The story of the modern walk-in retail pharmacy outlet in Ghana is a story of struggle, persistence and the spirit required to succeed at entrepreneurship.
It is also the story of the entrepreneurial spirit of Mrs Sedina Tamakloe Attionu’s who first introduced the open space walk-in type of pharmacy retail outlet in February of 1999 when she set up “The Pillbox.”
Mrs Sedina Tamakloe Attionu is a leading member of the National Democratic Congress and has served in government in several capacities.
The story of Mrs Sedina Tamakloe Attionu’s “game changing” entry into the retail pharmacy business was recently documented in a book by Mr Elikem Kueynehia and is used as a case study in this book mostly at GIMPA Business School.
The book titled “KUEYNEHIA ON ENTREPRENEURSHIP” focused on the difficulties and the challenges Mrs Sedina Tamakloe Attionu encountered in his bid to change the face of retail pharmacy in Ghana.
Read the excerpt from the book on Mrs Sedina Tamakloe Attionu.
Mrs. Sedina Tamakloe Attionu Necessity or Opportunity Entrepreneur?
Twenty- three years ago in February 1999, a young, enthusiastic pharmacist, blazed the trail and changed the face of retail pharmacy as it was practiced in Ghana at the time.
She had returned from a sojourn in the United Kingdom where she spent two years after completing Pharmacy school in Ghana. I n the early 80’s and 90’s the trend was that young Ghanaians who completed university and had the opportunity, took advantage of a commonwealth working visa to gain some work experience in the United Kingdom.
Most jobs undertaken at that time were menial jobs, but Sedina Tamakloe Attionu, refused to fall into that trap. She taught herself how to type within and month of getting there and as this was deep in the winter, and landed herself a job as Administrative Assistant with an NGO that dealt with victims of Crime called Victim Support UK. When funding for the position run out she didn’t despair but went on to work as a Certified Pharmacy Technician at the Twickenham University Hospital.
After a while she decided that living in the United Kingdom was not something she cherished and decided to go back home to Ghana.
Upon her return she started her working life with the Pharmacy Council, Ghana and later joined Société Generale de Surveillance S.A (Ghana Limited) where she developed and set up their new business – SGS Medlab Ghana.
She spent a few years as the Marketing Manager for Intravenous Infusions Limited, a company in Koforidua that manufactured specialty infusions for all types of trauma situations. With her energy and drive, she transformed the marketing arm of the company by sending their products to other countries where hitherto the company had not ventured. Cote’ D’Ivoire, Senegal, Liberia, Serra Leone, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea.
Through the success of this initiative she was head hunted by Photo-Riker GIHOC Pharmaceuticals to be their Francophone Area Manager for West Africa. She therefore gained working knowledge of the cultural intricacies of over 16 countries in Sub- Saharan Africa, and negotiated extensive business and facilitated political relationships in complex commercial and political situations in these countries.
She was not always an entrepreneur, but she recognized that entrepreneurship is the heart of any economy and a career with endless possibilities. Upon moving to Accra after working with Intravenous Infusions to work with Phyto-Riker GIHOC, the constraints of starting a young family and juggling constant sub-regional travel led her to think of setting up her own business.
In February of 1999, Mrs Sedina Tamakloe Attionu set up The Pillbox. It was nothing that had been seen within the retail pharmacy space in Ghana. At the time most retail pharmacy outlets sold only strictly pharmaceutical medication and were all very small mom and pop outlets. Outlets were small with barriers or counters and patient or clients were restricted and could only talk to the pharmacist from behind the counter and there was no opportunity to walk through as was with the normal outlets like BOOTS THE CHEMIST, SUPERDRUG AND LLOYDS PHARMACY in the UK.
She revolutionized the face of retail pharmacy in Ghana completely and caused a major upset! The layout and set up of the outlet was nothing anyone had seen in Ghana before, inviting, spacious and crisp with white and almost indigo colours. The shelving was from
Sweden’s most reputable pharmaceutical modular shelving company. One could actually walk around and pick up little household items that hitherto where not available in a local pharmacy. Baby goods – wipes, character plasters, diapers! One would think this goes without saying, but that was not the situation at the time. Knee braces, walking sticks, medical books, you name it and she had it in The Pillbox.
In no time, in less than five years, she had expanded the network as the first retail pharmacy chain in Ghana with 7 retail outlets in Osu, East Legon, Adringanor, Tesano, Dzorwulu, Madina and Ashalley Botwe as the strategy was to ensure economies of scale, where products from her outlets will be relatively cheaper. Her vision for The Pillbox was for it to become a household name, synonymous with world class dispensing services, known for reliable supply and the ability to provide whatever medication a customer required.
This rapid expansion brought on its fair amount of challenges. Financing for small business at the time was difficult. Banks did not quite understand the concept and were unwilling to take the risk. Debt financing through other alternative sources were expensive but there was no other option. There were also regulatory issues at Mrs Sedina Tamakloe Attionu, was far ahead of her time, with the vision of have a chain of pharmacies. There was a bit of unease with the rapid expansion and the new concept introduced.
This was a highly male dominated area and at the time only a few women had the guts to venture into the business. “Gurus” already in the Industry felt threatened and there was some sort of ganging up to stifle her growth. She was however not deterred, these were tests that strengthened her resolve and turned her into the budding entrepreneur that she set out to be.
Her vision was to have as many retail pharmacies as possible through a social franchising module. She recognized also that keeping employees who shared her vision and mission were the key to the success of the business; their effective training and constant upgrade of skills are the only way to keep up with world class service, reputation and international recognition.
Mrs Sedina Tamakloe Attionu, recognized that the challenges of being a woman in the field of business, a mother and a wife can be overwhelming especially when the children are young.
Giving that she started her business with no particular business plan, she advises against that but urges all young people who wish to chart the path of entrepreneurship to “just go for it” the most important thing she says is drive!
Her current regrets are she would probably have slowed the expansion drive, if she had to do it all over again and build a bit of her own equity to start with instead of utilizing wholesale debt financing.
Mrs Sedina Tamakloe Attionu’s entrepreneurship drive was documented in a book by Mr Elikem Kueynehia titled “KUEYNEHIA ON ENTREPRENEURSHIP.” She is used as a case study in this book mostly at GIMPA Business School. Mrs Sedina Tamakloe Attionu is currently a leading member of the National Democratic Congress, one of the main political parties in Ghana. She has served at several high levels in government. Her experiences in that field will be discussed in another paper.