François Locoh Donou is senior vice-president for global products group at Ciena, a perfect performance for the Togolese of 42 years old. Ciena is one of the giants of optical solutions of packages.
He always remembers that he started in Lomé with a small poultry farming… “When I was 8 years old.”
He was born in 1971 near Togo Lake not far from the border with Benin. His father was the first Togolese architect certified DPLG. In 1985, her mother who is French, left Togo with her small family. François agreed to follow her to Europe on the condition of being able to continue his poultry farming in France and playing in Paris Saint-Germain. As of hens, he got two mandarins in a cage in an apartment in Châtenay-Malabry (Hauts-de-Seine). For Paris Saint-Germain, he was told in the club of his district: “when you are the best, you will leave for PSG”.
But he was always fascinated by hens… As soon as he was able to, he set up in Africa, “La Ferme de l’Espoir”, a farm of chickens.
François Locoh Donou was certified by an engineering school, formerly called “École nationale supérieure de physique de Marseille (Graduate school of physics of Marseille). He then got a Master degree in optical telecoms at the ENST, then Stanford’s BA (California).
He declared to “Jeune Afrique” magazine: “I was relatively good at mathematics and at physics. And when it was time to choose engineering school according to the classification in the competitions, I should admit that as fan of soccer, I more looked at the place than at the specialization! I chose Marseille because I knew that I could play soccer all year long. There, I did general physics; I a little bit touched everything: semiconductors, optical fiber, electronics, computing, etc. And I much liked optical fibers well. I liked light distribution in the fiber, I found it fascinating. At that time, it was a little bit my beginnings.”
He started his career at Photonetics, a company specialized in the domain of optical fiber sensors which sent him to Boston. He was under the spell of the United States and he decided to stay there. He signed in 1997, a contact at Ciena, based in Washington.
“It is a country which fascinated me. I saw good side of America, with very positive and very open-minded people. With regard to management style I had known, I found that there was a very different way of doing things. Americans, they tended to strengthen the positive and to praise it. And for me, it is a way of making come out what is the best from people, to motivate them. The challenge was thus well to me. The second aspect was the risk-taking. I soon understood that for the beginning of my career, an American company would more be able to take risks on me.”
His advancement was lightning: “Ciena who just suggested to me of becoming their commercial and of working on contracts bigger than 6 million dollars, six months later, I made them gain a deal of 80 million.”
He returned to Europe, always for Ciena where he especially took the responsibility of Germany.
He remembered: “I became Country manager, while I had almost never set foot in Germany, I could not speak German, and I clearly had no profile of an accomplished German businessman.”
But in 1999, the boom of start-up fascinated him. He did not want to miss his chance, and he decided to return to the United States. “I wanted to make an MBA with the aim of going to create one. That was why I went to Stanford, in the Silicon Valley. I left Ciena in September 2000, what was a difficult decision as I enormously earned there with stock-options.”
In 2002, the Internet bubble exploded. Year of hardship came. He went back to Ciena… “I did not leave Ciena for fun, but because I always said to myself that I would make this MBA to develop myself. I chose the good moment to do it. (…) It was really a challenge. I never did marketing and I was going to supervise a team of 40 people who knew perfectly the business”.
He kept a strong conviction of this period: “The leadership is acquired in obtaining confidence and follow-up of people who are under your management”
His other conviction: “your most important source of power, it is your heart“.
Does he dream of setting up a project in Africa? He always answered to « Jeune Afrique » magazine: “Yes! And it is the big question of my life! My mission, we could almost talk about it, is for me to use at the most opportunities in which I had access in the western world, at the same time in France and in the United States, in order to create from them new entities for my fellow countrymen in Togo. There is maybe a moment of my life where I shall do it by settling down there in a permanent way.
Since my first salary, I always have thought of investing a part of it in Africa. It started with the “Ferme de l’Espoir”. It lasted 10 years and finally it did not succeed. I invested a lot of money but on finish I created only 30 jobs. (…) With my colleagues, we created the first processing facility of cashew nut in Togo. We started in 2004 with small objectives and this company employs 550 people today.
We will probably talk about him because he has a strong ambition: “I do not want just to create a company; I want to create a model! And a model of capitalism in African type different from what was done! “