Success Story from Nigeria: Billionaire Tony Elumelu Gives Back through Investment in Young African Entrepreneurs

BONUS POST: In honor of all of the members of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP) and all those active in the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), for which Mr. Elumelu serves as an adviser.

Tony Onyemaechi Elumelu was born to a middle-class family in March 1963 in Jos, Nigeria. He has four siblings. Mr. Elumelu studied and obtained a Bachelor’s Degree from Ambrose Alli University and a Master’s Degree from the University of Lagos. He completed his post-graduate degree in 1988. Thereafter he headed to the USA to for an advanced management program at Harvard University.

In his early career, in 1997, he made a name for himself when he led a group of investors to take over a small and nearly bankrupt commercial bank in Lagos and turned it profitable within a few years. At the time of the takeover Mr. Elumelu was the youngest bank CEO in Nigeria. By 2003, Mr. Elumelu was receiving national level awards for his business leadership. In 2005, Mr. Elumelu acquired United Bank for Africa (UBA) and merged it with his smaller, but newly profitable bank. Within five years Mr. Elumelu transformed UBA from a single-country bank into one with over 7 million customers in at least 19 African countries.

In 2006, Mr. Elumelu was voted African Business Leader of the Year by Africa Investor magazine and in 2008 was recognized as the African Banker of the Year by African Banker magazine. In 2009, then President Umaru Musa Yar’adua of Nigeria asked Mr. Elumelu to serve on the Presidential Committee on the Global Economic Crisis.

In 2010 and founded Heirs Holdings, a company that invests in financial services, agribusiness, energy, real estate and hospitality, and healthcare. In the same year, he established the Tony Elumelu Foundation, an Africa-based, African-funded, philanthropic organization dedicated to the promotion of excellence in entrepreneurship and business leadership. The Foundation also aims to enhance the competitiveness of the private sector in Africa and supports scholarships for outstanding university students through the Elumelu Legacy Prize.

In 2011, Heirs Holdings acquired a controlling interest in the Transnational Corporation of Nigeria Plc (Transcorp), a conglomerate with business interests in the energy, agribusiness, and hospitality sectors. Elumelu was subsequently appointed Chairman of the company. In 2012, Mr. Elumelu was awarded the prestigious Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) for his service to Nigeria, especially within the realm of encouraging personal enterprise.

In 2013, Mr. Elumelu pledged $2.5 billion towards the $16 billion that US President Obama would like to mobilize for investment in his Power Africa program, which aims to improve electrical access in Africa. That same year, together with the US-based Rockefeller Foundation, the Tony Elumelu Foundation launched an impact investment fund for Africa to introduce Africa’s business leaders to the concept and practice of impact investing. Although much of Mr. Elumelu’s philanthropy has been geared toward long-term investment in sectors that promote African development, he also has given millions in humanitarian aid, including to Nigerian flood victims.

In 2015, the Tony Elumelu Foundation launched the $100 million Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP), through which Mr. Elemu hopes to identify and support 10,000 entrepreneurs in technology, agriculture, education, entertainment, and other fields over 10 years. An inaugural class of 1,000 Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurs from 51 countries was selected from well over 20,000 applicants for the Foundation’s flagship program. Upon completion of 12-weeks of training on how to set up and manage a business, each member of TEEP receives $5,000 in startup funds. TEEP also provides its Fellows with networking opportunities and offers mentoring and another $5,000 in follow up support as well as the means to access additional funding through the Tony Elumelu Foundation’s platform. Several TEEP success stories are shared on the Foundation’s website.

Mr. Elumelu’s thoughts on economic development in Africa have been published in The Economist, the Wall Street Journal, and the Financial Times. He is also the author of the TOE Way Series, which consists of 12-weeks of entrepreneurial tips, from working hard, to staying on course during difficult times, and more. Mr. Elumelu holds honorary doctoral degrees from Benue State University and the University of Nigeria. He sits on numerous boards, including the Global Advisory Board of the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All Initiative (SE4All), the Aspen Institute’s Global Food Security Working Group and USAID’s ‎Private Capital Group for Africa partners’ forum. He also serves on the International Advisory Board of the Wilson Center, a Washington-based think tank, as Vice Chair of the National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria and as an adviser to President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).‎

New Africa magazine ranked Mr. Elumelu as one of the 100 most influential people in business in all of Africa and in 2012 Forbes magazine recognized him as one of Africa’s 20 Most Mighty People. In 2013, the Africa-America Institute (AAI) recognized Mr. Elumelu with a Leadership Award in Business and Philanthropy Award and named him African Business Icon at the African Business Awards. In January 2015, ESI-Africa, named him amongst its ‘ESI Most Influential Figures in African Power’. In October 2015, Tony Elumelu was named Honorary Counsel to the Africa Movie Academy Awards.

Based on the literature on international development and personal success, why have Mr. Tony Elumelu and his initiatives been so successful?

Some key characteristics come to mind:

Tony Elumelu had a PASSION TO SUCCEED and he has a strong belief in other people’s ability to change their own lives for the better with just a bit of support. In January 2016, Her Business (Kenya) reported that over 90 percent of Tony Elumelu entrepreneurs noted increased growth in their existing businesses in 2015.

Mr. Elumelu believes in treating people equally and serving as a MODEL for others in terms of PRACTICING WHAT HE PREACHES. He WORKS HARD and does not accept special treatment such as free stays in hotels if those are not also offered to others.

Mr. Elumelu has a VISION. He believes that programs like TEEP and YALI that invest in Africa’s youth are a part of the solution to Africa’s development challenges—they, unlike handouts, make the most of Africa’s human assets and help people follow and realize their dreams.

By Heidi G. Frontani



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