Folorunsho Alakija is a Nigerian entrepreneur with a reported net worth of $1 billion as of 2020, according to Forbes estimates. She is regarded as Nigeria’s richest woman, as well as the richest woman in Africa. In 2017, she was the second richest woman in Africa with a net worth of $1.73 billion after Isabel dos Santos, as per Forbes. However, following the fall in the net worth of dos Santos over corruption allegations, Alakajia hit the top spot as Africa’s richest woman. Her worth is built on the back of Nigeria’s oil industry.
Alakija started her career in office administration after training in Britain as a secretary. She later went into banking, where she remained until she decided to venture into entrepreneurship. She worked for Sijuade Enterprises in Lagos for a year and a half before joining the International Merchant Bank of Nigeria.
“I joined them as a secretary and I was there for about 12 years. I was promoted to other departments of the bank, including heading the corporate affairs department. From there I moved into proper banking, working in the treasury department. I loved it because I was trading with the bank’s money to make money for the bank,” she told CNBC Made It.
“Later on, the bank was expanding and they started putting extra cogs between the wheels to ensure that people did not get promoted too fast to get to top positions within the bank. So I asked myself, ‘how long will it take me to get from a treasury officer to a general manager?’” says Alakija.”
She started out in the fashion industry and formed ‘Supreme Stitches.’ Before launching her company, she enrolled in the American College in London and the Central School of Fashion. Her company rose to prominence within a few years and later rebranded as Rose of Sharon House of Fashion. According to her, she rebranded her firm upon divine inspiration.
“I rebranded to Rose of Sharon House of Fashion because God gave me a revelation that I needed to change the name. It was a revelation initially given through a pastor, but I decided I was not going to change it until I heard from God myself. I had a dream a year after the prophecy was given and I saw the new name on the body of my van in the dream and I changed it overnight,” says Alakija, according to CNBC.
Going into the fashion space was probably influenced by her mother, who used to enlist her assistance in her textile business.
“My siblings and I used to help my mum in the store and that is where we learned a lot about textiles, textures, colours, patterns and merchandising,” she told Forbes. “That is where I learned all the practical steps that I later on applied to my fashion business.”
Alakija also ventured into the printing industry, launching Rose of Sharon Prints and Promotions, as well as Digital Reality Prints. According to her, she went into the industry because she wanted a new challenge. Her biggest transition in entrepreneurship came when she met a friend on a flight to England, who happened to be Maryam Babaginda – the wife of Ibrahim Babaginda, the ex-president of Nigeria. Maryam had decided to end her investment in the Nigerian oil industry, and Alakija immediately saw an opportunity to make use of her new contact, who also happened to be her customer at Supreme Stitches.
She was linked to the then petroleum minister, Jubril Aminu, marking her beginning in the Nigerian oil industry, although it started on a disappointing note.
“I went back and told the petroleum minister that I would like to render other services, like catering for the oil industry. He said there were already so many caterers on board, various ships on the high seas, and as a result, there were no opportunities available.”
Alakija did not give up her pursuits despite the initial setback. After knocking on several doors, she got the opportunity to offer transportation services to the oil sector, and eventually worked her way from one military regime to another to get an oil block, after which she established ‘Famfa Oil.’
Famfa Oil went into partnership with giant firms like Texaco, and later Chevron. According to CNBC Made It, she got 60 percent shareholding of the oil block, while Chevron took 40%. However, the Nigerian government intervened and took away 50 percent of her stake, leaving her with only 10 percent. However, after 12 years of legal battle, her 50 percent stake was restored.