What comes to mind when you think of an Entrepreneur? You may think of a decision maker, a risk taker, or a leader amongst other things. But what comes to mind when you think of the Ghanaian entrepreneur? The Ghanaian entrepreneur, who dedicated a great amount of their time to building a reputable organisation from virtually nothing. The Creator. The Founder. The Visionary.
As Ghanaians, we must appreciate the business environment we find ourselves in, and the not so favourable economic conditions one must plough through to start and sustain a successful business in Ghana. We must also appreciate the stories to be told by these pillars of success that can now serve as guidance and inspiration for generations to come. We must allow these success stories to write new stories of success.
The decision to embark on a journey of success involves risk taking and decision making in various contexts. Stratcomm Africa is familiar with this journey of success and we invite you to travel and explore with us. Sit tight. Buckle up. Let the journey begin, as our Ghanaian CEOs now tell their stories. The many roads of perseverance, hard work, humility, and determination will be travelled, and all these roads lead to success!
Frustration is an emotion we are all too familiar with. It has the ability to consume every morsel of our being and can turn the sweetest little angel into a ball of raging madness. It creates a powerhouse of energy within us begging to be unleashed. The million-dollar question is how exactly do we deal with this pent up energy? Do we burst at the seams with a thirst for destruction or do we harness this surge into a hunger for construction? In 1997, Prince Kofi Amoabeng was frustrated! Tired of being rejected, he conceptualized the idea of setting up a ‘finance house’ to provide timely and appropriate finance for businessmen like himself who were struggling to receive financial assistance from the traditional banking sector.
The journey of Prince Kofi Amoabeng began in 1952, on the 22nd of February in the small town of Bososo in the Eastern Region of Ghana. He attended Penworth Preparatory School—a boarding school for boys—where he wrote and passed his Common Entrance exams in 1964. This granted him entrance to Adisadel College in Cape Coast, after which he attended St. Peter’s Secondary School at Nkwatia. After completing sixth form he went on to obtain a degree in Business Administration with a major in Accounting from the University of Ghana. Shortly after completing his education he joined the Military Academy in April of 1975 and by November he was commissioned as a Lieutenant. These early experiences deeply shaped his personality and beliefs. As a result of his brilliance and hard work Mr. Amoabeng won a scholarship to study at the Royal Army Pay Corps where he qualified as an accountant within one and a half years, and then decided to come back home. At the time the country had recently returned to civilian rule. However, he had to leave the army when the military took over again in December 1981.
Following his exit from the Military, Mr. Amoabeng was ready to venture into business. Nevertheless, success did not come easy to him. He tried his hands at a number of enterprises before grasping his big ticket to prosperity. In addition to other jobs, he taught at the Ghana Stock Exchange and his excellence in this field made him a key resource person. He made time to run a consulting firm and was also into oil procurement. Mr. Amoabeng facilitated the entry of the French petroleum company Elf into Ghana and owned interests in businesses such as K K Power & Co ltd, Opayesco Wood Processing Co Ltd, P. K. Amoabeng Enterprise Ltd, Schiewer Gh. Ltd. With all the evidence of ambition, hard work and accountability demonstrated throughout his life the banking sector refused to support his ventures. His efforts to sustain the various businesses were thwarted. Time and time again, his pursuit for funds to grow his businesses was unfairly rejected by the banks. Subsequently, he was unable to take advantage of many business opportunities that came his way. He possessed all the necessary qualities required to qualify for financial support and was well informed but it seemed almost impossible to attain assistance. The banking sector was simply unfriendly to businessmen. He sat down and pondered on whom exactly the banks lent money to and why. Eventually, he came to the disappointing realization that the banking sector was hardly supporting economic ventures.
With his back against the wall and nowhere to turn, Prince Kofi Amoabeng decided to take matters into his own hands. He was tired of hearing “No” and was determined to change the status quo for himself and every other entrepreneur who found themselves trapped in the same pit of sinking sand. With support from friends and family he rolled up his sleeves and took the plunge. With co-founder and now Chairman of the company, Mr Joseph Nsonamoah, he set up and registered a “finance house”. Initially, they called it Best Financial Services but upon advice from the Bank of Ghana the name changed to Unique Trust Financial Services which has evolved to what we now know as UT Bank.
