Personality profile – Dr. (Alhaji) Adamu Iddrisu
In greater recognition for your courage and valor in leadership, as a trail blazer in business and entrepreneurship, for your inspiration to your fellow human beings and your contribution to society in your long outstanding life of rising to the pinnacle of success, The Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology has deemed it fit to award you with a Doctorate Degree of Letters. We, hereby, celebrate your great achievements to mother Ghana!
– Dr. (Alhaji) Adamu Iddrisu
TVM: Ghana’s transport system is said to be underdeveloped. What’s your position on this and what do you suggest could be done to improve?
Dr. A.A.I: It is true! We need to have very good roads and government must be ready to provide them. I believe in toll roads where people have to pay for the use of these roads. People need these roads to enhance efficiencies in business operations so government should seriously provide these roads.
For instance, Accra to Kumasi, if the roads were good and dual carriage, people wouldn’t mind to pay the toll and travel because it gives them a good ride and possibly avoid accidents because the roads are good. It’s not just doing the road but also maintaining the road matters. Obviously, a lot needs to be done in the transport sector.
The road networks and the kinds of cars that come into the country should be properly considered. The old vehicles pollute the environment a lot and should be eliminated. There are too many trucks around because anybody can bring them in. We need to have properly established transport companies so that we can hold them responsible when things go wrong.
TVM: Ghanaians complain about heavy trucks that ply the roads during the day and their negative effects on the road and to motorists. What is your take on this?
Dr. A.A.I: I am a strong advocate of trucks transporting at night. In 2009, there was a law or a directive that heavy trucks should not travel at night anymore. But that directive did not make sense. So, I advised the government that the movement of trucks at night is the best.
The reason is simple. At day, the road becomes soft and unable to carry the loads of these heavy trucks. The bitumen and asphalt when exposed to the intensity of the sun literally melts and becomes soft for heavy trucks to ply. This, then, leads to the destruction of the roads. But at night, the cool temperature compacts the bitumen and asphalt and then they compress to become ‘motorable’ for heavy trucks.
Aside that, the road becomes very free from commercial passengers because majority of them will be in their homes resting. In some countries such as India, China, Germany etc. you will never see a heavy truck travel at day; they all do their journeys at night and park wherever they get to before the day breaks.
Also, we should be able to encourage night commercial activities to reduce human traffic during the day.
TVM: Ghana’s cocoa has been known to be illegally ‘spilling’ across the borders to other neighboring countries by courtesy of our haulage system. What measures do you suggest be put in place to curb such spillage?
Dr. A.A.I: I don’t believe it is the haulage system that drives smuggling of cocoa. Even if it is, what roads do the perpetrators ply and what are the security forces doing? So, it has to be a collaborative effort between security forces. I don’t believe it’s primarily the haulage system that is causing the smuggling. It’s fundamentally our economic situations; we are rational.
For instance, if a bag of coca in Ghana is $70 and it costs $100 per bag in neighboring country, there will be a price differential of $30 per bag. So, as rational economic agents, we will go to where we can get more. And this is per bag! So imagine if I’m to sell a thousand bags, how much extra income I will be making other than selling in Ghana, $30, 000, very huge for the poor Ghanaian farmer. If we don’t do the right pricing, cocoa beans will be sent across borders.
If we really want to address the issue of Ghana cocoa not going to the other side then we have to pay the right price. Let’s say if the price gap is just about $10, smugglers will not be interested in going through the hassles of smuggling. It’s an economic phenomena.
Anyone who makes it a political phenomenon does not understand the system. The stakeholders in the business need to be looked at. We have the farmer, the buyer, the government and the transporter; all have vested interests and all these interests must converge to ensure the smuggling is stopped. It’s an economic rationality and nothing more! If you want to use the security you will just be wasting resources. So I don’t want the haulage system to be blamed for this problem. The solution lies with the fixing of the price. That’s where the real solutions are.
TVM: The Akuafo cheque system used as payment order has been replaced by the cash and carry. What is your take on this development?
