Gender Lens Acceleration Best Practices Initiative – a collaborative effort of Village Capital US, and the International Finance Corporation’s, Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (IFC-WeFi). 

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Business Half Hour

The path to becoming a Chocolate giant is not ‘chocolatey’ – Femi Oyedipe, Loshes Chocolate

From trying out different ventures, Femi Oyedipe has found her success in chocolate making.

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In Nigeria, starting and running a business – any business, is no walk in the park, as countless entrepreneurs have failed repeatedly. Hence, starting and successfully scaling a business, is a feather only few can lay claim to.

Co-founder and CEO of Loshes Chocolate, Femi Oyedipe, was a guest on the Nairametrics Business Half Hour, where she shared her start-up story and succeeding in a field where she was entirely self-taught.

The graduate of Biochemistry from the premiere University of Ibadan, recalls that her decision to start producing chocolates locally meant that her office became her classroom. Her words described the satisfaction she has derived from this chosen path.

“The fun of trying out new recipes, making mistakes, learning and unlearning till you understand the best recipes is a huge reward,” she said.

The decision to start

Entrepreneurship is innate for her, since she always gravitated towards it. However, taking it as a full-time venture definitely seemed less attractive. So, she tried out other options, things she could do alongside a day job. She had a brief stint as a make-up artist, and then another in trading Ankara fabrics, before becoming a cake-maker.

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It was while making cakes, Femi picked interest in chocolates. As a caterer, she would use them in some cakes, sometimes breaking or melting ready-made chocolates.

“It did not make sense to me that we still had to import almost all the chocolates on the store shelf, even when we had cocoa locally available,” she recalled.

However, she was still hesitant to take the bull by the horn, until 2015.

“I had my eye on a job I was going to start when I came back from the U.S in 2015, and it was supposed to take me on a totally different career path. When it didn’t come through, I was upset and disappointed. It was in the midst of this disappointment, that the inspiration to make chocolates came.”

It dawned on her that the major ingredient for chocolates – cocoa, was locally available in large quantities, and decided to challenge the norm of importing chocolates for consumption. From her house, in that same year, she started Loshes Chocolate. The single-origin, bean-to-bar chocolate maker in Nigeria.

Early challenges

Capital is key to any start-up venture, and it was no different for Loshes Chocolate. Femi pooled resources with her husband, and started by sourcing cocoa from local farmers, then processing it into chocolate for direct consumption, and for use by caterers and confectioners.

“The drive was ensuring that we retain the natural flavors and health benefits of cocoa, as against the usual mass-produced chocolates which have lots of additives. People are becoming more conscious of eating healthy foods, and we try to meet that need while producing chocolates that are still yummy,” she said.

Being domiciled in one of the largest cocoa-producing countries, availability of the major ingredient had taken care of a lot of problems except for electricity – a possible deal-breaker.

“It takes about 36 to 48 hours to grind the cocoa beans into powder, and you can imagine how much power that consumes,”

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“We needed some machines to get started and could not lay hands on them at the time, so my husband being an engineer helped to fabricate some of them. We got some parts from local markets in Lagos state, like Orile and put them together to make the machines we needed,” she explained.

Femi understood early on that, variety is the spice of life, so She spent time trying out new recipes, with family members and friends also serving as ‘guinea pigs’ for each new recipe. This served as a great source of feedback.

Later on, they needed to get the specialized machinery, and Femi recalled how fluctuations in Foreign Exchange, and the availability of manpower to maintain and service the machines posed a serious challenge.

Yet, she remains graceful in her advice to would-be entrepreneurs. “Just start where you can. In there, is where the innovation lies, because you do not have access to so much, and the business environment in Nigeria is not easy for SMEs. Instead of turning your back, you stay and become creative,”

Scaling up

With so many milestones attained, the company is not resting on its laurels. Loshes Chocolates still serves the local market at the moment, but there are plans to raise funds, scale-up, and start exporting. Femi is optimistic in the possibilities that abounds for her company, as is evident from her mantra, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”

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Billionaire Watch

Elon Musk now the third-richest person in the world

Musk has seen a meteoric rise in his wealth, with his net worth growing by $87.8 billion this year.

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Elon Musk, Tesla, SEC, Stock, Twitter, COVID-19: Tesla’s Elon Musk to produce ventilators as fast-spread of disease lingers

The recent surge in many leading U.S technology stocks have unsurprisingly created wealth for their founders, investors and stock traders.

What we know: Elon Musk just surpassed the co-founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg to become the third richest person in the world. Shares of Tesla Inc. continued its unrelenting surge after the recent stock split of Tesla stocks. Musk is now estimated to be worth about $115.4 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Musk is the present chief executive officer of Tesla, a maker of electric vehicles.

The Palo Alto, California-based company sells sedans, sport utility vehicles, and is the state’s largest automotive employer. He’s also CEO of Space Exploration Technologies, a rocket manufacturer tapped by NASA to resupply the space station.

Musk, 49, has seen a meteoric rise in his wealth, with his net worth growing by $87.8 billion this year as Tesla shares surged almost 500%.

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Also helpful: an audacious pay package – the largest corporate pay deal ever struck between a chief executive officer and a board of directors – that could yield him more than $50 billion if all goals are met.

On Monday, Nairametrics reported how Tesla’s share price rose to almost $500 following a 5-for-1 split. Nearly 70 million shares had changed hands as at then, two-thirds of the daily average over the past year.

Tesla’s $464 billion market value now exceeds that of retail behemoth Walmart Inc., the largest company in the U.S. by revenue.

Recall Nairametrics, about two weeks ago highlighted major reasons why Nairametrics believed the stock was a strong buy and could surpass the present most valuable listed technology company.

Tesla was founded in 2003 by a group of engineers who wanted to prove that people didn’t need to compromise to drive electric – that electric vehicles can be better, quicker, and more fun to drive than gasoline cars.

Today, Tesla builds not only all-electric vehicles but also infinitely scalable clean energy generation and storage products. Tesla believes the faster the world stops relying on fossil fuels and moves towards a zero-emission future, the better.

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