Florence Seriki is the CEO of Nigerian computer manufacturer, Omatek. She’s interested in the problem of getting African youth excited about computers, and reminds the audience that you don’t need to be an expert to make strides in the technology industry. She got involved out of need – as a chemical engineer, she was running a set of simulations with old Fortran software. The dismal performance forced her to learn a new mathematical modeling language and become a programmer, simply to complete the task.
Learning this new skill helped turn her into an evangelist for computing in Nigeria. She began running computer trainings for Nigerian businessmen. Noting that executives took classes in golf or squash, she began offering classes in the evenings to executives. Because they trusted her as an insructor, they trusted her as well when she began selling hardware to them. In 1986, her company became a hardware seller as well as a trainer.
As she began selling hardware, she noticed that the components were made by different companies, mostly within China. Around the world, companies were integrating these different pieces into a single system – she asked herself, “Why can’t Africans do this?” Her company began making clones of Compaq machines, importing parts from China and assembling locally.
Her goal was to produce high quality goods, defying the local strategy of pricing at 30% below imported goods to counter a perceived quality problem. This doesn’t work in computing, because you still have to import components. Instead, Omatek attempted to create high value machines from Chinese parts and sold at a price that recovered cost. They hugely benefitted from a government decision to purchase all IT from domestic providers.
Seiki saves her critique for local banks – they need to do a better job of making long term, not short term investments. And they need to encourage SME growth, possibly by investing 10% of their profits into SME loans.