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Five Business Lessons From Aliko Dangote

With an estimated net worth of US $10.3 billion according to Bloomberg, Aliko Dangote is undoubtedly the richest in Nigeria and Africa. He’s also the world’s richest black person, according to Forbes. To put his wealth in perspective, that means his fortune is 2.9 percent of Nigeria’s gross domestic product.

When he graduated from university in 1977, Dangote borrowed $3000 from his uncle and began trading in imported cement and agricultural goods such as rice and sugar. His ventures were so successful that he was able to pay off the loan in three months.

In 1999, he decided to shift to manufacturing- he built a sugar refinery and a flour mill. By his debut on the Nigerian Stock Exchange in 2010, sales had quadrupled to $450 million, according to Forbes. This made his sugar refinery the largest in Africa and the second-largest in the world. Also flourishing, Dangote Flour had $270 million in revenue.” He later incorporated his companies to form the conglomerate known as the Dangote Group, which has interests in various sectors in Nigeria and across Africa including cement, sugar, salt, pasta, beverages, real estate, oil, gas, telecommunications, and fertilizer. Dangote’s meteoric rise holds a wealth of lessons for entrepreneurs.

Here are some lessons we can learn from the richest man in Africa:

1. Invest in what You know

One of the key lessons in business is to invest in what you know. Don’t be tempted to invest in what appears to be cool and trending, unless you really understand the specific industry. Dangote didn’t stray far from what he’d learned from his grandfather, trading in household goods such as sugar, rice, and cement. He understood this business well, and presumably, he knew where to buy his goods from and where to sell them. This is one of the reasons that his ventures were so successful in a short time span.

2. Jump to the Next Curve

Don’t get complacent, after mastering the initial simple business, be ready to jump to the next curve. Irish philosopher and management futurist Charles Handy said that companies come to a natural end if they don’t recreate themselves during good times. This means that you should always be on the lookout for ways to innovate and enhance your business. Dangote did this by moving from importing to manufacturing.

3. Branding And Marketing is Important in Business

There is power in branding. That is one thing that set Aliko Dangote apart from the others. The Dangote brand is associated with shrewdness and excellence of his person. He built this brand from his days as a trader and jealously guided it as he became a world-class manufacturer. Every entrepreneur knows that if he must be successful he must diligently build his company into a brand the customers must identify with. In an interview with the Nigeria Sun, He talked at length about the Dangote brand. ‘’My story is that of a man and a brand Nigerians have come to know, to have and to accept. Nigerians are investing in us because they believe in the name Dangote, apart from believing in us we have a track record which we have actually shown. If you look at all our factories, they have grown steadily and gradually to where we are today. In all modesty, we can say we have done very well. There is no business that we are into, and we are not number 1. The worse one we have, maybe we are second in position. That itself is our business strategy. We aim to dominate our market to lead in every market segment. They have all been run efficiently and professionally by people who really know the business very well.

4. Don’t isolate yourself

In business and in life, you can’t be a success if you isolate yourself. Like the popular adage says, your network is your net worth. Networking is one of the most important skills of an entrepreneur. As Robert Green, the author of The 48 Laws of Power puts it “Isolation exposes you to more dangers than it protects you from – it cuts you from valuable information.” Dangote is known in Nigeria for attending various social events and gatherings. He’s a member of Nigeria’s most exclusive clubs, where he frequently hobnobs with the who’s who in the country (including competitors)- which enables him to subtly learn others’ success secrets, strategies, intentions, and even weaknesses. With the information gathered, he makes his subsequent moves like a grand chess master.

5. Work with smart people

If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room. To be successful, you should surround yourself with the smartest people you can find. In an interview with a Nigerian newspaper, Dangote said, “I always hire people who are smarter than I.” Many entrepreneurs have the misconception that they don’t need to hire people who can outshine them, and therefore employ people who are malleable and accepting of direction. You can’t afford to think like this if you want to achieve success at Dangote’s level. When hiring for your business, your goal should be to come up with a team of excellence and provide an environment conducive for them to flourish. Their success will be your success.  

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Written by BJ

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