By ‘Fisayo Soyombo
VENTURES AFRICA – They are forty in total. And they made it before their 40th birthday and they are still rising- some still in their twenties. They rubbish all the kowtowing (and the limitations) that the African culture allots to age, and offer gratifying hope of an illuminated future for a continent so worrisomely ridden with underdevelopment. Here are forty different stories, but you’d have to unearth the secrets and meeting points of the success they share in common.
Thirty-three-year-old millionaire, James Mwirigi Mworia, a chartered financial analyst and certified public accountant, is the chief executive officer of Centum Investment Company Limited, a Kenyan company reputed to be East Africa’s largest private equity firm. He has held the office since October 2008. In addition to his experience in investment management, which outstretches 10 years, Mworia is a specialist in deal sourcing and structuring, and has closed multiple transactions across Sub-Saharan Africa.
Ghana-born Fred Swaniker, 35, founded the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa in fulfillment of his passion for raising quality leaders who would define the future of Africa. The coeducational and residential secondary boarding school is renowned to be world-class, recruiting outstanding students on the continent and specifically training them for future leadership positions. He had previously also founded the Global Leadership Adventures, a youth-oriented development initiative with global reach; and played a frontline role in the formation of Botswana-based Mount Pleasant English Medium School.
Precocious South African digital entrepreneur, Zibusiso Mkhwanazi, has a stunning company-founding record of one per decade! The CEO of Avatar Digital (formerly KRAZYBOYZ digital Johannesburg) — a digital marketing agency based in Sandton and Cape Town — is also the founder of Mkhwanazi Academy for Christian Entrepreneurship. He founded Csonke Holdings in 2000, when he was only 17. Still just 28, Mkhwanazi has won a long list of awards, including a place on the World Economic Forum’s Global Young Leaders (2010).
Thirty-six-year-old Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli, unarguably a household name in African entrepreneurship circles, founded LEAP (Leadership Effectiveness Accountability Professionalism) Africa — an organisation that has gone on to train several thousand young Africans on core leadership issues and has in addition erected a compact platform for monitoring their utilisation of those values — in 2002. In the same year, she equally founded Ndu Ike Akunuba (NIA), meaning Life, Strength, Wealth — a non-profit group committed to the empowerment of female university students born in her native southeatsern zone. At 29 years in 2004, she became one of the youngest recipients of Nigerian national honour, Member of the Federal Republic (MFR).
Yolanda Zoleka Cuba stood down as chief executive of Mvelephanda Group Limited, a South African conglomerate, in 2010. And she was still only 32! Two years on, in February 2012, she ascended the executive directorship of the Strategy and Business Support of South African Breweries Limited.
Named as one of World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders in 2009, South African David Munro was 38 at the time of his appointment as Chief Executive, Corporate and Investment Banking at the Standard Bank Group, Africa’s largest provider of financial services, in July 2011. He joined the organisation in 1996 at the age of 22, and was deputy managing director as well as deputy chief executive officer between 2004 and 2010.
Now 34, Gachao Kiuna was only a boy of 24 when he announced himself as a man to shatter the record books, bagging a Ph.D. in Biotechnology from Cambridge. The Kenyan then went on to work for McKinsey & Company in Johannesburg — where he was involved in advising corporate clients in emerging markets on corporate finance and strategy — from where he joined Transcentury group, the organisation he currently sits atop as chief executive officer.
Joining David Munro on the list of World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders of 2009 was Euvin Naidoo, admirably described by Forbes.com as “the leading advocate for Western Investment into Africa.” The graduate of Harvard Business School heads the South African Chamber of Commerce in Africa in America (SACCA). In 2009, he was profiled (alongside Mo Ibrahim and John Atta Mills) as one of the Five Faces of African Innovation and Entrepreneurship by Columbia University’s Journal of International Affairs.
Michael Collins Ajereh, better known as Don Jazzy, is incontrovertibly one of Africa’s most sought-after music producers. The 29-year-old graduate of Business Management from Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, is the chief executive officer of Mo’ Hits Records. The highly decorated music producer hit limelight in 2004 after producing Tongolo for Dapo Oyebanjo (D’banj), his first sign-on. He has since gone on to produce for internationally acclaimed artistes such as Shawn Corey Carter (Jay-Z), Beyoncé Giselle Knowles (Beyoncé) and Kanye Omari West (Kanye West). He was recently ranked 36th in Forbes’ list of Most Powerful Celebrities in Africa.
