“Don’t lose hope, keep knocking” – Alhaji Yusif Ibrahim, Board Chairman, GT Bank Ltd.
From a humble beginning, Alhaji Yusif Ibrahim defied the odds of being a failure. He took every step of the journey by faith in Allah. He wrestled through life to make sure he got to the top. He kept pushing, till he got his first breakthrough.
He once drove a taxi on the streets of New York City and today he is one of the successful investors cum entrepreneur in the country. Alhaji Yusif Ibrahim is the Board Chairman of GT Bank Ltd. and the only Ghanaian shareholder.
He owns a number of firms that operate under the Dara Salam Group of Companies. He operates under the axiom of “Don’t lose hope, keep knocking”.
THE ECONOMY AND BUSINESS
TVM: How would you describe the Ghanaian economy after one year of this administration?
AYI: I will say that in every situation, when a new administration comes into place, they establish their own fundamentals. They have to put them to play first before we see exactly what they are doing. But I believe that they will also do just as well as the previous government did their best.
I am a Ghanaian, so whatever affects the economy whether good or bad affects me. So, it is the pre-occupation of everyone in the country to ensure the economy performs better and not just the present administration. I believe very sincerely, with the right leadership, the economy would really perform wonderfully well for all of us to enjoy in the future.
TVM: How would you describe the Ghanaian business enclave or doing business in Ghana?
AYI: I feel doing business in Ghana is much better. In Ghana we have the resources both human resources and natural resources. We have everything; gold, diamond, cocoa, name it. We also have oil, so, with the little thing in place, investment will boom in this country including agriculture and industrialization. It’s a matter of time.
TVM: What policies would you recommend to the government to get the private sector to become the engine of growth?
AYI: Making funding available to the private sector will enable a lot of good minds who want to establish businesses to do so and this will help people as well as the country by reducing unemployment in the country.
But there is no funding! So, if government, as I told you, can provide certain amount of money for startup businesses as capital and give it to people who want to start their own businesses, it will help them to also employ other people and the economy will be booming.
So I believe very sincerely that we are in the right direction and what is helping to facilitate ‘the new conversation on entrepreneurship’ is that white color job is finishing.
Now graduates are coming out of schools and there are no jobs at the ministries so they are forced to do their own thing and that is the way to go.
Once you stop getting salary and you are giving salary, it’s an addition to the economy and so I believe very sincerely that we are on the right path and by the grace of God, Ghana would be a wonderful place for all of us.
TVM: What’s your general overview of Ghana’s financial industry?
AYI: Ghana’s financial industry is very robust indeed. We can recall that recently, the Central Bank raised the minimum capital of banking institutions from GHc120 million to GHc400 million which I sincerely believe is in the right direction.
Most of the businesses that need huge capital financing by banks or other financial firms, are done by the banks which are outside the country because our capital base is inadequate.
At times, banks even come together to form syndicates to be able to meet the loan demand but still unable because the capital base is very low.
To let us really compete effectively for big-ticket transactions, there should be some sort of amalgamation and a kind of takeovers; one bank that’s bigger than the other to take over the smaller bank or the two smaller banks merging together to raise the needed capital to do big businesses together.
So, it’s in the right direction. I believe when that happens, then they can extend credit facilities to the areas of the economy that we need money to startup businesses.
TVM: Some analysts are of the view that priority should be given to local indigenous banks so that the foreign banks won’t have dominance in the industry. What’s your take on that?
AYI: That’s the real essence of recapitalizing the banks. Any bank that is registered in Ghana, is a Ghanaian bank. When they make the money, the government of Ghana makes taxes out of them.
So, they are considered Ghanaian banks. The worry is about the banks which finance our projects but are not operating in Ghana. They come and make the money and take their capital out of the country and that is what we are worried about.
They come and make the profit and take whatever they invest in as dividend, which is what we are concerned about. The banks that are registered here do businesses here and they stay here and employ a lot of people– Ghanaians unlike the banks that finance those huge projects; they are not here, they don’t employ Ghanaians, they only come and then take businesses away from the Ghanaian banks.
