Russ: This is the BusinessMakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at TheBusinessMakers.com. It's guest time on this show, and our topic today is doing business with Africa, because my guest is Ngu Morcho, managing director of Tagos Africa and a proud member of Shesa America - did I say that right?
Ngu: Shesa, yes.
Russ: Shesa America, an organization of high school alumni that all graduated from the same high school, Sacred Heart College, in Bamenda, Cameroon. Ngu, welcome to the Business Makers Show.
Ngu: Russ, thank you very much, appreciate the opportunity.
Russ: You bet. Before we get into business, I think it helps a whole lot for you to paint a picture of your life: where you were born, where you went to school, and how you got here today on the Business Makers Show.
Ngu: Excellent - favorite topic, talk about myself.
Russ: There you go.
Ngu: So I was born and raised in Cameroon, West Africa, like you said, went to an elementary school, or as we call it primary school, a high school - secondary school and high school, and that was - secondary school and high school was Sacred Heart College, my favorite place in the world. And it was a Catholic-based boarding school, single sex, boys' Catholic school, and - where we learned a lot of the best lessons any young man can learn in life: focuses on discipline, competition, extreme, extreme emphasis on academic performance.
Ngu: A lot of athletics - we played sports seven days a week, and most of us are really, really good at no less than three or four different sports, team sports most _______.
Russ: Wow. Now all of this was in Bamenda?
Ngu: In Bamenda, in Cameroon.
Russ: How big of a town is Bamenda?
Ngu: Well, I'd say Bamenda is a few hundred - a couple hundred thousand. Cameroon has a population of about 16 million and Bamenda is one of the largest cities. Sacred Heart at the time, when I went to school, had a population of about 560 students. Right now that number's since doubled, you know, population growth and need. Sacred Heart has a major emphasis on scientific education actually. It was started by the Marist Brothers from Scotland and last year we celebrated our Golden Jubilee, which is 50 years old.
Ngu: And we've had 100 percent graduation rate each year, and so what happens, like most - and by the way, Sacred Heart is not unusual of African high schools. Every year the top 20 to 30 students who graduate get either a government scholarship or an international scholarship and we all end up somewhere outside of Africa, either in Europe or the US or in Canada -
Russ: So is it extra hard to get into Sacred Heart College?
Ngu: Well, let's just say this. I used to get up at 2:00 in the morning when I was eight or nine to study for what are called our entrance exam, which was just to get into secondary school. And so yes, it is - you know, it's quite difficult. We don't compare the metrics and convert it to how difficult it is to get to Harvard, but trust me, it's not easy.
Russ: Okay. And so what happened after Sacred Heart?
Ngu: Well, so after Sacred Heart I went to university in England, Skeel University in the UK. I majored in physics and have a bachelor's degree in physics, and I moved to the US upon graduation in 1993. And then I spend a couple of years in Boston like any other hardworking immigrant trying to figure out my way around the US.
Ngu: One of the most interesting things to me was I would go to an interview at KFC to be a cashier, and I would dress up in a suit and a tie, and the gentleman told the opportunities weren't available. I just wasn't aware of how one had to accommodate or customize himself to the American system. So I - like any halfway decent person would do, I signed up for the US Navy -
Ngu: And I spent four years, served on two ships, the USS Shenandoah in Norfolk, Virginia for two years, and then we decommissioned that platform. It was a repair tender. And then I went back to school and then went to the USS Scott, which is a guided missile destroyer in Jacksonville, Florida. So after a four-year tour I ended up - I was now able to be recognized as somebody who was more competent than the KFC manager did.
Russ: Right. (Laughter)
Ngu: So I got a job at Pfizer in sales and marketing in Detroit, Michigan, did quite well, after three years got promoted to Houston. That's how come I ended up here, to be a senior hospital sales representative in the Texas Medical Center.
Ngu: And I did that for a few years. After seven years at Pfizer I was looking for more challenge, I guess, more growth, and I enrolled in the executive MBA program at Rice. And halfway through that program I quit Pfizer and I joined a local venture fund ________ focused on life science venture development.
Ngu: And I work with a gentleman called Dr. Martin Lindenburg and Mr. ______ Lenbeck, and we helped build _________, which is still a growing enterprise. And it's - you know, I'm very proud of my work there. We did four years, and as you yourself know doing these shows, early stage venture development, let alone in the life sciences, is quite a bear.
