According to Forbes, Folorunsho Alakija is a Nigerian entrepreneur with a reported net worth of $1 billion as of 2020. She is considered as Nigeria’s richest woman as well as Africa’s richest woman. According to Forbes, she was the second richest woman in Africa in 2017 with a net worth of $1.73 billion, trailing only Isabel dos Santos. However, once dos Santos’ net wealth plummeted due to corruption allegations, Alakajia surpassed her as Africa’s richest woman. Her wealth is based on Nigeria’s oil business.
Alakija began her work in office administration after training as a secretary in the United Kingdom. She eventually got into banking, where she stayed until she decided to start her own business. She spent a year and a half working at Sijuade Enterprises in Lagos before joining the International Merchant Bank of Nigeria.
“I joined them as a secretary and I was there for about 12 years. I was promoted to other departments of the bank, including heading the corporate affairs department. From there I moved into proper banking, working in the treasury department. I loved it because I was trading with the bank’s money to make money for the bank,” she told CNBC Made It.
“Later on, the bank was expanding and they started putting extra cogs between the wheels to ensure that people did not get promoted too fast to get to top positions within the bank. So I asked myself, ‘how long will it take me to get from a treasury officer to a general manager?’” says Alakija.”
She began her career in the fashion sector and founded ‘Supreme Stitches.’ She attended the American College in London and the Central School of Fashion before founding her company. Within a few years, her company came to fame and was relaunched as Rose of Sharon House of Fashion. According to her, she rebranded her company after receiving divine inspiration.
“I rebranded to Rose of Sharon House of Fashion because God gave me a revelation that I needed to change the name. It was a revelation initially given through a pastor, but I decided I was not going to change it until I heard from God myself. I had a dream a year after the prophecy was given and I saw the new name on the body of my van in the dream and I changed it overnight,” says Alakija, according to CNBC.
Going into the fashion space was probably influenced by her mother, who used to enlist her assistance in her textile business.
“My siblings and I used to help my mum in the store and that is where we learned a lot about textiles, textures, colours, patterns and merchandising,” she told Forbes. “That is where I learned all the practical steps that I later on applied to my fashion business.”
Alakija has entered the printing sector, establishing Rose of Sharon Prints and Promotions and Digital Reality Prints. According to her, she entered the sector in search of a fresh challenge. Her most significant entrepreneurial change occurred when she met a friend on a journey to England who happened to be Maryam Babaginda, the wife of former Nigerian President Ibrahim Babaginda. Maryam had decided to exit her involvement in the Nigerian oil industry, and Alakija saw an opportunity to capitalize on her new acquaintance, who also happened to be her Supreme Stitches customer.
She was linked to the then petroleum minister, Jubril Aminu, marking her beginning in the Nigerian oil industry, although it started on a disappointing note.
“I went back and told the petroleum minister that I would like to render other services, like catering for the oil industry. He said there were already so many caterers on board, various ships on the high seas, and as a result, there were no opportunities available.”
After the initial setback, Alakija did not abandon her goals. She got the opportunity to offer transportation services to the oil sector after knocking on various doors, and eventually made her way from one military dictatorship to another to get an oil block, following which she formed ‘Famfa Oil.’
Famfa Oil formed alliances with corporations such as Texaco and, later, Chevron. According to CNBC Made It, she received 60% of the oil block, while Chevron received 40%. The Nigerian government, however, interfered and took away half of her investment, leaving her with only 10%. Her 50 percent interest was restored following a 12-year legal fight.