That’s why no matter who owns what but any bank registered in Ghana that employs Ghanaians, pay taxes every year to the Ghanaian government on whatever money they make to build our hospitals, our schools, our roads etc. should be considered as a local bank.
TVM: Some financial commentators suggest that there should be a clarion call on the specialization of banking operations in the sector. What’s your take on that?
AYI: Well, at the moment, when you want to start a banking business in Ghana, you are issued a universal banking license.
This enables the bank to conduct all aspect of banking and that really made other banks that were created specifically for certain sectors like ADB and NIB– to fund development projects for a longer period, all resort to retail banking as a result of capital inadequacy.
These banks had to also recourse to short term funding just like other banks. All these are what supports the recapitalization argument from the Central Bank Governor. We need banks that can engage in long term financing to support industrial boom and mortgage financing which requires 30 to 40 years financing scheme. These are all good for the economy but then, how many banks are resilient for these types of projects, that’s where the problem is.
TVM: Accessing credit facilities for business development and expansion is a challenge. Why is this situation so?
AYI: The economy as a whole dictate how funding should be done. We have what we call the basic rate that is dictated by the Bank of Ghana (BoG). The BoG basic rate is also dependent on the performance of the economy. It’s not the banks that dictate that.
The performance of the economy plays a pivotal role in the cost of funding to business owners so if the economy is doing well, the access to credit facility will be easier and cheaper otherwise it will remain as it is.
TVM: The government is seeking to establish a new national development bank to mobilize private capital towards the agricultural and industrial transformation. What’s your take on that?
AYI: It’s a good idea because the more the merrier. The issue is provided the new bank will be able to address the needed transformational development projects.
TVM: What difference does this new bank seek to achieve that the current NIB and ADB has not?
AYI: Well I don’t know. All I’m saying is that if it is also coming on board to make money available to the needed Ghanaians, then by all means it will make the market bigger than what it is.
TVM: Who is Alhaji Yusif Ibrahim; can you tell us about yourself?
AYI: I am Alhaji Yusif Ibrahim. I was born in Kumasi Zongo to Alhaji Gado and Hajia Rahinatu. My mother is from Gonja and My father, Wangara. At age 5, I attended Arabic School called Makaranta and after 5 years, I completed. My father didn’t believe in formal education and so was completely against me accessing formal education.
But a very good friend of his, Alhaji Ibrahim Kure, who believed otherwise persuaded my father to allow me to access formal education. He assented to it and I commenced formal education at age 10. I was a complete illiterate as I could neither read nor write.
As a result, I attended Nawarudeen Private School to learn how to read and write before attending Anglican Primary and Middle School in Kumasi. There I had mates like Gobind Nankani (Former Vice President, African Region of the World Bank), Kwame Peprah (Former Finance Minister of the Republic of Ghana) and so on.
After the middle school, I took the Common Entrance Examination and fortunately I passed and gained admission into Ahmadiyya Secondary School in Kumasi. I was opportune to enjoy the CMB Scholarship from Form 1 to Form 5, despite my father not being a farmer at the time. My formal education ended in Form 5.
After completing Form 5 from Ahmadiyya Secondary School, I went into business. I was privilege to go into business through a man called Robert Annor. Robert was my senior at Ahmadiyya Secondary School. While I was in Form 1, he was in form 5 so I was more of his ‘school boy’.
He was privilege as he immediately entered into petrol station business after completing Ahmadiyya Secondary School. He was transporting and selling petrol and kerosene to the villages and he made it. At the time, I wanted to be like him because, to me, he was successful. He introduced me to the business but unfortunately for me things didn’t turn out well so had to quit after a while.
