Through his Heirs Holdings, one of Africa's most important business conglomerates, Tony Elumelu continues to invest in some of the key sectors in Africa, including banking, hospitality, power, oils and gas and more - while building the capacity of Africa's next wave of entrepreneurs.

Tony Elumelu is an African economist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. He is one of Africa’s billionaires, having joined the exclusive list in 2014.

He is the Chairman of United Bank for Africa, one of the largest financial services groups on the African continent with more than 18 million customers with a footprint in 20 countries in Africa as well as in New York, London and Paris.

As of December 2019, the UBA group’s financial assets were valued at US$14.6 billion with shareholders’ equity of US$1.56 billion. But while some may see investing in Africa as a gamble, Elumelu, a Nigerian multi-millionaire, knows how rewarding taking a bold risk can be. In 1997, Elumelu led a small group of investors to take over a small, financially distressed commercial bank in Nigeria. Just a few years later, the bank became a top-five financial service provider in Nigeria and would eventually merge with UBA.

Following his retirement from UBA in 2010, Tony Elumelu founded Heirs Holdings where he is the Chairman. Through this family owned investment company, he is committed to improving lives and transforming Africa with a portfolio spanning the financial services, power, oil and gas, real estate and hospitality and healthcare with operations in 23 countries worldwide. Tony is also keen to entering the already crowded insurance sector, a move that is already causing jitters, as he will bring major disruptions in the Nigeria’s insurance space, according to analysts.

Tony Elumelu also owns a controlling stake in Transcorp, a publicly traded Nigerian conglomerate with interests in hospitality, power generation and energy. Through Transcorp Hotels Plc., incorporated in 1994 in Nigeria, he owns the prestigious Transcorp Hilton Abuja and Transcorp Hotels Calabar.

In September 2012, during the privatization of Nigeria’s national power assets, Transcorp Plc. won the bid for the Federal Government of Nigeria’s distressed power generating company, Ughelli Power Plc. – operator of Ughelli Power Plant. The US$300 million investment was part of strategic investor Heirs Holdings’ commitment to USAID’s Power Africa initiative and in November 2015, Transcorp Ughelli Power Limited and Ughelli Power Plc. merged, and Transcorp Power Limited was born. The merger harmonized the management and operations of Transcorp’s power business for greater efficiency, producing 972MW of power, with plans to grow it to over 3,000MW in the next few years.

Tony Elumelu’s latest acquisition is that by his Transcorp Consortium, which announced 100% acquisition of the 966MW installed capacity Afam Power Plc and Afam Three Fast Power Limited jointly referred to as Afam GenCo at an acquisition cost US$272m, a move that applauded by Nigeria’s Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as a key milestone for the country as the privet sector investment in the country’s power energy sector.

“Bringing affordable, dependable power to the Nigerian people is core to Transcorp’s mission. Our significant investments in the power sector are demonstrations of our contribution to the economic transformation that I know Nigeria is capable of,” The Chairman of Transcorp, Tony Elumelu, said during the signing ceremony in State House in Abuja. The acquisition marked a significant milestone for Transcorp in pursuit of its corporate purpose of improving lives and transforming Nigeria.

Tony (Right) at the signing ceremony for the acquisition of the Afam Genco deal

Admired by friend and foe

“A mere handshake says a lot about Tony Elumelu. His gritty grip underlines his charming, tenacious personality: a man who hardly backs down from any challenge. The same engaging qualities have propelled him from a modest beginning in Nigeria to becoming chair of the United Bank of Africa, and one of the most innovative and ambitious business leaders of his generation,” Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote once remarked about Tony.

Tony Elumelu has one philosophy that drives his business empire: a belief in African capitalism or “Africapitalism”, which is a belief that the private sector is a key enabler of economic and social wealth creation in Africa. He believes that “Africapitalism” positions Africa’s private sector, and most importantly, entrepreneurs as the catalyst for the social and economic development of the continent.

Anthony Onyemaechi Elumelu was born in Jos, Plateau state, Nigeria on 22 March 1963 and hails from Onicha-Ukwu in Aniocha North Local government area of Delta State. A self-made billionaire, whose source of wealth is majorly through his investments; he is a true economist, an entrepreneur in every sense of the word and a philanthropist.

Africa’s development has become somewhat of a personal mission. It is my belief that Africans should take primary responsibility for our own development – because, to be blunt, no one is going to develop Africa but us. I also believe “charity” as conventionally defined is not the best solution for our continent. Instead, we need a “new philanthropy” that focuses on building the capacity of the private sector to create jobs and wealth – and that this leads to sustainable development.

“I firmly believe that we should be strategic and catalytic in our philanthropy. It is not, and should not be, about simply providing funding, as this is only one of many possible tools for impact. I would encourage entrepreneurs to give their time and experience, and use their influence, to create impact.”

Award winning Tony

In 2014, Tony founded The Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), which is a leading philanthropic initiative in Africa that champions entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs across the continent. It is through this foundation that many have come to know him.

