Tony Elumelu: Lesson for Building a Billion-Dollar Empire
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Tony Elumelu: A Lesson in Making it Big in Africa

The business success of Nigerian Entrepreneur and Investor, Tony Elumelu is a testament to the potential and opportunities inherent in Africa. Elumelu who led a small group of investors to take over a struggling Crystal Bank turned it into a profitable venture within a few years. 

While Elumelu is celebrated for having a clearly identified vision, determination, and drive to make a positive impact, his success story has a lot of lessons for entrepreneurs who want to make it big in Africa. In this article, we will provide perspective on how to make it big in Africa using Elumelu’s early days in the Nigerian banking industry. Let’s dive in. 

Have a team

Making it big in Africa is not a feat that can be achieved singlehandedly. Hence, the need to build a strong team that believes in your vision. Elumelu had a team that believed in his vision. Speaking on how he built UBA, Elumelu said, “We assembled the right team, shared the aspirations, they owned them and bought into them and we had a three-tier strategic intent.” 

Elumelu wouldn’t have been able to achieve his dream of turning the defunct Standard Bank into a profitable venture alone. Importantly, his dream would have been dead on arrival, if the team he worked with did not believe in him. To make it big, you must not only nurse an idea, but it is also necessary to build a team.

Start small

The former bank Chief started his career as a salesman, before joining Allstates Trust Bank. Elumelu started small, he saw every opening as an opportunity to build his experience in banking. From his days as a National Youth Corp Member in Union Bank to his time at Allstates, Elumelu was learning. 

Applying for a bank job he wrote, “I know I may not have met the qualifying criteria for the advertised roles, but I am intelligent, driven, ambitious and I will make the bank proud. My 2:2 degree does not demonstrate the full extent of my intelligence and ability, and I know I can do so much more.” 

Elumelu’s passion for entrepreneurship made him jump on opportunities regardless of their size. With just a dream, he led one of the largest mergers in the banking sector in Sub-Saharan Africa by acquiring the United Bank for Africa (UBA). Entrepreneurs who want to make it big in Africa must be willing to start small.

Set clear goals

The Chairman of Heirs Holdings, a family-owned investment company committed to improving lives and transforming Africa through long-term investments, during an interview revealed that their goal was to turn the struggling bank into a successful venture. He said, “We had a three-tier strategic intent. Tier one was to get a distressed bank and turn it around and make it viable and we gave ourselves a time frame. With purpose and vision, we created milestones and put a time frame.”

Making it big in Africa goes beyond wishful thinking to strategic planning and implementation. What are your goals? What problems do you want to provide solutions to? Providing answers to these questions before beginning your entrepreneurial journey will help you clearly identify what you want to achieve.

Chase your dreams

Elumelu and his team worked hard to create the name they dreamt of. That’s why he once said, “I owed my accelerated career and successes to two things: hard work and luck.” Their second-tier intent was to become one of the top ten banks in the country. They worked hard at it and accomplished it. He also revealed that the third-tier intent was to become one of the top-three banks and they accomplished it. 

As a young entrepreneur, your dreams to make it big in Africa are valid, but they will only become a reality when you chase them. 

Be resilient

The Nigerian Entrepreneur once noted that “Entrepreneurs do not give up; they are resilient. I am resilient.” Identifying the right investors to invest in a struggling bank like Crystal was not an easy task for Elumelu and his team. 

But Elumelu once said, “Never believe anything is impossible. Have an open mind. Find out what it takes to succeed. Chances are it will”. With a belief that impossibility only happens in the brain, he was able to convince them to invest. 

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