Poverty is a vision problem - William Ato Essien

BY: Maxwell Akalaare Adombila
Mr William Ato Essien
Mr William Ato Essien

One of the lowest points in the life of business mogul Mr William Ato Essien was when he found himself at age 15 working as a head porter at the Kaneshie Market in Accra. His job entailed carrying loads of various items for market women and shoppers in order to fend for himself.

Even at that menial job, he did not compromise on diligence, hard work, trustworthiness and planning, the very principles that have shaped his life into the accomplished entrepreneur that he is today.

Mr Essien is the founder of First Capital Plus Bank (FCPBL) and a number of companies, including Essien Swiss International Capital Holdings (ESICH), Gye Nyame Mines, and Wade-Laurel Printing Press Limited.

His outstanding achievements, which have dwarfed his harsh beginning in life, have made him appear specially gifted in the area of entrepreneurship. 

However, the celebrated business executive and mentor explained that his success and progress in life can be attributed to his diligent commitment and adherence to three key factors.

“There are three things that I hold dear, and in my opinion they are secret principles that if people take seriously, they will be able to probably do more than what I have been able to do,” Mr Essien said on the Springboard, Your Virtual University on Joy FM.

“These factors – the God factor, which I call vision; the law of apprentice; and the desire of excellence – are the three things that I think if anybody is able to pick up, that person will be able to make things happen out of nothing,” he said on the Leaders’ Digest hosted by Rev. Albert Ocran.

Mr Essien was the 15th and final guest on the series, which started last September, as a special platform for renowned corporate executives and business leaders to share their life principles.

Turning point

Narrating the circumstances that influenced his decision to look for a job at the market as a porter, Mr Essien recollected that he was once motivated by Pastor Mensa Otabil of the International Central Gospel Church (ICGC), who in a sermon encouraged the church members to start doing something no matter how small that thing was.

“At the time, I said to myself that I didn’t have money, social capital or education but I had my strength and so I was going to trade my strength for money and that is why I ended up at Kaneshie. Many people may not know but I was a head porter in Kaneshie carrying things,” he recalled.

READ ALSO: Defunct Capital Bank founder Ato Essien released after detention

While eulogising Pastor Otabil for the motivation and his life-changing sermons, Mr Essien also recalled further that subsequent moral lessons by the founder of the ICGC caused him to be creative in the business of carrying people’s load at the market, which eventually gave him the capital and experience needed to start and run businesses.

“He (Pastor Otabil) taught us that you should do anything your hand finds with diligence and so although I was a head porter, I did it with diligence and creativity. It wasn’t too long, I had become a contractor and so when the people came from Techiman (in the Brong Ahafo Region), I will contract their load and I will rather get boys to carry,” he recounted.

Three months after, Mr Essien said, he started selling mobile phones; another three months down the line, he had started selling bales of ‘obroni waawu’ (used clothing) because “Pastor Otabil will always inspire you to know that you are in transit”.

The rich and poor: The difference 

Throwing more light on the three core principles of success, Mr Essien said his modest beginnings had taught him that poverty was not the result of lack of money, but of vision.

"I always say that money is not the problem. It is the vision. Vision is amazing and it is almost like the driving force of everything that I have done. The deliberate mental picture that I hold for tomorrow is one of the things that make me restless," he said.

Instead of using lack of money as an excuse for failure, people should rather commit to and work towards bringing their dreams into reality, no matter the financial constraints they face, he advised.

He also emphasised the need for people to put into action what they have conceived, explaining that while most rich people were committed to being rich, the poor only wished for riches.

"Restlessness is critical. Having the mental picture of tomorrow is the starting point but you have to wake up from the point where you are,” he said.

“For me, the meaning of ‘start’ is to shift to action after reading the theory”.

“If it is a dream of getting a Master’s degree, then make the enquiry, pick up the form, fill and submit and let it get to the point where you have to pay the fees and God could make a way out for you. If it is a business, go to the Registrar-General, register it, get an office and when it gets to the payment, God will bring the resources”. 

Life’s lessons

In spite of the personal efforts towards his success, Mr Essien sees it as a product of God's grace.

"I do not deserve to be where I am except for the grace of God, I work hard but I think people work harder than me yet they have not seen the results I have seen. I think I have social capital but there are people who have more social capital than I do. So, basically, my life is a product of God's grace," he stressed.

Touching on the key events in his life, he said at age 11, he witnessed fire burn the hair of his mother who was a baker. 

Although he was too little to help, Mr Essien said he resolved to do all he could to prevent a repeat and that had spurred him into engaging in things that would bring success.

Another significant turning point, he said, was in Accra where he had his first encounter with 'divine wisdom'. He reminisced that he was once at Kaneshie in Accra, where he had difficulty getting a car home. 

Having just completed reading a book on Divine Wisdom, Mr Essien said he whispered to the Holy Spirit requesting guidance on how to get home. The guidance of the spirit, he said, enabled him to get a car, which was paid for by colleague passengers, and even gave him extra money for dinner that night.

"That was when I was introduced to myself. It was the meeting with the most important person on earth, which is meeting with myself". 

"So, these are the two turning points in my life and they changed my life forever, and that accounts for my total dependence on God and being self-reliant," Mr Essien said.

The third, he said, was the profound statement by Pastor Otabil, which pushed him into trading his strength for cash and subsequently becoming an entrepreneur and employer of thousands of people across the county and other African countries.

Three core values 

On the three values that he holds dear, Mr Essien mentioned the God factor, writing down plans, and discipline and commitment to whatever he did.

Under the God factor, he said, he had come to realise that he was a product of God and had learnt to engage in perpetual thanksgiving and worship, while keeping in mind the requirements of God's kingdom.

He explained that  writing down one’s plans was a major step to getting a task executed, and he applied it in whatever he did. Once the plans are properly written, Mr Essien said, you can then move into execution, with commitment and discipline.