• Thursday, April 18, 2024
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From a quiet go-getter to a prolific investor, Tony Elumelu continues to spin the deal wheel at 61

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Those who, 24 years ago, knew Tony Elumelu as the almost-shy, reticent but hardworking banker who avoided any form of publicity would always marvel at how much he has transformed into one of Africa’s smartest businessmen with interests, not only in the financial services industry but in nearly all the sectors of the Nigerian economy.

Age may have taken its toll here and there, but at 61, you’d rarely notice the strains and stress of coordinating multiple multi-billion-naira enterprises on Elumelu, who has mastered multitasking and balancing his packed schedule to easily and conveniently fit into each 24-hour day.

Read also: Tony Elumelu foundation set to unveil 2024 cohort of entrepreneurship programme

Elumelu was one of the young swashbucklers who revolutionised banking in Nigeria from the late 1980s up until the middle 1990s. This group was behind the death sentence passed on tally numbers and brick-and-mortar bank branches by ushering in revolutionary technologies that enabled the connection of all branches, thus making sure that a customer with an account in Kano could conduct his banking business in another branch of the same bank in Calabar as if he were in his home branch.

Millennials who were not born when people spent hours just to deposit and withdraw cash from banks may find it difficult to relate to this, but history has Tony Elumelu as one of the people who revolutionised banking in Nigeria. It was the revolutionary efforts of people like Elumelu that gave birth to the old-generation versus new-generation bank dichotomy, which formed the major line of differentiation among competing banks in the country between the year 2000 and maybe two or three years ago, when the lines became significantly blurred.

While holding sway as the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the then Standard Trust Bank, Tony avoided any encounter with the press. He preferred to operate behind the scenes, leaving the public engagements mostly in the hands of two of the Executive Directors of the Bank then, Charles Nwodo and Lanre Adanijo. I guess that even back then, he realised what he thought were his inadequacies and, as a believer in the nullity of impossibility, invested in learning, unlearning, and relearning new skills and acquiring new talents. Elumelu immersed himself in education, attending leadership and other executive programmes at Harvard and other Ivy League institutions.

Today, Tony Elumelu is respected and recognised as one of the best turnaround artists in the African business landscape. Mention can be made of Transcorp Hilton Hotel, which he has transformed into one of the best-run hospitality businesses in Nigeria; and Transcorp Power, a power generation enterprise that he moved from a capacity of 137 megawatts to more than 700 megawatts and which he recently led to its listing on the Nigeria Exchange. People may wonder why he is so good at transforming businesses, but the secret can be found in his willingness to start with the man in the mirror: He perfected the art of transforming businesses by first transforming himself. He changed from a reticent achiever to a sought-after public speaker whose public

Engagements have not just spread transformation across the businesses that he is involved in but have also inspired many young entrepreneurs across the continent.

It was his transformative leadership that grew the Standard Trust Bank from an outfit with a few branches in Lagos to one with over 89 business offices across the country, the heft of which came into the bargain during the merger with the United Bank for Africa on August 1, 2005, and also enabled him to plant the business in 20 African countries, employing more than 20,000 people and amassing a customer base larger than the population of many African countries. It was also Elumelu’s transformative leadership that led him to acquire Transnational Corporation of Nigeria (now Transnational Corporation Plc, “Transcorp”), a company floated with the backing of the Federal Government of Nigeria in November 2004 to be a conglomerate, similar to the South Korean chaebol conglomerate, to lead the charge for the industrialization of Nigeria. Since acquiring Transcorp, he has kept the original vision of building the business into a conglomerate and has taken deep dives into such areas as hospitality, real estate, electricity generation and distribution, agriculture, technology, and oil and gas.

Read also: Elumelu urges privatization of Nigeria electricity transmission lines

In his Transcorp Hotel Abuja, which was the first major acquisition of the group, Elumelu transformed the 5-star hotel into one of the best and most prestigious in the country. His venture into power generation gave birth to Transcorp Power, a business that acquired the power plant in Ughelli and moved the generation capacity from 160 megawatts to 701 megawatts within four (4) years of taking over the plant. This company, like most of his businesses, was listed on the Nigerian Exchange on March 4, 2024, and has got investors scrambling for the shares because they have come to associate the promoter with success.

Tony Elumelu believes in excellence and provides the sort of leadership that makes change happen. Within his group, he inspires his employees to become, like him,

transformational leaders, and when he speaks, everyone listening feels the passion he has for picking ailing businesses and turning the charts steeply upward.

“Turnaround leaders must have high dissatisfaction with the status quo. If you do not have a high level of dissatisfaction with the status quo, then you are not a turnaround leader. If you embrace the status quo, then you are not a turnaround person, because turnaround is not business as usual; turnaround means technologically shifting things. You have to engineer a quantum leap; you reposition things, you change things from their normal states, and you have a total dissatisfaction with what is and trigger what should be. Even for normal people, it might appear impossible. When you embrace turnaround leadership, you get dissatisfied with incremental movement and settle for nothing but full transformation.” This was the quintessential Tony Elumelu in his element.

At 61, Tony Elumelu is remembered by many people for many different reasons. To those in entrepreneurship and business school, he is the undisputed champion of business transformation. To his employees, particularly those who have been with him since his early days as a start-upper, he is a mentor. To the thousands of others across Africa who have benefited from his generosity, he is God-sent. This last group includes those who have either benefitted from or have been inspired by the works Elumelu started in 2015 with his Tony Elumelu Foundation, a philanthropy that he established to, as he loves to say, “empower a new generation of African entrepreneurs, drive poverty eradication, catalyse job creation across all 54 African countries, and increase women’s economic empowerment.”

With the Foundation, Elumelu has shown how his fountain of kindness can flow upstream and downstream across all of Africa without discrimination. When he was starting, he set aside the sum of $100 billion to provide vital financial support and unlock countless job opportunities for ambitious minds across Africa. Today, not only have about 20,000 people benefited from the programme’s mentorship and financial grants, but each of them has continued the transformation evangelism in their respective countries and communities, generating more than 400,000 direct and indirect employment opportunities while also solving the problems of family dependencies.

In a continent that is beset with crippling poverty, the Tony Elumelu Foundation has shone through the darkness, lighting the path for Africa and showing an example of what Africans can do to lift the continent and put it on the road to sustainable development.

Read also: Tinubu names Dangote, Elumelu, others members of economic advisory committee

As Elumelu marks his 61st birthday today, calls should go out to all of Africa’s successful people to bind resources and fuse ideas that will leverage what this golden-hearted Nigerian has done for the greater good of the continent and its people.

And as Tony Elumelu himself has repeatedly said, “Nobody will develop Africa except Africans.”.


Oheshiere Victor, a finance and investment consultant, contributed this from Abuja.