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I’m passionate about Africa’s future – Olajide — Features — The Guardian Nigeria News – Nigeria and World News

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John Olajide, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Axxess, a leading global home healthcare technology company, is passionate about Africa’s future.

The native of Ekiti State had a humble beginning in Ajegunle, Lagos but hard work earned him the pride of place in United States, as he leads the strategic vision and direction of the Dallas, a Texas-based company, with presence around the world, including Lagos, Nigeria.

He’s particularly passionate about improving the quality of healthcare services delivery to patients in their homes by empowering healthcare organisations with state-of-the-art software solutions. 

Since he founded Axxess in 2007, the company has grown rapidly, and today, over 8, 000 organisations serving millions of patients worldwide have used Axxess software and services to make care in the home easy and make lives better. 

His commitment to building a stronger community resulted in his selection to serve in 2020 as the youngest-ever chair of the Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors and executive committee.

Olajide successfully led the Dallas business community through the COVID-19 pandemic, and has been recognised as the Outstanding Healthcare Executive of the Year and a Leader in Diversity. In this interview with CHIJIOKE IREMEKA, he gave insight into how Axxess software is aiding healthcare delivery, and his vision for Africa.

You have achieved a lot in space of time, especially chairing the Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce in the United States. How did you pull this as a black African and Nigerian?
I WILL say that prejudice is human nature and you find different expressions of that here; tribalism and nepotism. There is no difference. But I also believe there’s something in human nature; all cultures reward excellence in the moment, no matter what it is. So, what may have been a disadvantage was actually an advantage for us. What we were forced to do was to be more open and more transparent about who we are, and also on the merit. In fact, what was originally a disadvantage was what helped me engaged in the community.

I’m John Olajide; this is who I am. Don’t have anyone to tell you about me. You’re going to experience me and know me yourself. I understand the dynamics that exist in a society. Where people don’t know you, they distrust you, or they have certain prejudice, but when you experience the person, you will say, ‘no, this is excellent.’ You can’t argue with excellence; it’s objective, not emotional.

Tobi Amusan ran the 100 metres race and she was the best. Black, green or yellow, it doesn’t matter. She is the best; excellence is excellence. So, on that basis, it became obvious that this is a major way of contributing to the success of our society. It’s in our nature to give back to any community in which we operate and it’s part of who we are as an organisation.

One more important item of Axxess was to build a model of a socially responsible organisation, to be the model corporate citizen, and I’m proud to say that we are the model corporate citizens in Dallas, and we will be in Nigeria too. We are already in Nigeria as well. When you’re investing in the community’s success, you become a key part of the community’s success because you build trust in the community. You need to come back to the success, and by giving back to the society, you build trust, and then when you leave, it’s obvious this is the leader.

I served on the board of Dallas Chamber of Commerce and my colleagues graciously asked me to serve as a chairman of that board, the youngest in 130 years history of that organisation. I led throughout that COVID-19 pandemic era in 2020; it was hard. I remember that there was only one day in that entire year when I had time for myself. I was working almost fulltime, moving our business community forward and through COVID, partnering with all the different stakeholders. I’m proud to say today, that business community is even stronger than when we went into the pandemic and it’s the leading business region in the world. We did that successfully.

There are some advantages there because, in chaos, no one knows what to do. But my background, my heritage, all the experiences that I had, the trainings and everything prepared me for that moment. I was happy to serve and move that community forward.

You talked about your training and background as part of the experiences that have taken you this far. Would you speak on how your Ajegunle upbringing impacted this transition?
Yes. I was born in Amukoko, Ajegunle, Lagos, and it has to be a hard work for us. I have that understanding that any of us can be whatever we want to be irrespective of our background. So, I embraced that and said that when I grow up, I was going to be a lot more. I had high hopes.

My parents’ humble background helped in shaping me. At a point, my dad worked his way up eventually and became a distributor for Unilever. And they started to climb the economic ladder and we moved from that and were going to make a jump. So, it was quite a leap in one generation from where he was, to where they got. From Ajegunle, we moved to Ogba in Ikeja. And then, I had my primary school education in Ikeja, Allen Avenue. I proceeded to attend the Nigerian Navy Secondary School, Abeokuta, Ogun State, after which I proceeded for my tertiary education in the United States.

I don’t want you thinking, ‘oh, my parents had a lot of money and I got to study in America.’ No, that’s not what happened. I have worked harder than I’ve ever worked in my life to pay my rent for school. And people think everyone that goes abroad has an easy time. No, in fact, I worked during the day and went to school at night. I was working and paying my school fees and, of course, I was paying international fees. It was more expensive, but I worked harder.

