The emergence of Tony Elumelu as Nigeria’s Most Admired Business Leader in an online national survey recently conducted by The Top 10 Magazine did not come as a surprise. He has always been miles ahead of his peers in every defining moment of his banking career and of the country’s banking industry as a whole.
Elumelu’s capacity to excel became manifest in the mid 1980s when, as a young Nigerian graduate, he applied for a banking job with his first and masters degrees in Economics. One of the required qualifications was the possession of a second class upper division in the first degree which he didn’t have.
To address that deficiency, he attached a note to his application: “I know I may not have met the qualifying criteria for the advertised roles but I am intelligent, driven and 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.”
Moved by his self-confidence, the bank decided to give him a chance despite being ‘unqualified’. He was employed as an entry-level analyst – which was the entry point for the bank’s core banking staff.
Within 12 months on the job, the young man began to shine and outshine others. He became the bank’s youngest branch manager at the time, rising to become its most outstanding regional manager in the 90s. The light of his outstanding success has since continued to illuminate the banking and business firmament from Nigeria to Africa and to the world.
The bank was Allstates Trust Bank, founded by Ebitimi Banigo, one of the famous pioneer Nigerian bankers. “They took a chance on me by appointing me as branch manager after an incredibly short time in the bank. My rise to branch manager within a short period is a great story but I know in my heart, I was lucky, as well as deserving”, Elumelu recounted many years later.
Today, Tony Elumelu, as he is better known, is a globally renowned entrepreneur who engineered a series of innovations in banking practice, management, mergers and acquisitions that culminated in the creation of UBA in 2005, the largest amalgamation in the banking business in sub-Saharan Africa. At the time when other banks were stirred by the regulatory-induced consolidation of the Nigerian banking that soon followed, UBA was already set for a global mission.
To date, UBA towers as one of the largest financial services organizations in Africa, operating in 19 African countries, as well as New York, London and Paris. Elumelu’s name now rightly rings a bell as the whiz kid in Nigerian banking. He is outstanding for having built a bank that wears the corporate personality as Africa’s global bank.
When Elumelu retired from United Bank for Africa Plc as chief executive officer in 2010 when his vision of attaining a global reach in business geared up to a new speed, he expanded his scope of investments beyond financial services, beyond Nigeria to Africa and to the rest of the world.
In that year, he founded Heirs Holdings; his family owned Investment Company with investment interests across the key sectors of the economy in 23 countries worldwide. UBA became a component of Heirs Holding’s portfolio that spans financial services, energy, real estate and hospitality, agribusiness and healthcare. Heirs Holdings currently employs over 30,000 people and continues to invest in the lives of people in Africa and beyond.
Since retirement from active banking management, Elumelu has been spreading the gospel and his philosophy of Africapitalism across Africa – the concept of private sector enthronement as the key enabler of economic and social wealth creation in the continent. By whatever parameters used, he ranks amongst the topmost entrepreneurs in Africa in terms of networth, business leadership, visibility, impact on society, amongst others.
In Nigeria, those that can be said to stand on comparable high pedestal with Elumelu on account of successful entrepreneurship, business leadership and contributions to societal development are, amongst others, Aliko Dangote, President, Dangote Group; Leo Stan Ekeh, Chairman, Zinox Group; T. Y Danjuma, Founder, South Atlantic Petroleum; Femi Otedola, Chairman, Geregu Power; Jim Ovia, Chairman, Zenith Bank; and Mike Adenuga, Chairman, Globacom Nig. Others are Oba Otudeko, Chairman, Honeywell Ltd; Abdulsamad Rabiu, Chairman, BUA Group; Folorunsho Alakija, Founder, Farnfa Oil; Muhammadu Indimi, Chairman, Oriental Energy; and Innocent Chukwuma, Chairman, Innoson Motors.
In the month ended June 30, 2023, The Top10 Magazine, the Lagos-based leading Nigerian monthly magazine known for celebrating excellence in various endeavours, asked Nigerians, through an online national survey, to vote for their most admired business leader from among 12 nominees (listed above). The distinguished frontline business leaders are considered as the biggest players in the Nigerian economy.
The objective of the initiative was to gauge the public appeal and perception of the respective business leaders. In the votes tally, Elumelu became the clear winner with 2,642 votes, representing 22.6% of total votes, 11,712, cast.
Dangote, president of the Dangote group came 2nd with 2,462 votes, representing 21.0% while Innocent Chukwuma, Chairman of Innoson Motors, came 3rd with 2,400 votes, representing 20.5% of the votes (see chart for more details).
Elumelu was born on 22nd March 1963 in Jos, Plateau State, to the family of Mr. Dominic and Suzanne Elumelu in Onicha-Ugbo in Delta State. He was born with an entrepreneurial blood in his veins – his father taught him the principle of saving and his mother, who owned several restaurants, led him through the practical lessons of investing.
He added the third leg of his success tripod – his thirst for knowledge that saw him reading leadership books very early in life. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Ambrose Alli University and a Master of Science degree in economics from the University of Lagos. He is an alumnus of Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Programme.
