In the past few years, African business leaders have progressively marched to a hall of fame as some of the World’s greatest and most inspiring business leaders. The success stories of some of these African business leaders could truly inspire you in your journey as an entrepreneur. Hence, I present you with a thorough post here on some inspiring information about twenty African business leaders you should know about.
Here, African business leaders will refer to successful businessmen and women that are of African descent living within or outside Africa. Yes, Elon Musk, the new Twitter CEO is on the list because even though he now has American citizenship, he is originally from South Africa.
This article will feature a narrative list of successful African business leaders (in no particular order), their family and educational backgrounds, establishments, net-worths and business ideologies in an inspirational undertone that will motivate you in your business journey to the top, irrespective of your business area.
You will also be inspired on persevering and staying determined to succeed if you are at the “startup” stage of your business, bearing in mind that you can one day become an inspiring business leader of African or non-African origin. Enjoy your read. Yeah, it is going to be a long ride.
Inspiring African Business Leaders To Follow
This may be the very first exhaustive compilation of notable African business leaders currently alive today (2022). I will categorize it into male and female African business leaders for clarity.
1. Aliko Dangote
Aliko Dangote, born to Mohammed Dangote and Mariya Sanusi Dantata had his primary and secondary education in Kano and Jigawa states, Nigeria, respectively. He had normal childhood days in a family we can describe as very wealthy by today’s standards. Thereafter, he obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Business Studies and Administration at the Al Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt after which he returned to Nigeria to fully venture into business.
He had always loved doing business and once narrated how he sold candies to his classmates while in primary school. Later, after his university education, Dangote worked with Alhaji Sanusi Dantata, his maternal uncle for a while from whom he obtained a loan to start what has now become the largest industrial conglomerate in Africa, the Dangote Group of Companies.
Dangote Group of Companies comprises the Dangote Cement, sugar and salt refinery and packaging industries, pasta firm, etc. Recently, in July 2017, he kicked off a new project for the construction of his Petroleum refinery at Lekki, Lagos State, Nigeria, a project which went side-be-side the urea fertilizer factory (which in turn has been completed and is functional at this time).
Dangote group currently operates in over 20 African countries with over 30,000 employees. The company is known for many products and services like the packaging of salt, sugar, pasta, food and food seasonings, transportation, etc, but is most popularly known for the Dangote Cement.
The Dangote Cement currently boasts the largest cement manufacturing plant in Africa. In Nigeria, the Cement industry is located in Obajana, Kogi State, Nigeria. This cement plant produces over 5 million metric tonnes of cement per year. The company also has cement plants in Zambia, Senegal, Ethiopia, Tanzania and other African countries, and has its headquarters in Cameroun even though Dangote hails from Nigeria.
Aliko Dangote, the Nigerian business magnate and entrepreneur, currently holds the position of the richest person in Africa with an estimated net worth of US$16.1 billion as of September 2021.
And finally, your name is your most valuable asset. Protect it.
Lessons From Dangote
Claims have been made that Dangote’s business success was spurred by biased favour from the government of the time but these claims have not been verified. In this regard, several stories have emerged to explain how this happened but what is more important is learning some valuable business lessons from this African business leader. Here are some.
He was a loyal servant to his uncle before starting up.
He is a risk-taker – he had once described that calculated risks are worth taking.
He believes in diversification and innovation, thus keeping him at the top of the game.
He believes that there are countless opportunities in Nigeria when he says “Nigeria is one of the best-kept secrets”…
2. Strive Masiyiwa
Strive Masiyiwa is a Zimbabwean entrepreneur and philanthropist chow currently resides in London, United Kingdom but his peculiar impact on young African entrepreneurs has made him appear prominently on this list. He was born in Zimbabwe in 1961, completed his primary education in Zambia, and had his secondary education in Scotland.
While not so much is known about his growing-up experiences, his motivations and his early business interest, he is well-known as one of the most successful Zimbabwean entrepreneurs. His act of philanthropy are phenomenal and he has a keen interest in developing young African entrepreneurs, an act that has made him popular among many African youths.
Strive is popularly known for the establishment of Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, after legally challenging the Zimbabwean government’s monopoly on telecommunications services. On winning the case against government monopoly on telecommunication services, Strive opened up a major milestone in the eventual development of telecommunications on African soil, soon reaching countries like South Africa, Lesotho, Burundi, Kenya, Botswana, Rwanda, and Nigeria.
Strive also founded Cassava Fintech, a financial-based platform that handles payments, subscriptions, and other financial transactions (and recently launched the Sasai app).
The London-based company, Liquid Telecom Group (now Liquid Intelligent Technologies), is also one of Masiyiwa’s most successful ventures which have become Africa’s largest satellite and fibre optic company covering over 14 countries.
With an undying interest in renewable energy, Strive and his company announced the launch of Vaya Electric on the 28th of May 2020 to feature the manufacturing, assembly and maintenance of electric automobiles in Africa. Strive Masiyiwa is a great innovator. We don’t know what he is up to right now until he releases one new amazing innovation.
As of 2021, his net worth was estimated at US$2.4 billion.
Strive Masiyiwa is an ardent follower of the teachings of Peter Drucker, the father of management. His business ideologies centre around innovation, risk-taking and determination and he has demonstrated these countless times beginning with his venture into telecommunications in Africa, the then new business area with very many uncertainties.
According to Strive, only a few people are bold enough to venture into seemingly dangerous business projects and those are the very few that make it to the top. As an innovator, he believes in diversification and he has ardently expressed interests in financial investments, automobiles and the health industry.
Lessons from Masiyiwa
His lessons are numerous but I will just drop only a few here;
Start from wherever you are, with whatever you’ve got – Jim Rohn.
When you see a problem, think about a solution.
I do not give because I have; I have because I give – Strive.
Know how to evaluate your business progress.
Think about innovation. Any type of business can innovate.
It is only when you think to act that you achieve the greatest. Don’t stop at dreaming.
Whenever you see a successful business, someone made a courageous decision – Peter Drucker..
3. Tony Elumelu
Tony Elumelu, christened Anthony Onyemaechi Elumelu, was born and brought up in Jos Plateau, Nigeria. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State, in 1987 and proceeded to bag his Master’s degree in Economics from the University of Lagos in 1990. Three years later (in 1993), he met the love of his life, Awele Vivian Elumelu, a medical doctor with whom he got married and has seven children.
