U.S. AND AFRICAN PERSPECTIVES ON LEADERSHIP
Tony O. Elumelu, CON,
Founder, The Tony Elumelu Foundation
Mandela Washington Fellowship Summit
2nd August 2017
- As students of history, you must also recognize the role President Barack Obama played and most importantly we recognize Madiba himself.
- I would like to start by thanking the US government for making this happen, creating a forum like this for those to whom the future of Africa belongs.
- Africa indeed is in great need of leaders like Madiba and that is why it excites me to interact with you today, 1000 Africans that the future truly belongs and those who must seize the future to actually start to shape the destiny of our continent.
- My colleagues prepared some remarks for me today, I am going to have it pasted on our website after our conversation today but I have decided that this should adopt a different pattern
- This to me is like conversations with my siblings, conversations with my younger brothers and sisters from the same family. You have been through this programme, coming to the end and the academic work has been done, the conceptual definitions and understanding of leadership all shared with you.
- I think what I want to do with you today is the practicality of it in the context of our continent and more importantly, a call to all of you to realize that Africa is indeed is in great need of 21st century leaders who will help to transform the continent.
- For a continent that is hugely endowed with so much, we should actually be a land of plenty but unfortunately, we have not been able to get it right and the only reason it is this way is the dearth of good leadership across both the private and public sectors.
- I would like to share the burden that I carry as I travel all around the world and you see progress but the progress that you see in other parts of the world is a bit lacking on our continent so when the US government organizes an event like this and selects indeed great Africans like you, we must seize the opportunity.
- That is what smart people do, when smart people get an opportunity, they exploit it fully. We would not be exploiting this if in some years to come, Africa remains the way it has always been.
- Today, you are going to graduate and become Mandela fellows so I say congrats to all of you but more importantly you carry a huge moral burden, what you are going through or going to pass through is not an end, you should see it as a means to an end. Until you are able to fulfil the aspirations and dreams that Mandela had for Africa then it can be said you are not worthy to become an associate or fellow of Mandela
- We must begin to walk the talk in Africa. If you are called an apostle or follower of someone, you should do no less.
- Mandela lived a great life, he realized a purpose, that is, apartheid should be corrected, he also realized that for a man to dream is one thing but a dream is nothing if you don’t convert it to reality.
- And so, having defined the purpose, he went about trying to make it possible and in the process, he encountered a lot of people, challenges, difficulties but he never gave up. He finally got the opportunity to bring his country together, South Africa got independence and ruled by blacks.
- What he fought for –apartheid- was a system that was obnoxious and totally not good for the people. He loved people, he sacrificed his family for people, he sacrificed the active part of his life for his people and up to the end, you saw how he lived his life, in a continent were people want to die in office, he thought it was time to move on.
- So you are going to be called Mandela fellows, Africa at a time like this needs you, Africa has gone through its own colonialism, our fathers fought for the political emancipation of Africa but today we have poverty.
- Africa is colonized by hunger and poverty and so if you are called Mandela fellows, you should go back with an agenda that leadership occurs at every level and that whilst apartheid is gone, there are other forms of oppression, injustice and hardship and the greatest of it all is poverty, manifesting itself in so many other ways.
- Youth unemployment in Africa is a challenge to all of us, it is a threat to everyone and at times I wonder if we or our leaders or everyone recognize what this means.
- We must all work hard to put the youth out of the streets, failure to do that is a doom for all of us, we have natural resource and a demographic structure that if well harnessed can confer a competitive advantage on us as a continent in the 21st century but we are not doing all that we need to do.
- So, your generation should be a different generation, it should not be a talk generation. It should not be a generation that knows only how to complain but unable to change things when opportunity arises.
- Your generation should not be a passive and docile generation, we know in Canada a man under the age of 39 Trudeau is the President, in France, Macron just came on.
- And so, if my generation is wasted and those who came before us, your generation should be different and don’t ever use my generation as a yardstick for not doing what you should be doing.
- We must all realize that in the 21st century no one but us will develop our continent.
- And if we have failed to play that role, you must do things differently because you are better informed, the age you are operating is an age of empowerment, the age you have everything to make a difference.
- We should stop being totally passive about how we are governed
- When we were growing up, we used to think that politics was for second class people but we have long realized the stupidity in that kind of thought, the basics supports the super structure because if you have a weak foundation the structure will not last.
- We remain a continent whose destiny is shaped by people who we think or call second class citizens
- And I say to people, when you go to a country (and I know for afact a country), where a mad man directs the flow of traffic. It tells you that something is fundamentally wrong with that society, it tells you that everyone is beneath the IQ of that mad man or the mad man will shape everyone to operate in that fashion and that is what this generation should be intolerant of otherwise you will not be paying a good reward to the name you are carrying or to the US government that has thought it wise, really wise because I am one of those people who have said the age we live in is not one of handouts, teach people how to become self-reliant and fishermen.
- And I believe that knowledge is one of the best things you can give to mankind and gathering all of you from 49 African countries in this room, 1000 of you to train you about the values of leadership is indeed one of the best gifts anyone can give to us as a continent but it behooves all of us to take advantage of this unique moment and opportunity.
