James Agada is the Group, Chief Executive Officer of CWG Plc, which recently celebrated its 25 years Silver Jubilee. In this interaction with the press, Agada, who was part of the team from the early days posited that understanding and the ability to disagree to agree among the Founding Partners brought the Company this far. ITPulse’s Martin Ekpeke was there and captured it.
CWG @25: how have the four of you, been able to tolerate each other to grow the company during this period?
It is a normal relationship. We fight, argue, but the good thing is that we stand to the best opinion always and once a decision is taken on that, everybody supports it. Secondly, none of us has a very big ego, which is one of the biggest problems that can undermine partnerships. We have been able to be frank with each other, disagreeing to agree; all towards a common goal, the success of the company. So, we thank God that we have been able to stay together for all of these years without a major quarrel that is capable of dividing us or the business.
Going forward, CWG Plc will focus on solving problems, some of which we consider very difficult. After we solve such problems, people would be able to say our lives have been impacted by CWG PLC
There were challenges in the period you took over as CEO, how were you able to weather these challenges to have put the company on the part of profit again.
In retrospect, it is always easy to say this is what I did, but it is not about what I did at all. It is about what the company as a whole did. We recognized that more than 30 per cent of the loss we made were due to foreign exchange losses. So, we decided to stop all business that would expose us to forex losses. It was a difficult decision to make, because close to 50 per cent of our business was automatically gone. However, those businesses had to be rejected, because we were not ready to take the losses again. This also prompted us to look inward and see how we can reduce our operating expenditure, thus, we decided to stop things that we would normally and typically do. What helped us in this aspect, was bringing on board, a no-nonsense Chief Financial Officer, Obianuju Ejeh-Nnabuife and Chief Operating Officer, Kunle Ayodeji; who always stood their ground that CWG cannot spend money indiscriminately. We walked away from deals we would have taken ordinarily because we told ourselves that they were not going to be profitable largely because of the foreign exchange challenges. We tightened our belts and we are still doing that because we are not where we really want to be yet.
What role did innovation play in the process of moving CWG from the era of losses to profit?
If you are to walk away from 50 per cent of your business, what do you do? Obviously, you have to innovate. Innovation cuts across various levels; one part of it is purely ‘business model innovation’. We have changed some of our business models; for instance, we no longer sell ATM, but provide ‘ATM as a Service’. That provides Financial Institution room to focus on their core business and leave the worries of how the ATM would work to CWG. We also have innovations around products and platforms, which is the big area we are going. We started going out to the market to engage consumers on what they are doing, what they need or want to do and what can really work well to grow their businesses. When we started these interactions, we realized that the market is a lot bigger than we thought. For instance, one such exercise revealed that Nigerians spend N5 billion on gaming every day and that Lagosians’ alone were spending N1billion on transportation every day. So, a lot of transactions are taking place in various sectors of the economy that many people are not aware of. We have started building solutions to service such huge ticket areas, introducing technological capabilities in these places, so that people can get value for their money.
We walked away from deals we would have taken ordinarily because we told ourselves that they were not going to be profitable largely because of the foreign exchange challenges
25 years of existence, what are the most memorable moments in the life of CWG Plc?
There are many memorable moments in the life of CWG, but it will be very difficult to rate which one is most. A long time ago we were working and wishing that we would be listed on NASDAQ, and in November 2013, we got listed on the Nigeria Stock Exchange. That was a big milestone. Secondly, we kept saying we want to build a company that survive generation to generation, and on January 1st, 2016, we did a transition from our founder to a new management. That was also a memorable moment because here we are, you can count the number of businesses that are in Nigeria, founded by a Nigerian that have survived beyond the founder. There are other memorable moments. For instance, the day we brought Finacle into Nigeria and the success it became overnight being the core banking application in Nigeria. So it has been 25 years of many memorable moments and we pray for more to come.
What should Nigerians expect from CWG in another 25 years?
Another 25 years will be about the impact. Meaning, the company will focus on solving problems, some of which we consider very difficult. After we solve such problems, people would be able to say our lives have been impacted by CWG PLC. That is our next target because we believe that is what will give the company longevity because problems are eternal; they will always exist, but the ability to keep on solving them will make the company outlive those problems.
None of the partners have a very big ego, which is one of the biggest problems that can undermine partnerships. We have been able to be frank with each other, disagreeing to agree; all towards a common goal, the success of the company
CWG serviced customers for 25 years, what were the challenges and how did you overcome those challenges?
What do customers want? This is a time long question that has been asked and will always be asked. Most of our customers in the last 25 years are fellow organisations that wish to serve their customers better. They want to grow their customers’ base, reduce costs and make more profits. In some cases, we change the customers’ business model such that it is possible for them to reduce their cost through improved efficiencies.
For instance, we were the first to introduce a business model, where people take Wide Area Network over VSAT, without having to buy dishes. All the customers needed to do, was to pay for connection from one branch to the other. We were the first also to provide 24/7 customer technology support for banks, because when the bank started growing and rolling out ATMs, they forgot the ATM will be working 24 hours. So in 2003, we introduced a software that caters for the bank’s 24/7 customer support. So, you will realise that in the last 25 years, we have tried to service the various industries by bringing technology in term of software and hardware. We have built business models that suit the customers, created services to help the customer focuses on what is their core business, thus improving the lives of the average individual through provision of technological solutions. This goes very well in line with our mission of deploying technology solutions that enable growth.