5 Billionaires who went Broke and Bounced Back
Being a billionaire does not come cheap; it takes many years of dreaming, toiling, hard work and sacrifices. This is why there are fewer billionaires in the world. Attaining the billionaire status is not a walk in the park. Albeit not impossible.
In some environments, especially in Africa, where the odds are perpetually stacked up against entrepreneurs, the climb is nearly impossible.
However, no one is immune to failure irrespective of your colour, location, or how much of a genius you think you are. Even billionaires are still susceptible to failure.
There are many reasons why even the most successful people fail. The reasons could range from personality clashes, lifestyle choices, government policy, poor decision-making, the market reality, or sharing bad luck.
One of the major factors that distinguish the average billionaire from others is their perspective on failure.
Wealthy people often see failure as another hurdle on the road to success or an opportunity to learn vital lessons and gain more wealth.
Here are some of the billionaires who went broke and rebuilt their wealth from the ground up.
In 2008, Nigerian billionaire Femi Otedola lost it all as his business empire took a dramatic downward spiral.
Otedola’s company, Forte Oil, was on top of the supply chain in the Nigerian diesel and petroleum market. It had a large chain of petrol stations numbering up to 500.
“I had about 93 per cent of the diesel market on my fingertips,” Otedola admits.
That year, Forte Oil had ordered a million tons of diesel which was on the sea headed to Nigeria. Unfortunately, the international oil prices dropped from $146 to $34 while the company’s diesel shipment was still at sea.
As if that was not enough, the Nigerian economy was affected by the sudden dip in oil prices, and the government responded by devaluing the naira and subsequently raising the interest rate.
It was an inferno of crisis that threatened to bankrupt Otedola’s business empire. Over $480 million was instantly swept off his wealth by the oil price crisis.
He lost another $280 million to the devaluation of the naira, and accruing interest ballooned to $320 million. He also lost $16 0million when the stock crashed.
So within a short period, his debt profile skyrocketed to $1.2billion, and he was knocked off Forbes rich list.
His poor decision-making had brought him into crisis, and it would take a better decision to bring him out.
ALSO READ: Femi Otedola Announces Exit from Forte Oil
“After I lost the money, something that struck me was that my father had always been my role model in life and the first thing I had to do was to protect his name. He had a policy; honesty was the best policy, so I had to protect that name and his integrity,” Otedola said.
So rather than allow the adversity to consume him, he saw it as a learning curve and started taking strategic decisions. He got his bank to write off $400 million, and he was left with $800 million to pay.
Otedola valued his asset, sold quite a number of them, including real estate and shares in several multinationals and paid off the debt.
He was left with only a 34 per cent share in African Petroleum which was later rebranded to Forte Oil.
Several strategic decisions followed, and in 2014, Otedola roared back into the billionaires club with an estimated wealth of $1.8billion according to Forbes.
The business mogul described his loss as an important lesson that has guided his business decisions afterwards.
Strive is the richest man in Zimbabwe and one of the most recognised billionaires in Africa. Forbes put his net worth at about $3.8billion, but his fame and fortune came at a huge cost.
In the eighties, Strive owned a flourishing engineering firm in Zimbabwe. In a bid to expand his investment portfolio, he invested in the growing telecoms industry in Africa, which was the beginning of his troubles.
The then Zimbabwean government, led by Robert Mugabe denied him the license he sought to start Econet Wireless.
But the billionaire did not accept the rejection; he took the government to court in a legal battle that lasted several years and brought him close to bankruptcy.
After five years, the Zimbabwean constitutional court ruled in his favour, which led to the establishment of Econet Wireless and launched Strive Masiyiwa into global relevance.
Today, he is regarded as a pioneer in the burgeoning African telecoms industry and still owns more than half of the shares in Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, a publicly listed company.
ALSO READ: 5 Countries Where Billionaires Hide Their Wealth
In 2013, following a series of tactical investments, Abdulsamad Rabiu, Chairman of BUA Group, popped up on the Forbes billionaires’ list for the first time, with a net worth of just over a billion dollars.
But the experience lasted only for a moment. By 2007, Rabiu’s name was yanked off after a devaluation in the naira reduced his wealth to below one billion.
After then, the BUA Group Chairman began to take some strategic investment decisions by ramping up his stakes in the cement market.
He made huge investments in building cement factories, significantly raising his production capacity. At 11 million metric tons, BUA Cement is now the second-largest cement producer in Nigeria.
Also, his decision to merge Kalambaina Cement, a subsidiary company of his BUA Cement, with the publicly traded Cement Company of Northern Nigeria (CCNN), where he was a controlling shareholder shot him back into the Forbes rich list in 2020 as Nigeria’s third-richest man with $1.6 billion.
Today, Abdulsamad is the second richest Nigerian after Aliko Dangote and fifth in Africa with an estimated wealth of about $6.5billion.
One of the greatest comeback stories in business is Steve Jobs’ unceremonial exit from Apple, the company he co-founded.
Jobs founded Apple in 1976. He was only 21. Two years later, he became a millionaire. By the time he turned 30, he was widely successful and fabulously wealthy.
Jobs had revolutionised the tech industry and created an iconic brand. Many referred to him as a genius. But it didn’t take long before he started having troubles with the board of Apple.
A power struggle ensued between him and then Apple CEO John Sculley, and when the matter got to the board, they sided with Sculley.
That was the beginning of Jobs’ troubles in Apple, as he was made irrelevant in the company. Eventually, he quit.
“I was out and very publicly out,” he said in one of his speeches. “What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.”
In a Stanford University speech he gave in 2005, he said he didn’t know the next step to take for several months after he left Apple.
“I felt I had let the next generation of entrepreneurs down. I even thought about running away from Silicon Valley.”
But Jobs began to bounce back gradually after launching a new computer company, NeXT. Subsequently, he started Pixar Animation Studio.
Steve Jobs gave his best to his new projects, and they began to flourish. On the other hand, Apple was struggling.
In 1996, Jobs’ comeback was complete when Apple bought NeXT. He returned to the company and was appointed Apple CEO the following year.
Reflecting on his remarkable journey, Jobs said, “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.”
During his reign as CEO, Apple bounced back to reckoning and is now the most valuable company in the world.
James Altucher probably had it worse. His financial descent was so bad that there was only $143 left to his name by the time he realised it. Yet during the 90s dot.com boom, he was one of the top millionaires in the US.
Altucher was the envy of his colleagues when he sold his first company for $15 million in 1998. In 2007, he was paid $10 million for another company he founded.
But he lost everything to gambling and poor lifestyle choices, and failed investments.
“I was smart, but then I was stupid. I was so unbelievably stupid. Within three and a half years of making this money, I had $143 left in my ATM account,” James told Nick Gillespie, editor at large of the libertarian magazine, Reason.
“I was probably losing about a million (dollars) a week for an entire summer. I just made every stupid decision in the book.”
So when he hit rock-bottom, James started thinking about his life choices and began reinventing himself.
He said he has learnt from experience how not to invest. For example, he admonishes people not to invest more than one per cent of their net worth in a company, even if the company is the next Google or Facebook.
Today, James is back on the rich list courtesy of what he earns as a writer, podcaster, public speaker and email newsletter proprietor known for advice books like “Choose Yourself.”
He talks frequently about how he clawed his way back from these massive losses. However, he rejects labels commonly applied to him like “self-help guru.”
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