Meet the man who lost it all after laying the foundation for Ghana's most successful brewery

BY FACE2FACEAFRICA.COM - Nov 21, 2020 at 9:05am 100

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Joshua Kwabena Siaw, popularly known as J. K. Siaw, was a Ghanaian entrepreneur and industrialist in the 1960s. He established Tata Brewery Ltd, which was later known as Achimota Brewery Company (ABC) and now called Guinness Ghana Brewery.

Siaw was born in 1923 in the Eastern Region of Ghana although his parents come from the Ashanti Region in the heart of the West African nation. While in primary school in 1935, he took to basket-making as a means to raise funds to continue with his education.

He became a teacher in 1942 and continued through to 1945, teaching in different schools owned either by the government or Christian missionaries. He later founded Christ College in the Ashanti Region which has now evolved into Ghana Secondary School.

After his journey in the teaching field, Siaw wanted to do something different. He saw an opportunity in the cocoa sector where he assisted his dad on the farm during his primary school days. Cocoa, has for decades, been Ghana’s largest foreign exchange earner.

The country is only challenged by neighbouring Cote d’Ivoire for the top spot in the world.

Siaw took a loan of £50 (Ghana’s pre-independent currency was the British pound sterling) to start his new business venture as a cocoa broker. Within four months, he realized £600 as profit. In 1950, he became a siding clerk at Kwahu Praso, in Ghana’s Eastern Region, transporting cocoa to the capital, Accra. By 1953 he was working as a siding clerk at the public-owned Cocoa Purchasing Company.

In 1957, the hardworking Siaw became a cocoa and timber merchant. He also ventured into the selling of enamelware which was later banned by the Government of Ghana under independence leader Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah.

Twice in 1964 and 1967, he applied to the Government to be granted permission to establish a brewery, the business for which he would receive acclaim. He was successful in his applications in 1969.

Approval was given to him to establish Tata Trading Company in the Central Region of Ghana. The project was later relocated to Achimota, then a small town which has now grown in importance as a prime business and residential area in Ghana’s capital.

Tata Brewery Ltd was commissioned on 30 January 1973 by the military head of state at the time, Colonel Ignatius Kutu Acheampong.

“It is the single-minded and single-handed effort of Mr. J. K. Siaw… which has been responsible for what we see around us today. Mr. Siaw is an excellent example of the innate ability of the Ghanaian to rise to the needs of the occasion,” the head of state said at the launch.

Tata Brewery secured exclusive export rights for the Maltex drink, a carbonated malt beverage brand that was under the ownership of the Danish company Albani.

Tata exported to neighbouring Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal, and The Gambia. The company was also the first brewery to introduce draught beer in Ghana.

By 1976, the brewery employed 750 Ghanaians and only four expatriates. This was obviously a successful model because, by that time, Tata produced its own brand of beer – Tata Pilsner Beer.

The Ghanaian industrialist was also known for his philanthropic work. He built a clinic, a subsidized canteen and provided free transport to his workers and their families. Vaccinations were also provided free of charge to them. Siaw sought to build housing for the workers not too far from the site.

He also made donations to the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra, the biggest hospital in the country at that time, and also towards the construction of a hospital in Akwaseho, his hometown.

Siaw was instrumental in the construction of roads, a rare concern for philanthropists then and even now.

But in 1979, Siaw’s assets were seized by the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), the military organization led by Jerry John Rawlings when it seized power, over allegations of tax evasion. The military regime assumed he made his wealth through corrupt practices.

Later, a committee established in 1982 to investigate confiscated assets found “that the confiscation of all the assets of J. K. Siaw, owner of the former Tata Brewery, because he engaged in over-invoicing and under-invoicing during the Acheampong period was a travesty of justice.” Nonetheless, he did not receive his confiscated assets back.

During this period, Siaw was in exile and numerous petitions to the military regime led by Rawlings did not yield any result. He died in London while in exile, in October 1986. His body was flown back to Ghana in December that year.

In the 1990s, Tata Brewery, which had become the Achimota Brewery Company (ABC), was privatized under a US$3.5 million loan facility from the International Finance Corporation under a US$1 million equity investment.

The company assumed the name Ghana Breweries Limited under its new ownership. Ghana Breweries then merged with Kumasi Brewery Limited, a brewing company established in May 1959.

In 2004, Guinness Ghana Limited and Ghana Breweries Limited began a merger process. Up to 2007, the two companies transacted business together as two separate legal entities under the new name, Guinness Ghana Breweries Limited. The merger process ended when Guinness Ghana Breweries Limited acquired all the assets of Ghana Breweries Limited in 2008.

Today, Guinness Ghana Breweries PLC is the leading total beverage business in Ghana. And Siaw’s ambition from a modest beginning cannot be discounted from this success.