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Friday, 23 November, 2001, 10:43 GMT
Ghana: Living a dream
Peter Tamakloe, head of Ceramics-Tamakloe
One office job was enough to persuade Peter Tamakloe to go it alone
Stephane Mayoux reports from Accra in the last of four reports on successful business initatives in Africa

Tony Oteng-Gyasi, the 46-year-old manager of Tropical Cables and Conductors, likes to be in control.

I'm in business because there is no reason why a people like us should remain underdeveloped

Tony Otheng-Gyasi
He drives a Mercedes, "the smallest you can get" he hastens to add, wears a suit and tie and every morning walks through his spotless cable-making factory to greet everyone present.

"Once I've visited the factory, I feel more relaxed. I know everything is running according to schedule," he said, finally sitting down at his desk.

For Tony, it seems, nothing is impossible.

"I'm in business because there is no reason why a people like us should remain underdeveloped."

Going it alone

Tony's four-year-old company, based in Thema, outside Accra produces $1m worth of aluminium and copper cables.

Worker at Tropical Cables and Conductors
Tropical Cables spends quite a bit of time arguing with the new government
He started his career with British Petroleum but knew from the start that he would quickly go it alone.

Both his parents were self-employed, his dad as a big cement importer in the north of the country, his mum as a market trader.

"My family was disappointed when I decided to resign from BP - but I only told them after I had resigned, so they was nothing they could say, except wish me well,"

On the other side of Accra, Peter Tamakloe runs Ceramica-Tamakloe, an award-winning business that exports pots to the United States.

He only ever had one office job in his whole life - and that was long time ago, but that was enough to convince him to run his own venture.

"I tell my friends 'You can also do it, but do it because you love it, then the money will come.'"

Huge obstacles

Both Tony and Peter had to surmount huge obstacles to succeed.

I said, well, labour is cheap here, let's produce cheap products

Peter Tamakloe
In the mid-90s Tony had his big idea. The Ghanaian government had announced a 30-year electrification plan.

For Tony it seemed a perfect time to start a cable factory. But the realisation of his idea took much longer than he originally thought.

It took him three years to start producing - a period which, true to himself, he used to study and graduate in law.

But difficult access to capital, lack of local technical expertise and scarcity of industrial land combined to slow him down.

In fact he had to rely on a British engineer to get his machines started.

But the real problem lay with Ghana's electrification plan. The government did get donor money for the project but there was a catch.

"Aid was tied to buying cables from the donor countries," Tony said.

He now spends quite a bit of time arguing with the new government so that his company can get a slice of the market.

Cheap labour, cheap products

Peter's idea was even simpler.

"I said, well, labour is cheap here, let's produce cheap products".

Peter Tamakloe, head of Ceramics-Tamakloe
Tamakloe has won awards for his products
His first major export order was signed in 1993 when a competitor refused to produce at what they saw was too low a price.

"I don't care how big a margin my clients take, as long as I can make a profit," he said.

Peter is now a very busy man. His company mass-produces natural looking and beautifully designed household objects like plates and candle holders.

Both businessmen have been quick to realise that Ghana definitely has some competitive advantages - like cheap labour and mineral resources.

But Tony feels that they have not always been used to their maximum.

"It's funny we have to buy aluminium rods when Ghana has an aluminium smelter. We export aluminium, rods are being made in the USA or Europe and then we have to import them back to Ghana."

It goes without saying that Tony's next project is to build an aluminium processing plant in Ghana - the only of its kind in West Africa.

Peter is also trying to expand. He is currently building a new production site.

He is also developing a new home-grown business, producing tiles and bricks for the local market. To his obvious delight, the British High Commissioner in Ghana has become one of his first clients.

Family ties

Peter's wife Berenice works with him as the company's administrator and accountant and runs the home and their family, they have 3 children.

She left her own career in animal science to support him and help him make the business work. She seems to understand how committed he has to be to make his business successful.

Worker at Tropical Cables and Conductors
The company has to compete with foreign aid donors for business
"Somehow the business has become a part of us," she admitted.

Tony also has three children, two of them were born before he got married to his current wife, Rebecca.

"Marriage wasn't a priority. It's a part of my life I simply let go for a long time. Then I decided to get a grip on it...and I got a grip on it."

Rebecca is herself a successful lawyer and also acts as company secretary.

In spite of all the obstacles and the daily eleven hours spent at the office, Tony is still grateful to doing business in Ghana rather than Europe.

"It's easier to make a thousand pounds in Ghana than to make a thousand pounds in Britain...or rather it's easier to save a thousand pounds in Ghana than to save a thousand pounds in the UK."

To hear the full programme, tune into African Perspective on the BBC World Service at 0930 GMT on Friday 23 November.

Click here to listen to the programme

See also:

13 Aug 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Ghana
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