Skip to main content

From “Too Young” To Business Leader

Published 9 years ago
By Forbes Africa

His name might be a bit of a tongue twister but it surely begins to roll off the tongue with a lot more ease as time goes. As West Africa’s Young Business Leader of the Year, bespectacled, unruffled and soft spoken—cupping his award trophy while smiling from ear to ear, it was an August evening like no other for Elikem Nutifafa Kuenyehia.

While West Africa applauded this laudable achievement at the inaugural regional All Africa Business Leaders Awards (AABLA) months ago, Kuenyehia can only reminisce on the traipse today.

When he started ‘Oxford & Beaumont’, he was 32 years old and had been a qualified lawyer for more than seven years. He had worked for Linklaters LLP, one of the world’s most prestigious law firms and had set up and run the legal department of a local bank.

“Yet, when I met prospective local clients they could not look beyond my age and my youthful looks and questioned whether I was old enough to be starting a law firm,” he says.

Kuenyehia, who was born in Accra, Ghana, dropped his high school science class to pursue the arts instead. He graduated with an upper second class pass from the law faculty at Oxford Univeristy.

“I surprised myself that I went ahead to study law because, I had always rebelled against the notion as my parents were both lawyers. My heart was set in business and [I] had wanted to study business administration at the University of Ghana. However, when I widened my options to Oxford, it turned out that Oxford did not have an equivalent course so I settled for law,” he says.

While Kuenyehia’s career was firmly hinged on law, a great interest and flair for business and entrepreneurship was a huge driving factor for him. So, it was little wonder that he followed up with an MBA in entrepreneurship, finance and marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Kuenyehia re-enforced his passion for entrepreneurship when he accepted a post as an adjunct lecturer in entrepreneurship at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA).

“Perhaps the limitation that I am most concerned about is that of education. I think a good basic education equips people with the ability to ask the right questions and the ability to conduct at least the most basic analysis, which is always the starting point of any entrepreneurial venture,” he says.

“I think often there is a misunderstanding of what entrepreneurship is. It sometimes appears shrouded in mystery. It’s a very simple process that starts with an idea that someone can be passionate about and which taps into a customer need.”

On more of the stumbling blocks he encountered as a young entrepreneur, Kuenyehia maintains, “Age is more than a number in Ghana, especially in the area of sensitive corporate and commercial legal advice where I operate. Ghanaian clients believe that the more grey hairs you have, the better equipped you are to deal with their matters. Local clients also expect to pay significantly lower rates to younger lawyers than they would pay to older lawyers”.

To deal with this obstacle in attracting clients, Kuenyehia decided to focus on foreign direct investors into Ghana who were used to dealing with younger lawyers and judged a lawyer on the quality of his advice rather than the lawyer’s age.

“I decided to target investors from London, where I had already established my reputation for excellence and had developed significant contacts.”

Now a managing partner at one of Ghana’s leading law firms with offices in Accra and London, Kuenyehia has gone on to add a literary feather to his cap: he recently published his book Kuenyehia on Entrepreneurship.

“The key message in the book is that anybody, absolutely anybody can become a successful entrepreneur provided they are passionate about what it is they seek to do and follow a few well established steps. The book takes the readers through the steps from idea to profit including opportunity analysis, raising finance, managing finance, recruiting, building a brand and writing a business plan.

The book draws on many examples and case studies of successful Ghanaian entrepreneurs. By showcasing a wide range of successful entrepreneurs across a number of Ghanaian industries, he hopes to inspire others who may contemplate taking the entrepreneurial route.

On the whole, Kuenyehia attributes his success to the work of his great team at Oxford & Beaumont who, by challenging and questioning most things, have helped shape him into a better leader, as he continues to take new, bold strides.

Sign Up for Our Newsletter Daily Update

Get the best of Forbes Africa sent straight to your inbox with breaking business news, insights and updates from experts across the continent.
Get this delivered to your inbox, and more info about about our products and services. By signing up for newsletters, you are agreeing to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.
Related Topics: #AABLA, #December 2012, #Elikem Nutifafa Kuenyehia, #Oxford & Beaumont’ Lawyer, #Young Business Leader.