Foremost Digital Entrepreneur, Leo Stan Ekeh Turns 65

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Leo Stan Ekeh

Clocking 65 may have added a few wrinkles to the visage of Africa’s foremost serial digital entrepreneur and chairman of Zinox Group, Dr. Leo Stan Ekeh, it has, however, not taken away his entrepreneurial excellence and cheerful outlook on life. The billionaire businessman turns 65 tomorrow, 22nd February. While he is not known to be in the habit of throwing parties in the manner of a conventional socialite, the harsh reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed the lives of many prominent Nigerians since its outbreak, precludes such convergent merry-making, writes Lanre Alfred

Those close to him say he will spend the day quietly with family and few friends reflecting and retrospecting on the years gone by and what lays ahead to strive for; a sort of personal ‘New Year’ where resolutions and promises can be made to the self and for the betterment of humanity. Of course, he has so much to thank God for. In fact, the story of the billionaire businessman’s life is nearly as smooth as a bowling ball gliding on a varnished lane.

Beyond his love for business and the good life, Leo is reputed as one of Africa’s biggest philanthropists. If Leo Stan Ekeh doesn’t strike you, at first sight, it’s probably because he is a masterpiece of a man disguised as a blank canvas. Ekeh affects a flurry of beings curled into one: he is science, an art, a foundation of genius with dashes of brilliance brightening the creativity of his mind and soul, thus illumining the world.

A product of pure intellect, Ekeh can become any form he creates; he is a library of masterpieces, an intricate web of sensitivity and hope attuned in full measure to the world’s needs. This is a glimpse of who he truly is.

Despite his genius and acclaimed successes, Ekeh, a globally recognized tech guru, is Chairman of Zinox Group, Sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest integrated technology conglomerate which includes viable concerns such as Zinox Technologies Limited, Task Systems Ltd., Technology Distributions Limited (TD Africa) and TD Mobile, among others, through which Mr. Ekeh has deployed some of the biggest ICT projects on the continent.

On the anniversary of Nigeria’s Independence on October 1st 2001, Ekeh enjoyed the rare privilege of being honoured as an Icon of Hope by former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo for his sustained pioneering efforts in the area of Information Technology and also as a pride to modern Nigeria.

He has also inspired several generations of budding entrepreneurs and startups, many of whom are currently disrupting the technology space in Nigeria and beyond.

Mr. Ekeh’s groundbreaking strides in the Nigerian technology ecosystem recorded another major achievement in 2018 when he made a bold return to e-commerce (a vertical he pioneered in Africa many years ago through BuyRight Africa Dotcom) with the addition of Konga after acquiring the company from previous majority investors, Naspers and AB Kinnevik. Barely two years after its acquisition, Mr. Ekeh, has since transformed the composite e-commerce giant into Nigeria’s leading player, with the brand on the cusp of dominating Africa’s biggest market and making inroads into other neighbouring African markets.

Indeed, the story of Mr. Ekeh’s legendary strides is one of many firsts amid a series of landmark achievements in his chosen field of Information and Communications Technology.

He pioneered Desktop Publishing and Computer Graphics in Nigeria in 1987 with his first Company – Task Systems Ltd. In addition, Mr. Ekeh launched the first ICT support Company in Nigeria – ITEC Solutions Ltd. Additionally, he pioneered the deployment of digital dispensing pumps for petrol and gas stations in Nigeria in partnership with Elf Oil (now Total Plc.) after he was cheated by an attendant at a fuel station. He also pioneered ICT Distribution in West Africa with the launch of Technology Distributions Ltd. (today known as TD Africa) which has remained the biggest technology, lifestyle and cutting-edge solution distributors in the West African sub-region.

Furthermore, Mr. Ekeh holds the rare status of manufacturing the first internationally certified computer brand in Sub-Saharan Africa: Zinox Computers.

Equally important, the biometric digital revolution in Nigeria can be attributed to Mr. Ekeh after he singlehandedly delivered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) voters’ registration in 2006 when foreign contractors could not deliver after months of promises. Four years later, he again supervised the biggest single ICT digital rollout in Africa with INEC in 2010 valued back then at over $170m, as well as the largest single e-Library and Wireless Cloud rollout project on the continent through one of his companies – Zinox Technologies Ltd. Today, Ekeh’s contributions and sterling work with INEC have gone a long way in giving Nigeria a credible database of voters and reduced post-election litigations by over 45 per cent.

Mr. Ekeh has also been involved with companies such as ICT Brokers, TD Plus, ICT Connect and, as earlier stated, the launch of Africa’s first ever e- commerce outfit, Buyright AFRICA Dotcom.

A major advocate of digital literacy for all, Ekeh holds the enviable record of donating cutting-edge and well-equipped digital centres to several secondary and tertiary institutions in Nigeria. Significantly, Ekeh’s Zinox Group pioneered the unheralded but highly commendable practice of paternity leave in Nigeria to reduce stress on young male staff and enable them support their spouses when they welcome a new baby.

