Tony Elumelu transformed a floundering Nigerian commercial bank into a $2 billion (market capitalization) Pan-African financial services behemoth spanning 20 African countries. Now he’s committing his resources towards grooming Africa’s next generation of business leaders.
Africapitalism. It’s a word you’ve probably never heard before – but it’s an idea that is likely to burst onto center stage in 2012 as Africa maintains its upward spiral towards economic growth and significance. According to Tony Elumelu, the Nigerian-born banker who coined the term, Africapitalism is an “economic philosophy that embodies the African private sector’s commitment to the economic transformation of Africa through long-term investments that create economic prosperity and social wealth.”
Tony Elumelu, who easily ranks as one of Africa’s most influential business leaders, is vehemently championing this new philosophy. A trained economist, Elumelu registered his presence in Nigeria’s financial services industry in 1997 when he led a small group of investors to take over a distressed medium-sized commercial bank in Lagos. The acquired bank was subsequently renamed Standard Trust Bank (STB), and by the following year, Elumelu was appointed Chief Executive Officer of the bank. He was only 34 at the time, and the youngest CEO of a commercial bank in Africa’s most populated country.
Between 1998 and 2005, he restored STB to profitability, expanding its retail network around the country and introducing a diverse range of financial services to the institution. By 2005, STB had become one of the 5 largest commercial banks in the country. That same year, he orchestrated one of the largest mergers in Nigerian corporate history when he united STB and the United Bank of Africa (UBA), Nigeria’s 3rd-largest bank at the time.
The merged bank adopted the UBA name, and Elumelu was appointed as Chief Executive of the bank. Within ten years as helmsman of the institution, Elumelu helped spin the bank from a single-country bank into a diversified Pan-African financial services institution. From its traditional commercial banking route, UBA spread its tentacles to encompass more sophisticated financial services like asset management, merchant banking, investment advisory services, stockbroking, private equity and life insurance. He set up branches of UBA in over 20 African countries and established operations in the United Kingdom and the U.S.A.
Elumelu stepped down as CEO of the bank in 2010 following a Central Bank directive limiting the tenure of bank chiefs to 10 years. But by the time he had vacated the CEO job, he had built the UBA Group into a $2 billion (market capitalization) financial services behemoth with over $12 billion in assets and over 10,000 employees.
A few weeks after Elumelu stepped down from UBA, he founded the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) – an Africa-based and focused non-profit which seeks to enhance and facilitate the competitiveness and growth of Africa’s private sector. Among several initiatives, the foundation mentors young African professionals across the continent through its annual African Markets Internship Programme (AMIP) – a highly competitive 10-week program which places top African MBA students in fast growing African-owned companies across the continent. The foundation also provides strategic grants to African-focused leadership and entrepreneurship non-profit organizations of African origin. Over the past few months, Elumelu has become one of the continent’s most sought-after business leaders and thinkers, and is now a frequent commencement speaker and advisor at several of Africa’s top business schools. He’s still a businessman though. At about the same time he launched his foundation, he founded Heirs Holdings, a Nigerian-based, African-focused investment company which gobbles up significant stakes in companies across important sectors of the economy.
Elumelu was one of Africa’s most sought-after business speakers in 2011. Among other speaking engagements, he was a headline speaker along with Richard Branson in the inaugural edition of Legatum’s highly-publicized 2011 Convergence Africa conference which was held last December in Nairobi, Kenya. To a large extent, Elumelu’s ideas on Africapitalism, impact investing and economic development will feature prominently in shaping Africa’s economic growth story in 2012.