In his early career, Elumelu turned the financially distressed Standard Trust Bank (STB) into a top-five financial services player in Nigeria. In 2005, he led the largest merger in the banking sector in sub-Saharan Africa between STB and United Bank for Africa (UBA).
Elumelu presently serves as a member of the Global Advisory Board of the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All Initiative (SE4ALL) and USAID’s Private Capital Group for Africa Partners Forum. He sits on the Nigerian President’s Agricultural Transformation Implementation Council and serves as Co-Chair of the Aspen Institute Dialogue Series on Global Food Security. He played a leading role in the formation of the National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria and now serves as its vice chairman. He chairs the Ministerial Committee to establish world-class hospitals and diagnostic centres across Nigeria, at the invitation of the Federal Government.
In acknowledgement and appreciation of his multifarious contributions to societal development he has been bestowed with awards, honours, titles and recognitions by various governments, institutions and organizations in Nigeria and beyond, too numerous to mention here. A few examples: In 2003, the Federal Government of Nigeria conferred the honour of Member of the Federal Republic (MFR) on Elumelu, and Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) in 2012 for his service in promoting private enterprise. In 2013, Elumelu received the Leadership Award in Business and Philanthropy from the Africa-America Institute Awards. He was also named African Business Icon at the 2013 African Business Awards. He was conferred the Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR) by the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2022.
THE 10 ATTRIBUTES THAT ENDEAR HIM TO THE WORLD
From the comments of respondents to the survey conducted by The Top 10 Magazine, and independent research, there are many reasons why Elumelu emerged as Nigeria’s Most Admired Business Leader. These have been broadly categorized in 10: Exemplary financial services management expertise, Business turn around expertise, Africapitalism philosophy, Foremost promoter of entrepreneurship, and his Unique approach to youth and women empowerment. Others are his Global outlook, Philanthropy, an exemplary family life, Media-friendly disposition, and Social Orientation.
- HIS EXEMPLARY FINANCIAL SERVICES MANAGEMENT EXPERTISE
One of the reasons why Nigerians admire Tony Elumelu is the Midas’ touch he gave to Nigeria’s banking industry. In the mid-1980s, he took Allstates Trust Bank by surprise. By the following decade, he reshaped the content and direction of the entire industry. Within 12 months of joining Allstates Trust Bank at the entry level, he surpassed all existing staff performance indices which earned him rapid promotion. He became the bank’s youngest branch manager at the time, rising to become its most outstanding regional manager in the 90s.
Having distinguished himself at Allstates Trust Bank, Elumelu was sent over to the insurance arm of Ebitimi Banigo’s conglomerate to replicate what he had done in banking. He was made executive chairman of Linkage Assurance Limited. But he found that banking was his love, not insurance. It was from this position that he saw an opportunity to invest in a struggling bank with his closest friends, Messrs. Chuka Onwuchekwa and Albert Okumagba.
He could see the banking sector headed for a consolidation and his strategy was to position a company that would structure mergers and acquisitions deals of troubled banks. He formed Banc Garanti Limited together with his group for this purpose.
His first major port of call was the then failing Merchant Bank of Commerce, which he restructured and renamed Continental Trust Bank. The next move was the acquisition of Crystal Bank Limited – one of the many distressed banks that littered the financial districts of Lagos by the late 1990s.
The then ailing bank happened to be Elumelu’s opportunity for a dramatic emergence in the Nigerian banking scene. He led the bank to develop firm footings in two new service areas that were yet to be explored even in a market that was labeled overcrowded and saturated. These are management of public sector accounts – which opened a new window of rapid growth in low cost liabilities and personalized financial services – which seized clients from other banks in yet a new dimension in competition.
Having repositioned the bank on a viable path, Elumelu began to add new arms and extensions on the competitive field and to increase its operating speed. These actions began to register great impacts in the industry to the point that got him and his bank noticed as a force to reckon with in the competitive space.
Banking services had gone a long way in the direction of customer orientation by the time Elumelu came on stream. Yet he gave it a new momentum in that direction. He applied innovative services to increase the length and breadth of banking services to a willing market.
The market responded positively – putting in his hands resources that set the bank growing well ahead of the industry leaders. Elumelu’s hypothesis was proven – good management brings a troubled bank back to life. STB became a reference mark in corporate turnaround from the brink of collapse to a high growth driver, excelling in service quality and products innovation.
In barely seven months from takeover, STB sped off from N6.49million asset base to become a N473-million bank. In a space of three years, it closed with a balance sheet size of over N40 billion with annual profit in excess of N1 billion.
Like the excellent entrepreneur that he was, Elumelu identified what people needed and provided it. He detracted from the general industry trend of branch concentration in commercial locations but planted STB branches across all the states of the federation.
That positioned his bank to provide credit facilities to states and local governments, securing the facilities with Irrevocable Standing Payment Orders tied to the monthly financial allocations of state and local governments from the federation account. This gave the bank a large, virgin market in an otherwise over saturated financial services industry. STB was to later acquire UBA and morphed into one of the biggest banks in Africa
Much later after retirement as Chief Executive Officer of the amalgamated UBA, Elumelu set up Heirs Holdings which controlled an extensive portfolio of businesses cutting across virtually all sectors of the Nigeria and African economy. These include a large financial services operation that is strategic to Heirs Holdings in its mission to empower capacity building for enhanced economic growth in Africa. It focuses on mobilising development capital and channeling it to critical sectors for tackling infrastructure deficit in the continent.