His journey to fame and wealth began in 1985, with him being a bank staff at Union Bank, Nigeria Plc. At that time, he was a youth corp member. About 20 years later (in 2005), he acquired the Standard Trust Bank, renamed it the United Bank for Africa (UBA) and turned it into one of the most successful banks in Nigeria and Africa.
His administration created a new disruptive bank in Nigeria and Africa, the United Bank for Africa. UBA currently has countless branches in over 20 African countries. The bank also has branches in New York, London and Paris with total assets worth over $19 billion.
In 2010, Elumelu stepped down as the CEO of the Pan-African bank and retains the position of chairman, and thereafter established the Heirs Holdings, a company committed to improving lives and transforming Africa through long-term investment holdings in financial services, power, oil and gas, real estate, hospitality and healthcare.
As of 2022, Tony Elumelu is also the chairperson of Seadrill Nigeria Ltd and Transcorp Nigeria Plc. He remains dedicated to philanthropy, offering over $5000 to entrepreneurs and startups through the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme (TEFEP) which is currently the largest African philanthropic initiative devoted to entrepreneurship.
As of 2021, his net worth is estimated at US$700 million, making him one of the richest men in Nigeria and Africa.
He has severally emphasized the richness of the African environment for business but he stresses that these opportunities are only available to those who recognise the hidden value in the African continent. This ideology became one of the driving forces that led him to introduce his concept of Africapitalism, which talks about Africans investing in Africa.
It is never too late to start something; deciding against doing anything to change your financial situation is even worse.
Hard work and consistency can bring back a dying business to life.
Always do what you love. That way, you won’t run out of passion and zeal for what you do.
4. Mo Ibrahim
Mohammed ‘Mo’ Ibrahim is a Sudanese of Nubian descent. He was born in 1946 as the second child in a family of five. At a very tender age (5 years old), his family migrated to Alexandria, Egypt, where his father, Fathi Ibrahim, was employed by a cotton company. However, his mother, Aida Ibrahim, was particularly determined that all her children get a good education and saw that this happened.
Mohammed soon finished his primary and secondary education and proceeded to obtain his bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Alexandria University, Egypt. Afterwards, he returned to Sudan to work for the telephone company, Sudan Telecom, for a few years. Shortly after, Mo moved to England where he bagged his master’s degree in Electronics and Electrical Engineering from the University of Bradford, and a PhD in Mobile Communications from the University of Birmingham.
After his postgraduate education, he worked as a communication engineer (Technical Director) at British Telecom where he helped invent United Kingdom’s first mobile phone network. However, in 1989, Ibrahim founded Mobile Systems International (MSI), a consultancy and software company.
He was awarded two honorary doctorates by the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, and the University of Pennsylvania, in 2007 and 2011, respectively.
In 1998, MSI-Cellular Investments (a mobile phone operator renamed Celtel) sprang up as an offshoot of MSI, and it served over 23 African and Middle Eastern countries. Not so long, Ibrahim sold Celtel to MTC, a Kuwait-based mobile telecommunication company, for $3.4 billion, after which the name was changed to Zain, a change that many Africans at that time knew about.
Currently, Ibrahim is devoted to promoting African student scholarship and good governance in African countries through his foundation, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. Through the foundation, he offers scholarships to African students to study at the University of Birmingham, SOAS, and London Business School.
Mo Ibrahim’s foundation has published the “Ibrahim Index of African Governance” which takes account of certain criteria and rates all 54 African countries annually according to performance in the Good Governance Index. African leaders who are deemed worthy for that year are rewarded with $5 million to further promote good governance.
His net worth was estimated at USD$1.1 billion as of 2021.
His business ideology centres on providing the right leadership free from corruption. He believes that a business can only truly succeed if the entrepreneur is able to lead the people and resources in a free and fair manner.
He also extended this ideology in the establishment of the Mo Ibrahim Good Governance Index to promote good leadership in government. Two of his quotes support this;
“I came to the conclusion that unless you are ruled properly, you cannot move forward. Everything else is second. Everything.”
“I made money. I wanted to give it back to Africa but I wanted to give it back in a meaningful way. So I really want to do something which deals with the root of the problem of hunger, of disease, of ills we have in our society.”
Follow your interest even if you are not sure how it will make money.
Be adaptable to change.
Problems are opportunities.
You can do business in Africa without corruption.
Bring others along, and succeed together.
People who do serious things take themselves seriously.
Stand for what you believe in.
5. Sheikh Mohammed Al-Amoudi
Sheikh Mohammed Al-Amoudi was born to a Saudi-Arabian father and an Ethiopian mother in Ethiopia where he spent a large part of his childhood. After a while in Ethiopia, he emigrated with his brother, Mauricet, to Saudi Arabia and fully became a Saudi citizen. His early business ventures included handling construction contracts for the Saudi Royal family but he later diversified into petroleum refining, agriculture, cement production, steel production and transportation.
In 1994, he founded Mohammed International Development Research and Organization Companies (MIDROC), which is part of the Midroc-Derba conglomerate. This group of companies invests in Gold mining, construction, agriculture, cement production, steel production, transportation, petroleum refining and hotel management (owns the Sheraton Addis Hotel).
He also established Preem, his Swedish-based petroleum and biofuels company which is one of Mo’s most valuable establishments, boasting itself as the largest fuel company in Sweden with a refining capacity of more than 18 million m³ of crude oil every year. Preem has two refineries and over 570 petrol stations across Sweden, Gothenberg and Lysekil.
He has another establishment, the Saudi Star Agricultural Development which has been involved in the cultivation of many thousands of acres of fruits, vegetables, cereals, coffee, tea, flowers and rice for consumers in Ethiopia and exportation abroad.
Through these establishments, Al-Amoudi has committed funds to support healthcare and sport in Saudi Arabia, the US, Europe and Africa. He funds and supports the Ethiopian football team and has contributed immensely to the funding of the breast cancer research centre at King Abdulaziz University, Saudi Arabia.
His net worth is estimated at US$8.4 billion (2021).
