UBA Chairman Tony Elumelu Visits, Inspires and Challenges
Mr. Tony Elumelu is a visionary Pan-African entrepreneur and philanthropist founder of Heirs Holdings; an African Investment Holding Company and the beneficial owner of the United Bank for Africa (UBA). UBA is the 9th largest commercial bank on the African continent with a global presence in New York, London and Paris. The fact that his Heirs Holdings is also present in twenty African countries is a good signal that the Nigerian economist, entrepreneur and philanthropist is a busy man. Nevertheless, Makerere Universityremained top on the agenda of his four day visit to Uganda.
The endless drizzles that preceded Mr. Elumelu’s visit to Makerere University on 11th April 2018 could only be a sign of the blessings that were to follow. Upon arrival, he was received by the Vice Chancellor Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe and ushered into the Council Room where he met with Members of Central Management and the leadership of the College of Business and Management Sciences (CoBAMS).
Accompanied by the Regional Executive Officer, UBA Eastern Africa Divisional Office, Nairobi-Mr. Manz Denga, UBA Uganda Managing Director-Mr. Johnson Agoreyo and other officials, Mr. Elumelu could not hide his elation at making his maiden visit to Makerere University.
Prof. Nawangwe (L) embraces Mr. Tony Elumelu (R) upon arrival at Makerere University as UBA Uganda CEO-Mr. Johnson Agoreyo (background) witnesses
“I am honoured, pleased and happy be with you this afternoon” remarked the gentle speaking Mr. Elumelu, “It is a wonderful experience to be in Makerere University; a well known and one of the foremost Universities in Africa” he added.
He thanked the Vice Chancellor for the warm welcome and commended all Makerere staff for helping to advance research and knowledge not only in Uganda but on the entire African continent. He also thanked the University Leadership for admitting UBA into the Makerere community, noting that “Makerere’s 45,000 student population is a tip that we can do more!”
After signing the visitors’ book and receiving souvenirs of the Makerere neck tie and diary from the Prof. Nawangwe, Mr. Elumelu proceeded to the Main Hall, where he was greeted by thunderous applause from the students and stuff who had convened to listen to his talk. “I am greatly humbled and pleased to see that the hall is overflowing and some people are still standing” he remarked good naturedly ”I thank you all for coming and hope that our interaction will be enriching,” he added.
Mr. Tony Elumelu (2nd R) receives the Makerere University necktie and diary from Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe (2nd L) after the courtesy call in the Council Room
The event took the form of a question and answer session moderated by the day’s emcee, Mr. Peter Igaga. He shared with Mr. Elumelu that a sample of questions from the audience had revealed that capital was an outstanding issue of concern for budding entrepreneurs and asked the UBA Chairman share his views on the topic.
Mr. Elumelu firstly admitted that entrepreneurship is not a simple journey to embark on as it calls for patience and resilience. He then emphasised that; an idea of what one wanted to do and a proper definition of how one wanted to go about doing it formed the basis for attracting capital. “Most billionaires in the world today did not start out with a handful of money. While it is important, do not kill your good ideas just because you don’t have a handful of money to start with.”
He further opined that entrepreneurs need not start big and all that was needed was seed funding to prove one’s concept or idea, which money can be raised from family, friends and a few willing venture capitalists. “Banks should be your last option as you start up” he warned, before adding “Banks by their nature are highly structured organizations and will only give you money to scale up your idea once it is up and running.”
Mr. Tony Elumelu (R) answers one of the questions posed by the day’s emcee Mr. Peter Igaga (L) during his visit to Makerere University
On the culture of saving, Mr. Elumelu noted that this was one of the most important attributes of any successful entrepreneur. He reemphasized the fact that entrepreneurship is a long journey and those who venture into it must be very disciplined and avoid any luxuries and unnecessary expenses that would deplete initial revenue.
“I also advise you to get good mentors” he continued “at the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), we see capital as only one of the factors necessary for one to succeed. We also see training and mentoring as extremely important aspects of entrepreneurship. During our 12week mentorship programme, we ensure that you understand the basics of things such as good bookkeeping so as to prepare yourself for the future.”
