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The Pain And Drive That Turned $5,000 Into $65 Million A Year

Pain was the spur when Emmanuel Katongole fought his way up as an entrepreneur. He grieved for his three sisters as he made pills that could save thousands of others.

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Emmanuel Katongole is a brisk, no nonsense, entrepreneur with a powerful desk and a sharp suit. If you look closely, beneath his distinguished grey hair, you can see the traces of pain that steeled one of Uganda’s leading entrepreneurs.

Katongole watched his three elder sisters die for want of medical care. It is no coincidence that he has dedicated his life, as an entrepreneur, to making pills to fight two of Africa’s great killers: malaria and HIV/Aids.

“My elder sister got pregnant at 15 and died while giving birth, she bled to death because she couldn’t go to hospital. The other two died of HIV/Aids, leaving me alone. This is not only hearing of it, I saw it. So many other families have gone through this,” says Katongole.

“It was an influence in this kind of business. I think about them often and now we see our medicines being made and thousands upon thousands surviving. That gives you a good feeling.”

To say Katongole grew up the hard way is an understatement. He was born in 1962 in the rural Mityana district in the hills of Uganda and spent most of his childhood herding goats and fighting off hyenas.

“We grew up right from childhood being independent and had to work to survive. That has grown with me,” he says.

Neither his father, nor his mother, could read nor write; his father worked as a laborer, his mother sold roasted maize by the side of the road. In 1965, Katongole senior moved the family to Kampala, in search of a better life, when he secured a job working as a night porter at the Palace of Kabaka – the seat of the King of Buganda. One day Katongole senior went to work, never to return.

“It is believed that he was caught in the gunfire that resulted from the soured relations between the Buganda kingdom and the central government at the time. We never saw him again,” says Katongole.

It meant more hardship for the family. Veronica Katongole had to make the tough decision to withdraw her three daughters from education so she could afford to pay for her son to go through school. Young Katongole did not wear shoes, ride in a vehicle nor switch on a light bulb until he won a scholarship to Namilyango College near Kampala. The hard work paid off and Katongole graduated from Makerere University – known in Kampala as the ivory tower – in statistics and applied economics. He got a job and began looking for areas of business not yet saturated. As it turned out, 1987 was a good year for entrepreneurs in Kampala. The Ugandan government was easing state controls and liberalizing the foreign exchange market.

Katongole saw that 1.5 million, out of 30 million, Ugandans were HIV positive. On top of this, malaria killed 300 people a day; the equivalent of an Airbus A340 crashing seven days a week, he says. In 1997, Katongole and five partners put in $5,000 each to found Quality Chemicals on a patch of dusty land on the poor fringes of Kampala. The first year was lean; the company turned over less than a million dollars.

“The turning point came in 2001. This is when the world became very tough about intellectual property and patents. When the World Trade Organization came in, we saw this as an opportunity. Uganda was among 16 of the poorest of the poor nations made exempt. Patented medicines were expensive – do you allow poor people to die because of patents?”

It cleared the way for Quality Chemicals to manufacture six million pills a day to tackle both deadly diseases. The coup was a joint venture, in 2005, with Indian pharmaceutical giant, Cipla, which was looking for a foothold in the continent. This poured capital and expertise into the company and by 2013 turnover was $65 million; this year, the accountants project $76 million. In November, Cipla spent $15 million on increasing its stake to 51%. Katongole and his fellow five founders retain 23%.

It is a late autumn morning in the outskirts of Kampala and Quality Chemicals is humming. Outside there are goats grazing in the sun, it is nearly noon and more than 30 degrees Celsius; inside it is cool and busy. Hundreds of people in white coats are hard at work making the handfuls of pills that can be the difference between life and death for a village full of people.

The company exports to Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and South Sudan. It is far from an easy business.

“The infrastructure problems of the country notwithstanding, we have problem with access to markets. You know, we have got a lot of donor products coming in and these hinder the development potential of our market. There are also subsidies given by other countries which hurt our market. Then there is the power shortage. It is not so much of a big problem since we bought our own generator,” says Katongole.

“We could do better, but if you compare what is happening globally, there has been a concerted effort by the state to sustain the economy. Inflation has been between 8 and 12 percent for many years; that is not bad for African countries. If you look at the exchange rate, it is largely under control, fluctuations here and there, but not bad. Interest rates, of 20 to 24 percent, are relatively stable, but they are high. Banks are helpful, but the economy is relatively small.”

