Your Excellency President Alassane Outtara/Prime Minister Duncan Cablan;
Your Excellency, Deputy Prime Minister Xavier Luc Duval of Mauritius;
Mr. Jean Kacou Diagou;
My Fellow Entrepreneurs and Africans;
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen;
It is an honour to be with you this morning to accept the Ivorian National Council of Employers’ Lifetime Achievement Award. I want to thank CGECI’s Chairman, Jean Kacou Diagou, and members of the Council for this very meaningful recognition as an “African Business Champion.”
I am honoured to be invited to share my business perspective and experiences with you. I want to commend you for having this conversation about the role of business champions in Africa.
I will start by sharing my thoughts on champions, about the nature of success, people who I see as champions, in business and beyond. Finally, I will spend some time highlighting the work of the Tony Elumelu Foundation and how it relates to this ideal.When we think about a champion, we often think about an individual who is a winner! People like Venus and Serena Williams in Tennis, Gary Kasparov in Chess and Mohammed Ali in Boxing or, closer to home, the Ivorien national football team, the Elephants and the current champions of Africa. A personal favourite of mine is Michael Jackson – who combined talent with a dedication to hard work – and an understanding that inspiration needs also commitment, rigor and practice. These are all people who have achieved and should be celebrated; as the demonstration of what human beings can do when we set our minds to attaining goals or meeting a standard. We must always continue to push the boundaries of the physical and mental endurance and agility of mankind.
However, there is another kind of champion that I think is more important and that is the individual who not only achieves personal success and greatness in their chosen endeavours, but one who carries others along with them or uses their platform to lift others up. These are the greats!Another is Mohammed Ali, who said he was the greatest and then worked harder than most to ensure he deserved that accolade. But Mohammed Ali is a champion not only because of what he accomplished in the ring, but because of what he stood for. He stood up against an unjust system of racial segregation in the 1960s and defied the will of the most powerful government in the world. A government that was prepared to send him and fellow African Americans to die for their country’s political ideology in the Vietnam War, and yet was unwilling to uphold the civil rights guaranteed to those same African Americans under the constitution of the United States.
In refusing to go to war, and confronting his government, Ali brought global attention to the racist and segregationist policies that belied the America’s founding philosophy of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” and in doing so, he helped to advance a movement that secured civil rights and lifted up people of colour in the United States. That is a Champion and that is Greatness!Another example I would argue is the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates. As a young man, Bill Gates revolutionized the computer operating system and helped propel the world into the digital age through the inter connectivity of computers. And through the marketing genius of his products, is also arguably the most successful entrepreneur in history. However, if he succeeds at his current philanthropic endeavor, he will more likely be remembered for leading the charge to eradicate Polio and preventing up to 5 million child deaths a year from preventable diseases. That is Greatness!! That is a champion!!Essentially, I am saying that a champion who embodies true greatness is one who carries the fight, refuses to settle for a comfortable existence, thinks about the plight of others, inspires hope and decides to make the aspirations of others their personal fight despite major challenges. That is the difference between being a winner and a champion!
When it comes to global development and economic growth, I want to argue that, while other regions may breed and encourage winners, Africa must encourage champions! It is not an option! Because development is not an option. Our continent faces challenges and we need individuals who will champion the social and political development, environmental integrity and economic transformation of the continent. I say this because reason tells us, and history has proved to us, that no one can develop the African continent but us Africans. Because no one has a greater stake in it. Outsiders have colonized, pillaged and plundered the continent, and now they visit us, trade with us and are benevolent towards us, but no one can rescue us. We are the ones that we have been waiting for. It is up to us!
