The Igbo people have a saying: “ when a man says yes, his chi says yes.”
Leo Stan Ekeh’s life bears out that aphorism in a most uncanny fashion with his entrée and ascent to the pinnacle of Nigeria’s Information Communication Technology (ICT) sector.
A pioneer and innovator, Ekeh’s career trajectory is dotted with a string of firsts and like the very best of them, he was exposed to ICT at quite an early age and his early recognition of the pivotal role ICT could and would play in transforming Nigeria, led him to drop out of school, with months left to his graduation. The rest as they say is history.
Leo Stan Ekeh is a lion.
A lion is positive, powerful and protective; these are attributes that distinguish a lion. A pride of lions is led by an alpha-male, the leader, who commands respect, shows direction, leads the hunt and protects the pride.
The alpha-male is also a ferocious warrior which is why most prides have more females than males because the alpha-male is king and will broach no opposition. He will fight other males to the death and then kill off their cubs so that only his own bloodline remains.
But that is what obtains in the animal kingdom because animals are, well, animals, beasts without empathy. In the realm of human beings empathy makes the difference, which is why in ancient India kings sat on thrones called Singh-san, lion-seat or throne. So, the alpha male in human terms is expected not to be a lion, he is expected to sit on a lion, to be as the igbos say, ‘Odum na egbu Agu’, the lion that kills the tiger!
Transpose those attributes of the alpha-male mediated by empathy and you have Leo Stan Ekeh, the man who had to pray before he could summon up the nerve to sack a staff who was stealing his company blind.
Known the world over as Mr. Zinox for his pioneering feat in launching Zinox Technologies Group, manufacturers of the Zinox brand of computers and mobile devices. Zinox is the first local and internationally certified computer brand in sub-Saharan Africa.
But to call Leo Stan Ekeh ‘Mr Zinox’ is to limit the scope of his dominance and circumscribe his stature which is in many ways like that fabled elephant and the 7 blind men.
But to call Leo Stan Ekeh ‘Mr Zinox’ is to limit the scope of his dominance and circumscribe his stature. It means failing to recognize the significance of his first foray into business as a young man who, in 1987, dropped out of a Business Law degree programme then invested his school fees to set up Task Systems which pioneered Desktop publishing and computer graphics in Nigeria.
What Leo Stan Ekeh did in 1987 with the setting up of Task Systems was to leap-frog the Nigerian publishing and advertising industries into the digital age. At a point when people were still arguing about the merits and demerits of digital technology as well as the imminence of the Y2K challenge, the young man could see that the analogue was giving way for the digital and that the publishing and advertising world of the future would be a digital one. He invested his school fees in a fresh venture and made Task Systems not just a household name but a pioneer.
Outside Nigeria, especially in Ghana and Liberia, many would refer to Leo Stan Ekeh as ‘Mr TD’ on account of his having launched the first ICT distribution company in Nigeria, Ghana and Liberia.
But again, to define him by Technology Distributions Limited alone is to fail to recognise his pioneering stride in setting up the first ICT support company in Nigeria with ITEC Solutions. Defining him by both TD and ITEC would make us remiss in failing to acknowledge the fact that after having been cheated by a petrol pump attendant, Leo Stan Ekeh ever with his eyes on innovative solutions powered by digital technology, pioneered the deployment of the first set of digital dispensing pumps in Nigeria in partnership with global giants. Elf and Schlumberger.
What many do not know is that it was the same recognition of a need and the imperative of providing a solution that led Ekeh to introduce the very innovative ‘Card Reader’ device which defined Professor Jega’s tenure at INEC. As he remembers it “the card reader is an anti-electoral fraud solution product but was killed at birth by politicians. We developed it and were awarded the first contract to deliver 17, 700 pieces. I hate to remember the frustration that went into it. The truth is that technology does not lie and the politicians knew this and did everything to sabotage it. We are totally ripe for quality elections powered by certified technology products and this certainly will reduce litigation.”
A self-described ‘situational strategist,’ Leo Stan Ekeh trained as an economist with a B.Sc. Economics (Hons.) Degree from the Punjab University. He also holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Risk Management from the Nottingham City University, London. He terminated two Master’s degree programmes in the space of four years to heed the call of business. The first was at Cork City University, Ireland where he opted out of his Computer Science programme in 1984 after his university told him there was no future for ICT in Africa and advised him to pursue another course of study if he wished to return home after his studies.
Then in 1987, three months shy of graduating with a Master’s degree in Business Law, Leo Stan Ekeh, heeding the beat of an invisible drum, danced out of his programme, invested his school fees in a new business venture then went on to revolutionise the ICT business landscape in Nigeria and West Africa.
The alpha male in a pride of lions, as earlier stated, provides direction and leadership and protection something that Leo Stan Ekeh has done and continues to do for his family because according him “I wanted a digitally sensitive wife and kids and I got them. I also focused on building the largest 360 degrees ICT Group in Africa and I am 94.5% there.”
His wife of 30 years, Mrs. Chioma Ekeh is a graduate of Mathematics and a chartered accountant with an MBA to boot. She runs Technology Distributors.
His first daughter, Mrs. Gozy Ijogun holds a Master’s Degree from the London School of Economics and runs TDMobile, the largest Mobile phones/devices distributors in Nigeria while his first son, 23 year old Prince Nnamdi Ekeh a graduate of Economics from Lancaster University is the founder and Vice President of the trend-setting Yudala described as the ‘first true composite e-commerce company in Africa.’
As he turns 60, Leo Stan Ekeh, who is best described as a ‘serial entrepreneur’ says there is no quitting because, as he told Thisday newspapers, “entrepreneurs do not retire, else they die. Instead they slow down.”
But in slowing down, Ekeh, will be keeping a watchful eye on the progress of Yudala, the e-commerce company founded by his 23 year old son, Prince Nnamdi , where he sits as chairman and of which he says “it is the next big thing and consumers may not have much choice. Don’t judge a country with the present percentage of analogue citizens. You have to trust an e-commerce outfit like Yudala.”
Given the chance, would he do it again, Leo Stan Ekeh would because of his belief that “ICT is the greatest platform for job and wealth creation in the short, medium and long term….It is a futuristic and knowledge driven business with mega wealth opportunities which does not require a godfather for you to make it.”
When Leo Stan Ekeh says you do not need a godfather to make it in ICT, he seems to forget that he had a godfather who helped him make it – his chi.
Reference: ‘I used my school fees to establish my first company.’ Interview with Omolabake Fasogbon, Thisday,The Saturday Newspaper February 20, 2016, pp.18 and 19.