The Rise To Grace –The Early Days Of  Tony Elumelu

Nmesoma Okwudili


January 28, 2024

Anthony Onyemaechi Elumelu CFR, born on March 22, 1963, in Jos, Plateau, Nigeria, has emerged as a distinguished Nigerian economist and philanthropist. His influential journey in the business world, investment, and entrepreneurship has left an indelible mark on both the African and global stages.

Elumelu’s origins can be traced back to Onicha-Ukwu in Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State. Growing up in a family with four siblings, including Ndudi Elumelu, a prominent figure in the Nigerian Federal House of Representatives, Tony’s early life laid the foundation for his future endeavours. He pursued his studies in economics at Bendel State University, now known as Ambrose Alli University, and later earned a Master of Science degree in Economics from the University of Lagos.

Elumelu embarked on his professional journey in 1985 as a Youth Corp member at the Nigerian Bank Union Bank, marking the initiation of his career in the banking sector. His initial years were marked by the challenges confronted by numerous young Nigerian graduates, eager to make their mark. Unfazed, Elumelu’s commitment drove him to make significant contributions to Standard Trust Bank and later United Bank for Africa (UBA) after a merger in 2005.

Taking on the role of Group Managing Director, Elumelu steered UBA’s transformation from a single-country banking group to a pan-African powerhouse. With subsidiaries in 20 African countries and expansions into France, the U.S., and the U.K., UBA’s growth under Elumelu’s leadership was substantial. His contributions saw him receive numerous accolades, including being named Africa’s Business Leader of the Year in 2008.

In 2010, Elumelu founded Heirs Holdings, a family-owned investment holding company with diversified interests spanning various sectors such as power, hospitality, energy, real estate, and more. His vision extended beyond business, leading to the establishment of the Tony Elumelu Foundation in the same year.

The foundation reflects Elumelu’s dedication to promoting entrepreneurship and development in Africa. Through funding, mentorship, and training programs, the foundation has played a pivotal role in empowering aspiring entrepreneurs, creating job opportunities, and contributing to economic growth across the continent. Elumelu’s dedication to Africa’s development aligns with his economic philosophy of Africapitalism, emphasizing the private sector’s transformative power.

Throughout the years, Tony Elumelu has left a substantial impact across Africa with his extensive investment initiatives, covering 20 African countries, including his homeland, Nigeria.

As the chairman of the United Bank for Africa (UBA), Elumelu has played a crucial role in establishing the bank as a Pan-African leader. UBA’s influence extends to facilitating intra-Africa and international trade, cross-border payments, and remittances, positioning it as a preferred partner for the last-mile distribution of donor funds throughout the continent.

Elumelu’s vision for catalysing Africa’s growth has been instrumental in financing key projects and business transactions that contribute to the overall economic development of the continent. This commitment has positively impacted the standard of living for many Africans.

In addition to his role at UBA, Elumelu wears multiple hats. He is the founder of Heirs Holding, an African investment company with diverse interests in financial services, energy production, oil and gas, agriculture, real estate, and hospitality. He also serves as the chairman at Transcorp PLC, Nigeria’s largest conglomerate. Furthermore, Elumelu is the founder of The Tony Elumelu Foundation, an organization dedicated to catalysing entrepreneurship across Africa.

In recent times, Elumelu’s business presence extended into the United Arab Emirates, marking UBA as the first Nigerian bank to venture into the region. During the launch, Elumelu emphasized UBA’s African identity, operating in 20 African countries and maintaining a pan-African focus. He expressed the bank’s commitment to being an economic powerhouse that connects Africa to the rest of the world, with a growing international presence.

Elumelu highlighted the bank’s revenue distribution, with a near 50/50 split between Nigeria and the rest of the world, a balance expected to evolve further with the bank’s expanding international reach. The primary goal remains supporting African companies, particularly small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), engaged in cross-border business. The bank also collaborates with governments to provide physical and social infrastructure across Africa, contributing to economic development.

During a recent event, Oliver Alawuba, the Group Managing Director of the bank, emphasized UBA’s role as a pioneer in African banking. The bank leverages digital solutions to support financial inclusion and business activities for individuals, SMEs, and corporates, with over 80% of transactions processed through digital and electronic channels. This commitment has solidified UBA’s position as the preferred financial institution in Africa.

The influence of Tony Elumelu has not escaped notice on the global stage. In 2020, he earned a well-deserved spot on Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people. His leadership in both business and philanthropy has earned him prestigious awards, such as Forbes Africa Person of the Year in 2015.

Africapitalism, at the heart of Elumelu’s beliefs, positions the private sector and entrepreneurs as catalysts for social and economic development in Africa. His vision extends beyond business success, aiming to inspire a new generation of leaders who can contribute to Africa’s rise on the global stage.

In 2024, Tony Elumelu is actively engaged in the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP). The 2024 TEEP intervention prioritizes supporting entrepreneurs, particularly focusing on mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on economic activities.

The Tony Elumelu Foundation aims to empower individuals across Africa, fostering economic growth, eradicating poverty, and promoting job creation. As part of TEEP, aspiring African entrepreneurs can apply for a $5,000 grant to support their initiatives. The foundation, led by Tony Elumelu, plays a crucial role in contributing to the development and empowerment of individuals across the continent.

Tony Elumelu’s journey from a young, ambitious graduate to a globally recognized figure showcases the transformative power of dedication, vision, and entrepreneurship. His impact on the African business landscape and commitment to empowering the next generation of leaders solidify his legacy as a visionary and influential force for positive change in Africa.


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