Tucci Goka Ivowi is an experienced business leader with over 18 years’ experience in marketing and general business management in the UK and emerging markets of Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. She is currently the Deputy CEO and a founding member of the Ghana Commodity Exchange. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, she speaks on the recently formed The Ghana Commodity Exchange which she is a founding member, her passion for mentoring and how Africa can be more business friendly. Excerpt.
Alaba: Can you tell us about The Ghana Commodity Exchange and the gap it is filling?
Tucci: The Ghana Commodity Exchange is a regulated market which brings buyers and sellers together to trade under rules. It functions much like a stock exchange, except commodities are traded in place of stocks. The lack of organised trade in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa means that opportunities are lost to farmers, traders and the country as a whole. The structured nature of trading GCX provides, through its electronic trading system, allows for price discovery of the different commodities traded, assures the market of the quality and quantities of the commodities being traded, guarantees the sellers (largely farmers) cash settlement within 24 hours of a trade, and will open up both local and overseas markets to larger volumes of commodities, enriching all players in the agricultural and other commodity value chains and have an important net impact on Ghana’s agricultural economy.
Alaba: What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way? How are you applying it in your present capacity as the Deputy CEO, Ghana Commodity Exchange?
Tucci: Integrity will get you through any difficult moment you may encounter as a leader. You can make mistakes elsewhere and this is normal when you are faced with a multitude of decisions, often with little time to deliberate upon them but the fallout from a lack of integrity will have damaging and lasting consequences. This is the confidence I have as a leader – that as long as I do what is right, I can worry little about inconsequential matters. As you can imagine, integrity is particularly important in the financial markets industry, so I try to inculcate the right behaviours in the team, almost on a daily basis so that they are ingrained in the organisation’s fabric. Consistency forms habit.
Alaba: Recently, you launched a series called SMARTER Leadership. What is the goal and inspiration behind it?
Tucci: SMARTER Leadership series is an insight sharing, mentoring and coaching programme which I developed in response to many requests from up and coming leaders to share tips on how to attain leadership roles. I would love to take on all mentorship requests but it’s not possible if I’m to give people the quality they deserve and still have enough time for my work and myself. This will allow me to reach out to many more new and aspiring leaders whilst exchanging experiences with other leaders.
Alaba: What advice do you have for African women aiming for leadership positions, especially in the corporate world?
Tucci: I’ve said this in a different interview and I’ll say it just slightly differently here. Don’t focus on the ladder. You’re likely to slip. Focus on the results and let them elevate you. If you feel you’ve done all and deserve to be promoted and yet it’s not happening, seek advice from a mentor (ideally one from the same company, who can give you an honest view based on first hand observation) and in the meantime, keep working hard. Hard work always pays.
Alaba: As one of the largest continent in the world in terms of population. Do you think the Africa business ecosystem is attracting the right Foreign Direct Investments (FDI)?
Tucci: I would say at a base level, that to be ‘right’ it has to be at least equally mutually beneficial, not a case of unfavourable terms to Africa to the benefit of the investor. I think we are increasingly attracting a better quality of FDI, as, with increasingly stable macro economies, foreign countries and companies are competing more for business deals in Africa, but it’s not yet enough. Given the vast resources in Africa, we still retain only a small share of the wealth in both real and relative terms. The wealth derived from cocoa is to be found far away from the source of cocoa. There has to be a shift in that scale. We need to be more prescriptive about the type of FDI we wish to attain and I think Ghana and other African countries are starting to do this, through various policy initiatives.
Alaba: How can African governments create policies that are more attractive and business friendly for both local and foreign investors?
Tucci: Beyond policy, it’s about creating an enabling environment. Security, transparency and corruption come high on the list of the housekeeping elements needed to engender foreign investors to even look at policy initiatives of foreign and particularly African governments. Local investors are particularly concerned about unnecessary bureaucracy and the constraints it poses to getting operations off the ground.