His business ideology centres on change, innovation, and being open enough to recognize new opportunities. He once said,
“For me, businesses are like buses. You stand in a corner and you don’t like where the first bus is going? Wait ten minutes and take another. Don’t like that one? They’ll just keep coming. There’s no end to buses or businesses.”
You just have to keep looking and trying.
Perseverance and diligence in what you do are what guarantee you success.
There is always room for change, especially when old methods do not produce desired results.
Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition – Al-Amoudi.
There is great power in your mind. If you think you can do something, or if you think you can’t, you are right.
6. Raymond Ackerman
Nothing much was gathered about his childhood and family but Raymond Ackerman had graduated early at the age of 20 from the University of Cape Town with a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce. He later joined the Ackermans’ Greatermans group in 1951 as a trainee manager. The Ackermans was founded by his father, Gus Ackerman just after World War I, but it was later sold to the Greatermans group in 1940. Eventually, Raymond Ackerman was offered a position there at the head office in Johannesburg.
In the early 1950s, when food retailing supermarkets first began to gain prominence in South Africa, Norman Herber, the then chairman of Greatermans group decided to start a food retailer called Checkers and thereafter placed Ackerman in charge of the food retailer.
At the Greatermans, Ackerman showcased an outstanding performance and was awarded the Outstanding Young South African Award along with Gary Player in 1965. In 1966, when he was 35, Ackerman was made the managing director of 85 Checkers stores but that same year, he was fired from his top managerial position for unknown reasons. But what he did next would change his life forever.
This African business leader is most popularly known with Pick ‘n Pay, one of Africa’s largest supermarket chain stores. After being fired from the Checkers, Ackerman used his severance package and a bank loan he secured to acquire four stores under the name Pick ‘n Pay from Jack Goldin in Cape Town.
Starting with 175 employees, he grew Pick ‘n Pay into one of Africa’s largest supermarket chain stores with over 124 supermarkets, 14 hypermarkets, 179 franchised outlets and over 30,000 employees in several African countries, including South Africa, Zambia, Mauritius and Mozambique, in 2006.
He was the chairman of the company until 2010 when his son, Gareth Ackerman, took over from him
Raymond Ackerman’s net worth was estimated at US$500 million (2015).
Ackerman dominated South Africa’s retail markets using his ‘customer sovereignty’ philosophy. As opposed to what his own father taught him, Raymond took to the teachings of W.H Hutt, his teacher at the University of Cape Town. Hutt taught him,
“If you fight for the consumer, she will look after you. Fight monopolies, fight collusion, fight apartheid, fight anything that’s wrong for the man in the street, be he black or white”.
When you make the consumer the king, she will do everything possible for you.
You’ll never make money unless you have a mission. Like a doctor serves his patient, you’ve got to serve your consumer. – Hutt.
Using the analogy of the table; The consumer must sit on top. She is your mission. However, you must have sound administration as one leg of the table, the right merchandise for the consumer at the right price as the second leg – meaning you have to fight collusion and cartels, social involvement as the third leg and finally, people, just like the third leg, are the fourth leg. – Bernado Trijiullio.
The more you give in life, the more you get back.
7. Wale Tinubu
Jubril Adewale “Wale” Tinubu was born to Alhaji Kafari Tinubu. Not much is said about his mother. He is a Nigerian businessman, consultant and lawyer. He had his primary and secondary education in Lagos State, Nigeria after which he obtained his West African School-leaving Certificate (WASSCE) in 1983. He then proceeded to obtain his bachelor’s degree in Law from the University of Liverpool and a master’s degree in Law degree from the London School of Economics.
At 22, Wale Tinubu would return to Nigeria to attend the Nigerian Law School and be inducted into the legal profession. His father was also a lawyer and Wale had to start off his law career as an attorney in the family law firm, K.O. Tinubu and Co Law Firm. Hopes were propped in in expectation that Wale would take over the family firm but he decided otherwise, establishing himself as one of the most successful business individuals in Nigeria and Africa.
Wale Tinubu is most commonly associated with the establishment of Oando Plc, a Nigerian-based oil and gas trading and distribution company. His passion for petroleum, oil and gas was ignited when he became an attorney specialising in corporate and petroleum law.
In 1994, he co-founded a private oil trading and shipping company, Ocean & Oil Group (together with Omamofe Boyo), which then acquired a 30% controlling interest in Unipetrol, a government-controlled subsidiary of the US-based Exxon Corporation formerly called ESSO Africa until it was rebranded as Unipetrol by the Nigerian government after purchasing a controlling stake.
In 2002, Unipetrol under the stakeholdership of Ocean and Oil placed a bid for a 60% stake in Agip Nigeria Plc, a rival petroleum marketing firm which was owned by the Italian-based oil company, Agip Petroli BV. Having purchased majority stakes in Agip, the Ocean and Oil Group merged both Unipetrol Plc and Agip Plc in 2003 into what is known today as Oando Plc, which is now a leading integrated energy services provider in West Africa.
His net worth is estimated at US$700 million as of 2021. He is placed as one of the wealthiest Nigerian lawyers.
His core business ideology revolves around merging intelligence with the understanding of other aspects of the business environment. This African business leader described how African business persons can adopt the “first-world” mentality, which refers to a refined attitude of diligence, punctuality in delivering services and strategic planning adapted from the Western world.
He had stated that the African business environment allows excuses for several business mal-behaviours but he insisted that having the “first-world” mentality can help any business leader to become more efficient and productive in business.
He believes in the thriving spirit of Africans; a hostile and competitive environment demands equally strong-willed entrepreneurs.
Pursue what your passion craves irrespective of your academic qualifications.
8. Manu Chandaria
Manilal ‘Manu’ Premchand Chandaria was born in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1929, to Premchandbha and Poonjiben Chandaria. His father, Premchandbha, was a merchant and had migrated in 1915 from Saurashtra, Gujarat, India to Kenya. On arrival, his father started a provisions shop along Biashara Street in the Ngara area of Nairobi, Kenya, where Manu grew up. They lived in a shared apartment with three other families and he assisted his father in his shop.
His father was only semi-literate but he was committed to his education. After attending various elementary and secondary schools in Nairobi and Mombasa, Kenya, Manu completed his secondary education in India after his family fled back due to World War II. He eventually graduated with a Bachelor’s degree of Science in Physics and Chemistry from the University of Bombay, Jamnagar, India in 1949. He also obtained another bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma, United States, in 1950 and 1951 respectively.