Russ: Oh, it is. Absolutely.
Ngu: So -
Russ: All right, well, let me ask a couple of questions, 'cause man, you covered a lot of ground there.
Ngu: I'm sorry.
Russ: You know - all the way from Bamenda to KFC in the United States. But when you went to school in the UK for university-based school, was that the first time you were out of Cameroon?
Ngu: I was very fortunate. Quite a few of us were very fortunate to have parents who were very, very hardworking. My father worked at the US Consulate back in Cameroon, at the US Embassy, and so we had a little bit more exposure. And my mother was also a senior executive at the airlines, so one of the perks were we had tickets for - when there were opportunities, if the plane didn't have a full load, then airline executives as one of their perks would have family be able to travel. So -
Russ: So you traveled a lot.
Ngu: We traveled quite a bit. Before - you know, before 16 or 17 we had been to 7 or 8 countries, but that was - the prerequisite was you had to come home with an A grade to be able to travel. So -
Russ: Okay, that was a prerequisite in your family?
Ngu: By my father.
Russ: Oh, right.
Ngu: By my late father, yes, yes. You - regardless of how available it was, if you didn't have an A or at the very minimum a B-plus you wouldn't travel. You'd go to the village and work on a farm.
Russ: Well, describe your house. I mean, you know, we have this vision of Africa here that I'm sure is about ten percent accurate, but what was the community like? And what was your -
Ngu: Very generous with that ten percent. (Laughter) Yes, that's a great question, Russ. Thank you so much. So one of the things we struggle with, and you and I have been talking about this for the past few years, is the gap between the myth and the reality of what is Africa, right? So my home is not unlike any middle-class - the home I grew up in in Africa is not unlike any middle-class home here. It was in a pretty decent neighborhood, safe. Almost everybody was employed by a major organization, and the mothers were either employed as well, or if they were stay-at-home moms, it's because we had other family members there, right? In our case we lived - so I'm the oldest of five. I have two brothers and two sisters. But I also had four or five of our cousins live with us. It was a three-bedroom house, and trust me, it was comfortable.
Ngu: But the only - once again, my father's prerequisite was - his number one requirement was education. So anybody who lived in our house, even including the folks who worked in the house, all had to go to school.
Russ: Right, (Laughter) ________.
Ngu: So our job was to get good grades.
Russ: Whoa, sounds like a challenge there, _____. Okay, so that's really interesting. So you go away to the UK, get a college degree, and then you come to the US - come to Boston, right?
Ngu: Yes, yeah. Landed at -
Russ: And you chose Boston because?
Ngu: Landed at Logan Airport July 4th, 1993, and honestly it's because we had - once again Boston, like Houston, like DC and Atlanta and LA, we had hubs - clusters of Cameroonians and Africans. So we went to Boston because no less than ten people from my village were in Boston at the time, and that number has since quadrupled easily.
Russ: Wow, wow, okay.
Ngu: And so it was more convenience.
Russ: Okay. Talking with Ngu Morcho, managing director of Tagos Africa, and we'll be back with more with him after this. This is the Business Makers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at The-BusinessMakers.com.
This is the Business Makers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at TheBusinessMakers.com, continuing on with Ngu Morcho, managing director of Tagos Africa, and also a proud member of Shesa America. That's the organization that he is part of as being an alumni of the Sacred Heart College, and we're gonna get into that, too. But let's sort of go back to this - you know, it seemed like you had a good career moving forward with Pfizer and you decided to get an executive MBA. What was the motivation there?
Ngu: Very interesting. So my wife and I - my wife is also an employee and Pfizer and she's been there going on 11 years and she's extremely, extremely competent.
Russ: Is she from Cameroon?
Ngu: No, she's from Jamaica.
Russ: Jamaica, okay.
Ngu: Yes. So we met at Pfizer and we've been married now ten years, so - 2004 when I went to business school to study entrepreneurship strategy and global entrepreneurship, I had a desire - it had been burning in me for a long time. Within Pfizer I had submitted several letters asking to be sent to Africa to go start or help start the sales group in Africa. I'd always wanted to start a business, I just didn't know how to do it. I come from a family of administrators. My father was an administrator, my mother's an administrator. My late grandfather was a farmer and a pretty good businessman, but I just didn't - I wasn't young enough to see that.
Ngu: But I have this incredible passion for building people and building businesses, and Rice University was one of the better schools in the country to do that, and the convenience of being in Houston I had to take the opportunity.
