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Penny Picking On The Way To $10 Billion

Roland Agambire began life as an entrepreneur picking pennies off the floor on his way to a dream worth billions of dollars.

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A consortium of Ghanaian and foreign firms look set to transform Ghana into a modern, tech-friendly, hub for innovation in Africa.

Multi-million dollar information communication technology (ICT) schemes in the investment pipeline include the Ghana Cyber City, Appolonia City, King City and Hope City projects.

The $40 million Ghana Cyber City, Appolonia and King City projects are being promoted by Gateway Innovations (Ghana), Xalles Limited (Washington), Ernst & Young (now EY, New York), Technolopolis (Finland) and Russia-based investment bank, the Renaissance Group. However, the Hope City project—a $10 billion technology park with residential and office accommodation including the tallest buildings on the continent—is the grand vision of one man: Roland Agambire, founder, chairman and CEO of Ghana and Dubai-based AGAMS Holdings.

An incurable optimist, Agambire, 39, is no stranger to ambition.

“This is turning out to be my biggest and most exciting challenge yet. We have a three-year plan to finish building Hope City. Any investor who invests in Hope City will recoup his investments within the first five years, including also making a projected turnover of over 250%,” says Agambire.

Hope City is expected to provide office and residential space and facilities for more than 50,000 people.

“I am extremely passionate about transforming Ghana into a knowledge-driven economy. My ultimate desire is to create opportunity for every African… we must also begin to explore the issue of how Ghana can begin to export services and ICT to the rest of the world,” he says.

Hope City will be located in the Dokuna district a few miles north of Accra, the Ghanaian capital. Agambire is optimistic he will raise the cash from the local and international markets to make his grand idea a reality. He will also add $2 billion of his own funds to the project.

His unwavering efforts have already made him one of Ghana’s wealthiest businessmen.

For a man whose early years were spent in poverty, Agambire’s current cozy lifestyle is a far cry from his humble beginnings. He shies away from any reference to his personal net worth. He, however, tells FORBES AFRICA that through AGAMS Holdings. He employs more than 500 permanent staff and 10,000 casual workers with an annual turnover of about $2 billion. AGAMS Holdings has interests in oil, construction, computing and telecommunications, financial services and trading.

His story proves it is possible to be lonely in the middle of a crowd.

Born in Sirigu, a farming community in northern Ghana, his father reportedly had about 50 children and his mother is the sixth of his father’s 10 wives.

For most of the seventies and eighties, Ghana’s economy was in the doldrums and village life was all about subsistence farming, fishing and survival of the fittest. Success was defined by the number of wives and children a man could muster. Agambire recalls how 10 people would sleep on the same mat, like prisoners in a crowded jail, wake up in the morning and eat from the same bowl. He says his success came from this start in life.

“At that time, going to school was a struggle, all they wanted you to do was to grow into a shepherd boy, to be part of the domestic services, but I broke out of that.”

By the age of six, his survival instincts led him to picking up coins dropped by much older folks, drunk on liquor, in the open air drinking holes in the market.

“I was going from one pito bar to the other to pick up money. This was how I made money to feed myself,” he says.

One day, his granddad accused him of pilfering. He told the old man that revelers obviously had too much money to spare. Why else would they throw it away every day and who would be identified as the owner of the money if he were to take the ‘lost and found coins’ to the village chief? The old man had no reply.

Soon, a few older folks noticed and joined him in the coin gathering exercise, so he changed tactic by going earlier to pick the pennies.

Soon, Roland the teenager was selling kuli-kuli (a local snack made from peanuts) and ferrying much sought after cigarettes, kerosene and petrol across the border between Ghana and Burkina Faso.

Agambire worked his way through the Navrongo Secondary School. He would often travel down south to Accra, during vacations, to push trucks and wash dishes in bars to make money to pay his school fees.

By the mid-1990s, his trading activities had expanded and he had dabbled into cash crops exportation. He completed various courses in export and marketing with the Ghana Export Promotion Council, put himself through a regime of Business Administration courses at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA) at the University of Ghana and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration.

A trip to Japan in 1999 opened his mind to the social impact and business potential of ICT. In 2000, he invested his first $200,000 into an internet café business in Accra; the dotcom age arrived and soon he was importing computers from the United States, and providing after sales support and computer networking services to Ghanaian businesses. He has never looked back since.

AGAMS’s leading subsidiary, RLG Communications, with offices in Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Dubai and China is helping to transform West Africa’s personal computing and mobile phone landscape. The firm has a technology training institute and a mobile phone assembly plant and will commission a $100 million facility, Ghana’s first PC and mobile device manufacturing center, in 2014.

The Ghana News Agency once described Agambire as “a personification of determination”. Having conquered poverty, he now wants to put West Africa’s second largest economy on to the global technology map, permanently.

Not bad for someone who used to pick up pennies.

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