How Two Accidents becomes My Fortune - Austin Okere


Who is Austin Okere? 

Austin Okere is the Founder of Computer Warehouse Group PLC p.k.a CWG  and the Ausso Leadership Academy, which mentor Businesses and Entrepreneurs for Geometric Growth. Austin has an MBA from IESE Business School and is an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Columbia Business School, New York.He was appointed to the Advisory Board of the Global Business School Network in Washington DC in recognition of his major contribution to the development of business education and knowledge transfer in Africa. Austin is a Consultant to the Sustainable Development Goals  Africa Centre (SDGAC) in Kigali.


Austin has been recognized with a Lifetime Entrepreneurship Achievement Award by the American University of Nigeria in 2017 for his dedicated service and outstanding entrepreneurial accomplishments.

He received the Nigerian Computer Society Special Presidential Award in 2016, and was named ICT Personality of the year by the Society in 2014.

He was also named ICT Man of the Decade by ICT Watch  Africa Digital Network in 2012 and was listed on the United Kingdoms C.Hub Magazine 100 Most Influential Creatives in 2016. Austin was named among 100 Leading Telecoms & ICT Personalities in Nigeria by the Association of Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ATCON) in July 2018.

Austin is a member of the World Economic Forums Global Agenda Council and a Fellow of the Institute of Directors of Nigeria. His company, CWG Plc has been recognized as a Global Growth Company by the World Economic Forum and is the largest security listed in the Technology Sector of the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

Austin shared how  he risked everything for the establishment of CWG excerpt:

According to Maria Robinson Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.

"Perhaps the most difficult transition I had to make in my life was leaving the comfort of my job to start the Computer Warehouse Group. I was perceived as one of the upwardly mobile executives in my former company. The company was doing very well and was regarded as one of the most outstanding IT firms then. I was well paid and had ample commission from salesmy life was on a roll!

You can imagine how aghast my spouse was when I told her one evening that I would be quitting my job within the week. My parents were beside themselves. They could not comprehend what else I was looking for. Why cant he be contented with what others are dying for? They wondered.

Yet I knew that I had not wholly tapped into my full potential. Yes, it was as good as it was, but was it the best that it could be?

My aspiration had shifted from what many of us desire when we newly finish school and start on a job; just being comfortable and assuring myself and possibly my family of some sort of financial comfort." He declared.

His Desire

I wanted to make an impact beyond my immediate family, and beyond my immediate environment. I wanted to do something significant. I wanted to leave my footprints in the sands of time. Part of this inspiration was as a result of my early reading of thought writers such as Tom Peters, John Maxwell and Brian Tracey, whom I adopted as mentors and borrowed heavily from.

I reasoned that founding a company that could be built over time to hold her own among any of the global bests was one of the most viable ways to achieve my goal. I wanted to one day to list our shares on the NASDAQ, not minding that my friends sniggered when I shared the dream.

I knew I could not achieve any of these if I did not make the sacrifice of leaving my comfort zone and the security it seemed to offer. I understood that to achieve the growth I desired as a leader, I would have to make a change. I needed a vehicle that I could be in reasonable control of. That is how Computer Warehouse Group was born. The rest they say is history. That is the power of determination to make a significant difference.

I must add here that it wasn't at all as smooth as I had pictured it in my minds eye. The path we have followed these past 30years have been filled with serious trials (as you would expect of a company operating in our harsh environment), and littered with broken bodies from the tough battles to get ahead despite all odds (my premature grey sprout is a key testimony to this). The kingdom of God suffereth violent and the powerful ones takes it by force. It is a a journey of survival of the fittest with grace." He shared

As John Maxwell says, life is a series of tradeoffs. If were going to grow as influencers, then at different junctures of life, were going to have to let go of what we have, to take hold of something better. In other words, we must give up to go up!

When were just starting out in life, the tradeoffs are relatively painless. Having barely established ourselves, its easy to part with our present situation so that we can pursue opportunities to expand our influence.