After that period, Alhaji Kure’s son, Ahmed Kure, who at the time was in West Germany precisely Hamburg got in touch with me. We were mates and very good friends. He always wanted me by his side and so he sent me an invitation to come and join him there in Hamburg, West Germany. I didn’t have the money so my father had to go to his friend, Alhaji Kure, again for money to get my ticket.
So, I departed the shores of Ghana to seek greener pastures. Incidentally, the very day I arrived at Hamburg, West Germany, Ahmed Kure had also gotten a visa to New York, United States of America so had left without informing me. I became stranded and wished I could return with the next available flight to Ghana.
In that frustrated situation, I met another friend of ours who was our senior then, Issa Sarpong, who took care of me and made sure I was comfortable.
Life in Germany then was more than a nightmare. But considering the debt my father had incurred as a result of the failed Petrol business and the ticket fare, I needed to get a job to cater for those bills back in Ghana. So, I stormed the streets of Hamburg in search of a job and fortunately I stumbled on one with a brewery company.
I made some good money and remitted them to my father to cater for the bills incurred on my behalf all those while as well as to take care of the basic needs at home.
After a while again, Ahmed Kure, who was now in America got in touch with me and suggested I come to America to avoid the language barrier I was experiencing in West Germany. I was scared and hoped that it was not another futile expedition and so I never consented to it for that moment.
But his constant persuasion and other convictions made me assent to the proposal. He showed me what to do and I followed through till I found myself in New York with him. Indeed, this time, Ahmed was living a very comfortable life in his apartment and had his own car. He was a taxi driver and was making enough money.
Immediately I got to New York, on the following day, Ahmed Kure got me a job at Western Union where they send telegrams. He took his time to educate me on how to move around without any difficulty. So, I started delivering the telegrams without any problem.
One day, one of the telegrams I was tasked to deliver was for a company called Cowen and Company at Battery Park Plaza, Wall Street in New York. Upon delivery of the telegram, I enquired if there was a vacancy there and fortunately, I was asked to speak to the Human Resource Manager and that’s how I ended up working there for 4hours in a day.
After a while, Ahmed Kure advised me to enter into the taxi business and I gave it a try. I drove the taxi to give it a try and realized indeed, it was a lucrative venture. So, I ventured into it and made enough to invest. At a point, I was having 5 taxis in New York City and they were all making money for me.
After making enough money through my savings and investments, I got in touch with Robert Annor and expressed my interest in the petrol business again.
We rekindled our relationship and started our business relationship afresh. I bought 5 tankers of 3000 gallon capacity each from Nottingham in England and shipped them to Ghana. The trucks came into the country in 1974 and I also decided to return with my wife to Ghana in December 1974.
I joined Annor in the petrol business and later he connected me to British Petroleum (BP) carrying petrol from Tema Oil Refinery (TOR) to Kumasi depot, Mayenka. Unfortunately, there were misunderstandings that ensued between Robert and I and we had to part ways.
After parting ways with Robert, I came in contact with Colonel George Minyila whom I have been of help to back in the days when I was in the United States of America and discussed a business idea with him.
He welcomed the idea and help me facilitate the necessary license and finally, I was given the license and started a bicycle assembling plant in Tamale.
From there, I made some money from the bicycle business and I started importing rice and sugar. Slowly we started with one container to two containers till we became one of the biggest by importing a whole ship load.
Then in 1985, I acquired 30 acres of land which had 3 companies namely: Hume Fulgrip (producers of sewerage and pressure pipes for water), Precast and Spun (Concrete producers of precast elements) and Ready Mix Concrete Limited on the premise.
From there, I entered a partnership venture with a gentleman called Andrews Sardanis who is the owner of Meridian Group International based in England and we established a mining company called Golden Ray near Nkawkaw.
We were into the mining of gold and then we established Wade Adams Constructions– a road construction company and then we also established a bank called Meridian Bank at the time. We also established Madison Assurance in 1989.
