Biography & Success Story Of Tony Elumelu: CEO Of UBA, Heirs Holdings

Biography & Success Story Of Tony Elumelu: the Founder of UBA & Heirs Holding

For many years now, Africa has relied on its public sectors for wealth creation and economic prosperity. As a result of that misplaced trust, the hold poverty has on the continent has become stronger with the rising population, crises, corrupt government practices and mismanagement of human and natural resources.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, a lot of people are born with access to very little resources to survive on their own in the harsh economic climate. With no wealthy background and connections, they struggle through life believing that there are no ways out from constant hardship and suffering. That mentality has held many captive and will continue to do so without a change.

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Tony Elumelu’s success story is a beacon of hope to those who feel incapable of ridding themselves of the shackles of poverty. It is an inspirational account of how a man who started out with nothing became one of Africa’s most powerful and influential bankers, economists, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists.

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Here’s how he did it;

Small, Unique Beginnings

Tony Onyemaechi Elumelu was born to his Jos-based, Nigerian parents, Dominic and Suzanne Elumelu on the 22nd of March, 1963. Raised in an entrepreneurial household where his mom owned several restaurants, it was inevitable that his journey towards success began early in life. Even then, his father had begun instilling in him the principle of saving which helped shape his success later on in life.

Young as he was, his thirst for knowledge drove him to read books on success and autobiographies of successful business icons that transformed industries and created lasting empires. As he got older, there was an imbued understanding of the mentality of these extraordinary individuals, who like him had grown up with little, yet ended up building multi-national and global conglomerates. His way of thinking was different and was reflected in his actions over the course of his life.

Tony Elumelu graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, and went on to get a Master’s degree in Economics at the University of Lagos, Nigeria. Later on in life, he furthered his education with a degree in Advanced Management at Harvard Business School, USA.

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To Great, Unique Achievements

Tony Elumelu had no familial connections or vast network to wield when he started out. All he had was his certificates, a truckload of knowledge, and the firm belief that he could make a success out of any position he was given. He applied for a job at the now obsolete All States bank, assuring his interviewers that he would deliver excellent results even with little experience and qualifications on his resume. He was hired and speedily rose in ranks as the bank’s most outstanding regional manager in the 90s.

Elumelu’s successful performance outweighed that of all 34 All States bank branches combined.

The 1994-95 banking crises in Nigeria had rendered the old system of banking ineffective and the industry clearly needed an infusion of ideas to make it work again. This was a period of revolutionary change and an opportunity for emerging geniuses to take centre stage in the banking industry.

At this time, Tony Elumelu was working as the executive chairman of Linkage Assurance Limited, the insurance division of the conglomerate chaired by his boss, Ebitimi Banigo. He had been withdrawn from his 6-year position as a regional manager for the All States Bank, the banking affiliate of the Banigo’s conglomerate.

Tony Elumelu saw an opportunity in this crisis and informed Ebitimi of his intention to quit and start up his own bank. After that risky & bold move, he called up his closest friends, Chuka Onwucheka and Albert Okumagba, and promptly informed them that this was the time to kick-off their plan. He told them that the first step in their future takeover of the financial sector would be to launch a company that would make its profit from managing mergers and acquisitions of insolvent banks.

Tony Elumelu sourced funds from associates and family members, whom he knew would understand his vision, and then founded Banc Garanti Limited. Together with his group, he acquired the failing Merchant Bank of Commerce. As the executive director of this new bank, he applied his wisdom and experience in working out its challenges and renamed it Continental Trust Bank.

Moving forward, Tony Elemelu’s group shifted their focus to acquiring a distressed commercial bank and out of the several options, Cristal bank was chosen. Tony faced one of the biggest challenges of his banking career with this acquisition.

He had applied to CBN using a well ordered, well-written proposal to declare his intention to takeover Cristal bank. However, due to the turmoil and unrest in the finance sector of Nigeria, the approval was painfully delayed. As a resilient person who couldn’t take no for an answer or give in to defeat, he pressed on with his fall-back plan. Knowing that the ensuing tug of war between the finance ministry and CBN could potentially cripple his goals, he reached out to people who could help.

But as the deadline for bid submissions drew close, nothing had happened. Tony Elumelu travelled to Abuja, going back and forth between the ministry of finance and CBN, trying to make sure every requirement required for approval was met.

Half an hour to the deadline, nothing had been approved. Stark failure loomed over this acquisition and threatened Elumelu’s future but he never gave up. With some help, he paid the non-refundable sum to secure the ministry’s approval. Though this was a big win for the BGL associates, Toni didn’t rest or celebrate because he knew it was not over yet.

The next thing on his agenda was to raise the money he needed for the acquisition. So he began to source for the CBN-imposed N500 million share capital needed to acquire a bank. Finally, he got the capital, completed the acquisition process, raised the bank’s share capital to N750 million, and changed its name to Standard Trust Bank.

From the unusual, dynamic marketing to strategically opening up branches in every state’s capital, his moves were remarkable and uncommon. He employed tactics ignored by his competition, and although he recorded losses at this time, he never lost sight of his end goal.

