By Sesan Laoye
In the normal run of affairs, Tony O. Elumelu does not come across as the superman that he really is. What you see is a gentleman who is soft-spoken, calm-mannered and quite genial.
But this is only a surface view as underlining that genteel appearance is an incredibly sharp wit, a resolute strategist and a much focused playmaker. Tony Elumelu is to say the least, a colossal achiever that Nigeria, Africa and indeed the world cannot ignore.
With a fast-rising reputation as one of Africa’s leading investors and philanthropists, the Founder and Chairman of Heirs Holdings, his family owned investment company that has since branched out to establish a firm foothold across the continent, first came into Nigerian national continental reckoning when he led a team of young Turks to take up the commanding rungs at Standard Trust Bank, STB.
With a very structured market focus and a daring zeal to rise to the top, Team Elumelu was also well-positioned to take up the very significant step of taking over the leadership pie at the United Bank for Africa, UBA when the opportunity presented itself. Leading the bigger institution, Elumelu drove a strong brand plank to help UBA glide over the challenge of banking sector consolidation and then position it as the pan-African bank. Across two decades of working at it, the bank is now firmly established in over one third of the nations of Africa.
A sturdy pan-African financial services group, the United Bank for Africa (UBA), now operates in 20 countries in Africa, the United Kingdom and France. It is also the only African bank with a commercial deposit taking presence in the United States. The bank provides corporate, commercial, SME and consumer banking services to
more than 21 million customers globally across a variety of physical and electronic platforms.
Leaving UBA’s management
Underscoring the fact that Elumelu had indeed built solid institutional capacity at UBA through the years that he sat in the CEO’s chair, the bank was to take the challenge of replacing him as MD/CEO in its stride. This happened as the regulators, the Central Bank of Nigeria moved to enforce a provision in the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act, BOFIA that had provided for a maximum ten years tenure for CEOs of Banks in the country.
It has continued to do that quite seamlessly since then with Elumelu himself moving upstairs to the Chairman’s suite.
In his new role as Chairman of UBA, Tony has continued to vigorously drive the bank’s forays across multiple markets.
Not one to be held down under any circumstance, Elumelu used the opportunity of his standing down as MD/CEO of UBA as a challenge to explore new and perhaps even bigger frontiers.
Indeed, since Tony Elumelu left UBA MD he has not rested.
And one of his engagements has had to do with the Nigeria’s largest quoted conglomerate, the planned chaebol, Transcorp Plc.
Under his leadership, Transcorp whose subsidiaries include Transcorp Power, one of the largest generators of electricity in Nigeria and Transcorp Hotels Plc., Nigeria’s foremost hospitality brand has continued to drive for market advantage.
Asked to assess the Elumelu equation in the Nigerian and African business scene, the analyst, Thompson Segun remarked:
‘Tony Elumelu has been brilliant in his business forays. He has shown courage, wily ability, grit and vision. He has equally demonstrated ruthlessness, a capacity to be cavalier and a willingness to bend rules. Elumelu is an interesting and complex fellow but his success at pushing the entrepreneurial plate in Africa is unassailable.’
Indeed this much can be attested to in his quite daring push in recent times to take on the grand jewel of the Nigerian economy: hydrocarbons exploration through his operating as the Founder and Chairman of Trans-Niger Oil & Gas Limited (TNOG), an upstream oil and gas company that is committed to creating resource based added value on the African continent.
Taking to his twitter handle to announce the stride,
Elumelu had announced:
‘I’m thrilled to announce the $1.1 billion transaction by @Heirs_Holdings on the acquisition of a 45% participating interest in Nigerian oil licence OML17,& related assets, from Shell, Total & ENI through TNOG Oil and Gas (@heirsoilandgas). TNOG is also the sole operator of OML 17.’
Industry sources say OML17 may very well contain a whooping 2P reserves of 1.3 billion barrels of oil equivalent.
