African Dream: Ghana's Herman Chinery-Hesse

Herman Kojo Chinery-Hesse Herman Chinery-Hesse is an assessor at Ghana's Commercial Court

Ghanaian businessman Herman Kojo Chinery-Hesse, often called the Bill Gates of Ghana, is the first person to be profiled in the BBC series African Dream, looking at enterprise on the continent.

The company Mr Chinery-Hesse co-founded two decades ago, SOFTtribe Limited, may not have the global reach of Microsoft but it has become one of the best-known software houses in West Africa.

"I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I thought that was a way to develop Africa and to get wealthy," he told the BBC.

Mr Chinery-Hesse gave up the opportunity to make a life for himself in the United States, where he studied, or in the United Kingdom, where he worked for a couple of years, choosing instead to start a business in Ghana.

He started writing software in a bedroom in his parents' home, at a time when not many people were aware of the potential impact of the computer revolution in Africa.

"It was very difficult. I didn't want to go back abroad because second-class citizenship did not quite appeal to me," he said.

His company eventually started developing business management software and now has a client base of more than 250 organisations, including several major multinationals such as the Ford Foundation, Nestle, and Unilever.

SOFTtribe Limited is also a Microsoft development partner in the region.

No rocket science

Herman Kojo Chinery-Hesse

  • Age: 47
  • Studied industrial technology in US
  • Worked briefly in UK
  • Co-founded SOFTtribe Limited in Ghana in 1991
  • Latest venture: E-commerce company Black Star Line
  • An assessor at Ghana's Commercial Court

"It was all a lot of fun. It's not easy but it's not impossible. I don't think I'm a genius. I think anybody can do it if their head is in the right place, and they're prepared to wait the years. The trick is that I went into business not expecting to get rich in two years," Mr Chinery-Hesse told the BBC.

"There were times when for six months our company got no cheques, and we had to share what little money we had. There were times when we had no money to pay salaries, times when we had debts."

In his opinion, two of the most important things in business are patience and honesty.

"In every business you do, it has to be win-win. The person who is buying your service must win, and you must win. Otherwise, it's not sustainable."

Part of his company's success is no doubt also due to the fact that from very early on they decided to develop software tailored to conditions in Africa.

"I think that there is so much opportunity in Africa, there is so much underdevelopment, there is so much that hasn't been done, that it's not rocket science. If you have the discipline, take the dive," Mr Chinery-Hesse tells other people considering becoming entrepreneurs.

"It's doable, and I think more people should do it, and if we don't, non-Africans will come to Africa, as we can see, and do it."

African Dream is broadcast on the BBC Network Africa programme every Monday morning.

Every week, one successful business man or woman will explain how they started off and what others could learn from them.

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