Ikechukwu Arthur Anoke, a Nigerian resident in Kenya, became Chief Executive Officer (East Africa) of Mtech Communications in 2009 at an age — 25 — when some of his peers are still grappling with the challenge of securing admission into tertiary institution. Joining Mtech in 2005, Ikechukwu was appointed regional operations manager in 2008 only after three months of relocating to Kenya from Lagos. Before the year ended, he was promoted to the post of acting general manager (September) and later general manager (December). Two months after, he was appointed the CEO.
Susnan mashibe was only in her 20s in 2003 when she founded Tanjet, the maiden fixed base operations service in Tanzania. She bagged the Archbishop Tutu Fellowship Award in 2009, the same year she clinched the Tanzania Women of Achievement Award. Her latest honour is her listing as a Young Global Leader (2012) by the Global Economic Forum.
Folashade Laoye — a holder of Bachelors Degree in Accounting and a Masters Degree (Business Adminisration) from the Harvard Business School, Cambridge, USA — heads Hygeia Nigeria Limited, the country’s largest private integrated healthcare service provider, which includes Hygeia HMO, Hygeia Community Health Plan and the Lagoon Hospitals. Shade, who trained with Ernst and Young, Lagos, and Price WaterHouseCoopers, Londong, has more than twenty years of local and international business experience.
At 36, Senegalese-born but Germany and France-educated Magatte Wade has already been part of the founding of two companies. First she founded in 2004 — alongside Greg Steltenpohl and his wife, Dominique Leveuf — Adina World Beat Beverages in San Francisco, California, specialising in the manufacture of coffee, tea and juice drinks. The TED Global Africa Fellow subsequently founded The Tiossano Tribe, of which she is the current chief executive officer.
Acclaimed in South Africa as a strategist and entrepreneur, Tebogo Skwambane, 38, is the CEO of Monitor South Africa, a global partner of Monitor Group that she founded but later sold to a North America-based global strategy firm. She also serves as Director of Johannesburg of The Jupiter Drawing Room. After bagging a BA in Political Science from Dartmouth University and an MBA from Harvard, Tebogo worked four sterling years at Bain & Company in Boston, London and South Africa. She has also held senior management positions at International Finance Corporation — the private sector outgrowth of the World Bank — and at Eskom Enterprises
Forced to flee Bayero University, Kano, where she was studying Medicine due to political violence, Cynthia Mosunmola Umoru gained admission to study Zoology at Lagos State University where her new academic schedule opened her to discoveries that fuelled her founding, in her final year, of Honeysuckles PTL, a processed-food venture. The thirty-two-year-old CEO is a 2011 fellow of Ashoka Innovators for the Public and a Goldman Sachs scholar. In 2009, she was awarded the Business Owner of the Year plaque in the revered Future Awards.
Kenyan accountant and business administrator, Stella Kilonzo has been chief executive officer of Capital Markets Authority for nearly four years — a position that strategically sits her atop the country’s Insurance Regulatory Authority (IRA). The 37-year-old studied at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, where she graduated with a first class honours before proceeding to the United States for further education and training.
Thirty-one-year-old Ethiopian, Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu is an outstanding emblem of entrepreneurial ingenuity, having created a footwear-making company out of waste motor tyres and rubber. From the obscure village of Zenabwork where SoleRebels (Bostex PLC) birthed in 2004, it has grown into an internationally recognised brand, currently fulfilling internet purchases from countries as far-flung as Canada and Australia. She has been described as Africa’s response to brands such as Nike, Reebok and Addidas.
Slim Amamou, 34, a computer programmer, entrepreneur, blogger and one-time deputy to the Tunisian minister for youth and sports, heads Alixsys, a web services company he co-founded in 2008. He had also initially co-founded, in 1999, AlphaStudios, a web agency. He is popular in Tunisian circles for his dissident positions against censorship and intellectual property of the Internet — a stance that has earned him undeserved spells in the prison, including an arrest during a protest in the lead-up to the 2011 Jasmine Revolution.
Dr. Akudo Anyanwu Ikemba is the CEO of Friends (of the Global Fund) Africa, a voice she co-founded in 2008 in support of the Global Fund to fight HIV/Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria. In about three years, Friends Africa is reported to have mobilised north of $560 million to several African countries. She holds a Doctorate degree in Medicine from Tufts University, a Masters degree in International Public Health from Harvard University, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Molecular Biology from Lehigh University.
CEO Jasandra Nyker returned to native South Africa last year to head BioTherm Energy — a home-grown independent power producer — from her base in London, where she had been senior vice president at PCG Asset Management, LLC. Jasandra holds a B.Bus.Sc (Finance) degree from the University of Cape Town, and an MBA from London Business School. In less than a year of assuming the headship of BioTherm, she has guided the company to selection as a preferred bidder (on one wind and two solar power generation projects) in the first phase of the southern African country’s renewable energy procurement programme
Biola Alabi lived most of her life abroad, particularly in the United States of America and Korea, until 2008 when she headed back home to found Mnet Africa, leaving behind her job as Director of International Strategy at Sesame Street, New York. The native of Akure, Ondo State, holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Health.