Unfortunately, my partner had a problem and he went bankrupt in England and so all the companies we had together were affected. But that was not the end so we decided to also try other businesses. At the moment, we own some shares in GT Bank, we have a factory in Tema that produces transformers, and a factory in Kumasi, that treats electricity poles. We are also into real estate development and that’s what we are doing and where we are now.
TVM: Where did you acquire your business acumen that has earned you success today?
AYI: Well, my business acumen is innate that’s first and foremost and also the grace of Allah. If you believe sincerely in Allah and you depend on Him, He helps you if you help yourself.
I say it’s innate because at a tender age, I involved myself in the making of condensed milk into toffees and sold them to my fellow students and was making money. Since then, whatever I engaged myself with, I made sure I do them well. So it takes endurance to do the things you want to do and the grace from Allah.
TVM: What enduring principles have helped you to do all that you are doing?
AYI: Well, patience and endurance have been my enduring principles in life. You never give up in life when life presents its challenges to you.
For instance, if you knock on one door and it fails to open, move on to the second door. You don’t conclude it is finished just because the first door refuses to open. Even if the second door refuses to open, move on to the third, the forth, the fifth door … till you get to the door that will open to you.
So, everyone needs to have endurance and the push backed by prayers to God to be behind you; that is very important.
TVM: I know you operate under the Axiom “don’t lose hope, keep knocking” why that philosophy?
AYI: Because that’s the only answer to life’s philosophy. This is so because in life one needs to keep going forward despite the challenges and circumstances they may be confronted with. If you refuse to keep moving, you will remain on the same spot. So to get to your destination, it requires that we keep moving despite the conditions.
TVM: How are you able to fix your work and life balance?
AYI: As the adage says “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. I am able to manage my time well. I know when to work and when to have leisure. I have time for social events and I make sure I don’t over burden myself with work. Good time management is the key.
For instance I come to work every morning and when it’s 2:30 p.m. I leave for the golf course to play. I do this as a routine and it helps me a lot. So, I think good time management is a vital instrument in ensuring the work and life balance of every individual.
TVM: How would you define success?
AYI: For me, success is the ability to support others who are below you to rise to the top. Success is also the ability to touch the lives of the poor or people around you positively; this is what I see also as success.
If you have the means and are unable to touch the lives of the people around you positively, then you can’t claim to be successful. If you have money and don’t help the poor, you have failed because they don’t care about your riches and when you die you die alone.
But when you help the poor, when you die you become a hero in their hearts. People don’t care about whoever you are but care about those who care for them.
For example, if my success stays with me alone then it’s no success. My real success will be measured by how many people I am able to bring from the ‘low places in life’ to a state where they will also be comfortable in life and until that that’s when I will leave a legacy behind.
If you look at me, I’ve been the Chairman of Junior Achievements where we make monies available to students in Secondary Schools to start businesses.
Aside that, Islam is a religion that believes in paying monies to the poor people every year. Whatever you have, you must pay 2.5 % of it to the poor so that they will also come up and give to other people. So, that’s why whatever I do, I make sure that I give to others.
It’s unfortunate I can’t be mentioning the things I have done because it’s not pleasing to God but I am happy I have impacted the lives of many especially those in Kumasi Zongo where I come from and in Accra in terms of health, education etc.
TVM: What motivates you to do all that you do?
AYI: The fear of God is key. Also, I feel God knows my heart and what I can do for others that’s why He made me succeed so I can take care of the needy.
Mind you, I was not the best in the class and see what I went through in life. But by His direction and this little things that I have done, I have become what I am today.
TVM: At your age, what inspires you to still come to work and try to do more despite your attainment?
AYI: It’s the ability to have enough to give to others. It puts me on the go and I will be doing that till the day I go to my grave.
TVM: Do you have time to engage in any extracurricular activities; any hobbies?
AYI: Yes, I have a hobby. I play golf. I play golf everyday from Monday to Friday at 3 p.m. I used to also play polo since I came back from America in 1974. I became the captain of the Accra Polo Club for many years and I’m now one of the trustees. I have now retired from playing polo. My children are now playing as well as my grandchildren.
