Mo Ibrahim’s 7 Ultimate Life Lessons for Every Young People
Mohamed Ibrahim, born in Sudan in 1946, was the founder of Celtel, one of Africa’s leading mobile telephone companies. He is a trained electrical and electronics engineer with a PhD in mobile communications. He resigned from his lucrative Job at British Telecom to start his first company MSI (Mobile Systems International), which he later sold for $916 million. He then started Celtel at the time no mobile operator was willing to invest in Africa.
When MTC bought Celtel, in 2005, Mo Ibrahim sold the company for the sum of $3.4 billion. He is currently worth $1.1billion according to Forbes magazine. In 2007 he initiated the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, which awards funding to African heads of state and governments that have demonstrated excellence in African leadership. The Prize, which is larger than the Nobel Prize, awards a $5 million initial payment and a $200,000 annual payment for life to the winner. Past winners of the award include Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ex-president of Liberia, Nelson Mandela, and the likes.
In today’s video, we bring you Mo Ibrahim’s 7 Ultimate life lessons for every young person. While you are here, remember to subscribe to this channel for more inspiring videos like this.
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- Follow your interest even if you are not sure how it will make money
Having developed interest in telecommunication, Mo Ibrahim, decided to specialize in the then-unfashionable field of mobile communications. At the time, there wasn’t a sure way to make a lot of money from the field, but he chose this career based on his interest. “I found the work thrilling and absorbing. I certainly had no idea it was going to make me a lot of money“, he said.
Wealth is the result of creating significant amount of value. If you focus more on developing the capacity to add value, the money will follow.
- Be Adaptable to Change
Mo Ibrahim didn’t set out to become a businessman. In 1983, British Telecom lured him away from academia to be the technical director of Cellnet (now O2). He observed that telecom operators were spending billions of dollars on hardware, and that they could use minimum amount of hardware to produce superior coverage while saving substantial cost. But his employer failed to grasp the potential in new technology.
After spending six years struggling with committees, and dealing with corporate politics, he resigned and starting his consulting company designing technical specifications for operators. The company was later sold for almost a billion dollars. See opportunities where others don’t and have the courage to do it yourself when others say no to you.
- Problems are opportunities
Mo Ibrahim observed that no network operator wanted to invest in Africa even when the continent was in dire need of telecommunication technology. People thought that Africa was too dangerous.” People didn’t want to work in Uganda because of Idi Amin despite the fact that he’d been gone for more than 15 years.” The problem at the time was the gap between perception and reality of the continent. In 1998, Ibrahim decided to bridge the gap. Seven years later, Celtel was operating in 13 countries and had more than 5 million mobile subscribers. Problems are opportunities in disguise. People’s problems are simply an avenue to generate wealth.
- You can do business in Africa without Corruption
Before starting Celtel, people warned Ibrahim that it wasn’t possible to do business in Africa with integrity. From the outset, he was determined to run a clean company. To checkmate corruption, he got his board members to agree that nobody in the company could spend more than $30,000 without the signatures of the entire board. And they made sure to prove in every situation that that’s “how we do business.” This was the silver bullet to put every potential bribery to check. He prides himself of never having paid a bribe as a businessman.
As a result, the level of transparency and quality of corporate governance enhanced the value of the company. In fact, Celtel’s story is taught at Harvard Business School as an example of how strong corporate governance attracts a premium. In his words, “Don’t let short term gain push you to do something. In the end, it will harm the value of your business”.
- Bring others along and Succeed Together
Mo Ibrahim is of the habit of hiring smart people and awarding shares to his employees. At MSI he awarded shares to his staff. By the time he sold the company for $916million, the company had 17 international subsidiaries and 800 employees, the vast majority of whom were engineers, who among them owned 30% of the shares. He applied the same approach with Celtel. When Celtel was sold for $3.4billion in 2004, the staff shared $500million, and 100 people, most of them African, became millionaires.
Mo Ibrahim understands the importance of having the right crew and rewarding them accordingly. And they were prepared to go extra miles for him. It was Henry Ford who said, “Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success”. If everyone is moving forward together, success takes care of itself.
- People Who Do Serious Things Take Themselves Seriously
Mo Ibrahim’s daughter, Hadeel, has this to say about her father, “When I first left university and wanted to work in development, I was quite a tomboy. He’d go on at me to wear nice clothes… because people who do serious things take themselves seriously.”
Mo Ibrahim wanted people around him to be their best in every possible way they could. He enjoys his work and he wants everyone to enjoy it. He gives a prize for excellence, because he is consumed by the desire for excellence in all he does. Your first impression matters. People will address you by the way you dress. You have to make the effort to take how you appear before people seriously.
- Stand For What You Believe
Mo Ibrahim has always stood up against the endemic nature of corruption in Africa and its implications for businesses and the development of the continent. His financial success is a testament against corruption, and a reinforcement of his stand against it. After leaving Celtel, he founded the Mo Ibrahim Foundation; offering the $5 million Mo Ibrahim Prize for excellent African leaders.
This prize has brought him a lot of criticism. People say that the businessman who prides himself on never having paid a bribe now seems to be offering a bribe to political leaders. Some say “why so much money for leaders who are only doing what they’re elected to do?” Others believe $500,000 a year would be small change for, say, a Nigerian politician. Ibrahim’s response is that, while the prize cannot compete with possible corruption proceeds, it offers leaders an option that didn’t previously exist. He added that, “The fact that African leaders are able to steal billions of dollars doesn’t mean that those who don’t shouldn’t have any money.” We cannot make a case of how effective or not the prize has been, but we can agree that evil triumph when good men and women do nothing. Don’t be afraid to stand for what you believe in.
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Until next time, YOUR SUCCESS MATTERS!
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