At 51, Ibrahim Mahama is already a certified, cool-as- they-come magnate’s magnate. He loves building. He loves helping people. He loves his cars. And as he gears up to expand his business empire, Albert Chris Soboh chronicles his motivations and joy.
Pencilled in a fine tux and sporting a distinct Rolex Day-Date, he’s seated at the front table with a few of his acquaintances and friends. It’s unusual to spot him at events like these but for once, the media have been held at bay, and it’s the night he picks up the Man of the Year Award. His body language is a sight to behold, as he walks up the stage when Felix Addo announces him as winner of the flagship award.
It’s all part of his story. In his two-and-a-half-decade peregrination, this publicity-averse, ambitious man of the moment has become both a household name and every magnate’s paragon.
His rise to becoming a prominent businessman started in 1997, when he returned from England to start Engineers & Planners (E&P). Wielding the astuteness that has got him to where he is today, he spotted an opportunity that many had overlooked: Ghana’s fledgling mining and construction industries needed equipment. He saw a chance to make a living renting heavy-duty equipment to contractors and seized it. His breakthrough quickly followed. He won a sub-contract to supply Razel-Bec (formerly Messrs Razel) with trucks for the construction of the Sankara Interchange Project (now Ako Adjei Interchange). “It is interesting,” he says. “We didn’t even own the number of trucks that the contract required at the time but we still made do.”
Operating with that kind of moxie has served Ibrahim well. Nearly three decades down the line, E&P is the largest wholly indigenous mining and construction contracting company in West Africa and one of the largest on the continent. E&P is now competing with multinationals and pushing for a greater role for indigenous Ghanaian mining.
In the years between E&P’s commencement and golden years, Ibrahim maintained a careful balancing act of expectation versus ambition. He set his eyes on the prize and stuck to his plan. He envisaged a new era for mining in Ghana, and when others declared the times too erratic for making investments in the late 1990’s to early 2000’s, he hedged his bets by veering the company’s operations of equipment-for-hire to full-on mining contracting. And it paid off. Big time. Contract after contract, E&P scored big and increased its capacity. It now employs over 3000 people!
It’s easy for people to get carried away with early sniffs of tremendous success. Perhaps this is Ibrahim’s greatest feat. He’s always kept a level head. While E&P continued to make gainly lunges in the 2000’s, he diversified. His agricultural investment, Asutuare Poultry Farms, has now also made a name for itself in the poultry industry, producing hundreds of thousands of eggs daily. He also owns Man Bosch Ghana (MBG) Ltd, retailers of MAN trucks and other heavy- duty equipment.
More recently, Dzata Cement, another one of Ibrahim’s companies, barged onto the scene by becoming Ghana’s first wholly-indigenous cement manufacturer. The company has since then set multinational competitors back on their heels by undercutting their prices. This tour de force marks the beginning of a new epoch in the Ghanaian construction industry. Call it the Ibrahim Mahama effect.
And he makes it all look like a cinch. Though some consider his path to success paved with gold because of his family connections, Ibrahim is not one to pay attention to naysayers. He attributes his wins to being audacious and taking risks, diversifying, being open to learning and most important of all, finding the right partnerships. During a conversation with graduates at the Graduate Students Association of Ghana (GRASAG) Entrepreneurship Seminar, Ibrahim mentioned learning about mining contracting through an Australian mentor. He further laboured the point to the people in attendance that there is no shame in learning on the job.
On finding the right partnerships, Ibrahim mentioned how strategic business partnerships can elevate one’s business from beginner level to an entirely different level. “E&P’s partnership with ArcelorMittal opened many doors.” As local partners to ArcelorMittal, the world’s second-largest steel producer, E&P worked on several mining projects in Sierra Leone and Liberia. The partnership gave E&P the opportunity to become the first commercial miners to revamp the mining industry in Liberia after their civil war.
Ibrahim is not just his businesses, however. He’s many other things. He’s a helper. It should be noted that his default setting is thoughtfulness. It weaves into all his actions. One of his motivations for building businesses is not just to build a legacy but to give back to society. When he’s not actively employing people or building capacity among local talent, he’s donating to charitable causes. Following the loss of his mother to breast cancer, he has championed many charitable causes to create awareness on different types of cancer. He co-founded the Joyce Tamakloe Cancer Foundation to raise funds for hospitals to help this fight. He was also very active on the philanthropy front in the fight against COVID in 2020/21.
He provided ventilators to the University of Ghana Medical Centre, and provided health support and protective equipment to hospitals and major social gathering areas in Accra, Takoradi, Bolgatanga, Tarkwa and Kumasi. He’s also heavily invested in educational institutions such as the Tamale Secondary School, where he is constructing a 700-bed capacity dormitory. And although he tries to hide his hand during most of his philanthropic activities, word eventually gets out.
Ibrahim is more…colourful than most of his peers. He’s a ‘machine lover’. He loves his cars and bikes. It’s how he unwinds. Maybe, it’s his engineering background at play. For the most part, his bike- riding and driving exploits have been revealed in the grainy pixels of onlookers’ lenses. He was last spotted at the 2022 Launch Control at the Afienya Strip with three of his cars – a Porsche 911, a Mercedes- Benz AMG GT 63 coupe and a Mercedes-Benz G 63 AMG 6X6 – because why not? He caused quite the roar when he performed the perfect doughnut and powerslid with the GT 63 coupe, and raced a car in his 911. It’s what makes him relatable. He’s the man you read about, who could still just randomly walk up to you in the street and strike a casual conversation. He’s always ready to weave through the people and do the simple things.
For much of the past year, all everybody heard was how great it was that a Ghanaian had started a cement company to compete in the local and international markets. All everybody heard was Ibrahim Mahama and Dzata Cement. He was suddenly the man of the hour. But to many of the people in the know, he’s always been the man; he’s just finally getting his flowers.
In EMY Africa’s opinion, the recognition is long overdue. When Ibrahim Mahama finally got on stage to receive his award, you could tell he was a man of the people. The entire room was booming. Clearly elated about the honour, he leaned toward the microphone and smiled. “I’m grateful.”