Mr. Elumelu added that it was only upon successfully completing the TEF training that entrepreneurs saw their first coin of seed capital, which also comes with mentors. “Our aim is to create entrepreneurs not grant seekers. We want to train people who will be able to support other entrepreneurs in the future.”
Part of the audience that filled the Main Hall, Makerere University on 11th April 2018 to listen to Mr. Tony Elumelu
Since the setting of this discussion was at the region’s flagship University, the next topic sought clarity on the relevance of education to entrepreneurship, especially as a good number the world’s top billionaires had admitted to dropping out of school to focus on their ideas. Mr. Elumelu tackled this topic by first and foremost admitting that education, awareness and knowledge were all critical for entrepreneurship.
He however sought to create a distinction between two definitions of education; just to get a certificate and to gain a thorough understanding of subject matter, the former being the wrong one. He reaffirmed that education is a critical success factor in understanding ones trade, as it helps to sharpen the brain to better understand concepts. “Nevertheless, what is important is knowing what is critical for success. Discipline, hard work and thinking long term are extremely important factors for success” added Mr. Elumelu.
He urged all entrepreneurs never to let the fear of making mistakes prevent them from daring to try out their ideas. “You will make mistakes” assured Mr. Elumelu. “As a business, we have made some decisions that led us to venture into a partnership with a leading global company but in the end we had to write off US$200million after it didn’t take off as anticipated” he added, much to the hushed amazement of the audience.
UBA Founder and Chairman Mr. Tony Elumelu reassured budding entrepreneurs that they have all that it takes to become successful
Entrepreneurship without the right networks is a precarious journey to embark on. Tackling the question on the role of networks versus net worth, Mr. Elumelu shared that “Networks help you build net worth and net worth can help you extend your reach.” He stressed that it is important to have partnerships but these have to be matched with an alignment of interests. “Misalignment will not help you to build net worth or to succeed” added Mr. Elumelu.
“My net worth is not really important to me because it is just a figure; it is not about how much you have in the bank. What is important however is what you do with your net worth because at the end of the day you move from wanting to survive to changing lives and building a legacy” counseled Mr. Elumelu.
The day’s session would have been incomplete without a few testimonies from TEF beneficiaries. Mr. Joseph Ogwal is the Founder of Agro Supply Uganda Limited and a 2017 TEF Alumnus. His business was started with the aim of supplying smallholder farmers in the Acholi and Lango sub-regions with quality seeds. After completing his training with TEF, Joseph’s business is now able to supply 10,000 farmers with 30metric tonnes of quality planting seed and is projected to supply up to 50metric tonnes by the close of 2018. The company has additionally set its sights on supplying new markets in Rwanda and Tanzania.
Hon. Grace Oburu-a former legislator of the 8th Parliament and proprietor of Pakoi Mixed Farm Tororo shared her testimony
Hon. Grace Oburu is the proprietor of Pakoi Mixed Farm in Tororo District and a 2017 TEF Alumna. The former legislator of the 8th Parliament admitted to initially being chastised by her children for applying to a youth entrepreneurship competition. She however persisted and today, does not regret having made that decision, especially as with the help of the seed capital she expects to house 800pigs at her farm by the close of 2018.
“The Operation Wealth Creation has booked all piglets from my farm because I am rearing a good breed, I have offered employment to the previously jobless youth and young men in the community are learning how to make biogas for cooking which is saving the environment” added Hon. Oburu.
Addressing the audience, Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe thanked Mr. Tony Elumelu for putting Makerere University especially the interaction with budding entrepreneurs at the top of his agenda. He noted that Mr. Elumelu was one of the most enterprising entrepreneurs in Africa.
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“I want to thank you Mr. Tony Elumelu for being a very generous person by supporting youths in Africa, irrespective of where they come from, so as to emancipate Africa from poverty. We are now past the stage of political emancipation and now is the time for economic emancipation” said Prof. Nawangwe.
He noted that Makerere University has produced some of the region’s top leaders in all spheres of influence including former Presidents such as H.E. Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, H.E. Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, H.E. Milton Obote of Uganda, to mention but a few. Prof. Nawangwe also encouraged Mr. Elumelu to come back again and welcomed partnerships with UBA and TEF aimed at improving entrepreneurship skills among the students.