‘HEEL THE WORLD’ – FRED DEEGBE LEADS THE MOVEMENT FOR AFRICAN ENTREPRENEURS
October 25, 2019
When Fred Deegbe walked out of a store in Ghana with a pair of shoes , I doubted he knew how important that day was in the course of altering his destiny and influencing the world of entrepreneurship. That pair of high-end Pierre Cardin shoes triggered curiosity in him. As he admired his new pair of shoes he wondered why craftsmen in Ghana could not have made them. This was the first question he asked a cobbler that he stumbled upon, to his shock and dismay; the shoe shine guy replied that it was “impossible”, that was not the reply that he was expecting – especially since Ghana’s craftsmen are renowned for their skill.
Till this day Fred says he was surprised at that man’s reaction, ‘one would think He was been asked to make a spaceship’! As a banker he had seen first-hand the dependency of Africa on foreign aid and financial support. What bothered him was the obvious abundance that Africa possessed, what if that translated into the products that we made, the quality that we showcased. What if every young person looked at situations from an analytical mind, thinking about solutions rather that corroborate the problems or stay whining.
It’s been a few years after purchasing that shoe and that ‘aha’ moment with the cobbler, that had led an entrepreneurial revolution that’s focused on quality and class! A few weeks ago, I met up with Fred- It wasn’t a chance encounter but an opportunity to create the future. You see, when he co-founded his shoe company, He had only one mission in mind: To make shoes in Ghana that would be better than the foreign ones he had purchased.
“It was unorthodox, and unusual, but we decided to make shoes. We wanted to show Africa that we were just as capable as entrepreneurs anywhere, of making high end products right here at home”.
When I heard ‘Heel The World’ – I immediately saw a visionary who went beyond his physical limitations into conquering the world. It could have been Heel Africa but they chose Heel The World (HTW)!
ONCE UPON A TIME
I met Fred in East Legon, Accra’s thriving elite business zone. I wasn’t sure of what to expect from someone who had gained so much acclaim internationally. He had been featured on major news outlets. His shoes have walked famous shows, not forgetting, how lucrative this particular business has become! HTW is more than a shoe company – it is a social enterprise that counters perceptions of the quality and capabilities of African craftsmanship.
Frankly I was shocked by his effortless cool attitude that exuded power and confidence! He chuckled loudly at how persistent I was in asking for the interview. Personally, I wanted to hear from the horse’s mouth- as to whom or what gave them the audacity of hope. He did not disappoint, like the expert story teller who does not struggle to give lectures, we talked on youth development and doing business. For him entrepreneurship meant – a mix of passion, hard work and persistence. His entire company was created by a vision of excellence and to him that spirit must be alive in every person that’s interested in building for the future.
He believes in adding value rather than fighting the system.’ To create world class work, one needs to conserve energy for innovation and growth. You cannot single-handedly beat the system; rather you can create a movement that becomes a force to the decision makers in your society’. What value are you bringing in; this is what awards you a seat at the table of change.
I wasn’t surprised to hear that their mantra is that hard work is rewarded, and that’s symbolic in their beaded wristbands. The black stones represent struggle, and the one gold bead represents what we all work for – the reward. They hope that it serves as a reminder, in times when people are overwhelmed and feel disheartened, that there’s a reason that we all do what we do.
LET’S TALK INSPIRATION
‘I decided that this guy is really cool- Richard Branson. It’s cliche but his personality goes with who I am. I believe I can do anything even the things I don’t like or I am not too passionate about, if it is something I need to do I definitely believe I can do that.
He exhibits that with the wide variety of things he has done from airplanes to drinks. Not even just the variety of things but the way he does it, the flamboyance, the fun, the quirkiness he attaches to it. So he is one of the people I can relate to’.
The second person is my dad, up until a few years ago I couldn’t find any fault with my dad. He is a lawyer turned pastor. He is one of the most selfless people I know. His life is not for him, even when ill, he finds a way of taking control over things.
I remember one time I went with him to a property, he was finishing up something and he got a phone call, and the guy who called him was significantly younger than I am. It couldn’t have been talking to my dad about anything too serious but I watched how he took his time to talk to this person. The normal thing to say would be “I am busy, can you call back later?”, but he didn’t. This goes on to even the way he interacts with security personnel. He talks to people, he doesn’t talk to the position.
The last person, the most recent one is Cristiano Ronaldo let me tell you why. I think a few months ago Juventus had to play Atletico Madrid and they were 3 – nil down for the first league. Atletico is a tough team; they know Ronaldo and hate him. But Ronaldo came in and scored four goals it was one of those moments where I said that you cannot deny greatness. There is always the Messi – Ronaldo comparison, but it is ridiculous. After the match when they were interviewing him he said: “This is what you paid for right?” Someone will mistake it for arrogance or cockiness but He maximizes himself. He demands perfection from himself and from everyone around him and when he performs you are blown away. For me, this is someone who aspires world-class.
In Africa we like talking about money: this or that is expensive but in that one statement, Ronaldo proved value for money, give people value for money. There is a project I am working on when you see it yourself, you cannot say this is not good but you cannot say it is not world-class.
If you want to say something about Ronaldo you say he made some mistakes but you cannot deny world-class and that is what is important for me and for Africa. World-class is more than a product, it is the presentation, it is marketing, it is when you look at things that are obvious or not obvious and you see there is no room for error. And that is what the foreign brands do; they do their best to make sure there is no room for error. But Africa as a whole we say “oh leave it to God”.
There are other people I admire like my colleague, Yawa Hanson – Quao and my wife. My wife is a designer, Duaba Serwa, she was the first person from Ghana whose work caught my eye for detail. The pictures don’t do her clothes justice. She is talented; she doesn’t leave room for mistakes. I am still not as obsessive as her, but she has that attention to detail. It looks like madness, but when she does something for you, you will know and that is the effect that she wants, it doesn’t matter where it is in the world, her products do all the talking. My wife is my hero.
HOW DO YOU WANT TO BE REMEMBERED?
I want to be remembered as somebody who always pushed for more to compete on a world-class level. I am that someone who always pushes people to do that. Let’s call it my mission, it doesn’t matter what business the person wants to do; it’s the intention. You know how I started my shoe business.
Then it struck me that the largest issue we have in Africa is our mentality, our mentality is the difference between someone who is successful and someone who is not.
When you wake up in the morning it is how you frame your mind, soul, spirit, or your vibe. I also believe in seasons, and I have been making a lot of farming analogies lately. Farming is interesting, there is a time for research, for clearing, weeding, sowing, harvesting and leaving the ground to fallow. So the days which are slow, activity-wise, I use them to sow. Remember that when you plant a seed: say hello to someone, perform a favor it could take days, weeks, or even years to produce fruits, but it pays in the end.