UBA’s presence in the Heirs Holdings portfolio with its large pan-African banking network permits the capacity building endeavour across the continent. The extensive reach in commercial banking services is further extended and complemented by the inclusion in the portfolio of investment banking, asset management and insurance services across the continent.
Another member of the financial services group is Africa Prudential Plc, a share registration Services Company listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. It is a leading name in the management of company registers for a number of corporate and institutional clients in the Nigerian capital market.
Heirs Insurance Brokers, another member of Heirs Holdings, is an independent brokerage company offering both insurance brokerage and risk management services. It operates across the short- and long-term insurance markets.
United Capita Plc is a financial and investment services group that operates four business lines. These are investment banking, asset management, trusteeship and securities trading.
2. HIS BUSINESS TURNAROUND EXPERTISE
Another attribute that endears Tony Elumelu to Nigerians is his expertise in turning around ailing businesses. The takeover of Merchant Bank of Commerce and Crystal Bank and their transformation into a hugely successful Standard Trust Bank (STB) was the tonic Elumelu needed to begin the journey to the actualization of his vision of building Africa’s global bank. By mid-2004, STB was already the 5th largest bank in Nigeria. Elumelu then raised the stake – to become one of Nigeria’s three largest banks with a 150-branch network in five years. The listing of the bank on the Nigerian Stock Exchange in 2003 was a strategic move in pursuit of the new vision.
In 2004, the bank added more than N10.7 billion in new money to its equity base through a public offer and reserve build up. With that, Elumelu positioned the bank to explore M&A options with the top three banks at that time. He rolled out a five-year strategic plan that flagged off the commencement of the bank’s second phase of growth.
In 2005 the man launched the biggest competitive assault that changed the Nigerian banking industry structure and market share. He steered a merger of STB and United Bank for Africa Plc, setting the pace for banking industry consolidation that soon followed.
Then, the Nigerian banking industry was made up of new generation banks that were rapidly building market share and the old generation banks that were struggling to defend their territories. The newcomers had come with innovative financial services that excited the market but the old brigades, with their large retail network, still held dominant market shares.
There was strength in size but quality in smallness. Elumelu went into his financial engineering laboratory and came out with a cross breed: a combination of the large size of an old generation bank that offered a critical mass and the high quality service of a new generation bank.
The combination of the two gave him the weight and the speed he needed to advance the quality of financial services to a global level. This historic corporate titration added the high growth drive of STB to the massive business volume of UBA.
This was reckoned as the largest amalgamation in the banking business in sub-Saharan Africa. The end product was the creation of a new UBA in 2005 and its transformation as a pan African institution. While other banks were stirred by the regulatory-induced consolidation of the Nigerian banking that soon followed, UBA was already set for a global mission.
The new UBA towers as one of the largest financial services organizations in Africa, operating in 19 African countries, as well as New York, London and Paris.
At the end of the first quarter in March 2020, UBA was a N6.3 trillion bank with a net customer lending position of N2.2 trillion financed by customer deposits in excess of N4 trillion and an equity cushion of over N612 billion.
The accomplishment has clearly established Elumelu in a place of honour in the history of Nigerian banking. He is outstanding in his ability to pick up the smallest business idea and blow it up beyond recognition. He entered Nigerian banking with just a mustard seed in his hands – too insignificant to attract attention. Yet, with that, he has dramatically reconfigured the industry’s operating structure and took over the leadership of one of the nation’s largest banks.
3. HIS AFRICAPITALISM PHILOSOPHY
Tony Elumelu is also admired because of his concept of Africapitalism, an economic philosophy he originated which places the future of Africa squarely in the hands of its private sector. It embodies the private sector’s commitment to the economic transformation of Africa through long-term investments that create economic prosperity and social wealth. Africapitalism is predicated on the belief that Africa’s private sector can and must play a leading role in the continent’s development functions.
Under the philosophy, Elumelu is pressing as powerfully as he can to see Africans take charge of the value-adding sectors and ensure that the value-added processes happen in the continent. He insists that they shouldn’t happen through nationalisations or government policies but because there is a generation of private sector entrepreneurs who have the vision, the tools and the opportunity to reshape the destiny of the continent.
By Africapitalism, Elumelu isn’t out to give capitalism an African flavour; it is for him and for Africa a rallying cry for empowering the private sector to break forth and drive the continent’s economic and social growth.
The principles of Africapitalism convey the message for a sleeping continent to wake up and run for its own good. These include:
Unlocking the power of individuals to create and grow their business ideas into successful companies; Deploy patient capital that creates greater and broader economic value as opposed to merely the extraction of resources; Invest in sectors delivering a financial return as well as broader economic and social value – agriculture, power, healthcare, and finance; and Conduct investments and business activity in a manner that delivers financial returns to shareholders as well as economic and social benefit to stakeholders.
