15 Powerful Life Lessons from 5 African Billionaires for Young People
Aliko Dangote, Mo Ibrahim, Strive Masiyiwa, Jim Ovia and Tony Elumelu. What do these men have in common? A lot, I believe. But one thing that is obvious to the public is that they are all worth billions of dollars. And they have valuable life experiences to go with it.
If you plan to become successful in your field of work someday, you want to learn from the experiences of people who have been there and done that.
In today’s post, we have put together the best of their advice. If you are new to these posts from us, welcome. We aim for all-round education of young Africans. Consider joining 20000+ others in subscribing to AfterSchoolAfrica on Youtube to continue exploring opportunities.
Lessons from Mo Ibrahim
1. 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.
2. When they Say No to You, Do it Yourself
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. He observed that telecom operators were spending billions of dollars on hardware; and that they could spend less and still achieve superior coverage. But his employer failed to grasp the potential.
After spending six years 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.
3. Bring others along and Succeed Together
Mo Ibrahim is of the habit of hiring smart people and awarding shares to his employees. By the time he sold his first company for $916million, the company had 17 international subsidiaries and 800 employees, 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 Africans, 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”.
WATCH: Mo Ibrahim 7 Ultimate Life Lessons for Every Young People!
3 Lessons from Aliko Dangote
4. You must be Consistent with your vision
When the mobile licenses were on offer in Nigeria, Dangote could have bid successfully for a license. But he steadfastly refused because as he put it “it was not my game”. When oil blocks were on offer he stayed away. He did not chase every type of business like a man trying to get into everything! He stayed focused and remained consistent with his game.
What is the lesson? You must focus on the thing you know best, and get in very deep! You are bound to encounter challenges and difficulties. But never use those challenges as excuse to dabble into every seeming opportunity. Success follows consistency.
5. You need information to make the right decision
When he wants to venture into manufacturing, Dangote and his team wanted to know why most manufacturing businesses have failed. In 1995, they invited a consulting firm, then Arthur Andersen, to help figure out the cause of massive failure in manufacturing. After the retreat, they uncovered two reasons. One was lack of electricity and two was inconsistency in government policy. This piece of information empowered them to make the best decisions in setting up the manufacturing business and saved them a lot of trouble in the future. Learn from this. Make the effort to gather relevant information before making important decisions. And with the internet, big data and data analytics, you may not have to look too far to find the information you need.
6. Do the things you understand
Dangote group once operated two banks in its history. At a point, he and his team had to accept that they were not professional banker. So it’s in their best interest to quit the business of banking. They then adopted a rule that any business the top 10 of executives in the company cannot wake up at night and explain the process from A to Z, they had no business in that business. This rule influenced their business decisions from then on.
Warren Buffet, the third richest person in the world, alludes to this advice, “only invest in business you understand”. Then go even further to develop deeper knowledge of the industry. That’s how you can stay ahead of the park.
RECOMMENDED VIDEO: Aliko Dangote’s 7 Ultimate Life Lessons for Every Young Person
3 lessons from Jim Ovia
7. Follow Your Instincts
Jim Ovia believes that the most crucial skill to becoming successful is the ability to listen to your gut. Jim developed curiosity for computers while studying in the United States. He wanted to study computer but his college advisor convinced him on business management and administration. But his passion got him to sneak into computer-science room whenever he had the chance. To put this in perspective, this was around the time Bill Gates and Paul Allen had just established Microsoft. He had the gut instinct that this technology was the key to the future of all business. Years later, when starting his business, even though there was no internet in Nigeria at the time, he made incorporating digital technology and internet capacity a priority.
“What determines whether a great idea can ever come to fruition is the initial will to act on instinct…” says Jim Ovia.
8. Develop Your Negotiation Skills
Jim told the story of how he started a used car sales business during NYSC. Jim had identified that there were many beat up cars available for sale. He would buy off these cars, get the mechanic to refurbish them and then sell at a higher price. He claimed to sell these cars for double and even triple the price he had paid for them. But his most valuable lessons was discovering and developing his ability to negotiate with the original car owner, the mechanic and the buyer.
This skill played out when negotiating for a banking license. He was not qualified on many fronts. But he negotiated his way to being granted a license. Negotiation is one of the most valuable life skills you can develop.
