What the richest woman in Africa taught me

The business principles that Nigeria's Folorunsho Alakija lives by


I recently had the privilege of being introduced to Folorunsho  Alakija at a conference for young entrepreneurs in Lagos, Nigeria.  Mrs Alakija shared some of her wisdom with the delegates. 

Folorunsho Alakija, born in 1951, is the richest self-made woman in Africa according to Forbes magazine and is one of just two female billionaires on the continent. She is a business tycoon involved in the fashion, oil and printing industries. 

Folorunsho studied secretarial studies and fashion design in London before going back to Nigeria to work as an executive secretary where she worked for some years before starting her tailoring company, Supreme Stitches. It rose to prominence in a few years and as the Rose of Sharon House of Fashion, became a household name. 

"Accept positive criticism and surround yourself with people who encourage you"

Folorunsho Alakija on the cover
of Forbes Woman.

This upscale fashion label catered to Nigeria’s elite, including the wife of the former military president, Ibrahim Babangida. This connection paid off as in 1993 she applied for an oil prospecting license which was granted to her company and in 1996 entered into a joint venture with Star Deep Water Petroleum Limited (a wholly owned subsidiary of Texaco).

These are the 14 points she spoke about which she believes made a significant difference in her life and are key for a successful entrepreneur.

1. Have a mission: not just your business but you, personally. What is your life purpose and how are you going to achieve this?
2. Be authentic. 
3. Set SMART goals, often and always. 
4. Have a clear understanding of what you do and what you want to achieve. De-clutter your life and your mind. Some would call this being dedicated and single-minded. 
5. Focus on the positive. Learn from failures and focus on the successful and strengths. 
6. Time management: be efficient with your time as you cannot replace it and know that tardy time-keeping reflects badly on yourself. 
7. Don’t take no for an answer. 
8. Accept positive criticism and surround yourself with people who encourage you. 
9. Dare to be different. Stand out from the crowd. 
10. Go the extra mile.  
11. Acquire new skills. You never know enough or cannot learn.
12. Associate with successful people. 
13. Don’t leave your families behind.
14. Believe in your idea and give it everything. 

About the author: Stephen Read is the founder and CEO of FIELD an incubator programme working in rural and under-resourced areas including Katlehong, Vosloorus and Thokoza. Stephen is also a life-long entrepreneur and now a teacher.

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