Others are: Leveraging locally available human and financial capital, raw materials and other inputs that create longer, more integrated and higher-value regional supply chains; Facilitate intra-regional commerce and trade through the development of national and cross-border physical infrastructures and the harmonization of policies and practices; Focus on investments and economic growth strategies that build value for future generations; Foster collaboration between businesses, investors, governments, academia, civil society, philanthropists and development institutions to create conditions that will empower the African private sector to thrive.
Africapitalism is Elumelu’s continental call-to-action for businesses to make decisions that will increase economic and social wealth and promote development in the communities and nations in which they operate. Such a decision will ultimately help businesses become more profitable as the communities they serve become well-off consumers, healthy and better educated employees and even entrepreneurs who advance to become suppliers and service providers.
Elumelu is preaching Africapitalism, like a gospel, that Africa cannot afford any longer to leave the business of development to governments, donor countries and philanthropic organizations alone. The private sector must not just be involved but should step out and take the lead in the business of development of the continent.
He prizes entrepreneurs highly as the engine of Africa’s development. He is quite impressed that the continent is already blessed with a host of them with many already running home-grown businesses based on deep insights into local consumer demand. They are able to spot unique gaps in the market for specific products and services, tap into strong local networks and often create innovative and disruptive solutions to complex challenges. All that is needed next is to unleash them into a new era of Africapitalism-driven entrepreneurship.
4. A FOREMOST PROMOTER OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP DEVELOPMENT
Tony Elumelu is equally admired for his determination to bring up successful entrepreneurs after his likeness. He once said: “As an entrepreneur myself, I understand what it feels like to yearn for a lifeline, to hope for a big break, to look forward to enjoying some luck.”
To give effect to his determination to create entrepreneurs of his kind, he set up The Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) after his retirement from United Bank for Africa in 2010. Established in the same year, the foundation is on a mission to support entrepreneurs and catalyse entrepreneur-led development across Africa.
The foundation undertakes for itself the role of driving Africa’s economic development by enhancing the competitiveness of the African private sector. It runs on Elumelu’s economic philosophy of Africapitalism, predicated on the belief that a vibrant and competitive private sector is the key to unlocking Africa’s economic potential and creating sustained social wealth.
The foundation is an intervention organised to drive entrepreneurship as Africa’s 21st century solution. It is an effort of the founder to have human development content in the growth functions of Africa’s economies.
The vision of the foundation is to turn the seriously looming challenge into an opportunity by capitalizing on Africa’s demographic advantage. With 200 million people aged 15 to 24, Africa has the youngest population in the world but 60 percent of them are unemployed. This statistic becomes even more dire when young people who are under-employed with low pay and few advancement opportunities are included.
Based on the current growth rate, it is calculated that by 2050, Africa’s population will double to 2.4 billion – making it home to the world’s largest working-age population. Elumelu reckons that this pool of labour has the potential to be a force for transformative and sustained growth across the continent. It could also be the source of social unrest if nobody stands up and does something in terms of productive engagement.
For Africa to fully harness the potential of this demographic shift, a deliberate, comprehensive effort is needed to create millions of new jobs or other forms of gainful employment. The increasing population means a greater influx of labour workforce, which presents the most pressing short-term challenge in the continent.
African economies that are resource dependent are unable to absorb the millions of young workers who enter the labour force each year. Yet the potential in an increasing population is the human capital and the opportunity to create new industries and expand economies. Africa, therefore, faces a risk to peace and stability that can be turned into a huge opportunity for economic and social growth.
Making this happen is the central purpose of the Tony Elumelu Foundation – setting the pace for Africa’s public and private sectors to partner to turn the continent’s demographic into a rising and energetic generation that can be used to transform the continent for the better.
It is projected that by 2050, Africa’s youth alone will constitute over a quarter of the world’s labour force. This will require the creation of up to 10 million formal jobs in the continent annually, as more young people enter the job market. This has little or no chance of happening under the current economic growth models, as the fastest growing Africa’s economies also have some of the highest levels of youth unemployment.
The situation presents the gap in Africa’s development trajectory that Tony Elumelu Foundation has stepped out to bridge. “The only way we can achieve the objective of actively engaging most of Africa’s youth as well as the ultimate goal of a more inclusive society is by unleashing the potential of Africa’s entrepreneurs to take the initiative and build the kind of companies that will rise to meet the increasing needs of Africa’s young and growing population,” Elumelu said.
Entrepreneurship is the instrument that Elumelu is both recommending and applying to change the fortunes of millions of Africans. He strives to ensure that entrepreneurship development goes hand in hand with improving the conditions in which people are struggling to bring their ideas to life.
This is expected to not only increase the chances of success in business but also enhance the overall business climate, facilitate additional foreign investment and encourage even more Africans to take the leap to self-empowerment through entrepreneurship.
The Tony Elumelu Foundation has, therefore, committed itself to entrepreneurship development in Africa since it launched the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme [TEEP] in January 2015. The programme, which has been running since then, has invested $60 million in 6000 selected entrepreneurs across 20 countries in Africa.
Another 4000 aspiring entrepreneurs are planned to join the Tony Elumelu entrepreneurs over the remaining four years of the 10-year programme. Another $40 million is also to be invested in them, summing up to the $100 million intervention fund under TEEP.
