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Profiles

Stella Okoli: The woman who built a pharmaceutical giant from a small store

From a chemist store, Stella Okoli has built Emzor pharmaceuticals to become a well-known brand.

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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.

READ: Flour Mills of Nigeria Plc laments over poor infrastructure, demands solution

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.

READ: FG loses billions over illegal importation of steel and iron

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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).

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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.

READ: COVID-19 lockdown significantly impact Guinness Nigeria profits

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“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.

Subsidiaries

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.

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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.

Philanthropy

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.

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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.

Ruth Okwumbu has a MSc. and BSc. in Mass Communication from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and Delta state university respectively. Prior to her role as analyst at Nairametrics, she had a progressive six year writing career.As a Business Analyst with Narametrics, she focuses on profiles of top business executives, founders, startups and the drama surrounding their successes and challenges. You may contact her via [email protected]

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Profiles

From Chemist to Bank CEO – The Story of Uzoma Dozie

Uzoma’s Dozie’s career history highlights his remarkable journey from a romance with Chemistry to running a top-tier bank.

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Uzoma Dozie’s Sparkle partners Open Banking Nigeria

When in 2019, talks were underway for one of the biggest mergers in Nigeria’s banking history, Diamond Bank CEO, Uzoma Dozie had his competencies called to question over why an almost 30 years old bank founded by his father, should end with him, the son. After the merger, the younger Dozie went ahead to launch his Digital Bank, Sparkle and has since then released several products and services, effectively silencing his detractors.

Early years

Uzoma Dozie is the first of the five sons of Pascal Dozie (PGD). He was born in England in 1969 at the time when his father was working with Greater London Development Council as a young graduate. The family soon relocated to Uganda when Pascal Dozie was contracted by the Ugandan Government as a Statistician, to work with a team carrying out an economic study in conjunction with the African Development Society Group.

In 1971, Idi Amin overthrew the elected government of Milton Obote and crisis broke out in Uganda. The family had no option but to return to Nigeria, where the country was just trying to pick life again after the war. The family settled in Yaba area of Lagos, and Uzoma started schooling.

READ: Experts laud Google’s decision to offer banking services 

His secondary education took him across three schools, the Lebanese Community School (LCS), Yaba; Government College, Owerri, and Command Secondary School, Kaduna.

Uzoma remembers that he did not always have things figured out, and as a child, had conflicting career interests. He was first interested in photography and for a while, it seemed like he would pursue this passion, but he changed his mind when he became a teenager and picked interest in becoming a doctor – a heart surgeon.

“In Nigeria then, you were either a doctor or an engineer. It was when we went for an open day at the University of Sheffield, where I was told that I had to spend seven years to become a doctor, that I decided to change my intended course of study.

“I later went to the University of Reading where I studied chemistry. After that, I went to the University College London to obtain a master’s degree in organic chemistry. We worked really hard to develop products that would help fight a number of diseases,” he recounted in an interview.

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While his studies helped him understand analytical processes, it only left him more confused about what he was to do professionally. He was quite certain he did not want to become a chemist but went ahead to work as a sales representative for a pharmaceutical company in the UK for a couple of months before relocating to Nigeria.

Career moves

Back in Nigeria, Pascal Dozie had founded Diamond Bank and was doubling as Managing Director and Board Chairman, when Uzoma returned. With Pascal’s encouragement, Uzoma decided to test the waters of the banking career and see if it would feel like home.

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Uzoma got a job with Guaranty Trust Bank (GTBank) on Broad Street, while Fola Adeola was the Managing Director. He learnt a lot from working there, and gradually, banking was becoming a little more than ‘daddy’s suggestion’.

“My father wanted me to gain industry experience, but he didn’t want me to start at Diamond Bank in order to avoid favouritism as the boss’ son, and he didn’t want to protect me as well, he needed me to find my own feet and fit. I spent a year at GTBank where I learnt a lot about developing a great work culture,” he said.

Shortly after spending a year at GTBank, the June 12, 1993 election crisis and accompanying unrest rendered Uzoma jobless for about a year. Afterwards, he joined Citizen International Bank (later known as Spring Bank), where he was placed on the oil and gas desk. This was a different experience, more demanding and challenging. He had to travel a lot to oil-producing areas like Port Harcourt, where he interacted with locals over their complaints.

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Uzoma left Citizen bank after a while and proceeded to Imperial College in the UK for an MBA. Upon his return to Nigeria, he joined Diamond Bank. He later became the Executive Director in charge of Lagos Businesses for a couple of years before he was appointed Deputy Managing Director in charge of Retail Banking. In November 2014, he was unanimously appointed by the Board as Group Managing Director / Chief Executive Officer.

One significant take-home Uzoma got from heading the Retail Banking Directorate was the significant gap in the market for a new approach to services for retailers, and this later became the basis for Sparkle. He also observed the kind of growth Diamond bank experienced when it partnered with and built new services and new channels with fintech solutions, and says that traditional banking system constricted growth because of the limitations to human resources.

