- …A true captain of industry, Prince Kofi Amoabeng turns 70 today. Hip hip hooray!!! The Business and Financial Times (B&FT) sat down with the legend, and it was an intriguing story about his life and how he has lived the past three score and a decade.
The B&FT wishes the business icon a happy birthday and wishes him long life and good health!!!
The debate over whether leaders are born or are made is sure to continue in perpetuity as they come in different forms and have varied experiences that shape their lives. There is universal consensus, however, that all leaders are examined, refined, and made evident through trials and tests.
Non-conformist, free thinker, revolutionary, radical. None of these words fully encapsulate the man often called P.K. by his associates. One thing is certain about the uncompromising man of many parts, he embodies respect for laid down procedures and systems.
From a childhood characterised by hyperactivity and mischief to teenage years of vices and young adulthood being broken and reshaped by the armed forces, he had the recipe to be anything he wanted to be. Encouraged by circumstances that would have broken a weaker man, he has reinvented himself several times over and became the face of building a Ghanaian brand from scratch, to making it the toast of the watching world.
Below, we hold our gazes intently on the man, the enigma – Captain Prince Kofi Amoabeng (Rtd).
Captain Prince Kofi Amoabeng (Rtd.) was born on February 22, 1952, in Bososo in the then-Gold Coast to Alexander Twum Ampofo, a cocoa purchasing clerk, and Susana Owusua Amoabeng, from Kukurantumi in the Eastern Region. Named Amoabeng, a nod to his paternal grandfather, he was the first child of his parents to survive infancy.
Even as a newborn, PK, as he is known colloquially, commanded attention with his lustrous ebony skin tone and particularly stoic expression. From the get-go, however, he displayed his hard-nosed doggedness in more ways than one; demonstrating high energy, industry, sprinkled with a hefty dose of juvenile mischief.
Recounting some of his highest-profile antics, which earned him the infamous moniker, ‘Kofi Ba Bᴐnɛ’, he says, “From the moment I was able to walk, everyone around knew there was a new sheriff in town, I was a terror in the house. One of my favourite activities was to hide under the cars of people who had come to visit my father. As such, before any car moved, they had to be sure that they had me in their grip.”
His hyperactivity would see a young PK Amoabeng chained around the waist by his father to subdue his excesses, especially when there were visitors around. When quizzed as to why he took such drastic action, Mr. Twum Ampofo would often respond that he would rather tame his wild child than have a dead one. They, however, shared a very special bond as the older man was the only one who could keep PK under guided restraint, whilst allowing him to explore and exercise his agency.
This bond between father and saw P.K become the primary host for guests visiting the house.
Due to his unbridled hyperactivity, a four-year-old Kofi Amoabeng was enrolled in Primary One, well ahead of his peers, at the local elementary school in Bososo. He admits that he found the company of other children quite enthralling.
Shortly afterward, the family returned to Kukurantumi, ostensibly because his father had lost his job. Following persistent requests to return to school, he was taken to the Kukurantumi Catholic School. However, due to the prevailing requirement of having one’s right hand touch their left ear when passed over their heads and vice versa. This saw the average age for Primary One being six years old.
Consequently, he stayed home for a year. He returned to Class One, where he was typically in the top three in his class.
As with his previous school, the young P.K. Amoabeng was the only pupil wearing sandals to school. “The attention was quite intense due to that. At the time, someone from the house was tasked with taking me to school. Along the way, I would ask him to return. Then, I would take off my sandals and hide them in a palm plantation, and walk barefoot like everyone else,” he recalls.
His mother, much to her chagrin, found out after a surprise visit to the school. Following the episode, Mr. Twum Ampofo encouraged his eldest son to continue wearing his sandals, saying the action would have a positive effect as other pupils would ask their parents for sandals. This happened as, by the time he left the school two years later, a decent number of pupils had begun wearing sandals to school.
Aged eight, his father gained employment at the Takoradi Port and the family relocated to Effiakuma. There, he attended the Sekondi College Preparatory School.
