By John Roberts
For a while now we’ve considered Oprah to be the richest black woman on the planet. It is now being reported that we were wrong. Nigerian renaissance woman Folorunsho Alakija has made her billions by being involved in many lucrative professions. Alakija is a fahsion designer, an oil tycoon and also a philanthropist. Forbes recently undervalued Alakija, claiming that her net worth is only $600 million dollars. In fact, Alakija is worth at least $3.3 billion dollars, placing her above Oprah who is worth $2.7 billion. Talk about being short-changed!!
Alakija does not have a rags-to-riches story. She was born into a wealthy Nigerian family and began her career as a secretary at the International Merchant Bank of Nigeria. Alakija left her job to study fashion design in England in the 80’s and began her own fashion label shortly after returning to Nigeria. Supreme Stitches became a high-end fashion label that styles the most fabulous women, from military wives to society women.
After acquiring an Oil Prospecting License (OPL) Alakija kept a level head and worked to figure out how to make it profitable. In 1996, Alakija made an agreement with Star Deep Water Petroleum Limited and retained 60 percent of the company.
Economically, Alakija truly is on top of the world. Earlier this year, she purchased a Bombardier Global Express 6000, which is a private jet valued at $46 million dollars. Alakija also purchased a property at One Hyde Park for $102 million dollars.
Alakija uses her wealth for good causes as well. She is the founder of the Rose of Sharon Foundation. The Christian organization gives out small grants to widows.
People of color throughout the world are inspired by the achievements of Alakija. Dr. Boyce Watkins, a Finance Professor at Syracuse University, says that there are lessons that we can all learn from this woman’s remarkable achievements.
“First, you have to realize that most people who get this rich do so because they own something,” says Dr. Watkins author of the book, “Black American Money,” which has become a textbook for those seeking to understand how to use wealth for personal and collective independence. “Secondly, it is important to understand that understanding the business model behind what you do makes all the difference. This is what separates Oprah and Jay-Z from Arsenio Hall and Nelly. It”s one thing to sell your product and another thing to own the capital base on which the product is being sold. Anyone, doing anything, anywhere in any field must learn the fundamentals of entrepreneurship.”
There is also the ethical question of whether or not billionaires in Africa should be elevated to the public in the middle of a continent where the suffering is so great. In many African nations, corrupt dictators and business people make themselves rich at the expense of suffering masses. While this is not the plight of Alakija, we have to ask if there is pride or shame in having so much in the middle of a nation that has so little.
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