However, the higher we go, the tougher the tradeoffs become. We get attached to what weve built, and become invested in our success. The more we have, the more averse we are to change. Ask any Executive Director of a sinking bank why he is still there.

In order to reach your potential as a leader, you have to discover your passion and fully key into it. This may involve taking some risks and making some bold changes.

It is amazing how we blossom once we discover and key into our passion. Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi, Barrack Obama, Kwame Nkrumah, Bill Clinton, Raji Fashola, John Maxwell, Usain Bolt and many people you may have heard of, all achieved significance when they discovered their passion, left their comfort zones, and made the necessary tradeoffs.

He shared the three major tradeoffs he had to make in trading up:

Exchanging Affirmation for Accomplishment 

I stopped being a people-pleaser. If you always say yes when you would rather say no, then you will find yourself unhappily going through the motions of living, giving control of your time, energy, and spirit to anyone who asks for it. Fundamentally, leadership involves serving others and adding value to them. However, the best way to do that is by proactively and strategically contributing your strengths, not by passively allowing others to dictate how you spend your time. Jose Mourinho, Luis Enrique and Jurgen Klopp for instance may not be very popular coaches, but they have reputations for delivering.

Exchanging Security for Significance  

I changed my attitude toward uncertainty. Security can be tough to pass up. We like the certainty that comes with being in a stable job, making a steady income. Yet, significance usually calls for risk. It involves stepping away from familiar territory in order to explore new lands and expanding your influence, especially in todays world where the internet, broadband and smartphone ubiquity have made erstwhile impossible business models, possible; think UBER, AirBnB and Alibaba.

Trading Immediate Victory for Long Term Sustainability  

I stopped measuring my performance solely in terms of immediate results. To excel as a leader, you have to change the timeframe in which you view success. If you measure your performance solely in terms of immediate results, then you run the risk of giving up when times are tough, as they are now in our country. Also, when you only concern yourself with present professional achievement, you tend to lose sight of the long term goal. 

Quoting from William Shakespeare, there is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. 


On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures. I believe that the challenges in Nigeria today also offer ample opportunity to get ahead with creativity and innovation.

'In my personal experience the things we fear most in life are not necessarily our adversities but the fear of our anxieties and about what others might think. The secret formula for me were the 3 Ws that sustained me; Way Power (aptitude), Will Power (attitude) and Wait Power (patience).' He declared.

After reading the magic of thinking big a bestseller by Brian Tracy, I created and lived by the following mantra If dreams are free, why sell yourself short? Dream big and with perseverance, reach for the stars

His rough,  tumble  road and bumpy ride ahead

To have Footprints in the sands of time attracts  sacrifice to travelled   through  rough road and focusing on the the bumpy ride ahead.  Austin also shared his tough experience during business development excursion before it becomes a global brand. 

"Success is more of a journey than a destination. A journey characterised by a constant struggle between challenges and the triumph of will power; we should be left under no illusion that there is a smooth path or a short cut to success; that is the myth." Austin declared.

The reality is that life does throw us lemons. It is what we do with them that really matters.

"The first major disappointment I remember, perhaps after my doomed childhood crush on my English teacher, was receiving a Regrets Letter from Arthur Andersen, the leading Audit and Consultancy firm, after several levels of tests and interviews.

This was really gut wrenching for me, considering that I longed very much to work in that well-respected firm and strongly felt that I merited it. However, that was not to be. A couple of decades later, and having grown in stature and confidence, I confronted the Partner of the firm with whom I had my final interview, and enquired why he did not select me. He retorted, albeit jokingly Austin, if I had employed you, would you  be where you are today?

There have been many varying disappointments in the course of my personal and professional life, but none more profound as that first cut and the effect it had on me. This early experience taught me that those called to greatness in life are first subjected to the crucible of preparation. Through seeming disappointments, they chart a new course for others to follow. The lane of the trodden path gives way to the zone of passion, from where they blossom into their calling.