Russ: Right. And so you said this desire to perhaps go do in Cameroon what you were doing here - were all your entrepreneurial ideas directed towards back to Africa, or were they just entrepreneurial anywhere on _________?
Ngu: So I didn't get to that point of clarification about combining my passion for building people and businesses with my love for my home continent until much later on. I had a couple of failures and had a couple of fits and starts and I thought, "What's missing?" And there was a third leg that was missing, and the third leg was combining the activity with the goal. And Africa became - started becoming clear to me as an area of opportunity because of all the data that was coming out from the local market. I have a childhood friend who's now a partner at McKenzie in Africa, and we met when I came to the US. And as soon as he graduated from engineering - he had a PhD in engineering at Stanford - he went right back to Africa. And I thought, "Why would you leave Stanford with a PhD and go to Africa?" Well, first he had a job with McKenzie, so that's not a bad deal there.
Russ: Right, right.
Ngu: But he started telling us and writing about what was going on on the continent. And even those of us who were born and raised in Africa, we had swallowed the same prejudicial juice or whatever you want to call it - discolored juice that comes with being from Africa. We did not believe that our continent was a booming continent, was recovering or could recover, because we grew up seeing dictatorships, we grew up seeing corrupt governments and corrupt - you know, poor infrastructures, and we just - we didn't think there was any chance of hope. But -
Russ: Two questions. Number one, what type of government does Cameroon have?
Ngu: Well, it is supposed to be a democracy.
Russ: Okay, and so - but that may be a step in the right direction at least.
Ngu: Right, right. Well, here's the thing, though. Fast-forward 10 years later or 15 years later. There's more stable democracies in Africa now as a continent than any other continent which has a cluster of countries. I think the last time Africa had a coup per se where an illicit group took over a country was more than ten years ago. And all the metrics show we've had, you know, the fastest-growing economics in the world, the top ten are all in Africa. Foreign direct investment in Africa according to a recent Ernst & Young study is projected to be $150 billion by 2015.
Russ: Okay, so back to your friend that has a PhD from Stanford, he went back and he's telling you, "Hey, things are beginning to happen over here."
Russ: Okay, so - and one reason may be that, you know, these African countries are some of the fastest-growing, is that they started with very little growth and suddenly it's - and so you're kind of painting a picture that it's prime time for Africa.
Ngu: It is. It is. I mean, there are so many different catch phrases. The McKenzie study that I was referring to is called Lions on the Move - Ernst & Young study, Africa attractiveness study. There's different ways of looking at it, but this is - Africa's time is now and will be for the next couple of decades. It is just - it is a market reality. If you look at emerging non-US companies that are investing in Africa, their returns - compounded annual returns are in the double digits.
Russ: Okay. So now to Tagos Africa and being managing director, is that what you're doing for this company?
Ngu: So as you know, like I said earlier, my emphasis in healthcare and I thought healthcare was the vehicle which would transport my entrepreneurial ventures to Africa. Well, I've since realized that healthcare is one of the things that one is capable of doing. What the Tagos Group offers is really a platform for people like myself to be able to help Africa through business. Most people when they think about helping Africa think about making a pittance of a donation - you know, a couple of dollars here and you go home hoping that something happens. Well, like America and like the Irish did over 300 years ago, the African is doing it now. Investing in Africa is the only way to change it. And not only do the market returns show that as a good metric, but the stable governments all across the continent - there is great regional clusters that are being formed.
There's an Eastern African Community, Southern African Development Community, there's the ECOWAS, which is the Economic Community of West African States, there's the Economic Community of Central African States. So African countries are arranging themselves in economic clusters, which not only allow for transparence, but also it puts processes in place which accelerates the creation and execution of business.
Russ: Real cool. Now your interest, does it specifically get focused down to Cameroon or are you interested in -
Ngu: No. Well, actually we don't have any activity in Cameroon because - for reasons I can explain later. But at the Tagos Group what we do is we go to Africa, we establish local partners, and we start identifying opportunities within four specific areas. So the first one is affordable housing, the second one is agribusiness, the third one is power generation, and the last part is capacity building. Now all of this is on our Tagos website, www.TagosGroup.com.
Russ: Okay, T-A-G-O-S?
