To celebrate a magazine that has always championed the power of the individual, we have amassed what we believe to be the greatest ever collection of business essayists—100 entrepreneurs, visionaries and prophets of capitalism who have shaped the past century. And we’ve complemented this A-to-Z encyclopedia of ideas with the greatest ever portrait portfolio in business history, all taken by the amazing Martin Schoeller, who literally traveled around the world for it. The result is a visual time capsule and master class in entrepreneurial thinking conveyed in 100 anecdotes, lessons and ideas.
While Forbes prides itself on quantifiable lists – the richest, the biggest, the highest – assembling a list of the 100 greatest business living minds is inherently subjective. More than a dozen editors met dozens of times over two years, winnowing an initial roster more than three times as large. In the end, we opted for doers over theoreticians, disruptive entrepreneurs over those that inherit or CEOs that maintain. We sought people who had either created something with a lasting impact on the world or innovated in a way that transcends their given field. We also required that the honorees actively participate in the project – all these essays are original, wisdom from the sages themselves.
While the advice is tailored to the future, this list reflects, to a large degree, the achievements of the past, for both Forbes and the greater business world. It was the American century, and our roots and readership lean that way. It was also a period that skewed older and whiter and male.
That said, change is coming: Twenty three people on the list are nonwhite. Twenty five are not American, including 11 from Asia, the world’s most dynamic business region. Ten are women, and 11 are under 50. When someone reads the 200th anniversary issue of Forbes, I expect all these numbers will increase substantially.
Such dynamism is the magazine’s lifeblood – it’s what makes Forbes as relevant now as it was in 1917.
- Randall Lane, Editor, Forbes Magazine
IMMIGRANT, RURAL JOBS CREATOR, BILLIONAIRE: FOUNDER, CHOBANI YOGURT
The poet Rumi wrote, “As you start to walk on the way, the way appears.” When I started Chobani, I’d never run a company before and there was no plan. But one thing I saw that could be fixed easily was the factory’s old walls: They badly needed a paint job. So I bought some paint, and our first five employees and I all got to work. It was the first and best decision I ever made. There’s something magical in the movement, in the action – it allows you to think, to discover new ideas and to feel like you’re making progress. So don’t sit around waiting – act.
You cannot do everything alone – especially when you get to a certain level. It is impossible. I had to rely on myself and trust my decisions when it came to building Chobani – and today I still do. But we’re a team made up of a lot of people who I’d trust with my life.
PURPOSE-DRIVEN ROCK STAR: LEAD SINGER, U2; CO-FOUNDER, ONE, (RED), ELEVATION PARTNERS, RISE FUND
Capitalism is not immoral, but it is amoral. And it requires our instruction. It’s a wild beast that needs to be tamed, a better servant than master. That’s my philosophy with (RED), which partners with corporations to direct profits to fighting HIV/AIDS. The idea really came about after meeting with former Treasury secretary Bob Rubin, where he said, “You have to tell Americans the scale of the problem and what they can do about it. And you have to go about that like Nike does: They spend $50 million on ad campaigns.” And I said, “Well, where are we going to get that kind of money?” And he said, “You’re clever. You’ll figure it out.”
And we did. I realized that going to big companies and trying to break into their more modest philanthropy funds was a huge missed opportunity. It was their robust marketing and publicity budgets that we needed. Think of the creative minds in those departments – the messaging is the most important thing in keeping an issue “hot”, making it relevant. Fighting HIV is very difficult. Activists often demonize the corporate world. It’s easy to do, but I think it’s just foolishness to not recognize the creativity that you can unlock in the corporate world, together with the entertainment world. (RED) has so far generated nearly $500 million for the fight against AIDS, but the heat (RED) companies have created has also helped pressure governments to do their part – and that’s where the big money is, with donor governments spending $87.5 billion on HIV/AIDS since 2002. That’s the reason we all do this!
Some of the most selfish people I’ve met are artists – I’m one of them – and some of the most selfless people I’ve ever met are in business, people like Warren Buffett. So, I’ve never had that clichéd view of commerce and culture being different. I always remember Björk saying to me that her songs, she feels, are like carpentry. Like her friends in Iceland, one of them designs a chair. Is that more beautiful or useful than a song? Well, it depends on the chair. Or the song. I’ve always seen what I do as an activist, as an artist, as an investor, as coming from the same place.
Great melodies have a lot in common with great ideas. They’re instantly memorable. There’s a certain inevitability. There’s a sort of beautiful arc. Whether it’s a song or business or a solution to a problem facing the world’s poor, I see what I do as the same thing. I look for the topline melody, a clear thought. Now, my friends – and sometimes my bandmates and sometimes my family – would see this as multiple personality disorder. But for me, it’s all the same thing.
Artificial intelligence by…
DORM-ROOM LEGEND: FOUNDER, DELL TECHNOLOGIES
The Computer Age is just beginning. Most companies today have about a thousand times more data than they actually use to make better decisions. When you overlay the latest in computer science – AI, machine learning, deep learning, unsupervised learning – you will create an explosion of opportunity and also a real emergency. Over the next few years, as the cost of making something intelligent approaches zero, companies will succeed and fail based on their ability to translate data, including historical data, into insights and actions and products and services in real time. We like to think of ourselves as a company with big ears: We listen, we learn, we understand – and we create things.
MASTER DEALMAKER: FOUNDER, SOFTBANK
When I was 19 years old, I saw a photo of a microprocessor in a science magazine for the first time. It was just a tiny chip that could fit on a fingertip but represented an entire computer. “Oh my God,” I said to myself, “this is going to change mankind’s life. This is the biggest invention that mankind ever created.” And I start crying on the street. Those microprocessors were compacted into PCs, then linked together to create the internet and later smartphones. Now they are extending our knowledge and intelligence via artificial intelligence.
The industrial revolution transformed people’s lives from the roots. But the information revolution is not just an extension of human capabilities but an extension of our brain cells. In a sense, our brains are more important than our arms and legs. This superintelligence will bring about developments we’ve never seen before and contribute to humanity.
Every morning I wake up and ask, Where am I? I don’t know where I am because I am jumping around the world, but I don’t want to go to sleep. It’s thrilling.
ORACLE ESCAPEE: FOUNDER, SALESFORCE
We are living in the fourth industrial revolution, with advancements in robotics, genetics, stem cells, autonomous vehicles and especially artificial intelligence. All will dramatically change life itself. We need to have a beginner’s mind to think about what is happening. That idea of the beginner’s mind is the core to innovation. When you ask, What do you want and what do you dream, you’re able to ask yourself, What am I beginning? People who lose their relevance get stuck in the past because they’re no longer in the present moment.
AMERICAN TASTEMAKER, EPONYMOUS SEAL OF APPROVAL
There’s no room for sloppiness, inaccuracy or omission when you’re trying to build a relationship with a customer base. I’m very clear that everything I do is authentic, practiced and viable – and the end result is generally beautiful. I’m sure that’s the same way Steve Jobs created his products.
ASIAN CONGLOMERATOR: FOUNDER, THAI BEVERAGE
As a child, I saw my parents making preparations for their hoi tod (crispy pan-fried mussels in egg batter) store from before dawn until midnight every day, yet still made time to teach their 11 children to be diligent, responsible and grateful to those who had helped and cared for us. If I could turn back time, I would like to create a right balance in life. I think I have done better than in the past by dedicating some time to looking after my health and my quality of life. My wife always reminds me of the following truths in life: Health is your own; money belongs to others; power is temporary; and reputation is eternal. That is why I teach my children to find the right balance between working to build up business and maintaining good health.
COFFEE CZAR: EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN, FORMER CEO, STARBUCKS
In 1987, we had 11 stores and 100 employees and were already speaking about the need for a business to balance profitability and benevolence. Starbucks was one of the first American companies to give part-time workers comprehensive health insurance and equity in the form of stock options.
Back then our shareholders were very angry and concerned about dilution. I convinced them that we would be more profitable, more productive, by creating these benefits. When we made college tuition free a few years ago, I explained it wasn’t charity because investing in people is how we grow. I’m still trying to build the kind of company that my father never had a chance to work for; he held lots of blue-collar jobs, and I saw firsthand what being disrespected and devalued did to him. He had no loyalty to any employer because they showed no loyalty to him.
T. Boone Pickens
RISK-TAKER: OIL WILDCATTER, HEDGE FUND MANAGER
Over the Christmas holiday, I had several strokes, and in June, I suffered a Texas-size fall that required hospitalization. I am still mentally strong, and I comprehend and process information like I did before the incident, but sometimes find myself literally at a loss for words. That’s been tough for a loudmouth like me, as I’ve always believed you can trace every problem to a lack of communication or lack of clarity in communication. Many of those who face adversity like this at 89 choose to hide it. My life has always been an open book. Some chapters of my life have been great. Others not so much. I clearly am in the fourth quarter, and the clock is ticking, and my health is in decline. Now, don’t for a minute think I’m being morbid. When you’re in the oil business like I’ve been all my life, you drill your fair share of dry holes, but you never lose your optimism. There’s a story I tell about the geologist who fell off a 10-storey building. When he blew past the fifth floor he thought to himself, “So far, so good.” That’s the way to approach life. Be the eternal optimist who is excited to see what the next decade will bring. I thrive on that, and I’m going to stick to it until the game is over.
RUSSIA’S TECH SUCCESS STORY: BILLIONAIRE FOUNDER, DST GLOBAL; INVESTED IN FACEBOOK, AIRBNB, TWITTER, ETC.
On November 21, 1783, Benjamin Franklin watched as the first manned hot-air balloon rose from the ground. A skeptic in the crowd called out, “What is the use of it?” And Franklin is said to have replied, “What is the use of a newborn child?” He had a vision of humanity not as it was but as it could be. And he understood that from each new height a new horizon comes into view. That’s what matters most. When I was growing up in the Soviet Union, my father told me if I wanted to learn about business, I had to start looking beyond my horizon, at least as far as America. Most of the better decisions I’ve made in my career came from trying to look beyond the horizon. The first was in the 90s, betting everything on the internet. I believed it would be one of the most profound advances for civilization since electricity. I built one of the biggest internet startups in Europe, then founded DST Global, an investment firm targeting internet companies worldwide. The key to our investment philosophy is to support founders, enabling progress through technology.
Four years ago, I joined with Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki to found the Breakthrough Prize, the world’s biggest award for fundamental science and mathematics. We believe these are the best tools we have for understanding the universe and advancing our civilization. Then, last year, Mark joined with me and Stephen Hawking to launch Breakthrough Starshot, the first practical attempt to reach another star. As Franklin understood, the higher we go, the wider our horizons become – and the bigger the challenge of looking beyond them. Breakthrough Starshot, if it succeeds, could set our horizon at the interstellar scale.
FINANCIAL ALCHEMIST, JUNK-BOND PRODIGY (DREXEL BURNHAM LAMBERT), WALL STREET POSTER CHILD, PHILANTHROPIST
I came of age and went into business right in the middle of these past 100 years. Two issues of Forbes had a particularly significant influence on me: the 50th anniversary issue, in 1967, and the 60th anniversary issue 10 years later. I carried the latter in a briefcase for years and reread it often.
Both issues really made me think about how financial structures changed over time and how leading companies changed. I often point out that automobiles changed the world, but in 1917, when the majority of a car’s cost was based on raw materials, the country’s largest company by far was U.S. Steel. Other top companies included International Harvester, U.S. Rubber, Anaconda Copper and Phelps Dodge – so you can see how natural resources dominated society. A century later, these resources make up only a tiny fraction of the cost of the dominant product, the microchip, whose primary economic input is the brainpower of engineers.
A century ago, the automobile was radically changing transportation and mobility. Ford Motor was the 21st largest company. By the time it went public in 1956 with what was then the largest stock sale in history, it was one of the most valuable companies in the U.S. Today its total market value is less than the annual price variation of Amazon, Facebook, Apple or Google.
Understanding how change occurs is key. By the 1970s, Singer, the sewing machine maker, was known for an unbroken record of paying dividends going back more than 100 years. But that wasn’t as relevant as the emancipation of women, which had been upending its business for years. The company didn’t understand that women were less interested in sewing than in careers.
I was in elementary school in the 1950s when Sputnik went up. That made me think about science, and I later went to Berkeley because it had so many scientific Nobel laureates. Before the 1965 Watts Riot, I thought the American Dream was achievable without regard to race. When I found that it wasn’t, I switched my major from science to business. Twenty two years later, I helped finance Reginald Lewis, the Jackie Robinson of the business world, when he bought Beatrice International Foods from Beatrice Cos. for $985 million. Finance can change the world and create millions of jobs by empowering people with ability.
Today’s growing challenge: create meaningful lives for the world’s population. We’ve accomplished the greatest achievement of mankind, the extension of life. Over 4 million years of evolution, life expectancy of early hominids and then Homo sapiens had only increased from about 20 to 31. But just since 1900, average human life expectancy worldwide has grown from 31 to over 70. Economists estimate that about half of economic growth is tied to the public health and medical research advances that underlie increased longevity.
How do you create meaningful lives for all these people, and the 1 to 2 billion more who will soon be living? What are the jobs of the future in an age of robotics, driverless trucks and other new technologies? At one point, 90% of Americans worked in agriculture, then 40% and now less than 2%. U.S. Steel was the number one company a century ago, but today the American steel industry directly employs fewer than 140,000 workers. It’s a great challenge.
Most people who build businesses are passionate about it. They stand for something. The people who worked with me believed, as I do, in the democratization of capital – an opportunity to empower talent and help job creation in America. My legacy isn’t any one asset class like junk bonds. It’s the understanding of capital structure and how best to finance companies that create jobs and drive change.
INTERNET ENABLER: COFOUNDER, AOL; VENTURE CAPITAL DISPERSER: COFOUNDER, REVOLUTION
The story of American business over the last 100 years is a story about different sectors rising and falling (and often rising again, in unanticipated ways) in different regions of the country. When Detroit was an automobile powerhouse and Pittsburgh was the steel city, Silicon Valley was just fruit orchards. As the industrial revolution peaked and the technology revolution accelerated, the role of those places changed. Today 75% of venture capital still goes to three states (California, New York and Massachusetts); half goes to California alone. As we enter the internet’s third wave, where entrepreneurs will leverage technology to disrupt major real-world sectors – like healthcare, education, financial services – start-ups will increasingly move to cities where industry expertise exists. The opportunity to grow companies that spur job creation and economic growth holds great promise for what I call these “Rise of the Rest” cities. This will lead to a more dispersed innovating economy, where jobs and wealth are created all across the country, not just on the coasts. We need to level the playing field so that everyone, everywhere, has a shot at the American dream.
BUILDER: FOUNDER, QUICKEN LOANS; OWNER, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS; DETROIT’S REVITALIZER
I have never seen anybody create a whole lot of wealth by chasing money. Ironically, those who seem to be motivated by taking a great idea and turning it into reality are the ones who end up acquiring significant wealth.
In the last few years, we have taken this philosophy a step further. We have moved the headquarters and a substantial amount of the other pieces of our flagship business, as well as other businesses we are involved with, to downtown Detroit. An all-in commitment that our mission would not only be to continue to grow our business but also to help lead the transformation and rebuilding of one of America’s most devastated urban centers.
And here is the secret sauce: We are absolutely a more profitable (and better) business because we have a mission beyond the sole pursuit of profits. The investment we make in the community with both our dollars and our team members’ time has created a culture and environment that has motivated our people to be better at their day jobs. The yin feeds the yang, and the yang feeds the yin. You will attract the best and brightest who are motivated by more than a paycheck.
The more you invest in your mission, the more profits your business will produce. We are living proof of this. Not such a bad formula, huh?
Leonardo Del Vecchio
VISION VISIONARY: FOUNDER, LUXOTTICA
One thing that hasn’t changed in my years of doing business – I’m always doing and saying what I really think, acting with clarity and transparency. I prefer to match words with deeds or let the facts speak for me. I try to be what I really am and not what people would like me to be. There is a certain peace that comes with that. My reputation is truly my own.
THE ADULT IN THE ROOM: FORMER CEO, CHAIRMAN, NOVELL; FORMER CEO, GOOGLE
In 2001, my friend and colleague John Doerr called to suggest that I get some coaching. What? I was far along in my career; I didn’t need a coach. I could be a coach. Of course, I was wrong about that. I actually needed the coach.
We all called the late Bill Campbell “Coach,” and it wasn’t because of the 12-41-1 record he compiled as the head coach of the Columbia football team in the late 70s. He knew what was needed to succeed – to win – in Silicon Valley.
Bill wasn’t some far-off guru who didn’t get his hands dirty, but a coach who got on the playing field with me. He participated in board and executive meetings, developing credibility with my management team and helping us make crucial decisions. He would give advice and then make sure I lived by it. I would spend hours in his small office – whiteboards, markers, etc. – going over the “plays.” Without fail, he knew what I needed to do, and he knew how I should do it.
Bill had many tenets of leadership, but one that sticks with me, especially at this moment, is to “maintain a culture of respect.” This was essential for him – and he knew it came from the top of any organization. I worked hard to make sure that the prevailing culture at Google was one of respect above all else, as Larry and Sergey always have, and as Sundar does today. Like much of Coach’s advice, this one continues to resonate. I miss my coach.
KING OF THE HEDGE FUND MANAGERS: FOUNDER, BRIDGEWATER ASSOCIATES (WORLD’S LARGEST HEDGE FUND)
I think that the most important issue that will reshape our lives in the years ahead will be how man-made and artificial intelligence compete and work together.
My views have been colored by experiences with algorithmic decision-making over the last 30 years, which have been fabulous. But it’s a two-edged sword. I have learned that by thinking through my criteria for making decisions, writing them down as principles and then expressing them as algorithms so that the computer thinks in parallel with me, I can make much better decisions than I could make alone. It has also helped us to have an idea meritocracy that produces collective decision-making that’s much better than individual decision-making. But our path to doing this was to work with the computer to gain deep understanding.
PERPETUAL REINVENTOR: FOUNDER, SIRIUS, UNITED THERAPEUTICS; CREATOR OF PANAMSAT
Anything worthwhile in life requires teamwork, and you cannot manage what you don’t understand. My favorite thing to do at work is to walk around and talk to people. Each person is like a library of information. The more I know about a person, the better able I am to connect them to other people with synergistic interests – a leader works for those they lead. Lawrence Bell, the founder of Bell Aircraft, said that anyone unwilling to do small things should not be trusted to do big things. Running a business is a very big thing, because you are having an outsize effect on countless people’s lives. Hence, when I started creating organ-manufacturing technology, I practiced suturing arteries.
I find it awe-inspiring that there are an infinite number of ways to improve the world through business. Providing better products and services, or less expensive ones, or more accessible ones, all makes people happier. That’s what it’s all about.
CORPORATE RAIDER/ACTIVIST INVESTOR: FOUNDER, ICAHN ENTERPRISES
Sometimes the best way to make money is when most people say you are wrong and nuts. It’s not easy to do, but it’s like in the Rudyard Kipling poem: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs.” If you have the emotional makeup (you can develop it), you don’t care what the experts are saying.
You need to do a lot of work to be contrarian and you need to have the strength – you can’t just be a contrarian to be contrarian. For example, when we had the junk bond crash of 1989, for a few days I was literally almost the only one buying – even though it took a few years, we made a fortune on them. I believed the risk-reward ratio was greatly in my favor because I felt I was buying companies, not bonds.
You are not always right, and it sometimes takes a long time to prove it out. A lot of the time you are early. (I really believe today, for example, that this market is going to have a crisis, some major corrections, so I have been hedged.) People thought I was crazy when I bought the Stratosphere Hotel in Las Vegas out of bankruptcy. It was in the north end of the Strip – at the time, a part of town as bad as a Third World country. Then I bought all the homes around the Stratosphere. Even the people in Las Vegas and at the hotel told me I was crazy. But it was the fact that I bought the shacks and the 24 acres next to the Stratosphere that made the hotel very attractive. Goldman Sachs ended up buying the Stratosphere from me, and we made about $1 billion.
It’s not easy, but something inside you goes click. That’s what I enjoy.
MALL STORE JUGGERNAUT: VISIONARY FOR THE LIMITED (VICTORIA’S SECRET, PINK, BATH & BODY WORKS, ETC.)
Back when I had just a few stores, I made a cold call to the office of John Galbreath, who was probably the most successful guy in Ohio at the time. He was a big international real estate developer, but he also owned the Pittsburgh Pirates and had a private airport outside of Columbus, where the queen of England once flew in to talk to him about Thoroughbred horse breeding.
I introduced myself over the phone, and he invited me to his office. We talked for about an hour. What I really wanted to know was how he had gone from being a kid on a farm to a friend of the queen of England. He told me that the key was just to be curious and pursue various interests. Riding down the elevator, I remember sort of shaking my head and thinking to myself, what a load of crap. Here I had come for wisdom, and he just tells me to be curious.