- So, as you go back to your respective places, you must make certain resolutions
- First, you should tell yourself that this is just a beginning – a call to action and that you will fulfil the action
- Two, you must tell yourself the that leadership is not all about the President or political leadership and that leadership occurs at every level. There is so much that every one of us can do and you must play your own part in making this happen.
- ]I’m told that in the gathering, we have entrepreneurs, people in the public sector, NGO/civil society.
- I was discussing with some of my colleagues last week that a society that lacks pressure groups will not survive and that is what I see in most African countries. We must hold our political leaders accountable, we must ask for good leadership in the public and private sectors.
- It is the minimum, absolute minimum that Africa needs at a time like this
- Thirdly, you must tell yourself that this is not a complaint or complaining generation, this is a doing generation. We talk too much and we complain too much.
- We must realize that there is no time in history than now that we have a renewed moment to assert leadership and you must realize that leadership to a large extent is not bestowed, it is not handed-over to you. You must prepare yourself for leadership and you will be able to accept it.
- There is a leadership vacuum in Africa, in the public sector there is, in the private sector there is and that leader can be you. It should in fact be yourselves.
- So I will end by saying, we have had struggles for political independence but we have come to realize that equally important, if not more important – economic employment, jobs for our young ones, economic prosperity for everyone, inclusive growth that recognizes everyone, bringing our womenfolk into the activities of the state and the economy.
- Finally, if there is one thing you must not forget from today’s conversation is –legacy, it is legacy. I have tried to study mankind, I have tried to study leaders, both political and business leaders because I try to be a good leader and I have try to see those leaders that I respect and why they were successful.
- Hindsight as they say is the biggest teacher, when I look at these people their lives, their doctrines, their writings, their philosophies etc. I see a common thread of legacy.
- When you start with the end in view, you do well, so as young leaders to whom the future of our continent truly belongs, whom must struggle to assume leadership just like our parents struggled for political leadership, we must think legacy, you must ask yourself how will I like to be remembered.
- Because it is in finding answers to those questions that true meaning of our existence as human beings is explained
- When my family and I decided to launch the Tony Elumelu Foundation and endowed the Foundation with a sum of $100 million to train, capitalize and empower 10,000 Africans, we didn’t do it because we were the richest or because we have so much, we struggled to make it happen.
- But it was all about defining, understanding and reconciling ourselves to how we want to be remembered long after we are gone because what does it profit anyone to keep all your resources in the Bank accounts, you don’t even know how your kids are going to spend the money
- If you do not share part of it to bring economic prosperity to everyone realizing that poverty anywhere is a threat to mankind everywhere
- So ladies and gentlemen as you go back, one word – legacy, thank you very much.
Questions and Answers
- Comment on why there are African leaders that do not want to leave office?
- The answer is legacy, when people realize that they cannot be in one place forever and that whatever you are today, the people coming after will even surpass it and think of what history will say about them, they will do things differently.
- However, South Africa did not get independence on a platter of gold and that is why I say this generation maybe a different type of generation. to this generation, we need to demand what is good for us.
- We are ruled by people who biologically have a few years to go and they are going to leave challenges for you.
- We are being doomed and misled by those who have less than 10 more years on earth, so it calls into question a lot.
- This generation does not even know the level of power they have. We live in a digital age where in Africa in ao= those under the age of 30 constitute 60% of our population.
- So there is power to effect positive changes, just that it takes time for people to realize the power that they have and the old politicians are manipulating an exploiting this weakness.
- Mandela fellows, you must always remember what Mandela stood for and in the context of what we are suffering today. His era was political apartheid, today it is difficult for people to eat and send children to school.
- We must therefore friend true essence of who we are and who we want to be in the 21st century by asking deep questions to ourselves.
- What is the role of Tony Elumelu and the Tony Elumelu Foundation in changing the political frame in Africa?
- Setting up the Tony Elumelu Foundation is about economically empowering our young ones and I would be happy if one day a Tony Elumelu Entrepreneur become the President of their country and it will happen.
- We also play an advocacy role because we realize that for entrepreneurs to succeed, the operating environment must be right and we engage with government to help shape policies.
- Some governments, we capacities them, we send fellows especially in economic management area.
- So, I would say changing Africa is a collective responsibility for all of us. Every one of us must realize that we need Africa an improved Africa in the 21st century because the truth is the world is moving and new leadership is evolving in other parts of the world and we may face a huge risk of Africa even retarding further instead of making progress
- So Tony Elumelu, Tony Elumelu Foundation, yourselves, friends of Africa and other Africans must realize that we need a new kind of leadership, public sector and private sector to move Africa forward.
- How do you deal with other governments trying to interfere in Africa?
- In the 21st century, we need massive investments into Africa and investments should not have any coloration.
- We should encourage Africans to invest in Africa, Chinese, Japanese, Americans because it is the inflow of investments that will ultimately help us to create the jobs that we need as a continent and that is encapsulated in the economic philosophy of Africapitalism.
- That is the private sector getting involved by investing in key sectors that will help create economic prosperity and social wealth and we need to begin to change our mentality as a people.
