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January 14, 2008

Putting Skills to the Test in Africa

Ryan Petersen ’08
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If I think too much about it, Nigeria scares me. Let’s get that out of the way from the start. Frequent reports of robberies and kidnappings are not abstract threats.

But my nervous tension is dwarfed by the excitement that only a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity can create. Columbia’s new Entrepreneurship in Africa Master Class has me traveling to Nigeria to write a case study on Computer Warehouse Group, West Africa's leading IT systems integrator.

I’ll be working alongside three close friends from Columbia’s class of 2008, Jindrich Zitek of the Czech Republic and two Lagos natives, Gbolade Arinoso and Lara Junaid. We'll interview many of Nigeria’s leading banks, private equity groups, IT firms, oil companies and telecommunications providers to flesh out the company’s story.

Ultimately it’s the chance to tell this story that generates the most excitement for our team. Computer Warehouse Group started in 1992 as a tiny Dell reseller committed to empowering its employees to provide superior customer service to business clients. Over the past 15 years, these principles, combined with the entrepreneurial spirit of its founders, have allowed the company to grow into a $100 million IT powerhouse providing comprehensive hardware, software and networking solutions for corporations throughout West Africa.

Over the next week, our team intends to write a case study about Computer Warehouse Group's phenomenal rise. We hope it will provide locally relevant teaching material for Africa’s leading business schools.

More next week . . .


by Bimbo | January 15, 2008 at 10:48 AM

Don't think about it too much Ryan. I have lived in Lagos all my life and it still scares me sometimes. But like you rightly said, that aside, the enthusiasm and the optimism surrounding Nigeria's current economic upturn is irrepressible. I am glad that Columbia identified the opportunity - there are one thousand and one impressive stories similar to computer warehouse group. There has been a rapid increase in strategy consulting and private equity activity. Hopefully with people like Ryan bringing their expertise to Lagos, the much desired Nigerian renaissance may just be around the corner. All the best with it!

by Ryan Petersen | January 15, 2008 at 12:20 PM

Thanks Bimbo! Nigeria is great so far, we're having a blast and learning a lot about the business culture here. I'll be writing a follow-up post to this one in a few days, so stay tuned!

by Wole M. Fayemi | January 15, 2008 at 1:57 PM

I am very glad to hear about projects in West Africa, such as yours in Nigeria. I am a Nigerian (born in Israel, though an American citizen) who is a prospective member of the class of 2010. I understand your apprehension, as my father, who is a physician, often goes back to Nigeria to promote his art (photography) and work on his foundation (www.fayemi.com) which is dedicated to eradicating the scourge of AIDS on the African continent. Even he has been the victim of attempted kidnappings, so I, as a Nigerian, have at times, had apprehension about going back. I am glad to read your next blog, which says that you are enjoying yourselves and things are going well with your project. GOOD LUCK!

by Osifo Akhuemonkhan | January 15, 2008 at 4:20 PM

Ryan, from your post you're probably going to spend a great deal of time in Lagos and like most other large cities of the world, Lagos can be an intimidating place. Its good to know that your enthusiasm for your project has helped settle you. I just read about the Entrepreneurship In Africa Class at CBS (from the link you provided) and it is refreshing to see that CBS is providing its students with a glimpse of the industrious side of Africa. Are there any other case studies in progress or is it just your team working on the Computer Warehouse case? How come the class isn't really promoted on the CBS website?

by Ram Parameswaran | January 15, 2008 at 5:15 PM

Ryan, its really exciting to see you spending time in Nigeria through your MBA. I lived there in the 80s, a time when corruption was still not as bad as the 90s, it was far safer. I still remember going to Badagri/Bar beach, or lunch in Victoria Island and swimming in Apapa Club. Nostalgic memories. The potential in the country and all of Africa is truly amazing - whether its energy, pharma, manufacturing (textiles), food stuff, or IT. Great huge opportunities exist in Africa in our lifetime.

