It’s no secret that Folorunsho Alakija, the wealthiest black woman in the world, has had a pretty rough journey to becoming one of the formidable female entrepreneurs on the planet.
Drawing on that experience garnered from a long, hard journey, Alakija pushed herself through one of the hardest and yet uncertain times in her business career and she thinks young entrepreneurs in Africa should embrace some difficulty, in order for them to succeed.
At the Tony Elumelu Foundation Forum 2016 held in October, in Lagos, Alajika told a group of 1,000 African entrepreneurs selected for the $100 million Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme of the importance of embracing challenges and using them as stepping stones to greatness.
On the entrepreneurship journey, she said, young entrepreneurs may “need to fight yourselves, friends, competition and sometimes, your government in order to succeed.”
The fight, she encapsulates, if won, could launch the entrepreneurs to unimaginable success, one that she has experienced in more than 30 years of business.
And it may make others to doubt that very success, she said.
“Many people see the grace and the glory but they did not know the story,” she said, as she shared with the audience what she called the “little beginnings” of her life.
Taking the audience through how she started as a fashion designer to becoming an oil magnate, Alakija said could only survive those difficult years because of what she called a “higher power.”
Speaking to the fashion entrepreneurs, who make more than 10 per cent of the 1,000 African entrepreneurs, Alakija said “as a designer, your passion for fashion is one of the attributes that will sustain you in the industry.”
The fashion industry, she said, is one of the most demanding industries of one’s time and one’s energy. “It can practically drain you both emotionally and financially. At does bring the so much fame and fortune.
“I experienced all of this as a fashion designer and the ability to remain focused helped me to sustain it. Despite the attendant challenges I faced, I kept on at it.”
She also told them to be ready to take on multiple roles before they could begin to think about hiring more people.
“I found myself being the fashion illustrator, sometimes pattern drafter, the cutter and maybe even the tailor, depending on what the job demanded at the time.
“Often times, as I did, you may even have to be the merchandiser, the marketer, the account and play many other roles to make your business succeed.
She also encouraged the entrepreneurs to embrace failure, as learning from those failures could help calibrate them for a lifetime of success.
“My initial foray into the industry was to broaden the transaction for a client who wished to lift crude but this failed,” she said, adding that she did not allow that to stop her from pressing forward.
“Having got a food in the door, I decided to take advantage of the opportunities in industry for small contracts. My proposals went from providing catering services for offshore crude to providing transportation services,” and so on. From there on, she began another journey that gave her fame, fortunate and has placed her as world’s richest black woman in the world.
But like she said, that journey wasn’t without its challenges.
After spending 15 years, and all her life’s as well as her family’s life’s saving on an “extremely difficult to explore” oil block “in 5000 feet depth of water” she was engaged in a legal battle for another 12 years to claim what she said was hers, a catalyst to the magnitude of her financial success as a business woman.
“We had to fight back by going to court to seek redress and it took another 12 years for justice to be served in our favour. In all those years it was my trust in God, my perseverance and the support of my family that got me going,” she said.