Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of Apple once said, “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.” This statement holds sway and remains valid, despite the colouration and renewed emphasis that entrepreneurship is presently enjoying in all spheres.
With the aid of technology, this age has created a fresh wave of business owners and sudden billionaires, but this has in no way made success evenly shared. Success, especially lasting success remains exclusive to those who are willing to persevere and take chances while positively disrupting an existing system.
John Tanimola Obaro is one man who has successfully weathered the highs and lows of business ownership to not only build but sustain the success of the fintech powerhouse known today as SystemSpecs for over twenty-six years. For him, entrepreneurship has proven to be a worthwhile journey, notwithstanding the days of humble beginnings when efforts did not meet commensurate applause.
Through the years in an extremely dynamic sector, Obaro has not only stayed relevant but taken the lead. In addition to his several other recognitions, in November 2018, he emerged FATE Foundation’s model entrepreneur of the year. It was a well-deserved recognition that wrapped up the year for the fintech guru, whose innovation has made remarkable difference in financial management in Nigeria and beyond.
FATE Foundation, led by its Executive Director, Adenike Adeyemi, and founded by Fola Adeola, has for almost two decades, provided entrepreneurs with the knowledge, tools, resources and mentoring to start, grow and sustain their business. The Model Entrepreneur award is an opportunity to showcase worthy individuals in the society, whose success can give entrepreneurs a reassurance that consistency and hard work pays.
Obaro’s entrepreneurship story is that which remains a source of inspiration for upcoming entrepreneurs. With the intrigues of uncertainty, Obaro took a plunge, resigning as a young and privileged banker at the International Merchant Bank (IMB) to establish his own technology firm, SystemSpecs. In time, the firm grew from a five-man Partner Agent of Systems Union, UK in 1992 to become a leading provider of the most widely deployed indigenous human capital software solution (HumanManager) and the most innovative and acceptable financial remittance solutions not only in Nigeria but also within the West African sub-regional market (Remita). Today, Remita is at the heart of Nigeria’s Treasury Single Account, as well as several corporate organisations in Africa (large and small). Just recently, his firm signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Trinity Technologies of South Sudan to create $93.7 million value with the deployment of Remita e-payment system in South Sudan.
While receiving the FATE Foundation award on behalf of John Obaro, the Executive Director of SystemSpecs, Deremi Atanda described the recognition as a celebration of vision and Obaro as a man of mission.
“I would say that this is inspired by John Obaro’s vision of creating something unique and different. It is somehow gratifying to be part of the execution and trends that equip inspiring entrepreneurship around this time.”
He adds that “in the past, there wasn’t anything like that, so it is a celebration of a man of mission, a man of passion and a humble person for that matter. He is someone who has been part of making things happen and giving to all the people. So, I think it is a moment when you want to recognise hard work-based patience, by staying indoor over the long journey base. And it is not every day that people get to recognise that and so it is commendable.
“So, it is interesting and a great feat recognising people who have invested in building enduring businesses and also those committed to raising another generation of people. He is also a man who loves walking behind the scene. He would rather that you just take the limelight and not him, but he is someone whose work would always speak for him.”
There is so much to learn from Obaro’s in-depth leadership qualities. He is a proven achiever who believes that technology is the best option in fast-tracking Nigeria’s long path to development and modernization.
“Software development is a very painstaking business…It takes a belief in what you are doing. If you do that, success will come along but you don’t focus on money as a primary driver.” He said in an interview, encouraging young people hoping to follow in his footsteps.
Obaro graduated from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria with a degree in Mathematics and Computer Science in 1979. He proceeded to earn an MBA from the University of Lagos in 1982 and was a member of one of the earliest sets of the distinguished Chief Executive Program of Lagos Business School at the Pan‐African University, Lagos.
His creativity in software development architecture has attracted several recognitions. Among several local and international awards, he has been recognised twice by the organisers of Beacon of ICT Awards, first as “Software Personality of the Year” in 2016 and second, as “ICT Man of the Year” in 2018. His company, SystemSpecs has also won several awards in fintech and software development. It was honoured with the “Leadership in Technology” award by the Africa Forum Scotland for the use of Remita “as a tool of national and economic development.
Ajanaku writes from Lagos