by Emmanuel Oluwatosin | January 15, 2008 at 8:10 PM

Hi Ryan, I am a Nigerian and I was glad to read about your project on FT. I am currently an MBA student at Manchester Business School, UK and I have interest in entrepreneurship. I have been following Computer Warehouse Group story for some time now and I must say that the company story is one that shows what can be achieved if people are ready to follow through on their plans irrespective of the challenges. Meanwhile, I wish you a great stay in Lagos. I am sure you will have a great experience. All the best

by Judy Udeze | January 16, 2008 at 6:39 AM

Hi Ryan, Good luck to you and your colleagues on your project in Lagos. I live and work in Lagos and have known about Computer Warehouse's remarkable business. Just a few comments for Osifo: The Enterpreneurship in Africa offering is listed on the CBS website as an offering in their entrepreneurship program at the Lang Centre. This is a program for those with entrepreneurial leanings.

by ladipo Lawani | January 16, 2008 at 4:43 PM

Hi ryan hope you are having a good time in Nigeria? I'm glad to hear columbia is intrested in entrepreneurship in africa, i think the wealth of knowledge columbia has to offer could add a new dynamic to the evolving entrepreneurial spirit in Africa. I was back home in Nigeria this christmas and organised a youth entreprnerial seminar, i was amazed at the amount of people who showed up( about 250 ppl). To me, this was an impressive turn out considering the seminar fee . The enthusiasm of the youths who attended was also quite encouraging. It seems to me that entrepreneurship offers more hope to an increasing number of youths, considering the high rate of unemployment. As a result, a lot of nigerian youths are intrested in entrepreneurship and trying their hands at it. It also seems to me that youths have a slightly different prespective towards entrepreneuship, due to the increasing availability of information through the internet, which i feel youths take more advantage of. Blogs like this, are making the new generation of nigerian entrepreneurs think differently about business and problems facing entrepreneurs. It might enrich your experience to talk to a few young entrepreneurs, and observe the growing entreprenrial sprirt among the youths. I think the next big entrepreneurs from nigeria are going to be quite young. Capital cant stop us for too long Good luck www.naijagogetters.com

by james breiding | January 18, 2008 at 11:49 AM

read FT article with interest. were interested to launch a fund investing in africa and seeking a capable, energetic project manager with good knowledge of the region. more about us on our website www.naissancecapital.com kindly let us know how we can make this known - attract best candidate

by ladipo lawani | January 18, 2008 at 6:33 PM

Hey james a good place to look at for competent candidtes would be the human resource firms, of which most of world class.

by Rodney Schwartz | January 20, 2008 at 3:04 PM

Ryan What you are doing is fabulous--my congratulations!! I think I have some idea what you are going through. This past summer I spent 6 1/2 weeks travelling throughout the Balkans (all 10 countries!) in search of the leading social entrepreneurs and their businesses. It was an amazing experience. I certainly began by feeling very nervous but this subsided very quickly--the only exception was Albania, where I was a bit uneasy throughout (probably it was just me--the person I was there with felt fine). I kept a blog of the entire journey and all the meetings I had, and suggest you have a look at www.catfund.com/balkans Anyway, given the important of economic development in Africa I guess just about any entrepreneurial activity is by definition social--would you agree? My journey prompted other colleagues at our company to undertake similar trips--one went to Thailand, another is planning a trip to Chile and Argentina this November. Out of this the "Catalyst In" series was born (as our company is called Catalyst) and the theme is studying social entrepreneurship all over the world. Another friend of mine, who is not at Catalyst, then journeyed to Sri Lanka, and we hosted his trip on our blog as well. He has had hundreds of page impressions of exposure he would not otherwise have had--the Balkan and Thai blog have had thousands! We currently have two young people who are travelling to other African countries (Mozambique and North Africa) and Afghansistan (imagine how nervous he is!) and we have committed to host their musings on our site. The purpose of this long story is to ask if you would like us to host your blog on our website as well. You could either email us your posts or simply give us permission to cut and paste. In the interim, I have already added a link to our "Social Business Blog" our most viewed page. It receives 500-1000 page impressions a day. My email address is rod@catfund.com and our website is www.catfund.com Please let me know if we may use your blog on our site. In any event, best of luck!! Rodney Schwartz

by African Entrepreneur | February 14, 2008 at 6:01 AM

Hello, The problems faced by African technology entrepreneurs are rarely technology related. I thought you might be interested in my blog: http://africanentrepreneur.blogspot.com/. Please do get in touch with me privately if possible. I don't want to indentify myself but I do have a previous relationship with Columbia Business School.

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