Manu returned to Kenya after his University education. By then, his family has also moved back to Kenya where his father had acquired a small aluminium plant from the proceeds of his provision shop. Using his strong business and entrepreneurial acumen of a good business leader, Manu grew his family’s small business into a multinational Comcraft Group specialised in the manufacture of steel, aluminium, and plastic products in over 45 countries including Ethiopia, Nigeria, Congo, India, Zambia, Uganda, etc., and with over 40,000 employees.
His net worth is estimated at US$1.7 billion as of 2021.
Manu’s business ideology as a major African business leader reflects the need to identify the special potentials of every African population and exploit them. He once said in an interview with [email protected] when asked about other business sectors his company would like to invest in,
“Other sectors which we are now doing is the housing and shelter, and I think that is ever-growing and I don’t think that will ever change. I don’t think we will change that now. We are not really sure we will be going into electronics or software or telephony. Our speciality in the last 70 years or 80 has been built on aluminium and steel and I think that there is a great need for both of them.”
He further added that,
“There are specialities in each country, … in Africa, … But each one has got a speciality, and those specialities, if you can really capitalize on those specialities, I think that you are making a great…”
He recognized the importance of using what you have to get what you want when he once said “I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, there were at least spoons in the house”.
It is important to understand the peculiarity of every business environment and exploit it accordingly.
9. Mike Adenuga
Michael Adeniyi Agbolade Ishola Adenuga Jr, popularly known as Mike Adenuga, was born to Oloye Michael Agbolade Adenuga Snr, a school teacher, and Omoba Juliana Oyindamola Adenuga, a businesswoman of royal Ijebu descent. He finished his primary education in Ijebu, Lagos State, Nigeria, and attended Ibadan Grammer School, Ibadan in Oyo State, Nigeria. Upon completion of his secondary education, Adenuga obtained his higher school certificate from Comprehensive High School, Aiyetoro, Ogun State, Nigeria, after which he proceeded to study Business Administration at Northwestern Oklahoma State University and obtained his Masters in Business Administration at Pace University, New York.
Upon return to Nigeria after his education, he took over his family’s lumber business and included other businesses like trading of machinery, fabric, beer and soft drinks. When the government opened up access for private individuals to participate in the oil industry, Adenuga seized the opportunity to establish Consolidated Oil Limited in 1984 and joined in the bidding for some oil blocks. In 1990, Consolidated Oil Ltd. received a drilling license to explore oil in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria and a year later, the company struck oil in the shallow waters of the Southwestern Nigerian state, Ondo, thus becoming the first local oil company to discover oil in commercial quantities.
The independent oil exploration, production and distribution company, Consolidated Oil Limited, was subsequently renamed Conoil Producing Limited, a name that is inseparably associated with the distribution of petroleum in Nigeria today.
Also, in 1990, he established Equitorial Trust Bank (ETB) which grew into one of the largest commercial banks in Nigeria. Equitorial Trust Bank successfully merged with the former Devcom bank but due to reasons peculiar to the banking sector, Equitorial Trust Bank was found to be under-capitalized and unsatisfactorily managed in an audit by the Central Bank of Nigeria in 2009. And following interventions by the Asset Management Company (AMCON), a federal government agency, Equitorial Trust Bank was taken over by Sterling Bank in 2011.
Adenuga is most popularly known for being the founder of Globacom telecommunication company in 2003. This began after he was issued a conditional GSM licence in 1995 but this was later revoked. However, in 2003, Adenuga received a second license to operate after securing the auction held by the federal government. Since then, Globacom has kept soaring as one of the best Nigerian telecommunication companies and the largest indigenous telecom in Nigeria.
In 2015, Adenuga made a takeover bid to purchase Ivorian mobile telecom operator, Comium Cote d’Ivoire for $600 million and so far, Globacom has become fully operational in other African countries like Benin, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.
His net worth is estimated at $10.9 billion as of September 2021.
He believes in hard work, diligence and focus and you can achieve anything you want if you develop these, irrespective of your family background. His successes demonstrated this, from being the son of a teacher and small businesswoman to becoming one of Africa’s wealthiest businessmen.
“The harder you work, the luckier you get”. MA
“If you are hardworking and determined, you will make it and that’s the bottom line”. MA
He also believes in taking business opportunities and innovation. In his words,
“In today’s world, paradoxically, it is the boldest action that is often the safest. Remaining where you are in a world that is changing so rapidly is, in fact, the most dangerous of all places to be in”. “Whether you are a farmer, builder or engineer, the opportunities are equal. Just add a little innovation”.
Lessons from Mike Adenuga
You have all it takes to succeed.
Plan for opportunities and seize them when they come.
Diversification of investments is key to great wealth.
In all, add innovation to the list. That’s what makes the difference.
10. Patrice Motsepe
Patrice was born to Kgosi Augustine Motsepe, a Chief of the Mmakau branch of the Tswana people. Tswana made up about 85% of the population of Botswana in 2011, but this ethnic group is also native to South Africa. Kgosi, Patrice’s father was a schoolteacher and thereafter, a small businessman who owned a Spaza shop (a home shop) which was popular among black mineworkers. It was from this shop that Motsepe learned basic business principles from his father, as well as first-hand exposure to mining, an area where he would later make his fortune from.
After his primary and secondary education in South Africa, Patrice earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Swaziland and a law degree from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, and thereafter specialised in mining and business law.
In 1994, the year Nelson Mandela was elected the first black president of South Africa, Patrice became the first black legal partner in the law firm, Bowman Gilfillan. With the new black government, there was the promotion of black empowerment and entrepreneurship through the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) laws, an opportunity Motsepe seized to establish his mining company, Future Mining, which provided contract gold mining services.
He is most popularly known for the establishment of African Rainbow Minerals (ARM), a mining company that specializes in the mining of gold, platinum and platinum group metals (PGMs), iron, coal, and copper. ARM became first South Africa black-owned mining company. In 2003, ARMGold, the gold-mining subsidiary of ARM formed a merger with Harmony Gold, the 12th largest gold mining company in the world, forming the world’s 5th largest gold producer. ARMGold also merged with Anglovaal Gold in 2003, forming a trio that was regarded as the largest group controlled by black entrepreneurs in South Africa at that time.