Alaba: What is your advice for entrepreneurs and investors looking at Africa as an investment destination?
Tucci: Ask the right questions before coming. Be prepared to unlock tons of more information on the ground. Invest the time in researching the market and the players. Be culturally aware and sensitive, because understanding or misunderstanding nuances in people’s behaviours can alone lead to ultimate failure. Get advice from those who have done it before. The systems work once you become familiar with them.
Alaba: How do you relax and what kind of books do you read?
Tucci: I like this question. I relax by reading books! My mind likes to stay busy. I love historical novels, philosophical novels, literature and some legal thrillers. My husband and I enjoy watching action and spy movies together.
Her Short Bio:
Mrs. Tucci Goka Ivowi is an experienced business leader with over 18 years’ experience in marketing and general business management in the UK and emerging markets of Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. She is currently the Deputy CEO and a founding member of the Ghana Commodity Exchange.
Prior to this, Tucci led teams across Central & West Africa, working in various roles including Business Executive Officer (Executive Director) and Marketing Communications Director, after her role of Managing Director for Nestle in Guinea. She has a consultancy practice, Global Village Consortium, which offers advisory and management consulting services, focusing on African businesses in the public and private sector looking to compete in the global space. She is also the founder of “Forty Lives” an NGO in Ghana which advocates for support of people with mental health conditions.
Tucci is a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM UK). She holds a BA in Politics and French from the University of Sussex, UK, a degree in Political Science from the Institute of Political Studies, Aix-En-Provence, France and an Executive MBA from Warwick University, UK.
Interview with Najwa El Iraki, Founder and CEO AfricaDev Consulting Ltd
Najwa El Iraki is an entrepreneur, business development and financial services expert. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, She talks about some of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make in today’s market, the African business ecosystem and advice for entrepreneurs and investors. Excerpts.
Alaba: Kindly tell us about AfricaDev Consulting and the gap its filling?
Najwa: AfricaDev Consulting Ltd is a business development and advisory firm dedicated to the African continent. We work with an ecosystem of partners in Morocco and the rest of Africa in various areas to provide one stop shop for investors and we are supported by senior advisors worldwide.
Our services include: representation and business development for international companies ; investment and financial advisory services; structuring and establishment services in Morocco; strategy consulting in Africa.
As such we support international businesses in their African expansion success. We play a key role in helping them to grow in the continent by leveraging on a deep understanding of local markets in particular in North Africa, as well as using our network of partners in SubSaharan Africa. We work mainly with the private sector, which is a driving force of Africa’s growth, providing business development for financial institutions, professional services firms and digital services companies.
We also help African entrepreneurs carrying out financial advisory assignments notably mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activities and fundraising for private equity and venture capital as well as helping local SMEs with their international strategy and finding the right international partner.
Alaba: As a financial expert with experience in Africa, what’s the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make when they start or run a business?
Najwa: Being an entrepreneur is really hard but also really rewarding. Below are some of the biggest mistakes that entrepreneurs tend to make in today’s market.
- Going for the money only: One of the biggest mistakes that any entrepreneur can make is ignoring their true passion and just opening a company to make money.
- Expecting success right away: Patience is key as well as being realistic about how much money you can actually make at first.
- Not being adaptable: You’d need to go with what is working now then always be ready to make changes in the future.
- Trying to do everything yourself:You’d need to know how to outsource and delegate to others and focus on the tasks that actually need your expertise and attention.
- Overestimating initial sales: This problem often leads to a shortfall in working and permanent capital. It’s no wonder that nearly 50 percent of businesses attribute their failure to a shortage of working capital.
- Ignoring social media: There is a tech revolutionary and entrepreneurs need to use it!
Alaba: What’s your view on small businesses experiencing cash flow problems, and forecast isn’t good. And want to tap into their personal wealth to shore up their emerging businesses?
