Little-known facts about how Tony Elumelu rose from salesperson to multimillionaire philanthropist

Abu Mubarik February 01, 2022
Photo: Twitter

Tony Elumelu is a Nigerian entrepreneur and investor who owns major shares in Transcorp, a publicly traded Nigerian conglomerate with interests in hospitality, agriculture, oil production and power generation.

The Nigerian business mogul first came into the limelight in 1997 when he led a small group of investors to take over “a small, floundering commercial bank” in Lagos, according to Forbes. He would grow the bank to become United Bank for Africa with branches across Africa, the United Kingdom and the U.S.

Before starting his banking career, he was a salesperson. “I started my career as a salesman, a copier salesman to be specific, young, hungry, and hardworking, but the reality was that I was just one of thousands of young Nigerian graduates, all eager to succeed. How did I get from there to where I am now? Of course, hard work, resilience, a long-term vision – but also luck,” Elumelu said.

His career in banking started at Allstates Trust Bank. At the time, he had just completed his master’s degree in Economics from the University of Lagos and he saw a job ad by Allstates Trust Bank. Although he did not have the required qualification then, he applied.

“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 2:2 degree does not demonstrate the full extent of my intelligence and ability, and I know I can do so much more,” he wrote on his cover letter.

Elumelu was shortlisted and subsequently hired by the bank after going through several interviews and tests. At Allstates Trust Bank, he started as an entry-level analyst. Within a year, he became the youngest branch manager at age 27 by dint of hard work.

“I was hardworking, energetic, creative and prioritised getting things done, but it was also good fortune that my bosses Toyin Akin-Johnson and Ebitimi Banigo took notice, and then, believed in me,” Elumelu recounted. “They took a chance on me by appointing me as branch manager after an incredibly short time in the bank. They recognised in me the raw materials needed to make a good leader and were prepared to invest in me and my ability. My rise to Branch Manager within a short period is a great story but I know in my heart, I was lucky, as well as deserving.”

By 1997, he had led a group of investors to take over Standard Trust Bank, a Lagos-based commercial bank. He turned the fortunes of the company around and in 2005 he merged it with the United Bank for Africa. The bank came to have over seven million customers while operating in 19 countries in Africa.

In 2015, Forbes reported that Elumelu also owns extensive real estate across Nigeria and a minority stake in mobile telecom firm MTN Nigeria, among other assets. He is currently also a philanthropist and has over the years donated towards many charity causes.

He founded the Tony Elumelu Foundation to develop the next crop of African entrepreneurs. In 2016, he invested $100 million in emerging African entrepreneurs. The year before that, 1000 young entrepreneurs from across Africa were selected into a program by the foundation and were equipped with mentoring, business training and start-up capital, according to Forbes.

The businessman is married with children. According to Forbes, he is worth $700 million. He had previously been featured on Forbes as a billionaire but fell off the billionaire club.

He sits on a number of public and social sector boards including the World Economic Forum Community of Chairmen and the Global Board of UNICEF’s Generation Unlimited. He was named in the 2020 Time 100 Most Influential People in the World, recognized for his business leadership and economic empowerment of young Africans.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: February 1, 2022


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