With an early start to trading, Ayodeji Balogun started learning trade and business operations as a teenager through his family business. At thirteen he consummated his first business venture, a transaction which at today’s value is worth $4,000 and managing his family owned commodities trading business with turnover in excess of USD15 million, he further went ahead to found a haulage business, was part of a mobile service start-up and also part owner of an agribusiness venture. Ayodeji in his entirety is “The Entrepreneur” as founder, Tony O. Elumelu fondly referred to him.
Fresh out of university after an undergraduate degree in Engineering, Ayodeji decided to follow his passion for business going on to study for an MBA, with the ultimate objective to understand how institutions, and not just businesses were built and with great passion to build a Pan-African corporate profile, he applied for the Elumelu Professionals Program – (formely known as African Markets Internship Programme (AMIP)) “I needed some validation of the experience gained from my years of venturing as a young entrepreneur in an emerging market and the structured thinking capacity from the MBA. AMIP placed me among 30 other fresh MBAs from the best schools in Europe, North America, and Africa, and we had 100 days of cross-pollinating ideas and cultures and had an immersion into the African Business Landscape.”
Through the EPP, Ayodeji supported several private sector enabling policy initiatives at the Tony Elumelu Foundation including designing the Nigerian National Competitiveness Council and drafting a bill to regulate the non-profit sector in Nigeria. His work at the Tony Elumelu Foundation this he says gave him the confidence and courage to compete, and within five years after the program and fueled with love for business and building a career around Impact Investing/Finance, he has grown from an analyst to running the West Africa operations of a Commodities Exchange – African Exchange (AFEX), being on the board of several Nigerian Capital Market institutions and serving in advisory roles on food security and poverty alleviation across East and West Africa.
Ayodeji Balogun currently serves as the Country Manager for AFEX Commodities Exchange Limited (AFEX Nigeria) and the Business Lead for Africa Exchange Holdings Limited in West Africa, where he is pioneering the development of a private sector led commodities exchange and warehouse receipt system. Prior to his role as Country Manager, Ayodeji oversees developing the company’s new market entry strategy in East and West Africa, Ayodeji doubles as the Product Development Manager, leading value chain development in the Agriculture Sector, and designing physical and derivative contracts for commodities across markets in Africa.
AFEX’s approach is to leverage technology to build efficient supply chain networks within Africa’s rural agrarian communities, linking the farmers to both financial and commodity markets. At AFEX, Ayodeji and his team are taking bold steps to transform agriculture into a dynamic market-oriented one by working to provide finance to promote increased access to trade finance for micro, small and medium enterprises entrepreneurs in import/export sectors to enable them explore market opportunities.
In just a short while Ayodeji has recorded success which he says is the owes to learning the principles of “Execution” working under the Heirs Holdings Group – “Execution remains the most important thing I have learnt working within the Heirs Holdings Group and has been a critical success factor in my post-MBA career, The ability to break complex ideas and projects into smaller bits and get them done on time, despite all odds”
Despite this success, Ayodeji says he has encountered several challenges especially around the operating environment “Doing business in Africa is particularly difficult, especially in sectors like agriculture, and with the commodities exchange business model which has more stories of failure than success in sub-Saharan Africa. I will say I have been blessed with an outstanding team at AFEX, and I have fellow managers with very complementary skills and a buy into the vision, and the transformational impact the business could provide to millions of poor farmers in Africa”. Beyond these challenges is a man targeting Direct Impact on 1million Farmers by 2020 through AFEX. This impact he has also extended through mentorship as he continues to mentor younger entrepreneurs through the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship programme and looks forward to contributing more both in the business startup space and the broader political economy in Nigeria.