Many people tend to prematurely give up and throw up their hands in exasperation when life throws them lemons, forgetting that they can rather make lemonade. I believe that challenges and opportunities are two sides of the same coin. 

There is a reason why the Chinese use the same word to describe both. It is my hope that sharing some of my experiences of the lemonades I made with my lemons, will encourage the weary who are struggling with a higher calling, to endure the crucible of preparation and strive to reach their aspiration. As the saying goes, iron sharpens iron and pure gold is a product of a fiery fire." He encouraged

 My accidental course of study

I finished my secondary school education at the St. Augustines College in Cape Coast, Ghana, with flying colours in my GCE O levels exams. I went on to do the further GCE A levels in the same Institution in anticipation of a good University placement. Unfortunately, I did very poorly due to a lack of focus and misplaced overconfidence. The result of this misadventure was my not gaining a place to read any of my choice of courses at the University. Instead of the widely popular Engineering and Science choices, I ended up in a relatively new course of study called Computer Sciences at the University of Ghana. I found myself in the same class with students who were two years my Junior, because they did not have to go through the additional two years of A levels to gain admission into this particular course.

This was quite understandable, because in 1982 nobody in Ghana, my birth country, knew very much about Computer Sciences, nor cared much for it. The choices for me then were quite grim, it was either this course, or one more year at home to try again for a better course of study. I swallowed my pride and poured my energies into this new endeavour. Fortunately, I took to it like fish to water. It was a Eureka moment for me. I had discovered my passion! With this lemon of disappointment, I went on to make a lemonade of a career in this new field, that culminated in the founding of CWG Plc 10 years later.

CWG became the largest security in the IT sector of the Nigerian Stock Exchange when she listed her shares and went public in 2013. She was subsequently recognised as a Global Growth Company by the World Economic Forum in 2014, signalling an expectation of achieving the $1b turnover mark in the not too distant future.

A perfect plan goes horribly wrong

CWG had a series of rosy years between 2004 and 2007, when the company grew at an impressive rate of 75% year on year, with dominance in the Banking and Telecom sectors. 

We could do no wrong, and our bottom line seemed to defy gravity. Things suddenly came to a screeching halt in 2008, with the global financial crises resulting from the sale of subprime loans in America. While these lemons were not of our making, they surely took their toll. Things were not helped by the local macroeconomic environment, which was characterised by skyrocketing interest rates and exchange rate volatility. These two factors contributed in no small measure to the near insolvency of the company.

Our lower-interest dollar loans which we had managed to secure from offshore banks to finance our thriving Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) business had been recalled due to the turmoil in the global financial markets, and had to be refinanced by much higher-interest local loans at an excruciatingly high exchange rate. 

Not to mention that the Purchase Orders against which we brought in container loads of ATMs were suddenly cancelled on account of force majeure. The reason being that absurdly, the Central Bank had suddenly started forbidding banks from mounting ATMs in public places other than their branch premises.

The ATM business was then contributing $35m to our annual revenue with very good margins; this was suddenly wiped off. We found ourselves in a precarious situation, where we had a warehouse load of ATMs with no takers, and a huge stock of debt to service at a high interest rate. The company was facing a serious liquidity crises and was heading steadily towards bankruptcy.

Putting on our thinking caps, we came up with the lemonade of starting an ATM-as-a-Service business model. This was an instant hit, and a win-win strategy for both us and our customers; we had ATMs sitting idle in our warehouse, and they did not have headroom for additional capital expenditure. What we discovered was that this accidental business model, guaranteed more predictable revenue and profitability over the long run than just selling the machines. 

It also attracted the interest of a Private Equity Firm, whose investment in our company in 2009 came in handy in retooling our company as a subscription based business on the back of cloud computing. It also helped in paying off our huge debt and eliminating the killing finance costs.