And yet, I have continued to reflect on that conversation in the 40 years since then. Curiosity led me to see if I could replicate building one successful retail brand into creating several. I ended up building Victoria’s Secret, Express, Abercrombie & Fitch and Bath & Body Works. Curiosity made me wonder if I could have success in picking the right garments for stores. Would I have an eye for picking out artwork? I eventually selected a collection centered on Pablo Picasso. If I was a leader in my business and industry, could I become a leader in my community, too? I now devote 10% to 20% of my time to improving my hometown of Columbus, Ohio. Curiosity has kept me young as I have gotten older. Now, nearly a half century after I walked into Galbreath’s office, I’m still curious to see what’s next.
Customer service by…
Sean “Diddy” Combs
HIP-HOP MOGUL (BAD BOY); FASHION MOGUL (SEAN JOHN); LIQUOR MOGUL (CIROC)
I started my business career at age 12, delivering newspapers. I had a lot of elderly customers, so I would always put the newspaper in between the screen door and the door – that caring made me different, made me better than the last paperboy. Since then, I’ve always understood that if I give the customers my best and service them differently, whether music, clothing or vodka, I’ll get a return on my hard work.
THE MONEYBALL MAN: OAKLAND A’S EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT
In sports, you’re not allowed to just survive. People cheer for teams that win. And it’s a zero-sum game. You don’t get partial credit for losing. I never doubted the Moneyball approach. We had two choices – intuition or data. Before, it seemed like we were making decisions on a roulette wheel, and when we were correct we celebrated the good guesses and applied some sort of clairvoyance to it, as opposed to just pure luck and random outcome.
So instead, we were very rational, logical and fact-based. What was interesting was the resistance. When we applied data to decision making and relied on objective reasoning, it was held to a perfect standard. If it was not correct 100% of the time, the response was “I told you that number s–t doesn’t work.” But it did work. And then we had to evolve again. As soon as you think you’ve completely figured it out, you’re probably in trouble. Every business is a living document, an algorithm that needs to be improved.
In my fourth year at the University of Southern California, the teacher from my professional practice class came up to me in the courtyard one day and said, “Frank, I’ve been watching you, and I think you’re a talented guy who’s going to go somewhere. I just want to give you one word of advice: No matter how small a project you work on, and no matter what it is, put your heart and soul and sense of responsibility into it, and don’t dismiss anything.” He said it very clearly and lovingly, and I never forgot it and I’ve lived by it.
Due diligence by…
RAGS TO (BILLION-DOLLAR) RICHES: FOUNDER, CEO, SPANX
In the early days of Spanx, I didn’t vet the manufacturer helping me make our first product, footless pantyhose. They went out of business and gave me one week’s notice. It almost put Spanx under. Had I done any kind of financial due diligence on them, I would have been able to prevent that. Early-stage entrepreneurs shouldn’t forget about that layer. It almost stopped everything for me.
TECH TRAILBLAZER: WOMEN’S LEADERSHIP CHAMPION; COO, FACEBOOK
Driving to work on my first day back after maternity leave, I cried the entire way there. I wanted to work, but leaving my son at home was hard. To be able to see him, I started finding ways to come in later and leave earlier.
Years later I mentioned in an interview that I left work at 5:30. The response was overwhelmingly positive. That’s when I realized that we are better employees when we stop trying to be two people and bring our whole selves to work. That doesn’t mean working around the clock. It means sharing what you are going through so that other people can empathize and help you.
When I lost my husband Dave two years ago, I learned this lesson even more deeply. Dave was a true partner at home and at work and taught me the value of peer mentorship. When I was talking to Mark about joining Facebook, Dave told me not to work out the substance in advance but rather to agree on the process. His point was that the substance would change but our working relationship was the single most important thing to get right. We agreed to sit together, giving each other feedback every week one-on-one. Nine years later, I often smile when I remember how Dave’s advice set us up for success.
So bringing my full self to work meant being openly sad. The way colleagues supported me drove home the need for better policies for bereavement and sick leave. Taking care of people when they need it most is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.
THE DECODER: FOUNDER, CELERA GENOMICS; HUMAN GENOME SEQUENCER; CHAIRMAN, HUMAN LONGEVITY INC. AND SYNTHETIC GENOMICS INC.
Timing is everything in science, like it is in most things in life. In 1944 Oswald Avery did the experiment proving DNA was how traits are inherited. But he didn’t get the Nobel Prize because everybody wanted to believe proteins were the genetic material. I’ve been lucky. I nearly flunked out of high school, and I decided not to go to college even though I had a swimming scholarship. I ended up in Vietnam. After, I had to start my education over from scratch. I had this English teacher, Bruce Cameron. We became lifelong friends. If it weren’t for him, I would not have survived the first semester of community college. He taught me to ignore the assignment and write what I wanted. I ended up getting my Ph.D. in just three years. I learned that most people fail in science because they talk themselves out of doing the experiment. Ideas are a dime a dozen. What makes the difference is the execution of the idea. That taught me to recognize when it was time to adopt new technologies to understand genetics and then even to sequence the human genome. Once, I was too early: I started trying to create synthetic life a decade before the world was ready for it. But it’s ready now.
ULTIMATE TASTEMAKER: FOUNDER, LUXURY-GOODS CONGLOMERATE LVMH
The success of LVMH is built on creativity, quality, entrepreneurship and, most importantly, long-term vision. For instance, I remember the first time I visited China, in 1991. I arrived in Beijing – I saw no cars, only bicycles, no tall buildings. The GDP was 4% of what it is today. Nonetheless, we decided to open our first Louis Vuitton store in China. Today Louis Vuitton is the number one luxury brand in the country and across the world. We have been seeing for the past 25 years a growing desire for high-quality products and an acceleration of buying power. Nowadays, the internet makes the planet much smaller. Product launches now need to be global in order to be successful. When you start something today, you usually have to start it all over the world at the same time to be successful, and you can see what’s going on anywhere, instantly. That requires higher investment – which gives us an advantage. Creating increasingly desirable new products and selling them worldwide is what LVMH does best.
HEDGE FUND GODFATHER: FOUNDER, TIGER MANAGEMENT
Do you know what the most desirable job was at the beginning of my career, in the 1950s? Advertising. All the hotshots went into advertising. Investment banks? They were begging for people. I was interested in stocks from an early age, so I really wanted to go into investment banking. The fancy way in was to go to business school and then get into the investment banking department of one of the firms, but I started as a stockbroker. Today, people wonder why hedge funds aren’t doing better – I think it is from increasing competition from other hedge funds. If I were starting out now, I would look at what the competition is like in various fields – and then consider some that aren’t so popular.
WORLD BUILDER: CHAIRMAN, CEO, ARCELORMITTAL, THE LARGEST STEELMAKER ON EARTH
Steel is one of the most used materials in the world today, but that doesn’t mean in the future there won’t be a different way of making steel or that other, new materials won’t be developed that challenge steel’s position. The pace of technological change is significantly faster than historically – every industry today has to fight complacency, prepare to see the disruption coming and then be flexible enough to adapt swiftly.
IRON MAN: ALPHA ENTREPRENEUR; COFOUNDER, PAYPAL, TESLA, SPACEX
Artificial intelligence will provide many societal benefits, including self-driving cars and improved medical diagnostics. However, with AI we may be summoning the demon and could create an existential risk to humanity. If a digital superintelligence were inadvertently optimized to do something detrimental to humanity, this could have catastrophic consequences. It could be something like directing the AI to get rid of spam, and it concludes the best way to get rid of spam is to get rid of humans. Or a financial program decides the best way to make money is to increase the value of defense stocks by starting a war. We’re the first species capable of self-annihilation, and it’s extremely likely, given enough time. The question: Can we get ahead of it? We need to learn as much as possible and should create a government agency to regulate AI. Ultimately the private sector will have to take the lead in building safe and useful technology that benefits humanity.
THE WORLD OVERNIGHT: FOUNDER, FEDEX
Everything was going as planned in the early days of FedEx, until the Arab oil embargo hit in 1973. Suddenly our costs spiked and our cash evaporated. Right around then I went out to Vegas with this high roller I knew. We went to the casino and he got me a line of credit.
I knew how to play blackjack from my days in Vietnam. It was a horrible war with a bad strategy and terrible consequences, but I met some great people and played a lot of cards. The odds in blackjack actually aren’t that bad if you know how to bet. The problem is most people get chicken and pull their money off the table exactly when they ought to be doubling down. I didn’t have that problem. I won $27,000 and wired it back to the company.
The myth says that money alone saved FedEx. The truth is that we owed so much damn money, $27,000 didn’t make much of a difference on the balance sheet. But it lifted our confidence at a time that we needed it. No business school graduate would recommend gambling as a financial strategy, but sometimes it pays to be a little crazy early in your career.
Golden rule by…
John Paul DeJoria
SELF-MADE BILLIONAIRE—TWICE: CO-FOUNDER, JOHN PAUL MITCHELL SYSTEMS; COFOUNDER, PATRÓN TEQUILA
There’s turnover of staff and then there’s efficiency of staff. Companies sometimes hire 10 people to do the job of three. What’s the answer to it all? It’s a basic thing that goes back to the law to do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Treat and pay your staff exactly the way you’d want to be treated if you were in their place.
Now, how does this work? John Paul Mitchell Systems is in almost 100 countries. We’ve been around for 37 years. My turnover is less than 100 people. Only two people have even retired from our company. They don’t want to. They’re having such a good time.
Someone once asked Francisco Alcaraz, the genius distiller creating all of our formulas for Patrón, “What is the secret? Why is Patrón so good? Why do people keep coming back?” He says, “The secret’s very easy. It’s called love. We are all treated so well, we love what we’re doing. We never want to leave. We want every bottle to be reflective of us.”
With Patrón, 53 people touch every single bottle; that’s a lot of hands-on work, and they’re all loved. If you work for me during the day shift, you get a free lunch by chefs. If you work for me at night during the night shift, you get a free lunch and dinner by chefs. You want to pray during the day? We built a chapel right in the middle of the 17th-century Spanish-French hacienda.
In all the businesses we’re involved in it’s the exact same way. If you love your people and let them know you’re giving back, not just hoarding all the money for yourself, they want to join in.
David M. Rubenstein
WASHINGTON’S FINANCIER: COFOUNDER, CO-CEO, THE CARLYLE GROUP
Thomas Jefferson famously said that the country is, to some extent, about the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately, over the next 50 years of his life he never defined what happiness was. Personal happiness might be the most elusive thing in life. In my own case, personal happiness came about much more from giving away my money than from earning it. I use what I call the “mother test.” If your mother calls you and tells you that she is proud of what you are doing, that’s probably a good indication that you are on the road to happiness. My mother used to call much more when I was giving away my money than when I was making it.
SURVIVOR: COFOUNDER, MICROSOFT; INVESTOR AND PHILANTHROPIST (VULCAN); SPORTS TEAM OWNER; BRAIN SCIENCE BENEFACTOR
We are about to enter the era of deep medicine, where we understand cell pathways and how to change them. I’m a two-time cancer survivor. First I had Hodgkin’s, a young person’s cancer. And then non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Right now they just hit you with everything they’ve got, like carpet bombing. And then my mother passed away of Alzheimer’s. Those things are motivating experiences that make you want to understand things better and then make a difference. In maybe 20 or 30 years, we will use things like stem cells to change disease outcomes – your own immune system, designed by evolution, to attack sick cells and things like that. It seems inconceivable now – we have thousands of types of cells, so there are trillions of combinations – but healthcare would be much more personal. And the costs will potentially decline.
COMPUTER INSIDER: FOUNDER, TAIWAN SEMICONDUCTOR
My values are: integrity, commitment, innovation and trust from customers. Integrity means honesty and willingness to fulfill a promise, even at high cost. Commitment means dedication and loyalty to a task or an organization. Innovation means change. Trust from customers of course has to be earned, and I try to earn it by integrity and commitment.
J.W. “Bill” Marriott Jr.
AMERICA’S HOTELIER: CHAIRMAN, MARRIOTT INTERNATIONAL
I learned what may be the single biggest factor in our success the hard way, when I was in the Navy. I was assigned to be the wardroom officer on an aircraft carrier, and I had a bunch of stewards doing the food preparation. They were enlisted men who were World War II veterans because this was back in the early 1950s. I had new recipe cards that I thought would improve the quality of the food. I gave them an order to follow the cards. And they just gave me this glassy stare and said, “We ain’t following them,” and I didn’t know what to do, so I let them do their own thing. I realized that I didn’t get their buy-in. I didn’t sit down with them and say, I think we can improve the quality of the food if you follow these recipes.
The four most important words in business are “What do you think?” And that’s why I would visit over 200 hotels a year to meet with our associates. You can talk about all the technology, distribution and other things that are taking place. If you take good care of your associates, they’ll take good care of the customers and the customers will come back. We’re in the people business. We don’t manufacture anything. We just take care of our guests.
BUILDER: COFOUNDER, HOME DEPOT; OWNER, ATLANTA FALCONS
When I was running Home Depot, I’d always stop the customers who walked out of our stores with nothing. They were the ones who taught us the most. Odds were, they didn’t come to Home Depot just to walk around. They came because they wanted to buy something. And somehow, we had let them down. Wrong stuff, wrong price, bad service – something. They would tell us what the issue was, and then we would just go in and fix the problem.
I took the same approach after buying the Atlanta Falcons. At the time, 40% of our stadium was empty. Our players needed a full house of our fans, but half of the people who came to games were rooting for the other team. So I went around the city asking people why they weren’t buying tickets. I didn’t ask Falcons employees – they had been trying to get people into the stadium since 1966, and they hadn’t figured it out yet. I asked everyone else I met. Why don’t you come to the Georgia Dome? They always had some explanation. We made a list of the problems and then fixed them. This is my 15th year as an owner, and we’ve sold out every game except for two.
Business isn’t all that complicated. If someone is out in the desert walking around, they’re going to be thirsty. You just have to ask them what they want to drink. If you have the humility to listen to other people rather than just hawking stuff, you’re going to have a lot of customers. Too many businesspeople have big egos and aren’t willing to ask.
VISIONARY: FOUNDER, ARMANI
I always try to maintain a sense of reality and ensure that I surround myself with the right people, who understand the times in which we live. In this line of work, my team is crucial. I’m the one who decides, but I like having lots of other people with whom I can discuss ideas, as this helps with the creative process. In the world of fashion, five years is already a hundred, so going forward, the challenge will be to capture the attention of a public that is increasingly stimulated by countless offers and new forms of communication.
Industry shifts by…
CONNECTOR: RAILROADS, QWEST, ENTERTAINMENT
I’ve always been intellectually curious. I like to research how and why things are, and imagine how they might change. Specifically, I look for industries in transition and try to anticipate opportunities that could arise from changes in underlying fundamentals. So far I’ve had decent timing when it comes to certain businesses, such as energy, railroads and telecom. Deregulation changed the railroad and telephone industries. When I was running Southern Pacific, we realized that railroad rights-of-way were perfect paths to lay fiber-optic cables. So we started Qwest to lay important portions of the early backbone of the internet. I got a little nervous when Qwest had over $1 billion of fiber in the ground and no customers, but it wasn’t long before we went from selling voice by the minute to selling data by the gigabyte. With the rise of the digital world, I believed demand would grow for live analog entertainment like sports and music, so we started building and acquiring more than 100 unique venues, like the L.A. Staples Center and the O2 London, along with music, entertainment and teams to play in them like the Kings, Lakers and Galaxy. While the underlying concept was developing well-located real estate, the critical strategy was content.
A sector about to undergo transformational change is the power industry, driven in part by the rise of renewable clean energy, which has the potential to drive change, much like the advent of fiber optics drove change within the telephone business. I’m currently building what could be America’s biggest wind farm.
Not everything of course always works as anticipated, but it helps to get into the habit of being curious and developing a willingness to accept the concept of risk.
AGENT OF DISRUPTION: NAPSTER COFOUNDER, FACEBOOK’S FIRST PRESIDENT, SPOTIFY EVANGELIST
I’ve been involved in the start of many innovative ideas and companies, not because they were fashionable at the time but because they appealed to my sense of intellectual curiosity. Just as experts in the record industry couldn’t accept that music on the internet would ever go mainstream, or that social media would ever be used by adults rather than college kids, I have always chosen to ignore the conventional wisdom in favor of the ideas that interested me. Inventing the future starts with intellectual curiosity – along with a healthy dose of skepticism. You need enough curiosity to “deep dive” into the ideas that interest you. And enough skepticism to second-guess everything you think you know and everything the so-called experts want you to believe.
We’re living at a unique moment in history, where everyone on the internet who has a knack for Googling can access more information than any university could ever teach. About a decade ago I became interested in the emerging field of cancer immunotherapy. The data was compelling, even though the field had been written off by famous oncologists. But with little more than the internet at my disposal, I was able to learn enough about the field to be dangerous. I got involved in funding clinical trials for drugs that would ultimately treat blood cancers and melanoma. In a few short years the field of immunotherapy had produced several billion-dollar companies, FDA approved drugs and breakthroughs that helped patients where conventional treatments had failed. I launched a non-profit institute dedicated to the field, assembling a dream team of scientists around a $250 million bet that the next generation of immunotherapy treatments would treat an even larger number of patients. While engineering T cells to fight cancer may seem very different from writing software to give away free music, the instincts that led me to each of these projects haven’t changed a bit.
SHOWMAN: BILLIONAIRE COFOUNDER, CIRQUE DU SOLEIL
I came up in Montreal as a street performer – a fire-breather, literally. I lived in the streets for almost 10 years, by choice. And the streets have their own rules. Sometimes, you have a fraction of a second to evaluate, when you first meet somebody, whether they might stab you or become your friend. The things I learned in the street about reading and feeling people and believing my intuition proved very important in my business life. If I was entering a meeting, I was able to stand and scan people and feel them immediately as what they were, instead of discovering weeks later, when it was too late.
AMERICA’S MONEY MANAGER: FORMER PORTFOLIO MANAGER, MAGELLAN FUND
My biggest mistake was that I always sold stocks way too early. In fact, I got a call from Warren Buffett in 1989. My daughter picks up the phone and says, “It’s Mr. Buffett on the line.” And I thought some of my buddies are kidding me because she was only six. And I pick up the phone, and I hear, “This is Warren Buffett from Omaha, Nebraska.” You know, he talks so fast. “And I love your book, One Up on Wall Street, and I want to use a line from it in my year-end report. I have to have it. Can I please use it?” I said, “Sure. What’s the line?” He says, “Selling your winners and holding your losers is like cutting the flowers and watering the weeds.”
That one line that he picked in my whole book has been my greatest mistake. I visited the first four Home Depots ever built. I sold that stock after it tripled, and then it went up another fiftyfold. If you’re great in this business you’re right six times out of ten. But the times you’re right, if you make a triple or ten-bagger, it overcomes your mistakes. So you have to find the big winners. I sold way too early on Home Depot. I sold too early on Dunkin’ Donuts. Why did I do that? I was dumb. With great companies the passage of time is a major positive.
THE ORACLE: CEO, BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY; ARGUABLY THE GREATEST INVESTOR AND BIGGEST PHILANTHROPIST OF ALL TIME
When I was 7 or 8 years old, I was lucky in that I found a subject that really interested me – investing. I read every book on that topic in the Omaha Public Library by the time I was 11. Some of them more than once. My dad happened to be in the investment business, so when I would go down to have lunch with him on Saturdays, or whenever it might be, I would pick up the books around his office and start reading. (If he’d been a shoe salesman, I might be a shoe salesman now.)
I bought the book that became the largest influence on my investing life by accident, while I was at the University of Nebraska. I read and reread The Intelligent Investor, by Benjamin Graham, about half a dozen times – it’s incredibly sound philosophically, very well written and easy to understand. And it gave me an investment philosophy that I’m still using today.
That strategy is to find a good business – and one that I can understand why it’s good – with a durable, competitive advantage, run by able and honest people, and available at a price that makes sense. Because we’re not going to sell the business, we don’t need something with earnings that go up the next month or the next quarter; we need something that will earn more money 10 and 20 and 30 years from now. And then we want a management team we admire and trust.
My favorite investment, one that embodies this philosophy, is Geico, which I learned about when I was 20 years old, because I got on a train and went down to Washington and banged on the door on a Saturday until Lorimer Davidson, who would later become CEO, responded. He answered my questions, taught me the insurance business and explained to me the competitive advantage that Geico had. That afternoon changed my life.
Here’s a product that now costs, on average, about $1,800 a year. People don’t want to buy it – but they do want to drive. And they hope they never use it, because they don’t want to have an accident. And Geico was a way to deliver that product for less money than people had been paying. When Berkshire bought control of it in 1995, it had about a 2% market share; now it has a 12% market share, and we are saving the American public perhaps $4 billion a year against what they would be paying if they had bought insurance the way they had before. A simple idea when Leo Goodwin founded the company in 1936. The same simple idea now.
