We recently listed old-time Nigerian tech companies whose stories are not told well enough proportionate to how far they have come and how they have serviced customers spanning years and geographical location, even outside Nigeria.
It is not that we forget these companies; it is that modern-day tech companies are as loud and usually forget to acknowledge the godfathers who sat on the Iron Throne before them – think about the Lannisters. But these companies are S&P 500 eligible and indeed should be in our history books about the tech industry.
Use the word facsimile to understand that old-time tech companies are just as relevant in the conversation and have provided services for as long as many of us reading this have been alive.
We are indulging ourselves in telling the stories, and just like we do with the new generation, teens in tech, we will be telling the stories of the biggest and oldest names in the Nigerian tech industry, starting with Computer Warehouse Group Plc (CWG).
You don’t know CWG? Let’s help you get to that range.
A brief about CWG
Computer Warehouse Group Plc [CWG PLC (CWG)] is an information and communication technology company in Nigeria offering integrated ICT solutions to commercial enterprises in sub-Saharan Africa.
- CWG provides Software Services which include software development and deployment, systems integration, software implementation, software support services and software enhancement and customisation. CWG also provides the expertise required in the implementation, support, customisation and training on the use of these software tools.
- The company’s E-government solution creates an avenue to boost government activities and revenue amid various economic challenges. This platform focuses on improving Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of all tiers of government.
- One of CWG’s IGR products is SMERP – a software platform that allows for the setup and management of permits such as Building permits, Stamp duty, Gambling permits, Business permits, Liquor permits, and so on.
- CWG’s Metering solution aims to annihilate power theft using real-time power monitoring tools. This system uses microcomputers mounted on pole top units which determine when energy flow is affected. SMART Utility Systems enables you to enhance income and sustain growth by overcoming the challenges of poor power metering and illegal connections and conducting energy use audits with ease.
- The IT company’s Managed Services simplify the management of a customer’s computing environment and optimises operations, reduce IT pressure and help control costs while improving service levels.
- CWG’s hardware infrastructure boasts expertise in the supply, installation, integration and support of hardware, operating and middleware systems, Automated Teller Machines (“ATM”) as well as servers and storage.
- CWG provides collocation services that allow organisations to keep their data without upfront investment in hardware. The company provides physical rack space, 24/7 Uninterrupted Power Supply, IP/Internet Connection, end-to-end Data centre managed services and teleport services.
- CWG Academy was formed to train talents to build skills within the industry.
The CWG story
My parents did not understand why I wanted to leave that job (that paid well) to go start up as an entrepreneur.– Austin Okere, Founder, CWG
But, Austin wanted to leave his footprints in the sands of time and felt there were so many ideas his then place of employment was not tapping into. “It was difficult” for him initially because he realised that doors were only open to him because he was working at his former company.
But, he continued on that footpath – talk about the will to make an impact. And his first gig was the presidential advisory committee which wanted to collate all presidential speeches from time.
“NAFDAC also provided an opportunity to prove ourselves.” It started with the DG wanting to repair his scientific calculator. “We had gone to do a technology job.”
He mentions that little things opened the door for CWG in the beginning, and his first partner was Dell.
The problems CWG sought to solve
Other computer companies, in the beginning, did not take their sales projects beyond the point of sale – maintenance was absent in the bargain. CWG introduced that system and became the 911 number companies called when they needed maintenance.
“We were there to provide the help because we charge for the maintenance.”
The other problem was the delivery time for orders. According to Austin, it was a seller’s market during that time when an advance payment had to be made for an order, but the lengthy delivery time always created disgruntled customers. He says he was able to fit into the business model of ‘just in time.’
The challenges CWG encountered over the years
Some of the biggest challenges the company faced, according to Austin, were regulatory inconsistencies – you can say that again.
It is this gap between regulators and the tech industry that inspired the GAT Summit 2022, organised by Technext. There has to be an understanding.
Austin lists the regulatory inconsistencies to include pre-shipment, inspection or destination inspection. He references a case of delayed clearance for goods for an international company that almost killed the company.
It was miraculous that were able to clear the goods just in the nick of time before the company cancelled.Austin Okere.
Besides all that was a CBN policy banning banks from putting ATMs outside the bank branches. “We had a warehouse full of ATMs that we had shipped with interest running on them,” because banks cancelled the deal with CWG to install ATMs. “That nearly killed the company.”
Austin says the company only survived because they were disciplined and only took loans when they needed them.
We were able to raise $10 million and that was a big help in tidying up until normalcy returned.Austin Okere
Normalcy, he says, came back after the CBN rescinded their decision after 18 months and after a lot of damage had been done to many companies.
In spite of these challenges, CWG has spent 30 years (September 26, 1992) in the Nigerian market and has expanded to Ghana (2003), Uganda (2010), and Cameroon (2012). Now, the CWG Group spans across West, East, and Central Africa Regions, with a presence in about 26 countries.
CWG is a listed company on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NGX) – 2005, and the Group MD and CEO, Adewale Adeyipo, says “that has always been the plan from inception.” Adeyipo says there are plans to be listed in other regions.
Though, Harriet Yartey, the Managing Director of CWG Ghana and Group V.P. in charge of CWG’s Regional subsidiaries in Uganda and Cameroon, says the company asked themselves if they were ready to be listed at the time.
Yet, she mentions that the timely business continuity plans that the company put in place helped, and “post-covid, we are doing quite well.”