Another programme initiative of TEF is The Elumelu Professionals Programme, which began as the African Market Internship Programme. It was an initiative that reflects the foundation’s commitment to the development and celebration of African business leadership.
It was an MBA internship programme designed to improve the competitiveness of small and growing African enterprises while introducing some of the world’s brightest new business management talents to the growth opportunity that African markets present.
The programme placed students from Africa’s top business schools and students from top-tier business schools in Europe and the United States into highly structured 10-week internship programmes in African companies. During their assignments, the interns built actionable knowledge and helped to facilitate high-level decision-making to contribute to the host firms’ success.
The programme matched the unique skills of each intern with the particular needs of each participating host business to tackle the most pressing business issues identified by the management teams. This ranged from formulating business strategies, marketing new products to developing African growth strategies and more.
The programme was unique in bringing both African and international business students together, building bridges and opening horizons for all involved. This programme, which was active from 2011 to 2014, served the foundation’s core mission of equipping the next generation of African private sector champions for success.
5. HIS YOUTH AND WOMEN EMPOWERMENT
Another attribute that endears Elumelu, as a business leader, to Nigerians is his investment in and focus on the empowerment of youths and women in particular. He does this through the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), a member of The Heirs Holdings, which leverages its strong relationships in the public and private sectors to drive its mission of creating prosperity for all. Founded in 2010, the Foundation has empowered numerous entrepreneurial young Africans, men and women.
Recognised by Forbes magazine as one of “Africa’s 20 Most Powerful People in 2012,” Elumelu has created a niche and legacy for himself as a champion of empowerment of women through employment and mentorship. For instance, in UBA where Elumelu sits as the founder and Board Chairman, the demography of the staff, including those in affiliated financial establishments, show a diversity reflecting a fine balance between men and women. The Consolidated Financial Statement of the bank as at December 31, 2018 reported that out of about 12,909 staff of the bank group, 6,988, or 54 per cent, are men, while 5,921, or 46 per cent, are women.
Under the bank structure, out of a total of 9,624 workers in over 1,000 branches across 23 countries, including Nigeria, Benin Republic, Tchad, Gabon, Coted’Ivoire, Congo Brazzaile , Sierra Leone and 13 other African countries, the United States of America, the United Kingdom and France, about 5,187, or 54 per cent are men, against 4,437 women, or 46 per cent.
An average gender analysis of the Board of Directors and top management positions held by both genders in the report showed that out of the 20-member board, five, or 25 per cent are women, while 23, or 26 per cent of the 90-member strong top management staff are also women.
One of the women is Owen Omogiafo, the Chief Executive Officer of Transcorp Plc, who credits Elumelu as being an important factor in her career progress. In an interview with Sunday PUNCH, she recalled her time as the Chief Operating Officer of TEF: “My time at the Tony Elumelu Foundation expanded my vision of social impact and deepened my conviction that the private sector will ultimately be the driver of Africa’s socio-economic renaissance…
“A key highlight of my time with the foundation was the launch of the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme — a $100m commitment— to empower 10,000 African entrepreneurs over 10 years from 2015. Through this initiative, TEF has directly empowered over 9,000 young African entrepreneurs across the continent with training, mentorship and seed funding. In turn, they have created employment opportunities for many others.”
Another beneficiary of Elumelu’s empowerment, Phillip Oduoza, a former Managing Director of UBA and current Chief Executive Officer of Nova Merchant Bank, said in an interview with Sunday PUNCH some years ago: “We (I and Elumelu) have an excellent relationship. Tony is somebody who is well respected in the industry and we exchange a lot of ideas. He has an eye for identifying talents and he is very thorough. As busy as he is, he pays attention to details and makes sure he does not miss anything.
“He is a thoroughbred professional and a good leader. A lot of people who have worked with him don’t always want to leave him. He coaches people and is very humble. Despite his position, he didn’t make use of the executive elevator in the office. He preferred to mix with his staff.”
TEF has also empowered youths from various African countries. One of such beneficiaries is Rwandan entrepreneur, Emmanuel Nturanyenabo, the founder and Managing Director of Teebah Film Village, a full-service video production company based in Rwanda. He noted that help from TEF turned his business around: “I started Teebah Film Village in July 2017 and since that time, I had been struggling mainly with how to increase sales, and how to improve our product.
“At some point, I learnt about the Tony Elumelu Foundation and spent about five weeks composing my application form because I was not happy with the results I was getting. I needed to win because by the time I applied; the business was making a loss and was almost closing at seven months. Luckily, by March 22, 2018, I was selected. I could not believe that I was selected out of about 151,000 Africans.
“TEF has connected me to new and competent networks of entrepreneurs and decision makers. It has displayed my creative capacity and today, my customers have strong confidence in our company, whose mission is to drive impact through local stories.
“TEF has a great curriculum and going through it has strengthened my entrepreneurial journey forever. By doing surveys, I got the answers to many problems that I had no clue about. I overcame the challenges I was facing, such as pricing and social media marketing. Being part of the TEF network is the best platform for any entrepreneur. We do businesses together from different countries and advise one another through online conferences. If we are making progress and impact in Rwanda, it is because I am a Tony Elumelu entrepreneur.”