Ben Franklin said it a long time ago: “Keep thy shop and thy shop will keep thee.” The quaint language aside, it means don’t just satisfy your customers – delight them. They’re gonna talk to other people. They’re going to come back. Anybody who has happy customers is likely to have a pretty good future.
But ultimately, there’s one investment that supersedes all others: Invest in yourself. Address whatever you feel your weaknesses are, and do it now. I was terrified of public speaking when I was young. I couldn’t do it. It cost me $100 to take a Dale Carnegie course, and it changed my life. I got so confident about my new ability, I proposed to my wife during the middle of the course. It also helped me sell stocks in Omaha, despite being 21 and looking even younger. Nobody can take away what you’ve got in yourself – and everybody has potential they haven’t used yet. If you can increase your potential 10%, 20% or 30% by enhancing your talents, they can’t tax it away. Inflation can’t take it from you. You have it the rest of your life.
DATA PIONEER (EDS, PEROT SYSTEMS); ORIGINAL POPULIST-BUSINESSMAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
Believe in big ideas. In 1962 I was IBM’s biggest salesman for those giant mainframe computers. I tried to convince IBM we were missing an opportunity, that in addition to selling the computers, we ought to sell services, too – as in help our customers learn how to use their new machines. But IBM wasn’t interested, and my big idea nearly died right there. That week I went to get my hair cut, and while flipping through a Reader’s Digest I came across a quote from Henry David Thoreau: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” That wasn’t for me. It was at that moment that I decided to go it alone, to start my own company, Electronic Data Systems. After 70 sales calls I finally landed my first customer. Two decades later, after I had sold EDS to General Motors, I got into the business of backing the next generation of entrepreneurs. I recognized a little bit of myself in 1986 when I put up $20 million to seed Steve Jobs at NeXT Computer, which he eventually sold to Apple Computer. He believed in big ideas, too.
Keep ‘em honest by…
THE PICASSO OF ART DEALERS
There was a painting that Si Newhouse wanted to buy in the early 1980s – “Aloha” by Roy Lichtenstein. I had sold several paintings from that collection to him, and this Lichtenstein was $1 million. Only a handful of paintings had sold for $1 million at that time. So I said, “Let’s write them a check.” And Si, who is a billionaire, said, “No, I’m not going to write a check for $1 million. Let’s pay them $100,000 a month.” And when I asked him why, he said, “I don’t want them to think that money comes that easily.” If he were willing to write a check right away, he explained, it would influence the negotiation. It was a shrewd lesson, especially since “Aloha” would later become worth well over $100 million.
CHINA’S PREEMINENT VENTURE CAPITALIST
Our business changes so quickly that one must continuously go through learning curves to stay relevant. A part of learning is done through reading, and the other part, which is likely more important, is talking with bright minds from different fields – scientists, writers, policymakers, philosophers, etc. Such engagement helps you get many new perspectives on life and the world.
We are in the business of helping entrepreneurs build the very best companies in the world, mostly in the technology space. I do not think we will be replaced by AI. This business oftentimes is more like art than science.
We might have to live with an easy monetary policy environment on a global basis for a very long period of time to come. How to consistently create value and generate alpha, with this backdrop, is the real challenge.
TALK SHOW MASTER; SYNDICATION SUPERSTAR; BRANDING JUGGERNAUT; FOUNDER, OPRAH WINFREY NETWORK
I was invited by Nelson Mandela to stay at his home for 10 days. At first, I was very intimidated. I’d said to my partner Stedman, “What am I going to talk about for 10 days and 10 nights at Nelson Mandela’s house?” And Stedman said, “Why don’t you try listening?” So when I was there, halfway through my visit with him, I got comfortable sitting and being with him. First of all, when you go to Nelson Mandela’s house, what do you take? You can’t bring a candle. What I wanted to do really was leave something that would be of value. When we were talking one day, we started a conversation about what was in the newspaper: poverty and how to change it. And I said, “The only way to change poverty is through education, and one day I would like to build a school in South Africa.” And he said, “You want to build a school?” He got up and called the minister of education. By that afternoon I was in a meeting, talking about building a school.
Lee Shau Kee
HONG KONG’S LANDLORD; STOCK-PICKING SAVANT
There’s a Chinese saying: “Explore what’s best in the others and follow.” Among my friends, I always learn the best from them.
HIP-HOP PIONEER; SERIAL ENTREPRENEUR; YOGA GURU
The self is the greatest teacher: The more you dig, the more you learn. So the self-discovery is your journey. Yogis refer to the state of yoga, which is the same as heaven on Earth. If you’re present and awake, you become this great thinker, this great worker. You become a fine-tuned machine.
Diane von Furstenberg
FASHION ICON, ENTREPRENEUR, TASTEMAKER; INVENTOR OF THE WRAP DRESS
My mother, a Holocaust survivor, taught me that fear is not an option and that has been my guideline. I came to America in 1970 as a young European bride, with a dream and a suitcase full of Italian printed jersey dresses that I had designed. They were simple, easy, sexy little dresses that could be worn anywhere and did not wrinkle. My guardian angel mentor was Angelo Ferretti, the Italian man who owned the factory those dresses were made in. He believed in me, and I believed in his printed jersey fabric.
In New York I met my second mentor, the editor-in-chief of American Vogue, Diana Vreeland. Although I had shown my dresses to other editors, she saw something special in them, something modern and fresh. She helped me with exposure and introducing me to stores. With the help of a salesman, I took a showroom. Soon after, I designed the first wrap dress. Overnight that dress became a huge commercial success and a symbol of women’s liberation. Soon we were making 25,000 dresses a week. I was living the American Dream and established my brand.
After that I had many ups and downs, but what allowed me to survive is that I was always honest and I truly believed in what I did. With my dress, I was selling confidence and, with its success, I was getting more and more confident. Confidence in what you do is crucial, but that does not mean being delusional. You must always face the truth and the combat the obstacles as they appear.
SALESMAN AND RINGMASTER EXTRAORDINAIRE: OWNER, TRUMP ORGANIZATION; 45TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
The greatest business lesson I’ve learned in life is the same message I have for young people across America: Never give up. Even in the most difficult circumstances, have faith in yourself, confidence in your abilities and the conviction that you will be able to win for your family, for your business and for your country. But you have to relish the fight – you have to enjoy coming in to work each day and going to battle for what you believe in, and for the people who you believe in. And if you do that, if you keep moving forward, then each victory along the way will feed into another victory, and another opportunity, and another chance for a breakthrough. By building this momentum, by pushing, by never backing down and by refusing to allow other people to define your limits, you will bring your goals into closer range, and you will accomplish them. America is a land of dreams, and if we chase those dreams with all of our hearts, then our country will be greater than ever before.
THE CEO OF CEOS: FORMER CEO, GE
My biggest mistake was explosive – literally. In 1963, three years into my GE career, I was a chemical engineer, eager and ambitious and trying like hell to build a plastics business in an electrical company. In the process, my pilot plant blew up. Yes, blew up – roof collapsed, windows shattered, clouds of smoke, the works. I thank God no one was hurt, to this day. But I was certain my career was over, especially when my boss in Pittsfield suddenly didn’t know me, and I got a call to go see the big boss in New York. His name was Charlie Reed, and I didn’t know him at all. What I did know was that I was terrified – I was sure I was going to be yelled at, humiliated and then unceremoniously fired. After all, it was my plant and my fault.
But Charlie Reed taught me a huge lesson about leadership and life that day. He was calm. He was kind. He was thoughtful. He spent several hours with me, employing the Socratic method of questioning, to help me understand why the explosion occurred and what I could have – and should have – done differently. And then, after it was all over, he gave me a second chance.
I learned to never kick someone when they’re down. Everyone makes mistakes, and some are real whoppers. But that makes them whopping opportunities, too – for growth. In the years after my encounter with Charlie, I followed his example with my own employees, and saw it help more people for the better. I also learned that the time to “kick” people – and by kick I mean “challenge” – is when they’re on the way up, to remind them that when you’re growing, make sure your head isn’t swelling, too!
THE MOUSE THAT MIKE BUILT: FORMER CEO, DISNEY
In 1998, Disney bought Infoseek, then one of the largest search engines, behind Yahoo. Shortly thereafter, I was convinced in the men’s room by a consultant at McKinsey that Infoseek shouldn’t do advertised search because it wasn’t the Disney way. I wasn’t in my office, I wasn’t thinking, and I said, “Oh, yeah. My job is to protect the Disney brand. We won’t have advertised search, that’s not clean.” Google came around and did AdWords, and Infoseek didn’t. It was probably a $200 billion mistake. After that, we made a rule: No more meetings in the bathroom.
MULTITASKING CEO: TWITTER, SQUARE
My biggest mistake was thinking I shouldn’t show my mistakes – I learned I should.
GLOBAL CONNECTOR: COFOUNDER, FACEBOOK
My hope was never to build a company. I was driven by a sense of purpose to connect people and bring us closer together.
A couple years after starting Facebook, some big companies wanted to buy us. Nearly everyone else wanted to sell, but I didn’t. I wanted to see if we could connect more people. It tore our company apart, fraying relationships until, within a year or so, every single person on the management team was gone.
That was my hardest time leading Facebook. I believed in what we were doing, but I felt alone. And worse, it was my fault. It taught me that it’s not enough to have purpose yourself. You have to create a sense of purpose for others. And I hadn’t explained what I hoped to build.
That sense of purpose creates motivation and meaning for people beyond just surviving or making money. It attracts other people who are interested in the right things. People here build products because they want to do something meaningful and play an important part in how people use Facebook. The company has to be successful for us to keep going, but the real motivation is creating positive social change in the world.
I think that’s true for most good businesses. Building something like Facebook and running a community like ours requires some inspiration. A lot of our leadership team is wired that way. Our compass as a company is all about making our services available to the most people possible so we can give everyone around the world a voice.
People often ask me for advice about starting a company, and I always tell them your goal should never be starting a company. Focus on the change you want to make, find people who share your same purpose, and eventually you may have an opportunity to build something that helps create purpose for others and has a positive impact on the world.
ENTREPRENEURIAL ICON: AFRICA’S FIRST BLACK BILLIONAIRE
After I completed my first significant transaction, buying mines that were closed or about to close, with a demotivated workforce of 8,000, who for years had been told, “Guys, you’re not cutting it,” people asked if I was mad. But we ran our business differently and it worked – we paid our workers based on profitability, with bonuses based on aspirational targets that, if achieved, created money for the mineworkers, the company and its shareholders alike.
CEILING BREAKER, COMPANY BUILDER: FORMER CEO, EBAY; CEO, HEWLETT PACKARD ENTERPRISE
There is a myth (at least I believe it’s a myth) that being successful demands that we give up on decent, commonsense values: honesty, family, community, integrity, generosity, courage, empathy, etc. As we advance in our careers, there is this belief that winning at all costs is winning nonetheless. I never bought into that myth. I respect ambition, but not ruthless ambition.
We have the opportunity today to use our values to help us reinvent our future during a time of great stress and economic anxiety. There are those who see a focus on values as a luxury for prosperous times, when we can “afford” to think about making the world a kinder or nobler place. I want to make a different argument: It is precisely during difficult times that we need to align our priorities and actions with the fundamental principles that ultimately create stability, efficiency, energy and even prosperity. Navigating by essential values can have a force-multiplying effect.
VISIONARY: INVENTOR, WORLD WIDE WEB
I published my proposal for the World Wide Web in 1989. From the outset, I imagined it as an open, universal space, where anyone, anywhere could take their ideas and bring them to life without having to ask for permission or pay royalties. I hardwired these factors into the Web’s design and made a conscious decision not to try to copyright or patent it. In 1993, CERN, my employers at the time, agreed to make the code available to anyone, royalty-free, forever.
This openness is at the core of what makes the Web powerful. It has underpinned the decades of creativity and innovation, opening up access to information, letting us communicate and collaborate across borders, and creating new industries. But now, as the Web matures, this openness is under threat.
Some governments have stepped up censorship of information they feel threatened by, using Web-based technologies to monitor citizens or even shutting down the internet in their jurisdiction. And some companies are also trying to limit openness for financial gain by challenging the principle that all internet traffic is treated equally – net neutrality. The internet is both a market for bandwidth and a market enabler (content, social networks, etc.). Strong net neutrality rules separating these markets are key. Otherwise, one set of interests can control the other – a disaster for innovation.
The open Web has been fertile ground for entrepreneurs to build successful companies –without having to ask permission from internet providers to allow their idea to take off. You break that “permissionless” space, and you establish substantial barriers for the Web’s next big thing.
The open Web, like all open markets, demands rules to ensure it stays fair and competitive. For the economic, social and political benefit of all, the Web must be recognized as a public good and locked open through appropriate corporate and government action – including the preservation of net neutrality. No single individual can control the future of the Web, but together we can keep it open and build the Web we want.
Operating lean by…
SCRAMBLER: OIL WILDCATTER, FOOTBALL REVOLUTIONARY; OWNER, DALLAS COWBOYS
In my mid-30s, I would have annual visits with Sam Walton. At that time I was primarily in the oil and gas business and some real estate. I asked him very early in our acquaintance if he had one rule that he practiced, what would it be, and I have applied it ever since. “If you are not undermanned, you’re overstaffed, and you’ll never see your heroes.” What he meant: Keep your labor or your expense down and maximize the responsibility you extend to fewer people. When you do that you will see the people who have the ability and motivation to do the work.
When I bought the Cowboys in 1989, Tex Schramm had done a marvelous job creating visibility. What was lacking was the ability to monetize the visibility – to bring back home juice. When we first met, he said that football would be a hell of business if you didn’t have to play those games. With Sam Walton in mind, I set out to have a franchise that could have financial viability, win or lose. I call it bringing the ten-pound bass in on the one-pound test line.
The ineffective people take care of themselves. Someone has to produce or it becomes apparent where they are. We need people with across-the-board knowledge in terms of what we are trying to do. One of the real plusses of oil and gas exploration is you can do it with a relatively small staff. We probably have only a dozen involved in running the Cowboys and related businesses. I am my own president and GM; if you eliminate my family you probably have only two or three people involved. You can do a lot of things with fewer people if you are willing to take a lot of risk. There is definitely a correlation.
FACE OF THE AMERICAN DREAM: OWNER, FLEX-N-GATE; OWNER, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
When I showed up in America at 16, I wasn’t trying to make billions – I was just trying to survive. I had come from Pakistan with 500 bucks in my pocket and not much else. The bus dropped me off at a place that cost $8 a night. I asked if there was anything cheaper, and they told me to go to the YMCA. So I trudged down the street in the middle of one of the worst snowstorms in Illinois history. I had never seen snow before, and my shoes were falling apart. The YMCA cost $2 a night, and after a meal, I was already down $3 or $4. That was big money back in Pakistan.
But the next morning, I found an opportunity to make even bigger money. All I had to do was wash dishes and I could earn $1.20 an hour. That was more than 99% of the people back home in Pakistan. I realized right then that this was the land of opportunity and I could control my own fate. Less than 24 hours after arriving, I had already discovered the American Dream.
VOICE OF A GENERATION: BEATLE, ARTIST, SONGWRITER, COPYRIGHT OWNER
In the mid-1980s, Michael Jackson and I were hanging out, and he asked me for career advice. I said, “Okay, three things: First of all, get yourself a really good manager. You’re really hot now, there’s going to be a lot of money coming in, and you really need someone to help you manage it. Second, think about getting into videos.” (Shortly after that, he did “Thriller,” so I thought that was cool, he took my advice.) Then I said, “And finally, be careful about your songs – own your work – and get into song publishing.” And he said, “Oh, I’m going to get yours!” I kind of laughed; I didn’t think he was serious. But he was.
It all goes back to the very beginning of the Beatles, when we signed the music publishing contract. We didn’t care what it was: We were just like any other writers; we wanted to get published. It turned out to be basically a slave contract; no matter how successful we made the company, we didn’t get a raise. After John died, I talked to Sir Lew Grade, who owned Northern Songs, the company that held our publishing rights. I said, “Lew, if you’re ever going to sell Northern Songs, you’ve got to come to me first.” He said, “I’m never going to sell.” And I said, “Fair enough. But if you do, come to me first.” He later came to me and said, “Yeah, I am selling it – for $20 million.” I said, “Okay, I think that’s a fair valuation.”
But I didn’t want to be the guy who bought John out. So I went to John’s people, and I said, “We’ve got this opportunity to buy Northern Songs, finally. It’s $20 million. And so that’s $10 million from me, $10 million from you. And we should do this, what do you think?” The response: “Oh, no, we can get it for $4 million.” I said, “I’m not sure about that.” It ended up falling through, and Michael later ended up buying it off this Australian guy Robert Holmes à Court for $47.5 million. I wasn’t willing to pay that much for my own songs. It’s difficult, when you’ve written them for nothing, to pay $50 million to get them back.
It’s so important to have good people around you. That’s why I’m anywhere near this list. My lawyers, John and Lee Eastman, are really smart, both great guys, and I listen to them. In recent years, they’ve helped me recover my copyrights. (There’s a U.S. law that allows me to get them back.) If I’m wheeling and dealing, life becomes very difficult for me. I’ve got to reserve a portion of my brain for writing songs.
ORIGINAL BARBARIAN: PRIVATE EQUITY PIONEER, COFOUNDER, KOHLBERG KRAVIS ROBERTS (KKR)
George Roberts and I are first cousins; we met at age 2 and we grew up together. We both went to Claremont McKenna College, and we roomed together in New York during summers, while I was working at Goldman Sachs and he at Bear Stearns. On our road trips from California to New York, we would quiz each other in the car: “What is yield? What’s P/E?” We didn’t know anything.
People often ask, “You must fight a lot?” The last fight we had was when we were 7 years old. He wanted to ride my new bike and I didn’t want him to. He chased me in the house in Tulsa, and I ran into the corner of a wall, cracked my head open. I had 23 stitches and thought, “Well, there has to be a better way than this.” So we don’t fight. We’ve never fought. We talk about things. He doesn’t agree with everything I think, and I don’t agree with everything he thinks, nor should we. It’s healthy. But we know each other so well I can finish his sentences, he can finish mine. Next to my wife, he is my best friend and confidant, and I trust him with my life, my family.
If you have the same values and are focused on the same goals, which is to build a firm that will be here long after we have retired, you can go a long way.
IMPACT MAN: EBAY BILLIONAIRE; SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP KINGPIN
We are on the cusp of a clean-energy economy, where energy is essentially costless, abundant and safe, with no externalities, no health costs, no Deepwater Horizons. Around the world, solar has done what looks like Moore’s Law. Wind has done somewhat the same, coming down to a competitive place. And to finish the trifecta, there’s a step change in batteries about to hit the world next year. I would liken the clean-energy revolution to the industrial revolution, just happening faster. The numbers are staggering.
Having clean, inexpensive, sufficient energy that’s not controlled in some government’s hands or some big business’ hands helps solve a couple of the giant threats coming down the pike. Climate change, obviously, is a biggie – this stuff doesn’t solve it, but it mitigates it. In terms of water issues, if you have enough clean energy and you have access to an ocean, you can desalinate and then pipe that desalinated water where you need it, and grow food in deserts that previously couldn’t sustain agriculture. In the Middle East, there’s a lot of conflict over water as well as refugees and displacement. Clean tech may also cover some of the issues with nuclear proliferation. There’s no need to build new nuclear plants, so why would anyone build one except for weapons? On the pandemics side, people living in better living conditions with more plentiful health and food options are less likely to be struck with diseases that become epidemics that become pandemics.
The clean-energy economy can happen in the next 10 years. So when I think out 100 years, we’re either going to be in a world of extreme abundance and peace and prosperity where people live these glorious lives, or we’re going to be toast. It’s one or the other.
LITERATURE AT SCALE: RECORD-SETTING AUTHOR (87 NO. 1 BESTSELLERS); FORMER CEO, J. WALTER THOMPSON
Don’t take “no” when your gut tells you “yes.” Just before Little, Brown published Along Came a Spider, the first of my Alex Cross books, I said I wanted to do a TV commercial. They said, “We don’t do TV commercials.” So I just went and did one for nothing – $1,500. And then I brought it to them, and they went, “Ooh, we like this.” I said, “Let’s run it.” That started things going. The book and me went on the bestsellers list.
Once I got out of the advertising business, I had a lot more time. I remember going to my publisher, saying, “I want to do more than one book a year.” I told them one was at a beach house, and it was a mystery. And the other one was Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas. The fellow who ran Time Warner said, “We want to do The Beach House, but we don’t want to do Suzanne’s Diary because it’s not your brand.” And I went, “I don’t think of myself as a brand. But if I did, I think the brand is when you pick up a James Patterson book, the pages are really going to fly for you.” It was a big moment in my career because it was the point at which I went from publishing one book a year, to ultimately 20. And in multiple genres.