I’ve talked about sporting, intellectual and philanthropic champions, and we all revere the political champions, such as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, whose championing of freedom and equality defined their lives. However, for the purpose of this gathering, I want to focus on “BUSINESS CHAMPIONS. ”There are many WINNERS in African business and that is a good thing. For everyone that is productive and stands on their own two feet, the continent is better off. However, it is not enough. Africa has:– 600 million people living without access to electricity;– Millions of kids are out of school;– More than 400 million people still living in poverty– Millions more who are chronically hungry or food insecure; and an unemployment rate that averages about 20%, and often up to 50% in the case of youth.The list goes on.Therefore, Africa needs winners with a cause! Because that is what a champion is – a winner with a cause! And the business sector is not exempt from the responsibilities of championship.
For too long, governments have been left to solve the challenges that I have mentioned above, and many others, with varying degrees of success, while the business sector focused on its perceived mission – that is the pursuit and maximization of profit for shareholders. However, it has become clear that this is not a sustainable way to develop Africa. It has not and will not lead to success for African governments, citizens or business. And it will be evident in each country’s GDP. This is because governments cannot create jobs for all their citizens. The majority of jobs are created by the private sector, specifically, Small and Medium Enterprises.
SMEs are the backbone of any economy anywhere in the world. And when governments ignore the private sector and do not attend to their obligations to create and sustain enabling environments for businesses to thrive and flourish, the consequences are stark – low GDP growth, mass unemployment, ethnic strife and possibly even food and health crises and in some cases, violent conflict.
Similarly, when the private sector divorces itself from the development agenda and aspirations of the countries and regions in which they operate, their focus often becomes short-term investments that yield high returns for a few and exclude many. These sort of ventures often do little to build capacity, increase local value creation, increase government tax revenues, expand employment, raise living standards and very critically, solve national or regional development challenges. The results are enclave and stagnating economies that not only reflect as failed governance but also limits the growth of the private sector itself.At best, this is basically a recipe for “Mutually Assured Mediocrity” on the part of both governments and the private sector.
I am an entrepreneur, so I will address the private sector side of this quandary and offer a solution. But first, I will tell you a little bit about my business to set it in the proper context. I think it is fair to say that I am a winner because I have demonstrably enjoyed success in business. In 1997, my partners and I took over a failed bank and turned it around. By innovating, leveraging technology and pursuing less affluent customers in a market which eschewed them as many did not have bank accounts, we soon out-performed most of the other banks in Nigeria. Due to our amazing growth trajectory, Standard Trust became a leading bank in Nigeria and, in 2005, we were emboldened enough to execute a merger with one of the top 3 banks in Nigeria – the United Bank of Africa (UBA).
But that was not enough! We wanted to win more. We wanted UBA to become a truly pan-African bank. So, we developed and executed a strategy to establish presence in other African countries. And today, UBA employs over 12,000 people and serves over 11 million customers in 19 African countries, representing Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone citizens and covers all sub-Saharan African regions. More importantly, we found that, though profit was our primary motivation, through the Standard Trust Bank turnaround and UBA’s pan-African strategy, we had helped to democratize access to banking across Africa in the process.
Some of it had to do with the decision we made to allow customers in some under-banked economies to open bank accounts with zero balances. That strategic calculation to be patient paid off because, eventually, people brought their money in, I believed that whenever people have an opportunity, they will choose to save and UBA helped to bring millions of disenfranchised Africans into the formal economy. This forever altered my understanding of how a business, even in pursuit of profit, should operate.
When I stepped down as the CEO of UBA in 2010, and established Heirs Holdings, I was venturing out from my comfort zone, as a Banker, into new territory, as an entrepreneur! To help guide my investment decisions, I took some time to reflect on what principles, practices and decisions had underpinned the success at Standard Trust and UBA, what I’d learned and what impact I wanted to make in all my new endeavors. I found that I wanted to:– Create wealth;– Promote development in Nigeria and across Africa;– Do it from the private sector; and– Deliver societal benefits.
And that is how the concept of Africapitalism was birthed. Africapitalism addresses this problem I referred to earlier as “mutually assured mediocrity” of the government and private sector operating in parallel, rather than in collaboration as I believe that the private sector must acknowledge and embrace its role in Africa’s development.