- In the 21st century, we should be engaging in a different fashion to create opportunities.
- If we have the right leadership, our leadership will engage in a manner that creates opportunities for their people. It is the lack of opportunities which is driven by the myopia of leadership that creates the kind of problems that we see
- How did you do it, build UBA, what inspired you to start TEF and what happens after TEF?
- The first reason is our people, what you are to the continent of Africa is what people are to our organization.
- Our leaders should encourage you all because leaders who are there today will not be there forever.
- So, great leaders have a pipeline of successors, so that when they live others will come in because it is inevitable. so, we assembled the right team, shared the aspirations, they owned it and bought into it and we had a three-tier strategic intent.
- Tier 1 was to get a distressed bank and turn it around and make it viable and we gave ourselves timeframe. So leaders it’s always good to have a purpose, a vision and create milestones and put timeframe to it because I would like you to develop long term aspirations and to think long term in accomplishing those aspirations because it is in the long term that you actually create meaningful impact
- If you don’t create milestones and make some wins, you maybe discouraged.
- The second-tier intent was to become one of the top 10 banks in the country, work hard and accomplished it
- The third-tier intent was to become of the top 3 banks and we accomplished that. so i will say that s. so all of this helped us to accomplish what we accomplished.
- So I would say that significantly helped, getting the right people, thinking about what we want to achieve, setting milestones, working very hard, being resilient. All of these helped us to achieve what we want to achieve.
- Motivation: I grew up as a typical African boy – born, bred and schooled in Africa, worked in Africa and attained a level of comfort. When I retired as CEO of UBA and asked myself if I can institutionalize luck because we are all a product of many factors, the kind of place you worked, the kind of leaders you have, your upbringing- So I just felt that it would be nice to give support to young Africans who have ideas and not capital.
- When you have crossed the level you are today, it is easier for Banks to give you loans but at just concept, it would be hard for you to get loans.
- The next thing was should it be a Nigerian or African focused Foundation, I realized I think it was Benjamin Disreali, that said this thing about poverty anywhere being a threat to mankind everywhere and because I am born in Nigeria, and more of an African citizen, there is need to let prosperity spread. At the end of the day, our hope is that not what we do as a Foundation but how we help to catalyze action for example, we talk to other organizations and say we have many people applying, take some and help. We want this to be a movement on the continent.
- In 7years time, we would either do another programme or engage in other things but it’s all about creating economic opportunity for everyone.
- Do you feel the overthrow of Gaddafi was justified?
- I think it’s a tough question and my colleagues would be cringing that I should not say something but I want to say something.
- Nature abhors vacuum and Africa we need to take our destiny into our hands.
- We must be concerned about the narrative on Africa, we must be able to tell our stories ourselves. We must be able to let those we relate with know things that are important to us as a people.
- We must not allow our agenda to be set for us. Leadership is not alien to Africa, when my grandparents talk about Africa, you see leadership is firmly rooted in our history and origin as a people and the way we define leadership is different from China.
- We must not allow one form of leadership define the leadership for the rest of the world. People have argued and I’m in that camp that the absence of some people have created regional and security imbalance. We also have seen the situation where people have repented and turned a new leaf and become better leaders. At some point, the world will debate some of these issues political students and actors who played a role will comment further on this issue.
- What do we do to encourage other endowed Africans to support young entrepreneurs?
- I am a strong believer in prosperity and in the fact, we should not criminalize wealth but it becomes an issue when your wealth is self-centered because the type of growth we need in Africa is inclusive growth and mutual prosperity.
- And this is defined in the legacy, I think it is a deficit of the mind for a man to think hee can accumulate wealth forever. You must find how to share what you accumulate.
- I think we should engage in social media, writing in a constructive many to show that what we are doing and I have seen how what we are doing is catalyzing others .
- And it happens, the history of America where philanthropy is significantly advanced it took the passing of JP Morgan, Vanderbilt for the world to wake up to do things differently.
- It is a journey, it has begun and we hope that others will catch up. It’s about legacy, not the money in your bank account that people will remember you for , it’s the impsct thst you created people will remember you for.
- How do you deal with rejection?
Entrepreneurs do not give up, they are resilient
- Can you prescribe a career path to those who enter politics?
I totally support paying our leaders well, let’s support them so that we can hold them firmly accountable. The reason we don’t have it is because when people are in office, they don’t thin legacy and they don’t distinguish themselves. Those public-sector leaders should realize there is life after service.
- How do you help capital intensive businesses like mine to scale and will you be willing to invest in my business?
I can’t tell you if I will invest but send a mail to Heirs Holdings in terms of scale we are trying to set up a pan African fund. Congratulations on your success, that is what you all owe me to create more jobs.
Tony O. Elumelu, CON
Chairman, Heirs Holdings Group
Founder, The Tony Elumelu Foundation
Twitter: @TonyOElumelu; Facebook: Tony Elumelu, and Instagram @TonyOElumelu
Twitter: @Heirs_Holdings and Instagram: @HeirsHoldings
Twitter: @TonyElumeluFDN and Instagram: @TonyElumeluFoundation