It was by far the biggest house in our neighbourhood. And, for many years, the biggest house I had ever seen.
Resting on the north-west corner of two acres of land in North Kaneshie, the edifice stretched out to three floors and was covered in the finest terrazzo of its day
A thick carpet of immaculately manicured grass lay outside, and a glorious fountain was positioned at its centre. No expense had been spared, with the finest materials carefully selected and — so I later learned — imported from Florence.
I would often walk past the house and think about the ‘big man’ who lived there and could afford such style and comfort nesting behind the wrought iron gates.
Occasionally I’d catch a glimpse of him coming and going. Always an expensive suit. Sometimes reading from a newspaper or climbing into the back of his chauffeur-driven Mercedes.
A later friendship with one of his sons provided me with the permission I so longed for to finally go beyond those wrought iron black gates and get my first glimpse of the inside of that great house.
In the end, I became a frequent visitor to this awe-inspiring home and, in time, I finally got to meet the ‘big man’ himself.
His name was Nana Addo Korie the Okyeman Mawrehene. Chief of Ehiamenkyene, in the Eastern region.
To his close friends, he was simply John Maxwell Addo.
The first time I heard his name I was told he was a ‘businessman’.
Back then the word ‘entrepreneur’ had not made it into Ghanaian vocabulary and we used businessman (or woman) to refer to anyone who undertook the risk of enterprise for financial gain.
But I now know that Nana was not just a businessman; he was an, in fact, an entrepreneur. And a serial one at that.
I also learnt that Nana was a quiet philanthropist; without ceremony or a big show, he supported several foundations, organisations, churches, and individuals that he thought highly of. It was not unusual to see groups or individuals at his house or office either coming to present their case or express gratitude for his generosity.
Nana founded a great many successful ventures in his lifetime, but he is perhaps best known for the company bearing his name.
JM Addo and Sons Limited set up in 1964, distributed pharmaceutical and consumer products through a central hub in the heart of Accra’s trading district in Okaishie.
In addition to JM Addo & Sons, Nana founded Ellebal Ltd, a real estate venture which was successful in the development and management of real estate in Accra.
He also founded Leather Products Ltd, a manufacturer of beautiful handmade handbags in the 1970s and early 1980s from its factory at Abbosey Okai, and later in the South Industrial area.
Many of his generations referred to the big man as simply ‘Addo Leather’.
He was one of few entrepreneurs of his era who managed to thrive under all the political regimes in the country — from Nkrumah to Kufour — although he probably benefited the most under Busia’s government. Unsurprising as it was the first Ghanaian government to extensively draw policies and establish bodies to aid in developing Ghanaian entrepreneurs.
Like his great house, Nana’s businesses were built to last, for the long term. He was mission-driven and long-term focused; rather than opportunistic and short-termist.
In setting up each of his ventures he was driven to alleviate what I refer in my book as the ‘consumer pain’.
Through JM Addo & Sons, he was keen to provide customers with pharmaceutical and retail consumer goods through the hub in Okaishie. In an era when pharmaceutical supplies were scarce in Ghana, that firm was one of the few businesses at the time importing scarce pharmaceutical products into the country to feed the health sector.
JM Addo also held key distributorships for some Ghanaian companies like Achimota Brewery, Guinness Ghana, Nestle, Aluworks, and Unilever.
Through Ellebal, he sought to provide companies with well-built real estate. And many of his competitors in Okaishie also became his tenants over time. Through Leather Products Limited, he sought to provide the Ghanaian woman beautiful locally manufactured handbags.
Nana was a stickler for proper corporate governance structures and for putting in place the right systems and processes to ensure that the businesses he established would outlive him.
For Nana, it was important that subsequent generations were well (perhaps even better) equipped to build on what he had started and add value to that.
In that respect, JM Addo & Sons Limited really became a business of JM Addo and his sons (and daughters) as he required each of his children to learn the fundamentals of trading and running a business under his tutelage.
He was not soft on his kids. Each of them had to start at the bottom and were not given any special privileges.
They were made to spend their school vacations working — for little pay — at one of his shops. Stocktaking became a family pastime and all the children were regularly roped in to help.
Thanks to such excellent on-the-job business coaching, Nana’s son William Anum Addo was able to take over the business and continues to take it forward successfully.
It has recently expanded to Nigeria and remains a key player both in the pharmaceutical and consumer goods sectors in Ghana
Strategic succession planning, hard work and an entrepreneurial streak has ensured that a business that started in the early 1960s continues to thrive.
Now the third generation, Nana’s grandchildren, have taken a stake in the business.
Nana gave up part of his house to the church (I served in the choir there for several years) and I am sure he was always aware of Proverbs 13:22 in the Bible, which tells us that a good man leaves an inheritance for his children, and his children’s children in turn.
Like that great house, the firm business was built on solid foundations and continues to impress.
In addition to JM Addo & Sons, Nana founded Ellebal Ltd, a real estate venture which was successful in the development and management of real estate in Accra. Like his great house, Nana's businesses were built to last, for the long term. Thanks to such excellent on-the-job business coaching, Nana's son William Anum Addo was able to take over the business and continues to take it forward successfully. Nana gave up part of his house to the church and I am sure he was always aware of Proverbs 13:22 in the Bible, which tells us that a good man leaves an inheritance for his children, and his children's children in turn. #Entrepreneurship #Ghana #Africa.