Joseph Agyepong Siaw wanted to become a pilot or a marine engineer but ended up selling school books on the street. He made his fortune from what everyone else didn’t want – with the help of tricycles from China.

He may be one of the richest men in Ghana, employing 250,000 of his countrymen, but it all began in the struggle. Joseph Agyepong Siaw holds his lean, early years in abhorrence. Reason: the serial entrepreneur and founder of the Jospong Group of Companies had the odds stacked against him from the day he was born.

“My mother told me that when it was time to give birth to me, she had to move to the village because my father had three wives and traditionally, in the Ghanaian culture, when you are in that situation you have to go to your parents to deliver your baby. So when she was walking in a farm, she went into labour and started crying for help. At the time there was no hospital so we had to call on the village prophetess to come and assist in my delivery,” says Agyepong as he talks to FORBES AFRICA of his humble past in the conference room of his Adjiriganor office, in the country’s capital Accra.

The walls of the room say it all; they are covered with trappings of wealth and numerous entrepreneurship awards.

Agyepong is an enigma in corporate Ghana. He shies away from interviews and public appearances – very little has been documented about the serial entrepreneur who has made a fortune through revolutionizing solid waste disposal in the West African country. He is assertive and confident with a demeanour that commands attention without being arrogant. His personality is warm and engaging. What was to be a 30-minute conversation went on for three hours.

Agyepong finally settles down to recount his journey, one that began with the wrong name.

“My mother named me Felix because my father was not there during the time of my birth. So I used the name Felix from kindergarten to primary school two. It was then that my father saw my name and said to me ‘your name is not Felix; it is Joseph.’ So my name was changed to Joseph.”

As one of 17 mouths to feed, and with little income from his father’s dwindling business as a photographer, Agyepong had to rely on his wits and brawn for survival.

“In the village, life was very challenging and difficult. I was schooling barefooted, going to the farm to work before going to school. I had no money. I could not afford body lotion after bathing so I would chew palm nut and use the extracts to cream myself. I slept in mud houses without electricity. You had to be a labourer and work before you got food. My palms are hardened because I had to use cutlasses to weed. I had to walk between 20 to 30 kilometres to different places to go and look for work.”

Submitted (Peace Hyde)

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