The Unstoppable Billionaire: Aliko Dangote’s Midas Touch

In spite of the country’s economic adversity, Alhaji Aliko Dangote’s winning streak remains unstoppable, writes KUNLE SOMORIN

While the nation was marking the 39th year of the demise of its most prolific soldier-statesman, Muritala Muhammed on February 13 this year, Bloomberg Billionaires claimed that the Aliko Dangote lost over half of his $5 billion fortune in just 6 months. But weeks later, foremost business research journal, Forbes returned the business magnate as the richest man in Africa and the 23rd richest man in the world. He also remains the first black man to make the top 25 richest list.

The unprecedented loss didn’t affect only the ebullient 58-year-old. He is one of 197 billionaires who lost billions of dollars in 24 hours, with only three of the world’s top 200 billionaires making any gain on what has now been branded in global business circles as ‘Black Monday’.

In spite of the so called loss that many dilettantes would have gone under Dangote’s philanthropy continued unfettered. His on-going project of a N7bn state-of-the-arts operating theatre and diagnostic centre at the Murtala Muhammed Specialists Hospital is due for completion next February. The Routine Immunization programme of his Foundation has extended to Bauchi, Yobe, Maiduguri and Katsina.

There is a Business School Project at the Bayero University Kano that has gulped N524m, even as he injected N500million into Kano School of Technology. The Foundation is determined to build a 500MW of electricity station in Kano, to mention but a few.

Dangote has become a phenomenon. He has established business presence in 15 African countries straddling publicly-traded cements, sugar, salt, flour, rice, spaghetti, fabric etc at very competitive prices. Any rotten metal touched by him turns to platinum.

As of January 2015, Dangote had an estimated net worth of US$18.6 billion. In April 2014, months before oil prices plunged, he announced $9 billion in financing from a consortium of local and international lenders to construct a private oil refinery and fertilizer and petrochemical complex in the country.

In August of the same year, he said he would invest $1 billion in commercial rice farming and modern rice mills. His publicly traded Dangote Cement is also grabbing new markets in Africa, with $750 million in new plants planned for Kenya and Niger.

When his net worth tumbled in February 2014 it was a consequence of the weakening Naira vale and drop in the demand for cement, one of his organisation’s mainstays.

The mogul made his first fortune more than three decades ago when he started trading commodities with a loan from his powerful uncle. Dangote started his business with the NGN 500,000 loan he took from his uncle/master, Sani in 1977 and told him about his plan to establish a business outfit. He was given a three-month-deadline and he repaid the loan in three months. Sugar, rice, pasta, salt, cotton, millet, cocoa, textile and vegetable oil were the commodities he started his business with. He was importing these commodities into Nigeria.

Despite a weaker Nigerian currency and strife in the northern part of Nigeria, Dangote Cement, recently launched new cement plants in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Zambia and Tanzania. In total, Dangote Cement produces more than 30 million metric tons annually, with a plan to double capacity by 2018. Dangote owns nearly 91% of publicly-traded Dangote Cement through a holding company; this percentage exceeds the 80% ownership ceiling set by the Nigerian Stock Exchange. A note in Dangote Cement’s 2014 annual report states that “controlling shareholder Dangote Industries Limited has continued to reduce its holding in Dangote Cement towards the NSE-required level of 80% or less” but Dangote doesn’t appear to have sold many shares this year.

Since production is not complete until the goods reach the final consumer, Dangote developed a strong distribution channel that made his goods delivered faster than his competitors’ goods. After some years in his importation business, Aliko Dangote transformed into a producer of products he was importing. In one of his statements, he revealed that changing from an importer to a manufacturer has so far been his best move. The move produced Dangote Group, an organization that controls over 13 companies.

Dangote built a vibrant brand for his business. He corroborated this during an interview by saying “to succeed in business, you must build a brand and never destroy it. One competitive advantage I had when I ventured into manufacturing was my brand (Dangote), which I diligently built in the course of my trading.”

In his mission to gain the loyalty of his customers, Dangote started selling his competitive products at cheaper rates compared to his competitors’ rates.

Hard work has paid off for Dangote who spends most of his time strategizing and brainstorming on how to grow his business. Reports have it that he sleeps by 2:00 am and wakes up by 5:00 am everyday.

Unlike other cunning businessmen, Dangote is an upright man as far as abiding by the rules and regulations governing the ethics of business are concerned. He keeps his credit records as well as his tax records tidy and he preaches that business should be done as stipulated by the regulatory bodies.

Born 10th April, 1957, a modest Aliko said of his rating as the richest African, “I assume I have to be rated by Forbes magazine prior to being called the richest man in Africa But, you know, I’m very comfortable.”

As a non-partisan and detribalized businessperson, he is generous to different political parties, religious groups and cultural institutions. Though, highly religious, Dangote spirituality doesn’t despise common sense. Said he: He said:“Some people are waiting for God to come to their aid; without knowing that they have the power to be what they want to be. The power to succeed is in-born in everyone; but it’s up to you to discover this power and use it to your advantage.”

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