“The private sector has a key role to play in developing Africa”

As one of Nigeria’s prominent bankers, investors and philanthropists, Tony O. Elumelu is positioning himself as champion of Africa, by pushing through long-term investment in the continent and also trying to drive competitiveness and entrepreneurship.


What is your management style and to what do you attribute your success?
I believe a lot that corporate success comes with assembling the right people, motivating them and realising that the boss alone cannot deliver everything. The first thing I did, and I continue to do, is to assemble the right team and make sure they are well motivated, make sure they understand the vision and ensure that resources are provided that will enable those actually involved to push it through. But as you get bigger, it gets more difficult to do so, so you need to now rely on your apostles. As I promote people to leadership positions, I try to make sure I promote people, not just those who have general competencies, but rather people who understand my DNA, how I do things. That helped to further drive the growth. Also it is about articulating a vision and making sure people understand it. If people understand the vision, the destination, the direction, they are better able to support you to realise it. 
Do you consider yourself a hands-on manager?
To a large extent. I operate from some point of experience. At times I push some people and say, “Have you run a business?” Leadership is situational. What is important is to make sure you have right apostles who understand how you approach issues and business, and put them in key strategic positions so that they are happy to continue to enforce that.
Did you have a mentor who was important to you? 
I was fortunate to work under Chief Eitimi Banigo. He was my CEO after I left postgraduate school and I learnt a lot from him. I believe a lot in mentoring people, because for Africa in particular we need leaders, entrepreneurs, good public sector leaders, good private sector leaders. We believe that with the right leadership, the continent can deliver progress. Each one of us who has managed to achieve a discernible success in business should be involved in mentoring others. 

You run different businesses across different sectors, as well as your foundation, banking group and investment groups. Is there a common goal? 
Yes. First, we have Heirs Holdings as a holding company, that is a proprietary investment company and we invest in key sectors [financial services, healthcare, power, agribusiness, hospitality and real estate]. We invest in these sectors not just because of the economic opportunities but because of the ability of these sectors to impact on humanity, to make life better for people. In the area of power, we make money but we also impact society by unleashing the hidden potential of Africa because of lack of electricity, lack of power – in agriculture, the same thing. Our investment model is one that combines economic prosperity, profitability and social impact.
Is there a specific philosophy, a model, behind your investment decisions and your philanthropy?

We believe in the philosophy of Africapitalism; it is a philosophy that believes the private sector has a key role to play in the development of Africa through long-term investments that create economic prosperity and social worth. What the Foundation preaches is about entrepreneurship. The Foundation believes that the private sector has a role to play in developing Africa. The Foundation believes, just like I do, that the public sector has a key role to play in creating the enabling environment for the private sector to do well.
Do you think business, governments and associations are doing enough to increase collaboration between different African countries?

African leaders must realise that the private sector is good for development and they should work together to make sure that an enabling environment is created, not just in one country but across the continent. They should realise that it would be to our advantage as a continent if we were able to operate at the same level even without being a common union. I see collaboration amongst the African leaders, especially the leading African countries. That is one thing that will help bring this quickly. Imagine if the Presidents of Nigeria, South Africa and Ghana went to the AU to address them and to call for mass action for creating a friendly private sector environment and set up a peer-review mechanism that would enable them to assess each other and rank themselves. It would help significantly. African leaders should share their experience. For instance, what is happening in Nigeria with power privatisation is such a significant move by an African government and should not end in Nigeria. The President or leader should be able to share their experience with other African leaders. State-owned enterprises must give way to private sector businesses; the inefficiency of the state-owned enterprises does not aid or support development. We need the private sector. We need African countries that have done this work to share their experience with others.
What are you doing in terms of African development?

We are invested in 22 African countries. In all the businesses we run or we have invested in or funded, the intent is usually in three parts. First, stabilise or grow the business locally, in the country. Second, grow within Africa, because Africa is a key market. Third, the intent is always to integrate the business with the rest of the world. We followed this path for our financial services, beginning from Nigeria and expanding regionally. We are following this path again with Transcorp, with a $2.5bn Power Africa commitment. We start from our base and we spread out. We are trying to create infrastructure for agriculture business and the commodity exchange that we set up is in Rwanda.


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