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Tony Elumelu: His Advice for Rapid Business Growth

As Chairman of Heirs Holdings, Tony Elumelu’s extensive experience in building successful businesses in Africa provides valuable advice for rapid business growth. Elumelu is credited for leading a small group of investors to invest $5 million into a distressed Nigerian bank, Crystal Bank, which was later renamed (Standard Trust Bank). 

The Nigerian entrepreneur worked hard and turned the bank into a profitable venture within a few years. He however did not stop there, but he further influenced one of the largest mergers in the Nigerian banking sector in Africa. The merger birthed the United Bank of Africa (UBA). 

Over the years, Elumelu has inspired many young entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams and build successful businesses that can create jobs and drive economic growth. Let’s briefly examine Elumelu’s counsel for recording rapid business growth by examining his business journey.

Vividly understand your business

Elumelu who started as a Youth Corp Member in Union Bank preaches that entrepreneurs who desire to achieve rapid business growth must understand their business. Speaking with UBA’s Guest Editor, Bervelyn London, Elumelu advised young entrepreneurs to understand their businesses. 

He said, “What is the business? What are the critical success factors for this business? What are we doing right? What are we not doing correctly? What are the external impacts on the business?” Providing answers to these questions will help you identify the strengths, weaknesses and develop effective strategies that can drive business growth. He also affirmed this in one of his quotes, it says, “To be successful, you must understand the dynamics, the distinguishing and competitive factors of the industry you play in and how to disrupt the market.”

Elumelu remarkably turned Standard Bank into a profitable venture in a few years because of his understanding of the business. Also in 2010, Elumelu equipped himself with knowledge and turned a  family office into an African proprietary investment company, Heirs Holdings. Building Heirs Holdings, Elumelu worked with a small dedicated team that identified attractive economic sectors and invested in them.

See risks as opportunities

With a passion for entrepreneurship rooted in the economic philosophy of Africapitalism, Elumelu has taken various risks in his business journey. He once stated, “People see risks, we see opportunities. We go for opportunities and see how to mitigate the risks.” 

Seeing risks as opportunities will help you to seek out ways to manage the risk. Tony also said he tells young Africans, ‘that we can choose to sit down and just weep and complain but we can also say in spite of these challenges, what can we do?” Folding your hands rather than embracing opportunities will not bring about business growth, so decide to closely examine risks and identify the opportunities inherent in them.

Elumelu took the risk of investing in young entrepreneurs across 54 African countries through the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF). The Nigerian investor did not allow the instability and risks inherent in Africa’s business landscape to hold him back. Rather, he made a $100 million commitment to empower 10,000 African entrepreneurs over 10 years.

People management is key

Growing a business involves a lot of people. Since you can’t be everywhere and do everything yourself, you will need people, hence the need to manage them properly. Elumelu said, “If you do not care about how your business is conducted, your very future may be at stake.” This can be interpreted to mean, if you do not care about the people running your business, the future of your business could be at stake.

The former banking chief has over the years worked with people to achieve rapid business growth. Speaking at the Heirs Holdings 2023 HR Agenda Setting, a session that convened all HR Managers and executives across the group, Elumelu said, “Managing people well and ensuring that they have the right culture is a collective responsibility.” 

He counselled them not to be the type of leader that run away from difficult issues. He said, “When people come to you with difficult issues, don’t sweep them under the carpet, instead, let it excite you to find a solution.” Offering solutions to the challenges of people that work to grow your business is a way to ensure rapid success in business growth. Remember the team will only work when every member is faring well.

Be dispassionate in business decisions

Elumelu once stated that a lot of businesses fail because people are not being dispassionate when they make business decisions. For your business to grow rapidly you must learn to make objective, rational choices that are based on facts and analysis rather than personal biases or emotions.

As the founder of Heirs Holdings, Elumelu was faced with tough decisions about which businesses to invest in and which to let go. But by using a data-driven approach that evaluated the financial health and growth potential of each business, Elumelu was able to make decisions that led to significant growth and profitability for his company.

Also, he recently spent over N23 billion to tighten his control in Transnational Corporation (Transcorp) after Femi Otedola displaced him as the single largest majority investor in the firm. Being dispassionate can produce strategic and forward-thinking decisions. It can also help you identify and address problems and inefficiencies in your business. 

Leverage technology

Elumelu describes technology as a leading accelerator for economic transformation and development globally. He once stated that technology remains a reality that offers a world of opportunity and promise. Also, he said the “TEF platform is a demonstration of what can be achieved when the digital revolution is democratised – personal empowerment, business growth, equitable bilateral relationships and a more gender-balanced and inclusive society.”

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