Following a transfer to Kumasi and with Mr. Twum Ampofo’s insistence on enrolling his children in the best schools possible, P.K. Amoabeng proceeded to Penworth Preparatory School, Kumasi. He was there for a year before the family once again relocated to Accra. He continued at the prestigious Penworth Preparatory in Accra, in 1963. “Whenever I returned home to my town during the holidays, elders would want to see the boy whose school fees was £27.10 per term. That is how ridiculous it sounded at the time,” he recollects.
“When I was younger, my father would cane me as a means of discipline but when he realised that I was coming of age, he said to me, ‘Listen, we have a contract. I will certainly pay your fees and all that pertains to it, yours is to do well and be in the top five in your class.’ He was my one true friend, who I could speak openly with, and I did not want to jeopardise the relationship, so I fulfilled my end of the bargain. I studied for him, not for me,” he narrates.
Adisadel College and the magic of COCOBOD’s scholarship
In 1964, aged 12, he entered the Adisadel College, following a stellar Common Entrance outing. Unbeknown to him, the ghost of job-loss-past had visited his father again and by his second term at the college, his parents had begun making arrangements for him to return to the Kukurantumi Catholic School to enable him to obtain a Middle School Leaving Certificate.
“In those days, when I got home, I would cut some of the sugarcane which we grew at home, put them in a wheelbarrow and take them off to sell,” Mr. Amoabeng says of his industry during the period. Adding that it enabled him to raise enough for his pocket money.
But during the course of the term, he was summoned to the headmaster’s office, where it was announced that he was the recipient of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) Scholarship as a result of his aforementioned Common Entrance and first term results.
“When my old man heard the news, he hurried to the school to come to claim my first term fees, that is how difficult his circumstances were,” he adds. “When I got home at the end of the term, my mother embraced me and sang and danced for so long. Apparently, that is all she had been doing. It was nothing short of a miracle.”
In 1968, on account of his proficiency in mathematics, he was encouraged to participate in the National Maths and Science Quiz (NMSQ), which, at the time, required individual students to take written tests. He passed remarkably. P.K. Amoabeng was also a standout hockey player in his time at the College. He was also an avid boxer, sprinter, and pole vaulter.
St. Peter’s School
Concerned about the prospects of his A-Levels and continuing to the university, he applied to St Peter’s Secondary School at Nkwatia Kwahu on the recommendation of his cousin. Consequent to passing his O-Levels, he was admitted to St. Peter’s, where he was confronted with an entirely new school culture; an overtly studious one.
Despite being a science student, and a good one at that, P.K. Amoabeng had an aversion to chemistry. This saw him opt for economics instead and saw his path shift to business, finance, and accounting. “Since I was new to economics, I struggled early on.” But overcoming the earlier struggles with the subject, he once again performed admirably at the A-Levels, all the while, his reputation as the ‘cool kid’ saw Kofi Amoabeng elected as the prefect responsible for entertainment.
The University of Ghana, Legon
Apprehension characterised the period after his A-Levels as P.K. Amoabeng’s results were delayed. This was exacerbated by the constant news of his peers gaining admission into the university but most importantly, by the feeling of disappointing his father. It was believed that the delay was not unrelated to a protest that had been organised during Amoabeng’s time at St. Peters, where he was, unsurprisingly, among the chief agitators.
Facing the growing prospect of missing out on university education, he decided to apply to the Institute of Professional Studies (IPS, now UPSA) to study Accounting.
On his return from Accra – where he had gone to pursue the IPS admission – he found a letter waiting for him at the post office. Its contents announced that he had been admitted to the University of Ghana. “I would never forget their reaction when they heard I had finally been accepted to study at the University of Ghana. My mother and father held each other’s hands and my hands as well and we kept going round and round in circles; dancing and rejoicing,” he adds.
As such, in 1971, he began his undergraduate studies towards a Bachelors in Accounting at the School of Administration, University of Ghana, Legon.
A resident of the famous Mensah Sarbah Hall, P.K. Amoabeng continued the tangent of excelling at his studies where he was on an state-issued allowanceo of ¢100 (old cedis) allowance, which was nicknamed ‘millions’, as it was more than the students could possibly utilise.
Describing the period, he says, “It was a lot of money. We were typically paid in three installments – ¢34, ¢34 and ¢32, for the respective terms. To give you a proper perspective, remember that we were spoiled for choices when it came to food and so, the stipend was really for us to buy books. Some sent the money to their parents and other siblings. But the common use of his money was to go shopping in Lome.”
