Stella Okoli: Promoter of wellness from little beginnings

Being a woman at the top in a country like Nigeria is no lean feat. But with a philosophy rooted in hard work, integrity and ethical leadership; Mrs. Stella Chinyelu Okoli, the CEO of Emzor Pharmaceuticals Ltd has successfully taken pharmaceutical business a notch higher.

She once said: “It is important for young female entrepreneurs to start small”. She explained that besides money, there are certain techniques, focus and determination as well as finding out gaps in the system which they can plug into.

From Emzor Chemist Ltd in January 1977 – a small pharmacy retail shop in Shomolu, Lagos – Emzor Pharmaceuticals has planted its feet in other West African countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone, and grown into a large manufacturing company with over 80 products in its stable including Emzor Paracetamol, Lokmal, Maldox and Emvite.

Behind the 32-year-old company is Mrs. Stella Chinyelu Okoli who sits as Managing Director and CEO of Emzor Pharmaceuticals Ltd. And for her, the saying ‘It is lonely at the top’ has never been truer.

Born in Kano to Chief Felix Ebelechukwu and Princess Margaret Modebelu in August 1944, young Stella attended primary and secondary schools in Eastern Nigeria (Anambra State precisely) before moving to the United Kingdom where she earned a degree in Pharmacy from Univeristy of Bradford in 1969. Two years later, her quest for further knowledge saw her getting a Master’s degree in Bio pharmaceutics from University of London, Chelsea College.

Despite the desire to be her own boss, Okoli started out working in various pharmaceutical organisations at home and abroad. Post-graduation, she had her first stint as a Ward / Clinic Pharmacist in Middlesex Hospital, London. She then joined Boots the Chemists Ltd as a pharmacist before returning to Nigeria where she got a job in Massey Children’s Hospital, Lagos.

However, the idea of selling pharmaceutical drugs was ignited when she joined Park Davies Nig Ltd (now Pharma-Deko) as a Medical Representative. She later rose to become the company’s Sales Manager.

In 1981, Okoli began importing and selling ethical and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs before her company, Emzor Pharmaceuticals got incorporated as a manufacturing company three years later.

Emzor Paracetamol was one of the first products from the brand that was set to take over the pharmaceutical industry in Nigeria. By 1987, Emzor had four products in its stable and today, the company has churned out medicines that cater for a myriad of health problems and ailments including anti-malaria, analgesics, antibiotics, haemantinics, vitamins etc.

In a bid to sharpen her management skills, Okoli attended various management courses including Implementing Strategic and Organisational Change at IESE Business School, Barcelona, Spain (1996); Executive Management Programme at Harvard Business School, Boston (1997) as well as the Chief Executive Programme at the Lagos Business School.

Following the unfortunate death of her son in 2005, the next year, Okoli established the ‘Chike Okoli Foundation’ in his memory to fight poverty and disease by raising awareness on cardiovascular diseases. She also started the ‘Chike Okoli Centre for Entrepreneurial Studies’ which has trained thousands of Nigerian tertiary students on ICT.

Due to her immense contribution to the economy, Okoli is a current member of the Economic Summit of Nigeria. She is also a member of the Health Matters Advisory Board of Nigeria. She has held leadership positions in industry-related associations including Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) where she serves as vice-president. She also served as Chairman of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Group.

She is a recipient of various distinguished awards and honours including the Member of the Order of the Niger (MON), Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON), ECOWAS International Gold award among others.


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