Ngu: TagosGroup.com, all one word. And so when we identify these opportunities in working very closely with our African partners, we come back to the US and we find a US company that has similar skills, and we work together to develop a customized solution for the African - either the private sector or public sector, depending on who our client is. So we serve both public and private sector.
Russ: Does that mean that you're primarily wanting to attract for-profit corporations who see this as a good business opportunity, but do you also appeal to non-profits and help Africa get on its feet better, or -
Ngu: I have a personal bias against those types of non-profits that go to Africa without for-profit __________, you know, part, because I am a social capitalist at heart. I do not believe non-profit on its own - like a gentleman in India told me this a long time ago, actually a year ago when I was in India. He said, "Non-profit is not scalable." Now that's - I have an ultimate -
Russ: Now you're speaking our language here at Business Makers -
Ngu: I have ultimate respect for non-profit initiatives, but there - for example, I'll just throw some numbers out at you, Russ, and you tell me what this means, right? 2008 numbers - this is McKenzie study, right - of combined consumer spend in Africa was $860 billion, 2008. It's projected to be $1.4 trillion in 2020.
Russ: My goodness.
Ngu: $1.6 trillion as a collective GDP in Africa in 2008 as a continent. By 2020 it's expected to be $2.6 trillion. Now over 50 percent of almost a 2 billion population in Africa will be living in cities by 2020. Now how can non-profit really scale up to address that?
Russ: I - I'm on your side. No, that's cool. That's really cool.
Ngu: I rest my case. I rest my case.
Russ: All right, talking with Ngu Morcho. We'll be back with him after this. This is the Business Makers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at TheBusinessMakers.com.
This is the Business Makers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at TheBusinessMakers.com, continuing on with Ngu Morcho, managing director of Tagos Africa. So, Ngu, I feel your passion, kind of it almost seems like you like what you're doing and you're matching it to a cause that's near and dear to you 'cause it's your home, and -
Ngu: I love it. I love it.
Russ: I also sort of sensed a little passion when we talk about this Shesa America, which is your high school alumni group that you went to high school - some friends. And since it's called Shesa America I guess that means that there are quite a few of them in America.
Ngu: Right. Shesa stands for Sacred Heart -
Russ: Shesa, okay. All right.
Ngu: Shesa stands for Sacred Heart Ex-Students Association, so it's - like I said, like any other alumni, but because we don't have that many universities, or at least at the time we didn't have that many universities, so we will create alumni groups of high school students as we migrated to outside of Africa. And like you said, Shesa is - honestly Sacred Heart is not unusual in Africa or in Cameroon. For example, we have no less than seven top schools in the country -
Russ: Wow, high schools.
Ngu: High schools, and we compete aggressively for academic scholarships. And at the end of the year the top 15 or 20 or 30 percent of that group get scholarships and go overseas. Now the second wave who might not have been fortunate to get scholarships get family-sponsored education outside of the country. So a lot of us end up in the UK like I did, a lot of people go to Germany, a lot of people come to the US, a lot of people go to Canada. Now aggregate that over a 50-year period. You can see that capacity building outside of Africa or your top 20, 30 percent of students, if you will.
Russ: Okay. So you mentioned like there's seven in Cameroon, but you're saying that this is also a real common practice in all the countries in Africa.
Ngu: In all the countries in Africa, primarily west and eastern African countries where we had an English-based academic system, and that's just how the transition worked. But what's important to me, what I would like to have an opportunity to share with you is that like you and I always talk, I am not an anomaly, right? So what I do is - I'm very, very fortunate, you know? I've been - you know, I call it divine scheduling. God put me in some certain places, but there are scores and scores of young men like myself and young ladies who - a lot of whom are a lot more competent than I am, here in the US. Most of them are much brighter than I am, here in the US -
Russ: Oh, my goodness.
Ngu: Who are underemployed at various organizations in the US, because what happens is a corporation doesn't have Africa on the plate of its global strategy. So when you don't have Africa on your global strategy plate, you don't see - you don't understand what the playbook is for Africa. So what happens now is companies that are doing well in Africa have figured out that to be successful in Africa, like the example with my friend who's at McKenzie, you take Africans who are in the US, who have studied in the US, been trained in the US, put them within managerial positions in your company, and quickly move them into Africa so they can do for your company what you do here.
Russ: Wow, okay.
