Hotel Peninsula, 16th arrondissement, Paris: After being fussed over by his staff, he confidently strides in wearing an impeccable suit set against a white shirt and his signature red tie that matches his socks and cuff-links, as enigmatic as his eternal scalloped white pocket handkerchief. Tony Onyemaechi Elumelu is the businessman behind the reigns of Heirs Holdings, a conglomerate of companies present in banking, real estate, hospitality, power, agroindustry and finance. With a net worth of 1 billion dollars according to Forbes, he holds Africa’s 31st largest fortune.
His no stranger to the White House and often is pictured next to Nigerian president Mohamadu Buhari when travelling abroad. Aside from his bank account, this man from a modest family of the Igbo people, has a new vision for Africa. In 2010, he wrote a manifesto on Africapitalism, a concept of his creation that promotes engaging the private sector in the economic transformation of Africa via long-term investment. “We need to stop seeing our continent through famine, war and AIDS.
The Africa of today is made up of entrepreneurs, people with brilliant ideas to change our lives but that lack the means to put them into place. It’s up to us to give them a chance,” he explained. Africa is the continent of the future and Tony sees entrepreneurship and innovation as the means to its success, a way of countering the paradigm of centralization and state control used by those that the economist calls the hippopotami and has been common practice since decolonization. He grew up in Jos, a town troubled by Boko Haram attacks, but for his family education was a priority. With a bachelor and master’s degree in economics from Lagos University, Tony then attended the Harvard Business School management program.
He started his career at 21 working for the Union Bank of Nigeria before moving on to All States Trust Bank. In 1997 he convinced a group of investors to bail out Crystal Bank placing in among Nigeria’s top five banks for nearly five years. He was behind the successful merger between Crystal Bank and the United Bank for Africa, with the bank group now present in 20 countries through 1,000 branches. He was fascinated by Tata Group’s history in India and bought the Transnational Corporation of Nigeria, the country’s largest conglomerate and invested in agroindustry, a key sector for Nigeria. One of his models in Bill Gates, who inspired him to create the Tony Elumelu Foundation.