6. HIS GLOBAL ORIENTATION
Another attribute many admire in the ‘Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2020’ is that he represents a new force in social and economic transformation that could bridge the development gap between Africa and the rest of the world.
He is out on a big bet that the African private sector has, in itself, what it takes to be the primary generator of economic development. His zeal and vision have given Africa a new chance to rise and a new hope to live.
Literally, he lives more for the global society than for himself. He is an advisor to the USAID’s Private Capital Group for Africa Partners Forum. He serves as a member of the Global Advisory Board of the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All Initiative. He also serves as co-chairman of the Aspen Institute Dialogue Series on global food security.
He was a member of the World Economic Forum’s Regional Agenda Council on Africa, a Bretton Woods Committee, which brings together senior leaders in the global banking industry.
Through TEF, he is in partnership with the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative that aims at strengthening the private sector’s role in the economic transformation of select African countries. He is co-chair of the Africa Energy Leaders’ Group.
Elumelu was one of the co-chairs of the 26th World Economic Forum on Africa in Kigali, Rwanda, in May 2016. He was part of Nigerian President’s Agricultural Transformation Implementation Council. He was also vice-chairman of and key driver to the National Competitive Council of Nigeria.
Additionally, he chaired the ministerial committee to establish world-class hospitals and diagnostic centres across Nigeria. He also led the Presidential Jobs Board that went for the big haul – to create three million jobs in one year.
The global view and response to Elumelu for what he has set out to accomplish for Africa and for the world is respect and honour to a man who is different from the rest. He has rekindled hopes for Africa – a continent that had languished under a long siege of exploitative leadership.
There is a beacon of hope in Elumelu that the continent can propel itself in development strides to level up with the rest of the world. He has charted the course of self-fulfillment and is showing the way for others to follow.
7. HIS PHILANTHROPY
Elumelu’s Heirs Holdings also has philanthropy in its portfolio, which is designed to support the work of The Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF).
Founded in 2010, TEF has pioneered a new approach to philanthropy in Africa. Its flagship programme—The Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme—is an investment in Africa’s future with $100million commitment to identify, fund, mentor and train 10,000 African entrepreneurs in 10 years.
The Foundation is one of the great ideas that were hatched at the retirement of Tony Elumelu from United Bank for Africa in 2010. Established in the same year, the foundation is on a mission to support entrepreneurs and catalyse entrepreneur-led development across Africa.
It is a philanthropic organisation, giving philanthropy a continental reach with the commitment to transforming the continent through entrepreneurship. Through the foundation, Elumelu is betting “that the African private sector can itself be the primary generator of economic development.”
The foundation undertakes for itself the role of driving Africa’s economic development by enhancing the competitiveness of the African private sector. It runs on Elumelu’s economic philosophy of Africapitalism, predicated on the belief that a vibrant and competitive private sector is the key to unlocking Africa’s economic potential and to creating sustained social wealth.
The foundation is an intervention organised to drive entrepreneurship as Africa’s 21st century solution. It is an effort of the founder to have human development content in the growth functions of Africa’s economies. Though African economies have been growing well above the rest of the world, the growth could not deliver human development and general improvement in living standards.
Elumelu explains that the establishment of his foundation in 2010 was an expression of his commitment to helping others. “I promised to leverage the success I have enjoyed to spread luck and hope, provide opportunities and to empower the next generation of African entrepreneurs to succeed.
“Without luck in my early career, I would not be the man that I am today. I am a leader and philanthropist today because I encountered people who gave me a chance early in my career. It has been a lifetime goal to pay this forward in a transformative and impactful way.”
Kofoworola Oyeleye, the CEO of Iyin Creative, established in 2013 to ‘preserve and promote Africa’s rich cultural heritage through engaging and educative animated content,’ became an alumna of TEF in 2015. According to her, the impact of the programme has enabled the growth of her company, which employs creative animation and illustrations to develop a fun learning experience of African languages for children.
South Africa’s Nneile Nkholise also became a TEF alumna in 2016. According to the TEF website, Nkholise was also announced as one of the winners of an international award in the ‘African Entrepreneur’ category.
A post on her reads, “Over the years, Nneile has had a very interesting and commendable entrepreneurship journey, and one can easily see that impact has been at the core of all her activities.
“Her excellent track record has led to her being recognised by various notable platforms since her participation in the 2016 Tony Elumelu Foundation Programme. Nneile’s work in prosthesis fabrication using additive manufacturing has led to her being recognised as Africa’s top Female Innovator in 2016 and also South Africa Youth of the Year in 2017.
“Following her recent successes, she launched 3dimo, focused on the detection of sports injuries, prevention and rehabilitation. She creates digital models for athletes that are analysed and observes what happens when athletes train to predict injuries.
“For her ability to sustain her business which has now impacted thousands across South Africa, she acknowledges TEF for giving her a platform for her achievements.
