Folorunsho Alakija: From humble beginnings to Africa’s richest woman

3 Mins read

Renowned as Africa’s second and Nigeria’s richest woman, Folorunsho Alakija rose from humble beginnings as a secretary and fashion designer to hold the reins of multiple businesses in Nigeria. How did the billionaire entrepreneur have it all?

Early Life & Education

Folorunsho Alakija is the Executive Vice-Chair of Famfa Oil Limited and Managing Director of Rose of Sharon Groups.

Born on 15 July 1951 to an upper-middle-class family of 52 children, her father was Chief L. A. Ogbara of Ikorodu, Lagos State.

Alakija had her nursery education at Our Ladies of Apostles, Lagos, from 1955 to 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.

After completing her primary education, Alakija attended Muslim High School in Sagamu, Ogun State, Nigeria. She then returned to England for her secretarial studies at Pitman’s Central College, London.

Alakija started her career in 1974 as an executive secretary at Sijuade Enterprises, Lagos, Nigeria.

She later moved to FinBank, now acquired by FCMB (First City Monument Bank), as the Executive Secretary to the managing director, and then the new Head of the Corporate Affairs Department of the International Merchant Bank of Nigeria and later on became the Office Assistant to the Treasury Department.

After 12 years in the banking industry, Alakija took on a new challenge to pursue fashion design which birthed Supreme Stitches, a fashion label that catered to influential Nigerian women at its time.

Her fashion business shot into the limelight after she won a fashion competition less than a day after opening her business.

Her big break into the Oil Industry

Onboard a trip to visit her kids who were schooling abroad, Alakija ran into a friend who sought her assistance in negotiating for an American company to lift crude out of Nigeria.

The request was later turned down because the Government was only open to investors to divert more exploration opportunities into Nigerian hands.

With a foot in the door, Alakija saw this as an opportunity to delve into the oil industry to earn more income. But it wasn’t an easy ride!

From a failed crude oil transportation idea to applying for an Oil Prospecting License (OPL), which took 3 years in August 1993 and another 3 years to put together a team of technical partners as her previous technical team didn’t want any connection with the kind of oil bloc she got.

In September 1996, Alakija entered into a joint venture agreement with Star Deep Water Petroleum Limited (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Texaco), appointing the company as technical advisor for exploration on the license, transferring 40 per cent of its 100 per cent interest in Star Deep.

The philanthropist, business owner and author of several books is married to Modupe Alakija, and together they have raised four sons. In 2020, Forbes ranked her as Africa’s richest woman with an estimated net worth of $1bn.

As of 2015, Alakija 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.

Smart Money Lessons from Folorunsho Alakija

  1. Go with your guts: Leaving a seemingly successful 12-year career in the banking industry would look dangerously audacious, but Alakija knew it was time to leave, especially as she was overlooked for certain promotions. Have you abandoned a business idea because you felt incapable or are ignoring the signs that it’s time to leave that toxic or stagnant career for your dreams? Then draw some inspiration from Alakija’s journey. Know that nothing extraordinary happens except you step out of your comfort zone.
  2. Seize opportunities: From being in a fashion competition that shot her label into success to leveraging her network to build a successful oil business, Alakija’s story has been one of seizing opportunities. Being a smart money woman means optimising opportunities and resources that come your way. Opportunities are an invitation to your next success. Don’t take them for granted.
  3. Be open to multiple income streams: From being a secretary, banker, and fashion designer to oil mogul, Alakija has dived into many income streams and shows no signs of slowing down. Even with the success of Famfa Oil, the 70-year-old still runs her digital printing agency, authors several books, and holds speaking engagements. Want to level up your income? Then start by monetizing your skills, talents and leveraging your networks to seek new income opportunities.
  4. Never give up: In 1999, the Nigerian government claimed 40 per cent of her 60 per cent shareholding of Famfa Oil. Feeling cheated, she disputed the government over a 12-year fearsome legal battle period, eventually winning. When you face opposition, never be intimidated to stand your ground or pursue what is right. You’d be grateful that you never gave up.

What other smart money lessons can you glean from Folorunsho Alakija’s journey to success? Share in the comments or reach us at hello@hervest.ng

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