Despite this, Quality Chemicals is thinking big.

“Our dream is to be the number one company in our field in Africa. For now, the problem of malaria and aids is still big – we are also looking at making pills to tackle cancer and hypertension. These are the serious diseases we are thinking about.”

The next thought will be the completion of a second factory that will increase the workforce to 700.

“I tell you I always believe that every generation has its revolution and the revolution of our generation is entrepreneurship. A lot can be done. Well-handled entrepreneurship can do so much,” says Katongole.

This confident man has one tinge of regret; that he never had the chance to offer his hard working mother more of the fruits of his success. Veronica Katongole died of skin cancer in 2002. Among her last wishes were for her son to build an iron sheet roofed house for her – the family had grown up under mud and wattle. The second was that she wanted her funeral to be led by a Catholic priest.

The first request was built in Katongole’s first year of work; the second was led by the Archbishop of Kampala.

In a tribute to his mother, Katongole has launched bottled water, called Vero after her, where the proceeds go to charity, in her honor. Proof, that the legacy of an entrepreneur can be far more than money.

In The Business Of Caring

 

In Uganda entrepreneurs are known for the money they have made but their reputations are often tainted with rumors of dishonest practices and dealings that helped pave their path to success. This is not the case when you mention Emmanuel Katongole in Uganda’s business community.

Katongole is widely recognized for his social entrepreneurship, philanthropy and unrelenting spirit. For someone who had to team up with his illiterate mother to sell local liquor to earn school fees, it is inspirational to now see him as a member of the Initiative for Global Development (IGD), a group that aims to reduce poverty worldwide and consists of successful business leaders from Africa, Asia, Europe and the United States (US).

Katongole is part of the esteemed company of former secretaries of state of the United States Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell, who co-chair the governing council of IGD.

Back in 1997, Katongole, along with five colleagues, founded Quality Chemicals. It grew to become the only company in sub-Saharan Africa that manufactures triple-combination antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. Today, the company manufactures and sells antiretroviral and antimalarial drugs. Given the crippling effects of malaria and HIV/Aids on the continent, Katongole has made a significant contribution towards reversing the effects of these diseases.

There have been accusations of him being too close to the Ugandan government and subsequently using his close connections to get ahead in business. Others, however, argue that the scourge of HIV/Aids and malaria has long been a major priority for the Ugandan government and any major player within that sphere would require a collaborative relationship with them.

Besides Quality Chemicals, Katongole founded Vero Mineral Water, in memory of his late mother, Veronica.

The business commits 10% of its proceeds towards social development causes such as education. For Katongole, entrepreneurship should solve society’s most pressing challenges and his businesses are testimony to this.

His background is one of extreme poverty and disease. He used this as inspiration to build an enterprise that not only creates wealth but confronts the twin evils of poverty and disease within its community. Katongole is the district governor of the Rotary Club in Tanzania and Uganda, which provides humanitarian services in that region of Africa.

“I think he has done a lot for Rotary and that is a good thing,” says Ugandan business mogul Patrick Bitature.

He adds that although Katongole has achieved a lot as an entrepreneur, he is bound to achieve a lot more in future.

“He is going places,” says Bitature.

 

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Gordon Ramsay Plots 100 US Restaurants With New Private Equity Deal

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On a given day at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, chef Gordon Ramsay’s eponymous pub and grill will make around $20,000 from fish and chips. The 1,200-square-foot space sees around 1,300 guests a day. Since debuting on the strip in 2012, Ramsay has added another location in Atlantic City.

Combined, both have sold more than 300,000 fish and chips dishes. “It’s taken the nation by storm. I look at the lines outside the door,” Ramsay told Forbes on the phone earlier this week.

His steak restaurant, which launched seven years ago at Caesars’ Paris Las Vegas Hotel, has meanwhile expanded to Atlantic City and Baltimore, luring diners with beef Wellingtons (more than 250,000 sold since 2012) and sticky toffee puddings (more than 200,000 sold).

That kind of demand needs to be taken advantage of quickly. Which is why a year ago, Ramsay started looking for a partner to help him rapidly expand these brands. “I wasn’t ready to pedal this bike up a hill on my own. That would take me another 15 years,” Ramsay says. “Let’s get this thing done.”

