Don’t most of us have a perception that African countries are a tough environment for business? Yet, no matter how tough, you can succeed if you have an “in-spite-of” attitude. This is the experience of Nigerian entrepreneur Austin Okere, whose example illustrates this necessary attitude for doing business in Africa.
Austin started Computer Warehouse Group (CWG) in 1992 as a reseller of computer equipment. About 20 years later, CGW was selling hardware, software, and communication systems, generating an income of $130 million and employing 650 people. From Nigeria, it had expanded into Ghana, Cameroon, and Uganda. And they’ve received numerous awards, as you can see in the picture!
But in 2010 CWG faced a serious setback: The Central Bank of Nigeria discontinued the deployment of ATMs outside bank branches, and CWG’s ATM sales went from $35 million to $0. They “fell off a cliff,” in Austin’s words. The company was about to be dissolved. However, in 2014 CWG is getting ready to be listed in the Nigerian Stock Exchange. And the “in-spite-of” attitude Austin has instilled in CWG shares an important part in this:
- In spite of having lost from night to dawn their flourishing ATM infrastructure business;
- In spite of paying Nigerian taxes, while many of its foreign competitors were tax-exempt as they were considered “pioneer companies in communications;”
- In spite of having faced a jump in interest rates from 8% to 25% after the 2009 crisis;
- In spite of dramatic margin cuts from 2009 to 2012…
…CGW was able to shift their strategy and corresponding business model from that of a provider of IT to an enabler of IT operating in the world of cloud computing. (Their next project is called CWG2.0 and it’s built around a subscription-based model, but that is a topic for another day.)
What if we also embrace the “in-spite-of” attitude? Maybe it’s about time to stop complaining about the difficulties posed by the current environment, think of new projects, and start by taking one small step forward that will lead us to a big dream.
By the way, Austin Okere holds an Executive MBA degree from Lagos Business School, which at the time was conducting the program on behalf of IESE Business School. I met him at an Alumni session at Lagos Business School, and later I interviewed him and his management team in relation to the Africa-to-Africa project I’m working on.