How did Axxess come about in the midst of what you have gone through in US?
When I was in school, I had an aunt that worked for a local healthcare organisation. Then, the truth is, I was a very broke college student. From the university, I went visiting her and she was going to give me money, $100, $200 or something like that. I got there and it was a fairly large organisation. But I noticed that a lot of people were working at different workstations and at different desks. That was in 2001.

I just started asking questions about all these; are the computers connected? Are there networks set up to link the computers? My aunt said there were none. These are things we take for granted today, but it was a big deal 20 years ago. I explained what a computer network was and the benefits to help them improve their business, raise their revenues, streamline their operations, decrease their cost of doing business and help them to be more successful as a business and improve their patients’ outcomes. She liked the idea and took me to her boss.

I explained the same thing to the boss and the boss said, ‘it’s an amazing idea.’ So, I set out to build a computer network for that organisation. I became the computer guy for that business and I did a decent job. He told others about me and I started doing similar work. That’s how I paid my way to school.

But earlier on, I saw that the business was a healthcare home where wellness and medical professionals go to deliver healthcare services to people in their homes. I noticed that the organisation was underserved by technology, and more importantly, it had an entire industry that’s underserved. So, I said, ‘wow, this organisation needs technology to help them to be more efficient.’

So, I started doing a similar work for lots of different people. At some point, I told my aunt, ‘you know, as Nigerian entrepreneur that I am, it’s a little blessing for me, knowing how to do these and having the opportunity to do them.’ That’s why I’m optimistic about the future of this nation that the people who will build the nation are already here.

Having done this for my aunt’s office, I told my wife, ‘why don’t you set up your own organisation?’ And she said, ‘I don’t even know where to start from,’ but I told her I could help her figure that out because I knew the technology aspect of the business. But remember, my parents owned their own business; they were distributors for Unilever. So, as a kid, I have already understood business rebates, discounts, things like that. And during the holidays, my parents would always want me to manage their stores. So, I understood business fundamentally.

I’ve always had interest in business, economics, and things like that. Even when I did engineering, my passion really was in business; I was always there. I had a deep understanding of that, beyond what a typical engineer would have. My parents’ business was a cash business. Every day, there were big stacks of cash to take home every night. And then, we had a room where they just dump all the cash on the floor.

Then, when I was in primary school, after playing football in front of the house, every night before we went to bed, after homework, I have to clean up the money and tally them. It was our work. On my way to school the next morning, I would stop at the bank and make deposit. There’s always someone there; they’ll give me receipt and I’ll go to school.

The foundation for my entrepreneurial and business success was right here in Lagos; I learned that here. I understood that concept before I went to secondary school, before I went overseas. All these helped my success in US. I developed the skills here.

Going back to the story, I understood the technology challenges of that business (healthcare service delivery), I understood business fundamentally. Very quickly, I could see end to end what that organisation did. I researched what the licensing and regulatory standards for that type of business in the US was, in the state of Texas in particular. I was a consultant then; I was a 20-year old student when I became a consultant for that organisation. So, I understood what I was going to do for my wife.

For her business, I went through the process of obtaining the licence and she got it approved. I put the business through and, of course I knew it was going to be on me. But that was good for me. I did the same for a number of others. When people asked who did this, she would say, ‘well, that’s guy.’ People were usually surprised by that because they felt, ‘what can John do?’ I did similar work for lots of different people. I realised that here is an industry that’s underserved from a technology perspective of the work that needs help.

But one thing that they didn’t know was that I had the ability to create technology and I am passionate about computer. This ability came while I was a kid. While going to my parents’ store way back in Nigeria, I had my hands on computer. In my free time, I was always trying my hands on computers and understanding all that was here. All these skills I got in Nigeria before I left.

Seeing all these challenges, I felt that they could benefit from the knowledge I had acquired while I was in Nigeria. That’s cloud-based technology. By cloud-based technology I mean software in the clouds to help them to be more efficient and streamline their operations since healthcare organisations in US send medical professionals to people’s homes to provide care.

The professionals after documenting their information send their reports to the organisation that sends them which will enable them to bill the insurance companies, or whoever they need to bill to manage the workflow and all that.

Unfortunately, there are times when the organisation will have to wait for two weeks to get documentation on what’s happening to a patient. That’s not effective to me because the patient may have died in a serious case before the information gets to the organisation after two weeks long.

Going from there, I thought of how I could create technology that would provide excellent healthcare, which would give the healthcare information in the real time. But then, what I was thinking about at that time was revolutionary because no one thought about things in that manner.