Basetsana Kumalo, 38, who heads the Business Women’s Association of South Africa, first struck national prominence when she won the Miss Soweto beauty pageant at 16 years in 1990, and quickly followed that up with winning the Miss Black South Africa pageant same year. She quickly rode on her luck to build an imposing career in television presenting, beauty pageantry and philanthropy. Under the Bassie (as she is otherwise called) brand, she launched a clothing range in 2000, followed by an eyewear range two years after. In 2004, she secured 74th spot on the list of Top 100 Great South Africans, a feat that was unachieved by any other Miss South Africa
Zambian Jacqueline Muna Musiitwa is the founder and managing partner of Hoja Law Group — a boutique law firm operating from New York and Kigali, Rwanda — and the founder of Transitional Trade, a non-profit group established to promote social trade, investment and entrepreneurship in post-conflict countries and transitional communities. The speaker and writer is a 2011 Archbishop Desmond Tutu fellow at the African Leadership Institute, and he was nominated a Young Global Leader (2011) by the World Economic Forum.
Tough-talking twenty-eight-year-old Nigerian, Toyosi Akerele is the chief executive officer of RISE (Reputation Impact Style Development) Network, an internationally acclaimed youth-oriented social enterprise she raised from the rubbles of a lowly student magazine she founded during her third year as a student of Law at the University of Jos. Toyosi, an alumnus of the United States International Visitor Leadership Programme, was selected in 2007 by the African Business Forum as one of 101 Young African Leaders.
Thirty-year-old Ugandan, Ashish Thakkar, the director of Mara Group, returned home to Africa from the United Kingdom at 12. He was 14 when he sold his first computer, and 16 when he began running his show room. A year earlier, he founded RAPS, his first company, which was headquartered in Dubai. He is also the founder of Riley, a manufacturing company believed to make the most modern corrugated packaging plant in East and Central Africa; and Kensington, a real estate business in Dubai and Africa. Ashish is Africa’s second astronaut, having been a Founder Astronaut in Virgin Galactic’s first flight to space.
Tewodros Ashenafi, an Ethiopian is the CEO of SouthWest Energy (HK) Ltd, the first Ethiopian oil and gas exploration company. He also chairs SouthWest Development, the largest provider of manpower, logistics, fuel transportation and base-camp services to oil and gas companies in Ethiopia; as well as Ambo Mineral Water S.C, a top beverage brand in the landlocked north-eastern African country. Ashenafi has considerable international experience in political and economic consulting. Ashenafi holds a degree in Economics from Columbia University, and is a graduate of the Harvard Business School.
Fidel Jonah, a graduate of the University of Greenwich (B. Econ) and CASS Business School, London (MBA), is a founder and the executive director of Jonah Capital (Pty) Ltd. The South African business magnate has worked with Deloitte & Touchẻ Consulting, Ghana; and Balfour Williamson & Sons, UK where he was Regional Representative for West Africa. Fidel is also a director at African Facilitation Services, Abalengani Structured Financial Products, Iron Mineral Beneficiation Services and the PA Group.
Only a few grass-to-grace, rags-to-riches story can be more compelling than that of Kingsley Bangswell, the thirty-eight-year-old Nigerian who founded his now globally acclaimed organisation — Youngstars Foundation International (YFI) — in 1995, inside a barber’s shop located at Niger Avenue in the volatile city of Jos, Plateau State. Seventeen years on, the widely travelled CEO has won a number of international awards including receiving the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008 and his 2009 nomination as a global youth leader by the World Economic Forum.
The Founder and chief executive officer of Lawpoint (PTY) Limited, South African lawyer Adria Greene received a Bachelor of Art in International Relations from Wellesley College and a Juris Doctor from The University of Michigan Law School where she served on the Editorial Board of The Michigan Journal of Gender and Law. Adria, who has working knowledge of German and Greek, equally holds a Diploma in Management from the University of Cape Town, and is a founding member of the South African Legal Process Outsourcing Association.
Uchenna Jennifer Eze, the CEO of BainStone Limited, is better known as the founder of BellaNaija, an online fashion, lifestyle and entertainment blog to celebrate Africans. The twenty-eight-year-old occupied 22nd spot in Punch Newspaper’s rating of the 100 people, places, events and things that shaped 2008. In 2011, she was a finalist in the Young Person of the Year category at The Future Awards.
