Tony Onyemaechi Elumelu, one of Africa’s leading investors and philanthropists is the Chairman of United Bank for Africa (UBA), a leading Pan-African bank with branches in 20 countries including the United States of America, France, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the United Kingdom. He is also the chairman of Hiers Holding, Transcorp and founder of The Tony Elumelu Foundation.
Born on the 22nd March 1963 in Jos, the Plateau State capital to Suzanne and Dominic Elumelu, from Onicha-Ukwu in Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State, Tony Elumelu obtained a Bachelor of Science Degree in Economics from the Ambrose Alli University and a Master of Science degree in Economics from the University of Lagos. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management programme of Harvard Business School.
Tony Elumelu started his banking career with Union Bank as a Youth Corp member in 1985. Shortly after his national service, Elumelu started his entrepreneurship journey by selling photocopying machines.
His never say die mentality and hunger for success led him to apply for a role in All States Trust Bank, despite not meeting the qualification criteria. By a stroke of luck, the CEO of the bank came across his application, invited him for an interview and offered him the job as an entry-level analyst.
Elumelu in one of his posts wrote that one of his cover letters back then had read; “I know I may not have met the qualifying criteria for the advertised roles, but I am intelligent, driven, ambitious, and I will make the bank proud. My Second Class Lower Degree does not demonstrate the full extent of my intelligence and ability, and I know I can do so much more.”
Through hard work, diligence and productivity, Elumelu was made a Branch Manager at 26, making him the youngest bank branch manager in the country at the time. This opportunity would go on to influence his life, prompting him to give young employees the same opportunity he was given. His success as a branch manager ignited his passion for investing in the lives of young people.
His breakthrough however came in 2007 when he led a group of small investors to acquire Crystal Bank, a distressed financial institution, on the brink of bankruptcy. The newly acquired bank was renamed Standard Trust Bank (STB) and Elumelu was named the CEO at 34, becoming the youngest banking CEO in Nigeria at the time. In a few years, Elumelu pursued an aggressive strategy that catapulted STB from obscurity into becoming Nigeria’s fifth-largest bank within seven years. It is pertinent to state that the concept of Debt for Equity swap was first introduced into the Nigerian banking industry during his helm of affairs at Cristal Bank. According to Elumelu, this was the concept that helped turn the bank around as some large depositors were asked to show faith and confidence in the team by taking an interest in the new entity in place of their deposit.
In 2005, Elumelu made history again when he led the merger of Standard Trust Bank Plc with United Bank for Africa (UBA), Nigeria’s third-largest commercial bank at the time. Interestingly, he chose to maintain the name UBA, a move that came as a surprise to many. In less than ten years, he transformed UBA from a single-country bank to a pan-African institution with over 35 million customers, N251bn Market Capitalization, ₦8.5 trillion assets, 10,000 employees with operations in 20 African countries with offices in Paris, London, and New York. This action sealed his reputation as a business turnaround expert and one of Africa’s most influential business leaders. In 2010, he left his role as CEO of UBA following a CBN policy but has a 6.39% stake in the bank which puts him in good stead. From this, he gets a whopping $ 46.9 million (N18.4 billion) in returns.
Armed with the knowledge, expertise, and understanding of economic opportunities that exist in Africa, he founded Heirs Holdings (HH), a family-owned investment company in 2010. The company undertakes long-term investments in strategic sectors of the African economy, including financial services, hospitality, power, energy, technology and healthcare. He also founded Heirs Oil & Gas, an upstream oil and gas company, whose assets include Nigerian oil block OML17, with a current production capacity of 50,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day and 2P reserves of 1.2 billion barrels of oil equivalent, with an additional 1 billion barrels of oil equivalent resources of further exploration potential. Heirs Oil & Gas is committed to creating resource-based added value on the African continent.
Elumelu also chairs Nigeria’s largest quoted conglomerate, Transcorp, whose subsidiaries include Transcorp Power, one of the leading producers of electricity in Nigeria and Transcorp Hotels Plc, Nigeria’s foremost hospitality brand. According to a Forbes report in 2015, Elumelu’s net worth is over $700 million.
Driven by his belief that the youths are catalysts for Africa’s transformation, Elumelu established the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) in 2010. The foundation which has become the hallmark of Africa’s sustainable development and a leading champion of youth entrepreneurship has identified, trained, mentored and funded over 15,000 young African entrepreneurs across 54 African countries since its inception. In 2015, the foundation committed $100m to empower 10,000 Africans over 10 years.
Elumelu draws his inspiration from his economic philosophy of Africapitalism, which is a belief that the private sector is a key enabler of economic and social wealth creation in Africa. Africapitalism positions the private sector, and most importantly, entrepreneurs, as the catalyst for the social and economic development of the continent.
He has received several awards and recognitions for his contributions to business, entrepreneurship and human capital development. Some of these include; Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World 2020; Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR), 2022 and Belgium’s highest national honour, Officer in the Order of Leopold, 2020.
It is important to state that Tony Elumelu’s rise from a copier seller to a global icon is an indication that with hard work, determination, consistency, self-belief and a bit of luck, you can achieve your goals and aspirations in life.
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