By age 28, Daniel McKorley had made a million dollars. Within four years, he had lost it all. The million dollars was from a decade’s work. The work ethic behind making it, a lifetime’s worth.
It is something you pick up if you spend part of your childhood doing some work to fend for yourself, while your peers had extra classes or played.
“I was a trotro driver’s mate on the Accra-Madina route,” he laughs as he says, “and I also went from office to office, selling books”. That was how he could afford decent clothes or pay his school fees.
Years later, while attending Workers’ College, he would make time to conduct extra classes for the children in his Labadi neighborhood. Part altruism, yes. A lot of it however, came down to his eye for opportunity, as the classes were at a small fee. This eye would go on to serve him well for most of his adult life.
It is a big part of how he has built the successful McDan Group of Companies, the conglomerate that is home to McDan Shipping and Logistics, which you may have heard of already if you have paid any attention to the freight industry in Ghana. At a point, McDan Shipping had a fleet of over 100 trucks that moved goods around West Africa for its clients.
He started out as a concierge at a shipping company – cleaning the toilet, the floors, washing plates and running errands – and spent a decade going through the mill in the industry, rising eventually to be a clerk at the last firm before he struck out on his own.
“One time, I was given the opportunity to go to the warehouse and take delivery of goods. I did so well that my boss asked me to stay with the delivery team. And they moved me to be an import clerk; they moved me from import to export; they moved me from export to tallying, and so on,” he recounted his experience.
Every Friday after work at the port with the shipping firm, he would travel to the Brong Ahafo Region to buy maize and bring down to Accra. He would keep the maize in storage for a couple of months, and flip it for profit when it went out of season.
He added coffee to his commodity trade, discovering that there was some significant amount of it grown in Ghana. He made a lot of money from it, becoming a millionaire quite young. Then tragedy struck.
“I was in Pennsylvania, attending a leadership course at Lehigh University, when I had a call that my warehouse had been flooded. A huge storm had ripped the roof off. I had a whole bunch of coffee locked up there and you know how it goes when water soaks up coffee. I lost it all,” he explained, when I asked about how he lost his first million.
It was a deep lesson for him. He had not taken any insurance cover for the warehouse.
The fighting spirit in him wouldn’t let him give up. At a point in his youth, his friends paid him money to fight people on their behalf. Growing up in such an environment, he knew he had to start all over again, even selling his car for a fresh start.
“What kept me going was my burning desire to make a change, because I came from a very poor background. A lot of people where I came from were written off,” he said.
With the lessons in mind, and aggression, dedication and grit, it was only a matter of time before he was back on top again.
He left to start his own firm, McDan Shipping and Logistics in 1999, beginning with customs brokerage – clearing goods for people at the port.
Slowly, his hands-on approach to doing business – he still goes to the tarmac and the harbour today – won him loyal clients. Slowly, the company would go on to become a leader in the freight and logistics industry, operating from over 2,000 air and seaports worldwide, and handling cargo volumes of 900,000 tonnes a year. The company currently owns approximately 41,000Km2 of warehousing space.
He didn’t end there. Spotting a need for top-level security services, he founded AFWEST Security Company to provide security for players in the mining, banking, and other blue chips as well as diplomatic missions in Ghana. It has grown from a force of just three in 2011 to a 1,000 security personnel today.
Then there’s the real estate arm of the conglomerate, Colonial Properties, which has acquired and sold substantial land and property in prime areas in Accra.
His eye for opportunity would also notice a chance in the automobile industry. His grit and enterprise wouldn’t let it slip by. He started Automedic to provide a state-of-the-art repair service centre for the fast growing high-end luxury vehicle market in Ghana.
It has invested over US$2 million in diagnostic and servicing equipment in a large workshop at East Legon, and brought relief too many owners of such vehicles.
It’s all down to God, really, for him. “If God loves somebody else more than me, then there is a problem somewhere,” he jokes. And one trick: “In all my businesses, one thing I’ve tried to eliminate is the word ‘sorry’ to my clients. That is how I’m able to deliver great service to them, doing whatever it takes to prevent me from saying ‘sorry’,” he states.
It has worked. In 2013, McDan Group was fifth on the Ghana Club 100 list of companies, in the midst of Ghana’s largest corporations. “When you spend part of your childhood walking barefooted in Labadi, it is not one of the things you dream of,” he tells me.
Planning for retirement?
All this, and he still thinks he hasn’t reached even half of the potential. Well, he’s only 44.
When he has finished building the structures that would ensure that all his companies transition from the “infant and organic levels to the corporate level,” in order to outlive him, the rest of his days would be spent on his 5,000-acre rubber plantation he is developing in the Western Region.
Not that it matters, but the million he lost when he was 32, would be nothing.