Najwa: As an entrepreneur, you are thinking about cash flow all of the time. An entrepreneur should not just think about his personal funds but about different sources of funding being it debt or equity when available including from friends and family as business angels tend to be rare in Africa given the cultural context and aversion to entrepreneurship.
Banks are also cautious because they believe that asymmetric information is too important to get a good visibility on the credit quality of SMEs and startups. Investment funds can have too high entry barriers for SMEs and startups, and microfinance institutions offer low funding resources and prohibitive interest rates.
As such, every business needs to consider its financing needs as part of a business plan. The entrepreneur needs to evaluate his personal tolerance for risk. Most businesses have times where business is more robust than others and temporary cash flow problems may need to be addressed with personal funds if financing is not available.
At the same time, the owner should be looking to see if any changes could be made to help increase the cash position as well as profits. While the growth rate is slow, the focus of the entrepreneur remains on making his business successful through delivering value to customers, and that is the most healthy approach an entrepreneur can have.
Alaba: For a small business who have not made as much profit as expected. How can it bridge the gap until it start to make profit? Is profit a key component of a successful business?
Najwa: A profit typically means your business is financially well off. It’s important to identify quickly why your business is not making money. The faster you can discover where the losses are coming from, the faster you can reduce or stop the leak as you can then identify where you need to make changes in your business. There are some common reasons for a small business losing money (e.g. bad or inaccurate accounting, poorly priced products or services, nonexistent investing, etc).
Generally speaking it comes to a strategic use of your cash and investment strategies to potentially provide backup if you find yourself not making a profit. Additionally, there are a variety of available resources one can turn to for lending advice, guidance and support; family members, friends, professional network, financial solutions advisors, small business advocates, online content and more.
Alaba: What is your view about Africa’s business ecosystem?
Najwa: I think that there is still a lot to do based on what I have seen being done elsewhere (in the US for example following the Women Entrepreneurship Program I attended this month as part of the International Visitor Leadership Program –IVLP-). In particular building entrepreneurship ecosystems has become an imperative for African governments and business communities.
To create efficient and innovative African Business Ecosystem, there are a number of needed solutions.
First a better government is required. Kenya for instance is the most innovative African country in ICT by far, because they have good regulation and support from the government.
Also there is a financing need. A lot of people talk about venture capital in Africa but but not many do much about it. The levels of private equity investment have been increasing in the continent over last decade but most of the investments are in mature companies; only a tiny fraction of them are seed or first-round investments. The problem for African startups is that there are only a handful of true venture funds based in Africa and most U.S. and European VCs don’t have the local knowledge and connections, or the right business models, to make a real go of it in Africa.
As for SMEs, on one hand, we have businesses that complain that there are no financiers interested in partnering with them to grow. And on the other hand, financiers complain about a lack of a deal pipeline, namely viable businesses that can be credibly financed. This has led to the perception that Africa can not absorb the scale of capital theoretically available to the continent. But actually the real issue here is linkages and aggregation. What is required are more platforms and entities that link viable SMEs with interested financiers and aggregate business deals. Which is what our company AfricaDev Consulting helps with.
Then there is the issue of support structures for SME development. So while there is a financing need, an ecosystem that provides niche expertise, long-term partnership and technological support are also key. Here, large multinationals can have an impact as an ecosystem enabler.
Finally, one of the most important changes that could improve the climate for entrepreneurship is culture. There is a hope that the startup path will be more respected by African families and more compelling to youngsters. If that happens, there will be more entrepreneurs, more success stories and more people willing to take risks. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle.
Alaba: What’s your advice for entrepreneurs who want to start a business in Africa?
Najwa: I would just say that despite many challenges, the African continent, which has a population of over 1.2 billion people and some of the world’s fastest growing economies, provides entrepreneurs with a very rich ground on which the foundations of a successful venture can be laid down.
