Career:Laurent Tamegnon, the enterprising Togolese bosses’s boss

President of the National Council of Employers of Togo (CNP-Togo) since February 2017, Laurent Tamegnon began his ascent in the entrepreneurial world at the head of the group SANECOM International, specialized in the supply of military and administrative equipment. An exemplary journey, instructive in Life lessons.  

By Blamé Ekoué, Lomé

Laurent Tamegnon, who stands about 1.70 meters tall, exudes an air of rigor and discipline; two qualities that have allowed the current president of the National Council of Employers of Togo (CNP-Togo) to build his economic empire. Brought to the head of the powerful employers’ organization in 2017, the business leader has always been an entrepreneur at heart. With a degree in administration, he did not hesitate to leave the civil service to join, in 1991, the company he runs today, SANECOM International. A structure specialized in the manufacture of professional clothing and originally created by one of his uncles. However, the change of direction was not easy. “I was not predisposed to be a businessman because in reality, I was supposed to be a civil servant in the national education system,” recalls Laurent Tamegnon, who remembers “launching [himself] into teaching as a small high school teacher until the day [he] said no.” He then decided to enter the Ecole Nationale d’Administration (ENA) to become an administrator, but “on a whim”, he resigned soon after to join his uncle, the founder of SANECOM.

An uncle for mentor     

Gradually making his way through the complexity of the entrepreneurial world, the boss of CNP-Togo readily admits that he was able to rely on the good advice of his mentor. A tutelary figure to whom he has boundless admiration, and who has spurred him on better than anyone else to “rise to the occasion”.  The ambitious young man quickly climbed the corporate ladder and, within a decade, moved from the position of simple scheduler to that of General Manager of the family business. A position he continues to hold to this day.   

To hold the reins of this company for so long, which has become a West African reference in its field of activity, he had to overcome many trials. Among them, the aggressive entry of low-cost Chinese products on the African market. “In 2000, when I became the General Manager of SANECOM, the structure experienced difficulties following the entry of the Chinese on the continent.  Everything was then difficult to manage because our products were expensive compared to the prices proposed for Chinese”, says the company manager for whom the only way [at that time] to get out of it or to limit the damage was to put the key under the mat”. 

Starting again on a clean slate  

Putting his money where his mouth was, Laurent Tamegnon closed the company and started it up again two years later, on a healthier basis. The time of reflection necessary “to put in place a strategy that, after our recovery, allowed us to recapture all our markets, including Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger,” recalls, with an air of conquistador, the DG of SANECOM, who however recounts with nostalgia the loss of some markets in Europe, especially in France and Germany, facing the fury of products “Made in China.” In fact, to succeed in prospering in the sub-region in the face of stiff competition from the Chinese, obvious businessman qualities were needed: self-sacrifice, courage and determination. So many predispositions of spirit necessary to succeed in the African entrepreneurial world, according to the boss of CNP-Togo, who always keeps a form of humility. 

“You can’t appreciate yourself while dancing”

You can’t appreciate yourself while dancing”, he likes to say. A combination of personal qualities that no doubt explains his popularity with his peers, the latter appointing him in November 2017 Vice President of the Federation of Employers’ Organizations of West Africa (FOPAO), a structure that advocates for the development of the private sector in this community space. 

Entrepreneurial life is nevertheless anything but a long quiet river, with sometimes spectacular setbacks. In the case of the CEO of SANECOM International, it was the abandonment of a major biofuel production project, financed to the tune of 800 million CFA francs (about 1.2 million euros). Huddled behind his desk, Laurent Tamegnon says he has experienced the worst moments of his life, to the point of wanting to give up business. “I had created a structure for the production of biofuel from Jatropha seeds in the locality of Gamé in Togo. We already had markets ready to buy, down to the last drop. But after a quarrel between the villagers and the workers of our installation, the people ransacked our 500 hectares of plantation and sent everyone away”, still remembers, shocked, the head of the company who considers this unfortunate episode as “[his] biggest regret in the business world because all [his] savings made in ten years went up in smoke”.

Encouraging the emergence of a new class of African entrepreneurs    

Pragmatic, the Togolese boss encourages the emergence of a new class of African entrepreneurs to solve the problems related to the development of the continent. The man is very committed to the private sector, which he does not hesitate to defend with policy makers when the opportunity arises. This well-informed Afro-optimist believes that all the signals are green for the rise of young African business leaders in all sectors. To achieve this, he advocates strengthening public-private partnerships.  “In the four years that I have been at the head of the National Council of Employers, I have had to discuss with the Togolese head of state how to create Gervais Djondo (a famous Togolese businessman whose name is associated with Ecobank and the airline Asky) and Dangote (a Nigerian entrepreneur and Africa’s first fortune). In other words, how to have more real captains of industry. And to have them in the near future, you need to have the support of the government, that is, the public sector. When you take Dangote and other big Nigerian captains of industry, the then President Olusegun Obasandjo created them overnight by bequeathing them market shares in all sectors. So, discussions continue with the first authority of Togo and I can assure you that very soon, there will be the passing of the baton to a young generation of entrepreneurs in Togo,” says, convinced, Laurent Tamegnon, who despite his many commitments related to CNP-Togo, is still very involved in the supervision of the activities of SANECOM International.  

“Crossing other levels”

As a good globetrotter, he travels all over West Africa in order to find the slightest opportunity for his company to expand. An activism that, according to him, does not prevent him from spending unforgettable moments with his wife, retired in Togo. And this, even if he lives between Lome and Abidjan, where he sits as Vice President of the Federation of Employers’ Organizations of West Africa. The leader says he has taken a liking to this new life, where his daily routine rhymes with business lunches and meetings with private and public sector actors. And it is not the current events, sometimes anxiety-provoking, that will upset his serenity. In the case of the health crisis arising from Covid, Laurent Tamegnon believes that it has not only hurt African companies. On the contrary, he believes that this period should rather initiate a new vision of entrepreneurship, based on a strengthened public-private partnership. Already, the president of CNP-Togo can take pride in having worked hard with the Togolese government to set up, in September 2021, a stimulus fund of about 20 billion CFA francs (30 million euros) for SMEs. Significant achievements, while waiting for “other levels to cross”, smiles the Togolese bosses’s boss, who at 67 years old, says he is “always the first to come to the office and the last to leave”. Armed with his (rich) address book, the entrepreneur is more determined than ever to make his business prosper. Better still, he hopes to win back his lost markets in the West. You can’t change your mind.

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