“Let me tell you this and I want to really emphasize it. Nothing is going to help Nigeria like Nigerians bringing back their money. If you give me $5 billion today, I will invest everything here in Nigeria. Let us put our heads together and work” – Aliko Dangote.
Being the richest man in a country is one thing, but being the richest in the entire continent is something else. Aliko Dangote is today the richest man in Africa due to his investments in various commodities through his brand, Dangote Group. He is now the world’s richest man of African descent too.
Born in 1957, Dangote grew up in an entrepreneurial household in Kano State, Nigeria. He was raised Muslim and had been exposed to an upper-class lifestyle since his birth. Dangote’s grandfather, Sanusi Dantata, was once named one of the wealthiest people living in Kano. He made his fortune by selling commodities such as oats and rice. Dantata became Dangote’s guardian in 1965, following the death of his father.
Having spent much of his childhood with his grandfather, Dangote quickly became interested in the world of business. He once said, “I can remember when I was in primary school, I would go and buy cartons of sweets [sugar boxes] and I would start selling them just to make money. I was so interested in business, even at that time.”
At age 21, Dangote graduated from Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, one of Islam’s prestigious universities. It was there the budding entrepreneur furthered his education in business. During an interview this year with Forbes, Dangote explained, “When you are raised by an entrepreneurial parent or grandparent, you pick that aspiration. It makes you be much more aggressive–to think anything is possible.”
After graduating from college in 1977, Dangote managed to convince his uncle to lend him $3,000 to start a business. The funds from the loan allowed him to import soft commodities at wholesale prices from international suppliers. Two of his main imports were rice from Thailand and sugar from Brazil. He then sold those items in small quantities, and at a lucrative markup, to consumers in his village. The venture quickly became successful and turned into a cash cow. Dangote claims that on some of his best days, he was realizing a daily net profit of $10,000. That allowed him to repay his uncle in only three months.
In 1997, Dangote realized that acting as a middleman was a very costly endeavor, and so he built a plant to produce what he had been importing and selling for the previous 20 years. His company began to produce pasta, sugar, salt and flour. Around the same time, Dangote was awarded a state-owned cement company. Dangote significantly expanded the operations of the company in 2005 by constructing a multimillion-dollar manufacturing plant. The construction was financed with $319 million of Dangote’s own money in addition to a $479 million loan from the World Bank International Finance Corporation.
Each of his manufacturing divisions has since been separated into different publicly traded companies. Dangote Sugar Refinery Plc., for example, was listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange in 2007. As of September, the company’s market cap was ₦82 billion ($411 million). Dangote subsequently took his salt, flour and cement segments public. Those businesses became the National Salt Company of Nigeria Plc., Dangote Flour Mills Plc., and Dangote Cements Plc., respectively.
Dangote has always reinvested the majority of his profits back into his businesses, which is one reason the company has grown so much since inception. During an interview with Al Jazeera News, he explained,‘‘We [Dangote Group] are not doing like other Africans who keep most of their money in the bank. We do not keep money in bank. We fully invest whatever we have and we keep on investing.’’
Dangote has also entered the oil and gas industry, a sector that he purposely avoided for most of his career. Unlike many wealthy Nigerians who made their fortune in oil, Dangote chose to go down a different path. ‘‘If we [Dangote Group] had followed the trend of dealing with oil, we would have tainted our name. People would have thought ‘You [Dangote] made so much money because you did a lot of unethical dealings in the oil industry,” he said once.
Aliko Dangote’s journey to fortune is not a rags to riches story. He came from a wealthy family that was able to provide financial assistance to start his business. For many years, Dangote imported soft commodities and resold them in his community. He eventually ceased importing items and began to manufacture his own products. Over the years, Dangote has expanded into new business segments, including telecommunications, real estate and steel manufacturing. Today his holding company, Dangote Group, is the largest conglomerate in West Africa.