As such, the good thing about developing countries is that they are a lot of things that have not been done yet and a lot of problems that need innovative solutions. And this fact alone presents key opportunities for a lot of entrepreneurs to take advantage of.
I would add that there is no one single advice but the following points are worth taking into consideration for a starting business to succeed in the continent :
- Have a clear and adequate vision for your company that you focus on and learn how to communicate it.
- Choose your founding team wisely, which is what many investors are looking for.
Find a way to fund your startup and be aware of those sources of capital that are around us and within our reach. You should remember that if you have no proven track record, only people who know, like and trust you will be willing to take a chance on you in the early days of your business.
Another source of finance worth looking into is crowdfunding.
There are also hundreds of international and local organisations which support businesses that tackle issues such as environmental pollution, illiteracy, disease and other social problems. They usually provide grants, donations, loans, equity or even training and advice.
As previously mentioned, avoid some of the common financial mistakes entrepreneurs make when starting a new business (e.g. cash flow management is key; focus on customer acquisition; establish financial goals which are reachable and measurable).
Finally, achieving your desired success will take time and you have to be patient for it to happen. They are a lot of exciting success stories in Africa. So if they can do it, so can you.
Alaba: You are also the Managing Director in the North Africa for Opportunity Network. Tell us about this platform and benefits for Africa businesses.
Najwa: Opportunity Network is an exclusive business match making platform for vetted companies to share and connect to global trade opportunities, as well as strike reliable investment deals.
Opportunity Network partners with financial institutions to allow their corporate and SME clients to find their next business partner in over 120 countries in the world. Members can only be invited to join the platform by a leading financial institution, which does a pre-screening of each member of the network.
Current partners include UBS (global), ABN AMRO (The Netherlands), Intesa San Paolo (Italy), Caixabank (Spain), BCI (Chile), Citizens (USA), Alfa Bank, (Russia), Vietinbank (Vietnam), Eurobank (Greece), Sterling Bank (Nigeria), FCMB (Nigeria), YPO (global), GLG (Global), Entrepreneurs organization (Global)… and many more.
The partnerships we have in Africa form part of an effort by banks to put their African customers on a global platform and enhance their ability to do business in a collaborative manner with other investors across the globe. For instance, there are existing opportunities for African companies looking for an opportunity to export commodities, or looking for investment to grow. There are also deals for African companies in tech, healthcare, education, oil and gas looking for buyers, suppliers, distributors or clients of any sort.
B I O G R A P H Y
Najwa El Iraki is the Founder & Managing Partner of AfricaDev Consulting Ltd, a business development and advisory firm dedicated to the African continent. She is the Managing Director in North West Africa for Opportunity Network, a global business matchmaking platform headquartered in London that connects CEOs worldwide. She is also currently the General Representative of Lloyd’s of London in Francophone Africa.
Prior to this, she was the Head of Business Development at Casablanca Finance City Authority (CFCA), a public-private held organization dedicated to positioning Morocco as a regional financial center and a premier gateway into Africa. Najwa structured the project from its inception, contributing to the overall strategy for building a regional business and finance center.
Previously, she was Senior Manager within Mazars’ Financial Services Group in London. A role she took on after working within both large international investment banks (Lehman Brothers/Nomura) within their EMEA equity derivative business and a big four firm (KPMG London) advising financial institutions and corporates in various consulting areas including tax, corporate/project finance and restructuring.
Najwa has accumulated 15 years’ experience and holds a Master’s degree in Business Management and Finance from leading French and British business schools (Kedge Business School & Aston Business School). She is a qualified Chartered Accountant, member of both international accountancy and UK tax leading professional institutes (ICAS & ATT). She holds a certificate in leadership management from Harvard Business School and she is an Alumni of the IVLP, Women Entrepreneurs – 2019 (International Visitor Leadership Program by the US Government).
She is also actively involved either as a co-founder or a member in a number of business associations and networks in Africa (e.g. Africa Expert Network, CasaExpats, Women in Business Network of Africa CEO Forum…)
Najwa was named among the 60 most influential women in Africa in 2016 by “New African Woman Magazine”.
