Stella Okoli

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Stella Chinyelu Okoli (MON, OON) born 1944 is a Nigerian pharmacist and entrepreneur. She is the founder and current C.E.O of Emzor Pharmaceutical, a pharmaceutical manufacturing company in Nigeria which has expanded its presence to Liberia and Sierra Leone, India, Ghana, and Mali.

Stella was born in Kano State, Northern Nigeria into the family of a wealthy chief Felix Ebelechukwu and Margaret Modebelu, descents of Nnewi in Anambra State.  Back at the time of her birth, the Igbo culture centralized more importance of a male birth as a blessing. However, as Stella grew into an admirable, perspicacious little girl, her father fell in love with his daughter and founded a movement with the sole aim of appreciating the girl child.She started her formal education in 1954 after enrolling as a pupil at All Saint Primary School, Onitsha before proceeding to complete her secondary school education in 1964 at Ogidi Girls Secondary School, Ogidi. She also, attended Federal Science School Lagos from 1964 till 1966

Stella later proceeded to University of Bradford in the United Kingdom  and in 1969, Stella graduated from the University of Bradford after studying Pharmacy. She also holds an M.Sc certificate in Biopharmaceutical after graduating from the University of London, Chelsea College in 1971.

Stella started her career in Middlesex Hospital as a Ward/ Clinical Pharmacist, followed in succession by her brief stint as a Pharmacist at Boots Chemist London. Her return home to Nigeria, saw her work at Massey Children Hospital Lagos before she joined a pharmaceutical manufacturing company Park Davies Nigeria Ltd (now Pharma-Deko Plc) as a Medical Representative and later as a sales Manager.

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Stella’s burning passion to turn around the practice of pharmaceutical industry in Nigeria instigated her entrepreneurship career.  In January 1977, she started her dream with a sum of N4,000 given to her by her father which at the time, was considered a huge sum of money. So, she set up a medicine shop (Emzor Chemists Limited) in Somolu, Lagos State with the mindset of making it the best for miles around, while all the time keeping her eye on the big picture. She was very focused on her vision though she had started from a small beginning saying, “I refused to join the family business, even though that was what my family wanted me to do, especially given my exposure in the United Kingdom.”The time to secure her fate came when foreign investor decided to pull out investment due to enormous challenges faced in the country, Stella took upon herself the responsibilities and decided to find a solution. In an interview she recalled “but they were foreigners, they could divest, pull out their funds and go back home to their countries. I couldn’t go anywhere. And so, we were forced to do the best we could to ensure the quality and the growth of the industry was maintained. We just had to do our best the only way we knew how.”

By 1981, her entrepreneurial drive led her into the Drug importation business. She imported both Ethical and Over the Counter (OTC) drugs to meet the health needs of Nigerians for quality drugs and by 1984 incorporated Emzor Pharmaceutical Industries, a leading producer of a wide range of drugs, over 70- lines of products and significant contributor to Nigeria’s gross domestic product.

The company, a wholly owned indigenous company, was incorporated in Nigeria in 1984 for the purpose of manufacturing high-quality pharmaceutical products and medical consumables. According to Stella, the idea to manufacture drugs locally was predicated upon the need to develop local capabilities and competencies, create jobs and provide high-quality pharmaceutical products and services to Nigerians at prices that are not only affordable but represent value.

From retail to importation and wholesales of pharmaceutical products, the company commenced pilot manufacturing in 1986. This culminated in the introduction of its flagship brand, Emzor Paracetamol, which currently controls 25 per cent of the analgesic market in the country. Emzor has since continuously expanded its product range, growing in leaps and bounds. It now produces over 60 time-tested products, which include analgesics, vitamins, haematinics, anti-malarials, anti-tussives, antibiotics, anti-helmintics, anti-histamine, antacid, and cardio-protective drugs in Nigeria and in the West Coast of Africa.

The rapid expansion of Emzor Pharmaceuticals has also led to the establishment of several subsidiaries (Zolon Healthcare Limited and Emzor Hesco Limited) and partnering with international companies which includes AESCULAP AG, Germany, Huckerts Laboratory, Belgium and Medical Research International, Italy. On June 12, 2009, Stella’s efforts at ensuring top quality products paid off as the company received the NIS ISO 9001:2000 certification. In presenting the certificate, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON).Indeed, challenges dotted the footpath of Stella who is saddened by the fact that there has not been enough encouragement in the sector neglected over the years. “You will find out that people have taken their money and put it elsewhere to either trade or do other businesses. We are, however, planning to revive the sector and we are hopeful that we will be lucky to do this,” she said. To Stella, having a virile pharmaceutical industry is a form of security for a country in the event of a crisis it means that the country will remain dependent on outsiders for something that is vital to it.

Today, Stella enjoys the glorious distinction of being the owner of Nigeria’s leading indigenous pharmaceutical company and, indeed, Emzor Pharmaceutical Company Limited holds the record as the first indigenous pharmaceutical company to be listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

Dr. Stella Okoli is on top of leadership challenges and is in tune with current management trends. She has attended wide ranging courses across the world, to broaden her knowledge and sharpen her leadership skill. Some of these, include The Executive Management Program at Harvard Business School Boston (1997- 1999) the implementing Strategic and Organizational Change at I.E.S.E. Business School, Barcelona Spain (1996). Management Course 2002 in Insead in Switzerland and the Chief Executive Programme of the Lagos Business School. She is also a director of the Harvard Business School Nigeria.

Beyond her quest for knowledge, she has consistently served in finding practical solutions to the perennial problems in our environment. She served as the Chairman of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Group of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (PMGMAN) she is an active member of many local and international professional organizations such as the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, British Chamber of Commerce, Commonwealth Pharmaceutical Association as well as Nigeria-South Africa Chamber of Commerce. She received the Bullion Award for her outstanding contribution to industry and Manufacturing.  She also served as the Vice president of NACCIMA. A great Philanthropist and a Change Agent, she has awarded many Scholarships to students in Secondary and Tertiary Institutions and donated generously to the less privileged in the society and consistently supported several non-profit organizations.

After the death of her son Chike Okoli in 2005, Stella started the Chike Okoli Foundation in 2006 as a non-profit organisation founded with the aim of fighting poverty and diseases by raising awareness on cardiovascular diseases. To date, the Foundation has set up the Chike Okoli Centre for Entrepreneurial Studies at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka and is trained over 1,600 entrepreneurs/students in the science and spirit of entrepreneurship. It has also reached over 5,000,000 people across Nigeria on lifestyle interventions.In recognition for her achievements and contributions to the health sector in Nigeria, Stella was bestowed with the Member of the Order of the Niger (MON) award and also a recipient of Order Of the Niger (OON). In 2012, she was honoured at the 17th ThisDay Annual Awards. She is also a recipient of the ECOWAS International Gold Award. She was recently honoured with the Doctor of Business Administration (Honoris Causa) by Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka.

Dr. Stella Okoli is proudly Nigerian and a distinguished daughter of Africa. Her doggedness, dynamism and unparalleled energy and passion in the face of daunting odds, have made her a remarkable role model for women and all classes of entrepreneurs across Africa. Her guiding philosophy is routed in hard work, integrity and ethical leadership.