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Top Woman Nigerian Entrepreneur Florence Seriki –Start small, grow big

Florence Seriki is the CEO of Nigerian computer manufacturer, Omatek. She’s interested in the problem of getting African youth excited about computers, and reminds the audience that you don’t need to be an expert to make strides in the technology industry. She got involved out of need – as a chemical engineer, she was running a set of simulations with old Fortran software. The dismal performance forced her to learn a new mathematical modeling language and become a programmer, simply to complete the task.

Learning this new skill helped turn her into an evangelist for computing in Nigeria. She began running computer trainings for Nigerian businessmen. Noting that executives took classes in golf or squash, she began offering classes in the evenings to executives. Because they trusted her as an instructor, they trusted her as well when she began selling hardware to them. In 1986, her company became a hardware seller as well as a trainer.

As she began selling hardware, she noticed that the components were made by different companies, mostly within China. Around the world, companies were integrating these different pieces into a single system – she asked herself, “Why can’t Africans do this?” Her company began making clones of Compaq machines, importing parts from China and assembling locally.

Her goal was to produce high quality goods, defying the local strategy of pricing at 30% below imported goods to counter a perceived quality problem. This doesn’t work in computing, because you still have to import components. Instead, Omatek attempted to create high value machines from Chinese parts and sold at a price that recovered cost. They hugely benefited from a government decision to purchase all IT from domestic providers.

Seiki saves her critique for local banks – they need to do a better job of making long term, not short term investments. And they need to encourage SME growth, possibly by investing 10% of their profits into SME loans.

Here is Florence Seriki, telling her story……..

 

Omatek Computers Plc is the first factory to locally assemble computer cases, speakers, keyboards and mouse in Africa. The birth of this factory came after the initial launch of the locally assembled Omatek Computers in 1993 in Lagos by Omatek Ventures Limited. In November 2005, Omatek Computers beat 42 other countries to win the “Microsoft Best System Builder Award for West, East and Central Africa “. Omatek is a conglomerate of four companies. We also have a factory in Ghana.

Background

I read chemical engineering at the University of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo.

Starting out
While I was doing my national youth service in the 1980s, I discovered in the office I worked that the computers on the directors’ desks were often covered up. Once the secretary was not around, the boss could not work on the computer. So I told my boss, “Sir, I used a personal computer to do my project, can I teach you how to use the computer?” My boss asked if I really could and I said yes. So, I taught my boss. He told another director, who told another director. Some of them then told their friends in other organizations that there was a corps member that could train them on the use of computer. That was how I started training executives on the use of the computer, then staffs of banks, oil companies etc.
Before I finished as a youth corps member, I opened an office in Lagos Island where I employed people. I trained them to train other people. I realized many companies did not have enough computers. I saw an opportunity so I started initially by buying foreign brands and selling to my customers.
Up to 1992, key computer buyers in Nigeria were banks and oil and gas sector. They were buying only finished products. The oil and gas companies were buying only from their offshore companies. Therefore, there was no opportunity for Nigerians to sell to them. I started a joint venture with two Nigerians. Thus, we got concessions for oil companies to do business with us but we were required to have off-shore affiliates.

Manufacturing
Some of our affiliates would couple the computers up a little bit and then ship them down here. We would then complete the coupling. When I discovered that some big names in the computer industry were going to Asia to set up factories there, I decided to bring the factory to Nigeria, to Africa.
I sourced funding from the Small and Medium Enterprises Equity Investment Schemes (SMEEIS) funds. By 2003, we graduated to a completely knocked down factory with funding from two banks. We sourced the SMEEIS funding because we wanted to stand with the big companies such as Dell, HP in terms of quality. Our raw materials are sourced from the best manufacturers in Asia. So, we need factories here for moulding, design, nails, screws etc to promote local content.

Challenges
Every raw material in computer production is produced by different companies. The first and second factories of Omatek are the case and speaker factories while the third and fourth factories are the PC and notebook factories. The challenge is that there are different factories for different components. These factories are graded in low level, middle level and high class level manufacturers.
The pursuit of our vision drove us to high class level of manufacturers. Thus, we had to start buying in very large quantities. Huge funding was therefore required. It is to sustain the quality for which Omatek is known that we went to the Nigerian Stock Exchange and raised funds.

Future prospects
We want to become the clear leader in the African ICT Industry by the year 2010.

Advice
When we started there were no SME funding schemes. We were doing quality delivery per order. We ploughed back the profit so the business grew and this created a relationship with our bankers. It was because of this trust that we could approach banks for funding and thus became recipients of the SMEEIS funds from two banks. For SMEs to get the attention of big companies, the following are pertinent: quality of presentation, marketing tactics, hard work, funding and aggressive sales.
Even though I was already making a lot of money selling foreign brands of computers, I still took up the challenge of moving on. I did not have a Godfather or Godmother but I had God the father. Omatek was able to get quoted and listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange because the books were in order.

Family life
In spite of my busy schedule, I assist my children with their homework and cook my husband’s meals. A woman that wants to go to the next level must balance family life and business. Even if a woman is busy, the man married a wife and she is still the mother of her children. The home must never be sacrificed on the platter of success.