How I Navigated African Business Terrain

Folorunso Alakija (born 15 July 1951) is a Nigerian billionaire businesswoman. She is involved in the fashion, oil, real estate and printing industries. She is the group managing director of The Rose of Sharon Group which consists of The Rose of Sharon Prints & Promotions Limited, Digital Reality Prints Limited and the executive vice-chairman of Famfa Oil Limited.

She also has a majority stake in DaySpring Property Development company. Alakija is ranked by Forbes as the richest woman in Nigeria with an estimated net worth of $1 billion. As of 2015, she is listed as the second most powerful woman in Africa after Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the 87th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes.

Folorunsho was born on 15 July 1951 to the family of Chief L. A. Ogbara in Ikorodu, Lagos State. She attended her Nursery education at Our Ladies of Apostles, Lagos from 1955-1958. At age seven, she travelled to the United Kingdom to continue her primary education at Dinorben School for Girls in Hafodunos Hall in Llangernyw, Wales between 1959-1963. On completion of her primary education, she attended “Muslim High School” in Sagamu, Ogun State, Nigeria. She then returned to England for her secretarial studies at Pitman’s Central College, London. So, she educated at Europe.

Alakija started her career in 1974 as an executive secretary at Sijuade Enterprises, Lagos, Nigeria. She moved to the former First National Bank of Chicago, which later became FinBank now acquired by FCMB (First City Monument Bank) where she worked for some years before establishing a tailoring company called Supreme Stitches. Within a few years, as Rose of Sharon House of Fashion, it became a household name. As national president and lifelong trustee of the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN), she left an indelible mark, promoting Nigerian culture through fashion and style.

In May 1993, Alakija applied for the allocation of an oil prospecting license (OPL). The license to explore for oil on a 617,000-acre block—now referred to as OPL 216—was granted to Alakija’s company, Famfa Limited. The block is located approximately 220 miles south-east of Lagos and 70 miles offshore of Nigeria in the Agbami Field of the central Niger Delta. In September 1996, she entered into a joint venture agreement with Star Deep Water Petroleum Limited (a wholly owned subsidiary of Texaco) and appointed the company as a technical adviser for the exploration of the license, transferring 40 percent of her 100 percent stake to Star Deep.

Key Lessons For Entrepreneurs

  1. Pray hard. This might sound like illogical business advice particularly if you are an atheist. But according to Alakija, a devout christian, prayers are essential for success in business. Employees at Famfa Oil Limited and people close to Alakija confirm that the tycoon never takes any important business decision before first going on his knees. Judging by Famfa Oil Limited raving success, prayers actually work. Prayers may work for you as well.
  2. Ensure you are ethical in business. Folorunso is very ethical in her dealings. Do business the right way and if it harms anyone or society in anyway, don’t do it.
  3. Partner with the right people. The 90% of the success of Folorunso had to do with right partners. Get the right partner and you will enjoy your life.
  4. You can succeed in business even as a woman in any industry. Folorunso is a woman and her gender didn’t hinder her from succeeding in the oil industry.
  5. Be patient and relentless. Develop a tough skin and never give up. Success hardly occurs in a split of second; you need to learn to wait for your moment. Folorunso went through the process and didn’t succeed overnight.

Folorunso Alakija, Managing Director, Rose of Sharon Group, Nigeria

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