If this man made billions in Nigeria why can't we ?

As someone who was involved in the commodities sector, I was recently reading a report of how the world's largest oil refinery is being built by a tycoon named Aliko Dangote from Nigeria. Nigeria is one of the hotspots for growth in Africa.

He built a fortune that makes him worth $10+ billion apparently.

Stephen Schwarzman with him .
Interesting youtube doc on him "Golden Child of Africa" - richest black man on earth

Interesting personality all round. Sugar, Oil, Cement, Pasta, Milk. Dangote is like Bungee + Koch + ADM + Glencore all in one.

I wonder why very few people take the industrial entrepreneur path ? Everyone wanting to cash in on some get rich scheme is into finance or tech start-ups these days. Amazing how he did it all right at home. Quite the personality.

Comments (40)

Sep 7, 2017

Where did the seed money for all this come from. Is he one of those princes ?

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Sep 7, 2017

This is an overly simplistic answer, but Nigeria's economy is not nearly as mature as those of the U.S. and Western Europe. As these are information focused economies, there is naturally a lot of money to be made in tech.

Sep 7, 2017

Think he gave Bill Gates a lift when his private jet broke down in Africa.

Sep 8, 2017

This dude is a monopolist. Uses his crony connections with nigerian government to block imports and then with massive scale price-drops and squeezes everyone else dry. he captured a chunk of NIgeria's economy with pretty illegal maneuvers.

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Jan 6, 2019

monopolists are okay as long as they're american, that's what you're saying, right? idiot

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Jan 6, 2019

interesting interview (lunch with the ft) with him


Jan 7, 2019

I wonder why very few people take the industrial entrepreneur path ? Everyone wanting to cash in on some get rich scheme is into finance or tech start-ups these days

Because it is insanely risky and requires a ton of start up capital? Tech startups have little overhead, and lets face it, don't even need to be feasible or intelligent ideas to get insane valuations.

In addition to the pure real estate issues that come with entitling land for constructing a specialized industrial building, you need to have the connections to manage your supply chain and an idea worth pursuing. Not to mention a shitload of cash. That's no longer a startup; you need a mature business idea and experience in executing on it before you can even think of raising money. Compare that to most tech startups, which get underway on a wing and a prayer and try to figure out whether it's a viable idea or can raise VC money afterwards

What I find amusing is every time a story comes out about someone who made a ton of money in an unusual way, people come out of the woodwork to say "why don't other people take this path" as if there aren't likely to be thousands of people who tried this exact same thing and failed miserably for every one that makes billions of dollars.

Jan 8, 2019

I sadly have to concur about the validity of your points. I've read tons of books on self-made billionaires, and what strikes me about the heavyweights is the unusual combination (read deadly as well) of risk and luck, not to mention their inhuman risk tolerance.

Dangote's employee was murdered in Ethiopia during a property vandalizing attempt. This right here kind of tells you the price the Nigerian magnate is paying to maintain his spot on Forbes. Insane.

Jan 7, 2019

Well, your start-up costs would probably include a $1 million line item for bribery (on the low end). U.S. law prohibits bribery even in your foreign business (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act), so you'd be starting off by committing felonies under U.S. law. Not a particularly auspicious start to business success.

Jan 8, 2019

FCPA is a hindrance to American passport holders no ? I believe corrupt wealth is much easier to attain for non-Americans. US DOJ and FCPA have been nailing crooked get rich quick schemers with American passports than any other unilateral force.

I'd imagine it's much easier to become a billionaire in Africa where you can buy the law and write rules of the game than it is anywhere else on earth. Dangote must be a pro. Imagine the level of dead skeletons this guy must have buried to get to where he is:

Bribed politicians, bribed bankers, buried lawsuits, employee lawsuits that don't even go to court, bent over judges, penalties and fines that never get raised, taxes that don't get paid.

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Jan 8, 2019

My best friend is a U.S. citizen immigrant from Bolivia. I asked him years ago why socialism (like, real, true socialism, not Nordic welfare states) was so popular in Latin America--"Why don't they look at the U.S. and see our model for success and try to emulate it?" I asked. Well, he basically told me that nearly every rich person (or a disproportionate number) in Latin America became rich through corruption. So the Latin American public looks at all the wealth of the United States and assumes it was stolen or gotten through corruption.

It really crystallized for me why voters in poor countries gravitate towards socialist/fascist economic models--because they understand that in Nigeria, for example, the "free market" allows you to pull yourself up by the bootstraps by bribing and extorting your way to the top. In their ignorance, they believe that corruption is a function of the market, and the politicians who promise to fix the corruption hold the moral high ground.