I faced the same resistance when I started writing children’s books. People have a tendency to stay within their comfort zone, and many thought I could only do adult thrillers. I knew I could write great kids’ books, though, and launched my own children’s imprint, JIMMY Patterson. Now I publish nearly as many kids’ bestsellers as I do adult titles.
ASIA’S SUPERMAN: CHAIRMAN, CK HUTCHISON AND CHEUNG KONG PROPERTY; RESPECTED PHILANTHROPIST
My experience in manufacturing taught me cash flow is the lifeblood of a company and one of the best safeguards for a company’s future. Between 1999 and 2000, when everyone saw the 3G development in Europe as a gold mine, it was overhyped. All through the spectrum auction, I directed our team to adhere to our cash flow projection and only advance with cautious deliberation. I knew everyone thought I was too conservative and challenged this mandate. But in retrospect our telecom businesses remain competitive while several of those companies that won the bid were stuck. Writing a check to invest $100 is easy; returning the same to shareholders is harder. That’s why I am a strong believer in advancing with cautious deliberation. Prudence and agility, creativity and innovation will give you the edge to thrive in uncertain times.
PRIVATE EQUITY BILLIONAIRE: FOUNDER, VISTA EQUITY PARTNERS
My training as a chemical engineer sharpened my passion for complex systems – for understanding them, deconstructing them and finding their equilibrium. But while I found beauty in the absolute truth of machines in the classroom, I found purpose in the messiness of human interactions in the real world. Whatever drives us, we all derive happiness from finding purpose. We find joy in thinking, doing and discovering – in improving people’s lives and catalyzing positive change in the world. And in this age of intellectual capital, where brainpower is the world’s most valued currency, the opportunity to find purpose – and create value that aligns with our values – has never been greater.
TURNAROUND SPECIALIST: FORMER CHAIRMAN AND CEO, IBM
When I arrived at IBM in 1993, I discovered that I had a number of businesses that were losing massive amounts of money, including one software product losing as much as $1 billion a year. I asked the question: What is the market share of this product? What are the customers saying? The answer: Our main competitor had 96% of the market; we had only 2%. But my technical people came back to me and said we had a better product, and my salespeople came back to me and said we had important customers that rely on this product. I was early in my tenure, so I waited. But the fact was that the product was not being accepted by enough customers to be viable, and we eventually killed it. There are always reasons to go slow, many of them good ones. Yet, when the decision is finally made, I’ve found my reaction is always the same: I should have done this a long time ago!
UPWARD MOBILITY: FROM TRADE SHOWS (COMDEX) TO CASINOS (SANDS: LAS VEGAS, MACAU, SINGAPORE) TO POLITICAL POWER (GOP)
You don’t always have to be the guy that comes up with a new idea from scratch. If you can take an old concept, like vending or gambling, and just put a new spin on it, e.g open new online casino success will follow you like a shadow.
When I was 16, I bought a bunch of vending machines. At the time, they were set up inside factories, which meant people only bought snacks during the 40-hour workweek. So I moved the machines into gas stations, where cab drivers were lining up 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Money came rolling in.
Years later I did a similar thing with casinos. Las Vegas had been successful in the United States, but China had a billion more people in it. Why not rebuild the Las Vegas Strip there? Everyone else in the gambling industry thought it was the dumbest idea ever. I charged ahead in Macau anyways. Now all the naysayers would cut off their right arm to get a piece of land there. I’ve got a warehouse full of right arms, and a couple of left ones, too.
INDEX FUND POPULARIZER: FOUNDER, VANGUARD, WORLD’S LARGEST MUTUAL FUND COMPANY
In 1965, my mentor, Walter L. Morgan, the founder of Wellington Management Co., called me into his office. It was the go-go era, and we only had a conventional, balanced mutual fund. “I want you to do whatever it takes to fix the company. You’re in charge now.” I was 35. So I merged with a very aggressive equity fund out of Boston with managers younger than I was. It seemed like an act of genius, until it wasn’t. The go-go era fell apart, and they turned out to be terrible money managers. In January 1974, the board of Wellington Management, controlled by that Boston group, fired me.
Except that the mutual funds themselves had a separate board controlled by independent directors, and I persuaded that board not to fire me. So there was a big fight, and it was resolved with a terrible deal: I would continue as chairman and CEO of the funds, which would be responsible for their own legal, compliance, administration and record keeping. (And I had to come up with a new name – that was the start of Vanguard Group.) My rivals, the people who fired me, would continue to oversee distribution, marketing and investment management. The scheme was totally irrational.
I had to find a way for Vanguard to take on the investment management and distribution of our funds. I had done some work on index funds in my senior thesis at Princeton in 1951. I had experienced the failure of active management firsthand. And I had just read an article by Nobel Laureate Paul Samuelson, saying, in essence, “Somebody, somewhere, please start an index fund.” I took the idea to the board and they said “You can’t get into investment management,” and I said, “This fund has no investment management.” They bought it, and there’s where the index revolution began. Then I decided we couldn’t allow Wellington and its sales force to continue to distribute the funds – so we eliminated all sales commissions and went no-load overnight. The directors said “You’re not allowed to take over distribution,” and I said “We’re not taking it over; we’re eliminating it.” They bought it, again.
When a door closes, if you look long enough and hard enough, if you’re strong enough, you’ll find a window that opens.
People assume they are most creative at a certain age. But if you look at truly great artists, they always get better. Matisse got better. Picasso got better. Da Vinci got better. I think it’s the same in all areas of creativity.
INDIA’S INDUSTRIALIST: FORMER CHAIRMAN, TATA MOTORS, TATA STEEL, TATA CONSULTING SERVICES, ETC.
Be passionate in areas relevant to you, and be a voice that is respected and abreast of developments. I have also tried not to express a view on matters which I am not fully involved with or qualified to comment upon.
VENTURE CAPITAL MIDAS
Here’s how I stay relevant: I read. I listen. I try to surround myself with smart people of all ages and backgrounds. Most Wednesday nights, my wife, Ann, and I host a group of college students for dinner to share their worldviews and the work they are doing. They inspire me with their potential and passion to change the world.
BUILDER: COFOUNDER, HOME DEPOT
Age is just a number for me – I haven’t thought about it in years. I go by the motto that I learn something new every single day. From reading and asking questions, you broaden your knowledge, your thinking, every aspect of your life. By the end of the day, I’ve learned something that shows how dumb I was yesterday.
COFOUNDER, FORMER CEO, SUN MICROSYSTEMS; VENTURE CAPITALIST (KLEINER PERKINS, KHOSLA VENTURES)
I explicitly don’t build or guard my reputation. I believe in telling it like it is and not worrying about it.
INFLUENTIAL DESIGNER: CO-CEO, PRADA
I’m not really interested in building a reputation for myself. But I do care for what the company stands for. I believe in work and being connected to the world we live in. You need to be curious and never stop studying. You have to challenge yourself to think every day to understand and react to what is happening.
Carlos Slim Helú
MEXICO’S ONE-MAN ECONOMY; ONETIME RICHEST MAN IN THE WORLD
At the end we leave with nothing. Entrepreneurs are only temporary managers of wealth. So do right by your customers, your employees, your backers.
SOCIAL CAPITALIST: FOUNDER, ACUMEN FUND
In our connected era, word spreads. People know when you are being true to your values. Don’t worry about reputation but about character. You build character by practicing empathy, practicing moral courage, practicing determination. Those traits are like muscles. When you are known for that, you don’t have to worry about guarding your reputation – others will do it for you.
ENTERTAINMENT ENTREPRENEUR: FOUNDER, ASYLUM RECORDS, GEFFEN RECORDS; COFOUNDER, DREAMWORKS
Being in business by yourself, you’re responsible, one way or the other, and I had a lot of success that way. In 1994, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Steven Spielberg and I started DreamWorks. We had to borrow a billion dollars, and raise a billion dollars in equity, which created a huge responsibility for me. I never had any debt before that. I did it because I wanted to help Jeffrey, who had been fired at the Walt Disney Company. But it wasn’t something I was passionate about. Partners have shared goals but also divergent ones. It was a commitment over 15 years, because I wanted to stay until the investors got their money back. That was very important to me. Starting a new studio was a thrilling challenge, but it was more stressful than fun. I never took a salary, a bonus or expenses. I learned never to do anything you’re not passionate about. I gave all the money I earned from the $3.8 billion sale of the company to charity.
Retire smart by…
WALL STREET CONGLOMERATOR: SHEARSON, TRAVELERS, CITIGROUP
I retired as CEO of Citigroup in 2003 and retired as chairman in 2006 because I was afraid of making an abrupt change in my life. That turned out to be a mistake, as I should have retired from both positions at the same time. When you’ve been the CEO of something for a long time and you retire, you should really retire. As chairman I spoke to directors about various issues and things that I thought were wrong, and I felt I was sometimes getting a response that they thought I wanted my old job as CEO back. I stress the importance of having another life outside of business so that when it does come time to retire, the transition is easier. For me that other life has been in philanthropy for the last four decades.
TECH TITAN (COFOUNDER, MICROSOFT); GLOBAL PHILANTHROPIST (BILL & MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION); RICHEST PERSON IN THE WORLD (FOR NOW)
In early 1975, when I was in college, my friend Paul Allen showed me an issue of Popular Electronics featuring the Altair 8800 computer, the first commercially successful personal computer. We both had the same thought: “The revolution is going to happen without us!” We were sure that software was going to change the world, and we worried that if we didn’t join the digital revolution soon, it would pass us by. That conversation marked the end of my college career and the beginning of Microsoft.
The next 100 years will create even more opportunities like that. Because it’s so easy for someone with a great idea to share it with the world in an instant, the pace of innovation is accelerating – and that opens up more areas than ever for exploration. We’ve just begun to tap artificial intelligence’s ability to help people be more productive and creative. The biosciences are filled with prospects for helping people live longer, healthier lives. Big advances in clean energy will make it more affordable and available, which will fight poverty and help us avoid the worst effects of climate change.
The potential for these advances is thrilling – they could save and improve the lives of millions – but they’re not inevitable. They will happen only if people are willing to bet on a lot of crazy notions, knowing that while some won’t work out, one breakthrough can change the world. Over the next 100 years, we need people to keep believing in the power of innovation and to take a risk on a few revolutionary ideas.
THRILLIONAIRE: CONSUMMATE ENTREPRENEUR; FOUNDER, VIRGIN GROUP
I suppose that out of all the businesspeople in this issue, I’ve done a few more mad, zany things to get my companies on the map. Sometimes these stunts work, sometimes they don’t. When Virgin America launched its Las Vegas route, my staff took me to the top of the Palms Hotel there and told me that I had to jump off the top floor into the party on the bottom floor on a bungee. I was very sceptical – the wind was blowing 50 miles an hour. But I jumped and hit the side of the building on the way down, completely ripping my trousers off. Blood poured down my legs as I arrived to the party. The Virgin brand is quite intricately linked with me personally, so I have to be careful not to go and damage the brand myself.
But that doesn’t mean not taking risks. As the Virgin Group has gotten much bigger and much stronger, we can afford to take bigger, bolder risks in lots and lots of different sectors. One of our biggest investments has been the space companies, which we have already invested $1 billion to set up. We take tons of risks in life, whether personal risks or business risks. We sometimes fall flat on our face. But people don’t mind people who try things and fail.
Risk management by…
PRIVATE EQUITY KINGPIN: COFOUNDER, BLACKSTONE
When Pete Peterson and I launched Blackstone in 1985, we wanted to create a place where people would enjoy coming to work and be rewarded for internal collaboration. The firm we came from was known for its internal rivalries, with partners often at odds, plotting against and one-upping each other.
Creating this environment became important early in Blackstone’s history, as we moved from M&A into private equity. We had no organization then. People would just come into my office and ask me to make decisions. One deal, a steel distribution company in Philadelphia called Edgcomb Steel, didn’t turn out the way we hoped because we failed to solicit multiple points of view from all of our partners. I had a special tombstone made for that deal, which was black and in the shape of an actual tombstone to remind myself every day of what I learned. I realized that we needed to set up rigorous processes to review deals together and help avoid risks, even if that meant challenging an idea I was putting forward. Nobody’s job was to say, “I think it’s wonderful.” Instead, I insisted on everyone coming together to analyze potential problems that could lose investor money.
Today we’ve institutionalized this approach across the firm and have our deal teams meet every Monday to review each potential transaction. We’ve replicated this process across each of our business groups. Without this process, I’m not sure we would have evolved into a successful business.
DOER: FINTECH AND MEDIA PIONEER; SOLUTIONS-ORIENTED MAYOR; PHILANTHROPIST
I was fired from Salomon Brothers in 1981 in part because no one at the firm thought much of my idea for computerizing financial data and analysis and presenting it in real time. Back then, most financial professionals didn’t know how to use a computer, much less have one on their desk.
Organizations resist innovation – and those that do inevitably fail – because people are more comfortable with what they know than with what they don’t. Looking beyond the horizon and taking risks have always been a core part of our company’s culture, which we brought to New York’s city hall and worked hard to spread throughout city government.
In both the public and private sectors, innovation requires hiring smart, creative and driven people, empowering them to take risks and standing behind them – in a public way – when things don’t go as hoped. The biggest management failures in both business and government are not missed targets but missed opportunities.
MEDIA MOGUL: BOSS AT ABC, PARAMOUNT, 20TH CENTURY FOX; FOUNDER, IAC
Don’t think of a specific job, so to speak, or a specific career, like “I’d like to be this” or “I’d like to be that.” You should find an area that interests you and just get on the highway, and it will lead you wherever you lead it. For me, I’ve only really worked for three companies: ABC was eight years, Paramount was 10 years, and Fox was eight years. That’s my entire working-in-a-company life, so to speak. I got to a point where I wanted to work for myself. If you can, do it – which is more than just the word “can”; there’s a lot cooked up in there – you should. You can control your own destiny, whatever that is, good or bad.
KING OF THE STRIP: SAVIOR, GOLDEN NUGGET; FOUNDER, MIRAGE RESORTS, WYNN RESORTS, ETC.
I’m in the service business, where 10% of the franchise is the stuff and 90% is the guest experience. So the big question for me: How do you motivate employees? With 13,000 of them at the Wynn and Encore, you can’t have 6,500 supervisors watching 6,500 people. You need to have a culture instead of a payroll, so that people watch themselves. What does this? Not money, but enhanced self-esteem.
Spotlight programs, such as Employee of the Month, are great, but there’s honest prejudice built into them, as well as luck. So we retrained 1,300 supervisors to become something of a psychologist and learn how to evoke a story. Every day they hold 15-minute preshift meetings that start out like this: Who can tell us about something that happened yesterday with a guest? Then when staffers tell the story, we reinforce it. We thank them. The supervisor calls a storytelling hotline. We then put the story on the in-house internet and plaster it on the walls. We make the storyteller a hero and do this hundreds of times a week. Now I have 13,000 people looking for a story – it’s the thing that brings them all together. Since the employees get to nominate themselves, they control their own enhanced self-esteem. That’s the key to paradise.
FATHER OF MICROLENDING: FOUNDER, GRAMEEN BANK; WINNER, NOBEL PEACE PRIZE
Capitalism has been interpreted to be based on greed. But while human beings are selfish, they’re also selfless. Why is the latter part discarded from the interpretation? We’re increasingly seeing social businesses, or nondividend businesses, whose entire objective is to solve problems rather than make money, being born in many parts of the world. In social businesses, profits are recycled inside the company itself to continue work on a problem. Investors get to recoup their money but nothing more, other than the enjoyment of what they’ve done. Making money is a happiness; making other people happy is a super-happiness.
An example: We’ve started Grameen Shakti, or “Grameen Energy,” to bring electricity to rural Bangladesh. We tell people, “Whatever money you spend on kerosene every month, give that money to us, and we’ll give you electricity.” And we use their money to finance their solar home system – and after three years, they get to keep it without any other payments. We’ve created 2 million solar-powered rural homes, the world’s largest off-grid system, and customers can’t believe it – they can now have television and charge mobile phones. It’s so successful, many competitors have sprung up – which we welcome, because we are a social business, and those competitors help solve the problem.
In Bangladesh, for the last three years, we have been asking unemployed young people to come up with their own moneymaking business ideas, and we invest in them. We become the social business venture capital fund for them. We assure them that none of them will be rejected, only the implementation-ready ones will get funded. Now we fund 1,500 new entrepreneurs each month. This number keeps growing every month. Nineteen thousand businesses have already been funded. Success rate is 99.5%. We believe all human beings are born as entrepreneurs. They are not born to work for somebody else. Their early history is about being hunters, gatherers and problem-solvers. It remained as an essential part of our DNA; we are not job-seekers, we are job creators. Jobseeking is a wrong turn in our history.
REVLON RON; BUYOUT SPECIALIST
The world is changing so fast that you cannot bask in any sort of passivity, because it doesn’t exist anymore. You have to be on top of your game at all times. Two kids can develop Google in their garage, and 15 years later, it’s the most powerful company in the world. It’s like the Henry Ford days on steroids. Everything today is speed, and there is always somebody else working on something better. One of our companies, Deluxe, was the largest supplier of prints to the film industry. We knew that prints was declining but didn’t know it was about to go off a cliff.
Luckily, we were already supplying a digital solution for the same service, but a transition that we thought would take years only took a matter of weeks.
THE WORLD’S ELECTRONICS MAKER: FOUNDER, FOXCONN
In the first 20 years of my career, I worked hard to make money. It was necessary, because without it, accomplishing my ideals would not be possible.
In the second 20 years of my career, I worked for my ideals. Guided by those ideals and a purposeful life, I developed a good working spirit and self-confidence to withstand any challenge.
In the next 20 years, I will work for issues that are my passion. My interests and my priorities are using my life experience and what I have been able to achieve to nurture the next generation so they can make their own contributions to building a better world.
I believe that the most fortunate professionals in the world are those who can successfully carry out those three phases throughout their working life.
TELEVISIONARY: HOLLYWOOD’S TOP SHOWRUNNER
Storytelling has become ubiquitous, across so many mediums, creating an audience that’s ever more sophisticated. But it doesn’t matter how many people tell stories or how many platforms they go on. Storytelling remains basic: It’s a just a campfire, the human connection that says you’re not alone. New mediums like VR will go so far as to put you inside, but there’s going to be a lot of dissatisfaction there. If you decide the ending, there’s no adventure. In a world of unlimited voices and choices, those who can bring people together and tell a good story have power.
THE SAM WALTON OF THE 21ST CENTURY: FOUNDER, AMAZON
We’re in the midst of a gigantic transition, where customers have incredible power as a result of transparency and word of mouth. It used to be that if you made a customer happy, they would tell five friends. Now with the megaphone of the internet, whether online customer reviews or social media, they can tell 5,000 friends. In the old days, an inferior product could prevail in the marketplace with superior marketing. Today customers can tell whether product and service is good because there’s so much transparency. They can compare it to others very easily, and then they can tell all their friends – the customers will do part of the heavy lifting, marketing-wise. Rather than inferior products shouting louder, we have sort of a product meritocracy. It’s very good for customers, it’s very good for the companies that embrace it – and it’s very good for society.
GENRE CREATOR: FOUNDER, MOTOWN RECORDS
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to see me in Detroit at the peak of the civil rights era. And I was, of course, honored. He said, “What I’m trying to do politically and intellectually, you’re doing with your music. I love the feeling people get when they hear your music. And so maybe we can make a deal.” That was the biggest compliment that I could think of. And we put out three albums covering his greatest speeches. It just goes to show that if you do the right thing, the right thing will come to you.
SERIAL ENTREPRENEUR (KB HOME, SUNAMERICA); MAJOR PHILANTHROPIST
If you look at all the companies in the new economy, whether it’s Amazon, Uber, Facebook or Google, reasonable people wouldn’t have done that. George Bernard Shaw said the reasonable man adapts himself to the world, the unreasonable person doesn’t; therefore all progress comes from unreasonable people. I think my wife gave me a plaque that said that shortly after we were married. Being unreasonable allowed me to do things: Leaving the profession of accounting to start a homebuilding company; to take a traditional life insurance company and change it into a retirement-savings company, which we then sold to AIG for $18 billion, which then allowed me to become a fulltime philanthropist.
I think the best thing to do is follow the advice that reasonable people maintain the status quo – those who are unreasonable make changes. I have yet to meet a scientist who wants to maintain the status quo. I hope philanthropists will do things that government can’t or won’t do. If you’re a government bureaucrat, if you make a mistake, you’re going to be out. A lot of things that have started with philanthropy then became of interest to government. In philanthropy we don’t worry about getting fired. There’s a lot of work to be done.
LAST OF THE NEWSPAPER MOGULS, SHREWDEST OF THE POWER BROKERS: EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN, NEWS CORP., 21ST CENTURY FOX
As a relatively shy and inexperienced young newspaper owner at the Adelaide News in Australia, I was lucky enough to work alongside top-notch reporters, editors, compositors who put together the paper in metal form ahead of its printing. Hardy souls who had no time for elitism or airs and graces, and even less time for incompetence.