Taking and giving
Elumelu’s story is not just that of a business player who is out there creaming profits and holding on to them. Over the years, he has demonstrated a commitment to improving lives and transforming his African continent, not just through long-term investments in strategic sectors of the African economy including financial services, hospitality, power, energy, technology and healthcare, he also most actively engaged in mentorship schemes to raise even more African entrepreneurs and help them stand.
Along this line, Elumelu is a most prominent champion of entrepreneurship in Africa who has in the past decade of founding and running The Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), helped to empower over 9000 young African entrepreneurs across 54 African nations while his TEFConnect online platform has equally impacted about a million Africans.
This has come alongside his championing an Africapitalism philosophical model to help catalyse economic growth, drive poverty eradication and enhance job creation in a continent where the median age is in the neighbourhood of 20. The philosophy stridently positions the private sector, and most importantly entrepreneurs, as the catalyst for the social and economic development of the African continent even as the Tony Elumelu Foundation has also created a digital ecosystem of over one million Africans as part of its ten year, US$100m commitment through its flagship Entrepreneurship Programme.
Impressed by the sheer scope of the initiative, agencies like the United Nations Development Programme, the International Committee of the Red Cross have since linked up with, and taken supportive positions in the work of the Foundation.
In addition, Elumelu sits on a number of public and social sector boards including the Global Advisory Council of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Centre for Public Leadership, World Economic Forum Community of Chairmen and the Global Leadership Council of UNICEF’s Generation Unlimited. In 2020, in recognition of his business leadership and economic empowerment of young African entrepreneurs, he was named in the Time100 Most Influential People in the World, and awarded Belgium’s oldest and highest order.
Born on 22 March 1963, Elumelu also holds the Nigerian national honours, the Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) and Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR), as well as the National Productivity Order of Merit award.
He holds primary degrees in economics; a bachelor’s degree from Ambrose Alli University and a Master of Science degree from the University of Lagos.
He also serves as an advisor to the USAID’s Private Capital Group for Africa (PCGA) Partners Forum, sits on the Nigerian President’s Agricultural Transformation Implementation Council (ATIC) and is also vice-chairman of the National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria (NCCN).
In addition, he is Co-Chair of the Aspen Institute Dialogue Series on Global Food Security, chairs the Ministerial Committee to establish world-class hospitals and diagnostic centres across Nigeria, and serves as a member of the Global Advisory Board of the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All Initiative (SE4ALL) and USAID’s Private Capital Group for Africa Partners Forum.
He is equally a member of the Bretton Woods Committee, which brings together senior leaders in the global banking industry, a Fellow of the Nigeria Leadership Initiative (NLI) and is also engaged in the Blair-Elumelu Fellowship Programme as well as being co-chair of the Africa Energy Leaders’ Group (AELG).
Among others, he has been conferred with the African Business Leader of The Year award and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Economic Forum of the Ivorian National Council of Employers, CGECI Academy, (CGECI).
One of his more recent initiatives is a partnership with the European Union in which the EU and the Tony Elumelu Foundation are joining forces to improve economic empowerment of women
Announced in December, 2020, the scheme aims to support more than 2,500 African women entrepreneurs, through increased access to finance and venture capital investment with a contribution of €20 million.
“This partnership with the Tony Elumelu Foundation will help women participate in economic development, realise their full potential and accelerate economic inclusion. Empowering women entrepreneurs is a key driver for sustainable jobs and growth, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and in line with the objectives of our Africa Strategy. Women and girls represent half of the world’s population and they deserve equal opportunities”, said Jutta Urpilainen, Commissioner for International Partnerships.
On his part, Elumelu remarked that his hope is that the initiative would be helpful to beneficiaries:
“At the Tony Elumelu Foundation, we are pleased to partner with the European Union, sharing our unique ability to identify, train, mentor and fund young entrepreneurs across Africa. This joint effort will prioritise and provide economic opportunities for African women, whom for too long have endured systemic obstacles to starting, growing and sustaining their businesses. Our partnership aims to alleviate the funding, knowledge and market constraints threatening the livelihoods of women entrepreneurs on the continent, to create more income, jobs, growth and scale for women-owned businesses,” the Founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation remarked.