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I was hungry for success – Seidu Agongo on his rise

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For many, being born into a wealthy home is almost an insurance against the difficulties and discomforts of life. It is sometimes even seen as a lunch-pad to riches. For the business mogul and philanthropist, this is far from truth.

Born to a wealthy man in a village in one of Ghana’s poorest regions – Upper East, young Seidu, who targetted the impossible, neither had life on a silver platter nor inherited any lunch-pad riches. Unlike many children of the wealthy few, Seidu did not stay with his biological parents to enjoy the conveniences that his dad’s wealth could buy.

Despite that early-life hard luck, young Seidu trudged through life’s trenches with bare audacity until his intense, stern gaze into poverty’s face eventually bought him freedom from the wants of this world.

Realising early in his life that he had absolutely no one but himself to blame and hold responsible for everything that either happened or did not happen to him – whether right or wrong, young Seidu would fuel his mission to escape from poverty with sheer hunger and anger.

He said in a recent interview that hunger and anger drove him to think his way out of the trenches of poverty.

Gifted with wisdom to know from very early in his life that “my dad’s wealth wasn’t mine”, tough Seidu would start from very humble beginnings to conquer the behemoth heights of poverty.

“I wasn’t born into riches. I didn’t inherit riches although my father was a rich man. People who inherit riches normally don’t succeed because they would have had a pampered upbringing and mess up later,” he said in the interview.

“I’m a very tough and fearless person but humble. I grew up at Burma Camp among soldiers; so, you can imagine how tough I am. I have been a cobbler (shoeshine boy) before. I was also a bus conductor (trotro driver’s mate) at a point in my life,” he recounted.

“It is hard work and the grace of God that has brought me this far,” Mr Agongo, who now owns media giant Class Media Group and a plethora of other businesses, acknowledged the handiwork of the Divine God in his life.

To him, “it is unwise” for anyone to rely on their parents’ wealth to build their life because whereas hunger and anger may have been the motivators that fuelled their ancestors’ hustles, a voracious appetite to “show-off” on social media in “designer” stuff might, more than likely, be the motivator for the progeny.

“Hunger makes you think. Secondly, anger can drive you to success. It has nothing to do with your parents’ wealth. I know the children of the rich will suffer in the future because they would not manage that wealth properly and because their parents were driven by hunger and poverty but they are being driven by social media; so, they buy designer belts, shoes, and cars. You’ll never succeed that way”, the owner of the now-defunct Heritage Bank Limited continued.

“I’m grateful to God for how he wired me because I realised from an early age that I can’t blame anyone for my circumstances. I blame myself for everything.”

He therefore became his own boss from the very outset. As CEO of his own shoeshine business, young Agongo put his very heart into his job. Excellence was his target and excellence he hit.
With the same fervour, dedication and commitment, young Seidu took his trotro mate job to dizzying heights.

He was on to a good start, thanks to his toughness and rugged audacity to succeed.
He then took things a notch higher. “I was the very first person to set up a communication centre at Burma Camp”, he said with well-deserved pride, recalling: “People queued to speak to their soldier relatives abroad at my booths. It was very successful.”

“By the grace of God, no enterprise I establish ever fails; it’s just that I don’t get the right people to run them. It is the same for all business owners in the whole of Ghana. Businessmen are struggling and suffering to get honest, decent managers and workers but don’t get them. It’s difficult because all that those people think about is what my family and I have and how they will mess it up, without thinking that the better you run my business, the more experience you gain to run yours in the future,” the media mogul bemoaned.

But it would take him quite some doing before his bank and media forays.
“Real businessmen have humility and are able to do even the dirtiest and lowliest of jobs but in our part of the world, businessmen are all about showing off with big cars, among others; so, they make the concept of business look different.”

Far from being a show-off and keeping his eyes on the ball, Seidu Agongo turned his attention to even much bigger things. “While at the Burma Camp, I loaned the proceeds from my communication centre business to the soldiers at a 30 percent interest rate because I didn’t know what to do with the huge profit. I did very well with that business, too.”

“From there, I went into rice, sugar and tin tomatoes trading at Nima. I created the bustling business environment you see at Nima today by virtue of my business. I attracted people to Nima to trade. Everyone knows me at Nima as ‘Seidu the Rice Seller’. I could sell GH¢4million worth of rice in a day. You can ask Olam, Stallion and others. Banks were unable to count my money and so they did what they could and returned the following day to continue counting the money.”

“I drove trailer trucks myself to go and cart rice to sell. I could bring 20 to 30 containers of oil to Nima. The whole of the Nima Roundabout gets clogged with human and vehicular traffic just because of my trading activities there. I’ve done a lot of work in my life but my philosophy is the work must impact the lives of people positively.”

“The rice brands I sold were mostly imported brands from Thailand and USA. I only sold foreign rice. So, it meant we were creating jobs for those countries anytime we consumed their rice. It wasn’t meaningful to me because I believe money must be made in a satisfactory way to help other people but not through any means at all, irrespective of the consequences.”

“So, I began searching for institutionalised businesses protected by government regulations to establish more businesses. That’s what got me to set up Heritage Bank. Such businesses can outlive me and last for decades because they would have had protection from government regulatory institutions.”

Heritage Bank Limited, which he said “was doing well” even when it was collapsed by the Bank of Ghana, was one of those institutionalised businesses.

Ironically, it didn’t get to enjoy the regulatory protection that had attracted Mr. Agongo to venture into such waters. The giver of the protection killed the seeker of that protection.

“The success of every bank depends on the kind of board members you have: are they people you want to control, or do you want them to use their knowledge and expertise to run the institution independently of you? I didn’t want remote-controlled board members. I wanted people who could look me in the face and tell me the truth; so, I had very good board members. For instance, the late Prof. Kwesi Botchwey was the Board Chair. Also, Mr. Benson Nutsukpui, a former President of the Ghana Bar Association, a very respectable person who won’t allow anyone to dent his reputation, was a member of the board.”

Despite the bank’s death, Mr. Agongo’s toughness isn’t shaken one bit. “I came into this world to experience life, not to avoid it, so I am always prepared for whatever happens. If I can help the situation, I would do everything possible to salvage what I can and leave the rest to God, but if it is beyond me, I just leave it all to God to deal with.”



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