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Profiles

Leo Stan Ekeh, the whiz who launched Nigeria’s first locally manufactured computers

Ekeh can be put in the bracket of visionaries who were quick to see that ICT would define the world in no distant time.  

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Leo Stan Ekeh

Rated as one of the top tech CEOs in Nigeria according to Ventures Africa, Leonard Stanley Ekeh has earned a name for himself through his contributions to Africa’s ICT space. With his tech start-ups dating back to the 80s, Ekeh can be put in the bracket of visionaries who saw that ICT would define the world in no distant time.

This week on Nairametrics Founders Profile, the spotlight is on Leo Stan Ekeh, as he is now popularly known.

Leo Stan Ekeh was born in Imo state on February 22, 1956 to a Dietician mum and Nurse dad. He had his early education in Owerri, and upon graduation from Holy Ghost College, Owerri, he emigrated to India where he obtained BSc. Economics from Punjab University.

READ: Start-up owners must believe in Nigeria to scale, says Ekeh, Zinox Boss

This step marked a turning point in his thought process, as he was exposed to the Indian economy which he described as ‘realistic’. He then shifted from his plans to own “the biggest transport company in Nigeria” and started thinking of more realistic business ideas, which would impact the Nigerian economy. He moved on to England where he bagged a Postgraduate degree in Risk Management at the Nottingham University.

His return to Nigeria saw him spearhead the creation of several tech companies.

Task System Limited

This was Ekeh’s first start-up in Nigeria. The ICT solutions company commenced operations in 1989 to focus on desktop publishing and computer graphics. Over the last three decades, the company extended operations from Lagos to Port Harcourt and Abuja, implementing several ICT projects across the Oil & Gas, Telecoms, Manufacturing, and Public sectors.

The company has computerized 95 percent of Print media, Publishing houses, and Advertising agencies in Nigeria; with several outstanding industry awards to its credit, including Best Partner Award for Compaq, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard (HP) etc.

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READ: Ekeh, Zinox boss, may retire in 2021

Zinox Technologies Limited

ZInox Technologies is the brand which brought Ekeh to the forefront of Africa’s tech space and for which he is popular for. The company was founded in 2001 and became the first internationally certified branded computer OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) in West Africa.

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In addition, Zinox is the first to receive Windows Hardware Quality Labs (WHQL) certification, and also the first computer hardware manufacturing company and ICT integration company in Nigeria to receive ISO 9001-2000.

Zinox creates business solutions that uses new technologies to streamline systems, efficiently align, integrate, and maximise productivity. Its products are renowned for their security and IT infrastructure. The company has helped to revolutionize the electoral processes in several African countries like Nigeria, The Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau.

Zinox is the only local OEM partner of Microsoft and Intel corporation in Nigeria. It was recently rated by International Data Corporation (IDC) as the No.1 brand in terms of computer sales amongst local and international brands in Nigeria.

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Ekeh also launched Zinox Computers – Nigeria’s first internationally certified branded computers, which comes with a Naira sign and a power supply designed to be compatible with the country’s unstable power supply.

READ: Konga’s turnover increases by 800%, as company claims to be self-sufficient

Buyright Africa Dotcom Limited

In 2008, Ekeh founded Buyright Africa Dotcom Limited at a time when credit card and e-payment infrastructures were still alien to Nigerians. The target of the start-up was to resolve funding issues for ICT projects and companies, through partnerships with strong international finance groups.

Within the next couple of years, Buyright Africa launched full operation to help Africans enjoy the benefits of emerging technologies and build technology strength that would allow her citizens, governments, and businesses compete favourably with other strong economies of the world.

Buyright Africa executes and funds ICT projects, equipment leasing, ownership scheme and other related ideas in Africa. It also offers ICT consultancy services and sales of ICT products, infrastructures, and digital tools to educational institutions and governments, through its partnership with international and local ICT companies.

Describing the vision, Mr. Mukoro Emomine, Managing Director of Buyright Africa said the company was out to work with manufacturers, in order to reduce the total cost of ownership of ICT equipment in Africa and also encourage usage.

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READ: N75 billion Nigerian Youth Investment Fund to be rolled out before end of October – Minister

Konga.com

Konga.com was founded in July 2012 by Sim Shagaya as a third-party online marketplace, and a first-party direct retail in various categories of consumer goods and products.

In February 2018, Zinox acquired 99% of Konga.com shares just a few months after Konga laid off over half its staff. Three months later, Konga merged with Zinox’s retail outfit – Yudala to form the biggest e-commerce company in Africa. Under the new merger, the brand name Konga was retained.

Other businesses

Leo Stan Ekeh also founded Technology Distribution Limited, Task Direct Limited and ITEC Solutions, using them to drive IT solutions and distribution in West Africa.

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He has also been involved with ICT Brokers, and ICT Connect. News recently made the rounds that Ekeh was the man behind the Healthplus takeover, but Ekeh distanced himself from such rumours,

“Till date, I do not have a kobo share in any of their investment vehicles, including a kobo share in Healthplus. Although, everyone has a right to invest in any company of his or her choice.”

CSR initiatives and recognitions

In line with his interest and devotion to the growth of IT in Nigeria, Ekeh launched the Computerize Nigeria Project in August 2000, to encourage development and sensitize Nigerians in the use of computers. He also launched the CANi Scheme, providing laptops to young Nigerians at a reduced price, with a repayment plan spread across 24 months.

Through his charity organisation, Leo Stan Ekeh Foundation, he has carried out other commendable humanitarian and philanthropic donations across the country.

He was bestowed with the ICON of Hope award by former President Olusegun Obasanjo on October 1, 2002; Nigerian Science & Technology Achiever of the Year 2003; and Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (OFR) in 2004. Ekeh is also a member of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, and holds Life Membership, Nigeria Institute of International Affairs.

He holds Honorary Doctorate in Business Administration from Imo State University, Owerri; Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi; and Federal University of Technology, Owerri and University of Jos. He is a Fellow of the Lagos State Polytechnic, Lagos; Federal Polytechnic, Idah; and Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, Imo State.

Only 64 years old, Leo Stan Ekeh is still going strong and there is no telling what sector he might venture into next. He recently called for the declaration of a Tech Independence Day, and confidently said it is only a matter of time before Nigeria starts raising tech billionaires that would rival the likes of Jeff Bezos and Jack Ma.

Ekeh was worth $1 billion as of June, 2018 according to Business Insider by Pulse.ng.

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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    billionaire

    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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