My outlook, energy, self-assurance and sense of social purpose were fashioned in the slightly mad meritocracy that is the newsroom, where you start each day with a blank canvas and relentlessly strive to capture as much original news as possible and present it in a manner that is coherent, compelling and valuable. The urgency, daily drive, that constant self-questioning integral in editing a paper, the ceaseless curiosity, are what I have stood upon every day of my career, taking me and our businesses further than my young self ever imagined. Those experiences, those principles, helped me build a business in television and films and digital media, where drive and creativity are essential and working as part of a team, regardless of your title, is imperative.
To those early colleagues, who tolerated my inexperience and guided me with their earthy wisdom, I am and will always be grateful.
CONSULTANT, AUTHOR: GOOD TO GREAT AND BUILT TO LAST
Peter Drucker made the biggest impact upon me in a personal moment when he hit me with a challenge, like a Zen master thwacking the table with a bamboo stick to get the attention of a wayward student. “It seems to me you spend a lot of time worrying about how you will survive,” he said in his resonant Austrian accent, referring to my anxiety in leaving my comfortable faculty teaching post at Stanford to carve a self-directed intellectual path at age 36. “And you seem to spend a lot of energy on the question on how to be successful. But that is the wrong question!” Then, pausing for effect, “The question is, how to be useful.”
THE POWER BROKER: INDUSTRIAL AND POLITICAL KINGPIN; CEO, KOCH INDUSTRIES
I expect all our employees to live up to the set of values that we started codifying for Koch Industries decades ago. Among our 10 guiding principles: having integrity and humility, treating others with respect, proactively sharing knowledge and focusing on creating the greatest long-term value. The biggest mistake I’ve made in business is hiring and promoting executives who only paid lip service to them. That got us into several bad deals – and drove out people who shared our values. (It took several years to restructure our management teams and divest those deals.) When hiring, if forced to choose between virtue and talent, choose virtue. Talented people with bad values will do far more damage than virtuous people with lesser talents.
FOUNDER, FAST RETAILING (UNIQLO)
I come from a small mining town in Yamaguchi Prefecture. My lifestyle is based on doing the right thing and on being correct in my actions. In my daily life I try my best to practice what is known as Shin Zen Bi, which translates to Truth, Goodness, Beauty. By continuing with these values, I believe I can live my life in a reputable way.
BROKERAGE DEMOCRATIZER: FOUNDER, CHARLES SCHWAB
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, we were growing by leaps and bounds. Everybody wanted to trade stocks. Then came the dot-com bust, and all of a sudden, business collapsed. I came back as CEO in 2004. We realized success had covered over mistakes, and we had begun to lose our compass. The only path forward was to go back to our core values – helping individual investors with lower costs, less complexity and great service. We cut expenses, we trimmed back staff, we sold off businesses, and ultimately we turned things around.
MAVERICK: CABLE TELEVISION PIONEER; FOUNDER, CNN; HOLLYWOOD STUDIO DABBLER; U.N. SAVIOR
Growing up, my father hired a man named Jimmy Brown to work for our family, and he became one of my dearest friends. Jimmy taught me things my own father couldn’t teach me, like how to sail. We were living in Savannah during segregation and Jimmy and I couldn’t have been a more unlikely pair – a privileged white kid and a grown black man. But Jimmy provided more wisdom and understanding than anyone else ever did. I don’t think I would be the person I am today if it weren’t for him.
AMALGAMATOR: SENIOR CHAIRMAN, CP GROUP
Each industrial age is different. We are now in an era when the younger generation is redefining the market with startups, technology and innovation. In this new world, everything happens and changes very quickly. Successful people today are both innovators and disruptors – they create something that was not there before. Most importantly, we need to appreciate that the success we have today can be taken away tomorrow and that there are more capable people with better technology that we need to keep up with. If we are complacent and not open to change, we will soon lose our place. The best way to stay ahead is to learn from the younger generation. The knowledge and thought processes among people who grew up in Industry 3.0, when computers were new concepts, compared to Industry 4.0, when robots and AI are revolutionizing production processes, are very different. The new generation will always lead us to new innovations and ways of doing things we could never have imagined before.
THE GRAVE DANCER: VULTURE LEGEND, REIT COLLECTOR
There were many times in my life when I would have liked to follow the herd. Instead, I have always followed my gut – and sometimes it’s been really lonely. In 1991, I was standing in the lobby of a bank, and they had agreed to sell me an office building at 50 cents on the dollar. I kept looking over my shoulder and wondering why there were not all sorts of people waiting in line behind me. After all, this was an incredible opportunity. Maybe I was wrong? But I thought it through again and decided that I knew what I was doing, so I kept going. By 1994 all those people were there in line, but the bulk of the opportunity had passed. When you look at The Forbes 400 list and take off everybody who inherited money, what’s left are people who went right when everyone else went left. Conventional wisdom leads to mediocrity.
HOTEL DISRUPTOR, SHARING-ECONOMY POINT PERSON: COFOUNDER AIRBNB
Pablo Picasso once said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” I think you must always live and think like a child. Or have that childlike curiosity and wonder. That’s probably the most important trait you can have, especially as an entrepreneur. And even though I’m still young, I try to always look at what people significantly younger than me are doing. What’s the next thing? I like to imagine the world five years from now. Or imagine what I want the world to look like five years from now. And when I think back to when we started Airbnb, we were trying to challenge the status quo. Now we’re trying to challenge ourselves.
Contributors: Susan Adams, Dan Alexander, George Anders, Madeline Berg, Steven Bertoni, Abram Brown, Kathleen Chaykowski, Kerry A. Dolan, Matt Drange, Antoine Gara, Zack O’Malley Greenburg, Miguel Helft, Chris Helman, Matthew Herper, Alex Konrad, Luisa Kroll, Michael Noer, Janet Novack, Randall Lane, Clare O’Connor, Michael Ozanian, Natalie Robehmed, Matt Schifrin, Michael Solomon, Halah Touryalai, Nathan Vardi, Alexandra Wilson.
Forbes Africa #30Under30 List: Leading The Charge
As 2020 ushers in a new decade and a new set of daunting challenges for the world – climate change, the coronavirus – it’s all the more imperative that the world’s youngest continent rises to the crises and sees opportunities where there seem to be none. These are the men and women forging ahead with credible, creative and profound strategies to shape our tomorrow. Celebrating six years of the FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list, they are the continent’s revolutionary thinkers revitalizing ideas and industries with fresh business models and innovative leadership.
Over 3,000 nominations flooded into our inboxes and landed on our desks from the start of 2020 for this Under 30 list. And the mammoth task? Whittling it down to 30 names.
While last year, we had 120 in total, with 30 finalists each in the categories of business, technology, sports and arts, this year, we chose to stay with 30: the best of the best spanning all industries. Our youngest list-maker this year is just 16!
In a continent pregnant with opportunities, and at a time a virus pandemic grips the world, young people are the only hope. They are able to step in to offer new and innovative solutions for the problems confronting Africa.
And big business salutes their potential.
“Leaving an ordinary career path to start something new and original is difficult and lonely, and success is not linear. Making the list must also be an incredible encouragement to the brave young people who’ve struck out on their own,” says Fran Luckin, Chief Creative Officer at Grey Africa, a global advertising giant.
The odds stacked against them are great, such as access to funding and institutional and historical inequalities that mean there’s probably very little family wealth or savings for the average young entrepreneur to draw on, adds Luckin.
“If you look at the development from youth-owned businesses and those featured on the 30 Under 30 list, you will realize that Africa has amazing potential,” says Ashok Gupta, Chairman & Founder of Kalyan Group, a diversified business with portfolios in hospitality and agriculture based in Togo.
In the following pages, this is what we will see: the potential of Africa’s future and the people who will lead us.
The list is in no particular order.
In drawing up the 2020 list, we sifted through piles of nominations that came in from across Africa, even the remotest corners. Through robust reporting and vigorous vetting, harnessing the experience of our editorial teams across Africa; with extensive research, studies of databases and media coverage; and also delving into the knowledge of our team of external judges, we evaluated the nominees to arrive at a long-list of 100 names, before short-listing to the 30 changing the face of business and society today. We have only considered for selection those who were under the age of 30 as of March 31, 2020. We have also discovered many more to ‘watch out for’ and who will be featured on this list in the years to come. For the 2020 list, FORBES AFRICA partnered once again with SNG Grant Thornton to vet the business and financial statements of the candidates. This involved understanding the landscape, the profitability, growth and most of all, the scalability of each business. But it’s not all about the money. Some of the qualities FORBES AFRICA looks for in the leaders of tomorrow are that they are passionate, innovative, impactful, pioneering and are real hustlers of the African growth story. The list also examines their resilience, strength and ability to turn around their enterprise or careers. At the time of going to press, all facts on the following pages were verified to be correct.
Business: Lwandile Qokweni, CEO, Wavewaker
Technology: Teboho Mofokeng, Founder, Bowfica
Sports: Carol Tshabalala, Sportscaster
Arts: Yvette Gayle, Partner and Head of Communications and Engagement, Africa Creative Agency
Audit Partner: SNG Grant Thornton
Bako Ambianda, 29, Cameroon
Founder, Chairman and CEO, Labacorp Group of Companies
Industry: Diversified holdings
At only 29, Bako Ambianda is an international development expert, author, speaker, philanthropist and entrepreneur.
Over the years, he has successfully built an empire. His business acumen was evident from his high school days, when he would pick mangoes, avocados, and bananas from his backyard at home and sell them in his school’s dormitory for a profit.
After high school, he moved to the US in 2011 to further his studies and began a career in diplomacy at the Maryland State House.
While there, he started his first company with only $850.
Global Attain Advancement is an events organization company, the first instalment to the Labacorp Group.
Through the company, he was exposed to learning the tricks and trades of organizing events and found himself a part of the organizing team for former president, Barack Obama’s Energy Congress.
He later returned to Africa to develop the business and launch other entities.
“When I launched Labacorp Group, I set out a mission that all operations of the group will be rooted in the ‘Afri-developism’ economic concept that I created because I wanted to work relentlessly toward contributing to the development of Africa inspired by the ‘Afri-developism’ concept,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
Today, the Labacorp group has grown from just housing an events organizing team to owning businesses across manufacturing, power, construction, agribusiness, and exhibition sectors with operations in six countries with 79 employees, and a footprint in Africa, Middle East and North America.
With the offices headquartered in Ghana, Labacorp Industries Limited and a South Korea-based company are setting up a polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle waste recycling plant in the country to produce high value-added products such as polyester, staple fiber and geotextile from PET bottle waste.
He has won numerous awards including the Global Business Disruptor 2018 Award by Professional Association of Young Africans (PAYA) and Africa Business Leadership Excellence Award 2018 by African Leadership Magazine.
Gift Sukez, 27, Malawi
Founder and Director, HD Plus Creation Company Limited
Industry: Video Production
Bob Phondo, a notable brand manager in Malawi’s marketing and communications industry, recalls a memory of Gift Sukez in the early days of his business in 2013.
He was seen with nothing but a camera, working from a backroom focusing on where his passion would take him.
Using borrowed cameras, lights and computers, Sukez was able to save up enough to buy his own HD Camera which cost $300.
With the flash of a camera, the picture became clear and HD Plus Creation Company Limited was born, offering media consultancy services and video content creation.
“The passion I had for creative visuals fueled me to work very hard every day and it eventually paid off in 2016 when I managed to register the company and with time, the demand for my services grew,” Sukez tells FORBES AFRICA.
Today, Sukez owns two offices and a video production department and employs up to 18 staff.
“It could be argued that Gift is the best at what he does in Malawi,” says Phondo.
One of Sukez’s most early notable work was when he worked with Akon, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Jah Prayzah and P-Square to produce and direct the making of the 2017 African leaders for change theme song, The Song for Africa.
His company has also produced content for organizations such as UN Malawi, UNICEF and Standard Bank.
The biggest highlight of the business was when they worked on a film directed by Mark Spencer titled Whistleblower shot in Australia, Japan and Malawi.
Last year, they also took part in shooting and working on set for two Australian movies, The Drover’s Wife and Fallout.
Sukez plans to take his knowledge working internationally to produce quality content for Malawians.
“Malawi lacks so much in terms of technology, as a result, we fail to have the right connections and network to help boost the business internationally, but we try with the little capacity we have,” he says. “When I look at my future and the company, my vision is to employ more than 1,000 young people by 2030 in Africa and this includes actors, scriptwriters, directors, producers, cameramen, just to mention a few.”
Thobo Khathola, 28, Botswana
Founder, Managing Director and CEO, Lion Tutoring
Industry: Education technology
It all began in 2015. After his experience as a university student tutor, Thobo Khathola was keen on improving the pass rates of students in Botswana.
So he started operating from the boot of his car in his parents’ home to offer tutoring services to youth in Botswana.
Shortly after, he took loans from friends and family and it paid off.
“One happy client from my church turned into two. Two happy clients turned into 10. Ten became 100 and now we enrol more than 1,000 clients each year,” he says.
Khathola founded Lion Tutoring which he says works like the ‘Uber for tutors’. He now owns offices in Botswana and South Africa.
“I have always been passionate about education and bothered by the declining pass rate of academics in my country and in Africa as a whole. I managed to gain experience and identified a niche,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
Lion Tutoring takes advantage of the Fourth Industrial Revolution by engaging clients through their e-commerce platform and mobile application.
Since inception, Lion Tutoring has employed over 300 staff.
The business has won three awards for three consecutive years from 2017, named the Best Youth Owned Business in Botswana at The Botswana Youth Awards and The Palapye Business Awards.
Khathola was listed in the Botswana Stock Exchange’s publication as one of the Top Youth Entrepreneurs to look out for. He was also named one of the Top 30 Most Influential Youth in Botswana by Botswana Youth Magazine.
Khathola has also founded the Lion Tutoring Community Based Project which provides assistance to communities such as the SOS Children’s home, Childline and Mogonye Primary school.
Khathola plans to branch into more African countries.
Tony Mautsu, 27, Botswana
Founder and Managing Director, Social Light
Industry: Digital solutions
Tony Mautsu was born 30 kilometers away from the capital city of Botswana, Gaborone. He grew up in a small village called Mochudi and could not speak English very well.
But from the age of 10, he learned very quickly how to stand out.
Growing up in school, he sold sweets, chips, compact discs and airtime, unknowingly honing his entrepreneurial spirit.
While volunteering at a marathon in 2014, he used social media to generate inspirational quotes and respond to inquiries. This earned him the description of “that social media guy”.
“When I was done with the marathon, I got to work turning this newly-discovered niche into a fully-fledged business. The Social Light, the light that leads corporations into this tricky unknown platform of social media,” he says.
Social Light is geared towards introducing cutting edge-tech services to assist companies position their brands and acquire in-depth information on client sentiments through big data mining and monitoring tools in Botswana.
They offer services such as video animation, graphic designing, content creation, HD-live streaming, application management and social media management.
One of their biggest highlights was when they were commissioned to work with the 2017 Global Expo Botswana, which hosted founder of Virgin Group, business magnate and billionaire Richard Branson.
Last year, they worked with the Youth Town Hall Meeting organized by the Botswana Government which featured telecom giant, Strive Masiyiwa.
The business has grown 750% in the last year, he attests.
Uzair Essack, 27, South Africa
Founder and Managing Director, CapeCrops
Industry: Agriculture, Logistics
Uzair Essack has his roots deep in the fruit and vegetable business.
He is the founder and managing director of CapeCrops, an export business that sells fruits and vegetables sourced from South Africa to the rest of Africa and international markets such as Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
With no background in agriculture, Essack invested his savings to start the business and has managed to build a company which went from earning R500,000 ($30,515) revenue in 2015 to R34 million ($2 million) in 2019.
Some of his clients include major supermarket chains such as Marks & Spencer, Aldi, Tesco and Carrefour and he recently opened an office in Dubai.
Essack employs a staff of 13 and indirectly employs thousands who contribute to farming, cold chain and logistics.
He is also the founder and president of GetGiving, a non-profit company that aims to benefit the community through projects which include food-hamper drives, sanitary drives, stationary drives and careers days.
Essack won the Minara Young Entrepreneur Award in 2019.
“We firmly believe that African fruit and veg is amongst the most wholesome, healthy and flavorsome on the planet and we’re passionate about helping our clients all over the world to showcase it on the global stage,” he says.
Baraka Daniel Kiranga, 29, Tanzania
Founder and Director, Hamasa Media Group
Industry: Digital Media
Baraka Daniel Kiranga started his business with a mere $20 in 2014 while pursuing his Bachelor of Science degree at the Institute of Finance Management in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
With a friend, he bought a template for an online magazine, designed it, and wrote inspirational stories of young entrepreneurs and change-makers in the country.
Impressed by his initiative, Kiranga received a small contribution from his father and friends to register the business with the magazine as his first product.
For seven months, he worked on bootstrapping the business.
Since then, Kiranga has not looked back and the business has grown by 449%.
With a team of 11, the company now offers media consultancy services to clients such as WHO-Tanzania, NGOs, news outlets and journalists.
In August this year, they plan to launch an art media lab to provide innovative media solutions such as strategy training, media monitoring, cloud computing and digital security services.
Last year, Kiranga was awarded a trophy by the National Training Institute of Egypt during an Arab African development forum in Egypt for his involvement in promoting youth development in Africa.
“Don’t lose your focus when you are subjected to the heat of financial instability. It is working for the betterment of your business; at the end of the day, you will emerge on the other side of the valley and say it was better it happened,” he says.
Hamasa is a business consultancy on digital media management and data technologies in producing data-driven stories.
Newman Tshepo Ramatokwane, 29, Botswana
Founder of Native Stretch Tents and Canopies (pty) Ltd
Most people would have given up after dropping out of college twice, but not Newman Tshepo Ramatokwane.
“Go against the grain,” he says. This was a clear goal Ramatokwane set for himself when he started his upward-bound career.
Born in the capital city of Botswana, Gaborone, he was groomed in a business-orientated family.
Thus, the drive for entrepreneurship was grilled into him from a tender age.
During his primary school years, Ramatokwane made money selling his art drawings to his colleagues and he would polish his sister’s shoes for a fee.
“At the age of sixteen, I came across a financial literacy book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, it was then that my entrepreneurial spirit was unleashed,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
It was in 2013 that he decided to found his own business – Native Stretch Tents and Canopies now trading as Native Event – from a one-bedroom house.
The company initially hired out stretch tents only, but with the rapid growth, they began manufacturing furniture.
Ramatokwane also invested in a mobile bar service, transport and logistics, and in an accounting firm.
“I come from a country where entrepreneurship is not generally taught or pursued.
“We have a culture that never believed that one can become an entrepreneur at a young age and actually succeed at it,” he says.
By 2015, his company won the local Global Expo’s 2015 and 2016 Best Small Medium Enterprise recognition.
In 2018, Ramatokwane moved the business into a 1,000sqm warehouse providing more services such as event consultation, planning and management.
Since then, the company has executed over 300 events, including the Southern African Inter Revenue Games, De Beers Diamond Week 2019, the Presidential Inauguration 2019 and the Botswana Telecommunications Corporation V-Sat Launch.
He currently employs 20 full-time staff and about 10 part-time contract staff.
Shamim Nabuuma Kaliisa, 24, Uganda
Founder and Executive Director of Chil Artificial Intelligence Lab
Industry: Artificial intelligence in medicine
At only 24, Shamim Nabuuma Kaliisa is an entrepreneur with a background in the medical field.
She is also a cancer survivor.
But she would rather you call her an entrepreneur, she expresses, as she arrives for the FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 photoshoot in Johannesburg, straight from the airport, after flying in from Uganda.
Her company Chil Artificial Intelligence Lab was founded out of both passion and personal experience.
When she was 13, she lost her mother to cervical cancer. Kaliisa’s mother had one last wish.
“She called for me from school and when I reached the Uganda Cancer Institute, my mother told me ‘my daughter, study hard and become a doctor and look for a way to extend services to women like your mother who lacked key screening services in our villages’,” Kaliisa recounts.
Those last words sank in and the young Kaliisa vowed to fulfil her mother’s dream.
But things took a different turn.
During her second year pursuing a bachelor’s degree in medicine and surgery, she felt an unusual pain in one of her breasts. She got it tested and the results returned positive.
“Luckily, it was still in its early stages. I was treated, though I lost one of my breasts [to mastectomy] as a way to save the rest of me,” she says.
These experiences led to her founding a company in 2017 to offer mobile cancer screening, which later incorporated the use of artificial intelligence guided e-oncology services (to detect cervical and breast cancer). Today, her company also incorporates drone services for easier transportation of cervical cancer specimens from the rural areas to laboratories without women having to travel long distances out of the villages.
