Dei, 72, is a posterboy for business in Ghana, who helped create Blue Skies, a fresh fruit-packaging factory, which has become a frequent attraction on tours by dignitaries seeking symbols of the country’s economic success.
Seth Dei, is the creative mind that helped create Blue Skies, a fresh fruit packaging factory, which is now the preferred choice for notable personalities in Ghana.
He is now scaling back his involvement in a business with £90m in annual sales, supplying supermarkets in a dozen countries including Waitrose in the UK from its original factory in Accra, as well as others opened since in South Africa, Egypt, Senegal and Brazil.
Born to cocoa-farming parents in the then Gold Coast and witness to independence from Britain during his schooldays in 1957, his focus was long on the US.
He won a scholarship to Buxton, a boarding prep school in New England, and moved there aged 16.
He recalls his thrill at seeing the red autumn colours in his first September.
In winter, “everything was white with snow, which I had never seen,” he said.
With Ghanaian government funding, Dei studied at Columbia and Cornell in New York, before working in the life insurance sector.
“I dealt with CEOs and CFOs. I observed the habits of American chief executives: they knew their businesses, kept fit, worked hard, had admirable self-confidence. You learnt from them,” he says.
He married an American and spent much of his career in the US, but never forgot his roots.
“I had always intended to come back to Ghana, or at least to Africa,” he added/.
“I realised it was difficult to be poor here: there are so many opportunities. You only have to drop a seed and in two weeks you have a plant. Depending on your ambition you can become a millionaire.”
When he returned at the start of the 1990s, his first ventures drew on his US financial expertise.
“There was a gold boom and a lot of mining companies, and I figured they needed equipment and leasing services. But that required central bank supervision, and the rules were terrible. I could see it would not grow, so I sold the business,'' Dei disclosed.
Then in 1997, he was introduced to Anthony Pile, a Briton who wanted to open a fresh fruit-packaging plant.
“He was keen to find a local partner. Somebody told him to talk to me.We started chatting and he had convinced me within three minutes. It’s been a very good investment,” Dei says.
Blue Skies employs 4,000 local staff, pays substantially above the minimum wage, offers free cooked meals, medical help, maternity and paternity leave, and social responsibility programmes in local communities.
Dei says he still receives weekly management reports from Blue Skies, and is excited about new projects including a planned range of dairy-free ice creams in chocolate, mango, coconut and lime.
Even if he is frustrated with the slow progress, Dei has not lost his enthusiasm for art.
He bought two pictures in a new high-end gallery which he says will encourage younger artists to up their game.
''There is a buzz about art in Ghana now. I’m very happy.”
He disclosed that he listens a lot to jazz and it reminds him of when he graduated from college.
''When I was studying in the US, I heard some of the best jazz musicians: John Coltrane, Miles Davis. Miles Davis is my favourite. I heard him in Boston once and asked for his autograph, though he pretty much told me to get lost.”
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