The Chairman of Zinox Technologies Limited, Mr Leo Stan Ekeh, in February delivered the keynote speech in Harvard Business School African Business Conference. I was one of the panelists and participated in a panel focusing on bridging the African technical knowledge gap. Recently, Nigerians have been occupying these prestigious business pulpits. Tony Elumelu delivered the keynote for Wharton Business School counterparts. And just last week, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala did the same for MIT Sloan students.
Leo was at his best (sorry, this article is coming late). He explained the impact of politics in African business and how one must be toughened to succeed in Africa’s business ecosystem. According to him, most times, the best does not win. The mediocre can have a field day. Politics is business and in Africa, it affects everything.
He explained how he built Zinox and how he began to win market share to become a dominant force in Nigeria’s computing education sub-sector. Pursuing innovation and quality was one of the hallmarks of his vision. He once delayed the release of one of the products because Intel – the processor supplier had not certified the system. He wanted to get everything right.
The best part of his talk was how he saved Nigeria electoral body and made some really good money out of it (Leo, you want this part out!). He explained that he was prepared to lead and serve by building competence and developing his human capital. As the students asked him questions on how he hired and retained his top talents, he explained that he lost some to IBM, but recently he is also stealing talents from IBM. His mantra is develop talents and he does it very well.
According to him, Africa can develop if the governments could subsidize computers and make broadband available. He stated that Africa is not harnessing all its capabilities. And the issues of electricity, poor credit facilities, policy changes, manpower shortage, poor quality of governance are issues that must be solved if Africa hopes to command technical respect in the community of nations.
The key interesting aspect of the talk was the delivery. He was full of life and exuberance and was visibly happy to share experiences of business life with these future captains of Africa’s commerce. He explained that even in the midst of all Africa’s problems, there is a gold mine in African commerce. One can even turn all these problems into opportunities. Driven by patriotism and entrepreneurial energy, his likes could compete with any player in the world because of the knowledge of the local market.
The title of his talk was “Building of a True Indigenous African Institution – The Zinox Experience”. I enjoyed it especially when he explained his efforts on philanthropy. Some of the key facts about Zinox from his talks are:
– Oct 12, 2001, Zinox helped in Nigeria’s national identity project. It has become Zinox for Nigeria as HP is for the U.S.A, Lenovo for China, Acer for Taiwan, and Mercer for South Africa.
– Zinox salvaged Nigeria voters’ registration project by delivering 11,5000 DDC machines in 14 days in 2006
– He repeated the same in 2011 within 35 days for 80,000 units. .
– Interesting, he provided, free, 74 engineers to help INEC of Nigeria.
As a business man, he has found success. But that dwarfs his philanthropy. There, I got that he had concessions of no compete clause in some universities in Nigeria where only his company could provide some ICT services. My alma mater, Federal University of Technology Owerri, was one of those. Was I happy that such a thing happened? Yes because he may need that monopoly to invest and No because it prevented me from getting Cisco to help my school in a project in 2008.
Mr. Ekeh is indeed a very successful man. He is a symbol of hope in Nigeria. From supporting All Africa Games, COJA, and Commonwealth Heads of Meeting to sharing his experiences, there is nothing not to like in this African. As he concluded his talk, I felt the man wished that all the students could follow him to Lagos so that he could teach them business.
He made one joke that I missed. A friend distracted me. It was about mechanics and one analogy using them. He said that in Nigeria, mechanics repair cars without manuals whereas in America they must use manuals. He extended that idea by pointing out that legal issues make people to be more careful while doing business in the Western World. There was really a good laugh after that. I missed the build of that point,
Tony Elumelu concluded, “If I can do it, you too can”; Mr. Ekeh was like “you have got the best education and you cannot afford to fail”. Of course, I met Leo when he was done and we chatted afterward.
Photo: Leo and Dr Ekekwe