For Amoabeng, the receipt of his ‘millions’ was marked by a visit to the then Continental Hotel (now Golden Tulip Hotel), where he enjoyed himself. This splurge typically costs a grand total of ¢1.
Elaborating further on the zeitgeist among students, he notes, “We felt we had ‘arrived’. The idea was that to get through to the university, the government is saying we were brilliant and we were going to carry the mantle of building Ghana. In those days, companies would come to make a pitch for final year students, and back in our hometowns, we were the toast.”
Graduation and teaching at Accra Academy
Mr. Amoabeng graduated in 1974, aged 22, with a Second Class – Upper honours degree and proceeded to the Accra Academy as a teacher of mathematics, statistics, and accounting for his mandatory national service.
“Looking at my life, I saw that I had to do something to straighten myself up. Then I saw this advert in the newspaper about recruitment into the Ghana Armed Forces for graduates and I said to myself, ‘If I join the army, I would get some discipline into my system.’”
Consequently, he applied to join the army, whilst still undertaking his national service and was enlisted shortly afterward; in May 1975. There, it quickly dawned on him that his days of dissolute and riotous living had come to an unceremonious end.
Chronicling one of the most significant events of his earliest days in training; one which thought him arguably the most important lesson in dealing with authority, he recalls fidgeting whilst standing in line to catch the attention of a mate from the Adisadel College, who had become the most senior officer at the cadet.
To his surprise, this one-time buddy of his looked at him sternly, as though they had never met and asked that he be duly punished. “…I was more concerned about the fact that he chose to address me indifferently as though he had never set eyes on me before… I learned a profound lesson from the experience: never entertain any false sense of entitlement from anyone in authority, be it your friend or relative,” he adds.
Despite many memorable happenings during his eight-month-long cadet training, some not the most pleasant, Kofi Amoabeng proved himself a good cadet and that endeared him to senior cadets.
“I ensured that I excelled at all the drills. This won me a lot of admirers among the senior cadets as well as the instructors… The academy, therefore, honed my love for systems. My life has since been well-regimented. I never do things haphazardly… And most importantly, I never attend a function or meeting late. If anything comes up that may occasion a delay, I inform whoever I am meeting ahead of time,” he explains.
The time in the cadet and subsequently in the military taught him responsibility for persons under his authority; a practice that he carried into the corporate world. Following the successful completion of his training, he had stints stationed at the Arakan Barracks and the State Broadcasting House, before returning to his mother unit – the Pay Office in June 1976.
UK- certified Chartered Accountant
After some time in the army, he saw the need to improve upon his accounting skills and with the urging of his superiors, he took advantage of a scholarship in the department.
Subsequently, he sat for Foundation A and B Accounting examinations (being exempt from A1 due to his Bachelors with a concentration in Accounting). He then applied for the scholarship to the Institute of Chartered and Management Accountants in the United Kingdom (UK).
Prior to his application, the 18-month, three-part programme had been roundly flunked by Ghanaian participants. “The Ghanaian participants stayed up to five years without passing the course until officers from the Ghana Military Police were dispatched to the UK to drag them back home,” he recalls.
Buoyed by the prospects, he informed some of his mates from Legon who were also in the army at the time – Kwame Akuffo, Sammy Tara, Dan Ablorh-Quarcoo (who he, Prince, applied to the army on his behalf and without his knowledge), and Nelson Kpodzro – to apply for the scholarship. They all passed and due to leave in order, based on rank. As such, in May 1978, Prince Kofi Amoabeng departed for the UK alongside his trusted colleague and companion, Kwame Akuffo. They were the only non-Caucasians in their class.
Studying was particularly difficult, with Kofi Amoabeng often at the bottom of the weekly assessment table. This was, in no small part, due to time away from school. One subject he especially had challenges with was Management Information Systems and Data Processing, as he struggled to visualise the concepts.
To remedy the situation, he paid a voluntary visit to the Data Centre to “obtain firsthand experience on how computers functioned.” This worked wonders as he excelled in the course following the visits. His approach was adopted by the course instructor as the standard for other students. Both P.K Amoabeng and Kwame Akuffo aced the first two parts of the programme at the first sitting.