Dr. A.A.I: The Akuafo Cheque system was abused. The cheque system was better because cash is risky and as a result, farmers are constantly attacked by armed robbers after receiving their monies in cash. Also, for the Akuafo Cheques, farmers would have travel very long distances to access their monies. Some had to even travel days and sleep there for days before accessing their monies. All these inefficiencies and poor management collapsed the Cheque system.
Later, it was politicized and government was blamed for it. It is difficult to fathom why any wrongdoing in Ghana is blamed on government. The individual culprits are left off the hook for their doings and government is attacked. Amidst this situations, I can’t still say the cash and carry is better. We should be able to find simple technology to make life easier in this regard.
It is rather unfortunate that most of these farmers are women and they are old. Using cash is a very risky business so cash is not really the solution. Technology is advancing, so stakeholders should find simple technology to address the situation.
TVM: Has Ghana really maximized the benefit of cocoa?
Dr. A.A.I: If there were no benefits in the cocoa business, Ghanaians would have left it long ago. In the 1980s, cocoa production was hovering around 150,000 tons but now we’re doing about 800,000 tons to 1 million tons. What else do you want as a country from cocoa? Production keeps increasing so I think it has been beneficial.
TVM: What is the Impact of the current economic situation in Ghana and its effects on your businesses?
Dr. A.A.I: Currently, there is high inflation or increasing inflation, depreciating currency, high unemployment, very high interest rates. And all these are factors that are affecting business operations in the country and not only mine.
Obviously, the cost of funds to business is very high. As trading companies, we are experiencing very high interest rates hence very high finance cost to our businesses. If the finance costs are very high then there’s likely to be lower profits; if you do the math revenue minus cost.
An example is the cocoa sector. We buy cocoa; the cost of operations is mainly the finance cost because we borrow to buy the cocoa. The cost of finance constitutes about two thirds of the operations cost, so therefore, if high interest rates are looming or are in record high then obviously your operating cost will go very high and that’s how it’s affecting us; our profits are being whittled away.
We are on the fringes; just striving to survive. My group employs directly and indirectly about 12,000 people; so you can see how it is affecting us. Basically we are just paying monies away because business is not booming. Exchange rate is also another factor. Most of our inputs are imported. For example, our large fleet fleet of trucks have been imported, they were not produced in Ghana.
So you import them without a supplier’s credit but with loans and with the loans you pay high interest cost. Also with the payment which is in dollars, as a result of depreciating local currency, you use more cedis to buy the dollar.
So, obviously you end up having much problems with your cost. Your cost increases astronomically and end up having problems. So, in a depreciating currency environment your cost goes up as hell. The reason is that when you depend on foreign inputs (and we are not exempted), you have to bear the consequences.
That’s a major issue. Then inflation! So if you look at the relationship between these factors, you will see that we are caught up in a spiral and there is nothing we can do. Inflation is going up, there is labour agitation for increasing wages, we are employing 12,000 people; paying them is not easy.
So it is having a toll on us! We are borrowing and borrowing and borrowing but we believe the good times will come and when the economy stabilizes, we should be able to survive. The economy is killing us; inflation is killing us, wage demands, increasing overheads, electricity has gone up, water has gone up, fuel has also gone up.
Over the next month or in two, these increases are going to cripple a lot of businesses but hopefully we can survive with our muscle. We do hope that we may have the safety nets and the shock absorbers to survive.
TVM: How are you weathering the storm?
Dr. A.A.I: All we are doing is to improve efficiencies in operations in terms of financial management, treasury management, and operational efficiencies. We hope to contain our cost and keep the business going; that’s all we can do. We cannot change interest rates or fix inflations. It all depends on government policy. There isn’t much we can do except that we must respond strategically as a business and that’s all we are doing.
TVM: What do you suggest can be done to reverse the trend?
Dr. A.A.I: Reversing the trend? The onus rests with government. These are macro economic fundamentals controlled by government; we don’t control them. I believe government must do the right thing; the excessive borrowing by government must stop. I’m referring to previous and current governments.