He recalled that it took Diamond Bank 20 years with 400 branches to acquire five million customers, but the mobile platform tripled the figure in 3 years, a sign that it was time to go digital.

The Access-Diamond merger and accompanying rumours

Long before the official announcement of the merger deal between Diamond Bank and Access Bank, the grapevine had several versions of the story. Some of these versions portrayed the merger as a failure of Diamond Bank and blamed Uzoma for destroying a bank his father started.

“We just focused on making our customers, staff, and shareholders happy. The Diamond-Access merger was smooth. Herbert Wigwe and I did roadshows to answer as many questions as possible. The Diamond Bank investors were happy about the deal they got. The deal was a sweet deal for our investors; they moved from a tier II bank to a tier I bank. There was pretty much nothing to explain to anyone,” he said.

However, what these rumours meant was that Uzoma Dozie was going to have to prove himself with his start-up – Sparkle, and so far, he appears to be doing fine.

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Diamond sparkles

“Keep Sparkling” was the tagline that PGD held on to at Diamond Bank, insisting that all of his staffs were ‘Diamonds’ and must stand out always. This tagline later influenced Uzoma Dozie’s choice of name for his digital bank – Sparkle.

The goal was to use Sparkle to help retailers achieve their daily objectives and scale their businesses, providing a suite of innovative lifestyle services. Other services included in the innovation include customer experience-led support services, ranging from inventory management and invoicing statements to foreign exchange services.

Powered by AI and Machine Learning, Sparkle was also built to create a dynamic community around Nigeria’s retailers and consumers, influencing purchasing decisions based on user-generated behavioural purchase data.

Sparkle partnered Visa, Network International, as well as PricewaterhouseCoopers and Microsoft, to create the platform to enhance convenience & service, and allow outside developers to contribute and build solutions. Sparkle also has a customer service chatbot called Indy, which provides users with real-time information.

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Uzoma secured a banking license from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to offer financial services, and so Sparkle allowed users to make purchases online and in-person with both Sparkle physical and virtual cards. Where necessary, users can also pay bills and split payments using SparklePay which lets users send money to people without knowing their account numbers.

About this innovation, Uzoma Dozie said “Retailers and consumers in Nigeria are currently disconnected; Sparkle is building the solution around its understanding of the challenges of small businesses, which will help reduce the operational risks small businesses are exposed to in their infancy. Sparkle is a product, a community, born out of necessity for Nigeria’s retail landscape. We will connect millions of retailers on a digital platform, providing a service they can trust, that is seamless, and that allows for frictionless transactions across all activities and business services.”

The startup recently launched a new service called Sparkle Business, to provide access to various products and services for small businesses and SMEs in the region, including services like Tax Advisory/Calculations, and Payroll/Employee Management.

There are no mentions of an IPO or external funding for the Digital bank, anytime soon.

Other interests

Dozie sits on the Board of Women’s World Banking; and has spoken at several events around the world on the issue of technology and financial inclusion.

Even as a banker, he had developed an interest in the tech space, and launched TechFest in 2018 to bring together leading dignitaries of Nigeria’s technology and business sectors. He showcases tech start-up CEOs and founders in Tech Turks, his online TV show where he discusses opportunities and challenges in the tech industry.

Uzoma Dozie has also founded an angel fund called Black Knight, through which he has invested in a number of Nigerian technology start-ups. According to Uzoma, Black Knights is taking a long-term approach to investing in Nigerian enterprises by providing them with access to funding, access to market, access to business advice and mentorship, and creating a community of entrepreneurs.

Family influence

As the son of PGD, the busy economic consultant and later on Founder, Uzoma recalled that he did not see much of his father, but when PGD was around, he would tell them stories.

“We learnt a lot about decision making, speed, and risk from our parents. I remember how my father took an early bet on MTN Nigeria and I don’t need to tell you how successful it is now,” Uzoma said.

He also noted that his mother’s advice on being transparent is one he has adopted in several trying situations as a Chief Executive. “My mother taught us to be open; if you fail, don’t hide it. She would tell everyone, ‘Look at my son, he failed in school’ and that would kill all the rumours. Transparency removes uncertainty, so you own the story.”

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Billionaire Watch

Billionaire investors in Nigeria you may not know

A compilation of top Investors in companies listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, with whom you may be unfamiliar.

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As a Nigerian interested in investing or making money, names like Aliko Dangote, Femi Otedola, Mike Adenuga, Tony Elumelu, Jim OviaRabiu Abdulsalam, etc.come to mind as aspirational role models when it comes to net-worth. These men have all made billions of naira investing in companies listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange either as founders or strategic investors.  

  • However, there are many other ‘lesser-known investors in companies listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange who are worth billions (in naira).
  • These investors are seasoned and while they may not always be the founders of the companies they are invested in; they own a significant chunk of the business through strategic investment stakes that earn them billions annually in capital appreciation and dividends.  

 

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