Najwa speaks fluently English, French, Arabic and intermediate Spanish.
CEO Profile: Bako Ambianda, A Global Business Disruptor
Bako Ambianda is the Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Labacorp Group of Companies (LGC), a dynamic diversified holding company with a portfolio of businesses and strategic investments in key sectors. He serves as the President and CEO of Labacorp Energy Limited (LEL), an indigenous oil and gas company with operations in the energy, mining, and power generation sectors primarily in Cameroon with extended operation’s in international markets.
A versatile and innovative entrepreneur, Mr. Bako also serves as the President and CEO of Labacorp Power Company (LPC), an independent power producer and renewable energy development company. He is also the Managing Partner of Labacorp Investments SARL (LIN), an acquisitions and investment management firm dedicated to African markets.
Well-known and respected as an International Development Expert, with the ability to assemble business and government leaders. Mr. Bako is the Founder, Chairman & CEO of ATIGS Group, Inc (Africa Trade & Investment Global Services), a trade promotion, project facilitation, and development company, that offers full spectrum of consulting and business development services to companies looking to expand or establish their operations in African markets. Mr. Bako is the creator and leading proponent of the “Afridevelopism” economic concept, and an active player in activities pertaining to trade, investment, and economic development in Africa. He is an indisputable powerful connector who has a strong track record of operational excellence, with an extensive global network.
He has been quoted many times in media, and received several honours and awards for catalyzing significant development initiatives to name a few: In 2019, he featured in the official African Union (AU) Invest in Africa Magazine as an African Diaspora that is playing a leading role in contributing to the development of Africa, and the magazine was distributed to the office of all African heads of state. He received the 2019 Africa SME Development Award by Africa Business Portal (ABP).
In 2018, Mr. Bako was named one of the Most Influential People of African Decent (Under 40) by MIPAD, and he also received the 2018 Global Business Disruptor Award by Professional Association of Young Africans (PAYA) in Texas. In 2018, Mr. Bako made history in hosting the Africa Trade & Investment Global Summit (ATIGS), the premier Africacentric business event held in the United States in 2018 at the Ronald Reagan Building and World Trade Center,Washington DC with over 2,300 high-level delegates from 92 countries.
The event also featured on the Nasdaq Tower,Times square, New York, the most valuable advertising spaces in the world. The ATIGS event which he founded in 2015 is a leading prestigious biennial Africa-global business conference and exhibition. In 2018, Mr. Bako hosted the first ever Africa House at the International South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. The event was powered by Africa Worldwide Alliance Partnerships (AfriWAPA), an initiative which he founded in 2017 to help African enterprises of all stages build their brands at mega international shows.
In 2016, he founded Solar Business Events, a portfolio of leading solar exhibitions and conferences including Solar Business Festival (SBF), and Solar Business Expo (SBE) which has been held successful in Texas, Chile, Florida, Mexico, and Coastal Rica. In 2016, the Solar Business Festival (SBF) became the largest solar trade show ever held in the state of Texas and was endorsed by Governor Gregg Arbor, Mayor Steve Alder, and Congressman Lloyd Doggett. In 2017, and 2018, Panasonic North America was the presenting Sponsor.
In 2015, he founded Global Attain Advancement (GAA), an international trade mission, publishing, and events company that implements trade programs, capacity building workshops, and high-quality events to help businesses connect with customers, lunch new products, promote their brands, and expand into new markets.
In 2012, he founded Bako Ambianda International (BAI), a professional development organization that focuses on unlocking the potentials of young professionals globally. Through BAI, he lunched The Bako University, to mentor, train and coach young professionals. Mr. Bako has spoken at several universities and authored six books on economic development and personal development including ‘Destined to Win In the Game of Life” “Ingredient to Uplift Your Journey”, “Who’s in Your Ears”, “Invest in Your Mindset”, “The Unstoppable Warrior” “Bako Nine Wisdom Keys” and “Fueling Africa’s Economic Development”.