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And now Ramsay has inked a deal with Lion Capital, a private equity outfit with offices in London and Los Angeles, which has scaled restaurants like wagamama, the pan-Asian noodle chain, as well as brands like Kettle chips and Jimmy Cho. Lion now owns 50% of Gordon Ramsay North America, while the other 50% is controlled by Ramsay.

He declined to comment on the size of the transaction, but the deal stipulates that Lion will invest $100 million over five years to build an empire of Gordon Ramsay restaurants across America. The joint venture expects to open 100 new locations across the U.S by 2024. 

“I fell in love with this country 20 years ago. There’s a will here. My goal, right now, is to establish one of the most exciting food brands in America,” Ramsay says. “Being a control freak, I needed the right partner on board. There’s a lot of businesses that don’t like that kind of stranglehold. For me, the partnership was crucial.”

Ramsay already has eight restaurants across Las Vegas, Atlantic City and Baltimore in partnership with Caesars Entertainment. There’s five concepts in Las Vegas, of which three are brands that will be expanded through the new deal — Gordon Ramsay Steak, Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill, Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips.

“Vegas has been the most amazing platform. Everyone thinks it is just full of partying and entertainment, but it’s one of the most severe and revered culinary capitals anywhere in the world. You don’t get a second shot at it,” Ramsay says.

The restaurant concept, Gordon Ramsay Steak, launched in 2012 inside Caesar Entertainment's Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.
The restaurant concept, Gordon Ramsay Steak, launched in 2012 inside Caesar Entertainment’s Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.GORDON RAMSAY STEAK

The deal will also bring two more concepts to the U.S.: Gordon Ramsay Street Pizza and Gordon Ramsay Bread Street Kitchen, which he calls “a modern Cheesecake Factory.” It already has successful locations in London, Hong Kong, Dubai and Singapore. 

Ramsay is a six-time Celebrity 100 listmaker who earned $62 million last year, mainly from his television deal with Fox, in which he produces and stars in shows MasterChef, Hell’s Kitchen, MasterChef Jr. as well as 24 Hours to Hell and Back.

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“It may seem aggressive, but we’re not opening up 80 or 90 of the same restaurant. We’re crossing over with a multilayered brand. That’s the bit that I’ve worked hard at. We’ve divided and conquered.”

Ramsay’s 15 restaurants in London won’t be impacted by the Lion Capital investment. The announcement comes just a few weeks after British chef Jamie Oliver announced that all but three of his 25 restaurants in the U.K. will close.

“It’s a very oversaturated market there, and you need to be very careful with that level of expansion. It’s unfortunate to see the situation he got himself into, but that’s what happens when you’ve got a juggernaut that’s out of control, as opposed to being in control,” Ramsay says. “I’ve sat patiently, learning from other people’s mistakes.”=

-Chloe Sorvino; Forbes Staff

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Pain, Poison And Potential

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For a man who wanted to end his life at one time, it is quite ironic that Steve Harris is today one of Nigeria’s most successful life and business strategists.


Being born into a lower middle class family is one thing; trying to make a name for yourself after dropping out of university twice is another. That is what Steve Harris, a life and business strategist and motivational speaker, fondly known as ‘Mr. Ruthless Execution’, has accomplished.

Harris learned the sinusoidal motions of the entrepreneurship journey very early in life.

At 40, he is the Chief Executive Officer of EdgeEcution, an organization that helps high performance individuals and institutions bridge the gap between their performance and potential.

Today, he is among one of the most downloaded, quoted and followed personal development trainers in Nigeria, a feat that is outstanding when you consider that he almost committed suicide before this journey even began.

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The events leading up to his worst day began to unfold when Harris gained admission into the University of Benin in Nigeria. His parents wanted him to become an engineer but his failure to attain the required grades meant he had to take the Industrial Maths class instead. That is when his emotional saga began.

“I had altercations with my lecturers and I was flunking because I was not cut out for math. I had issues with my lecturers because at the time, my department was the most corrupt department in the university and if you wanted to pass, you needed to bribe your lecturers. So they were pretty much a cartel and if you didn’t pay, you wouldn’t pass, so someone like me who at best was a C student became an F student.”

As a result, he scored 4% or 11% in his exams even when he had prepared well enough.

“I eventually got kicked out [of university] in 2004.”

Harris managed to get into a private university but this time, he was required to start all over again.