8. HIS MEDIA-FRIENDLY DISPOSITION
Another aspect of Tony Elumelu that endears and stands him out from his peers is his media friendliness. Unlike others who consciously keep away from the media, apparently for fear of negative reportage on them or misrepresentation, Elumelu goes all out to cultivate the friendship of the media, traditional and social media. He supports and encourages the media by forging a mutually beneficial relationship with them. While the relationship helps the media to develop and improve their content, they, in turn, use the content to support Elumelu’s causes constructively by promoting and projecting them. He has gone several steps ahead of his peers by formalizing his media relationship by setting up The Tony Elumelu Storytellers Fund for emerging artists, journalists and content creators including bloggers, vloggers, and podcasters whose work offers a more contemporary and authentic narrative of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs in Africa. The project is jointly funded by Heirs Insurance and Heirs Life Assurance.
The Fund gives grants worth between $500 and $2000 to each selected participant, awarded to content creators in two categories, Media and Arts.
In the media category, examples of qualifying projects are: a series of published articles identifying innovative tech entrepreneurs; a vlog that showcases entrepreneurs in underrepresented areas; and a blog that shines the light on new African innovation.
For the Arts category grants are made to photographers, filmmakers, sketch artists, painters, and digital artists for projects such as: a lighthearted, comedic short film telling the story of an 11-year old budding entrepreneur; a photography series of Africa’s Top entrepreneurs, etc. In general, the Fund is particularly keen on supporting the media telling an interesting, unique story about Entrepreneurship in Africa; stories that amplify unheard voices, challenge global perspectives and introduce contemporary narratives. It allows for lots of creativity and innovation – challenging media practitioners to think about what they want their reader or viewer to take away from their work and the type of impact they want to create, locally and globally.
9. HIS EXCEPTIONAL SOCIAL LIFE
For a serious world business leader, Elumelu is an exceptional mixer on the social circuit. He has connected himself very deeply with Nigerian show business celebrities such as Davido, Wizkid, P-Square, Kaffy (the dancer), Victor Osimhen (Nigerian International footballer), and other socialites like Obi Cubana, Cubana Chief Priest, etc. He shares pictures taken with them on Instagram from time to time, the latest being that with Osimhen, reported by Akelicious, an online news platform, on July 4.
Elumelu’s social media compliance is another big chapter of his social outreach. He is very active and always in touch with the world on social media handles like Facebook, Instagram, twitter, LinkedIn and others, very much unlike many other billionaires who make social media presence through proxies only or avoid it altogether. Elumelu is a popular and regular fixture on all social media handles. Whether it be about his personal life, plans, or opinions, he makes time to tell his story.
Apart from the write-ups he uploads on his social media platforms, the narrative has always been a big part of his presentations and Time 100 speeches. Over time, the extra-ordinary business leader has turned social media into his space. He has been nurturing increasing social media followings and engagements with a cultured business goal-oriented lifestyle with dabs of fine living. This approach has given the 60-year-old business leader a huge connection with young people and potential future leaders. For instance, his birthday video posted on his self-name Instagram handle on March 23, 2022 – his birth date is March 22 – garnered 141,162 likes and 6,277 comments – ample evidence of how well he is doing for a serious businessman on the platform populated by the young. He follows just two accounts on Instagram: his wife, Awele, and friend, Femi Otedola, but he has 867,000 followers with 640 posts – a major leap compared to how any of his peers are faring.
Mostly the posts are a diary of his business engagements, keep-fit regimes, and – social life. The Delta State-born business icon has, however, been very intentional in ensuring that his “social life” is family values-based while the keep-fit regimes unveil the making and maintenance of his physique – but neither overshadows posts about his essence as a master of commerce and advocate of a better Nigeria and Africa.
According to a media report, although the most admired Nigerian business leader does not command the same presence on Facebook where he has 405,000 followers and follows only 10 accounts he has links to – UBA Group, The Tony Elumelu Foundation, Harvard Club of New York, Heirs Holdings, Afriland Properties, The Africapitalism Institute, Transcorp Hilton Abuja, Clinton Global Initiative, UBA Foundation, and TEFConnect – a check through the posts on both platforms tells of cultivating ambitious young people and the engagements with his contents indicate galloping influence with them.
1O. HIS EXEMPLARY FAMILY LIFE
Tony Elumelu is a toast of Nigerians also for living an extraordinarily exemplary family life. His cordiality, bondage and camaraderie with his parents, siblings, wife and children are exceptional. This is heighted by his relationship with his brother, Ndudi Elumelu, both hugely successful in terms of their financial net worth and career attainments. Both have gotten to the pinnacle of their chosen careers – Tony in business and Ndudi in politics – and both collecting along the way innumerable honours and Awards that any outstanding and patriotic citizen can hope for.
What marks them out is the unique and extraordinary bonding and mutual affection they have forged with each other over the years. While Tony calls Ndudi “my honourable dear brother” Ndudi calls Tony “the lion of the family”. They have been able to avoid, resist or overcome the usual relationship destroyers such as envy, rivalry, competition, divergent world views and other environmental factors that tear family or sibling relationships apart. From their formative years to this day, the relationship of the duo has been as chummy in private as it is in public; and they proudly seize every opportunity to demonstrate that fact. On many occasions, they are always seen taking a walk round the village together, cooking together, eating together, etc.
