Elumelu’s compelling and engrossing story is not
the story that can be completely told in a small space.”
This is the third in the series of uncommon stories out of Africa that I love to tell. These are real life stories of living legends and icons that have not only inspired me, but stories of men touching lives and making some sense out of Africa. This episode is a tribute to Africa’s Number One Capitalist, a man committed to helping others build a life of compelling inspiration.
This episode is dedicated to Tony Elumelu, an achiever that punched 110% above his height. Why do I make this assertion about him? If Tony had accepted to be defined by the book, obstacles and challenge of culture, maybe he will still be selling copiers rather than being that banker that transformed UBA from a single national bank to a Pan-African institution with over nineteen continental branches and seven million customers, an uncommon achievement accomplished through strong banking supervision and financial discipline.
Tony’s story is a story I think should be etched to the memory of every single African especially the young and struggling entrepreneurs who must think above national renewals and far above Africa’s renaissance.
When you hear about Tony Elumelu, don’t be awed. Just look at a side of him that never accepted the stereotype, look at the side of him that defeated obstacles, look at the side of him that punched above the glass ceilings, but to thy self be truthful.
He didn’t start his career as a banker. He started as a humble salesman and like every other young man of his time did everything to cross the widening gulf of success and failure until luck and providence smiled on him. Tony’s opportunity came when the then All States Bank advertised for a position requiring for a graduate with second class upper division to be employed as an Entry Analyst. With a Second Class Lower Degree, he knew he was disqualified by the requirement, but he nevertheless applied for the position knowing his ability, intelligence, drive and ambition will rather redefine the book.
The cover letter to his application revealed this much “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 much more,” it read.
Those words caught the eyes of the bank chairman who decided to give him a lifeline. He loved his confidence but barely knew he was creating an Africapitalist and corporate banking legend.
He got a chance and ran with it. Above all, he kept to the letter of his words and did much more. 12 Months after he was hired as an entry analyst he was promoted to the position of bank manager to become the youngest Bank Manger of his time at the age of 27 years. He not only did much more, he made the bank proud. And interestingly this was also the time I encountered Tony, having moved my small purse account from the defunct North South Bank to All States. His willingness to help and resolve even the tiniest of customer’s issues left a deep impression on me.
Tony is not just a pride to his generation but a pride to Nigeria, Africa and the world. It doesn’t matter how many times his story is told and in what languages they are retold and to what audience. And I am also not trying to create any new story of him. His story is one of the stories I love to tell because of its inspiring insights. It is my hope that his entrepreneurial spirit and dynamism will continue to inspire this generation and coming generation to punch above their heights.
Tony was born in Jos Nigeria in 1963, a native of Onicha Ukwu in Aniocha Local Government Area, Delta State. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Ambrose Alli University Ekpoma and a Master of Science degree from the University of Lagos. He is married to Awele Vivien Elumelu, a medical doctor, and between them are seven lovely children. Tony has four siblings, one of whom is Ndudi Elumelu, the Minority Leader and member of the Nigerian Federal House of Representatives
In his early career, Elumelu acquired and turned Standard Trust Bank into a top-five player in Nigeria. In 2005 he led the acquisition of United Bank for Africa (UBA), later transforming it from a single-country bank to a pan-African institution with more than seven million customers in 19 African countries. This is a no mean feat for a man who didn’t start his career as a banker.
Following his retirement from UBA in 2010, Elumelu founded Heirs Holdings, which invests in the financial services, energy, real estate and hospitality, agribusiness, and healthcare sectors. In the same year, he established the Tony Elumelu Foundation, an Africa-based and African-funded philanthropic organization.
In 2011, Heirs Holdings acquired a controlling interest in the Transnational Corporation of Nigeria Plc (Transcorp), a publicly quoted conglomerate that has business interests in the agribusiness, energy, and hospitality sectors. Elumelu was subsequently appointed chairman of the corporation.
Elumelu serves as an advisor to the USAID’s Private Capital Group for Africa (PCGA) Partners Forum. He sits on the Nigerian President’s Agricultural Transformation Implementation Council (ATIC). He is also vice-chairman of the National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria (NCCN), whose formation he was a key driver in, and serves as co-chair of the Aspen Institute Dialogue Series on Global Food Security. He additionally chairs the Ministerial Committee to establish world-class hospitals and diagnostic centers across Nigeria, at the invitation of the Federal Government and the Presidential Jobs Board, engineered to create three million jobs in one year. He also 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 was one of the co-chairs of the 26th World Economic Forum on Africa in Kigali, Rwanda, from 11 to 13 May 2016.
Following his retirement from United Bank for Africa in July 2010, Elumelu founded the Tony Elumelu Foundation. His stated objective was to “prove that the African private sector can itself be the primary generator of economic development.” The Foundation is charged with the mission of “driving Africa’s economic development by enhancing the competitiveness of the African private sector” Elumelu is the originator of the term Africapitalism. According to him, Africapitalism is an economic philosophy that embodies the private sector’s commitment to the economic transformation of Africa through long-term investments that create both economic prosperity and social wealth. Elumelu sees Africans taking charge of the value-adding sectors and ensuring that those value-added processes happen in Africa, not through nationalization or government policies, but because there is a generation of private sector entrepreneurs who have the vision, the tools and the opportunity to shape the destiny of the continent. He insists that Africapitalism is not capitalism with an African twist; it is a rallying cry for empowering the private sector to drive Africa’s economic and social growth.
Elumelu subscribes to Michael Porter’s concept of Creating Shared Value (CSV). He studied under Professor Porter at Harvard Business School and Professor Porter is the Founding Patron of The Tony Elumelu Foundation. CSV refers to the idea that “companies must take the lead in bringing business and society back together.” It asserts that “businesses acting as businesses, not as charitable donors, are the most powerful force for addressing the pressing issues societies face.”
I pray the God of Elumelu, to bless our generation with the abundance of His grace so that as a nation we can also punch above our heights.