Tony Elumelu’s patience paid off when in 1999, the military regime was phased out and democracy was reintroduced. The new era brought with it the advantages of three different arms of government with autonomy over the management of their finances. When states needed loans, Standard Trust Bank was uniquely positioned to grant loans in exchange for the Irrevocable Standing Order and whenever the arms of government needed a trusted bank for allocation deposits, STB was the bank to go to.

His unique ideas and management not only transformed ST Bank into one of the top five banks in the country but was a game changer in the Nigerian banking sector.

He worked tirelessly long hours and no time offs to meet set goals, which were worth it in the end. On August 2005, Tony Elumelu acquired controlling shares in the United Bank for Africa (UBA). The concluding merger between both banks, UBA and STB created a new bank that went from multi-national to continental. Today, UBA is an established pan-African bank with ties to Europe and the US. Currently, it serves over 7 million customers in 19 countries.

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Tony Elumelu, the Entrepreneur

Tony Elumelu added another page to his success story when he quit the banking industry to pursue his next goal in 2010. He stepped down as CEO of United Bank of Africa and focused his goals on investments that would produce more wealth and have an impact on the African economy.

He founded Heirs Holdings, a pan-African investment company with interests in energy, agribusiness, finance, hospitality, healthcare, and real estate. A natural economist, Mr. Elumelu has always believed that long-term investments in these particular sectors of the economy spreads wealth within a community and ensures a stable and prosperous economy.

That same year, he founded the Tony Elumelu Foundation, an African non-governmental organization whose mission is geared towards improving Africa’s economy by empowering its private sectors. Each year, the foundation trains and then awards 10,000 dollars each to 1,000 budding entrepreneurs. This program was set-up with the goal of moving the continent from a position where it can put a stop to dependency on public sectors or foreign aids and be self-sufficient.

In April 2011, Heirs Holdings under the leadership of Tony Elumelu gained controlling stakes in the Transnational Corporation (Transcorp) and a month later took over as chairman of the board of directors. The corporation invests in important sectors of the Nigerian economy such as agriculture, hotels, energy, real estate and healthcare. He diversified the company’s interests and provided value to shareholders in a short space of time.

Two years later, Transcorp made front-page news when its shares soared to a staggering 186% after the 300 million-dollar purchase of a power generating plant. The privatised plant in Ughelli was an investment in the energy sector which generated over 120 million dollars in revenue within three weeks—1st to 22nd of November, 2013.

Heirs holdings company currently employs over 30,000 people and continues to invest in the lives of people in Africa and beyond.

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Tony Elumelu, the Philanthropist

Tony Elumelu’s success would not be complete without mentioning his enormous impact in Nigeria and Africa. His foundation, The Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), was established in 2010 and is totally committed to breathing life into Africa’s economy by providing business training and monetary aid to entrepreneurs. His vision centres on the belief in Africapitalism—Africa’s economic progress through the empowerment of its private sectors.

TEF operations have not only aided in the establishment of businesses but has also indirectly and directly created hundreds of job opportunities in Africa. The organization plans to spend 100 million dollars over the next decade to ensure that unique, impactful business ideas become actual businesses and that the continent takes a laudable step forward in the global economy.

This foundation is an embodiment of Tony Elumelu’s vision and passion for Africa’s growth. His dedication to this cause has successfully and positively affected the African community.

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Awards and Recognition

Toni Elumelu’s achievements and impact have earned him numerous awards and recognition in Nigeria and Africa. He was granted the title of Member of the Order of the Federal Republic by the Federal Government of Nigeria in 2003.

He was then voted in as African business leader of the year by the African Investor magazine back in 2006 and then in 2008 was named the African Banker of the year by the African Banker magazine. Another great honour was accrued when former president Umaru Musa Yar’Adua asked him to serve on the presidential committee on Global Finances in 2009.

Elumelu’s impact on the private sector and economy earned him the National Honour of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) in 2012. Other recognitions in 2012 include;

  • recognition as one of Africa’s 20 Most Powerful People by Forbes magazine,
  • featuring in New African magazine list of the ‘100 Most Influential Africans in Business’,
  • and two honorary degrees from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and Benue State University, Nigeria.

In 2013, he was awarded the Leadership Award in Business and Philosophy by the Africa-America awards and presented the African Icon Award at the 2013 African Business Awards.

The renowned ESI-Africa dubbed Tony Elumelu as one of ‘ESI-Africa Most Influential Figures in African Power’ in 2015 and then in 2016, he was conferred a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 5th edition of the annual economic forum of the National Council of Employers, General Confederation of Enterprises of Cote d’Ivoire, and he’s also garnered much more awards and recognitions.

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Tony Elumelu, through discipline, hard work and persistence built a career and empire that stretches throughout Africa and its different economic sectors. Today, he is a global businessman worth about 1.4 billion dollars and a mentor/model to aspiring entrepreneurs.

He is a clear example of how the past does not determine the future and that entrepreneurial success can be achieved with courage, persistence, hard work and discipline.


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