He is armed with the knowledge, expertise, and understanding of business opportunities that exist in Africa, and speaks regularly at international gatherings on Solar Power, Doing Business in Africa, International Trade, Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), and Economic Development in Africa. He holds several board and advisory positions including PULSAR Development International Ltd, Evrensel Capital Partners Inc, AGRI-INVEST Sarl, Tiwala Markt Company LLC, and Asian-African Chamber of Commerce & Industry (AACCI).
Mr. Bako holds a BSc degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin, with advanced professional certificates in international development, strategic project management, and economic diplomacy. He is a global citizen, born and raised in Cameroon, Africa, and based in Houston, Texas (USA).
The Entrepreneurial Skills No One Can Teach You
Most people understand that entrepreneurship is not easy. But there are many ways to make the journey less arduous. You can get a coach or mentor; Go through an accelerator/incubator; Work with a great team. The list goes on and on. Based on my experience, I came to the realization that to be a successful entrepreneur, there are some traits that must be innate.
Be afraid, but do it anyway! It’s not the absence of fear, but the mastery of fear, that makes the entrepreneur. Be scared, but don’t let the fear stop you. Let it propel you. It’s almost instinctive to be afraid when you have something bigger than you on the line. Fear can be a self-fulfilling prophecy if not harnessed correctly. Instead of allowing fear to cripple you, take it and use it as fuel to work that much harder on your ideas and your goals.
This is the fire in your belly. The determination to see things through that will help you with that pesky fear. It’s the helping hand that lifts you when you fall and tells you to try again. I love what Angela Lee Duckworth shares in her TED Talk on grit. She reinforces that it’s not the most talented or the smartest, but the grittiest that will succeed.
You know those light bulbs that go off in your mind while driving or taking a shower? That give you sleepless nights? Have you ever tried exploring these ideas? Ideas are many, but great ideas are scarce. No one can give them to you. You have to find them yourself. They can come from personal need or experience. They can come from a gap that you’ve identified. They don’t have to be novel ideas, but they do have to be ideas that people are willing to pay you for.
This goes without saying. Do what keeps you up at night, what keeps your adrenaline going, what drives you. Some people say: Forget passion and do what you are good at. You can be passionate about what you are good at, so passion is something you should continue to develop. It’s not something that will bring immediate success. We must do what we have to do to get by. But you haven’t lived life to the fullest until you get a chance to do what you are passionate about!
I have mentioned in the past that we have to bend and not break. Situations change minute by minute, from morning to night and day-by-day. Your innate ability to adapt to and survive situations can be the difference between success and failure.
Find what motivates you and run with it! Our levels of motivation wax and wane. But if you have something to hold onto, like that pot of gold at the end of the road, you will keep on going until you get there. It’s what keeps you going when all the money’s gone or when there was none to begin with. It’s what keeps you believing after you’ve heard your twentieth “NO.” Don’t stop believing.
Putting yourself in someone else’s shows is strength, not a weakness. Entrepreneurs have the responsibility to lead teams and to meet customer demands. You need to empathize with people so that you can lead well.
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is known for showing empathy in running his business. This has led to tremendous benefits for his employees and Starbucks as a company. Even Google values and understands the importance of empathy.
According to Project Aristotle, a study they released in 2017, empathy was among the soft skills exhibited by B-teams that brought the most important and innovative ideas. No one can teach you these traits. Having them does not mean that you will always succeed. It means that when you fail, you will be able to get back on your feet again and keep moving.
No one is an island and we all need to collaborate and lean on each other for support and guidance. There will be good days and bad days, long days and short days. There is no one exact script that you can follow. But whatever is in you, whatever drives you – hold on to it.
Article first published by Forbes, here.
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