Once they keep borrowing, interest rates will go up. Alternatively, the more they pump more money into the system, the more inflation increases. So for me, it’s about the government trying to get its act together and eliminating wastes and I think economies are managed by governments, that’s why we elect them and give them the mandate and this is not about politics.
TVM: What do you make of the recurrent depreciation of the Cedi?
Dr. A.A.I: We are all part of the reason why the cedi is always falling against the major trading currencies. If someone should give you dollar right now, you will take it, right?
Dr. A.A.I: But, if you go to China and India and you have dollars, nobody will accept it as a legal tender. That is what we are to do here in Ghana but the reverse is the case. So, we shouldn’t blame anyone; we should blame ourselves. We are all part of the reason for the depreciation of the cedi.
TVM: Who is Dr. Alhaji Adamu Iddrisu?
Dr. A.A.I: I’m a Ghanaian. My mother comes from Paga and my father from Niger. I grew up here in Accra– Old Fadama to be precise, at the timber market. We actually started the timber market at the post office and later moved it to the Makola Fire Service, then to Kantamanto before finally settling at Amamomo where the market is still situated.
But, before all this, I used to help my father on the farm. So, I learnt a lot about farming. At age 17, I joined my brother in Accra and we started the timber business. Through the timber business, I developed interest in the transport business as well because I needed to convey the woods to my clients and by 1964 I bought the first two Fargo trucks, during Nkrumah’s regime.
I bought the first CKD trucks in Ghana in 1964. At that time, trucks were imported in their skeletal forms and then assembled here in Ghana. We had Man Diesel, Mercedes Benz, Fargo trucks, in fact all the trucks were assembled in Ghana. So, no one could import an assembled truck directly from overseas.
After Nkrumah till Kutu Acheampong’s regime, all the leaders did same. Moreover, during Acheampong’s regime, he ordered that motorbikes, bicycles as well as cars should also be assembled in Ghana. No one could import a brand new car as of that time. This created industrial boom and job creation in the country.
TVM: Is that where you got the idea of your transport business?
Dr. A.A.I: No no no! I started the transport business even before Nkruma’s regime. I actually started the transport business with a horse-driven cart. I had a little cart tied to a horse on which I packed the wood from the timber market to distribute to our customers in Accra.
So I had the idea from there because I needed to keep supplying the customers’ everyday with the wood and that was how I got the idea and it wasn’t a bad one. Only that the transport business is very risky.
TVM: H o w risky is it?
Dr. A.A.I: Very! One cannot tell when a car or a truck can have an accident. You can buy a truck today and give it to a driver and you can’t tell what will happen in the next minute. It can be an accident, an arrest because of an illegal engagement by your driver etc. All these accounts for the risky nature of the transport business. TVM: Did you have to drive the trucks at a point?
Dr. A.A.I: Yes! When I started the truck business I was driving the trucks myself but also, I had other drivers.
TVM: At what age were you when you entered into the transport business?
Dr. A.A.I: I started working with my brother at the age of 17 but by the time I entered into the transport business I was in my thirties. I did it simultaneously with the timber business but after four years, I stopped the timber business to concentrate on the transport business. I had the opportunity to also supply the timber to countries like Togo, Burkina Faso etc.
TVM: What lessons did you learn when you were working with your brother?
Dr. A.A.I: My brother gave me free hands to learn the business very well when I was with him. I learnt how to serve as an apprentice as well as collaborate as a partner. I also learnt to manage my brother’s business as my own. I was very obedient to his instructions and contented with what I had.
TVM: Did you ever think you would be this successful while you were selling the wood?
Dr. A.A.I: I had a vision and that’s why I separated from my brother’s business. I was very hard working. For instance, when I was 16 years and staying with my father, I worked on his farm and did not give him the cause to work on the farm again.
I worked so hard he didn’t have to touch anything on the farm. I did the same for my brother when I joined him to sell the wood at the timber market. That is why today I advise people that they should not be selfish but work hard.
