Wednesday, June 23, 2010

African Entrepreneur Honored. Congrats!

Upon accepting his award as African Business Leader of the Year, Wale Tinubu, CEO of Oando PLC, an integrated energy company based in Nigeria, spoke passionately about what Africa needs.

“The support of the international community—not aid, we need credit, we need support. We need opportunities for people to get the opportunity of changing their lives, and the only way that is going to happen is by commercial support for the continent.”

The African Business Awards are given out by African Business magazine and the Commonwealth Business Council to recognize business excellence in Africa.

Tinubu says he started Oando with $100, but managed to get loans to launch, albeit at a rate of 10 percent each month. He saw an opportunity to fuel the ships working on oil rigs in Nigeria. His business grew into a major energy outfit, Nigeria’s leading fuel retailer. And now has drilling rights. Oando has become Africa’s largest, if not first, indigenous, private sector integrated energy firm, with plans to capture the gas flared in the Niger Delta to provide energy for Nigeria.

Publisher of African Business Magazine Omar Ben Yedder said of Tinubu, “he has pioneered the execution of world class initiatives in the West Africa region as a business leader, social entrepreneur and philanthropist.” Other companies and leaders who have made contributions to the development of the continent, the economic aspirations of its citizens and the transformation of Africa’s image in international markets were also honored alongside Tinubu.

42-year-old Tinubu launched his business fifteen years ago, and it would appear this is only the beginning of a massive project that dovetails with Nigeria’s plans to develop the oil business indigenously. Long the preserve of foreign companies, Nigeria, the continent’s primary oil producer, is looking to keep the development and profits with Nigerians.

The Niger Delta, rich in oil, has also been a hotbed of instability, with impoverished locals feeling left out of the boom, and criminal gangs, exploiting a certain lawlessness over the years, to sabotage oil installations, siphon off and steal crude and kidnap foreign oil workers. Corruption in Nigeria is rife, so many criticize the central government for not forcing compliance of oil companies, and not keeping order in the Delta. Tinubu says that is changing, after an amnesty granted to those who terrorized the Niger Delta, and that the government is earmarking much of the oil revenue for that part of the country. It is just a matter of distributing it effectively, and enforcing equitable distribution of construction contracts, which most observers, including Tinubu, agree is a massive challenge. Part of Tinubu’s business plan is to help the locals and make them feel invested in and taken care of by the region, so he is funding schools and hospitals in the Delta region.

Another part of Tinubu’s plan is expanding what he calls the “repatriate” base of his company. He estimates he lures 50 of Nigeria’s best and brightest in the oil business back to work in their country, as opposed to abroad.

And he hopes his award will inspire other young business-minded Africans.

“We are a reference point for budding entrepreneurs who want to make a difference on my continent,” he said.

Though Nigeria-watchers are cautious in their assessments of progress in governance and fighting corruption, Tinubu is enthusiastic.

“Corruption is down. Growth is up. There is economic progress and vitality.” He said in his acceptance speech, “There is a belief, there is an indomitable will to succeed irrespective of the odds.”

But he acknowledges that the stakes are high for business, regardless of home base.

“To live in today’s world, you have to compete on a globalized platform. Africa will not have an exception.”

The African Business Awards were a reason for celebration, he said. “It’s not usual we get positive coverage of our continent. Typically, as somebody said earlier tonight, you get stories about famine, disease, coups. The truth of the matter is Africa is changing. It is vibrant.”

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