Africapitalism is essentially an economic philosophy to deploy, empower and enjoin private sector participation in the economic and social development of the African continent, through long-term investments in strategic sectors that generate both economic dividends for investors and social wealth for larger society.
I knew that if I did this, not only would my new businesses and I succeed or become “winners”, but we would have a discernible impact on the fortunes and future of the continent. Today, Heirs Holdings as a pan-African proprietary investment company with interests in key strategic sectors of Africa’s economy, including financial services, oil and gas, power, hospitality and real estate, healthcare and agribusiness, is doing precisely what I set out to do in 2010.
More importantly, we are champions of African development because we are Africapitalists. Through Africapitalism, I am seeking to evangelize what works for successful business investments and inspire other entrepreneurs, like yourselves, to also make the promotion of national and regional development a strategic priority for your businesses. What differentiates Africapitalists from the champions I mentioned earlier, such as Mohammed Ali and Bill Gates, who became winners and then championed a cause, is that the pursuit of the cause of development occurs simultaneously with the pursuit of profit and the economic and societal dividends occur together!!That is doing well while doing good!!
The other objective I want to achieve with Africapitalism is not only to be a “Business Champion,” that is to be a winner with a cause, but it is also important to me to be a “Champion of Business .”I’ve already described the former. The latter involves the responsibility I feel to replicate my success by helping to create more Tony Elumelus and more UBAs across Africa. To achieve this end, in 2014, the Tony Elumelu Foundation launched the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP) to identify, train mentor and seed 10,000 African entrepreneurs over the next 10 years, towards creating 1 million jobs and $10 billion in additional revenue across the continent. I have committed US$100 million to this endeavour over that period.The purpose of the program is the economic transformation of the continent and we seek to achieve this by institutionalizing and democratizing “luck,” so that any African entrepreneur, regardless of nationality, gender, faith, age or sector, who has trans-formative and a scale-able idea, and the drive to succeed, has that golden opportunity to compete to be one of the best 1,000 ideas selected. Hence, the tagline of the program is “Your idea can Transform Africa.’
And I can tell you that Africa’s entrepreneurs are stepping up to the challenge. In the first year, we received 20,000 applications for 1,000 slots, and this year we received 45,000 for the next 1,000. I’m delighted to inform you that over the last couple of years, 35 number of beneficiaries are from Cote D’Ivoire. But more importantly, every African country but one is represented in the program. Beyond that, the program works in synergy and leverages the commercial side of our operations. When I meet with high-level government officials across Africa for business reasons, I bring along their country’s Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurs and secure commitments from them on policy changes to improve the enabling environment for all entrepreneurs to thrive. This is part of the Africapitalist creed to end the mutually assured mediocrity of the public and private sector by working in “shared purpose” to ensure that the governments’ development objectives are met through private sector investment in healthcare, agriculture, infrastructure, financial services, entertainment etc… and that the private sector flourishes. The results of which should be reflected in economic growth and “shared prosperity” that permeates all levels and sectors of African society. And just like UBA operates and promotes regional integration through its pan-African operations, the Tony Elumelu Foundation’s TEEP is promoting regional integration by creating a pan-African ecosystem that fosters creativity, innovation, collaboration and trade between self-selecting entrepreneurs all across Africa. And that is another cause worth championing!
In closing, I want to reiterate that I am all for winning! And I know that everyone in this room is a winner or well on their way to being one. But I also want to remind you that winning is not enough – not in Africa and not for Africa. Africa needs champions and you don’t need anyone’s permission! I have been a winner but I much prefer to be champion.
What will your story be
Vive la Côte d ‘Ivoire et vive l’Afrique.
Tony O. Elumelu, CON
Follow updates on his event online:– Twitter: @TonyOElumelu and Instagram @TonyOElumelu– Twitter: @Heirs_Holdings and Instagram: @HeirsHoldings– Twitter: @TonyElumeluFDN and Instagram: @TonyElumeluFoundation. Merci beaucoup.