Even if it is not their job, they should go ahead and sacrifice themselves for the job. If they feel the company does not belong to them and so would do as pleased, such an attitude wouldn’t get them to be successful. Africans have a different attitude to work unlike Europeans and Arabs.
While I was with my brother, because of my hard work he wanted to build a house for me but I refused. My priority was not for the gift offerings but to ensure the business grew as expected for me to earn my income. I took nothing from the business without his prior notice and consent.
TVM: What was the motivation to refuse your brother’s gift?
Dr. A.A.I: Honesty! I never take anything that is not mine from people or steal from them. If I needed something, I always consulted the person. I was and am not a materialistic person, so I managed the business with honesty. Trust! I never wanted anything but just to ensure the business was growing. If you want people to trust you, you have to do things to earn you the trust.
TVM: What business did you venture when you separated from your brother?
Dr. A.A.I: I continued with the timber and transport business together for about 4 years before moving fully into the transport business. In three years, I had acquired about ten trucks and six years later, 1972 – 1978, I had about 100 trucks.
But I must say all these successes I chalked were as a result of trust. Merchant Bank had come onto the market around 1972. They were only servicing corporate clients and started to deal with us on high purchase bases. But when they started doing business with me, they realized I was an honest man.
All the monies I made from the haulage business, I used them to service my debts with Merchant Bank to pay off the loan on the trucks. Usually I took the hire purchase quota for 18 months but by the 12th month, I would have paid off. This created the trust between the bank and myself. I never defaulted and the bank helped me a lot.
TVM: Can you give a fair count on the number of trucks you have currently?
Dr. A.A.I: Currently, I don’t know the numbers. But I know they are about 600 that are in good condition and are moving.
TVM: From a sawn mill dealer to owning 15 successful companies. Was government involved in this success?
Dr. A.A.I: Government is not involved in any. By the will and grace of God, I have come along with my staff and I don’t think there is the need for government to help entrepreneurs like me. Moreover, I don’t see the need for government to support entrepreneurs because if you [entrepreneur] have built your own company, you don’t wait and expect government to help you run your business for you.
The only thing you need as an entrepreneur from government are the favorable policies and conducive business environment and not financial aid. The only people who need government’s support are the farmers and not entrepreneurs.
TVM: Did you ever envisage you would one day own all these companies?
Dr. A.A.I: Well, the companies did not come all of a sudden or on a silver platter. It was sheer hard work and focus. As and when there was a need, we registered and created it to supplement each other’s operations.
All the companies relate to one another; they are interlinked. It looks like different people helping each other to be better. For instance, the transport firm needs a warehouse to offload the cocoa, and the insurance firm underwrites the various activities against risk etc.
So the companies are interrelated to support each other’s activities and promote integrated growth. The only one with a different purpose is the bank. TVM: What inspired you to own and venture into Banking?
Dr. A.A.I: I could have sent the money outside the county and put it in an investment account to earn interest. But, I believe first and foremost letting the money stay in this country to do business and the sector I chose was finance.
So, I decided to venture into the two areas– banking and insurance, to help add-on to what is in the system. I am, fundamentally, concerned about the high cost of borrowing in this country so I believe that having a bank if all things being equal, the bank will be able to lend money to people at very competitive rates.
The high cost of borrowing is killing businesses in this country and even the availability of the finance is also another factor. On the other hand, I thought it would help my business as well; to be able to provide my other firms with the credit needed for our operations and also to deposit our funds but the Bank of Ghana’s regulation restricts anyone who establishes a bank to transact with that same bank without limitations.
But, I have not regretted though, because it has created a lot of employments. If you check the value of the money I invested in the bank at the initial stage, it was not as huge as it is now because the investment has appreciated. My basic motivation is to see the impact on the cost of finance in the nearest future reduced, and also create more jobs.
TVM: Are you happy about the way the Bank is performing?
Dr. A.A.I: Oh yes, I am very happy.
TVM: Did you dream that one day your will own a bank?
Dr. A.A.I: Usually, I don’t look or focus on what I cannot do. So currently, if I get another idea that will be profitable I’ll venture into that space too. I’ve got very knowledgeable and trustworthy people who are running the bank and I’m happy with their work.