Kaliisa, who locals refer to as “mama cancer”, is a winner of the Takeda Young Entrepreneur Award 2018, Young African Entrepreneur Award 2018, Social Impact Finalist AWIEF Awards 2018, has received an Honourable Mention at the Maathai Impact Award 2019, and was chosen among the top 10 artificial intelligence companies founded in Africa by Google for start-ups.
She has also been endorsed by the Tony Elumelu Foundation.
Kaliisa continues to make strides in the field of cancer screening. Packing up her things after the photoshoot with us, she heads back to the airport for her flight home.
It’s business as usual for this young woman on a mission to help women in villages survive cancer like she did.
Lloyd Harris, 23, South Africa
Nicknamed ‘The King’ in the South Africa Davis Cup team, at only 22, Lloyd Harris is currently South Africa’s second ranked tennis player behind Kevin Anderson.
The young Cape Town-born player found his feet at the age of three when he picked up his first racket. Following in the footsteps of his mother, who would play at a tennis club, by the age of four, Harris was already able to serve from the baseline.
When other 10-year-olds were riding bicycles and playing video games, Harris was competing in the Under 10 World Cup in Croatia, his first game on an international stage.
This was the beginning of his tennis career.
In 2014, he became the first-ever South African to represent South Africa at the Youth Olympics in 2014.
But it wasn’t always easy.
Harris and his family sacrificed everything to ensure he reached a professional level.
And in 2018, Harris endured a devastating loss.
At the eleventh hour, while preparing for a match, he received news that his father passed away.
Harris did not react well to the news.
Waves of unimaginable pain shot down his spine, making it difficult for him to play.
“It was an eye-opener that changed my world. He was incredibly proud of me and my tennis. I lay in bed, cried all day, had no idea whether or not I should play. I was ready to get on the next plane home and then decided to stay and play for my father. I won two tournaments, in two weeks,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
Harris’s decision to continue to play for his father brought him more triumph. In 2018, he was nominated as an alternate for the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan.
He also represented South Africa at the Davis Cup as the number one player in seven ties with a win-to-loss record of 11-4.
Last year, he qualified for his second Grand Slam main draw at a senior men’s singles level and he reached the 100th spot in the ATP Rankings, cracking the top 100 for the first time in his career.
“I think that as South Africans, we need to have a lot of belief and support to get far on the ATP Tour. Where I come from, nobody has really, for so many years, made it from South Africa. The last one was maybe Wayne Ferreira. It’s hard to believe we can actually do everything from South Africa,” he says.
“I still have plenty of time on the tour and only have to look at Roger Federer, who is still playing at 38 and remains at the top of his game, to gain inspiration. I still have many years to go and we are just focused on the process at the moment.”
DJ Cuppy, 27, Nigeria
DJ, Founder and Director, Red Velvet Music Group
Many had high expectations for Florence Ifeoluwa Otedola to follow in her family’s oil business and become an oil trader.
Her life was a set stage from the day she was born.
Dancing to the tune, she pursued a degree in economics and management.
“I was convinced my plan was to make lots of money and be the next Femi Otedola!” she tells FORBES AFRICA
But the young Nigerian longed to pursue the arts.
As a teen, she performed at local parties, events and in front of crowds filled with youthful energy.
It was one gig here and another there, honing her skills until she became the reputed DJ she is now.
Otedola now goes by the name ‘DJ Cuppy’ and has become one of Nigeria’s most accomplished DJs, always identified by her trademark pink hair style.
In 2015, she had the opportunity to perform for her country and president Muhammadu Buhari at his inauguration. Since then, she had both her hands on-deck performing all over the world from Senegal and Ghana to the UK, playing in front of more country presidents.
In 2015, she founded The Cuppy Foundation, an NGO aimed at uplifting women, children, and people living with disabilities and tackling issues such as education, malnourishment and poverty.
DJ Cuppy also holds a master’s degree in Music Business from New York University.
She has won a number of awards including Best Female DJ at the Beatz Awards in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019. This year, she has been nominated for a Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Award.
Mr Eazi, 28, Nigeria
Musician and Founder, emPawa Africa
Born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, and raised in Lagos, Oluwatosin Ajibade would sit at the breakfast table with his dad, listening to old records his father used to play.
This was the key moment that inspired Ajibade to become ‘Mr Eazi’, one of Africa’s notable music stars.
He began his music career while attending college in Ghana, where his side hustles included promoting concerts and running a concierge service shuttling wealthy kids to parties.
“I began my career with a small cash gift from friends, which enabled me to pay for my first professional-quality video for Skintight,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
This later led him to producing more African favorites in 2017 such as Leg Over and Pour Me Water, both sitting at over 74 million views on YouTube.
But the music did not stop there.
His success has also seen him performing on global stages in the UK and the US including being one of only two African artists to play the world’s most prestigious music festival, Coachella in 2019.
Mr Eazi’s ascent to global stardom has seen him clock over 280 million YouTube views and more than 4.1 million Spotify streams per month, making him one of the most streamed African artists worldwide.
But now, Mr Eazi is establishing himself as an entrepreneur as well.
After founding emPawa in 2018, he has been on a global campaign to mentor and fund African artists.
The entity has provided marketing and business support for established acts like Nigeria’s Simi and Ghana’s King Promise.
emPawa also had a notable hand in Beyonce’s Grammy-nominated The Lion King: The Gift album, helping the pop megastar’s US-based team assemble leading African talent for this landmark project.
“It’s something I wish someone had created when I first started making music. Sometimes, all it takes is that one person to believe in you,” he says.
Wisdom Mawuli Parku, 26, Ghana
Founder, Majora Group
Industry: Diversified holdings
Murphy’s Law states that ‘anything that can go wrong will go wrong’, and Wisdom Mawuli learned that very early in life.
“I lost over GHC3,000 ($541) when I had wanted to travel to the US in 2014 and consulted a travel and tour company on campus. My visa was sadly turned down but it spurred me to conduct a detailed research in the traveling and ticketing industry, hence the birth of Majora Group,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
Majora Group began in a mining community and town called Obuasi in Ghana in 2017 with subsidiaries in travel, education, consultancy, photography and printing.
It came about with Mawuli who wanted to travel to the US but encountered an unfavorable experience.
After the business started, Mawuli again lost a sum of GHC12,000 ($2,162) to a fake Ghanaian recruitment agent in Dubai, leading the business to further setbacks.
“This major setback led my business to huge debt which nearly collapsed after a few months of commencement. Lastly, the Obuasi office caught fire in June 2018 which made me change the entire wiring system of the office building, hence incurring huge financial losses,” he says.
It took a while but Mawuli was able to get the business back on track.
They have sold over 1,000 trips, serviced more than 800 clients and secured five academic accreditations from universities in Europe and Canada as recruitment partners.
The company has grown 57% in revenue last year, he says, and now has two branches in Obuasi and Accra and consists of a staff of nine.
“As an entrepreneur exposed to the high unemployment rate in Ghana, it is my dream to expand my company to become a global conglomerate in Africa so I can create employment for the youth in my country within the company’s capacity. I believe the youth hold the future to sustainable development and I therefore seek to contribute to it through entrepreneurship and job creation.”
Passionate about developing Ghana, Mawuli serves as the executive director for Vision Aid Foundation.
Ogutu Okudo, 28, Kenya
Founder and CEO, Women in Energy & Extractives Africa (WEX Africa)
Industry: Oil and energy
In 2012, Lucky Okudo found herself at a conference on the outskirts of Nairobi discussing environmental sustainability and the strategic role women play.
At the same time, on the opposite end of the continent in the Niger Delta in Nigeria, communities were protesting the negligence in operations by oil companies resulting in oil spills.
“I vividly remember noticing the men dominantly speaking, but it was the woman performing the balancing act of her child on her right hip and yams to feed a family on her head that was the inspiration behind Women in Energy & Extractives Africa that initially began as Women in Oil and Gas East Africa (WIOGEA) [now known as WEX],” she tells FORBES AFRICA.
Ironically, during this period, oil hadn’t been discovered in Kenya yet, but Okudo was on a mission, not knowing that fate would knock on Kenya’s doors months later in 2012.
Oil reserves were discovered in Kenya’s vast and dry remote area of Turkana County and became a source of new wealth and a source of conflict for the pastoralist Turkana people, especially the women who were often the marginalized group.
Part of WEX’s role then was to speak for women in the energy and extractive sector, informing industry participants and decision-makers of the challenges and opportunities women are finding in pursuing careers in these sectors.
To do this, Okudo participated in market meetings and industry bodies to constantly increase the visibility of the organization.
Today, WEX Africa is a social enterprise bridging the gender gap in the oil, gas, mining and alternative energy sectors in Africa
They have 15 employees in five countries and over 75 volunteers in 10 countries and counting. At only 28, Okudo has already been hailed potentially as the next Folorunso Alakija of Africa.
CNN Africa Voices referred to her as “the woman on a mission to disrupt the energy sector”.
She has been recognized internationally and is a recipient of numerous of awards including President Uhuru Kenyatta recognizing her in 2018 as one of the young female Kenyan trailblazers, being awarded the Under 30 Women in Energy East Africa (2018) and in 2019, the Kenya Upstream Oil and Gas Woman of the Year.
In 2019, she addressed the Economic and Social Council at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, accompanying President Kenyatta as part of the Kenyan delegation to the United Nations General Assembly.
“The energy agenda being no different; under-utilized, overpriced, more than half a billion Africans living in darkness and exploited natural resources with little to no impactful gain to individual countries, people and communities. I am passionate about the opportunity to play a role in factoring a development driven by strategic partnerships,” she says.
Okudo sits on numerous boards advising their strategic operations in East Africa including Bboxx Kenya, the London-based next generation off-grid utility platform operating in 15 countries developing solutions for off-grid communities by providing affordable, pay-as-you-go solar power, impacting over a million people.
2020 is a big year for her as she plans to organize STEM outreaches, release a children’s book and publish guidelines to sustainably engaging Women in Energy and Extractive Sector Projects in sub-Saharan Africa.
By the end of the year, Okudo plans to set up offices in all their East African satellite locations.
Patoranking, 29, Nigeria
A quick Google search for the best dancehall artists in Africa, and Patoranking’s name is sure to pop up.
His beats are a unique blend of dancehall, reggae and Afrobeats combined, recognizable both on the continent and the global music scene.
In 2016 and 2017, he was a judge on the internationally-acclaimed reality singing competition, The Voice Nigeria.
He was also awarded MTV Africa’s Song of the Year for hit song My Woman, My Everything in 2016.
The following year, he was crowned Best African Artist at the South African Music Awards (SAMA).
Internationally, he was featured on Major Lazer’s Particula hit song alongside Nasty C, Jidenna and Ice Prince in 2018.
In the same year, he traveled with American singer and songwriter Lauryn Hill for The Miseducation for Lauryn Hill album’s 20th anniversary tour across North America as a special guest.
To date, Patoranking has been nominated for over 40 awards including Male Artist of the Year and Best Dancehall Artist, taking home more than 20 awards for these categories.
Tracy Batta, 29, Nigeria
Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Smoothie Express
Industry: Food and Beverage
Tracy Batta was determined to live her life like a healthy fruit basket in 2014.
She would blend fruits together into a smoothie detox and would package some to carry to work.
However, the process was often tedious and time-consuming, let alone a bit messy.
So she decided to start a smoothie delivery company for professionals like herself.
With her business partner (Omowunmi Akande), she raised $10,000 from their savings, built a website, bought a motorcycle for deliveries and set out to start the Smoothie Express.
But it wasn’t a smooth start to the business.
They rented out a spare room from a guest house which turned out to be a bad deal.
“We agreed to pay [the owner] 50% of our profit every month. This deal later became crippling for the business as we had to pay out almost a million naira in some months,” Batta tells FORBES AFRICA.
This forced them to find other means.
In 2016, they moved into their own kitchen and the business began to grow as the two researched and carefully-curated their own recipes.
The next year, they opened their first brick-and-mortar store in the heart of Victoria Island and were now able to service walk-in clients.
“People usually do not trust that women are able to handle businesses for a long period as it is believed that we would get married someday, start having babies and ‘abandon’ the business. This however never stopped us as we worked hard to make our business cash-flow positive.”
The company now has grown to launch three modern stores with headquarters in Lagos, Nigeria.
They currently employ a team of 35 while the produce comes from over 15 farms across the country.
Last year, they received a loan from a women empowerment program sponsored by Access Bank.
Batta is also a contributor to The Guardian Nigeria.
She plans to grow Smoothie Express to become an international brand with locations across Africa by 2025.
Olajumoke Oduwole , 29, Nigeria
Founder and CEO and Senior Web Developer, KJK Communication Limited
Industry: Tech / software development
Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Larry Page, Ginni Rometty, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos, are but a few of the names Olajumoke Oduwole looks up to.
Very soon, she plans to become a part of this coveted list of techpreneurs.
She founded KJK in 2014 as a one-woman business, able to write 16 programming languages.
The business was founded out of the realization that not many small businesses had access to skilled programmers and tech experts.
“This meant small businesses have a disadvantage from the start. This observation piqued my interest in serving this underserved population,” she says.
After quitting her previous job, she ventured into this unchartered territory in May 2014 from her bedroom with savings of $300.
It was a small space but had lofty dreams.
After a year, the business grew and she was able to open an office and employ two more people.
Today, the team includes 18 full-time employees and works with 37 contract programmers on a project basis.
The business has since built apps such as the tru-DATA app owned by TrippleGee & Co. Plc. a security company which resulted in a contract worth $2 million.
“The tru-DATA product is being used to combat counterfeiting and proliferation of fake products, impacting the community and people’s lives. This feat strengthened our belief in our purpose, instilled a sense of pride, and gave us the vision of being the IBM of Africa,” she says.
Last year, they also received funding from the World Bank.
She is the beneficiary of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women, a global initiative that fosters economic growth for women entrepreneurs.
“In the next five to 10 years, I plan to build products that will provide a tangible solution to problems faced by growing businesses in Nigeria and Africa,” she says.
“I believe it is our duty as people sharing life in this world to shape the future. I am committed to building my technology dreams so that the outcome will shape the future of African business. You can partner with me on this journey to influence the economic narrative of Africa for good.”
Paul Makaya, 26, Zimbabwe
Founder and CEO, Bergast House
Industry: Digital design and marketing
It’s not easy doing business in a country perennially in an economic crisis.
But Paul Makaya is defying the odds in Zimbabwe.
With just the $200 he had saved up, Makaya and his friends invested it in 2016 and rented a miniature one-room office space that had only two chairs.
This was only the beginning of Bergast House, a company that offers strategy, public relations, digital and design services.
Today, the two chairs he started the business with have quintupled, as they now have a team of 10 and can gladly say they have worked with numerous organizations including software giant Microsoft.
“The initial trigger was obviously frustration about the limitations of being an employee, but in that sense as well, I felt that as a young, dynamic person, there was so much more that I could offer to the industry,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
“I also felt we had a part to play in the rise of the African continent. Our vision is to rebrand Africa and this is our purpose.”
The company has served over 103 clients including Zuva Petroleum, Astro Mobile, Maranatha Group of Schools, the Contact Centre Association of Zimbabwe, Tech24, the Chartered Institute of Customer Management, Steward Bank, and the Zimbabwe Agricultural Society, delivering an advertising value of up to $175 million.
Makaya has been listed on the Gumiguru 40 Under 30 list of emerging Zimbabwean leaders and in 2019, was selected to be the vice curator of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Harare Hub.
He is also a founding member of the Zimbabwe National Youth Awards, an annual event which seeks to identify, award, celebrate and develop exceptional young Zimbabweans in all sectors of the country’s economy.
Makaya plans to grow the business into countries such as Rwanda, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Namibia.
Anwar Bougroug, 29, Morocco
Founder and Creative Director, Bougroug
Morocco is home to very diverse coasts, remarkable architecture, intricate handmade cultural pieces, and it is also home to a young designer making a name for himself thanks to his innovation and unique vision for fashion.
Anwar Bougroug founded a genderless fashion label in 2017 called Bougroug.
Since the unisex fashion movement that has been gaining momentum in recent years and as gender fluidity becomes more normalized, Bougroug is pushing boundaries by being one of the few promoting this trend in the north African country known for its conservative people.
“We are breaking the gender binary and gender roles by representing a new kind of individual, freer than ever from societal norms and rules,” he says.
What started out as a personal project to tackle toxic masculinity and empower women in the region became a visible creative fashion house.
With every item uniquely handcrafted down to the very last thread by Moroccan artisans, Bougroug incorporates long-standing Moroccan crafting techniques.
Having roots both in Morocco and Europe, Bougroug has been able to work with different companies such as H&M and Bershka, designing and developing collections for women, men, kids and babies.
Bougroug has its head office in Stockholm, Sweden, and the production office in Marrakech. Last year, Bougroug decided to amplify his social agenda to write about sexuality, gender-based violence, politics, fashion and society in Morocco.
Pieter-Steph du Toit, 27,
South Africa Rugby player
Being the grandson of former professional rugby player, Springbok prop Piet Spiere du Toit, and older brother to Johan, also a professional rugby player, expectations are high to carry on the family legacy.
But Pieter-Steph du Toit is doing well.
He hails from the farm area of Swartland, a region in South Africa’s Western Cape province, and has become a superstar in rugby.
Last year, he was awarded the 2019 Men’s World Rugby Player of the Year and SA Rugby Player of the Year after the Springboks’ victory at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
“Pieter-Steph led the charge for the Springboks and he deserves this accolade to go with his World Player of the Year Award,” says Mark Alexander, president of SA Rugby, in a press statement.
Du Toit plays as a lock or flanker for the South Africa national team and the Stormers in Super Rugby.
According to rugbypass.com, he has successfully won 90% of his tackles, an easy feat for this two-meter tall and 119kg giant.
With the World Cup triumph now firmly in the past, Du Toit looks forward to two massive goals he has set for himself.
One of those is to play in the 2021 British & Irish Lions tour, while the other is to win Super Rugby with the Stormers in the franchise’s final year at Newlands.
Swanky Jerry, 28, Nigeria
Founder, Chief Creative Officer, Swanky Signatures
Red carpets, glamor, lights and cameras; this is the life of Jeremiah Ogbodo Ike, known as ‘Swanky Jerry’.
Featuring gold shoes and a white and black agbada (a four-piece male attire) resembling the Versace print, Ogbodo’s dresscode is as fitting as his nick name.
Swanky Jerry is a Nigerian celebrity fashion stylist who has dressed the likes of Pearl Thusi, Davido, Nyanda, Yemi Alade, Tiwa Savage, AKA, Sarkodie and African presidents and first ladies.
It was at the first-ever Global Citizen Festival in South Africa late 2018 when FORBES AFRICA first met with him accompanying D’Banj, who he styled, and who performed before the thousands present that day.
Swanky Jerry’s styling can be seen through the subtle blend of couture and African Ankara fabrics.
His love for fashion started at a young age as he and his family traveled a lot from city to city.
“We would usually have to wear the clothes of the locals of each city we visited, to blend in, and I absolutely loved it! Growing up within this lifestyle, I became more inspired by my surroundings and began to invest in Nigerian fashion magazines and people-watching at big events due to the elaborate fashion being paraded,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
After the death of his father, Ogbode socialized a lot as a coping mechanism.
It was not long before he became known as “that stylish guy”.
“It was a bittersweet journey for me because although I had experienced one of the biggest losses in my life, the death of my father had practically pushed me into the amazing place I am today. I found happiness and peace in creating and was virtually driven to turn my passion into a career in order to make money and fend for myself. And this was during a very difficult time as fashion styling, especially for me, wasn’t very popular or respected in Nigeria. However, I took the risk and I’m very grateful for where it has led me to today,” he says.
He then launched his fashion and lifestyle brand, Swanky Signatures Styling, in 2012, and it has since grown to become one of the most popular and influential brands in the industry.
Creative director, celebrity stylist, wardrobe stylist, designer, social influencer and consultant are just a few titles under his stylish belt.
He is also passionate about giving back and lending his hand to different charities and drawing attention to movements such as ‘Break the Silence’ and #WalkForLove.
He has also been featured internationally by CNN.
Nijel Amos, 26, Botswana
Track and field athlete
Nijel Amos is known as Botswana’s 800-meter superstar.
Having shocked the nation by gaining podium position at the 2012 Summer Olympics at just 18 years old, he also made history by becoming the first Motswana to win a medal at the Olympics.
Since then, he has been running swiftly into more victories.
In 2014, he won numerous gold medals: the 800m and 4x400m relay in Marrakech.
The following year, he went on to impress at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games where he won a gold medal and later won gold in the 800m at the All Africa Games.
In more recent years, he has continued to run the good race for his country, clocking some of his best times in the 2019 IAAF season.
Amos has qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and is a medal hopeful for Botswana, which still only boasts one Olympic medal.