His net worth is estimated at US$2.3 billion as of 2021.
His business ideology centres on becoming the best he and his company can ever be, by constantly reviewing inputs and outcomes, and also getting the best minds to do the job. He once said,
“All our businesses comprise of the BEST people money can buy. My policy is to hire the best and pay them well”. He also said, “One has to set high standards… I can never be happy with mediocre performance.”
He also believes in good business partnerships. He had once boasted about how the unity between ARM and Harmony Gold continues to grow.
Be prepared for opportunities and when they come, never miss them.
Never settle for less, never remain in one position, and always keep improving.
His success irrespective of his family background has demonstrated that you can achieve any success if you put your mind to it.
11. Adenike Ogunlesi
Adenike Ogunlesi (shortened “Nike”, pronounced “Neekay”) was born in 1959 by a Scottish mother, Elizabeth Okuboyejo, to a medical doctor of the Yoruba ethnic group of Nigeria. Much is not known about why Adenike’s mother’s name did not entirely reflect her Scottish origin, but Elizabeth Okuboyejo was a fashion entrepreneur who discovered and pioneered the popular Nigerian Adire fabric. Adenike grew up in a polygamous home in Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, Nigeria.
After her primary education in Ogun State, Nigeria, Nike went on to Ibadan, in Oyo State, Nigeria for her secondary education. She eventually proceeded to study Law at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria, but things were not going as she wanted. In her second university year, she dropped out of school when she realised that Law would not give her the satisfaction she desires. She then joined her mother in her small fashion/tailoring business, later started her own business and subsequently later underwent some executive business training courses at Lagos Business School to further enhance her business knowledge.
Adenike Ogunlesi is most popularly known for Ruff ‘n’ Tumble, the children’s clothing company she established. She started her business career in 1996 by selling pyjamas from the boot of her car. Her excellent business leadership skills made her become one of the best manufacturers of children’s wear in the country, and her brand soon grew to have over 15 major stores across Nigeria.
Her net worth is currently not known but Ruff ‘n’ Tumble is estimated to be worth over US$5 million.
Her ideology in business centres around doing what you are passionate about. She believes that if you are doing what you are passionate about, you would be more motivated to go after everything you’ve got. This passion and full energy are what will make you and your business to enviable heights.
She emphasized tenacity of purpose when she once said, “Being limited by funds and with no access to investors, tenacity of purpose will always reign supreme, as long as you’re building a venture on a viable business model”.
Have a viable business plan, and critically think about growth, development, and innovation.
12. Fred Swaniker
Frederick Kenneth Swaniker is a Ghanaian entrepreneur and leadership development expert. His father is a lawyer and his mother, an educator. He completed his primary education in Ghana but his family eventually fled Ghana following a military coup, and by the age of 18, he had already lived in four African countries.
Subsequently, he had his university education at Macalester College in Minnesota, United States, after which he worked for a while at Mckinsey & Company in Johannesburg, South Africa. Eventually, he received his Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the Standford Graduate School of Business and was named an Arjay Miller Scholar, a distinction awarded to the top 10% of each graduating class at Standford University.
His major establishment is the African Leadership University (ALU), a network of tertiary institutions with operations in Mauritius and Rwanda. ALU awards a bachelor’s degree in leadership/administration and related courses after a 2-year full-time residential program. ALU was birthed from the African Leadership Academy, a secondary institution he co-founded in 2015, following Swaniker’s expanded efforts at establishing an institution of higher learning.
The mission of ALU is to build 25 campuses across the continent and produce 3 million young African ethical and entrepreneurial leaders over the next 50 years. In 2019, ALU made the Fast Company’s list of the world’s 50 most innovative companies.
He also established Global Leadership Adventures based in San Diego, California which is also committed to take develop young people in developing countries in leadership. He has also founded many other organizations and companies including African Leadership Network, Synexa Life Sciences, and others.
In recognition of the work of Fred Swaniker in developing Africa’s future leaders, he was selected as of 115 young leaders to meet President Obama at the white house in 2010, was recognized as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, and was listed by Forbes Magazine among the Top 10 Young Power Men in Africa in 2011.
His net worth is estimated at USD$19 million (2021).
He believes that all businesses in Africa need three things; a viable product, some capital, and talented teams, of which finding well-trained talent with the skills to execute is the real shortage, not capital. He believes that the success of business in Africa is based on a sound understanding of leadership and entrepreneurship.
When you start up something, surround yourself with the right people. “The real secret to your business success is the people you bring around you”.
Don’t base people’s abilities on interviews. Finding the great or right people involves giving them special tasks related to your business.
Experiences you gain from small projects can go a long way to give you the confidence for bigger successes. Start young and early, and gain a lot of experience.
If you want something to grow really big, you have to give it away, and this entails delegating roles and empowering other people to do things by themselves.
13. Patrick Awuah
Patrick Awuah Jr. is a Ghanaian entrepreneur. He was born and brought up in Accra, Ghana where he attended the Achimota Secondary School, a secondary co-educational boarding institution where he became a house perfect during his time. In 1985, he moved to the United States to attend Swarthmore College with a full scholarship. There, he earned a bachelor’s degree in Engineering and Economics after four years, and immediately started working at Microsoft (1989 to 1997) as a software engineer and program manager. It was at Microsoft that he met is wife, Rebecca Awuah, who was a software testing engineer.
Deeply committed to his goal of building a next generation educational institution in Africa, he left Microsoft in 1997 and enrolled at the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley during which he focused immensely on preparing a business plan for the African university he later established in Ghana. In 1999, Awuah graduated with his Master of Business Administration (MBA) and immediately moved back to Ghana with his family.
After obtaining his masters in 1999, Awuah established the Ashesi University in 2002, an institution he is most popularly known for. This university soon became one of the most respected universities in Ghana, ranking among the Top Ten Most Respected Companies in Ghana in 2021. He had also been once named the 4th Most Respected CEO in Ghana.
His estimated net worth is not published as of today.
If you will succeed in business, you must be able to face your fear, the fear of failure. You also need to prepare yourself for the journey and get someone or people who will go on the journey with you. You may come face to face with failure sometimes, but the network of people around you, if good enough, will help you navigate the path to success. He makes it a point to nurture good relationships because he believes all relationships matter in business.
