Over the past decade, leading African business schools have adopted the traditional case method. But how much can students really learn from these cases when they are about American companies that routinely leave Africa out of their operating plans altogether?
Our goal was to develop a world-class business school case study about Computer Warehouse Group (CWG). This project presented the opportunity to dispel the myth that there are no sophisticated businesses on the African continent — or worse, that businesses there can only get ahead through corruption.
We knew only that the firm had experienced explosive growth over the past few years, achieving some $100 million in revenues in 2007. We knew the firm was an early reseller for Dell, and that it was an important partner for a variety of blue chip Silicon Valley firms, including Cisco, Sun Microsystems and Oracle. We understood CWG’s strategy to position the firm as a strategic partner capable of delivering turn-key IT solutions for big companies, and we knew that a well-known global private equity fund had made an offer to purchase a minority stake in the company.
And until we got to Lagos, we didn’t have any sense of this company’s culture. Was it a one-man show, heavily dependent on its charismatic founder, Austin Okere? Or did it have people and processes in place to ensure continued growth into the future? Did employees at the bottom live the values expressed by those at the top? Or was it more of a show to impress customers, potential investors or other stakeholders?
To answer these questions about the company’s culture, we interviewed dozens of employees, from the most senior management to the most junior customer service and sales teams.
As it turned out, we couldn’t have picked a better company to lay these stereotypes to rest. The company has thrived in difficult circumstances because of an entrepreneurial culture that embodies the work ethic, personal responsibility and integrity of its founder. The firm has distinguished itself from the competition by consistently delivering on promises to customers and is one of Nigeria’s 50 fastest growing companies.
A rep from Cisco told us that the firm is “probably the most entrepreneurial company in Nigeria, certainly in the most entrepreneurial in IT sector.” The founder of the competing firm, who has since sold his business to a larger international player, expressed similar respect for his former rivals.
Because the case study requires a valuation of the company, we also spent a good deal of time learning about the country’s capital markets in general and the private equity group’s offer in particular. We interviewed senior leaders at several private equity firms, the founder of a local investment bank and high-ranking officials from Citigroup. The information we gained from these meetings was invaluable for understanding the similarities and differences between Nigerian capital markets and those of more developed economies.
We concluded our trip with a visit to the Lagos Business School, a member of the Association of African Business Schools and a huge supporter of our project. The folks there not only linked us up with Computer Warehouse Group at the outset but also booked our hotels and even provided our team with a driver during our stay. The school’s ultramodern facilities and helpful administrators were very impressive. We are excited that our work will help contribute to the world-class institution they are building in the heart of Africa.