Due back in Ghana after 18 months, then-lieutenant Kofi Amoabeng stayed a little while in the UK. This was largely as a direct result of his dissatisfaction with the June 4, 1979 coup; which he believed had turned his beloved army and its structure of authority on its head. “I could not fathom how junior officers and other ranks were now top army people and they were, in fact, the government,” he remarks, as he began giving serious consideration to life outside the armed forces.
However, following the successful transition back to civilian rule in September that year, and with reports of a return to normalcy, Kofi rescinded his decision and returned to Ghana in December 1979, with lofty dreams of helping rebuild the armed forces as the only chartered accountant in the army.
He realised very quickly that the army had changed permanently. “When I got back, the armed forces that I knew had changed completely. A junior-ranked officer would decide, arbitrarily, if a senior officer deserved to be saluted and there were no consequences. It was a total breakdown of order.”
Due for the rank of Captain and accordingly promoted, Amoabeng was assigned as the accountant for the Ghana Armed Forces Institute (GAFI) beginning in 1980.
The infamous December 31 coup then served as the last straw to break the proverbial camel’s back. Becoming increasingly disillusioned by the state of the army and fearing that his opposition to the mutiny would become common knowledge, in May 1982, he wrote to his Commanding Officer (CO), informing the latter of his decision to quit the armed forces, aged 30.
In the wild
For the first time in almost a decade, Prince Kofi Amoabeng had taken a decision without a clear idea of what the next line of action was to be.
With his ¢17,000 and some change in gratuity (which had been sorely eroded in value by hyper inflation) and his young family, P.K Amoabeng moved from the barracks to his house in Nungua; which was still under construction. Without a clear plan and faced with the ever-worsening socioeconomic climate, P.K. decided to pitch his tent outside the country, in search of greener pastures. He thus returned to the UK to seek out a living.
Not having the requisite immigration documents, the only jobs available to him were low-paying clerical ones. His academic qualifications were of no use. Confronted with the choice of sticking to the low-paying jobs or returning to Ghana, he chose the latter.
This was only short-lived as before long, he was once again heading out ‘abroad’. This time, however, it was to neighbouring Nigeria, where some of his peers had gone to and appeared to be doing decently for themselves. The available option of being a low to mid-level teacher did not appeal to, as such he returned to Ghana once again. The next stop was Liberia, where he was promised the position of Finance Director at a supposed UN-sponsored agency. It turned out to be farcical.
With uncertainty and growing desperation setting in, he became increasingly open to the idea of becoming a businessman. His neighbor at the time, Emmanuel Opaye ‘TT’ Tetteh, appeared to be doing well for himself and extended an offer of partnership to P.K. He was especially enamored by the idea of opening a sawmill.
From 1983 to 1985, under the umbrella of the Jam Haus company, they made most of their bread and butter from the sale of general merchandise. Nothing was off limits provided it was legal – electrodes from Abidjan, wine and tiles from Italy, bicycle spare parts, etc. The oscillating nature of the business, often without the required capital to make their purchases, provided Prince Amoabeng with some invaluable business firsthand lessons.
Despite much success and one high-profile brush with the law, P.K and T.T parted company due to disagreements. P.K. subsequently resigned as a director of the Opayesco Company.
He formed his own company – KK Power Limited, a reference to his hometown of Kukurantumi. Whilst still navigating the waters, he leveraged his experience as the local representative for the Elf Aquitaine Oil Company to venture fully into the oil business.
His experience saw him become a key figure in Elf Aquitaine’s dealings in the region, eventually becoming known as the ‘Elf Man’ by local players and was instrumental to their most successful bids. After Elf acquired British Petroleum (BPs) stake in 15 African countries, his position became redundant as Elf transferred its regional director, Mouchets, to handle its in-country business.
As a compensation, he was offered dealership for three fuels stations. He started off at the Osu – chosen for its famed nightlife and did remarkably well, even to the point of acquiring his own truck, in partnership with a friend. His new job afforded him the luxury of time, which was often spent golfing.