He believes that by having educated leaders, we can have a better society. – “Every society must be intentional about educating its leaders”.
Innovation is based majorly on the people involved and the team of the organization, and not necessarily the facility, money, etc.
“When we think about innovation, the first answer is not always the right answer; and to get to the right answer, we have to do a deep analysis of what are the root causes of the problem we are trying to solve”.
“The ability to confront complex problems and to design solutions to those problems, the ability to create is the most empowering thing that can happen to a man”.
Authenticity, honesty and building relationships are major elements of entrepreneurship.
14. Elon Musk
Elon Musk is a man who needs no formal introduction but suffice a few things you might not have known about him. He was born to Errol Musk, a South African mechanical engineer, and Maye Musk (née Haldeman), a model, author, and nutritionist. He lived in a family of five with two siblings, a younger brother, Kimbal, and a younger sister, Tosca. In 1980, his parents had a divorce and Musk lived mostly with his father in South Africa.
Musk had his primary school education in South Africa, and then his secondary education at Bryanston High School and Pretoria Boys High School. In his childhood, Musk was an avid reader and probably still is, and he had great interests in computers and programming.
Shortly before his 16th birthday, Musk and his younger brother secured passports at the Canadian embassy and emigrated to North America a year later to avoid being forced into military service in South Africa during the apartheid. On arrival in Canada, Musk enrolled at Queen’s University in Kingston, after which he moved to the United States of America where he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia with a bachelor’s degree in Economics and Physics.
In 1995, Musk moved to Palo Alto, California where he was admitted into a PhD program in Applied Physics and Material Science at Stanford University. However, two days after being admitted, he decided to quit the program to do business. Today, Musk is known for several things and currently occupies the position of the richest man in the world (2022)
When it comes to these, Musk is a lethal genius, his intelligence, creativity and innovative abilities make him one of the most revolutionary entrepreneurs globally. He began by developing a video game, Blastar, only at the age of twelve. Since then, Musk has become associated with an endless list of companies including Zip2, X.com/PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla, SolarCity, OpenAI, and Neuralink, etc.
He is most popularly known for Tesla and the SpaceX project. In the spring of 2004, Musk invested in the vehicle manufacturing company, Tesla, and thereafter became the CEO and Product Architect of the company. Under his aegis, the company released the patent in order to boost the development of electric cars. He coined this idea into a sentence from the internet meme, “All your base are belong to us”, to read as “All our patents are belong to you”. Tesla is also involved in the production of “Power-all-energy” storage systems for households and companies, as well as the well-known electric cars.
His SpaceX project aims at colonization of Mars and creating a means of transportation in space.
His determination, leadership, management skills, and his social media activity especially on Twitter (a social media he was rumoured to have acquired), have made him popular especially among the youths. In 2016, Forbes ranked Musk 21st of The World’s Most Powerful People.
His net worth is estimated at US$209 billion (June 2022).
Elon Musk’s success in business is owed to his innovative abilities and his strong determination to succeed. He believes that business success comes from a determination to keep going on. It is easier to stay on your own, without executing your ideas, and it is easier to get employed and not start your own business, but if you ever begin to work on your ideas, you must learn to never give up.
Don’t be afraid of failure. Just do it.
When starting a company, you also need to get a few like-minded people with you.
If you are convinced that what you are doing is correct, then you should not give up. Otherwise, look at your methods, you may be proceeding in error.
People should be less risk-averse, and face risks for greater success ahead.
15. Njeri Rionge
Njeri Rionge was born and brought up in Nairobi, Kenya. Her father was the head architect for the city council of Nairobi and her mother was a farmer. She was the first child in a family of five and she had to began her entrepreneurial journey early enough. She had her primary education in Kenya and completed her secondary education at the age of 20.
Almost immediately after, Njeri started selling yoghurts to students during break periods in two schools in Kenya: the International School of Kenya and Loretto Convent Musongari High School. She would pick up yoghurts very early in the morning from a dairy farm in Limuru, Kenya and later sell them from the boot of her friend’s car. At about the same time, she worked as a hairdresser and seized the opportunity to sell branded luxury clothes and wares she buys from London to her wealthy clients at the hairdresser shop for handsome profits.
As computers became more advanced, Rionje saw the opportunity to provide internet access for the masses in Kenya, a venture that would later change the entire course of her entrepreneurial life.
Njeri is most popularly known for starting the Internet Service Provider, Wananchi Online in the year 2000. At onset, she was able to raise a huge sum the equivalent of $500,000 from investors due to her dedication and track record of excellence. She received additional funding of $3,000,000 until she had raised a whooping sum of $238,000,000 from various investors. Today more than ever, Wanachi Online has continued to serve as one of the largest internet service providers in Kenya and East Africa.
Described by Forbes as a “serial entrepreneur”, Njeri also established Ignite Consulting, a company specialised in business consultations; Ignite Lifestyle, a health care consultancy; Business Lounge, one of Kenya’s largest startup incubators; and Insite, a booming digital marketing agency.
Njeri finds pleasure in imparting knowledge and skills to young entrepreneurs in her country and helping them grow their own businesses.
Her net worth is estimated at US$100 million as of 2019.
She believes in recognizing opportunities and exploiting them early. Opportunities are loopholes of satisfaction that the entrepreneur can fill to provide value to people. Her business success is linked to how much value you can provide to people – “Success for me is defined by increased value – not simply financial rewards.”
Identity and take advantage of opportunities.
“Taking an idea that’s on paper or in your head and moving it forward into real, tangible action is the true spirit of entrepreneurship”.
Always take responsibility for your business actions, that way you will be more deliberate in your decisions each time.
Seek to provide value to people. This is what business success is all about.
“Every single entrepreneur must have a backbone, if you don’t have the backbone and capacity to sustain and to be agile enough to organize your ideas and your business growth, then you’re probably not made up for business and entrepreneurship”.
It is important you also build a strong network of people who are willing to support you. This you do through integrity and competence.
