There is a myth that you don’t need education to become a successful entrepreneur. What do you make of that?
I think education, awareness, knowledge is critical. It depends on how you define education. If you define it as the art of helping you to succeed in business, then it is important. It is important to understand what you need to do. Education teaches you to be disciplined and gives you knowledge on how to go about your business and how to work hard. Most of these things are taught in school.
You as an individual; are there any mistakes that you have made as a businessman and how did you manage them?
You cannot fail to make mistakes. But they should not stop you from proceeding with your ideas. When you make a mistake, learn from it and don’t repeat it. You have to think about things carefully and get to know that if something goes bad, it might wipe out everything. At one time, we entered a joint venture with a big global company which had challenges…and we had to write off US$200 million. What is important is that you will have some failure moments in your carrier but resilience is important in your entrepreneurship journey.
In 2015, you were valued at US$700 million…that is a journey. How have networks and relationships played in this?
There is a difference between net worth and network. Networks could help to build net worth. Net worth could also help you to extend your network frontiers and relationships. It is important in business to have networks. It is important in business to have partnerships and relationships. Always enter partnerships and be able to discuss tough issues that would see your business grow for the long term. As you form partnerships, make sure there is alignment of interests. If you are in partnership with people looking at short term issues, you will have problems.
The United Bank for Africa is an internationally recognized brand. How did it reach where it is?
We put tough issues on the table right from the beginning. We asked ourselves; how will it be managed, which name shall we give it; who are those going to be on the Board (of Directors), among others. My thinking is always long term and on how my work impacts humanity.
Are there plans to partner with Universities like Makerere to support student projects through the office of the Vice Chancellor?
We will explore partnership opportunities with Makerere University because of its good history. We have a director of partnership. We will see what we can do. We realise that having an entrepreneurship ecosystem helps entrepreneurs to succeed.
The people of Nigeria are perceived to be well-off compared to their colleagues in the rest of Africa. Why is that?
When the Nigerian government liberalized the economy, it was clear that the private sector would drive economic activity in oil and gas and in other sectors. Governments in Nigeria continue to see the private sector with no suspicion but as partners. This is partly why Nigeria stands out as one of the most powerful economy in Africa. Recently the World Bank report showed that Nigeria had moved 20 places in the ease of doing business. We are extremely competitive in Nigeria in all sectors and that is good for all people. As business people succeed, we must make sure that this success is all inclusive. Women and young people must all be engaged in economic activities. I champion the philosophy of Africapitalism which is playing a key role in the development of our continent through investments in key sectors. We hope that in the long term, we are able to catalyse businesses to cause prosperity of our region. The reason why we started Tony Elumelu Foundation partly was to support successful entrepreneurs in the region. I strongly believe that the more successful people we have in our society, especially people who understand Africapitalism philosophy, the more and the better it will be for our continent. Anything that will help create more successful business people, I will support.