Although he lacked in-depth knowledge of the Ghanaian market and how it worked, Mr. Amoabeng had a vision and he was bent on realizing this. He learnt about the characteristics of the SMEs in Ghana and familiarized himself with all the information he required to succeed. In the early days, the business experienced many trying times. Convincing investors to believe in the business was tough but the exemplary ways in which this organization conducted its business won them over in the long run. They faced many hurdles but they always devised ways and means of maneuvering through “impossible” situations. The required systems that would facilitate the operations of Unique Trust Financial Services were not in place but this did not stop Mr. Amoabeng from achieving his goals. He always overcame obstacles and refused to look back. Where the country lacked structures and institutions that were essential to the survival of the business such as a physical address system, he created his own system using Cartography to sketch the directions to clients’ collateral. In some cases, the police could not be relied on to bring defaulters to justice and going to court never really yielded results. So UT Financial Services came up with its own effective measures that ensured that clients paid back loans. Challenges only strengthened the will and expertise of Mr. Amoabeng.
Eventually, people slowly built trust and believed in the business enough to invest their monies with UT. The organization had also succeeded in creating a reputation through its strict processes for collection, allowing investors to have confidence that their monies would not be squandered. As you can imagine, these harsh measures deterred some from borrowing from UT because they feared the consequences of not paying back. On the other hand, those who borrowed made sure to pay back on time! In the long run the benefits from these measures far exceeded any losses and ensured the continuity of the organization. Being the pioneers of such an enterprise meant that society was slow to accept the UT concept. Today, it is safe to say that the number of financial institutions in the country is a testament and confirmation that society eventually responded positively to the business. Unique Trust Financial Services were the trailblazers and played a fundamental role in the development and growth of the informal sector.
From a tiny office in Kantamanto—Central Business District in Accra—with 3 staff members, the organization has evolved into a Universal Bank with its Headquarters in the prestigious Airport City, a total staff of about 900 and 30 branches in 8 of the 10 regions.
As a testament to its performance, UT Bank was ranked 10th on the Ghana Club 100 list in 2011. Through perseverance and a firm focus Mr. Amoabeng has been able to create such a respected company that it comfortably scooped the Bank of the Year Award 2011 at the Ghana Banking Awards. The long list of honors and awards confirm the good works of the organization and today make all the sacrifices of Mr. Amoabeng worthwhile.
However, being adorned with the title of Ghana’s Most Respected CEO thrice—2008, 2010, and 2012—does not rank as high a priority for Mr. Amoabeng as service to first his company and then to his country. From his experiences, he believes the only true way to run a successful business is to subordinate yourself to the company and comply with the company’s rules and policies. Regardless of our contributions or achievements within an organization we must all behave like the average employee and never feel above the law. Most importantly, we must remember to let the company’s agenda always reign supreme. Being raised in a hierarchical system of Chiefs, it is hard for Ghanaians to forget about titles and focus on the bigger picture. But it is only when the “role” supersedes the “position” that any organization truly experience unparalleled pinnacles. The point of one’s story is never your struggle or where you are coming from; it is always about where you are going.
Taking time to gain knowledge and experience is an important ingredient for achieving success. This encourages growth and provides the necessary tools to take advantage of opportunities that arise and handle being at the top. We must not be blinded by pursuing money and recognition, but focus on our service to individuals and to our community. With maturity, humility and a deep sense of passion, every individual can excel at whatever they put their minds to. A wise man once said “People pursue success and money too early. Know that from the top you go out…so why do you rush to the top?” This wise man is Prince Kofi Amoabeng. From his humble beginnings he has defied the odds and maintained a seat as CEO of UT for seventeen years.
Challenges strengthen people. As they arise we surmount them, learning from them to build a better and bigger company. Prince Kofi Amoabeng spearheaded financial lending services in Ghana and was the archetype for many of the financial institutions we benefit from today. What will YOU be remembered for tomorrow?