16. Folorunsho Alakija
Folorunsho Alakija was born in 1951 to an upper-middle-class polygamous family. Her father was Chief L.A Ogbara of Ikorodu, Lagos State. Alakija had her nursery education at Our Ladies of Apostles, Lagos from 1955 to 1958. At the age of 7, Folorunsho Alakija travelled to the United Kingdom to continue her primary education at Dinorben School for Girls, Hafodunos Hall in Llangernyw, Wales from 1959 to 1963. Thereafter, she returned to Nigeria to complete her secondary education at Muslim High School, Sagamu, Ogun State, Nigeria, and then back to England for her secretarial studies at Pitman’s Central College, London.
After her Secretarial Course at Pitman’s Central, Folorunsho started her career in 1974 as an executive secretary at Sijuade Enterprises in Lagos, Nigeria. She then moved to the former First National Bank of Chicago (International Merchant Bank of Nigeria which later became FinBank, now FCMB) as the Executive Secretary to the Managing Director. Shortly after, she rose to the level of Head of the Corporate Affairs Department of the bank and then, the Office Assistant to the Treasury Department.
In the ’80s, Folorunsho decided to quit her job to study fashion design in England. On returning to Nigeria after her training in England, she founded Supreme Stitches, a fashion label that catered for elite Nigerian women.
In 1993, Folorunsho Alakija applied for an oil prospecting license (OPL) to explore a 617,000-acre block (now referred to as OPL 216 in the Agbami field of the Central Niger Delta) under Famfa Limited, an oil exploring company she established. Famfa eventually struck oil on the field but the government sought to claim high stakes in the oil company, a case she won in court. In September 1996, Folorunsho Alakija also entered a joint venture agreement with Star Deep Water Petroleum Limited (a subsidiary of Texaco).
She also has investments in real estate and printing. Alakija established the Rose of Sharon Foundation which helps widows and orphans through scholarships and business grants and has also been involved in other philanthropic activities.
Her net worth is estimated to be US$1.1 billion as of 2019.
She believes that it is important to discover God’s purpose for your life and stay determined to fulfil it through diligence and perseverance. She once said, “Always remember, that anything worth doing at all is worth doing well, or not at all”
You do not have an excuse not to be successful. She never went to university but she rose to become the richest woman in Africa.
She described success with SUCCESS as follows;
S – Sacrifice. Dream big and dream to deliver. Pay the sacrifice to make this happen.
U – Utilize your time and talent. When you waste time and talent, it is difficult to regain what you’ve lost.
C – Consistently focus on your goals. The tough get going even when the weak are stuck with challenges.
C – Credibility and reliability should be your watchword.
E – Educate yourself, renew your knowledge and continue to retrain yourself.
S – Say “no” to those who are trying to discourage you.
S – Seek ye the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Never leave God out of it.
17. Sibongile Sambo
Sibongile Sambo was born in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga, South Africa, in 1974. She showed an interest in aircraft from an early age, watching planes flying overhead and wondering if she could one day fly in one herself. Following her passion, she applied for the job of a flight attendant at South African Airways but she was rejected because she did not meet the minimum height requirements. But instead of giving up her passion for aviation, she started her own aviation business.
With no experience in aviation and insufficient capital to purchase an aircraft, it was as if her dream was unachievable. However, Sibongile demonstrated that where there is a will, there is a way.
In 2003, when the South African government passed the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) Act that empowers black South Africans to participate actively as entrepreneurs, Sibongile saw an opportunity to fulfil her aviation dreams. She immediately swung into action by raising funds from selling her car and receiving some money from her mother’s pension fund. Thereafter, she established SRS Aviation, which is also renowned as the first black female-owned aviation company in South Africa.
SRS Aviation offers professional and personalised flight options to destinations around the world, with charter services in a variety of categories, including VIP charter, tourist charter, and cargo charter. The company also provides game count and capture, and medical evacuation services.
Sibongile, through her works, has gained substantial recognition over the years. Having been recognised for the Regional Business Woman of the Year Award (2006), the Black Women in Business Award (2006), and the Top Emerging Gender Empowered Company Award (2006) amongst others. She has also been recognized by Forbes as one of “Ten Young African Millionaires To Watch In 2013”.
Her net worth has not been published at this time.
She believes that by following your passions, and not relenting despite the challenges, you can succeed in business and entrepreneurship.
If you can dream it, you can achieve it.
Nobody will notice you if you remain in one position. You have to go out and do something.
You get support and assistance only when you have been seen doing something – “Nobody will see you if you are sitting in your own corner. You have to go out there, you have to be visible, to do something to be able to get even more support and assistance”.
18. Divine Simbi Ndhlukula
Divine Ndhlukula was born in 1960 to Mary and Piniel Simbi in rural Gutu, Zimbabwe. She grew up in Gutu, where she attended several primary and secondary schools including Zvinavashe School, Machingambi School, Bondolfi Mission, St. Dominic’s Secondary School, and Makumbe Mission. After her secondary and university education in Zimbabwe, she proceeded to obtain an Executive Master in Business Administration (MBA) at Midlands State University, Zimbabwe. She also bagged another MBA and a PhD in Business Leadership from the Women’s University in Africa, the latter of which was conferred on her in recognition of her amazing business leadership and gender equality initiatives. In a male-dominated industry, Divine Ndhlukula was able to overcome the obstacles, rising to become one of Africa’s top business leaders.
She is most popularly known for SECURICO, a security company she started in the late ’90s. SECURICO started as a small company in her cottage with very little capital and four employees but she was able to build this company, through her great business acumen, into one of the largest security firms in Zimbabwe, with over 3,500 employees.
Ndhlukula is prepared to dominate the entire southern region of Africa with plans to expand to other countries on the continent, starting with Mozambique and Zambia. She has gained countless national and international recognition over the years. In 2020, she was selected as one of the most influential female leaders in the world by the Empowering a Billion Women Initiative, a global women empowerment movement that features prominent world women leaders like Michelle Obama, Hilary Clinton, and Mozambican former First Lady Graca Machel.
Her net worth was estimated at US$809 million as of 2021.
She believes there is no easy road to anywhere worth going. Determination and persistence are what would keep any business person to keep going. Some of the difficulties may be related to your need to acquire several skills to run your business and survive the challenges but as a business person, what is worth doing is worth doing well.
Be determined and stay determined.
Don’t allow the challenges and obstacles in business to make you give up on succeeding.