Brilliant South African chief executive, Alan Knott-Craig hails from a family where excellence is no rarity. Only 34 and the CEO of Mxit, Africa’s largest mobile social network with over 10 million subscribers, Alan — whose 59-year-old father will resume as CEO of Cell C in April having previously been CEO of Vodacom — has previously been CEO of World of Avatar. Trained at the University of Port Elizabeth where he obtained a Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) in 1999 and became a chartered accountant in 2002, Alan has, in the past, been managing director of iBurst and managing director of Cellfind.
Vinodan Lingham, South African internet entrepreneur and founder and CEO of Yola., Inc (previously known as Synthasite) — a web 2.0 outfit rendering website building, publishing and hosting services — is also the co-founder of SiliconCape.com, a South Africa-based NGO that ambitiously aims to transform Cape Town into a technology hub. In 2003, Lingham, 33, founded two companies: incuBeta, an investment holding company that engages in the ownership, management, and support of online marketing companies, with offices in the US, UK and Cape Town; and Clicks2Customers, a subsidiary of incuBeta that provides search engine marketing software and services.
He was only 24 years when he was appointed the first Information Technology Youth Ambassador of his country — a deserved appointment having been in the forefront of the campaign for socio-economic transformation through ICT. In the years to follow, he consulted for a number of revered international institutions, such as Harvard University, Microsoft, Res Republica, Heinrich Boell Foundation and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). His literally inexhaustible international honours span Ashoka Fellowship, Cordes Fellowship, Santa Clara University Fellowship, Crans Montana Forum of New Leaders for Tomorrow Fellowship, Archbishop Desmond Tutu fellowship and a host of others. His name? Gbenga Sesan, Nigerian, 33, the chief executive officer of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria!
South African Vuyo Jack is the chief executive officer of Empowerdex, an independent economic empowerment rating and research agency he founded with Taiwanese Chia-Chao Wu, in 2002 when he was still 26, and less than a year after he qualified as a chartered accountant. Now 35, Jack combines this Empowerdex position with a lecturing role at the University of Witwatersrand.
Tara Fela-Duroyoye graduated from the University of Lagos with a degree in Law. But she is better known in the make-up industry, where she has been a trailblazer, establishing Nigeria’s first ever make-up school in 2004. Tara, now 35, is the founder and current CEO of House of Tara International. Tara was awarded the Africa SMME Award in 2007 — the same year she won The Future Awards’ Young Person of The Year.
Her husband, Fela Durotoye was 31 when he founded V.I.P. Consulting Limited, which soon earned itself international repute, offering business consulting and human resources management services across the African continent, in the United States, and in the United Kingdom. Fela is also the founder of GEMSTONE, a youth group he insists would grow up to actualise God’s plan — already foretold to him — of making Nigeria the most desirable place to live in by December 31, 2025.
Bode Adegboyega Pedro, son of erstwhile deputy governor of Lagos State, Femi Pedro, is the chief executive officer of VEDA Technology, set up to inspire advancement in computer technology on the continent. Bode, who began designing websites and assembling computers when he was 14, emerged, in 2009, the youngest recipient of the Young IT and Telecoms Entrepreneur of the Year award at the Nigeria Telecoms Awards.
Thirty-year-old engineer, Oyeleke Ajiboye runs Efficacy Homes Ltd., a property construction and management company valued two years ago at about N600million. He holds a B.Sc. (Hons) degree in Electrical/Electronics Engineering from the University of Lagos; a Masters in Project Management from the Project Management College, Scotland; and an MBA from Lincoln University, Oakland, California, USA.
Karo Agono, 30, has been CEO of Tremor Perfect — a live sound reinforcement company providing equipment rental and audio management for mostly corporate organisations — for more than eight years running. Tremor is reputed to have worked on the international scene for companies and agencies such as US Consulate, Lafarge Wapco, Dutch Consulate, Nokia; and he is known to have formidable business links in the presidency.
Born on January 15, 1974, John Bul Dau, a social entrepreneur and pro-South Sudan activist, endured the trauma of early-childhood separation from his family, after the Second Sudanese Civil War forced him to flee the north-eastern country, first to Ethiopia, then Kenya, before his eventual resettlement in the United States, alongside several thousand ‘Lost Boys of Sudan.’ Today, John heads the John Dau Foundation, which seeks to revamp healthcare in South Sudan. He was instrumental to the founding, in 2005, of the America Care for Sudan. Currently living in Syracuse, USA, he has received awards for his charitable works.
Of course, there are more than 40 young African legends. We are growing in number… Africa is rising through the strength of its youth to become the new frontier for global economic growth! We’ll keep rising and continue to make great things happen. Let these ones inspire you, always.