Ngu: Now the gap in Africa, like the gap you and I see at - in the Rice Alliance and all these other entrepreneurial ventures, is human capital. It's always the case. The individual has to make it work. We have here in the US benches of talent that is sitting at corporations; in some cases people are working double shifts with a PhD in their pocket because the US corporation just hasn't quite realized the power of its potential. We're all here. Like in Houston, for example, there are no less than 40 of us just from Sacred Heart, from the same high school.
Ngu: I'm the vice-president of our Houston branch alumni, and we meet once a month and we talk about career. We meet with our wives and children, and so we have a social responsibility to each other. But we are not unusual. There are similar groups meeting once a month in DC, in Charlotte, North Carolina, in Los Angeles, in Atlanta - across the country - in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Russ: Okay, but it seems like - you know, I mean, I love what you're saying and it seems to make a lot of sense and we support the cause completely. But it seems like when you first came here it wasn't with that mission in mind so much as it was to just be successful and be an American businessperson. Is that right?
Ngu: Yes. Yeah, well, I mean, as an individual, like I said, I was fortunate because my father had a - worked at the American Consulate, so one, I had a different view of America, right? But there are others who came - like, for example, going back to Shesa, our initial initiative was, "Let's get together and raise money and send it back home so we can provide scholarships to children who are less fortunate. We can build water programs. We can do several things -infrastructure."
Russ: Okay, so at first it was just to send money to help them out.
Ngu: Exactly, exactly. It was just goodwill.
Russ: Yeah, right.
Ngu: We've transitioned over the last five years. People like myself and others within the organization across the US who have become agents of change, now we're focused internally. Now these organizations are entrepreneurial ventures. For example, two of our local members have wives who own pharmacies. We're part of putting that structure together so they can own a pharmacy here in Houston. We have three physicians, a spine surgeon, a GI surgeon, we have lawyers, we have entrepreneurs, we have people who work and we try to patronize their businesses as best we can. So we're now focused on developing enterprise, not just being administrators or plug and play participants within a corporate setting.
Russ: Okay, okay. So it's beyond goodwill now. It's to develop talents and skills that can transition to Africa and can help in this sort of booming, right-time economy.
Ngu: It's talents and skills that will be relevant here today in Houston, but even more relevant in a growing economy, because most Africans are by default social capitalists, especially when you grow up in the US. What I mean by that is that you want to optimize your opportunity for returns, but we are all children and grandchildren of farmers. You can't take anything out of the soil without putting something back in. So we naturally - the way we think is we invest in the community as a byproduct of our success. So human development, talent development comes naturally to us. Being a good manager comes naturally to us 'cause we grew up in village settings. We still cultivate village-type environments even here in the US.
Russ: Okay, but now when you say that this group of people like yourselves - like yourself from Africa that are underemployed today, you both want to sort of wake up the American corporate world to say, "Hey, really check these people out. They've got talent and skills. Bring them on," and -
Ngu: And this is not a charity.
Russ: Yeah, and not only bring them on and give them a chance, but at the same time, keep your eye open on this expanding market, you know, over there on the other side of the Atlantic, and consider developing them and then going out and seizing the opportunity over there.
Ngu: So as a student of the American dream, as a participant and as a major ________, as an American citizen, I will tell you this. The growth or the American dominance of what used to be now has to be externally focused, right? American innovation is something that has been internal for years. IBM just celebrated 100 years last year so everybody's glorifying in that. GE's still a great company, but GE's greatest returns are outside of the US, not in the US. To be an American and to be successful and to be a global leader you have to know the globe that you want to lead, and the fastest and best-growing part of that globe is in Africa.
Russ: Really cool.
Ngu: And that is the point I'm trying to make. I mean, we - this is business-focused, not a charity. You're not - we will create an economic equation that will make sense to all your stakeholders and investors.
Russ: Right. Ngu, I think you've very clearly made a real significant point today, and I thank you so much for sharing your time with us.
Ngu: Thank you so much.
Russ: And if people want to track you down do they go back to this TagosGroup.com?
Ngu: Well, you can reach us at the Tagos Group - actually you can reach me directly, Tagos Group, like I said, www.TagosGroup.com, T-A-G-O-S, or I'm sure if they want to reach me personally I'll leave my information with you. Then they can get online -
Russ: Great, they can come in through the Business Makers, we'll -
Ngu: Exactly, definitely.
Russ: All right, that's Ngu Morcho, managing director of Tagos Africa, and this is the Business Makers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at TheBusinessMakers.com.