A first rate Indian-trained Economist and Global Advisor to Microsoft, Mr. Ekeh holds a Post Graduate Degree in Risk Management from Nottingham University, England. Mr. Ekeh equally holds several honorary doctorate degrees from highly respected universities for his enviable record of incisive entrepreneurship and pioneering efforts in the field of Information Technology.

Mr. Ekeh, a renowned digital democrat and philanthropist, has also quietly touched so many lives through the Leo Stan Foundation – his personal foundation. Among these are charitable works such as donation of N100million to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the North-East, donation of N50million to victims of the demolished Eke-Ukwu market in Imo State, scholarships to hundreds of indigent students across Nigeria to study both at home and abroad, as well as the set-up of a N1.5bn revolving loan scheme for disadvantaged students and entrepreneurs of Imo origin, among several others.

Furthermore, Ekeh has silently invested in education, provided Medicare to the needy and supported churches and other religious organisations through the Foundation. During the lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Leo Stan Foundation leveraged on staff of the various companies in the Zinox Group to feed over 7000 families across Nigeria for two weeks. He has also regularly supported state governments in Imo, Lagos and other parts of the country through the donations of patrol vehicles to improve security, among other donations.

The tech enthusiast is one of the foremost champions of gender equality in Nigeria. He has consistently advocated for and also empowered women and the girl child, whom he regularly addresses and challenges to aspire to greatness at various public events and fora. His passion for gender equality can be seen at first hand in the Zinox Group where women, led by his wife, Mrs. Chioma Ekeh, occupy the first four executive management positions at TD Africa, the biggest company by revenue in the Group. Also, he had recently appointed another female as Managing Director of Zinox. The Group’s Human Resources Unit is also headed by a female.

Mr. Ekeh’s unerring zeal for productivity and excellence was recently rewarded by the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari with the National Productivity Merit Award (NPOM) in November 2019. A distinguished member of the Nigeria Economic Summit Group and Fellow of the Nigeria Computer Society, Ekeh is a recipient of one of the country’s highest National Honours – Order of The Federal Republic (OFR).

Applauded by professionals as a global digital giant and a man whose vision and performance shore up credibility for the indigenous capacities in the ICT sector, Leo Stan Ekeh’s unmatched interventions have seen him receive over 60 local and international awards. He has also served on a good number of Federal Government Committees, which includes the Presidential Committee for Job Creation, Nigeria Thinkers, ICT Roadmap, among many others.

This is simply a rare peep into his world; and tempting as it is to embark on a more extensive and revealing voyage into the fathomless folds of his private reality and unusual humanity, it is a discourse best saved till later. Perhaps this cursory sortie into his confidential space will enhance better understanding of the man whose sterling manhood and citizenship of humanity is widely acknowledged by family, friends and even mere acquaintances. From afar, Leo cuts the picture of a man that seems too tightly packed up inside.

Some would say he is chock-full of ideas and flights of imagination that are too densely cast to be undone. Unfastening Leo thus presents a tasking exercise. It’s an onerous task to unbolt the hub of who Leo Stan-Ekeh is and what he represents; notwithstanding, friends, family and business associates may seek contentment from the fact that a man like him symbolises the universe’s rarest gift to mankind. This galactic gesture is borne from the universe’s belief in man’s unusual capacity to rebel against the conventional and stun the odds while manifesting as something more than a curse or blight to humanity and the future.

Leo is no doubt a rare phenomenon and gift to this generation. While most of his friends, family and business associates are already in the know and appreciate this fact, like the infinite crowd of folk that constitute mere acquaintances to him, they are continually stunned, captivated and humbled by the man, Leo’s infectious humility and generosity of spirit.

Those who are yet to encounter the benevolence of Ekeh or profit from it nonetheless share a bubbly enthusiasm for it. At the very least, everybody seems to love him. Magnificence, order, complexity, mystery and possibilities—the same things that draw folk to their most treasured daydreams lure them to Zinox head honcho. The primary difference is that subtle and blatant idolatry takes a front seat in the flurry of emotion and perpetual elocution of the rare civility and bounteousness of spirit accorded them by Leo. Yet he is forever quick to counsel folk about his ordinariness and thus prevent them from dressing him in what he considers spurious cloaks of a saviour, messiah, or deity; or tin god. Yeah, Leo, for his extraordinariness, tirelessly seeks to be viewed as ordinary – which makes unlocking his core both a boon and conundrum to anyone.

It is hard to be more specific about the true worth of Leo’s humanity because unlike most of civilisation’s great, contemporary statesmen and philanthropists, he has something quite different to offer to his several dependants and beneficiaries of his generosity. Leo is several things at the same time to everyone and anyone: he is a humanitarian who depicts raw compassion expressed with the greatest refinement and discipline; he is an aesthete with stormy sublimity, unimaginable genius and that famed vision of ingenuity that separates the practiced from the mediocre; Leo to most and all of his acquaintances radiates an entirely different reality amid the world’s brutal capacity for ill and insensitivity; his humility and graciousness in his dealing with friends and established foes alike manifests as a sharp, shrill yet pleasant contradiction to the ugly and vulgar reality that daily becomes the plague of the mortal world.

He is happily married to Chioma Ekeh, a Mathematician, Fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and CEO of TD Africa.

The union is blessed with successful children.