The Rise From Trotro Mate to YOKS CEO
For many people unaware of the life history of Mr Seth Yeboah Ocran, the founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the multimillion dollar business, YOKS Investments Limited, it is apt to quickly conclude that the current aura of success, entrepreneurial acumen and foresight around him are the fruits of a wealthy family legacy bestowed him.
At his early 40s, the car rental subsidiary of his business, YOKS Rent a Car, owns a large fleet of luxurious vehicles, which it uses to operate car rental, fleet management and travel and tour services, among others, to various institutions and organisations.
His array of customers, which stretches from diplomatic missions and corporate institutions of repute to luminaries from all walks of life, confirms how far the company has come in its very competitive line of business.
However, as one rushes to make those generalisations, a look at his life story shows that his business success was not obtained on a silver platter. It is the product of years of toil and risky travail inspired by a 'Can-Do' spirit.
He was orphaned at age 14 after both parents passed out in succession within the space of a year. Having nobody to fund his education, he dropped out of St. Augustine's College in Cape Coast to start a life that would traverse many menial professions, beginning with a driver's mate to a petty trader and later to a driver for a car rental company, VANEF Europecar, which is now defunct.
"I also went into selling of textbooks to school children and while doing that I was saving my earnings. At a point, in my quest to earn "quick" money to pursue my education, I put all my money in Pyram (a Ponzi investment scheme in the 1990s). I was hoping I could turn it over quickly but unfortunately, I lost everything within a week," a calm speaking Mr. Ocran said on the Springboard, the Virtual University, on Joy FM.
"The lesson I learnt from that experience was to pursue the process and not try to follow shortcuts," he said in response to a question from the host, Rev. Albert Ocran.
The interview with Mr Yeboah was the second installment in the series, 'Leaders' Digest,' on the weekly programme initiated and run by Legacy & Legacy, a management consultancy firm based in Accra.
The 'Leaders Digest' started on September 7 with Mr Kwasi Anokurang-Budu, the Deputy Managing Director (DMD) of EB-ACCION Savings and Loans Company Limited, as the first guest. It is expected to continue for the next few weeks within which a number of leaders would take time to share with the public the qualities that have inspired their success in life and their respective fields of endeavours in particular.
It is expected to serve as a learning curve and source of motivation to many, especially the youth, as corporate executives and people of influence take turns to reveal the strategies they used to get through life's difficulties.
Cross Border Trader
After recovering from the shocks of the Pyram scam, Mr Ocran said he migrated to neighbouring Togo through the help of a sister. While there, he learnt how to trade in textiles and jewellery in-between the two countries but that venture also failed after his goods were impounded for attempted smuggling.
Having tried his luck in trading and ending up with sour grapes, Mr Ocran realised that it was time to shift focus to make ends meet. Formal employment, became his preferred option.
He, therefore, applied for a job at the then VANEF Europcar, using his initial experience as a trotro mate and later as a driver.
"At that time, I did not know anything about vehicle rentals, travel and tour but it went on very well because I learnt on the job and realised that this was something that I could do given the opportunity," he said.
However meagre the earnings from that job was, the CEO of YOKS Investments said he nurtured a savings habit and, therefore, put aside a chuck of his salary, allowances and the tips from his driving profession.
With time, the desire to start his own business gathered momentum, thanks to what he saw as the shortfalls in the customer service regime at his workplace at the time.
"I realised that there were a lot of things that my company then was not doing well enough. The customer service left much to be desired; cars could break down on the way and things like that. Because I had direct contact with the clients, I knew what they wanted and realised I could do it and do it even better," he said in response to what motivated him to start his own business.
The final motivation, he said was one expatriate client who agreed to rent from him should he successfully establish his own car rental business
In a society where everything virtually rises and falls with capital, having big business ideas can be good but getting the funds to operationalise them can be frustrating. In the case of Mr Ocran, this was no exception. He registered the company and coined the name YOKS from a rearrangement of his initials, Seth Kwao Yeboah Ocran.
Although he trusted in his ability to successfully run a car rental business, getting the money to buy the vehicles that could be used to start that venture was a huge challenge.
His personal savings at the time, he said, was only GHS500, which was almost three times lower than the amount needed to purchase the vehicle he required.
"I remember friends who told me at the time that I should stop worrying myself because it was not possible to buy a vehicle with GHS500," he recollected.
However, the level of his savings was not a complete hindrance to the realisation of his business idea as his personal belief anchored by a determination to succeed inspired him to opt for his first vehicle on partial credit.
After successfully convincing the owner of the car, one Jarvis, to agree to sell him the vehicle on credit, Mr Ocran said he gave himself three months within which to finish paying for or return the car.
With the first car secured, the challenge of fuelling and reconditioning the interior to meet customer demands beckoned and the idea of borrowing from a friend came in handy.
All said and done, his single car-renting business was finally ready and his first customer, the woman who had agreed to rent from him, was also in town and that marked the beginning of YOKS Rent a Car, a venture that would grow from its modest background into a a world class business offering excellent rental services in the country.
Asked whether he had a picture of his very first vehicle, Mr. Yeboah admitted that he had lost the vehicle through armed robbery.
The ages of the company's fleet of vehicles range between one and four years and their interior and exterior decors are are exquisitely made to fit the status of the customers it serves.
Today, the company's customers currently include agencies under the United Nations, corporate institutions, non-governmental organisations and ministries, departments and agencies.
Top Three Secrets
The major values and ideals that led to the starting of YOKS, which have now become his top three secrets, were identified as humility, personal belief and integrity.
These ideals, he said had kept him going in the face of the frustrations instigated by the premature death of his parents.
"I believe in luck but I also believe that you have to create it. Like I said, self-belief is everything because I believed that I could do it and that is why I have come this far," he said.
He thus advised that people nurture similar self-belief and passion for their strengths, which would guide their success in whatever endeavours they find themselves in.
Going forward, Mr Ocran said people should shun the thinking that one needed money to be able to start a business.
"What you need is vision, ideas and a clear sense of direction about what you want to do and not just money. In Ghana, we were brought up to believe that the only good professions are lawyers, medical doctors and things like that and because of that people do not look out for other opportunities. Meanwhile, there a lot of challenges out there that if you try to solve them, you will make money out of it and that is what we should be focusing on; solving challenges and not money," the CEO of YOKS Investments said.