Folorunso Alakija

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“Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well” – these are the words of this month’s deserving entrepreneur, Folorunso Alakija. Acquiring an oil license for one of the most lucrative oil blocks in Nigeria, starting her own high-end fashion house and founder of The Rose of Sharon Foundation, to name but a few, Alakija has unreservedly earned her position as the wealthiest black woman in the world today.

Today, Forbes estimates that Folorunso Alakija is worth more than US$2.6 billion, placing this highly motivated entrepreneur as the second richest lady in Africa and the wealthiest black woman in the world. And not surprisingly, given her interesting background, Alakija has even overtaken Oprah Winfrey in the wealth stakes.

Sent over to England to study, Alakija remained in the capital, studying at American College in London and the Central School of Fashion, before moving back to Nigeria to work as a secretary for First National Bank of Chicago amongst others.

Living by her motto – ‘Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well’ – It seems the talents of Alakija for fashion and design persevered and on returning to Nigeria in 1985, she started her own fashion house, Supreme Stitches, which was renamed The Rose Of Sharon House of Fashion in 1996. Catering for Nigeria’s elite, including the former First Lady, Maryam Babangida, Supreme Stitches soon became a recognised name and Alakija won the Best Designer in 1986, just a year after the company was established.

From fashion to fuel, this month’s entrepreneur has had a rather successful run within the energy industry too, acquiring an Oil Prospecting License in 1993 for Famfa Oil. The Agbami Field, located 70 miles offshore Nigeria, it is one of the first major discoveries in the deep water Gulf of Guinea. Situated in water depths between 1,280 and 1,650 meters, the OPL 216 – later converted to OML 127 – is one of the most lucrative and prolific blocks in Nigeria.

Executive Vice Chairman of Famfa Oil Limited, Alakija went into a joint venture agreement in 1996 with Star Deep Water Petroleum Ltd – a wholly owned subsidiary of Texaco – giving away 40% stake and appointing the company as technical advisors for the exploration of the license. 8% of this stake was later sold to Petrobras, with Alakija still retaining 60% of the company today.

The OML 127 oil field had its first appraisal well confirmed in 2000 to have recoverable reserves in excess of one billion barrels of oil equivalent.

Living in Lagos, Nigeria with her husband of 35 years, Alakija also has an extensive real estate portfolio which is estimated at US$100 million. It was reported last year that she purchased a property at One Hyde Park for US$102 million – one of, if not the most sought after location in London.

Owner of several luxury apartments and a private plane, Alakija is also the Executive Vice Chairman of Dayspring Property Development Company Limited, a real estate company with investments in different countries around the world.

Not stopping at real estate or fashion, Alakija is also the first woman in the print industry with the launch of Digital Reality Print Limited in 2006.

With an infallible desire to help the less-fortunate, Alakija set up The Rose of Sharon Foundation (ROSF) on May 23rd 2008, which helps to provide moral and financial support to widows and orphans. A voluntary, non-profit, faith based and non-governmental Organisation based in Lagos state, Nigeria the ROSF hopes to ease the everyday burdens that widows and orphans experience and draws on the strong community network.

In July last year, Alakija donated US$4.5 million to the Victim’s Support Fund, helping to provide relief to those affected by insurgencies in Nigeria over the last few years, in an initiative set up by Nigerian President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.

Through her company, Alakija has given scholarships to almost 9,000 medical and engineering students globally and has donated 21 chest clinics for the treatment of tuberculosis (TB) in 21 different states in Nigeria and 21 science laboratories in 21 different states – including nine in the Niger Delta region and Lagos State).

Despite not having a university degree, Alakija has become a hugely successful businesswoman and entrepreneur and is now keen to press the importance of sheer hard work and determination to the younger generations. Visiting university students in Lagos last year during a ceremony to mark the 2014 UN International Youths Day, Alakija challenged the students and made it clear that today, a university degree is an added advantage towards success.

“So I am 63 and I am not yet done. So what is your excuse? I never went to a University and I am proud to say so because I don’t think I have done too badly.

“You do not have to have a university education to be able to make it so count yourselves privileged to have that education as part of the feather in your cap. It’s essential to draw up a ‘things to do’ list on a daily basis and set priorities in executing them, making sure that any unfinished task get posted to the next day’s list.”

With what seems an endless list of successes and accomplishments, Alakija, at 61, is not resting on her laurels just yet, becoming a well-deserved role model for young students all over the world.

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