Following Mouchets departure, Prince had a rage-filled falling out with the former’s successor. Once again, he quit his job. He was now firmly into his mid-forties and having to start all over again. It was 1996.
The making of UT
A watershed moment came shortly after that when he approached his bankers at the time to facilitate credit of ¢20 million (then US$20,000), which he intended to use to import one shipping-container-load of room air-conditioners. Of the sum, only ¢3 million was approved after months of meetings and presenting relevant documentation.
Detailing the episode, he says, “The ¢3 million was woefully inadequate for me, I did not want to accept it and then get tempted to divert it to something else and run into problems with repayment. But wait a minute, if I, a retired army Captain, with all my educational qualifications could not obtain a loan from a bank, despite my detailed, well-thought-out business plan, then who could? Surely, there had to be multiple individuals and businesses suffering a similar fate.
Something ought to be done about this! That is an opportunity right there! I’ll change this! I’ll set up a Non-Bank Financial Services company that will provide loans to individuals and small and medium enterprises (SMEs), particularly those in the informal sector who are experiencing a similar fate. I will show them how lending should be done!” he continued. And with that, the seeds for the birthing of Unique Trust was sown.
The next couple of months involved the processes towards obtaining a license from the regulator, the Bank of Ghana (BoG), as well as raising capital for the venture.
The original name of the company – Best Financial Services Limited – was shot down on account of it being rather unimaginative. He subsequently named it Unique Trust, which he believes encapsulated the special trust-based approach to lending that he sought to provide.
After more than a year passed before he obtained the license from the BoG, friends who had made pledges to aid in raising the capital all found convenient excuses. One businessman even proposed owning 60 percent equity to provide funding. Ultimately, Prince fell back on an older friend and cut back on many lofty expectations to begin the business. Unique Trust Financial Services Limited (UTFSL) commenced business with him as the founder, co-owner, alongside Joseph Nsonamoah, and Chief Executive Officer.
Over the course of the next two decades, UTFSL grew from providing loans to small businesses to becoming a full-fledged bank in 2009 as the UT Bank. Its reach was expanded under several subsidiaries including UT Properties, UT Logistics, UT Collections, UT Private Security Services, Gateway Wealth Management, as well as a footprint in other African countries including Nigeria under the UT Holdings banner.
At its height, UT employed over 2,500 people directly and became the foremost local brand and Amoabeng was the poster boy for taking a Ghanaian company global. It came as no surprise that class-leading tertiary education institution, Ashesi University, featured UT as the first in its Ashesi Case Study Series. He resigned from his position at the bank in 2015.
Personal Awards and Recognition
Along the way, he has chalked some enviable honours and recognitions. Some include:
- Lifetime Achievement for Innovation in Africa, 2013
- Johnnie Walker Giant, 2012. A global “Walk With Giants” campaign.
- Overall Best Entrepreneur in the Maiden Ghana Entrepreneurs Award (2011)
- One of two Ghanaians profiled in Moky Makura’s book on Africa’s Greatest Entrepreneurs which profiles 16 of Africa’s top entrepreneurs.
- Three times running Ghana’s Most Respected CEO for 2008/2010/2012.
- National Honours for an Order of the Star of the Volta- Officer’s Division presented by the
- Marketing Man of the Year 2006.
Prince Kofi Amoabeng is an avid golfer; a passion he picked up from his time with the then Country Head of Elf and his one-time boss, Mouchet. This comes after he had famously derided the game as a pastime for old men.
P.K. is a strong family man with seven children who he dots on a lot.
PK has penned a fantastic book, ‘The UT Story: Humble Beginnings’ with the help of George Bentum Essiaw, which highlights how he came up with the idea to repair the poor lending culture of Ghana’s banking industry and give hope to SMEs, and the many obstacles he faced along the way. The first of three volumes is already out and was critically and commercially well received.
In 2014, a then employee of the bank and a practising accountant, Daniel Amuzu authored a book titled ‘Living Naked: The Wit and Wisdom of Prince Kofi Amoabeng’. The author, Mr. Amuzu, said he wrote the book to give others the opportunity to learn and know the ideas and leadership style of Mr Amoabeng. He said another reason was to honour Mr. Amoabeng for his achievements and worthy-of-emulation character.