By coincidence rather than design, providence seemed to have acknowledged this rare sibling bonding when Tony and Ndudi became the first blood brothers to be conferred with Nigeria’s National Honours Award same day. On Thursday, October 13, 2022, the two of them, literally, walked hand-in-hand to the dais to receive the Award plaques and handshakes from the then President Muhammadu Buhari. One could only imagine how elated their nonagenarian mother would be, seeing her beloved two sons on national stage being honoured by the country the same day.
That rare national recognition was one of several moments in the past when Tony and Ndudi publicly celebrated each other and their love. Tony said in a post on his Instagram page: “Today was a special day. I accepted Nigeria’s honour, the Commander of The Order of The Federal Republic (CFR). I do so, not for myself, but for every young Nigerian who dares to dream. I do so for every young Nigerian who remains resilient and stays committed to the growth and development of our great nation… I also congratulate my brother, the Hon. Ndudi Godwin Elumelu, a member of the House of Representatives, as he is also honoured with The Officer of The Order Of The Niger (OON). This is a double celebration for us.”
Similarly, Ndudi’s post on his Instagram page read: “Today I received a national award of OON (Officer of the Order of the Niger) along with my elder brother, Tony Elumelu CFR and, thereafter, had an enlarged reception in Abuja with former president, Goodluck Jonathan and Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who received GCON, in attendance.
Tony posted another message with photographs on his Instagram page under the caption: “It was indeed an honour for my family yesterday to have both my brother and I receive national awards.
Similar posts of joint activities or celebrations in the past by the famous Elumelu siblings have been common. For instance, during a public holiday to mark a Muslim festival, Tony shared a video on Instagram of himself spending time with his brother, Ndudi, in their hometown in Delta State. Ndudi, who was then the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, was seen in the video preparing a dish while Tony dished the food after it was prepared.
In another previous celebration, the famous “love brothers” rolled out the drums in a most grandiose manner to honour their matriarch, Chief (Mrs.) Suzanne Elumelu who had just hit the ripe age of 90.
The celebration began with a Thanksgiving Mass at the Church of Assumption, Falomo, Ikoyi, Lagos, and was attended by the crème de la crème of Nigerian society. With soul-stirring songs, praises to the Almighty and fervent prayers, the service was very lively.
After the church service, all roads led to Harbour Point, Victoria Island, for a glamorous reception, where guests were treated to good food and drinks of various kinds and lively performances by BeeJay Sax, Elegant Stallion, Onyeka Onwenu and pop star, Phyno, while DJ Sousse was on the wheels of steel.
Of course, Tony and Ndudi were the joint chief hosts. That celebration highlighted the love of the siblings for and their indebtedness to their aged mother.
Also, Tony Elumelu who is married to Awele Elumelu, a medical practitioner with whom he has seven children, never misses an occasion to brag about his family, particularly on social media. He routinely posts images of his wife, mother, five daughters, and two sons on his Instagram account. He also takes part in social media challenges with his family, which has gained the hearts of many young people who can identify with him.
EXTRA: A MAN OF STYLE, FASHION AND PANACHE
Elumelu is a billionaire with an immaculate sense of style. This has greatly endeared him to people of all classes, especially the young generation and people in the fashion world who look up to him as a fashion model. He is a man who does not do things in half measures. He pays attention to every detail and is deliberate about everything he gets involved in, whether in the line of duty as an entrepreneur and CEO or outside of it. This applies to his dressing – official, unofficial, corporate, social or casual. Unlike many of his peers who see immaculate dressing outside corporate environments as a distraction from the business of money-making, Elumelu treats dressing and style -how he appears anytime, anywhere – as serious as business. He is a billionaire with an immaculate sense of style and panache.
Despite his tight schedules, he still finds ample time for his fashion retinue. Whether in casuals, sporty wears, native attires and his traditional corporate costume of suits and ties, the mercurial banker and corporate giant is always prim and pram, and is always suavely dressed, looking cute anytime he appears with his enchanting smile, much to the amazement of many. Whether it’s a three-piece suit, fitted T-shirt, or slim-fit jeans, he consistently scores with his wardrobe choices, always with a clever infusion of his brand colour RED.
As a corporate executive, he has a closet full of clothing for any occasion. He generally dresses in black or navy suits with a red tie and socks as part of his brand identification. Red can be found throughout the majority of the firms he runs, including UBA, TEF and Heirs Holdings. Since the dress code has become the standard, every male employee at UBA is obligated to observe it, and the boss leads by example.
His suits are slim and modern, setting an unofficial standard that all CEOs should aspire to copy. Some of his sharpest looks include a three-piece charcoal suit teamed with a crisp white shirt and, of course, red tie/socks. He has been able to merge the appeal of corporate attires, casual outfits and sporty tracksuits within the work environment. His choice of clothing places him more in line with the new generation of menswear fashion consumers than a traditional CEO. It also makes him stand apart from his peers. Like fine wine, the older he gets, the more flattering he becomes.
The fashion and style of the 60-year- old has not gone unnoticed, even at the global level of fashion appreciation. In 2019, he was honoured as the first-ever Seven Stars Man of the Year at the Seven Stars Luxury Hospitality and Lifestyle Awards. The awards ceremony which took place at the spectacular Lake Vouliagmeni in Athens, Greece, on the 5th of October, 2019, brought together top personalities and experts from various walks of life as they celebrated one another’s achievements.