Kevin Okyere: The Success Story of the Billionaire Who Once Sold Iced Water
Transformation is the path to success, and people like Kevin Okyere know that. Despite the seemingly harsh reality of the African entrepreneurial landscape and that of Ghana to continue with, there are still people who are going tooth and nail to carve out the nicest and most profitable niches for themselves. In the hurdle-like bloated-budget nature of exploring oil, USD 70 Mn can yet be compared to a fortune. That’s just about how much cash one of the savviest entrepreneurs in Ghana has invested in the development of the highly promising West Cape Three Point Block 2 offshore Ghana (WCTP2). By persevering even in times of adversity, Kevin has successfully built Springfield Group, which controls an 82 percent interest and operatorship in the block which covers 673 square kilometers in the Gulf of Guinea’s Tano Basin. Kevin’s entrepreneurial up-play has earned him the title as the first homegrown Ghanaian company exploring oil even in the skyrocketing stakes.
Needful to say is that Kevin Okyere didn’t wake up on his bed one morning to find USD 1 Bn lying under his sheets. This 38-year-old has been through his own business bouts, shared his story and motivated a lot of entrepreneurs on their different journeys to fame. With a “We can’t afford to fail” kind of mindset, the oil dealer became the first Ghanaian company to venture into oil exploration.
Going back to the bushes where it all began, Kevin was born in 1980 into no doubt and affluent family in Ghana’s gold-rich region of Ashanti. Having read this, it would be safe for you to say he was born with a silver spoon tackily dangling from his mouth, but the big question is “Did he use it?” Kevin’s father had well built a substantial fortune in construction, steel manufacturing, and large-scale cocoa farming, but instead of crossing his legs high atop the most expensive table, Kevin showed great entrepreneurial zest from a very young age. By 11 years of age, he was already pushing his iced water business forward by selling them to football fans in the Kumasi Sports Stadium to make some extra bucks for his pockets. There is many a wonder why the boy of a business tycoon would take on such a business, and such thoughtful opinions did come from his clients as well. When the Okyere family embarked on their annual vacation trips to London, he would take up jobs with textile companies in the U.K. let’s just say Kevin didn’t want to sit his butt down in one place and wait for his family to spoon-feed him with everything.
The Okyere family house was about three stone-throws from the Kumasi Stadium. Kevin would often pack water in chest freezers in the house and sell the iced water to supporters watching games at the stadium. This line of work earned him the nickname Eddie Murphy, in reference to the movie ‘Coming to America’ which was quite a recent title in Ghana at the time. After completing his high school education in Ghana, he went o0n to study Accounting at the George Mason University in Virginia, where he took on a several of jobs at different points. He once cared for the mentally challenged at their homes, also worked as a security guard and at another point in the mailroom at AOL. Any legitimate job that could earn him some extra bucks; Kevin was willing to take on it. At the later stages of his Accounting degree, he was able to get his foot in the door of more prestigious jobs, one of which was working as an early employee of XM Satellite (now Sirius XM Holdings) where he worked as a radio programmer. Another of his stints was at Sprint where he worked in the customer service department. Before he threw the graduation hat high up in the sky, Kevin had gotten a job offer from one of the leading United States commercial banks. He was to snag home a yearly pay of USD 72 K, but as enticing as the opportunity was, Kevin decided to return home to Ghana.
Kevin reckoned that Ghana was virgin territory for a myriad of businesses compared to the U.S. nevertheless, there were many opportunities for him to explore in his home country, which made him sure would be more successful in Ghana than abroad. Kevin was sure he wanted to run his own business but wasn’t quite sure of what to venture in. His two previous jobs in the United States was in the aspect of telecom, so that inclined him towards launching a business in the same sector. On his move back to Ghana, which happened in 2004, Kevin first joined his elder sister in her business in order to wrap his head around how the country works. A year on, after working for her, he put together a small team of investors and established Westland Alliance Ltd, a telecoms company that provided call routing services for AT&T and several calling card companies on an international basis. Westland Alliance and its subsidiaries eventually had a diversification into cell towers and value-added services (VAS) for mobile phone companies. The firm was successful to the fault, but not long after did Kevin grow tired of the telecoms business and decided to opt out.
While he was still running Westland Alliance, sometime in 2006, Kevin began working with a business acquaintance who supplied crude oil and condensates to the Tema refinery. As he frequently interacted with this associate, Kevin learned that there was a shortfall of storage facilities for petroleum products in Tema. With a flush of cash from his telecom coffers, he acquired land and began building a storage tank farm in Tema, in close proximity to the refinery. Upon inviting Ghana officials from the National Petroleum Authority for inspection of the project, they were awed that a 26-year-old (at the time) was undertaking such a capital-intensive project and employing scores of Ghanaians. They were so impressed that they urged to apply for a Petroleum import license. And that marked the genesis of Springfield Energy’s flagship trading business. Since 2008, the company has imported refined petroleum products including gasoline, dual-purpose kerosene, gasoil, naphtha and jet fuel to Ghana. The company as of now is the dominant importer of fuel products into Ghana with revenues of more than USD 1 Bn in trading alone. Only locally owned trading companies were as of then permitted to import fuel products. International oil companies looking to do businesses in Ghana were constricted to partner with locally owned companies.
Springfield Group Meeting
When BP PLC came to Ghana in 2010 looking for a trading company to partner, the British multinational found an ally in Springfield, and the partnership exists till today. Springfield Group has consistently driven it profits from its core trading business into building and acquiring other businesses within the energy value train. The company now co-owns gas stations in Ghana, storage facilities, an oilfield services subsidiary and a haulage company.
Okyere and his partner Geena Malkani visited Nigeria in 2011 to explore, and along the line the founded a new company – Springfield Ashburton. They applied to the state-owned oil corporation, NNPC to be included among the international companies to be awarded lucrative crude oil lifting contracts. In 2104, the company was enlisted for the 2014/2015 Crude Oil Term Contract. It was the first time a Ghanaian company became an awardee of the highly coveted long-term oil contract. In 2015, the company was shortlisted by NNPC for the Offshore Processing Agreement (OPA), but the agreement was later discontinued.
Kevin Okyere Foundation
Aside from building his company, Kevin devotes his time and money to philanthropy. His Kevin Okyere Foundation in partnership with the Springfield Group supports programs in education and health across the Ghana region. The foundation has a standing pact with the largest government-owned hospital in the country whereby the platform funds the hospital bills for poor patients. The foundation also pays tuition for hundreds of Primary school kids in Ghana and sends the country’s brightest students to Universities in North America and Europe.
His looks may be modest, but his ambitions are anything but. In a matter of 12 years, Kevin Okyere, who looks more like the CEO of a Silicon Valley startup, has built a billion dollar company, as well as a multi-faceted Ghanaian energy behemoth. Springfield Group today has its tentacles spread across the aspects of trade and transport of hydrocarbons, terminaling and storage, gas stations and oil exploration, employing people by the hundreds in Ghana and Nigeria.