Leo Stan Ekeh is the billionaire founder of Zinox Group of companies. He is a man that is very passionate about digitalizing everybody in Nigeria. But there were lots of twists to his career before he finally came to build the multi-million dollar Zinox brand as we know it today.
In this blog post we shall trace how he started, how he got his breakthrough and the progress Zinox has made ever since.
When Leo Stan Ekeh missed his admission at first attempt because of an accident that kept him in the hospital for three months, for an intelligent and ambitious young man with a very bright future, saying that he felt disappointed and frustrated can only qualify for an understatement. But that was probably the very reason he is about the most notable mover of technological advancement in Nigeria today. As the saying goes ‘all things work together for good… and every disappointment from God can only turn out to be a blessing if you take advantage of it.’ These sayings became true for Stan.
Stan was born in Ubomiri Mbaitolu, Imo State to a middleclass family with three brothers and two sisters. They never had things very easy. But the parents were however able to provide enough for him and the siblings to live a decent life. His mother was a dietician while his father was a Nurse. He attended Holy Ghost College, Owerri for his secondary education. When young, he wanted to own the biggest transport company in Nigeria. And it was not just a mere wish or dream, as a child he was working towards it. He was working towards it to the point that both the parents and his mates could see it in all his activities then.
Growing up, he admitted there were not many people to look up to as mentors; therefore, he devised a pattern. “There were few creative and structured businesses owned by Nigerians then. You see billionaires with cash but without history and structure. Sincerely, I looked up to God for direction. I had a passion then, which was to prove a point that it can be done by not just an African but by a Nigerian. I am not chasing money, I am chasing passion and I discovered that one’s passion should be able to pay one’s bills.” He remarked. That statement kept Stan driving on even when others could not believe in his ideas.
Frequently Asked Questions
Leo Stan Ekeh
Zinox Computers was founded in 2001
Leo Stan Ekeh was 45 years old when he founded Zinox Computers in 2001
Mbaitolu, in Imo State
Leo Stan Ekeh started Zinox Computers with 4,000 euros in 2001
Twist of fate
After secondary school, the young Stan was in India. Though Indian was not a popular destination then. Not many Nigerians would want to go there; not for educational pursuit and not for business either. Fate however chose that destination for him and he explains why: “After I wrote University Matriculation Examination (UME), I had an accident and was hospitalized for about three months. By the time I was discharged, I had missed my admission. I was a little bit frustrated. But then my friend in India said I should come over there because he felt I might like it there.
I applied and was admitted at Punjab University, India where I got my first degree in Economics. After that, I went for a post-graduate in Computer Science in Cork City University, Ireland. There, my counsellor identified me as a restless entrepreneur. He thought computer science did not make sense for someone going back to Africa because it did not quite exist then, but I insisted. He discussed with my parents, and the next option I had was to read Risk Management. I did that at Nottingham University and City University of London for one year.
“It was a combined programme and I spent six months at each of the two universities. After that, because I wanted to know the laws guiding business, I registered for an LLM (Masters in Law) in Business Law. I wrote my thesis but did not sit for my exams because I had a business call.” Stan recalls. Not long after, he established his first company. “I launched my first project which was desktop publishing and computer graphics under my first company, Task Systems Limited in 1989. That technology changed the face of media and multimedia houses in West Africa then,” he gushed.
India was a blessing in disguise for the Zinox boss
Stan believes that studying in India was “a great turning point” in his life and career because he found the economy of India a “realistic economy”. He also remembers India with fond memory as that was a country where so many good things first happened in his life. And that includes meeting the young lady that would later end up as his wife. Incidentally, Stan’s wife is also technologically driven. In fact she is the CEO of another technology company and runs the biggest ICT distribution company in Sub-Saharan Africa. “We are a digitally sensitive family” remarked Stan.
Stan reminisced: “I met her as a student in India. She was the only Nigerian doing mathematics in that country. In life, you cannot be successful alone and you should ask God for a wife who is not just beautiful but one that will give you peace. But not just peace but one who is intellectually sound to be a tangible asset and add value to the business”. Her sound mathematical knowledge and love for technology was an obvious attraction for Stan. And today she has been a great encouragement to Stan in all his endevours.
Also read: HOW INTERSWITCH STARTED
Delving fully into the world of business
Stan has always been a very enterprising young man; he knew it and even his counsellor had spotted it also. So as a master’s degree student, he had an option to either pay his school fees and take the exams or use his school fees to launch the business he was already working on. “I went for the latter, and that was why I could not sit for my LLM exams at the university despite the fact I had already spent nine months of intense study and had even written my thesis” he recounts. He started the business with less than £4,000 which was sent to him by his parents for school fees and living expenses.
It takes courage to do that, it takes one who is very definite and convinced about where he is headed for. It takes one who is 200% confident in his very ideas to do that. But Stan had all of that and probably more. He knew he would incur the wrath of his parents. He was equally aware that friends would blame him if he failed. But he could only see unimaginable success too big that it beclouds any thought of failure. His parents would later find out, but as he had hoped, the success was already big enough to pacify them about the action of a ‘stubborn’ son.
The passion led to Task Systems Limited- Stan’s first company
His first company was Task Systems Limited, a company through which he would later pioneer Desktop Publishing and Computer Graphics in Nigeria. He computerized 95% of the Print Media, Publishing Houses and Advertising Agencies in Nigeria. Task Systems Limited, consistently won outstanding industry Awards as Best Partner Award for Compaq, HP, Microsoft, American Power Solution and many more for 20 years. He equally innovated a digital dispensary box for all petrol stations in Nigeria then after he was ‘intelligently
defrauded’ with the use of an analogue meter system in a petrol filling station. He would later also pioneer IT Solutions in West Africa through another company of his – ITEC Solutions Limited. It was through it that he delivered the largest IT Solutions ever, from an indigenous firm, to the Nigerian Corporate Market.
