On one side of a large desk, in this first floor office, sits Chairman, a brawny dark-skinned CEO north of forty. Today, like always, he cuts a gentle look, his head and upper arms adorned in a coffee-colored kaftan. His eyes, retain a seasoned calm, and an unforced smile lines his face. On the other side of the table sits Jin, a Korean contractor who spreads before him, A3 sheets containing a proposal for a six-bedroom property — one of 120 units Chairman’s company builds annually. On Chairman’s side of the table are three or four files, and a closed MacBook Air.
They seem to have reached an impasse — shingles or no shingles. A brief silence takes over the room. The haggle resumes after a few moments, and Chairman, rising from his seat, slides open the blinds of the window behind him. He aims a forefinger at a nearby structure he put up himself, demonstrating the technique he’s been advocating the entire meeting. Jin slides open on his smartphone, construction photos with which he has come to make his case, and compares the two approaches. He finally gets the point, and concedes; “okay.”
“It’s a fair deal,” Chairman assures. He’s right, for Jin agrees with a smile and eager nods of his head. A few more things have to be finalized —and the agreement is sealed with a pleased handshake.
Jin walks out of the office. Chairman is ready for our sit-down.
Our conversation happens over an hour, and runs smoothly, interrupted only a couple of times, when his iPhone would ring, and he would either tap it mute, or lift it to his ear, or engage in brief administrative discourse.
Chairman also responds to James Orleans – Lindsay, his birth name. JL Properties, one of a dozen companies he owns, is responsible for transforming this Achimota valley in the interview is happening — once a dumpsite/ quarry — into what he’s confident is easily the “cleanest estate in the country”.
Today, he ranks among Ghana’s most cherished business leaders, employing hundreds, and engineering corporate accomplishments across construction, advertising, security, supplies, consultancy et cetera.
“I love what I do,” he professes — “I will not change it for anything.” Resolute passion thus, he observes, is pivotal to his current clout as a real estate mogul, and indeed, for success in any endeavor.
Chairman’s speech is dignified and deliberate. It’s something you typically find with royals. Yes, he’s a royal —heir-apparent to the Cape Coast stool he hails from — and traces his ancestry to an illustrious family tree of firsts. Birempong Cudjo, Orleans – Lindsay’s great-great-grandfather, is credited with first bringing settlers to a town called Sew Do, where he is said to have tricked European merchants into believing that slaves he was supposed to have brought them had all perished — erecting faux graves at the area (which loosely translates from Fante as “small hill”) to corroborate his alibi. Cudjo’s son is the great Philip Quarcoe (1741 – 1816) —among the first Fante boys to be taken to England for training as missionaries, the first from the Gold Coast to receive formal education, the first to be ordained minister by the Anglican church, and the first to establish a school in the Gold Coast.
“This is a route that I cherish a lot,” says Orleans – Lindsay with fondness and pride. And when he settles to discuss Alice Christian, his grandmother, a bigger glow splatters across every inch of his face. “Extremely beautiful” and “full of knowledge,” she was inseparable from him. Often, during his description of her, he would set out in the present tense (as though she was still alive) — “I’m extremely close to her”— and then catch himself — “… was, I mean. She’s passed now.” She was a queen mother from a young age, and nourished him with unconditional affection, and core values as honesty, integrity, standing up for your rights, and being strong. Her protectiveness of him —he believes —also stemmed from the fact that there were a few men in the immediate family at the time.
Orleans – Lindsay’s ancestry —because of what a glamorous lineage it consists — should leave on the shoulders of those who now bear the heritage, enormous pressure to live up to the family reputation — to display superlative leadership…orchestrate phenomenal success as a matter of routine. But he felt no such pressure, as Christian’s nurturing style was one that was “very subtle,” “very measured,” and “very controlled.”
Her training, coupled with that of his parents’ would build in him additional tenets as “being your brother’s keeper”, and value of “collective responsibility,” culminating in him maturing mentally very early in life.
