Austin Okere: Time to seek new Challenges?

By: Sola Fanawopo

Austin-Okere-CEO, Computer-Warehouse Group
Austin-Okere-CEO, Computer-Warehouse Group

I have struggled with myself for over 15 months trying to write this piece for two reasons. One, I do not want my sentiment to influence the CWG’s shares on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) where it is quoted. Two, I do not want to stampede Austin Okere, MD/CEO of the company into early retirement when he is not ready yet to take a back seat.
I have known Austin for about two decades. I have enjoyed a roller-coaster relationship with him within the limit of my professional etiquette as a FinTech analyst. I have watched him grow his company from a struggling tech startup in Surulere suburb in Lagos to a multi-national IT conglomerate with offices across African countries. Austin Okere [AO] possesses an unprecedented flair for visioning, strategy and branding. His achievements at Inlaks and his decision to quit the company and started CWG was a story of vision, foresight and courage.
Graduate of Computer Science from the University of Lagos, AO holds an MBA degree from the international Graduate School of Management (IESE), Navara, Spain. He is a member of several professional and leadership bodies, including ICT Advisory Board, Nigerian Competitive Council and Nigerian Economic Summit Group. He also serves on the Executive Committee of the Nigerian-South African Chamber of Commerce. He has been recognized and honoured locally and internationally with many awards in recognition of his contribution to the information and communications technology world. He is currently an Entrepreneur in Residence at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Legatum Centre.
AO started the company in September 1992 as Computer Warehouse Limited with only four staff members to undertake hardware projects. Five years later, DCC Networks, the communications arm of the group was established to provide VSAT, Metropolitan, Wide Area and Local area networks to corporate organisations. In 1999, based on the existing demands in the area of software solutions, system and training, ExpertEdge Software was acquired.
In pursuit of its Pan-African vision, CWG has established its regional offices in west, East and central Africa. CWG Ghana limited (2003), CWG Uganda Limited (2010) and CWG Cameroon Limited (2012) to handle the business interest of these regions. On March 6, 2012, CWG merged with its three subsidiaries; CWL Systems, ExpertEdge Software and DCC Networks, thereby leaving CWG as the only surviving entity within the group and the subsidiaries becoming divisions. Since then, the group has evolved into an IT powerhouse with a focus on enabling businesses through strategic partnerships with excellent organizations.
In February 2013, CWG ceased to be a private limited company and became a public company. On the November 15 of the same year, CWG listed its shares on the NSE. The listing boosted the market capitalization of the NSE by about N14 billion naira, making CWG the highest capitalized security in the ICT sector. CWG listing also marked the first listing on the exchange after the launch of the X-Gen trading engine- the same engine that is used on the NASDAQ.
What stand CWG out among the competition is its excellent IT facilities and capabilities as well as strong relationships with global technology brands and esteemed clientele spanning over two decades. In recent interview with local media, AO said “these three factors – facility, capability and relationship – have given us an edge in providing IT services and support in various industries in our countries of operation, especially telecom, oil & gas and banking. “About 50 per cent of mobile calls in Nigeria are routed through enterprise servers and storage managed and supported by us while 40 per cent of Telecoms Information Systems Managed Services are also provided by CWG.
“Same applies to the banking industry, about 30 per cent of Automated Teller Machines’ (ATMs) transaction pass through CWG’s Wincor-Nixdorf ATMs while about 35 per cent of ATMs installed base in Nigeria are supplied and supported by CWG,” OA said.
In addition, 20 per cent of bank branch transactions on data links were carried out through CWG’s Network Infrastructure. The vision of the company is to be Africa’s Number one IT Platform Service Provider by 2020 by deploying technology solutions that enable growth.
However, the million question is would AO be there until 2020 to lead the company to its Eldorado? Better put, must AO be the CEO of the company for it is to achieve these lofty objectives? Does the company have capable hands to succeed AO and take the company to the next level? What would AO be doing next?
For me, I think it is high time AO stepped up the ladder and allow younger person with more energy and fresh ideas to pilot the affairs of the company while he provide valuable guidance through oversight functions as a member of the company’s board.
CWG has enough capable hands to success AO. James Agada, the company’s Chief Information Officer should be ready to step up the plate and drive the company’s growth through the next decade or two. I am aware the company has brought in few young and dynamic people into the top management cadre. They can provide necessary support for James to succeed.
I can figure out few things AO could do after managing CWG for over two decades. I would have wanted to have him as Minister for Communications if I had my way with the new government. He made my top 10 names that could have adequately managed the ministry. He can dedicate his time to the promotion of IT entrepreneurship by supporting Africa’s tech startups to scale. He can take a lesson from Tony Elumelu on how to continue to be impactful after office.
Africa’s IT needs AO to take technology to the mainstream. This is my next challenge for you. AO, Africans need you now more now than CWG’s stakeholders.