19. Tabitha Karanja
Tabitha Mukami Muigai Karanja is a Kenyan businesswoman, entrepreneur and industrialist. She was born in 1964 near Kijabe, in central Kenya, as the first child in a family of 10. Her mother was a farmer and her father a government driver, and Tabitha’s parents earned just enough to secure an education for all the 10 children. However, she was determined to achieve success and create a better path for her siblings.
She worked extremely hard in her primary school education and secured admission into the highly revered Bahati Girls Secondary School. After her primary and secondary education which she had in several Kenyan schools, she went on to bag a degree in Business Administration from the University of Nairobi and after about 6 months of graduation, she was employed as an Accounting Clerk in the Ministry of Tourism. There she also met her husband, Joseph Karanja.
Two years later, she quit her job to establish a hardware business in Naivasha town in her quest for entrepreneurship. In 1997, she closed down the hardware store to venture into the wine-making business, where she has achieved great success till the present day.
Keroche Breweries, which she established in 1997, has been standing for a while now as the only large-scale brewery in Kenya. The company started by making fortified wine and later diversified into spirits and beer. Within a short time, Keroche Breweries overpowered East African Breweries (EAB), an international company that had dominated the brewery industry in Kenya for over 90 years, and had successfully monopolised the industry prior.
During the formative years of Keroche, Tabitha struggled to find distributors who were willing to sell her beer. This was due to the dominance of EAB in Kenya but she kept pushing until the market responded to her main beer brand, the Summit beer.
Summit is now so appreciated in the country that in 2020, Tabitha opened a $29 million expansion of Keroche brewery. As Keroche enjoys continued growth, Tabitha plans to expand into neighbouring countries, including Tanzania, Uganda, and Rwanda.
Her net worth is estimated at about US$49 million (2021).
She believes that challenges can come in the course of any business, but giving up is not in her vocabulary. In everything she does, she dreams big and never settled for less. Family plays a big role in business success, they can encourage you and push you to achieve great success.
Resilience and fortitude are must-haves in business.
Courage to venture into your ideas even when everyone is afraid to do so.
Know your passion and venture into it courageously.
20. Bola Shagaya
Bola Muinat Shagaya was born in 1959 to Adut Makur, a Sudanese seamstress and Emenike Mobo, a Nigerian public servant. She had her secondary school education at Queens School, Ilorin and her tertiary education at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and Armstrong College in California, where had a degree in Economics and Accountancy, respectively. Since then, she has been into many different businesses but she is most well-known for being the founder of Bolmus Group, a conglomerate with holdings in real estate, oil and gas, banking and photography.
Bola started her career in the banking sector as an auditor at the Central Bank of Nigeria before venturing into business in 1983. Bolmus Group International is one of her most successful establishments and she named the company after her own name, Bola Muinat Shagaya.
Bola Shagaya is also associated with Practoil. In 2011, the business mogul became the managing director of Practoil Limited, which is one of Nigeria’s largest importers and distributors of base oil. She also founded another oil exploration company, Voyage Oil and Gas Limited, which has continued to grow in capacity and returns.
She is also one of the board members of Unity Bank, Nigeria Plc and has a significant stake in the bank. Bola Muinat is a fashion enthusiast, who also founded Fotofair, a photography firm in Nigeria with over 30 photo laboratories across the country.
Her net worth is estimated to be US$950 million as of 2020.
She believes you can achieve anything you put your mind to. She has remained determined to succeed in any areas of her passion even in those industries that society today has labelled as “men only”.
Build your circle of influence, and create vital connections.
Diversify your business ventures.
21. Bridgette Radebe
Bridgette Radebe was born to Kgosi Augustine Motsepe, a Chief of the Mmakau branch of the Tswana people, and Key Motsepe, her mother. She is the older sister of Patrice Motsepe, the South African businessman mentioned above. They are both siblings of the First Lady of South Africa, Tshepo Motsepe (Dr.), the wife of President Cyril Ramaphosa. Just like Patrice Motsepe, Bridgette was also interested in mining and she also made huge fortunes from it, though it is quite difficult who started it first.
She began as a contract miner managing shafts in the ’80s but not so long, she launched her own mining company, Mmakau Mining which grew to become one of the most successful mining companies in South Africa, with mining interests in gold, platinum, coal, ferrochrome, and uranium. At that time, she became the first successful black female entrepreneur in South Africa, and subsequently, the one-time president of the country’s largest mining chamber, the South African Mining Development Association.
Mmakau Mining is the establishment Bridgette is most popularly known for. The company was launched in the 1980s and deals in quality assets of gold, platinum, coal, chrome, and uranium. Mmakau Mining started off as a contract mining company that managed and procured mining shafts for large mining houses.
Later, Bridgette acquired 36% shareholding stakes in Shaft Sinkers Ltd, a world leader in shaft-sinking and underground construction, but soon disposed of its shares in the company in 2010 to become an independent mining company. Her great business exploits have made her a true definition of beauty and brains. Amazingly, she is not yet tired of pushing the frontiers.
Bridgette Radebe has retained the position as the richest black woman in South Africa with an estimated net worth of US$90 million as of 2021.
She believes that every business person should develop their ability to face the fear of taking calculated risks. She has also noted that it is important to have a mentor when starting a business – “The biggest lesson I’ve learned is how important it is to have a mentor when you start your business. There is knowledge I would not have had access to if it weren’t for my mentors”.
Be unstoppable and unyielding, despite the obvious obstacles.
The stories about these inspiring African business leaders make you see that they are not anyone with two heads. If they can achieve great business, you can too.
The article was long, it took me so long to complete too but there are great business lessons in it for any entrepreneur, especially those from Africa. Irrespective of who you are, your family background or educational status, you can succeed well in your chosen area of business if you get the right knowledge and skills.
Many of the African business leaders discussed above had a university education but there are a few who didn’t. Even among those who did have, some of them did businesses completely different from what they studied in university.
The aim of this writeup is to inspire you to keep pushing in your own business venture no matter how small it might be now. I am inspired. I hope you are too. Soon, your story can be another inspiring story of a great African business leader.
I am a seasoned writer, not because I am some genius but thanks to many years of trials, failure, and near successes. I curate the most content on this website; all geared towards making you a better and happier audience.