“We have the raw talent. But doing business in Africa is different from doing business in China, doing business in America. The kind of literature they read… we should have literature about African businesses. We should have case studies about African businesses,” says Elumelu, who is also in the process of establishing his own business school. “What did they do that makes them successful? What did they do that makes them fail?”
For his part, Elumelu reiterates that patience, discipline and organisation are the key to that success.
“What is important, my advice for small-scale entrepreneurs is: run your business well,” he says. “If you run your business well, you grow. If you want to become Steve Jobs… take it one step at a time.”
Elumelu is one of Nigeria’s – and Africa’s – most recognisable and successful businessmen, who rose to prominence as CEO of United Bank for Africa (UBA). Leading a group of investors in taking over the distressed Standard Trust Bank in the 1990s, Elumelu turned the bank around, eventually orchestrating its merger with UBA in 2005, at the time the largest tie-up in Nigerian corporate history.
UBA is now in 19 African countries with branches in London, Paris and New York – one of a small number of elite pan-African financial institutions.
In 2010, new regulations that limited bank CEOs’ terms meant that Elumelu had to step down at UBA. That year, he founded Heirs Holdings, which makes direct investments across a range of sectors in Africa.
Its portfolio companies in infrastructure, financial services, agribusiness, oil and gas and healthcare employ more than 30,000 people. In August 2014, Elumelu returned to UBA as chairman.
Read the second part of the series here.