Leo’s first major break in business
Talking about his first major break is an episode in his life he likes to relive and he did so with so much satisfaction in his voice: “It was ordained by God because when I launched the project, I did not have a long incubation period. The day after I launched it, our first customer placed an order worth $35,000. Two weeks after, one advertising agency paid us ₦3.7 million! It was then I realized there are huge opportunities in this country. In less than one year, we had a positive balance sheet.”
He spoke of how hard work contributed to the early success he recorded. And that is a virtue he maintains is very important for all startups. He explains the need to work for few additional hours than every other person would like to do. “I was working 24 hours until I was hospitalized. I lost my hairs due to stress. At that time I used to wear an afro hair style but all of a sudden, my hairs started pulling out of its roots” the tech cabal recounts. He was willing to take pain before pleasure and today such has greatly paid off.
Then came Zinox Computers
Leo would later score another “first”, probably his greatest ever when in 2001 he set up Zinox Technologies Limited. It was meant to manufacture Zinox Computers-Nigeria’s First Internationally Certified Branded Computers. He was motivated to set up Zinox computers as he sought to address some “defects and incompatible” features he noticed in the popular brands that flooded the Nigerian market. Zinox Computers has some innovative features, which include – the Naira sign, and a Power Supply designed to contain the erratic nature of electric power supply in Nigeria. He ensured that at launch Zinox Computers already had the Windows Hardware Quality Labs (WHQL) certification. It was the first in sub-Saharan Africa. And 5 years later they consolidated with the attainment of the NIS ISO 2000: 9001 QMS Certification.
Stan has a record of incisive entrepreneurship and his vision to Computerize Nigeria has rewritten the history of Information Technology in the Third World. At the time of launching Zinox he told the world that he was determined to change the face of technology in Africa because he believes that no one is destined to be poor in this knowledge century. And he has since become the main driver of digital ‘knowledge democracy’ in Africa. Stan as Chairman of the Zinox Group believes one of his legacies is to alter positively the destiny of many poor Nigerians through his knowledge democracy platforms. The most integrated Information Technology Group in the whole of
Africa; the Zinox Group has shown multiple competencies in manufacturing, solutions delivery and logistics.
Zinox major breakthrough
It was Aliko Dangote who said that every great brand you see today must have at one point or the order experienced what he termed their great break. He went ahead to mention several brands, both individuals and organizations as examples. That theory also applied in the case of Leo Stan and Zinox Computers.
Zinox major landmark was attained as the group salvaged the 2006 Voters’ registration exercise in Nigeria by delivering 12,000 systems to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in 3 weeks. Again in 2011, under the leadership of Stan, the group was responsible for the technology backbone of the 2011 voters’ registration through the supply of 80,000 Direct Data Capturing (DDC) Machines in 35 days, an awesome accomplishment for an indigenous firm in Nigeria or anywhere in the world for that matter.
As the manufacturers of Nigeria’s first branded computers, by 2013 Zinox had become the people’s favourite all over the nation. And with Stan always having an eye for the next big thing, he immediately recognized a trend in the world’s technology industry. Devices were getting smaller by the day and people wanted to be more mobile. They wanted to be able to access the internet on the go as businesses were beginning to demand more urgency.
Most people also frowned at the ‘bulkiness’ of laptops and now prefer to make presentations with iPad and tablet instead. And for Stan that was exactly the time to come up with a new device to remain ever relevant and competitive. In October that year Zinox announced it was launching its own brand of tablet computers. He said those tablets will compete with other tablets around. And when he did, it was one with a difference. It was called Z-PAD.
Recommending Z-PAD to Nigerians, the COO of Zinox Technologies, Mr. Emmanuel Onyeje, said among many other rich features that the tablets came unique and different from other brands. And this is because of the Nigerian local content that is embedded in the tablets. “The tablets have local software applications that will allow Nigerian apps developers to create applications that will address local needs”. He added that apart from local apps, the Z-PAD tablets also showcase the Nigerian culture in its fullest.
Where are they now?
Zinox Technologies Group already completed the installation of its new digital PC/Phones assembly plant. This is to enhance its capacity to keep pace with international quality standards. The multi-class functionality facility produces desktops, laptops, tablets and phones. And it is structured to produce a wider range of gadgets with available components. To harness this facility Zinox is partnering Foxconn – the world’s largest electronic manufacturer measured by revenue and whose clients include Intel, Apple and Dell, Stan said. Leo Stan Ekeh clocked 66 in February. But he is still very much in charge at Zinox and maintained that he is not fulfilled yet. Before his 58th birthday he remarked. “I thought that by my 58th birthday every Nigerian will be digitally driven already but it is not so. For this reason, I still have a lot to offer.”
Advice to would-be entrepreneurs
Stan advises young entrepreneurs (especially men) to carefully and seriously factor in who they are going to marry. For him the person has to be one that aligns with their vision for the business. “Don’t just marry because of beauty or other outward appearance. Though beauty is important but, there is need to get other qualities. Qualities like intelligence and wittiness, because when beauty fades (as it will surely do) those other intrinsic qualities are the things that will keep your spouse going. Besides, these intrinsic qualities are likely to become tangible assets to the business later on”. He also advises entrepreneurs to be creative and innovative, to think strategically and not just rely on god-fatherism.
Finally he emphasized that hard work. According to him hardwork has never killed anyone. And he insist that every serious entrepreneur must be ready to work harder than others.