How This Nigerian Entrepreneur Built A Billion Dollar Business By The Age Of 30
We live in a part of the world where an individual without a formal education is regarded as an illiterate who has nothing to offer the corporate world.
Even though there is sufficient proof in Nigeria that other forms of education can lead to success in life, most Nigerian parents insist that their wards must obtain a formal education. Some go as far as choosing a course of study for the child. And they do this without considering the child’s talent/creative inclinations, possible learning disabilities that will prevent the child from excelling in the field of study, and many other factors.
This trend has seen a lot of people acknowledging in the middle of their education journey that they lack an interest in the course they’re studying, leading to students being depressed and dropping out of school, and lots of potential being wasted.
The Igbo caste/incubation system is sufficient proof that knowledge—in this case, business knowledge—and skills can be transferred and imbibed outside the classroom effectively and efficiently. And so, the system has drawn international interest due to its high level of success.
While born of a wealthy background, this is the success story of Ladi Delano, a young man who, because of learning disabilities, could not achieve success in the formal education system, but went to head a billion-dollar business by the age of 30.
Here’s how he did it:
Who Is Ladi Delano?
Ladi Delano is the co-founder and CEO of Bakrie Delano Africa (BDA), a billion-dollar joint venture with Bakrie Group, Indonesia.
Born in 1983 to Nigerian parents, Ladi Delano suffered from mild dyslexia and deafness in one ear. This made education challenging for him and in the process, hampered his progress in college, where he had to drop out because of the learning difficulties posed by these disabilities.
Despite these challenges, Ladi Delano rose above his disabilities to start a liquor business in China called Solidarnosc Asia, a Chinese alcoholic beverage company that made Solid XS, a premium brand of vodka brand which he later sold to a rival liquor business for over $15 million by the age of 24.
Ladi Delano’s Story: The Beginning
“A child walks on the shoulders of his parents.” — A popular Nigerian saying
Ladi Delano was born and bred in England. He might easily pass for a full-blooded Brit, with an accent you could cut with a knife, but he is as much a Nigerian as any other Nigerian. His grandfather, Isaac Oluwole Delano, was a Yoruba novelist who compiled a dictionary of his mother tongue. Despite growing up in London, Delano’s Yoruba is far from shabby.
Delano refers to his parents as unsung heroes who did everything in their power to provide quality education and training for their children. Some may call it luck while some may recognize that what others call luck is actually the hard work and sacrifice of his parents which might be demeaned if referred to as “luck”.
Ladi Delano has always had his eye on the horizon. In his mid-teens, he asked for two years’ pocket money from his mother to buy a few pairs of cheap designer boots to sell to his schoolmates. At 19, he sold services to universities.
His First Success
Ladi Delano ascribes a lot of his success to his parents who he said gave up everything to give their children access to opportunities in life. One such headstart was in business. Delano’s father was a corporate executive and an MBA lecturer. They spent so much time together studying and dissecting businesses, understanding how they work and how different products come to the market.
The path may have been well lit, but hardship lurked around the corner. While in secondary school, Delano found that he suffered from mild dyslexia and deafness in one ear. Learning became more and more difficult and the idea of school became less appealing. Despite this, with the help of extra lessons, Delano made it to a top university on a day he describes as glorious. The novelty soon wore off and academia became Delano’s nemesis. In his second year of a political science degree, he made up his mind to leave school.
Delano’s decision didn’t go down well at home, but there was no stopping him. At least, the university had planted the idea of becoming an entrepreneur.
After leaving school, he ventured into entrepreneurship, offering career advice to students, trying to get recruiters to advertise their companies to students, and setting up m-commerce retail platforms where students could make purchases with their mobile phones. This failed and six months later, he lost thousands of dollars that he had borrowed.
The Rise Of His Liquor Business
Delano had always had a fascination with Asia. His father’s family home had a Bruce Lee poster; one of the London homes the family lived in was in a predominantly Japanese area and he had learned to use chopsticks at a very young age.
So, with a clouded mind and very little money, Delano flew off to figure out life in Asia.
Delano travelled from Thailand to Malaysia to Hong Kong, all in eight months, before joining his family in their new home in Chicago.
In the United States, it was time to find a job. He called cinemas, record stores, and department stores. His parents encouraged him to go back to college. He determined that he didn’t want to work in a departmental store and this led him to call every investment firm in town. After three weeks, he got an internship in Merryl Lynch.
After some time in Merryl Lynch, Delano moved to London where he and a group of friends decided to venture into the liquor business. Out on the streets of London, a vodka revolution was taking place; Delano and his mates wanted to supply the shots.
After about eight months, Solid XS vodka was ready. Delano went from bar to bar in London for a year, selling the new drink from a bucket. The brand prospered, but the business proved bittersweet.
They were making sales but due to the high cost of doing business, which included the large sums of money they were spending on advertising, their bottom line just wasn’t encouraging. After some consultations, they took their business to the Asian market, China specifically, where they prospered and rose to control over 50% per cent of the market. Then the global financial recession hit the business hard and they had to sell it to their biggest competitor for around $15 million.
By the age of 22, Ladi Delano had founded a top-selling liquor company. Many dollars and a few hard lessons later, Delano couldn’t be surer of himself. You may choose fancy words to describe his business acumen, but one will suffice: natural. This is the story of a born businessman.
The Billion Dollar Move
In April 2012, Ladi Delano decided it was time to return to Nigeria. He recognized that Nigeria has a lot of potentials, with 60% of the population under the age of 35 and a youth unemployment rate sitting at 43%. And with this knowledge, he pulled together a consortium of high net worth families and some financial institutions in the private equity space to invest in Nigeria.
With a promising consortium of investors, Delano returned to Nigeria.
The skills shortage proved a new thorn in his tender side. Delano sought a partner to bridge the gap: Bakrie Group.
Bakrie Group is one of the largest conglomerates in Indonesia. Through a joint venture with Delano, the Bakrie Group invested $1 billion over five years in the mining, agriculture, and oil and gas industries in Nigeria.
Ladi Delano’s Entrepreneurial Journey
From London to Chicago, to China and West Africa, through liquor, mining, and real estate investments, it has been a roller coaster ride for Ladi Delano, but you and we at Startuptipsdaily also get the feeling, he has only just started.
To Sum It Up
A key trait every entrepreneur must possess is the ability to make tough decisions and stand by them. Ladi’s story shows a young man who was willing to face his weaknesses and rise above them to become a huge success.
Despite being from a well-to-do home, his story is full of ups and downs, but without giving up. Tenacity and grit are key if an entrepreneur is to achieve success in their endeavors.
What are your thoughts on this success story of Ladi Delano? Let me know by leaving a comment below.