Mar 4, 2019

You clearly are an idiot. Dangote come from a long line of successful bussines men, and he has an obligation to keep his name clean. That's why he's not involved in oil where there are alot of bad characters. Also Dangote doesn't outsource lobbying like American firms do, he does it himself and combines it with campaign donations to presidential candidates he likes. There's nothing illegal here. Who wouldnt want to influence the law when it has an impact on one's bussines. Don't confuse lobbying governments with corruption.

Jan 9, 2019


Jan 10, 2019

Yeah no kidding. A famous and really scary story is that of some American businessman who was murdered in Russia over a business deal gone wrong. That's the shit that even horror movies can't capture. One day you're on top of the world, the next day someone just knocks you out with a silencer pistol.

I forgot that lad's name, but if you google Radisson hotel moscow murder I'm sure the interested will see more on the story.

Jan 10, 2019

I did some business with his companies, specifically some financing transactions, and his companies are full of formers investment bankers and top corporate guys.

He started when nobody else even thought to do something in Nigeria... Working with cement, which was something almost innovative in the 80s in Africa and diversifing wih great ability in many other businesses like sugar and food production.

Jan 10, 2019

You Nigerian ? Can you explain what are the various challenges of doing business in Nigeria ? Like the sheer kind of complexity and wide depth and scope of things someone like Dangote would have to go through besides all the obvious stereotypical stuff ?

If he really bet big when nobody else was on the move, kudos to him. My guess is he saw the growing population and per capita consumption and decided to zero down on future growth sectors. He looks like he reads a lot of analyst reports .

Jan 10, 2019

I am not nigerian I am South European and I work in a bank involved in many large financing in favour of big clients especially from developing regions.

He started when he was very young (1970s) just trading materials in Nigeria creating a very large web among business and people, a period during which he probably understood many business dyanmics and business men and, crucially, it was a boom period in Nigeria.

Hence, as typical booms, infrastrucutures and buildings start to be built... and he entered in cement business.. now he is the largest cement producer in his area. He then diversified in many business always managing leverage and shareholding of his projects and subsidiaries. He owns the second largest sugar refinery in the world (!!!)

A key element of his businesses is that he owns the entire supply chain, from the production to the distribution (he even owns 100% of vans used), exploiting an area with relant oil reserves (and Negerian oil is of great quality also) and cement reserves.

I think he was able to exploit in the right way relative to natural resources the area in which he was born, during a developing period and managing in the right way his businesses (majority shareholder, small amounts of debt, integrated offer)

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Jan 10, 2019

From wikipedia: Aliko Dangote, an ethnic Hausa Muslim from Kano, Kano State, was born on the 10th of April 1957 into a wealthy Muslim family. He is the great-grandson of Alhaji Alhassan Dantata, the richest African at the time of his death in 1955.

As usual, WSO doesn't tell the whole story. While I respect his accomplishments, he is a dude that was born rich that capitalized his wealth to become filthy rich.

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Jan 10, 2019

add to that operating in a country like Nigeria is probably a cakewalk. Employee lawsuits and litigation against him probably doesn't even see the court. It must be like living in god mode to run a business empire in a country where the laws don't apply to you. His accomplishments are indeed respectable, but there's a lot to him that involves luck .

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Jan 10, 2019

He's selling vibranium to America on the down low ... WAKANDA!

What concert costs 45 cents? 50 Cent feat. Nickelback.

Most Helpful
Mar 6, 2019

Story time everyone!

I honestly hate this type of talk about going to a foreign country and starting a business, that you normally hear in emerging market conferences, and especially among 2nd gen diaspora individuals, whom seem to think because their home countries economy is booming, somehow they can cash in.

My family is from Egypt, were Coptic Christians from Alexandria. My grandfather was an industrialist and my uncle has a controlling stake in a large refinery and is worth 9 figures, while my dad who decided to come to France, then Canada, and then to the US as a Tech entrepreneur, and while not rich (cousins control the business not us) are very well off. Same story for some of my other family so I've seen it all.

In my opinion diaspora individuals, and by that I mean people like me who can speak arabic and a native level, let alone fluent level, have a hard enough time succeeding in our home countries. Politics is dirty in Egypt...news flash we just had a revolution and army coup all in the last 10 years. IT IS VERY DIFFICULT TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT POLITICAL PATRONAGE. You need to be the right guy, at the right time, with the right connects, to even begin contemplating starting a business. Even then not everything is roses. Your business can be taken away from you easily for no real reason, if you get caught in the wrong side of a political tuffle. The revolution was an anxious time for us, as the muslim brotherhood would have for sure caused headaches for my uncle. Thankfully the generals rectified the situation and put the nation under military rule...as it should be.

As a westerner, and by westerner I include 2nd generation immigrants, ESPECIALLY if you can't speak your native language perfectly, you will always be seen as an outsider. You are not likely to succeed in anything meaningful in developing nations without a strong support network and political connections. You have to be cunning, and brutal. I myself can't forsee any future in Egypt for me, with the exception of helping my cousin out, if he needs assistance.