Amos has also founded a foundation called Chase Dream Empire to empower youth, particularly ex-convicts.
Davies Okeowo, 29, Nigeria
Co-founder and CEO, Enterprise Hill and Competence Africa
Industry: Business Development
While in his second year as an undergraduate studying accounting, Davies Okeowo watched an episode of the Donald Trump-produced business reality show, The Apprentice, and it was in that moment he decided that he wanted to become an entrepreneur.
He set to turn his dream into a reality; however, his first business after university failed dismally.
“I made no sales in a full year and burned all my savings,” he says.
Luckily, Okeowo had a mentor who guided him and taught him to build a structure for a sustainable business to the point that he started helping other entrepreneurs and this birthed Enterprise Hill.
With a computer and internet connection, he founded the business in 2015 as an accounting and business development firm in a bid to strengthen medium and small business enterprises across Nigeria.
“I have come to the understanding that the depth of the business structure and human capital problem isn’t just a problem in my sphere of influence, it is a problem across the African continent; which my undertakings are devoted to solving,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
In 2017, he founded Competence Africa, a social enterprise now focused on the employability of young Nigerians.
“I strongly believe that Africa’s development is largely predicated on the quality of her people and as such, I setup Competence Africa to help ensure that Africa’s youth possess high level commercial competencies,” he says.
Since inception, over 148 students have graduated from their competence development program and impacted over 2,000 businesses.
Returning full circle, the young man whose dream was inspired by a business reality show, became the winner of one, as he won the second season of The Next Titan, a Nigerian entrepreneurial reality show.
“I have a long-term commitment to the African development cause and my theory of change is to invest in the development of young African talent, contribute to the development of strong entrepreneurial ecosystems across the continent, and advocate for developmental policies in a bid to make Africa a first world continent,” he says.
Davies is also a speaker, trainer and has facilitated training sessions for organizations such as The British Council and the Lagos State Ministry of Youth and Sports, to name a few.
Maryam Gwadabe, 29, Nigeria
Founder and CEO, Blue Sapphire Hub
Dressed in a veil and abaya, an attire known to the Huasa tribe of Nigeria, Maryam Gwadabe is not your typical Information Technology guru.
Gwadabe is a tech expert passionate about teaching and supporting young people, a gift she discovered when attending a program at a vocational center and she noticed that some of her classmates struggled with their programming skills.
On graduating, she tutored and mentored some of her friends and close relatives.
With a capital investment of NGN150,000 ($405), she then bought some training material, developed a curriculum and started facilitating basic and advanced ICT skills from her living room. But many thought Gwadabe was crazy and what she was doing would fail.
After a year, in 2014, her students exceeded her expectations and her packed living room testified that she was doing something right.
With support from her proud father who saw this growth, she set up a hub in 2015, known today as the Blue Sapphire Hub in the heart of Kano State in northern Nigeria.
The company provides ICT, entrepreneurship and incubation programs and consultancy and product development services to many young men and women, especially those like her.
Gwadabe employs a staff of 15 and since inception, has trained over 5,000 youth and women, and supported over 20 tech-driven and non-tech driven startups with business development support.
“What is more fulfilling than this; impacting the lives of women and seeing the returns? I have been advocating for bridging the digital gender divide for the past five years and now a lot of women are into tech in Nigeria, because of the impact of my work,” she says.
Each year, she hosts different forums such as ‘Hour of Code’, an event for children to learn coding, ‘ICT solutions for her’ and the ‘System trix seminar’ that teaches the latest tech tips, tricks and trends.
Next year, she is opening another hub in the capital city and plans to reach other African countries such as Niger, Chad, the Gambia and Cameroon.
Director Kit, 29, South Africa
Director, Writer and Producer
When Keitumetsi Qhali, also known as Director Kit, walks into the studio for the FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 photoshoot, her demeanor is that of a hard-talking businesswoman, but with a creative twist.
Well, she has to be this way, as a woman in a predominately white male-dominated industry with limited budgets.
Qhali, who hails from the Eastern Cape region of South Africa, is a multi-award winning director.
She works in long and short form films and videos and to date, has directed over 29 videos.
Her early work dates back to 2014 when she directed an African hit music video Rands and Nairas by Nigerian artist Emmy Gee featuring AB Crazy & Dj Dimplez.
The music video won the Best Music Video of the Year award at the 2014 Nigeria Entertainment Awards and was nominated for the Channel O music video award, for the most gifted music video of the year and Most Gifted Newcomer.
Qhali bagged all these wins at the age of 24.
Later, she was signed to the prestigious Darling Films production company as their first black female commercials director.
“It is a big deal to be recognized in this industry. My mom always said I need to work twice as hard as the men. I need to be twice as fast and twice as smart,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.
Fast forward to recent years, her talent continued to stand, on stages locally and internationally.
In 2018, she directed a short film titled The Initiate which was bought by Showmax.
And last year, she was nominated for a Loerie Award for her fashion film Winter Blues for the Edgars winter campaign.
She also won a SAFTA (South African Film and Television Awards) for Best Factual Educational Documentary Programme for her short film titled KICK IT.
Last year, she was also listed as one of the Mail & Guardian Young 200.
She is currently doing some work with Netflix which she says she is not at liberty to talk about right now.
It’s lights, camera and action until then.
Sasha Vybz, 28, Uganda
Founder, Savy Filmz, and Video Director
Hailing from humble beginnings in the Kabale district of Uganda, Ian Akankwasa, popularly known as ‘Sasha Vybz’, was attracted to motion pictures from a very young age.
“When I was a young kid, I used to love film so much. I was always intrigued. I wanted to find out how they make these movies. I wanted to make movies and I wanted to tell stories. Given the fact that I was a very quiet person I thought I could express myself through filmmaking. I never imagined myself to get this far,” he says.
He taught himself using online resources, and hacks and tricks from his former days as an events photographer but was unable to develop the quality films and videos he yearned for, or to address the lack of high-quality videos in Uganda’s entertainment scene.
So he enrolled at the CityVarsity School of Media Studies and Creative Arts College in Cape Town, South Africa, to pursue his unfulfilled dreams.
Immediately after his studies, he broke into the music scene in East Africa and became one of the most sought-after music directors for artists in Nigeria, South Africa and Burundi.
He began turning Uganda’s music into gold with high-definition quality.
He has worked with top musicians such as Patoranking, Bebe Cool and Toniks.
His talent has seen him bagging awards including Best Video Director at the 2019 African Muzik Awards in Dallas, Texas.
His other awards include Club Music Video Award 2017, HiPipo Video Director 2018/19, Buzz Video of the Year 2016/17 and the Rising Star Video Director 2018/19.
Savy Filmz specializes in motion pictures, music videos, movies and documentaries.
CNN has hailed him as a filmmaker “making music videos as an art form”.
Lewis Appiagyei, 16, Ghana
At the age of 10, Lewis Appiagyei already had his first Guinness World Record for the fastest lap driven on the Laguna Seca Circuit in virtual racing on PlayStation3.
This record is still unbeaten.
While many boys his age were playing with toy cars, he raced to fame following in the tyre tread of Lewis Hamilton, one of his heroes.
“My aim is to become Africa’s first Formula One world champion, a prize which is still up for grabs to all African racing drivers wherever they may be,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
Recently, he made it on to the 30 Under 30 Future of Ghana’s list in 2018 and is the current go-karting champion.
His passion for racing has taken him to race tracks in Europe and Dubai.
Early this year, he won his last junior trophy at the Buckmore Park Kart Circuit in Kent England, the same circuit where many current Formula One drivers learned their trade including Jenson Button and Hamilton.
For Appiagyei, this marked the end of the era, and the start of a new one.
There is no telling what the big leagues hold for this young talent but he predicts that he will become a Formula One champion just like his namesake role model.
Hadeel Osman, 29, Sudan
Creative Director, Stylist, Founder, DAVU Studio
Hadeel Osman has over seven years of experience in the media and fashion industries.
Her creative inspiration stems from her years raised in the United Arab Emirates and living in Malaysia.
But when she decided to return to Sudan in 2016, her career painted a complicated but optimistic picture.
“Sudan is a very interesting and a difficult nation to create in. Coming here, it was hard to find raw inspiration from the streets. With a very controlling regime, limited resources and a never-ending economic crisis, life was very dim and colors were nowhere in sight,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.
This allowed her to come up with the name of her business, DAVU, which stands for ‘designing a visual utopia’.
It is a multi-disciplinary creative studio that fuses design, art, education and sustainability.
“I also wanted to contribute to the arts and culture scene of my country, which has fallen under the radar both locally in the commercial sphere and regionally across the continent,” she says.
She has worked on several projects with clients in Dubai, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Sudan to enhance their branding strategies.
DAVU Studio offers an array of creative services in the form of art and creative direction, concept development, branding, styling and most importantly, informal education through interactive, immersive and creative workshops.
Through this, she has had the opportunity to work with Sudanese visual artists and designers, and was commissioned by the Sudan Independent Film Festival to train costume designers, jewelry designers and filmmakers.
Being a creative on a mission to change the outlook of her country, she has also dedicated the remainder of her career to uplifting Sudan in the creative field and Africa as a frontier of the world’s art and culture. Osman believes with the recent revolution, the future looks bright as she hopes to create a Sudan chapter of the Fashion Revolution organization, designing a suitable gender-neutral, capsule fashion collection inspired by traditional Sudanese design aesthetics.
O’Plérou Grebet, 22, Ivory Coast
Graphic Designer, Digital Artist, Founder, Zouzoukwa
Industry: Creative Tech
Quiet, creative and impactful are pretty much the words that sum up O’Plérou Grebet, the Ivorian graphic designer on a mission to promote African cultures in modern and interactive ways.
He is the founder and creator of Zouzoukwa, an Android and iOS app which allows thousands of African people to communicate more clearly using stickers and emojis representing African culture.
He has created 365 free emojis that portray contemporary African life. These include three-legged pots, djembe drums, women dressed in ankaras, tuk-tuk vehicles, African masks, hair braids and shekere, a West African percussion instrument made with a dried gourd; all this self-taught watching YouTube videos.
After mastering the skill, he would post his creations on Instagram which soon gained momentum.
Using art, culture and technology, Grebet is sharing West African heritage to the world.
He has since featured in numerous publications, locally, and internationally, including the New York Times, CNN, NPR and Fast Company.
The app has been downloaded more than 100,000 times in less than a year.
“I am aware of the impact of social media, and I use it to allow people to embrace their culture through it. The most popular filter I made is Selflove 225, which adds a rotating text above the head of the user saying ‘ye dja’, which means ‘I slay’ in Ivorian slang,” Grebet tells FOBRES AFRICA.
The African Talents Awards named Zouzoukwa the best app of 2019.
Currently, the Ivorian has been using tech to create Instagram Augmented Reality filters.
“I hope to be one of the 2020 FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 to inspire the African youth, and show that what we create has real impact. I also make connections with other Africans transforming our continent and see how we could work together,” the quiet creative says.
Asisat Oshoala, 25, Nigeria
In a 2017 photograph taken at the CAF Awards ceremony in Accra, Ghana, Asisat Oshoala, stands proudly as the only woman in the photo among some of the football greats: Mohammed Salah, Sadio Mane, and countrymate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
She may not be one of the boys but she is surely in their league.
But growing football was the last thing for a young Nigerian woman to even think about pursuing.
As a result, Oshoala’s parents were not happy when she dropped out of school to pursue a career in the game.
But years later, it paid off as she has built a successful career and become a titan of Nigerian football.
On the pitch, with speed, technique and balance, Oshoala is definitely a keeper.
Recently, she won the Confederation of African Football’s (CAF) Women’s Player of the Year for the fourth time.
“I am really excited, proud of myself; four times is something to always remember,” she told BBC Sport Africa.
“It [the win] keeps me going, but of course, there is still more work to do, I want to create my own history and not just equal someone else’s record. I’m going to give my best to create mine,” she said.
She plays for both the Nigerian national team and internationally, for the Spanish side FC Barcelona Femení in the Primera División as a forward.
Barcelona was to face Spanish rivals Atletico Madrid in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Women’s Champions League, which has now been postponed indefinitely due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Scilla Owusu, 23, Ghana
Video Director, Producer, Screenwriter, and Founder of Youngtrepreneurs
What do Davido, Burna Boy, Sarkodie, Mr Eazi, Patoranking, Diamond Platnumz, Morgan Heritage, Wande Coal and Maleek Berry all have in common?
Apart from directing many of Africa’s top music hits, they can attribute the creative success of some of their videos to 23-year-old Ghanaian video director, Scilla Owusu.
It all started in the summer of 2015, after Owusu graduated from college with a business studies degree in London and she felt lost and did not know what her life’s purpose was.
Putting pen to paper, Scilla eventually found her passion in screenwriting which led her to launch her first six-part series titled A Lesson Learnt that she wrote and produced.
This led her to win an award at the Screen Nation Film & Television Awards in 2016.
Following this success, Owusu dove into the world of music video production at the age of 19.
“Being in such a male-dominated industry as a music video producer, especially a young black female video producer, felt like being black twice because I had to work twice as hard to prove I was worthy of being in the room, despite my great talents,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.
Within a year, Scilla’s drive led her to direct popular music videos such as Tomorrow by M.anifest featuring Burna Boy, Love coming down by Don EE featuring Davido and Odo Bi by Stonebwoy featuring Sarkodie.
Her love for the entertainment industry led her to launch her own social youth organization in Ghana called Youngtrepreneurs to help young Ghanaian creatives improve their business knowledge, gain work skills and provide career opportunities. Owusu has been featured by different media outlets including the BBC and OkayAfrica.
Africa’s 50 Most Powerful Women
This is a first-of-its-kind Pan-African unranked compilation of the continent’s leading women, drawn from business, politics, media, science, sports and public life, who are challenging the status quo and creating a trail on terrain where there was none. They are reshaping history, closing inequalities and pioneering new avenues of wealth creation and in turn, lifting others with them.
This is a first-of-its-kind Pan-African unranked compilation of the continent’s leading women, drawn from business, politics, media, science, sports and public life, who are challenging the status quo and creating a trail on terrain where there was none. They are reshaping history, closing inequalities and pioneering new avenues of wealth creation and in turn, lifting others with them.
|GRACA MACHEL||SOUTH AFRICA||FOUNDER, GRACA MACHEL TRUST||SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT|
|CLARE AKAMANZI||RWANDA||CEO, RWANDA DEVELOPMENT BOARD||SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT/GOVERNANCE|
|FOLORUNSO ALAKIJA||NIGERIA||EXECUTIVE VICE CHAIR, FAMFA OIL||OIL SECTOR|
|JENNIFER RIRIA||KENYA||GROUP CEO, ECHO NETWORK AFRICA (ENA); FOUNDING MEMBER, KENYA WOMEN FINANCE TRUST||FINANCE|
|LOUISE MUSHIKIWABO||RWANDA||SECRETARY GENERAL, ORGANISATION INTERNATIONALE DE LA FRANCOPHONIE (OIF)|
|AYA CHEBBI||TUNISIA||BLOGGER AND AFRICA UNION YOUTH ENVOY||MEDIA|
|ELSIE KANZA||TANZANIA||HEAD OF AFRICA AND MEMBER OF THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE, WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM||FINANCE|
|IBUKUN AWOSIKA||NIGERIA||FOUNDER AND CEO, THE CHAIR CENTRE GROUP||MANUFACTURING|
|DR JUDY DLAMINI||SOUTH AFRICA||FOUNDER, MBEKANI GROUP||SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT|
|CHARLIZE THERON||SOUTH AFRICA||HOLLYWOOD ACTRESS||ENTERTAINMENT|
|CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE||NIGERIA||AUTHOR, PUBLIC SPEAKER||PUBLISHING|
|PHUTI MAHANYELE-DABENGWA||SOUTH AFRICA||CEO, NASPERS SOUTH AFRICA||TECHNOLOGY|
|OBIAGELI ‘OBY’ EZEKWESILI||NIGERIA||SENIOR ECONOMIC ADVISOR, AFRICA ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT POLICY INITIATIVE (AEDPI)||SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT|
|GLENDA GRAY||SOUTH AFRICA||PRESIDENT AND CEO, SOUTH AFRICAN MEDICAL RESEARCH COUNCIL (SAMRC)||HEALTHCARE|
|THULI MADONSELA||SOUTH AFRICA||LAW TRUST CHAIR, SOCIAL JUSTICE RESEARCH AT STELLENBOSCH UNIVERSITY||LAW|
|WENDY LUHABE||SOUTH AFRICA||SOCIAL ENTREPRENEUR & CO-FOUNDER, WIPHOLD||FINANCE|
|ANGÉLIQUE KIDJO||BENIN||FOUR-TIME GRAMMY AWARD WINNER||ENTERTAINMENT|
|MANAL ROSTOM||EGYPT||FOUNDER, SURVIVING HIJAB AND FACE OF NIKE PRO HIJAB||HEALTH AND FITNESS|
|LYDIA NSEKERA||BURUNDI||PRESIDENT, NATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE (NOC) OF BURUNDI AND MEMBER OF FIFA COUNCIL||SPORT/GOVERNANCE|
|WINNIE BYANYIMA||UGANDA||EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, UNAIDS||SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT|
|NGOZI OKONJO-IWEALA||NIGERIA||CHAIR, BOARD OF THE GLOBAL ALLIANCE FOR VACCINES AND IMMUNISATION (GAVI)||HEALTHCARE|
|PHUMZILE MLAMBO-NGCUKA||SOUTH AFRICA||EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, UNITED NATIONS (UN) WOMEN||SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT|
|WARIS DIRIE||SOMALIA||PRESIDENT AND FOUNDER, DESERT FLOWER FOUNDATION||SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT|
|ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF||LIBERIA||FIRST FEMALE PRESIDENT OF LIBERIA, NOBEL PEACE LAUREATE||GOVERNANCE|
|YVONNE CHAKA CHAKA||SOUTH AFRICA||AWARD-WINNING MUSICIAN||ENTERTAINMENT|
|SAHLE-WORK ZEWDE||ETHIOPIA||PRESIDENT OF ETHIOPIA||GOVERNANCE|
|MAMOKGETHI (KGETHI) PHAKENG||SOUTH AFRICA||VICE-CHANCELLOR, UNIVERSITY OF CAPE TOWN (UCT)||EDUCATION|
|REBECCA ENONCHONG||CAMEROON||FOUNDER & CEO, APPSTECH||TECHNOLOGY|
|BONANG MATHEBA||SOUTH AFRICA||MEDIA PERSONALITY, ENTREPRENEUR||ENTERTAINMENT|
|FATMA SAMOURA||SENEGAL||SECRETARY-GENERAL, FIFA||SPORT|
|IRENE CHARNLEY||SOUTH AFRICA||FOUNDER, SMILE COMMUNICATIONS||TECHNOLOGY|
|UCHENNA ‘UCHE’ PEDRO||NIGERIA||FOUNDER AND CEO, BELLANAIJA||MEDIA|
|ILWAD ELMAN||SOMALIA||FOUNDER, ELMAN PEACE CENTRE||ACTIVISM|
|WENDY APPELBAUM||SOUTH AFRICA||FOUNDER AND CHAIRPERSON, DE MORGENZON WINE ESTATE||ENTREPRENEUR|
|OLAJUMOKE ADENOWO||NIGERIA||FOUNDER, AD CONSULTING||ADVERTISING|
|BETHLEHEM TILAHUN ALEMU||ETHIOPIA||FOUNDER AND CEO, SOLEREBELS FOOTWEAR, GARDEN OF COFFEE, TEFFTASTIC||ENTREPRENEUR|
|NKOSAZANA DLAMINI-ZUMA||SOUTH AFRICA||MINISTER OF COOPERATIVE GOVERNANCE AND TRADITIONAL AFFAIRS, SOUTH AFRICA||GOVERNANCE|
|WENDY ACKERMAN||SOUTH AFRICA||EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, PICK ‘N PAY||RETAIL|
|CASTER SEMENYA||SOUTH AFRICA||OLYMPIC CHAMPION||SPORT|
|RAWYA MANSOUR||EGYPT||FOUNDER AND CEO, RAMSCO||AGRICULTURE|
|ARUNMA OTEH||NIGERIA||ACADEMIC SCHOLAR, UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD FORMER TREASURER AND VICE PRESIDENT, WORLD BANK LONDON STOCK EXCHANGE AFRICA ADVISORY GROUP MEMBER||FINANCE|
|FATOU BENSOUDA||GAMBIA||PROSECUTOR, INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT (ICC)||LAW|
|HAJER SHARIEF||LIBYA||HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCATE||ACTIVISM|
|AMINA J. MOHAMMED||NIGERIA||DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL, UNITED NATIONS||SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT|
|PRECIOUS MOTSEPE||SOUTH AFRICA||FOUNDER, AFRICAN FASHION INTERNATIONAL||FASHION|
|LUPITA NYONG’O||KENYA||OSCAR-WINNING ACTOR||ENTERTAINMENT|
|VERA SONGWE||CAMEROON||EXECUTIVE SECRETARY, UNITED NATIONS ECONOMIC COMMISSION FOR AFRICA||SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT|
|MAGDA WIERZYCKA||SOUTH AFRICA||FOUNDER, SYGNIA||FINANCE|
|TARA FELA-DUROTOYE||NIGERIA||FOUNDER, HOUSE OF TARA INTERNATIONAL||BEAUTY|
|THERESA KACHINDAMOTO||MALAWI||CHIEF OF DEDZA DISTRICT||SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT|
Africa’s Richest 2020: Steady State With Some Volatility On The Margins
Like elsewhere in the world, fortunes in Africa can be volatile, thanks to changes like a new currency.
