Babawande Afolabi – Top 10 CEOs of 2021

Mr. Babawande Afolabi, founder and CEO, Green Africa Airways, has weathered through the biggest storm ever in the aviation industry to see the realisation of more than six years of planning and set up of commercial flight operations. This became a reality on August 12, 2021 when his airline’s ATR72 turboprop aircraft staged a 90-minute inaugural flight from Lagos to Abuja.

Upon arrival of the flight, Afolabi declared the mission he is out to accomplish at Green Africa Airways. “We are on a mission to connect more people in Nigeria and Africa to their dreams and opportunities.

“It’s what kept us going despite the odds over the last several years and it’s what will continue to sustain this franchise even after we are all gone”, he said.

Green Africa Airways received Air Operator Certificate from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority in August 2021 and commenced commercial flights with three ATR 72-600s turboprop aircraft leased from ACIA. The airline plans to increase its fleet of ART72 turboprop airliners to 15 by the end of next year.

The journey to commercial flight operations began in 2011/2012 when Afolabi worked as an investment banker at Morgan Stanley. There, he had an exposure in the transport sector, which further galvanized his interest in the area of space, giving birth to the idea of exploring a pan African value carrier in Nigeria.

His idea is that ordinary people should be able to hop on a plane at an affordable fare and pursue their dreams.

The idea evolved into a passion and Afolabi dedicated his time as an MBA student at Stanford GSB to learning more about the airline industry, taking up a Summer Associate role at American Airlines in Dallas, TX.

At Stanford, idea met support and endorsements of experts in the industry including, Prof. George Parker, former board member, United Airlines, Prof. Joel Peterson, former chairman, JetBlue Airways a, William Shaw, founder and former CEO of Viva Columbia.

At American Airlines, he also received the support of Thomas Horton, former chairman & CEO and Virasb Vahidi, former CCO of American Airlines Group.

The support of these senior industry leaders propelled Afolabi’s idea into action with William Shaw, Thomas Horton, and Virasb Vahidi later becoming early investors and founding members of the board of Green Africa Airways.

A major support came from unexpected quarters in December 2013 when Oby Ezekwesili, former World Bank Vice President for Africa, responded positively to Afolabi’s email to his pleasant surprise. She is counted in the success story of Green Africa Airways as the first leading personality in Nigeria to believe and throw her weight behind the vision of a new value airline in the country.

The next port of call was funding in respect of which a lot of support and cooperation again flowed from friends, former colleagues and classmates from Illinois Wesleyan University and Stanford GSB – who contributed personal funds to raise a seed round of funding in 2014 in support of the vision.

A great milestone was reached in 2015, when the airline was incorporated, followed by the opening of an office in Opebi, Lagos in 2016. The company received the first major institutional investment in 2017, which extended to series A round of funding between 2018 and 2019.

With that, the airline has secured the funding it needed to play big in the Nigerian aviation industry. It announced that it had reached an agreement with Boeing for the supply of up to one hundred 737 MAX 8 aircraft in a deal that carried a list-price of $11.7 billion.

The order, said to be the largest aircraft agreement Boeing has ever entered with an African airline, was canceled following the grounding of the aircraft then due to safety reasons.

The order later shifted to 50 A220-300s from Airbus and with a commitment to lease additional three A220-300s aircraft from GTLK Europe. Delivery has been deferred in the light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on air travels.

Afolabi is also the founder of Teatime Capital, a venture capital initiative focused on making micro-equity investments to ultra-small Nigerian businesses in often overlooked regions of the country.

Prior to founding Green Africa Airways, he worked at Morgan Stanley as an investment banker and also as corporate strategist at American Airlines.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics double major from Illinois Wesleyan University in 2010. He holds a record of being the first-ever international student to serve as president of the Student Senate. He enrolled for MBA programme at Stanford University and graduated in 2014. Afolabil has positioned Green Africa Airways in the marketplace as a safe and reliable air carrier affordable to a broad segment of customers. “This positions us as a significant contributor to the economic development of Nigeria and the African continent”, he said.