“I couldn’t go the distance and I dropped out in my seventh month. I couldn’t handle it because my mates were already working. My younger sister was also already working and I was going back to my first year of university. I started having suicidal thoughts and I couldn’t handle it anymore so I dropped out.”

Those suicidal thoughts would come back to haunt him later.

Being the first-born of three children, Harris was the one most likely to succeed. As fate would have it, his two failed attempts at university made him the black sheep of the family.

“I remember coming back home and my younger sister had graduated and my parents were super stoked, and here I am, the first child and I didn’t even get it together. Very quickly, she got a job and started earning money. She began buying things for the house and taking care of responsibilities and started giving me an allowance. I remember she gave me N10,000 ($28) and I was very grateful because I didn’t have any money,” says Harris.

“Like all African parents, my parents started complaining and reminding me about how I wasted their money and how I failed. How the children of others were working in [companies like] Shell and I was just at home.

“I would hide from friends and family members when they visited so I wouldn’t have to tell them my situation. The next month, my sister gave me N5,000 ($14) and I couldn’t ask her where the other N5,000 had gone. She was such a high-flyer that within six months, she moved into her own place and bought a car and here I am, first-born and I couldn’t even afford to buy a Christmas card,” avers Harris.

Then came the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“One day, my sister asked me to come over to her house for my monthly allowance. I went in and she had everything I wanted, she had a flat-screen TV, the whole nine yards, and I was just sitting there comparing my little sister with myself and I was thinking ‘there is no way I was ever going to catch up with her’. We were talking and in the middle of the conversation, I pissed her off and she said, ‘I am not even going to give you any more money’ and she kicked me out of her house.

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“I felt so embarrassed and ashamed and here I was, the one who everyone thought was most likely to succeed and I was being kicked out of my younger sister’s house because I didn’t have money. That messed with my mind. I remember sitting at home and I had bought rat poison. I kept thinking that it would be so much better to die than being alive and subjected to the misery I was giving my parents,” says Harris.

As he sat down with the box of poison, mentally preparing himself to end the pain and embarrassment he had brought to his family, one of his siblings walked into the house, in the nick of time.

“That is what stopped me. Then, I also found out that if you commit suicide, you will go to hell and here I am, living my own hell on earth and if I died, you are telling me I am going to be in hell forever?”

That was the wakeup call Harris so desperately needed.

He began to work his way up, starting off with volunteer jobs such as being a church driver for his pastor and also working as an office assistant with Fela Durotoye, a management consultant and recent presidential candidate of the Nigerian elections.

Harris grew through the ranks until he became a management consultant before starting off on his own entrepreneurial journey. Amid the challenges of finding his true purpose, certain thoughts came to his mind that changed his outlook towards life forever. He began asking himself: ‘why am I on this earth?’, ‘how can I make enough money to take care of myself and my family?’ and ‘how do I use my talent to help others?’

He found the answers in books on business written by authors such as Tom Peters and Michael Porter. That is when Harris first discovered he had a penchant for success.

And with his ability to overcome failure, Harris is now on a mission to empower millennials to look inward at their strengths and inner power, and with his able guidance, build brands that can beat the odds and survive, just as he did. 

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Rewriting The News On Africa

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African media can reverse the downward spiral affecting newsrooms across the continent, says APO Group chairman, Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard.


The media landscape has changed dramatically over the last decade. As a result, newsrooms have been forced to make monumental changes such as reducing the staff complement to keep up with the demands, or they have simply had to shut down.

With some African newsrooms being written out of history, there has been an emergence of international media setting up shop on the continent. This interest serves as a double-edged sword for African media that often finds itself under-resourced. 

Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard, the founder and chairman of the APO Group, is of the view that the African media landscape has faced challenges that precede digital migration, which have compounded existing problems. An incident that stands out for him, before the digitizing of media, was a lack of access to information for African reporters, and that propelled him to start one of the foremost media relations firms on the continent.

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 When he was a journalist for online publication, Gabonews, and the deputy president of the Pan-African Press Organisation in France, between 2005 and 2007, Pompigne-Mognard says this was a recurring problem hampering the productivity of African reporters. 

“If you wanted the right to attend an international press conference, you would need an official card.

“As an African correspondent, the only way for you to have that card and get access was to prove that you were getting at least €1,000 ($1,121) of earnings, and most of them didn’t have that,” says Pompigne-Mognard.