TVM: Why did you switch from playing Polo to golf; is it because golf is a game for the rich?
AYI: No. I see polo and golf as the same sports only that one is played on a horse and the other on the foot. They all involve hitting a ball. So, when I realized I couldn’t hit the ball on the horse, I resorted to hitting the ball on the ground and it is easy.
Also, the game of golf helps to exercise the body and it’s absolutely needful for controlling blood pressure, cholesterol etc. So, that’s why I enjoy it first as a game and then take it as doing it for the health benefits also.
TVM: Who was and is your role model?
AYI: Robert Annor was always my role model while I was growing up but by the grace of Allah, I was able to live up to expectation. For now, there is no one.
TVM: Is there any genre of music you love?
AYI: I love old rhythms like Sam Cook and local music also. I like that a lot and I enjoy dancing very much.
TVM: So, where do you get to do this; is it at functions or you stay at home and play music, then you dance to it?
AYI: I do that at functions. For example when I attend somebody’s outdooring or wedding and the opportunity offers itself for dancing then I dance.
TVM: Do you have any intention of documenting your tale for the future generation to emulate from?
AYI: Yes, I’m currently working on that. By next month or two, my biography will be ready. It’s been handled by a company in South Africa and they’re almost at the tail end of it.
TVM: If you had the opportunity to rewrite a wrong, what would it be?
AYI: To be more committed to help the poor to come up.
TVM: With everything you do, you still feel you are not doing enough?
AYI: Well, it’s not enough at all. Because in any part of the world, the rich people are very few while the poor are many.
If we don’t help them as far as I’m concerned, we are not contributing our quota to the development of society. Also, God commands us to give and that’s why I’m doing my bit. But if you consider the social aspect even; it’s in our own interest to make sure that people below are supported and provided with basic needs.
When these things are in place, we won’t have armed robbery and other social vices disrupting society. So, these are some of the reasons ‘giving’ is essential in society just to make sure others are comfortable as well.
TVM: What advise do you have for the government of the day looking at them being in power for a year now?
AYI: The advice I would give to them basically is Ghana is an import-oriented economy, and the money we have normally ends up in subsidizing for the imports and we neglect the core needs of our people like hospitals, roads, schools that are not enough.
I think God has given us more than we need including arable lands for agriculture. If the government was to really pay more attention to Agriculture, we can export more cocoa, pineapples, cashew nuts etc. These are all the things that can be exported in abundance.
In Ghana, we can grow anything even in our backyard and it grows, but what the government should do is not just depend on peasant farmers who only produce for what they can eat and the little they sell and that doesn’t meet export demands.
But government should make sure it lays emphasis on Agriculture both for home consumption as well as exports on commercial basis. I will suggest that every district in Ghana should be allowed to use part of its Common Fund for exportable commodities.
At least if we are able to even feed our people, what we have to import will be very small and the government can divert the money to other areas of our developmental needs.
TVM: For businesses?
AYI: For businesses, especially the manufacturing firms, I will want to urge them to focus on locally available raw materials for production to help reduce the importation of foreign products on to our market. Through this, we will be able to boost our agricultural productivity and industrial boom will set in and the country will be set on its rightful developmental course.
TVM: For aspiring youth and young entrepreneurs?
AYI: Don’t lose hope, Keep knocking! Young entrepreneurs should be careful not to go in for loans to start their businesses because interest rates are now very high. If they do, they will only be working for the banks. It may be difficult to pay back the loans and above all the bank will take the little collateral they have.
So, it is advisable that young and emerging entrepreneurs consider government funding for their business start-ups. Also, the youth should work as hard as they can.
They should see any job they are in as their own. Because it’s only when you work best for somebody, you do better when yours come. First of all, the person you’re working for will appreciate you and compensate you when the time comes.
This also helps to cultivate hard work in you, and that will help you succeed in life. If this attitude can be ingrained in everybody, it will help us all to develop our economy.