Tony Elumelu: A Leader with Purpose

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The
Tony O. Elumelu amphitheatre at the UBA house on the marina in Lagos was filled
to the brim yesterday. The packed house began to assemble as early as 2 pm in
anticipation of the lecture that was to be delivered by the Chairman of UBA
group at 3pm that afternoon.

 

Tony
Elumelu’s success story is now widely known. Not only in his home country of
Nigeria, but across the globe. The philanthropist who is empowering youths
across the African continent through his $100 million endowment fund has been
changing lives positively. Elumelu’s theory of Africapitalism is becoming
today’s watch- word. The MDGs didn’t meet their objectives of alleviating
poverty, but the billionaire economist is doing his best to ensure that the
continent moves towards self – sustainability through empowerment. Enough of
aid says Elumelu. ‘Nobody can empower Africans but Africans themselves’. He is
definitely helping change the narrative positively.
A
charismatic leader who successfully led the biggest banking merger in Nigeria
in 2005 and has been at the top of many conglomerates including his own Heirs
Holdings group, Tony Elumelu definitely knows what it takes to be a leader.

 

A
citation was read as he walked into the room full of over 200 UBA group
executives, and associates of the bank. But when Tony took the stage, he wasn’t
impressed by the accolades. ‘I don’t need all of this’ he said humbly.
‘Leadership must always go with humility. When you get leadership, you need to
become automatically humble in order to succeed. You all already know who I am
but I would like to tell you the story of my journey to success’.
 
Elumelu
started off selling photocopiers when he first graduated from university. He
mentions the name of the photocopiers and no, it wasn’t Xerox. Hardly anybody
in the room knew the brand he had been selling. But the point he wanted to make
by starting off his lecture with this introduction was that you cannot sell a
product you do not understand. ‘In everything that we do, product knowledge is
very important for success. Understand and dissect the history of everything
about an organization so that you can do your job excellently’ he said.
He
didn’t sell photocopiers for very long, because he became one of the youngest
bank managers in Nigeria when a couple of years after starting off as a
Financial analyst at AllStates bank, he was appointed a branch manager. He was
only 26 years old.
Elumelu
doesn’t know the word impossible. He had been relentless when he applied for
that job at AllStates bank. He didn’t even think he was qualified for it, but
he wanted it and the universe was going to make that happen because Tony wanted
it. ‘Impossible is only in your mind. Always have an open mind; apply tenacity
and the chances are that it will work’; a learning point he wanted the audience
to know.
It
was already beginning to work for young Tony. His branch made more money than
34 other branches of the bank put together, in just a few short months.

 

‘You
must visualize success’ said Elumelu as he continued to lecture. ‘You must say
to yourself that you will succeed and this will keep you going when you
encounter challenges and difficulties.’
One
of the questions he would be asked later on by a member of the
audience
is just how does he get these things done. How can he have so much energy to
keep going? In his 20s, he is expected to have a lot of energy, but in his mid
50s, Tony Elumelu gets off his jet at 4.30 am after a long haul flight, goes
home for a wee nap, wakes up at 7am to do some yoga with his wife Awele and is
at the office shortly after 8am. That same day, yesterday, he delivered a
speech that lasted for 4 hours on his feet.
‘Always
immerse yourself completely’ he advised. ‘Body, mind and soul. Not one leg in
and one leg out’. Tony had immersed himself completely into his job as branch
manager in Port Harcourt. He had just before that appointment, rented a new
apartment in Lagos. He had bought a stunning red carpet for his living room. He
was fiercely happy with his new lodgings but he would leave and move to Port
Harcourt and be completely in the zone, leaving everything behind in Lagos.
The
young Elumelu was fired up to succeed and he was already a winner even though
the journey had only just begun.
Tony
Elumelu became the youngest bank CEO in Nigeria when at the age of 34, he led
Standard Trust Bank(STB). ‘It was a little odd going into all those meetings
with older men because the bank CEOs at that time were older than I was’. That
didn’t stop Tony from achieving milestones. STB became one of the top banks in
Nigeria in a very short time. Elumelu was performing miracles again and
continuing to set the pace. ‘People think Tony Elumelu is a whizkid. They don’t
know that he surrounds himself by brilliant and competent people’ he said of
his successes.
Tony
taught us at the Tony O. Elumelu amphitheatre yesterday, that people give their
best to leaders they like.  ‘As a leader, don’t be far from your people.
Your people must connect with you and you must understand them very well’.
Elumelu
really does immerse himself in his work. His best friends are people he works
with. And a lot of these people have been with him along this journey for many
decades.
‘There
is a need for us to have high Emotional Intelligence. This is important as we
need to be cognizant of how others feel’ he continued.
Tony
has very high EQ. He knows how to make the people around him work to their best
capacity. He invests in them, training, exposing and giving them opportunities
to themselves become leaders. ‘You cannot be a successful leader if you don’t
know how manage people well. How to motivate them. How to make them happy’.
There
are testimonies to the fact that Tony is a great champion of the people he
works with. They in turn champion his causes and were there for him when in
2010, he was a casualty of the then new Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN) regulation
that set a timeline of a maximum of 10 years for any person to be at the helm
of affairs(CEO) of any Nigerian bank.
Five
years before this time on August 1, 2005, Elumelu had made another winning
streak when he led the successful merger of STB with the United Bank for
Africa. This size of merger was a first in the history of banking in
Nigeria.  He went into a meeting at the CBN as the CEO of UBA and came out
of the same meeting with news that he would have to step down due to the time
he had spent in his career as a bank CEO.
Where
most people would have shrank into panic mode and spread that panic around
them, the leader in Elumelu took this as a challenge. His words about this:
‘every phase in one’s life requires adjustments’. This was just another phase
for Tony Elumelu. He would adjust. His people had no reason to fear. For him
the corporate interest was first and it was not about him but about building a
lasting institution.
It
made him think of the important things he needed to do. He woke up the next
morning and decided he would be giving back and at a scale of lasting legacy.
The Tony Elumelu Foundation was borne from that thought and today, has
empowered over 3000 entrepreneurs across Africa and counting.
The
journey is far from over for the Group Chairman of UBA and Founder of the Tony
Elumelu Foundation. It is no surprise when you listen to his story, that he has
been so successful in his endeavours.
Elumelu
is generous to a fault. He doesn’t wish to journey alone and dreams of making
many billionaires across the continent. He wants to help people become the best
leaders that they can be. He wants to continue to play a role in alleviating
poverty in Africa.

 

Tony
Elumelu yesterday shared his own leadership journey as he continues to build on
his legacy.  He ends the lecture by telling those in the room and the many
watching online across the continent, ‘Don’t’ jettison what you are doing that
helps you to succeed. Leave this room with an agenda. A resolution. And know
your limitations’.
I
left with an agenda and a resolution, having learnt some poignant lessons from
a great leader. I left energized and motivated. I know that I will remember a
lot of what Elumelu had taught in the amphitheatre along my own journey.
By
Bola Atta

 

Director
Marketing & Corporate Communications.
  

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