Herman Chinery-Hesse is a tech entrepreneur popularly called the “Bill Gates of Ghana.” Being compared to Bill Gates has nothing to do with his financial status but the similarities in inventions. A flattering nickname, he said.
“I am flattered, but I haven’t achieved what Bill Gates has achieved and I certainly don’t run around wearing this on a T-shirt,” he told Daily Maverick. “It is positive and it motivates younger people, but I certainly don’t have the kind of wealth that Bill Gates has.”
Bill Gates gave the world Microsoft while Chinery-Hesse gave Ghana its largest software company. Chinery-Hesse grew up traveling around the world. He was born in Ireland in 1963, went to school in the United States and worked in Britain.
“My parents ended up having international jobs so we lived in Zambia, Sierra Leone, Geneva, Uganda, and Tanzania. I went to high school in Texas, and then to Texas State University, the same alma mater as Lyndon Johnson,” he told Daily Maverick.
However, when it was time for him to build his software company, he decided to take it to Ghana. His decision to move to Africa was influenced by the lack of opportunities for Black leaders in America to succeed.
“I didn’t have an option in America,” he told the Guardian. “I was a black African there; until Obama, we didn’t have a track record of leadership. It would be an uphill battle, whereas in Ghana the sky was the limit. Also, I’m African: we need development here and it’s Africans who are going to develop Africa. I felt a sense of responsibility, apart from the fact that I thought I’d have a brighter future here.”
Chinery-Hesse moved to Ghana in 1990 with no money but just a computer, and with the assistance of a friend, he started writing programs and selling them. This led to the establishment of SoftTribe in 1991, which is today Ghana’s leading software developer. He started from his bedroom, then to a garage before an office.
“I created programs which we sold and we grew very fast. We had to hire more people and soon my bedroom was full. When my father returned to Ghana and saw people overflowing from the bedroom, he evicted us to the outbuildings where we had an old Kelvinator air conditioner from the sixties that we used for five years. Believe it or not, it never broke,” he said.
His company soon started providing management systems to scores of companies, including Guinness, Ghana National Petroleum Company and Unilever. It also provided products to thousands of consumers, according to The Guardian, with its reach including Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire.
Named one of Africa’s Top 20 Tech Influencers, Chinery-Hesse has spoken at many prestigious institutions including the Harvard Business School, University of Oxford, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Chatham House and Tech4Africa.
In March 2019, the tech entrepreneur was introduced as the Commonwealth Chair for Business and Technology Initiatives for Africa.