Clearly, Orleans – Lindsay picked up construction rudiments from his contractor father, a perfectionist who “could see from afar, a crooked building.” “It came easy to him,” he relates. In the 80s, when the older Orleans – Lindsay would dabble in politics and lose nearly everything as a result of a coup, the younger’s mind would be steeled about remaining resilient when the chips are down.
A PhD holder, Orleans – Lindsay is alumnus of Madonna School (Koforidua), St. Peter’s Secondary School, Nkwatia (which he’s quick to remind all, chuckling, are current title holders of the National Science and Maths Quiz), St Augustine’s College (Cape Coast), Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), North London University. For him, majority of the schools he attended growing up, not only catered to his intellectual capabilities, but also molded him into a green thumb by the sheer beauty of the landscapes they were set in; “My formative years were in Koforidua, and Koforidua had a lot of greens — and all my life, I’ve been to Catholic schools —except my time in Budapest. In those schools I attended, greenery and gardening was a part of it.” This peculiar affection for the environment, expresses itself now —in the estates he develops— as it did for him in his university days, when he cultivated vegetable gardens.
He could have been a medical doctor; you know? Indeed, he studied the subject for a bit —mainly to honor his grandfather, who was a doctor, and owned a hospital in Kumasi. The expectation at the time — a peculiarly Ghanaian one at that —was to see him enter a prestigious vocation, and ensure that he had a job for life, as the hospital’s doors were always open to him to practice in. The fact that he excelled in the Sciences became an even bigger catalyst for him being pressured to read Medicine. But he would quickly learn, that “having interest overrides being good,”and that doing things for fulfilment, is always the best way. “That is what I decided from that time, to do” —and it’s what he’s done for the past twenty years. Several times, he’s been advised to try this or try that, but he has kept his focus, and will not be moved. “My interest is here!”
The passion has paid off —JL Properties are now “the city’s favorite developer,” and he himself has found wealth. A well-travelled man who has had stints at High Speed Production Wandswort (London), IBM (UK), J.O.L Limited, and Netlynk Kea Systems, his extensive experience has ensured that he has engaged with wealth —the dogma and the reality. It is why constantly, he has been confronted, mostly by the many who consider him mentor, with the following question:
What is wealth?
“Wealth is a personal thing. I always say that it’s being able to have enough for your personal needs, and then being able to give to others in need — it’s not about the quantum — if you’re satisfied with what you have, and you willingly part with the excess, then you’re wealthy.”
“But remain true to yourself,” he cautions, “it’s a cherished value.”
Also, there must be not place for greed. “When it’s too good to be true, then it’s not true.” You don’t approach life with greed in your heart,” he admonishes —it’s something he admits to severely learned from a nail-biting $ 1 million transaction sometime back — “if you don’t lose money, you’ll lose your life.” Hearing an exceedingly philanthropic man as Orleans – Lindsay — a superhero to many, and for whom kindheartedness is a natural attribute —a man who intends to give away half of his wealth to charity when it’s all said and done — admit to guilt, even for a single business deal, unwraps to me, even deeper chambers of his humanity. Every superhero is a human, to start with.
He continues: pride —like greed —must be banished from our lives. It’s widely held that it’s easy to be humble when you have nothing, and modesty could be extremely difficult during affluence. But the key is to be grounded. “You need to constantly remind yourself that you’re human —and what you think you have, somebody has many times over.
“Even if someone is not doing it many times over, God can take it away in a minute.” To buttress his argument, he cites global real estate giants, the Wanda Group, the world’s biggest private property developer and owner of the world’s largest cinema chain, Wanda Cinemas and the Hoyts Group, as well as a majority shareholder of AMC Theatres. He sites Jeff Bezos (Amazon CEO and currently the world’s richest man) —who reportedly still does his own dishes, before concluding the captivating spiel with the following: “humility is the bedrock of the Ghanaian society.”
And what is the place of money in wealth, Chairman?
“Money is the currency of life. But are you happy when you attain wealth illegally? It is the one thing that will take you up, and the one thing that will bring you down.”
