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Our Blog October 28, 2023

Karen’s Ghanaian Adventure

Writen by hep0jl

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Twenty-three years ago Karen Hendrickson quit her senior post at HSBC, said goodbye to friends and family and, with her husband, left Bermuda “for deepest, darkest Africa”.

Few people understood their wanderlust or knew anything about the country where they were headed. They imagined Ghana — and most of Africa — as primitive, impoverished and full of disease.

“What I saw was that the country was developing and I wanted to be a part of something that was growing and that was coming into its own,” said Ms Hendrickson in explaining why she and her husband, Richard Nwaobi, chose a sub-Saharan country over a life in Bermuda.

“Now, truth be told, the growth that we anticipated, we thought it would take, let’s say 16, 20 years – it actually took five or six years. The growth came so fast, so quick. It is to the point now where Ghana is on almost everybody’s radar as the darling of West Africa.”

She will share her story next week as part of a Ghana-centred “extravaganza” at Pier 6, Let’s Rediscover Africa: Ghana Series. The event is produced by Patricia Pogson-Nesbitt and Nishanthi Bailey will serve as moderator. People are invited for “a memorable experience” visiting “the gateway of Africa”.

“For 90 minutes immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of Ghana’s heritage, culture, and opportunities as experienced by the Visual Orator,” reads the programme description.

When they said goodbye to Bermuda in 2000, Mr Nwaobi was the general manager at Bacardi Ltd and Ms Hendrickson was a senior vice-president at HSBC.

“Of course you can imagine the mouths that dropped when I walked away from that to go to deepest, darkest Africa,” she said. “And that is why I think so many people are curious. I had an extremely successful career here in Bermuda and in those days people barely knew where Africa was on the map. But it was that kind of mindset that I experienced, even from my own family: what are you doing? What are you doing?”

The reality was that she and her husband, a US citizen originally from Nigeria, had a strong desire for the type of experience they would never have in Bermuda.

“This is my philosophy: life is a series of adventures and you can choose how many adventures you want to take. And so for me, I’m trying to get as many adventures in as I can,” the 63-year-old said.

Although keen on Africa from the start, the difficulty was choosing which part to settle in.

“We did a two-year recce, going and visiting different African countries and so forth and then when we got to Ghana a few things hit us: first of all, the main language was English, so I didn’t have a language barrier to deal with, but more importantly, I really felt like it was just a much larger Jamaica.”

Ms Hendrickson was born on the Caribbean island, so she was thrilled to discover somewhere that had a familiar feel.

“Also, we saw the potential and we wanted to be part of that. That was the genesis behind why we chose Ghana. And of course the things like the food, the people and also the vastness of it appealed to me greatly. I love the idea of being able to get in a car and drive for two or three hours and I’m not back in the same place where I started.

“In Ghana I’m an expat living there but because of the nature of the country — the people are very welcoming and warm — I’ve been able to assimilate very easily into Ghana and enjoy a host of different experiences in the country.”

They moved there prepared to work and decided to include a retail business in their offerings.

“People thought that was strange but we wanted to understand the corporate culture in Ghana before, if you will, diving in.”

An ice cream parlour that sold lactose-free desserts was a hit as the first of its kind as was the juice business that the couple started.

The key to their success was their insistence on “time, presentation [and] customer experience”, things which were common elsewhere but not so common there.

“It was not something that businesses focused on back then,” Ms Hendrickson said. “We were one of the first to do that.”

The retail success fed into their consultancy business until the operations were halted by electricity problems Ghana then faced.

“You could go 48 hours and there was no power. And then when the power would come back on, even if you had a generator, it would be so powerful that you would get surges. It was a really difficult time, but from that business so many movers and shakers really got to know about us and that led to other business opportunities.”

Diageo, the parent company of Guinness, and other big brands that Mr Nwaobi had worked for in the US, came calling.

“And then for myself, I got an array of very interesting consulting contracts that took me to the length and breadth of the country for many years as people needed a trusted professional to handle aspects of setting up a business or doing things within Ghana,” Ms Hendrickson said.

Just as she decided it was time to take a break and enjoy gardening, photography and other hobbies, a software company reached out for her help.

“I was trying to take it easy, because I’d been there for almost 15 years at that point,” she said.

That role was soon followed by the one she currently holds: CEO of the largest private health facility in the country.

The event next week was born out of the curiosity people showed on trips back home.

“My last visit here, which was in April, a friend of mine hosted me at a brunch at her house. She had some friends there and there were so many questions,” Ms Hendrickson said.

The questions continued even as she said her goodbyes.

“My friend turned to me and said, ‘You know, Karen, you should do something. People are so curious about Ghana, about the continent.’ And that’s where the idea was born.”

The event will showcase Ghana with the help of pictures and videos taken over 23 years. Help came from a “team” of people including Ms Pogson-Nesbitt, who serves as “creative director and producer”.

“Because Ghana is such a dynamic, vibrant, pulsating, growing country, because it’s not one-dimensional, the event will also have a mini fashion show; we will have music and dance; we’ll even have a poetry reading,” Ms Hendrickson said.

“The linchpin of the event will be the fact that I will be answering questions, not just from the moderator, but also from the audience who might have questions or curiosity, about Ghana because many people have visited and more want to come.”

• Let’s Rediscover Africa: Ghana Series takes place at Pier 6 at 6pm on November 4. African dress is optional. Tickets are available on For more information visit or follow @visualorator on social media platforms

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