What to do about technology disruption

By 2010, we had built a huge business in our telecommunications subsidiary, providing Wide Area Network (WAN) infrastructure for our financial sector customers based on very small aperture terminals (VSATs), contributing a bottom-line margin of about $3m per annum. The party was good while it lasted, but the wheels were beginning to come off, as undersea fibre cables landed at our shores, bringing with them relatively much faster and cheaper fibre infrastructure and promoted by very deep-pocket GSM Operators. They quickly took out everybody in their sights and left us with a loss of about $1m in 2011, which doubled the next year.

As the inevitable stared us in the face, we took a quick decision to proactively cannibalise our WAN business by selling our customers to the Operator. We then made lemonade with our lemons by repurposing our facility and infrastructure for digital TV broadcasting in partnership with SES Astra as Nigeria raced to meet the July, 2015 deadline for Digital Switch Over. Today we have a potential of rolling our digital signals to over 27million erstwhile analogue households.

A final word to young entrepreneurs and investors

Our world is punctuated with people who refuse to stay down when beaten down, but rather make lemonades with their lemons. A few examples include: Bill Gates, who when he dropped out of Harvard started a business with Paul Allen called Traf-O-Data, which flopped. Luckily, they tried their hand at business again and this time Microsoft was born. Albert Einstein who didnt speak until he was four and didnt read until he was seven. He was subsequently expelled from school and was not admitted to the Zurich Polytechnic School. 

Long story short, he came around. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. He once said, I have missed over 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I have missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Perhaps the most compelling story is that of WhatsApp founder Brain Acton, who got rejected by Both Twitter and Facebook before the $19 Billion buyout of his company by Facebook. It is his reaction to disappointment that make him stand out. Here is his sad but optimistic tweet when he got rejected by Twitter in May 2009 Got denied by Twitter HQ. Thats ok. Would have been a long commute. And his tweet after being rejected by Facebook Facebook turned me down. It was a great opportunity to connect with some fantastic people. Looking forward to lifes next adventure. What positive attitude to life!

"In your journey of life, I do hope that these life stories will inspire you to go the extra mile whenever seeming disappointments threaten to throw you off course.

As you step boldly into an era of new possibilities, I wish to encourage you with a quote from Pauline Kezer; Continuity gives us roots; change gives us branches, letting us stretch and grow and reach new heights." He advises.


Today, CWG is now a Pan-African systems solution company which specializes in a wide array of IT services ranging from communications, integration, infrastructure, cloud, managed and support services, and software

As a leading provider of IT services across Africa, CWG operates a firmly established partnership network which connects businesses, enterprises, governments, customers, and consumers, utilizing value-added services to help them efficiently drive processes, and improve across their respective activitie

CWG footprint spans across West, East, and Central Africa Regions providing resources for level 1-4 management across all countries, and partners with IT service organizations to deliver level 1& 2 resources in other African country

As the company continues to expand, CWG Plc  through it  visionary leader, who understands the value of collaboration with competitor for sustainability, in 2016,  synergise with Deloitte to build an ecosystem of Service Providers in Sub-Saharan Africa under its Pan Africa Initiative  to help its numerous clients in addressing the challenges in the new converged arena and to help service providers to provide the best of the breed services for their subscribe

In 2018 CWG reorganized its services business under the CWG Support hub to consolidate various support services and strengthen its Pan Africa supp

With about three decades of immense contribution to the Information Communication and Technology Sector, CWG has continuously remain a benchmark for excellence in Africa. The managements believe in, pursue an excellent service culture, and deliver operations through global best practices using its ISO9001 certification process across the entire group

Over time, the company have received numerous  accolades from their partners, clients, customers, media and professional bodies due to their  excellence service and increased performance. Most recently, The World Economic Forum (WEF) recognized CWG as a Global Growth Comp

Computer Warehouse Group (CWG), the exporter of homemade solutions across Africa, with a mission to maximize Africa's future unveiled and introduced the new born vision 'CWG 2.0' of the company known as 'FifthLab' at the TeXcellence conference to sustain its business tempo in Afr

The FifthLab is an ecosystem of user-centric digital solutions that make life and business easy–was officially unveiled last Friday at the TeXcellence Confere

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post