In no particular order, meet the business leaders who are making dramatic impact in business and leadership in Africa.
Allan Gray, South African, Founder, Allan Gray
As mythical and mysterious as he is reclusive, Allan Gray, 74, is the founder of Allan Gray Limited. Allan Gray Limited is the largest privately owned investment management firm in Southern Africa. The Harvard-trained money manager founded the firm as a one-man company in Cape Town in 1973. He pioneered performance related investment management fees in Southern Africa. Today, Allan Gray manages over $10 billion in investors funds. Gray is also the founder of Orbis Group, a Bermuda-based group of Mutual Funds. Also one of Africa’s most generous philanthropists; in 2007 he endowed his Allan Gray Orbis Foundation with one of the largest gifts in South African history. The foundation offers full high school scholarships to South African students to cover tuition, hostel fees and living expenses.
Mo Ibrahim, Sudanese, Founder, Celtel
The Sudanese telecoms magnate bagged a PhD in mobile communications from the University of Birmingham. He worked as a communication engineer at British Telecom. In 1985, while working as a Technical Director at BT, Ibrahim helped invent the United Kingdom’s first mobile phone network. Ibrahim later went on to found MSI, a consultancy and software company; but he opened Africa to a whole new chapter when he founded Celtel, a mobile phone company. Celtel served 23 countries in Africa and the Middle East before he sold it off to MTC Kuwait. Ibrahim now devotes his energies towards his Mo Ibrahim Foundation which publishes an annual Good Governance index and awards $5 million annually to former African leaders who have delivered the dividends of good governance to their people.
Sheikh Mohammed Al-Amoudi, Ethiopian, Founder, Midroc Derba
The richest black person in the world is as Ethiopian as he is Saudi. Sheikh Al-Amoudi immigrated to Saudi Arabia with his parents as a child and built a name and fortune by executing construction contracts for the Saudi Royal family. Al-Amoudi has interests in petroleum refineries and oil wells everywhere from Sweden to Morocco, but these days, his largest investments are in the country of his birth: Ethiopia. Earlier this year, Al-Amoudi announced that his Midroc Derba conglomerate will be investing as much as $3.4 billion in Ethiopia in gold mines, agriculture, cement production, steel and transportation. Al-Amoudi funds and supports the Ethiopian soccer team.
Raymond Ackerman, South African, Former Chairman, Pick ‘n Pay
After getting fired from his top managerial post at Checkers, a South African food retailer, Ackerman, 81, used his severance package and a bank loan to acquire 4 stores in Cape Town which traded under the name ‘Pick ‘n Pay’. Setting out with 175 employees, Ackerman went on to dominate South Africa’s retail markets by implementing his now famous ‘customer sovereignty’ philosophy. Key to success in retail business: “Fight for the customer, and she will fight for you.” Today, Ackerman’s Pick ‘n Pay is easily South Africa’s pre-eminent fast-moving consumer goods retailer. Portfolio: 450 stores in South Africa, Zambia, Mauritius and Mozambique. Staff strength: 45,000 people. Pick ‘n Pay is also an investor’s delight. According to South Africa’s Financial Mail, the company’s stock is easily the most successful long-term investment on the JSE over the past 4 decades. For perspective: $150 invested in Pick ‘n Pay in 1970 is now worth more than $150,000 today.
Aliko Dangote, Founder, Dangote Group
After studying Business Administration at the Al Azhar University in Cairo, Dangote returned home to Nigeria to work briefly with his maternal uncle in the commodities trading business. He later received a business loan from his uncle and went on to start a commodities trading outfit, an operation which metamorphosed into the Dangote Group, West Africa’s largest industrial conglomerate. The group’s operations span sugar production, flour and cement across more than 11 African countries. Workforce: Over 20,000 employees.
Dangote is now divesting his food interests to devote his energies towards his cement business. Africa’s undisputed Cement King owns sub-Saharan Africa’s largest cement manufacturing plant facility in Obajana, in Kogi, Nigeria. The plant produces over 5 million Metric tonnes per annum. Dangote Cement also owns plants in Zambia, Senegal, Ethiopia and Tanzania, among other African countries. Dangote plans to list his cement business on the London Stock Exchange next year.
Manu Chandaria, Chairman, Comcraft Group
In 1916, Chandaria’s father moved to Kenya and opened up a small provisions store in Nairobi and later acquired a floundering aluminum plant. That small plant formed the building block of the Comcraft Group, a multinational industrial giant which manufactures steel, aluminum and plastic products in 45 countries and employs over 40,000 people. Chandaria, 83, is the group’s chairman and has spearheaded the company’s global operations for several decades. East Africa’s most respected business leader is also one of its most generous; Chandaria has reportedly given millions of dollars to causes in education, health and the arts. Also holds the title of the Elder of the Burning Spear, one of Kenya’s highest civilian honors.