“Making wealth in a decent manner, brings you more happiness.” It is why he prides himself with being a hard worker. He swiftly adds a side note though: all hard work must be accompanied by a plan, or improvement of your skill —else it’s ineffective.
Orleans – Lindsay does not hesitate with his definition of wealth, but he’s ambivalent about being regarded as possessing an entrepreneurship map; “but that’s the truth,” he laughs. “There’s no blueprint to entrepreneurship —there’s no step-by-step rule.” He’s a modest man, and so he may actually believe that he’s not the go-to person, but it’s not something I’m willing to accept just like that, thus I probe further; surely he must part with a few pointers. And I succeed in teasing out prized nuggets he’s tested himself. He reiterates passion (“do something that interests you”); stresses constant improvement (“do better, what you did last week or last year”); patience and consistency —not being swayed, lest you lose everything. “The fear of losing it all, of disappointing yourself —not people— should guide you to do the right thing. As long as you go with that mentality —that state of mind, grace will meet you, and you’ll succeed.”
“Success doesn’t come overnight. It’s a gradual thing —something you build upon,” he pontificates between thoughtful pauses. Furthermore, “be specific. Know your ropes. Keep at it, and success will come.”
Of course, honesty and integrity, he adds, constitute cornerstones too.
There’s a sudden hush, and by the methodical manner in which he leans forward, I know that he’s not done —that the most important of all is about to drop —and it does:
“Finally, you need greater grace to survive. There are many variables in the success equation — the only constant is grace.”
His desk may be tidy, but his portfolio is packed. Aside being Executive Chairman of JL Holdings, Orleans – Lindsay is president of Ghana Association of Young Entrepreneurs, Contributor for Top African Managing Directors selected for the best practice by the United Nations Ref., member of the Ghana France Chamber of Commerce, the Ghana-UK Chamber of Commerce, Commonwealth Business Council, and was personally invited by former Mozambican president, Joaquin Alberto Chissano to the country’s Investment Conference. A CAF Coaching certificate ‘A’ holder, Orleans – Lindsay is a one-time board member of Accra Hearts of Oak. And so, how does he wind down? Does he wind down at all?
Yes. Reading. Voraciously.
He buys a book a week; mostly memoires, for how close they bring one to the mindset of leaders. For instance, a recent read of Albert Nobel’s story, revealed to him that the man allocated 90% of his wealth just so the Nobel Peace Prize can run even after his death. It is outlooks as this that he rummages through, as he flips over pages of books.
Documentaries too —for their factual scrutiny of world events.
Chairman is clear on what his legacy will be. Beyond sharing his wealth equally with charity, and cementing his name further in estate development, he intends to mentor 100, 000 burgeoning entrepreneurs (his consultant is confident about a million).
“It [entrepreneurship] is the key to bringing financial freedom to this country — not government employment.”
He’s adamant that everybody who has been entrusted with some wealth, owes it back to the society:
“A lot of times, I feel like some of us are not doing enough to help the system. If each of us, who have seen a certain level of success would take one or two people under out tutorship and then mentor them, this nation will be a better place.”
“That’s what worries me all the time — that we’re not doing enough to help our society —because the society is so broken.” A tour of the coasts of Ghana —Aflao to Dixcove —exposes what deficit remains to be met, toward safeguarding the nation’s tomorrow. “When you see how many young people are not in school, you get frightened for the future.”
In the meantime, Alice Christian’s favorite grandson, now husband to Nana Ama Abrefi Lindsay, and father of two, is doing his bit, so posterity can smile a fulfilled smile. He may not have impacted you personally yet, young entrepreneur, but here’s a striking analogy —a version of which you will see on your way up his office — that will help you for sure:
“Entrepreneurship is like the forest. There’s so much in the forest that, if you dare, you’ll gain. The forest is so vast that, if you dare to go in there, you’ll create a niche for yourself, and you’ll not only survive, but will grow from that, to permanence and wealth.
“God has made it in such a way that there’s something for everyone”