The only outsiders who succeed in countries like Egypt, Turkey, DR Congo etc.. are well connected ones. Jonny Smith from arkansas, despite being a PE principle at some shop in midtown, is a flea and doesn't have the network. Johny Smith is most of you on this website, hell it could even be me, if I didn't speak arabic perfectly/knew the culture well... When people say emerging markets are booming, its only a small group of people who are actually making any progress..Don't believe me? Go to Cairo and look at the destitution...lower class people literally die on boats to try to get to europe.

There are egyptian business magnates who are worth millions but their path was one of serendipity and luck, and something an outsider will not be able to emulate. I highly urge all of you on this site who come from a regular background to realize that you honestly have no business being in a developing market, unless you have those connections, and that network.


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Mar 6, 2019

100% true BUT you can make money catering to the expat market if it's growing within that country. Usually the local market completely ignores expats or doesn't understand them. I worked in an emerging market and met dudes who were killing it selling things like high end imported air purifiers. Not 9 digits but 7 digits and comfortable. They started catering to expats and expanded to HNW individual locals and then to rapidly expanding upper middle class professionals. You have to find a market that is as little regulated as possible and is being totally ignored by the locals.

Also, lol I have done a consulting project for Dangote before in Niger and he is like the last person I would describe as "self-made," he's old money that became richer through monopolies / natural resource extraction / political machination. Wow, surprising.

Apr 13, 2019

I totally agree with you.

I'm from India but I'm US educated. I've went to school with big timers in India and of course though I was nothing close to their level financially (private jet people), one thing that astonished my analysis is the level of political support.

In America or the West or any meritocracy, the Indian billionaires would not be able to succeed. Some may, but most won't. In India everything is rigged. At the bidding level there is cartelization and very often some government guy will be involved in giving out favorable terms to his favorite businessman.

I would know because my dad tried to get into industry and he had to meet very influential politicians to even get a start. He didn't go through because he didn't have the funds and as you said - even then nothing is a guarantee. You can get a project or win a contract but whether you get paid or not for doing the work is another story.

Having said that, I think things are slowly changing in India. Recently in my trip my relative was telling me how his company was almost threatened and bullied out of some project by some bigger guy who said he would use his influence to block him from future participation.

I don't know about Egypt but stories in India are crazy. You can buy the law, you can buy your way out of jail, you can buy the judge, you can buy the system. The big timers fly the politicians in their private jets which reeks of a foul odor.

I personally think it's fucked up from the bottom to the top, but I have a counter to this.

Is Western business any less riskier ? In the West you have the rule of law, power of courts, and a judiciary that isn't biased or politically motivated.

But Western world is rife with over protective labor laws and insane scrutiny and regulation. Best example is, if your crane operator dies or someone in a factory gets hurt, they can slap a lawsuit worth $30 million. This will bankrupt the small entrepreneur. This may bring an entire company down and imagine the job losses and overall livelihood destruction.

I personally as a person familiar with USA and India don't see the change in risk dynamics at all.
In America, the US DOJ and the public prosecutor will get their panties wet dreaming about how they can screw the next big business man. US Senators and their committees make anybody sit in front of them for a questioning session. Of course you don't have to worry about bribing a commissioner , but you do have to worry when you sleep about what happens if the IRS and tax man say you didn't do this or that properly and sue you. That is equally scary to me.

I think entrepreneurship in general and business in general is shit risky. It's like trying to walk a tight rope . The Western world and the rest have different dynamics I agree, however I doubt the level of risk in totality changes. It's like same toilet of struggle, different shit.

There are two cases I will never forget that always remind me of the risk of enterprise in USA. One Jaimaican immigrant who had a food business committed suicide because he didn't do his taxes properly and was afraid of the legal repercussions, and a Peanut company executive (Peanut Corporation of AMerica) was sentenced to 30 years in jail I think for not following standards .

Honestly - why will anybody invest risk capital in such a scary place with hyper reactive legislators and regulators.

American prosecutors masturbate thinking about which rich guy they can screw next. Look at how they keep fining Google and all the big tech companies with billion dollar plus fines. The fines mega corporations have paid to American law enforcement is probably greater than the GDP of some small island nations. Crazy, crazy crazy.

Having said that - to each his own I guess. If you want to build the next TESLA, the US has an amazing talent pool. But if you're out to make a quick buck or two, you'd probably love swimming with filth . I've seen both stories work and fail.

A personal favorite of mine is the horror story of Claude Dauphin, an oil company executed who spent 3 months in an African prison. That's the risk premium you pay to become a billionaire in Africa.

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Apr 14, 2019


Mar 6, 2019