Monday, February 19, 2007

Today's Profiles in Entrepreneurship:Yoquai Lavala

After having a few moments to ponder the results of the survey I believe that my friend Hoseah made an excellent point. He commented in the comments section of the post below that it would be very helpful to group of people represented in the survey indicating that they wished to start a business in Africa get some good how to information on how to do so. In as much as I am able to find such information, this I hope, will definitely be a focal point for The Benin Epilogue. In keeping with this theme, here is a story which I think really defines the process of starting a business in Africa by using the resources gained while in the Diaspora. Unfortunately, I was not able to find any other articles on this fellow, normally when this is the case my decision has usually been to wait until more sources become available before featuring the entrepreneur in the Profiles section. But in this case I chose to make an exception and hopefully you will see why after reading it! And oh, just to give you a little bit of background, the person who is actually doing the interview and asking the questions is Tanu Henry of Black Voices.

"Yoquai Lavala (pronounced Yo-kway Lav-lah) landed a job with General Electric when he graduated from North Carolina’s Livingstone College in 1996. By the time the 31-year-old financial analyst quit "in a moment of clarity" last September, he had moved through six promotions and worked in at least eight American, European and Asian cities.

Settled with a wife, two daughters and a farmhouse in Jackson, Wis., the young entrepreneur made the boldest move of his career last November. Cashing in his 401(k) pension fund, he left for his war-torn home country, Liberia, to start his own business.

Now, visiting with his wife and kids in Wisconsin, BV spoke with Lavala about his risky undertaking, his outlook on the future and why he sees the instability in Liberia as more of an opportunity than an obstruction.

BV: You quit your job at GE, making more than six figures. That’s what most people aspire to.

You have to look at it both ways. You can continue to make a six-figure salary working for somebody else or you can pursue your own dreams. There are many opportunities out there. I appreciate my time at GE. It taught me how to run a business. But I could focus on the six figures today and forget about what I can do for the future of my country tomorrow.

BV: What line of business are you in?

I own an investment business with a partner. One of our biggest investments right now is a sales and marketing business for the biggest telephone company in Liberia. We distribute and sell airtime and communications equipment to the public.

BV: How did you get the start-up money?

I took a risk. I went into my retirement funds.

BV: Was it worth it?

Oh, yes. I’ve made the amount I borrowed from myself already. At the same time, we started one of the biggest distribution networks in the country. We have hired 40 Liberians at a time when 70 percent of people in the country are unemployed.

BV: Aren’t you worried about investing so much capital in a war-ravaged country?

No, it's the best time. After a war, a country becomes a virgin economy. For Liberia, since all the infrastructure is broken down, it's an excellent opportunity for investment. You can join in rebuilding the structure of the country from scratch. Its where you want to be if you’re an entrepreneur.

BV: How is business going?

The investment company has opened up two other businesses. The first will concentrate on selling ring tones and other mobile entertainment assets like digital wallpapers. The second will be selling satellite TV services.

BV: How do you balance the political instability and uncertainty of the country with the plans for your business?

Every business is a calculated risk. The Liberian people are hungry for people to come home and invest. They are looking for things to do. They want direction, entertainment and structure. If you wait for the political situation to stabilize, you'll wait forever. The communications industry is also one of the best businesses to be in at this time. People outside the country want to be informed and talk to their relatives. Unfortunately -- or fortunately for my business --when the country is in upheaval, we sell our most phone cards.

BV: You have a home, a wife and two daughters in Wisconsin. Will they join you at some point?

Certainly. I can't live without my family. It's tough being out there without the support of my family.

BV: You've had a remarkable career track. You moved through at least six promotions during your tenure at GE. Do you plan to re-enter the corporate world?

At this point, I don't think so. Being an entrepreneur is fun. All the things you learn in the structure of a company you get to apply to your own business. You also get to write the checks instead of waiting to get one. You provide the vision for the company and you get to oversee its execution.

BV: Are there opportunities for American investors in Liberia?

A lot. The country's linkage to America is big. People respect Americans a lot. People look at America as a big brother. There are huge opportunities for Americans in every industry.

BV: What's the biggest challenge of your new independence?

Its execution -- making sure things get done. Relying on people to get things done. Discipline. After nearly 15 years of civil war and disorganization, people are not used to structure. They aren’t used to process.

BV: What's the biggest reward?

To see the jobless guy or woman who was hungry for work four months ago employed. We have provided opportunities for people to feed their families and give back to their communities. If I can hire 10,000 or 20,000 people, then my job will be done. It's all about giving people a chance."

Source: AOL Black Voices

Well, I hope that this was helpful to anyone of you who has been considering using what you have gained in the Diaspora so that you may start an enterprise in Africa. As Yoquai's story indicates there are many resources that can be found in the Diaspora, which can be extremely helpful to anyone pursuing entrepreneurship in various parts of Africa. One resource that was not mentioned here was trade credit. In an upcoming post I plan to explain how you can use the relative abundance of trade credit in America and other parts of the Diaspora to actually help start a business in Africa. Until the next time have a wonderful week!

Of course, I love your comments. But, if you can't comment at this particular time- but would like to let us know that you were here; please sign and View my guestbook


Omodudu said...

I am so impressed with individuals like these. Hmm how inspiring.

Benin "Mwangi" said...


Thanks for stopping by, really good seeing you here. Anytime you want to drop some knowledge on economics or lending you are always welcome, here!

Hoseah said...

Very Inspiring story, these are the kind of people who have encouraged me to move on and pursue my own business. It is great to hear about the challenges, so that people do not make such an approach with false notions; it takes perseverance and focus to overcome these challenges and see your vision become a reality.
Mwangi--I will have the questionarre to you soon

Benin "Mwangi" said...


Thank you very much. I'm glad that you found the story inspiring. By the way, I did receive your response and I'm very confident that many out there will be inspired by what you are doing back in Kenya.

Asante sana!

Saran Kaba Jones said...

This is so encouraging. I hope his business is doing well and I wish him the best.



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