30 years…standing strong…and expanding. Exciting right? Adeyipo notes that for a company to last that long, there must have been some level of stout corporate governance, and “that must have been supported because we are a listed company,” Adeyipo adds.
One such leader is Harriet. Harriet joined CWG in 2013 at a time when she was looking for a career change. “I wanted a fresh spice in my career path.”
Phillip Obioha, the Chairman, Board of Directors of CWG Plc, says leadership that focuses on customers has kept the company going.
We are a strong customer-centric organisation.Philip Obioha
Back to challenges, Adeyipo talks about market trends and regulators’ responses to the trends, adding that CWG has passed “knowns and unknowns” and the dynamics of the world economy.
We have seen a lot of policies that have propelled businesses to thrive, and we have seen a lot of them also that have killed many initiatives.Group MD/CEO, CWG, Adewale Adeyipo
For 21.5% of small businesses, the journey ends before the first year is over. Only about half of businesses manage to reach their fifth fiscal year. And there aren’t many businesses that manage to stay open for a decade.
CB Insights carefully analysed 110+ small businesses that closed down in order to determine why they failed. Researchers found that almost half the companies (42%) on the list shut their operations down because there was no market need for their products or services. This is the most important condition for starting a business; no amount of marketing or investment in technology can make up for it.
Besides market needs, Austin Okere, the founder and non-executive member of the board, CWG, argues that “I won’t say the chaos (which characterises the Nigerian market) is for everybody.”
He references a period after the global meltdown after which the forex landscape was not going to be the same.
“We had dollar loans on which we were paying 6% per annum interest rate. At that time, the local currency loans were about 18-20%. I remember that we were sitting at one retreat in December 2009 (EoY), and out of the blue, there was an announcement that the dollar had gone to 130 to one naira, from 118, and foreign banks were pulling out all their dollars from the local banks.
“So, we just got calls where we were told that our dollar loans were to be converted to naira. Not 118 but 130. It was a double blow.”
So, importing machinery became unpredictable, and there were exchange rate gaps that the company had to bear.
He, however, says Nigeria is a vibrant place with a lot of energy – he was not going to give up. That ‘forex surprise’ was what sparked CWG 2.0 revolution.
CWG 2.0 revolution leveraged the widespread acceptance of cloud computing at the time. Now, 2.0, he says, was a big part of the successful listing of the company.
Philip Obioha, who joined Austin Okere a few years after the company was formed as an executive, said of CWG 2.0, “we foresaw what would happen, followed the trend and built fintech and digital platform products.”
Over the years, CWG has built a trust level that has sustained the company over time and now services over 150 organisations. “When people think about CWG, what to comes to mind is trust,” Austin says, citing an example of promo items which the company gave to customers when other competitors sold the same.
Adeyipo mentioned that CWG has been able to bridge the gap between the international organisations coming into this space and find a competent organisation that can receive their offerings and break them down to make it able to solve local problems.
On her part, Harriet says her major task when she joined the team was to turn the business around and break even at the end of the financial year.
It wasn’t easy from the beginning, but I was quite focused, and I broke even and retained profit in ten years of operations in Ghana.Harriet Yartey
On CWG’s subsidiaries outside Nigeria, Harriet mentions that the market has been quite receptive, as the company has the ability “to deliver quality service to all our customers. For instance, for the past 15 years, our Manages Services has grown year-on-year, having consistent customers who we are supporting over a period of time. When you work with CWG, you have peace of mind.”
The numbers – in brief
For H1’22, CWG’s revenue grew by 12%, EBITDA increased by 11%, EBIT up by 14%, and PBT increased by 18% year on year.
The company notes in a report:
"The performance was on the back of the platform segment of our business. We experienced a 100% increase in our customer base for our platform and infrastructure as a service business segment. Our metering solution, aided by our new assembly plant, recorded a 700% increase in revenue.
"At the same time, our flagship platform product, BillsnPay, continues to increase in transaction volume as it onboards more partners. As the year progresses, we are excited about the new possibilities and the lunch of our recent creations and entity, which will focus on driving value within the fintech segment."
Everyone wants to know what’s to come, right?
There is an assumption that the more scientific the approach to predictions, the more accurate forecasts will be. Let’s replace ‘scientific’ with ‘ongoing plans’ for CWG.
Adeyipo already looks at the 60th anniversary of CWG, “and I am confident to say this because I have inside information on what is coming up in this organisation.”
He says the company will not give away anything and will take a lot of fun to everyday achievement up until the 60th year – and beyond.
However, CWG’s CEO worries about the next four to five years, “largely because of the many unknowns.” He reminds us of the human capital flight in sub-Saharan Africa.
The growth we are expecting in this space (tech) is not something we have anticipated. We are in a period where great things will come out of this organisation.Group MD/CEO, CWG, Adewale Adeyipo
Austin says CWG believes that you adapt or die. “Adapt to meet the changing customer needs and the changing needs in the environment and be sure you have created something great and of value to customers. At the end of the day, we want to leave our footprints in the sands of time.”
Philip Obioha notes that CWG has a couple of products positioned for the future and the company only needs to “toughen the products.”
“We have incubated new products that seek to address the challenges of stakeholders in an online trade transaction. The product’s potential is enormous, and we are excited about its launch by the last quarter of the year,” the company said in a 2022 performance report.
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