Tolu Orekoya profiles Tony O. Elumelu: Here’s a man with vision (Y!/ Person of the Year 2013 Nominee)

by Tolu Orekoya

Tony Elumelu
Tony Elumelu

He is demanding and a perfectionist; a man who strives for excellence without compromise and more than a few have crashed and burned, unable to keep up with his exacting standards.

He is a man driven by vision, who sees his home country and his continent not without hope, but as opportunities that are competitive, flourishing, and viable—opportunities with the capacity to have quantitative positive change for the continent’s people—for the few who dare. And none of these are hyperbole.


Tony O. Elumelu, TOE as he would be called, engineered one of Nigeria’s most daring mergers when Nigeria’s fifth largest bank, Standard Trust Bank (STB) and third largest United Bank for Africa (UBA) came under one roof and he emerged at the helm of the newly formed entity. Under his stewardship UBA began an era of rapid expansion and growth. Then, a spanner got thrown into the works: with the Central Bank limitations on terms for bank CEO’s, his tenure was cut short. There was no break in his stride however, as UBA quickly lined up the next CEO, and TOE went on to set up the single family office known as Heirs Holdings (HH).

Tucked away in a quiet corner of Ikoyi, HH is perhaps overshadowed by its philanthropic arm, The Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF). Nevertheless the company is a many-tentacled behemoth, with interests in energy, healthcare, property development and agriculture just to name a few, all of which push the Nigerian economy from the bottom up.


Its Transnational Corporation (Transcorp) subsidiary for instance, has had a remarkable couple of years. From the ashes of a national disaster has emerged a leaner more focused machine, rededicated to its vision of being a large-scale Korean chaebol-like company, which could serve as the underpinning for several key industries. The recent investment in the Ughelli power plant, will inject more power into the grid, getting the power plant to 65% of its 1000MW capacity by 2015.

The juice processing plant in Benue, thanks to Teragro (a Transcorp subsidiary), could in time be a lifeline for fruit farmers in the middle belt, providing them with a buyer for fruit that would otherwise be left to rot on trees.

HH has invested in building a commodities exchange in East Africa for which plans are humming away according to plan, and he has set his sights on acquiring the Abuja Commodity Exchange, which could go a long way to bringing stability to the commodities market and for smallholder farmers, and enhance the efforts of the Nigeria’s ministry of agriculture to become more competitive on the global scale.

The recent razing and redevelopment of the Falomo Shopping Complex? That too is by an HH subsidiary, Heirs Real Estate Limited, in a private-public partnership Lagos State Development Property Corporation.

TEF is the beating heart of this organisation though, powered by the notion of Africapitalism. With the aim of creating meaningful impact through investments, it has programmes and projects aimed at creating impact, large and small all over the continent. Developing entrepreneurship and leadership on the continent, policy and research, access to finance are the broad strokes of the foundation. He is a firm believer in developing young local entrepreneurs and leaders and sharing his knowledge and passion with them.

There is a lot going on for TOE and at 50, he shows no sign of slowing down. It is little wonder he engenders fierce loyalty in a small cadre of devout acolytes who have flourished under his leadership.

He is, at the heart of it all, a man who realises that time is short and there is a lot of work to do.


Orekoya is sub-editor of Y!/

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