Whether in the continent or overseas, you are most likely to find Elumelu promoting African business and entrepreneurship. At the US–Africa Business Forum, which was organized by Bloomberg and the United States Department of Commerce held alongside the 2016 United Nations General Assembly, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce commended Elumelu for his pivotal role in US-Africa business relations.

"Africa is a land of opportunity. Challenges exist in Africa, but we also have a huge return on investment. There’s no better time to make that bet than the time we live in."

Besides his vast business ventures, he serves in and chairs several government and non-governmental bodies. He serves as an advisor to USAID’s Private Capital Group for Africa (PCGA) Partners Forum and was the key driver in the formation of the National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria (NCCN) and serves as the vice chairman as well on the Nigerian President’s Agricultural Transformation Implementation Council (ATIC).  He is also the Co-Chair of the Aspen Institute Dialogue Series on Global Food Security and was one of the co-chairs of the 26th World Economic Forum on Africa in Kigali, Rwanda in May 2016. Tony sits on several boards and has chaired many initiatives for African development.

According to Forbes, Tony Elumelu owns extensive real estate across Nigeria and a minority stake in MTN Nigeria, among other assets. In September 2020 the Time Magazine named him among the 100 Most Influential People of 2020. Needless to say, Tony Elumelu is a wealthy man, having made fortune not only for himself but his family at large. Currently, his estimated worth is put at US$1 billion in 2020, according to Forbes magazine.

Just like other great men and women who have excelled in their respective careers and disciplines, Toni Elumelu has received several honours and awards. Some of the awards and recognitions include: Member of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (MFR), which is a national title that was conferred on him in 2003. New African Magazine also named him as one of the 100 Most Influential Africans in Business in 2012.

Tony Elumelu Foundation

After deepening the financial market in Africa, he has found an equally important niche: giving a voice of hope to millions of youths across Africa.

Tony has harnessed Africa’s youth bulge to catalyse development and protect the future, committing to investing in young entrepreneurs per year across the 54 countries in Africa, as he forges on, striking a fine balance between personal satisfaction and societal impact.

Through his Tony Elumelu Foundation, a leading champion in entrepreneurship in Africa with an objective of objective of empowering women and men across our continent, he is catalysing economic growth, driving poverty eradication, and ensuring job creation. He believes the private sector’s role is critical for Africa’s development and that the private sector must create both social and economic wealth. In 2015, the Foundation launched the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme, a US$100 million commitment by Tony to empower 10,000 African entrepreneurs over 10 years.

Building on the Programme’s success and its unique ability to identify, mentor and fund entrepreneurs across Africa, the Foundation is increasingly sharing its robust delivery platform and working in partnership with institutions such as the United Nations Development Programme, the African Development Bank, the International Committee of the Red Cross, GIZ, and United Bank for Africa to create meaningful and permanent impact across Africa.

Thus far, the Foundation has trained, mentored, and funded over 9,000 young African entrepreneurs across Africa through the program, which provides capacity-building support, advisory and market linkages to over 1 million Africans through its digital networking platform, TEFConnect.

Tony believes that as an entrepreneur like himself, he understand what it feels like to yearn for a lifeline, to hope for a ‘big break’, to look forward to enjoying some luck.

From the texture, focus and demography of Tony Elumelu’s philanthropy, it would seem, without being told, that it is an altruistic personal motivation to support a cause close to his heart, part of which is sharing an overflowing gift of entrepreneurship with people across countries.

Africa shines post COVID-19

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic inflicts a devastating toll on the global economy, Tony insists that now is the time to invest in the continent, with the 57-year-old pitching for investors to put their bets on Africa’s economy.

Africa is a land of opportunity. Challenges exist in Africa, but we also have a huge return on investment,” Elumelu said during a TIME 100 Talks discussion with contributor Kim Dozier. “There’s no better time to make that bet than the time we live in,” he said.

“Today there’s more market stability than ever before and there’s a willingness and realization by African leaders that capital will come to where it’s welcome. So, they are trying to make an enabling environment in their markets and in their countries to attract foreign investments,” he told Forbes.

Elumelu also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has incidentally elevated some economic opportunities on the continent: quarantining and social distancing has catalyzed booming business online.

“In the banking business, there’s a whole transformation of banking heightened by COVID-19. Now you have less than 15% of our over 20 million bank customers across Africa transacting in the bank,” Elumelu explained. “Most of them are transacting online, which is about 85% of 20 million customers—that’s significant.” Tony said in interview with Time magazine.

While the odds may not appear to be in favor of African countries—and many countries hard-hit by the coronavirus—Elumelu insists that giving people hope can make all the difference in emerging from the economic dredge of the pandemic.

“The difference is having economic hope, the difference is always thinking positive and knowing that tomorrow will be better than today,” Elumelu said. “Don’t let your economic aspirations die with COVID.”

This feature appeared in the December 2020 edition of Africa Inc. magazine. You can access the full digital magazine HERE

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