I told all the workers some time back that the bank belongs to them. They are enjoying from it and even, some of them are marrying each other in the bank. All these bring happiness and once they are happy then I’m happy too.
TVM: You were recently honored with a doctoral degree and also, most importantly, a laureate at the Millennium Excellence Awards 2015. How did you feel at the occasions?
Dr. A.A.I: I was very happy. But that was not the highest achievement or the first time I received an award. The biggest award I have received was in 2007 when I was presented the Order of the Volta spearheaded by the former President, President John Agyekum Kufour, for recognizing my efforts.
I was very happy and I realized I was a noteworthy personality and an appreciated citizen in the society. At the recent awards, I was also very elated and overwhelmed. I actually believe I should have been acknowledged a long time ago because of the way I am very practical.
Those who know me will testify that the awards were purely merited and not just conferred on me. Even those with very good education, still come to learn a lot from me. In 2007, people wanted to tag me with a political affiliation but the former President Kufour ignored all those and honored me.
TVM: Do these achievements make you a fulfilled person?
Dr. A.A.I: I am human, so yes! To have come this far and being recognized for my contribution to society, I feel I have served a great purpose to humanity. As an ‘unschooled’ person like me having professors, doctors, and other very educated persons under my various companies operations, I feel fulfilled. What makes me happy is when I manage to get all these engineers, doctors etc. to be working for me.
TVM: You have defied the general notion that ‘education is key to success’, what do you see as key to success?
Dr. A.A.I: Education is nothing and it’s not paramount to success. God is the giver of true knowledge. “Education is a collection of ideas of people put together”. All these books we usually study did not come by themselves.
They are made of humans’ ideas put together for others to study. But practical experience becomes a non-forgettable knowledge and that’s what culminates to personal knowledge. That is why I tell people practical solutions are more important. I am a problem solver.
Sometimes when I get to some of my sites and the engineers are struggling with the building project I am able to proffer accurate solutions which work. Meanwhile, I have never been to school before. So instead of education as a key to success, I’ll rather say practical knowledge or experience is the key to success.
TVM: Did you ever have a role model(s)/ mentor(s) when growing up?
Dr. A.A.I: At all! I never did. People rather want to look like me. All I do is a special gift and grace from God and not by my might or design. It was not by my strength and I never looked up to anybody. God gave me the talent and it is not my strength. I just used the talent he gave me.
TVM: Your philanthropic activities spread across the nation. Why do you engage in such massive benevolence?
Dr. A.A.I: I would not want to speak specifically about my charity work. I do them unto God and not for the pleasantries of men. Every day of my life is meant to meet the needs of society. There are some that are quite open but majority of my charity work I don’t disclose and I wouldn’t want to announce them.
TVM: What motivates you to do them?
Dr. A.A.I: It’s not the motivation. Charity should be done through your love for God. When you love God, you become motivated enough to provide for the needy. So, the fear of God in one is enough to engage one in charity.
The motivation comes from your quality walk with God. A lot of people don’t believe in Judgement but I do. On that Day of Judgment, everyone shall be accountable for his/her works, charity. And I know this, so I’m doing mine.
Any area I move to and live or do business, I make sure that they benefit from my benevolence in terms of social amenities – water supply to the communities among others. So I advise everyone to get involved to help solve the needs of humanities.
We should not be greedy to concentrate on ‘self ’. My desire is to be able to meet the needs of everyone who is in need. It gives me extreme joy when I’m able to solve those needs of humanities.
TVM: You have proven in all aspects that hard work pays. Do you have hobbies you engage during your leisure hours?
Dr. A.A.I: At my leisure hours, I spend quality time with my maker, God, by reading the Quran. All I do is to worship Him. I also make time for my family and kinsmen.
TVM: What discipline of sports did you or do you engage?
Dr. A.A.I: Currently, I don’t engage in any sports. I used to play golf but I don’t play anymore because I’m getting old. The energy I have now I use to worship God.
