In a world, especially in Africa, where women have little opportunities to build hugely successful businesses like their male counterparts, Nigerian billionaire, Folorunsho Alakija is one of the few who proved it could be done, and she has inspired more African women to dare the impossible.
Alakija did not become a billionaire by accident. She started her career in office administration, and then she went into banking where she remained until she decided to follow her passion, which was fashion.
After years of building a fairly successful fashion company, Rose of Sharon House of Fashion, she wanted more from life, and this led to her bitter-sweet journey into the oil business.
In August 1993, the Nigerian government awarded Alakija’s company, Famfa, an oil prospecting license after years of applying multiple times. It was a win and a relief, but a short-lived one, as it took another three years to find technical partners.
The company needed technical partners that would provide the technical know-how and the funds to explore oil in the facility.
It was difficult finding partners because the oil bloc that was allocated to her company was undesirable at the time. This was because it was deep offshore and technology had not reached the water depth of the 5000 feet oil bloc.Folorunsho Alakija
Alakija’s company eventually got an invitation from Texaco and negotiations lasted for three months – a deal was struck.
Another round of problems arose in 1999 after Famfa struck oil in a commercial quantity. The government of the day demanded 40 percent share of the 60 percent share owned by Alakija’s company, leaving it with 20 percent. It meant the government wanted to take two-third of the company’s share.
In an interview with Forbes, she described the day she got the news as the worst day of her life in business. At this point, she and her family had invested their life savings into the business.
“How can I ever forget that day…we had taken a sole risk. Meaning that if we did not strike oil in commercial quantity, we could have been wiped out. It was after we had discovered oil in a commercial quantity that the government decided to back into our bloc and said ‘okay, now that it’s looking juicy, we want a part of that’. We felt cheated”, she recalled.
The events that followed the government’s crude demand were ugly. Alakija and her family started knocking on doors in high places – friends and associates who could appeal to the government to back down – but everyone they thought could help avoided them like plaques.
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Distraught and confused, with no hope of intervention in sight, Alakija and her company decided to sue the government, in what would become a long drawn battle.
“We felt that we had nothing to lose by fighting back but we had everything to gain if we won. People thought we were crazy, but there was nowhere to go. Every door had been shut in our face. We were depressed, dejected, angry but nobody to punch. It seemed as if it was the end of the world and everything had collapsed in our faces”, she said.
Against all odds, Alakija went to war with the government and eventually won. Although, the battle lasted 12 years before victory came.
Today, the 69-year-old oil baroness is one of only two female billionaires in Africa, with a net worth of $1 billion. She’s the Vice Chairman of Famfa Oil, a Nigerian oil exploration company with a stake in Agbami Oilfield, a prolific offshore asset. Famfa Oil’s partners include Chevron and Petrobras.
Here are six attributes Alakija said are important recipes to becoming a hugely successful person.
1. There is no overnight success. You must start by dreaming big and working towards achieving.
2. You must be determined to succeed despite all odds.
3. Do not allow your setbacks or failures to stop you but rather make them your stepping stone.
4. Develop your strengths to attain excellence and be tenacious, never give up on your dream or aspiration.
5. Your word must be your bond. You must make strong ethical values and integrity your watchword.
6. Always act professionally and this will enable you to build confidence in your customers and clients.