“It was rooted in disparity. If you have two journalists and one of them has the right card and the other doesn’t, then of course, the other one cannot do his job. He cannot earn money or write articles. 

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“More than that, it reinforced the dependence of African media on international media. They had no other choice but to rely on the information provided by the biggest media.”

To remedy the circumstances that seemed to disempower his peers on the continent, Pompigne-Mognard founded APO from his living room, using $11,000 in savings.

APO has grown since its inception as it provides a variety of media offerings such as press releases, videos, photos, documents and audio-files.

The company has sources such as global Fortune 1,000 companies, reputable international and Africa-based PR agencies, governments and international institutions.

“I didn’t start it to make money. I didn’t start it as a business. I wasn’t an entrepreneur at the time. I was a journalist and I wanted to address a problem. At the beginning, I wasn’t even aware that companies were paid to distribute press releases.”

Pompigne-Mognard has since realized many things through the medium of his company as APO delivered growth of 60% in 2018, representing a turnover that has more than doubled in two years.

As a correspondent of Gabonews, before the inception of his company, Pompigne-Mognard was covering Europe, and he had to report Africa-related news and needed information. As a result, he would ensure he was receiving as many press releases as possible; however, this came with its own logistic challenges.

“That’s when I realized it was extremely difficult to actually ensure I received all the press releases from institutions like the United Nations, as an example. There was not one point where I could get all the African information issued by the international system. 

“Journalists had to rely on information that was on websites. It was very time-consuming to get access to all the content…

“It got me thinking about how if international media was not receiving information from our most important institutions, then what does that say about our voices in the world?”

A single conversation propelled him to make decisive change, Pompigne-Mognard says.

“I had a serious meeting with the president of the African Development Bank at the time, Donald Kaberuka, and he told me something that was instrumental because that’s when I decided I wanted to do something about it.

“What he told me is that the destination of information about African economies contributes to the growth of the continent, because at the time everybody was talking about poverty, war and struggle.”

Over the years, Pompigne-Mognard has observed a similar trend in the way press releases are compiled and disseminated.

He feels this has contributed in transforming the narrative on Africa.

“Something that is specific with press releases is that 95 percent of them convey good news. Usually, when a company issues one, it is to say that they are appointing a new CEO, they are opening a new branch, or they are expanding into new markets.

“We (APO) have been participating, for several years now, in changing the African narrative. We are in a unique place where we have a chance to influence the narrative and make sure that Africa has its own voice and is not influenced by the bias of international media.

Although information is accessible to those who seek it, he says there is currently another challenge that African media needs to resolve in order to maintain autonomy and make money to sustain itself.

“I think there is a big problem coming towards us and it is coming fast,” says a concerned Pompigne-Mognard.

“Nigeria is starting to watch more international media than the local media. Think about the international companies which are willing to expand on the continent. What if 10 years from now, the conclusion is that in the most developed economies on the continent, the nationals are watching more international media? Where exactly do we think the international companies are going to spend on advertisements?

“As an international company, why would I deal with five national TV stations in different countries, if I can approach a single international station and get, not only those five countries, but also better coverage?”

Pompigne-Mognard says the continent is ripe with potential and international media companies, which have observed the budding possibilities, are striking while the iron is hot.

“They know the population is going to grow, the middle class is growing and that purchasing power is growing.”

Finances remain a colossal inhibiter to the growth of newsrooms, as many have had to retrench to make ends meet.

The ripple effect is that the quality of the content produced eventually suffers.

“On a global scale, the media landscape is in a challenging position. It has become very difficult to finance content and to find new ways to make money. Africans also have the same challenges, but often they don’t have the same means or resources.

“I would prefer to be wrong on this matter, but if I’m right, in 15 years’ time, the media landscape in Africa will be completely different – in a bad way.

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“I want Africa to have a strong media landscape. But in order to do that, people need to understand that media companies need to be run as businesses.”

But it’s not all doom and gloom for African media; Pompigne-Mognard sees hope. He says the status quo can be reversed if there is a joint effort to curb the problem. 

“One of the solutions is to create pan-African media,” he says. “The person who is going to crack the code and make it happen could be extremely rich. It doesn’t have to be [entirely] pan-African, even 30-35 countries are more than enough.

“There’s a thing about Africa which is a strength and a weakness; it’s that doing something here will always be more difficult. But the good news is that for those who manage to do that thing in Africa, they can do it anywhere.”

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