I thought of creating a platform that would help to gather and document patients’ information in their homes and send the reports back to the office, where those in the office could access the information, process it and bill the insurance companies, or do whatever that is needed to be done. This would help them provide records that could grow their businesses, decrease the cost of doing business and streamline their operations.

With this, they could be more efficient; they can stay complied with the regulations because healthcare business is very regulated, especially when it deals with people’s lives. It’s a life or death issue. This would ensure that the patients are getting better services and getting better.

Following this, we set out to build a technology to help these organisations to be more efficient and do all those things I have thought out. One interesting thing there was that I thought it was going to take me just six months to build the first version of the technology, but it took four years to establish the software. It was difficult to build.

Meanwhile, I was consulting and handling constructing work for different organisations and all that I got from those constructions were poured into the business of developing this software technology.

After four years of work, you would think it was going to be an amazing technology platform, but the very first client, a lady we worked for, wasn’t pleased because the technology didn’t work. My very first experience wasn’t successful. It was a failure, candidly. I was so embarrassed. It was awkward. We tried all that we could, it didn’t just work so we left the place and went back to the office. We worked on it all through the night to be able to get it to work. It eventually worked and the next morning, I called the lady and said we were ready to go. I said, ‘sorry, it didn’t work a day before, let’s make it work today’. But the lady said: ‘It was a total waste of my time. I like you. You’re a good guy. But I wouldn’t want to see you again. I don’t want to waste my time.’

That’s how the first example wasn’t a success. We went back to find another client to work for. We kept working on it, little by little until we became the leading provider of software technology in healthcare delivery in the world. Number one all over the US, all over the world. We have our clients in the UK, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Canada. We have operations in India, the Philippines and all over the world.

Considering your achievements and recognition in US, one would think you would never return soon. What prompted your return and establishment of Axxess in Nigeria?
Everything you see here and everything I have done is about passion. It’s passion and passion for Nigeria. I’m passionate about Africa’s future and it’s not just in words. I hope all my actions demonstrate that passion.

I really appreciate the opportunity to realise that I’m passionate about women too and I’ll tell you it is for one basic reason. I’m digressing a bit but I think I actually have to say it.

For most of history, we haven’t allowed women to participate in contributing to our society. That’s the shorthand, and I personally believe that it would have been a lot better if we don’t leave half of our brain behind. Does that make sense to you? I also have two daughters, and I want my daughters to know that anything is possible in their lives, and that they would not be held back or discriminated against because they’re women. None of us had any choice in determining what our agenda is. So, why should we be penalised?

It’s important for me to ensure that folks understand why I’m here. I’m in Nigeria for three reasons. Number one is to create jobs. And number two is to create more jobs. You can guess the third one already – jobs, jobs, jobs. And I’m very passionate about economic development, about leveraging business and economic investments to improve the lives of everyone who could offer economic opportunities for a lot of people.

Nigeria is blessed with human capital, and I believe the most important resource any society could have are the people. We need natural resources but we just need to harness the creative abilities of the people to make that work. That’s what I believe fundamentally. I believe there’s nothing wrong with us (Africans or Nigerians) that we can’t deliver excellence. That’s why I’m here and I want to make sure that as we keep moving our society forward, people understand that excellence can come out of every proud Nigerian. Everywhere I go, I take that with me. I wear my Ekiti identity, I am a proud Ekiti man; I am a proud Nigerian. I wear that everywhere I go.

And when I meet people, I want to make sure the reference point they have for Nigerians is excellence. I believe in giving back to the society. I don’t make noise about these things, I just want you to encounter me and know whom I am.

So, if you haven’t read more about me in the Nigerian space in the past, it’s because my natural inclination is not to be an upfront candidate. I would rather just do the working and make the impact. But with what I’ve learned, it’s important to communicate and share what I’m doing so that we can encourage others.

I was talking about the reversed japa syndrome. The syndrome of our best and brightest leaving for all parts of the world is a phenomenon that’s lasted hundreds and hundreds of years, from when people were leaving involuntarily to now when we’re leaving voluntarily.

I, therefore, say there are opportunities to invest here in Nigeria and it’s my passion to create opportunities for young people and leave a better society for generations to come. I’m hoping I can make my contributions to make this happen, and I want to include you in that conversation. We all need to take accountable actions.

All of us are responsible for making our society better. We all need to commit and believe that our nation can be better while we work as a team. I want to make sure that when it’s all said and done, I made my own modest contributions to make our society a better place. I implore you to act too so we can work together.