A significant percentage of Nigerians have at some point or the other, had a need for and possibly consumed the Emzor paracetamol, a flagship product of the Emzor brand which stands high above several other pharmaceuticals.
The woman behind the brand, Stella Okoli is the focus of Nairametrics’ Founders profile this week.
A native of Nnewi in present-day Anambra State, Stella Okoli was born on the 30th of July, 1944 in Kano State, to the family of Felix Ebelechukwu and Margaret Modebelu.
She completed her primary education at All Saints Primary School, Onitsha in 1959, and attended Ogidi Girls Secondary School, Ogidi for the next 5 years. She proceeded to Federal Science School, Lagos where she spent a couple of years.
She travelled to the United Kingdom where she got her Bachelor in Pharmacy from Bradford University, UK in 1969. A few years later in 1971, she bagged a Masters in Biopharmaceuticals from the University of London, Chelsea College.
Over the years, Stella has also undergone Executive management programmes from notable institutions like the I.E.S.E Business school, Spain; Harvard Business school, USA; and Lagos Business school.
After her education in the UK, Stella started working as a Ward/Clinical Pharmacist at Middlesex Hospital in London and later had a brief stint as a Pharmacist at Boots Chemist UK.
Upon returning to Nigeria, she worked briefly with Massey Children Hospital, Lagos, before she joined Park Davies Nigeria Limited (now Pharma-Deko Plc).
The journey of a thousand miles
In 1977, Stella decided to set up a small drugstore – Emzor Chemist – in Shomolu where she lived at the time. It was a pharmacy retail shop where she put her pharmaceutical knowledge to use, in administering and dispensing drugs to her customers.
She started importing the drugs to be sold locally by the turn of the 80s, but it only took a short while before Stella came to the realisation that a lot of the drugs being imported could be produced locally as the raw materials were available.
“We have no business allowing importation of drugs that we can produce here because all we are doing is importing poverty. There has to be industry where the young pharmacists can fit into after graduation,” she later said in an interview.
In 1984, Emzor Chemists was incorporated as Emzor Pharmaceuticals to manufacture high-quality drugs locally. Stella, of course, did not have the money to carry out large scale productions, and she approached her father for support.
Talking about some of the resistance to her entrepreneurial move, Stella said “Business is business. There is no special business for man or for woman.”
Using his house as collateral, she secured a loan of N100,000 from First Bank of Nigeria Plc, and pilot productions started in 1985 with the popular Emzor Paracetamol. The company has now grown to become one of the leading indigenous pharmaceutical brands with well over 50 products to its name, including vitamins, anti-malaria, antibiotics, antacid, analgesics, and anti-histamine.
From that single chemist store, Emzor now has offices in Mali, India, Liberia, Ghana and Sierra Leone.
Emzor Group has a number of subsidiaries, such as Zolon Healthcare Limited, a specialty healthcare organisation targeted at providing intelligent solution to the healthcare needs of people. The company’s specialties include oncology, gynecology, biotechnology, cardiology and others.
Emzor Hesco Limited is a total healthcare solution provider, with a B2B business model to provide solutions for hospital equipment and services in conjunction with reputable brands and manufacturers from Europe, America and Asia. The company procures, consults, supplies medical equipment, carries out trainings on best practices, and supplies medical consumables among others.
Emzor Pharmacy and Stores is the retail arm for distributing Emzor Pharmaceutical products to Nigerians, while Life Gate Medicals Limited provides training for healthcare workers and medical tourism.
In memory of her late son, Stella Okoli started Chike Okoli Foundation (COF) in 2006, to promote healthy lifestyle and entrepreneurial skills among Nigerian youth.
As part of its activities, the foundation has trained thousands of youths on owning and running their businesses. In 2011, COF built Chike Okoli Centre for Entrepreneurial Studies at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, to provide entrepreneurial research, training and education for youths.
The foundation also gives free healthcare services and lecture people worldwide on effect of heart disease and stroke.
Services and awards
Stella Okoli has served in several capacities including as a member of the Economic Summit of Nigeria and the Health Matters Advisory Boards of Nigeria, as Vice President of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria and the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA).
She was once the Chairman of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturer Group and the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria. In 2010, she became a non-Executive Director of Guaranty Trust Bank.
Stella Okoli is a member of the Nigeria Industrial Policy and Competitiveness Advisory Council.
Her contributions to the Nigerian pharmaceutical industry have not gone unnoticed as she has received due recognitions. She was conferred a Honorary Doctor of Business Administration by Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka in 2011, Women of Distinction and Lifetime Achievers at ThisDay Annual Awards in 2012, and Business Person of the Year at the Sun Newspaper Awards in 2016.
In 2017, she received the Africa Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum, and also the Silverbird Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.
Now in her 70’s, Stella continues to drive her pharmaceutical business in addition to other interests. In an interview, she said, “everything I did not achieve before 70, now is the time to get started”.
She is believed to be one of Nigeria’s richest women.