Africa’s billionaires are as a group richer than a year ago. Altogether, the continent’s 20 billionaires are worth a combined $73.4 billion, up from $68.7 billion a year ago.
For the ninth year in a row, Aliko Dangote of Nigeria is the richest person in Africa, worth an estimated $10.1 billion, down from $10.3 billion a year ago amid a slightly lower stock price for his Dangote Cement, his largest holding. The much-heralded oil refinery that Dangote is building in Nigeria is still at least a year away from completion.
Nassef Sawiris of Egypt is the new number two richest, worth $8 billion—up from $6.3 billion last year. Sawiris’ most valuable asset is a stake in shoemaker Adidas worth a recent $4 billion. The increase in Adidas’ share price alone added nearly $1.5 billion to his fortune since January 2019. He also owns a significant stake in fertilizer producer OCI N.V. In 2019, Sawiris and U.S. investor Wes Edens purchased the remaining stake they didn’t own in U.K. Premier League team Aston Villa Football Club.
Number three on the list is Nigeria’s Mike Adenuga, worth $7.7 billion. He owns mobile phone network GloMobile as well as oil producer Conoil and extensive real estate holdings.
One member of this elite group is worth 50% less than a year ago. Due primarily to the introduction of a new (weaker) currency in Zimbabwe, Strive Masiyiwa’s fortune fell to $1.1 billion from $2.3 billion in January 2019. Zimbabwe, which has battled with hyperinflation, had been using the U.S. dollar as its currency, but in 2019 it switched to its own currency, initially called the RTGS. When converted into U.S. dollars, the values of Masiyiwa’s stakes in Zimbabwe-listed mobile phone network Econet Wireless Zimbabwe and Cassava Smartech fell dramatically in dollar terms.
Just two of the 20 billionaires are women: Isabel dos Santos, the eldest daughter of Angola’s former president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos; and Folorunsho Alakija of Nigeria. Dos Santos’ fortune has declined to an estimated $2.2 billion, down $100 million from a year ago. In late December, an Angola court issued an order to freeze the assets that Isabel dos Santos and her husband, Sindika Dokolo, own in Angola. Those include her stake in telecom firm Unitel and stakes in two Angolan banks; Forbes estimates those assets are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. A statement issued by Isabel dos Santos said the judgment contained “a number of untruths” and that she would fight the decision “by using all the instruments of Angolan and international law at my disposal.”
Country rankings are unchanged from a year ago: Egypt and South Africa are tied with five billionaires each, followed by Nigeria with four and Morocco with two. Forbes found one billionaire each from Algeria, Angola, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. That’s the same as last year but a better representation than nine years ago, when only four African nations were home to ten-figure fortunes.
Our list tracks the wealth of African billionaires who reside in Africa or have their primary businesses there, thus excluding Sudanese-born billionaire Mo Ibrahim, who is a U.K. citizen, and billionaire London resident Mohamed Al-Fayed, an Egyptian citizen. (Strive Masiyiwa, a citizen of Zimbabwe and a London resident, appears on the list due to his expansive telecom holdings in Africa; Isabel dos Santos, a citizen of Angola, has been living in Europe but retains assets in Angola—although they were recently frozen by a court in Angola.) We calculated net worths using stock prices and currency exchange rates from the close of business on Friday, January 10, 2020. To value privately held businesses, we couple estimates of revenues or profits with prevailing price-to-sales or price-to-earnings ratios for similar public companies. Some list members grow richer or poorer within weeks—or days—of our measurement date.
– Written by Kerry A. Dolan
Africa’s Billionaires List
- Aliko Dangote
Net worth: $10.1 billion
Origin of wealth: Cement, sugar
Education: Al-Azhar University, Bachelor of Arts/Science
Dangote, Africa’s richest man, founded and chairs Dangote Cement, the continent’s largest cement producer. He owns nearly 85% of publicly-traded Dangote Cement through a holding company. Dangote Cement produces 45.6 million metric tons annually and has operations in 10 countries across Africa. Dangote also owns stakes in publicly-traded salt, sugar and flour manufacturing companies. Dangote Refinery has been under construction for three years and is expected to be one of the world’s largest oil refineries once complete.
Did You Know?
Dangote’s grandfather was a successful trader of rice and oats in Kano, Nigeria’s second largest city.
Dangote told Forbes that when he was young, he bought sweets, gave them to others to sell, and he kept the profits.
2. Nassef Sawiris
Net worth: $8 billion
Origin of wealth: Construction, chemicals
Education: University of Chicago
Nassef Sawiris is a scion of Egypt’s wealthiest family. His brother Naguib is also a billionaire. Sawiris split Orascom Construction Industries into two entities in 2015: OCI and Orascom Construction. He runs OCI, one of the world’s largest nitrogen fertilizer producers, with plants in Texas and Iowa; it trades on the Euronext Amsterdam exchange. Orascom Construction, an engineering and building firm, trades on the Cairo exchange and Nasdaq Dubai. His holdings include stakes in cement giant Lafarge Holcim and Adidas; he sits on the supervisory board of Adidas.
Did You Know?
A University of Chicago graduate, he donated $24.1 million to the school in 2019 to aid Egyptian students and fund an executive education program.
Nassef Sawiris teamed up with Fortress Investment Group’s Wes Edens to purchase a majority stake in Aston Villa Football Club.
3. Mike Adenuga
Net worth: $7.7 billion
Origin of wealth: Telecom, oil
Education: Pace University, Master of Business
Adenuga, Nigeria’s second richest man, built his fortune in telecom and oil production. His mobile phone network, Globacom, is the third largest operator in Nigeria, with 43 million subscribers. His oil exploration outfit, Conoil Producing, operates six oil blocks in the Niger Delta. Adenuga got an MBA at Pace University in New York, supporting himself as a student by working as a taxi driver. He made his first million at age 26 selling lace and distributing soft drinks.
4. Nicky Oppenheimer
Net worth: $7.7 billion
Origin of wealth: Diamonds
Country: South Africa
Education: Oxford University Christ Church, Master of Arts/Science
Oppenheimer, heir to his family’s fortune, sold his 40% stake in diamond firm DeBeers to mining group Anglo American for $5.1 billion in cash in 2012. He was the third generation of his family to run DeBeers, and took the company private in 2001. For 85 years until 2012, the Oppenheimer family occupied a controlling spot in the world’s diamond trade. In 2014, Oppenheimer started Fireblade Aviation in Johannesburg, which operates chartered flights with its fleet of three planes and two helicopters. He owns at least 720 square miles of conservation land across South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Did You Know?
Oppenheimer owns Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, the largest private game reserve in South Africa.
Oppenheimer is a sports fan and plays squash, golf and cricket. Notepads in his office read: “Things I must do before cricket”.
5.Johann Rupert & family
Net worth: $6.5 billion
Origin of wealth: Luxury goods
Country: South Africa
Residence: Cape Town
Rupert is chairman of Swiss luxury goods firm Compagnie Financiere Richemont. The company is best known for the brands Cartier and Montblanc. It was formed in 1998 through a spinoff of assets owned by Rembrandt Group Limited (now Remgro Limited), which his father Anton formed in the 1940s. He owns a 7% stake in diversified investment firm Remgro, which he chairs, as well as 25% of Reinet, an investment holding co. based in Luxembourg. In recent years, Rupert has been a vocal opponent of plans to allow fracking in the Karoo, a region of South Africa where he owns land.
Did You Know?
He also owns part of the Saracens English rugby team and Anthonij Rupert Wines, named after his deceased brother.
Rupert says his biggest regret was not buying half of Gucci when he had the opportunity to do so for just $175 million.
6.Issad Rebrab & family
Net worth: $4.4 billion
Origin of wealth: Food
Issad Rebrab is the founder and CEO of Cevital, Algeria’s biggest privately-held company. Cevital owns one of the largest sugar refineries in the world, with the capacity to produce 2 million tons a year. Cevital owns European companies, including French home appliances maker Groupe Brandt, an Italian steel mill and a German water purification company. After serving eight months in jail on charges of corruption, Rebrab was released on January 1, 2020. He denies any wrongdoing.
Did You Know?
Rebrab is the son of militants who fought for Algeria’s independence from France.
Cevital helped finance a biopic on Algerian resistance hero Larbi Ben M’hidi, who was executed by the French in 1957.
Net worth: $3.3 billion
Origin of wealth: Diversified
Education: Auburn University, Master of Business Administration
Mansour oversees family conglomerate Mansour Group, which was founded by his father Loutfy (D.1976) in 1952 and has 60,000 employees. Mansour established General Motors dealerships in Egypt in 1975, later becoming one of GM’s biggest distributors worldwide. Mansour Group also has exclusive distribution rights for Caterpillar equipment in Egypt and seven other African countries. He served as Egypt’s Minister of Transportation from 2006 to 2009 under the Hosni Mubarak regime. His brothers Yasseen and Youssef, who share ownership in the family group, are also billionaires; his son Loutfy heads private equity arm Man Capital.
Net worth: $3.1 billion
Origin of wealth: Cement, sugar
Rabiu is the founder of BUA Group, a Nigerian conglomerate active in cement production, sugar refining and real estate. In early January 2020, Rabiu merged his privately-owned Obu Cement company with listed firm Cement Co. of Northern Nigeria, which he controlled. The combined firm, called BUA Cement Plc, trades on the Nigerian stock exchange; Rabiu owns 98.5% of it. Rabiu, the son of a businessman, inherited land from his father. He set up his own business in 1988 importing iron, steel and chemicals.
Net worth: $3 billion
Origin of wealth: Telecom
Education: Swiss Federal Polytechnical Institute, Master of Science; Swiss Federal Polytechnical Institute, Bachelor of Arts/Science
Naguib Sawiris is a scion of Egypt’s wealthiest family. His brother Nassef is also a billionaire. He built a fortune in telecom, selling Orascom Telecom in 2011 to Russian telecom firm VimpelCom (now Veon) in a multibillion-dollar transaction. He’s chairman of Orascom TMT Investments, which has stakes in a major asset manager in Egypt and an Italian internet company, among others. Family holding La Mancha has stakes in Evolution Mining, Endeavour Mining and Golden Star Resources, which operate gold mines in Africa and Australia. Sawiris is a majority owner in Euronews. He’s also developed a luxury resort called Silversands in Grenada.
Did You Know?
Sawiris helped found The Free Egyptians, a liberal political party, at the onset of Egypt’s uprisings in 2011.
In 2015, he offered to buy a Greek or Italian island to house Syrian refugees, but Greece and Italy turned him down.
Net worth: $2.6 billion
Origin of wealth: Mining
Country: South Africa
Motsepe, the founder and chairman of African Rainbow Minerals, became a billionaire in 2008 – the first black African on the Forbes list. In 2016, he launched a new private equity firm, African Rainbow Capital, focused on investing in Africa. Motsepe also has a stake in Sanlam, a listed financial services firm, and is the president and owner of the Mamelodi Sundowns Football Club. He became the first black partner at law firm Bowman Gilfillan in Johannesburg, and then started a contracting business doing mine scut work. In 1994, he bought low-producing gold mine shafts and later turned them profitable.
11. Koos Bekker
Net worth: $2.5 billion
Origin of wealth: Media, investments
Country: South Africa
Residence: Cape Town
Education: Columbia Business School, Master of Business Administration; University of Witwatersrand, LLB
Bekker is revered for transforming South African newspaper publisher Naspers into an ecommerce investor and cable TV powerhouse. He led Naspers to invest in Chinese Internet and media firm Tencent in 2001 – by far the most profitable of the bets he made on companies elsewhere. In 2019, Naspers put some assets into two publicly-traded companies, entertainment firm MultiChoice Group and Prosus, which contains the Tencent stake. It sold a 2% stake in Tencent in March 2018, its first time reducing its holding, but stated at the time it would not sell again for three years. Bekker, who retired as the CEO of Naspers in March 2014, returned as chairman in April 2015.
Did You Know?
His Babylonstoren estate, nearly 600 acres in South Africa’s Western Cape region, features architecture dating back to 1690, a farm, orchard and vineyard and more.
Over the summer of 2015, he sold more than 70% of his Naspers shares.
Net worth: $2.3 billion
Origin of wealth: Diversified
Education: George Washington University,
Bachelor of Arts/Science
Mansour is a shareholder in family-owned conglomerate Mansour Group, which was founded by his father Loutfy (d.1976) in 1952. Mansour Group is the exclusive distributor of GM vehicles and Caterpillar equipment in Egypt and several other countries. His brothers Mohamed and Youssef are also billionaires and part owners of Mansour Group. He’s chairman of Palm Hills Developments, one of Egypt’s biggest real estate developers.
Did You Know?
Mansour Group is the sole franchisee of McDonald’s in Egypt, as well as the distributor of Gauloises cigarettes.
13.Isabel dos Santos
Net worth: $2.2 billion
Origin of wealth: Investments
Education: King’s College London, Bachelor of Arts/Science
Dos Santos is the oldest daughter of Angola’s longtime former president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who stepped down in fall 2017. Her father made her head of Sonangol, Angola’s state oil firm, in June 2016, but Angola’s new president removed her from that role in November 2017. Forbes research found that while Isabel’s father was president, she ended up with stakes in Angolan companies including banks and a telecom firm. She owns shares of Portuguese companies, including telecom and cable TV firm Nos SGPS. A spokesperson for Isabel told Forbes that she “is an independent business woman and a private investor representing solely her own interests.” In December 2019, an Angolan court issued an order freezing her stakes in Angolan companies, part of a suit about funds she owes to the state oil firm.
Did You Know?
Isabel dos Santos is nicknamed “the princess” in Angola.
Santos’ mother, Tatiana Kukanova, met her father while he was a student in Azerbaijan. The couple later divorced.
Net worth: $1.9 billion
Origin of wealth: Diversified
Education: Auburn University, Master of Business Administration; North Carolina State University, Bachelor of Science in Engineering
Mansour is chairman of family-owned conglomerate Mansour Group, which was founded by his father Loutfy (d.1976) in 1952. Mansour Group is the exclusive distributor of GM vehicles and Caterpillar equipment in Egypt and several other countries. He oversees the consumer goods division, which includes supermarket chain Metro, and sole distribution rights for L’Oreal in Egypt. Younger brothers Mohamed and Yasseen are also billionaires and part owners of Mansour Group.
Did You Know?
Former Egypt President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized his father’s original cotton trading business.
Mansour is a founding member of the American Egyptian Chamber of Commerce.
15. Aziz Akhannouch
Net worth: $1.7 billion
Origin of wealth: Petroleum, diversified
Education: Universite de Sherbrooke, Master of Business Administration
Aziz Akhannouch is the majority owner of Akwa Group, a multibillion-dollar conglomerate founded by his father and a partner, Ahmed Wakrim, in 1932. It has interests in petroleum, gas and chemicals through publicly-traded Afriquia Gaz and Maghreb Oxygene. Akhannouch is Morocco’s Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and the president of a royalist political party.
Did You Know?
His wife Salwa Idrissi runs her own company, which has franchises for Gap, Gucci and Ralph Lauren in Morocco.
Net worth: $1.6 billion
Origin of wealth: Diversified
Residence: Dar es Salaam
Mohammed Dewji is the CEO of MeTL, a Tanzanian conglomerate founded by his father in the 1970s. MeTL is active in textile manufacturing, flour milling, beverages and edible oils in eastern, southern and central Africa. MeTL operates in at least six African countries and has ambitions to expand to several more. Dewji, Tanzania’s only billionaire, signed the Giving Pledge in 2016, promising to donate at least half his fortune to philanthropic causes. Dewji was reportedly kidnapped at gunpoint in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in October 2018 and released after nine days.
Did You Know?
Dewji retired from Tanzania’s parliament in early 2015 after completing two terms.
Dewji, who is known as Mo (short for Mohammed), launched Mo Cola several years ago to compete with Coca Cola.
Net worth: $1.4 billion
Origin of wealth: Banking, insurance
Education: Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne, Diploma
Benjelloun is CEO of BMCE Bank of Africa, which has a presence in more than 20 African countries. His father was a shareholder in RMA Watanya, a Moroccan insurance company; Benjelloun built it into a leading insurer. Through his holding company FinanceCom, he has a stake in the Moroccan arm of French telecom firm Orange. He inaugurated in 2014 a $500 million plan to build the 55-story Mohammed VI Tower in Rabat. It will be one of the tallest buildings in Africa. FinanceCom is part of a project to develop a multibillion-dollar tech city in Tangiers that is expected to host 200 Chinese companies.
Did You Know?
He co-owns Ranch Adarouch, one of the biggest cattle breeders in Africa.
Benjelloun and his wife received the David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award for building schools in rural Morocco in 2016.
18.Michiel Le Roux
Net worth: $1.3 billion
Origin of wealth: Banking
Country: South Africa
Le Roux of South Africa founded Capitec Bank in 2001 and owns about an 11% stake. The bank, which trades on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, targets South Africa’s emerging middle class. He served as chairman of the board of Capitec from 2007 to 2016 and has continued on as a board member. Le Roux previously ran Boland Bank, a small regional bank in Cape Town’s hinterland.
Did You Know?
The bank has more than 800 branches and over 13,000 employees.
Fellow South African Jannie Mouton’s PSG Group owns a 30% stake in Capitec Bank.
Net worth: $1.1 billion
Origin of wealth: Telecom
Education: University of Wales, Bachelor of Engineering
Masiyiwa overcame protracted government opposition to launch mobile phone network Econet Wireless Zimbabwe in his country of birth in 1998. He owns just over 50% of the publicly-traded Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, which is one part of his larger Econet Group. Masiyiwa also owns just over half of private company Liquid Telecom, which provides fiber optic and satellite services to telecom firms across Africa. His other assets include stakes in mobile phone networks in Burundi and Lesotho, and investments in fintech and power distribution firms in Africa. He and his wife Tsitsi founded the Higherlife Foundation, which supports orphaned and poor children in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Burundi and Lesotho.
Did You Know?
After studying at university in Britain, Masiyiwa worked at ZPTC, Zimbabwe’s phone company.
He left ZPTC to start an engineering services firm, then sold it and founded Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, but had to battle the government in court for years
Net worth: $1 billion
Origin of wealth: Oil
Folorunso Alakija is vice chair of Famfa Oil, a Nigerian oil exploration company with a stake in Agbami Oilfield, a prolific offshore asset. Famfa Oil’s partners include Chevron and Petrobras. Alakija’s first company was a fashion label whose customers included the wife of former Nigerian president Ibrahim Babangida. The Nigerian government awarded Alakija’s company an oil prospecting license in 1993, which was later converted to an oil mining lease. The Agbami field has been operating since 2008; Famfa Oil says it will likely operate through 2024.
What It’s Like Meeting Africa’s Richest Man
FORBES AFRICA journalist Peace Hyde says she first interviewed Aliko Dangote in Nigeria about three years ago for the popular FORBES AFRICA show, My Worst Day With Peace Hyde, airing on CNBC Africa, and has since had the privilege of meeting and speaking with him several times at both official and private functions.
“Dangote is someone who is extremely focused and driven with a bullish passion for Africa. For him, the goal is to dream as big and as grandiose as you can when it comes to the future of Africa because he believes, we have the human capital and resources to transform our continent. Everything is possible in his mind. His approach to business is testament to this fact.”
The largest employer in Africa’s most populous economy, he is also seen as a stabilizing force within the economies of several countries across the African continent. His story, however, has not been without failure.
“Dangote has had his fair share of ups and downs. But his advice to young entrepreneurs is having the ability to delay gratification and work hard through tough times so they can enjoy the fruits of their labor at a later date,” says Hyde.
Through the Dangote Foundation, which has the objective of reducing the number of lives lost to malnutrition and disease as well as combating Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) in children, thousands of children have been saved from the brink of death.
Dangote is also known as a man of few words. “I have seen him spend an entire afternoon answering questions about his business to a room of MBA graduates and proceeding to take pictures with everyone before leaving.
“You will not find any of the obvious trappings of wealth like flashy cars or a big entourage with him and he takes the time to speak to anyone who approaches him at a function,” adds Hyde.
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