TVM: Do you enjoy specific kind of music?
Dr. A.A.I: I don’t have time to listen to music. I rarely listen to music. Sometimes I watch a bit of TV and sleep.
TVM: How many children has God bless you with?
Dr. A.A.I: So far I have 22 children alive out of 23. I’ve had about 4 wives with so many grandchildren that I have lost count. I’m happy when I see them and I advise them.
TVM: Can you share with us how a day in your business life looks like?
Dr. A.A.I: I always have a very busy day. There are no holidays, no weekends. I work every time when the need arises. There are no breaks. I give myself some time before stepping out. I usually step out in the mornings at around 8-9a.m. unless there is an emergency. I visit my staff (executives) every morning before I go anywhere.
TVM: At an advanced age, you are still strong and are able to perform your duties officially. What is the secret to your strength?
Dr. A.A.I: I eat very well and pay careful attention to my health. I believe whatever we take in has the potential to kill or to keep us alive so I watch what I eat and drink carefully and also the timing of meals, I pay attention to. I go for regular medical check-ups as well.
TVM: And so, what are your favorite delicacies?
Dr. A.A.I: I like traditional foods- the Tuo Zaafi and the rest. They are very nutritious so I take them more often.
TVM: General advice to Ghanaians?
Dr. A.A.I: Let’s love our currency because that is the only legal tender we have. We shouldn’t love foreign currencies more than ours. We are not helping ourselves and the economy if we continue to do that. The economy cannot be managed by only one person but every individual in this country is involved in the management thereof. We should also be conscious to patronize made-in-Ghana goods to help boost the economy.
TVM: What is your advice to the youth of today?
Dr. A.A.I: The youth of today are not like the youth of my time. Even when you are advising them, they don’t take it. But for the few who listen to instructions, I’ll say, they should work very hard, they should not cut corners; do it diligently, do it as though it is their own.
There should be no room for laziness. The other aspect is humility; it opens to you great doors and helps you to listen to people. If you are too pompous, you seldom listen to people. You become too full of yourself and that won’t take you far.
No matter who you are, be humble, respect other people and be receptive to people. The third one is Honesty. I don’t compromise on this! I believe the one who steals your 1 cedi is capable of stealing your 1 billion; so, you don’t entertain him. If you do honest labor you will be rewarded accordingly. The final one is good human relations.
So, I term them “The Four H”; Hardworking, Humility, Honesty, Human relations. Not in any particular order, they must be integrated into you. When you meet people, you must be nice and receptive to them. People will have problems; listen to them, don’t trample upon them. When you meet people, you must learn to respect them.
TVM: What will be your advice to government?
Dr. A.A.I: There’s been mention of a lot of things already. We need more social cohesion. The country is too polarized. The NDC-NPP divide is too wide, so good materials cannot cross over from one side to the other to help in the management of the economy. That is totally wrong! The ‘Dumsor’ (electricity rationing), currency depreciation, high inflation as well as high interest rates are some of the challenges affecting the economy. Energy is everything these days. Obviously, if you need energy to produce and you don’t have energy, it means you can’t produce meanwhile you’ve invested in plants, you took loans, and you have to keep servicing the loans yet you don’t produce then you will crumble. The government should find a way to fix the energy problem because in the whole world now, energy drives everything. IT is power, manufacturing is energy, and education is energy. Energy is everywhere! So, if businesses don’t have consistent supply, their operations are likely to be affected adversely. So I agree the problem must be fixed. But we also have to think about alternative energy sources; wind energy, hydro is very conventional to us but the fuel powered sources are very expensivehence if we want energy we must think about these alternative sources. Our beaches can be used for wind mills, our fields can be used for solar; we need very diverse minds to deal with these issues and come up with more energy sources so we can complement the existing sources. If we become mono dependent it can be disastrous, we need alternatives.
TVM: What advice would you give to SME’s in this trying times? SME’s should strive to thrive on honesty, humility, good management skills and hard work and they will be on their way to success. It is very unfortunate in this trying times for this growing sector but better times await.