9. Let the Dots Connect
In his senior year at the university, Ovia got a night job as a computer operator. This experience allowed him insight into how an American bank was using data processing technology to its advantage. Ovia also put his MBA knowledge to work, during his NYSC, writing feasibility reports for companies, and then selling refurbished cars. He later got a job as a financial analyst at a bank. “All of these experiences”, he said, “prepared me for bigger things to come”. Do not take little opportunities of today for granted. You’ll never know when those experiences will play to your advantage. ‘
Jim Ovia’s 7 Ultimate Life Lessons for Every young person!
3 Lessons from Strive Masiyiwa
10. Be Unapologetically Relentless on what You Believe is Right
Strive Masiyiwa has met with fierce competition more than most entrepreneurs. When he lost his court cases for a telecoms license to the Zimbabwean government in 1994, he pushed further by appealing to the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe. He could have easily avoided this battle by accepting prevailing corrupt practice at the time, but according to him, he wanted to prove that “it is possible to do business successfully in Africa without being corrupt”. Four years later, at the brink of bankruptcy, he won the case.
Being in court with the government would have looked like an impossible and already lost case. But perseverance brought victory. Never allow yourself to become a “grasshopper in your own eyes,” even if others see you as nothing more or less.
11. Prepare and Practice
Masiyiwa once shared the story of how his team bid for telecomm license from the government of Botswana with 4 other already established companies; MTN, Vodacom, Bharti of India and Orange. Mascom Wireless was barely a known name, neither were members of his team. While competitors came in private jets, his team managed to afford land travel. Despite all the supposed limitations, through weeks and weeks of planning and mock pitches, Mascom Wireless won the bid!
It’s not the will to win that matter; everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters. In spite of the odds, you will almost always exceed your expectation if you are willing to put in the work to prepare effectively.
12. Have Faith in God
As a devout Christian, Masiyiwa’s values are of great importance to him. Instead of cutting corners and getting involved in corrupt practices, Masiyiwa prefers to wait it out in an audacity of faith. While struggling to establish Econet in both Zimbabwe and Nigeria, Masiyiwa opposed to paying bribes to government officials. Rather, he stubbornly pursued his cases in courts, which he eventually won. He believes it’s better to delay gratification than to corrupt your soul with bribe. This stands him out as an exceptional businessman. People close to Masiyiwa confirm that he never takes any important business decisions without first going on his knees. And this has always worked for him.
RECOMMENDED VIDEO: Strive Masiyiwa’s 7 Ultimate Life Lessons for Every Young Person
3 Lessons from Tony Elumelu
13. Don’t Be in a Hurry to Travel Out
For Tony Elumelu, you don’t have to travel out of your country to become successful. Many young people in developing countries are obsessed with travelling abroad to escape from the economic hardship. Tony Elumelu believed that while challenges are real on the African continent, so are opportunities. As a young teenager, he also wanted to ‘checkout’ to America to seek greener pasture. But the lack of opportunity to travel abroad opened him up to a future in Africa that he could not have had anywhere else. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with aspiring to go abroad or relocating for studies, but never forget that there are immense opportunities available to you right here on the continent.
14. Embrace discipline and hard Work
People who worked with Tony Elumelu, right from the days when he was the young CEO of STB, will attest to the fact that he loves to work hard. It was impossible to survive a day in the bank if you weren’t ready to work hard. He was often the last to leave office in the evening and first to resume in the morning. During his business abroad, he still worked during the day and attended to everything requiring his approval. He acknowledges that discipline played a major role in making him who he is today. Be self disciplined, and remember that nothing can substitute hard work.
15. Develop the Habit to Save from little
Tony Elumelu developed a saving culture early in life. He alluded to the fact that the first thing that influenced his life while growing up was his father’s advice that if he didn’t save from earning one dollar, he would not save even if he earned $1billion. That mind-set to save a part of whatever he earned positively influenced his life significantly. Cultivate the habit of saving even as a student.
RECOMMENDED VIDEO: Tony Elumelu’s 7 Ultimate Advice for Every Young Person
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Until next time, YOUR SUCCESS MATTERS.