A few months ago I received a call from a good friend who was also a schoolmate and with whom I had worked for six years as an executive member of the Akatakyie Fraternity – he as President and I as Secretary.
Jerry needed a favor. His mother would be celebrating her 70th birthday later in the year and wanted to celebrate with her memoirs, which required some support and guidance, and he felt I could be a part of that.
I had met Aunt Felicia a few times at Jofel Restaurant near the airport roundabout in Kumasi. She owns and manages the facility, which offers on-site and off-site catering services, among other things.
I was happy to help and after a few phone calls, Aunt Felicia and I met at her office to discuss the draft and other related matters regarding the book she was planning.
Over the next three months, despite our respective working hours, we developed a warm, fruitful, and rewarding working relationship. Her personal assistant, Luciana, played a central role in the entire company.
Finally, after some hair-raising moments over the past week, the printing and delivery of A Rose Among Thorns that I had coordinated was secured within hours of D-Day. We all let out a collective sigh of relief.
Last Saturday was her 70th birthday and all roads led to the Greenwood Event Center in Asokwa, Kumasi for a glitzy, black tie party with sleek, urbane ‘Chairman-General’ Kwame Sefa-Kayi as the MC and a big one Selection of personalities from politics and business as well as personalities from the royal family, banking and science.
I couldn’t have missed it for all the gold bars in the Bank of England vault or all the tea in China.
Basically, this evening wasn’t just about Aunt Felicia’s birthday or her book launch. It was a celebration of a trilogy of 70 years of life, 50 years of her marriage to Lt. Gen. JB Danquah, Chief of Defense Staff from 2005-2009, and 40 years of Jofel’s existence.
The company name is derived from the couple’s first names: Joseph and Felicia.
On Sunday, a thanksgiving service was followed by lunch at Jofel. Book sales were brisk on both days. I was delighted and grateful that I had helped make it happen.
A Rose Among Thorns essentially captures the life story of Ms. Danquah, including her family background, teenage years, family and children, business and Christian life.
Parenting styles are also discussed, as well as some management values that are close to her heart. A few delicious recipes are thrown in at the end for good measure.
What I found most compelling about all of this, as we spoke about her life in preparation for the book, was her entrepreneurial spirit and tenacity to start and sustain Jofel over four decades to make it its iconic point in the Kumasi hospitality landscape today bring to.
There is another outlet in Anyinam. Among all the fascinating stories and accounts she told, it was the Jofel story that I think is great.
All too often it is easy to assume that successful entrepreneurs or executives in other disciplines have reached their stations overnight.
Too often we see the blooming roses of their accomplishments, but fortunately are unaware of the thorns that have strewn their paths as they begin their journey through uncertainty, loneliness and, in many cases, setbacks.
Aunt Felicia cites several such cases, including the helpless witness to the bulldozerization of her home by soldiers during the Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC) era while she was holding her tiny baby. Her husband was out of the country on assignment.
Unfortunately, many companies collapse or do not grow significantly over a period of time. There are no surprises there.
It’s really tough, and many give up after a few setbacks and run into the comforting arms of a clerk job like Aunt Felicia, a trained teacher, could possibly have done.
It is indeed commendable to carry on for 40 years and remain a leader in an industry that can be notoriously fickle, especially when new players come to town.
engine of growth
It’s an oft-repeated mantra that the private sector is the engine of growth in any economy, something supporters of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) have preached over the years.
I can understand the thought behind the saying and have occasionally joined the chorus.
However, after some back-and-forth, I want to accept and insist that the real engine of growth is the public sector.
My friend and author Nana Awere Damoah suggests that unless we get our public sector right, unless the public sector can attract some of our brightest and best, unless our public sector is efficient and effective, so be it because, the public sector goes first with the public investments and public solutions to public problems, if we don’t get our public policies, laws and regulations right, there’s not much the private sector can do despite its best intentions.
I agree because, for example, if a tax system or its processes are overly repressive, or if it’s hell for a business person to get relevant documents or permits from the state, they stifle business growth. Bad roads, erratic electricity, and an unreliable judicial system are all enemies of business, and those are the responsibility of the state.
Thriving market economies thrive best in functioning, competent states.
Prof H. Kwasi Prempeh of the CDD shares this view and urges that we “should abandon the stereotype of the private sector as the engine of growth and put the public sector first”.
In doing so, we are not diminishing the importance of the private sector, but rather sending a signal to our public sector that we and the private sector look to them and hold them accountable for creating the right conditions for the private sector to run the economy.
If there is ever such a thing as a ‘curse’ for Ghanaian businesses, it is the inability of many businesses to survive beyond their founders, for a number of reasons.
Too often they are run as one-man businesses with no clear succession plan, and the children or other family members who inherit these businesses usually have little experience or interest in the business and simply run it down.
Global giants such as Ford, Mercedes Benz, KFC, Marks and Spencer and Boots, among others, were founded as small companies many years ago.
Today they have outgrown their founders in longevity, size and stature due to the systems and structures put in place at the time. Generational thinking is the key.
From what I’ve learned over the past few months about the structure and systems at Jofel, including the hands-on involvement of key family members in day-to-day administration, it seems to me that it will remain a force to be reckoned with the hospitality landscape in Kumasi and beyond for many years.
I must remember to raise another glass and toast to many happy returns for Jofel. Cheers!!