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I HAD AN IDEA, I DIDN’T HAVE A LAPTOP

Restless millionaire Ladi Delano dropped out of college, worked in finance and made a fortune selling vodka to the Chinese. Now, this Yoruba-speaking entrepreneur is home in Nigeria planning his next 31 years.

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Ladi Delano always had his eye on the horizon. In his mid-teens, he asked for two years’ pocket money from his mother, to buy a few pairs of cheap designer boots to sell to his school mates. At 19, he sold services to universities. By 22, he had founded a top selling liquor company. Many dollars and a few hard lessons later, Delano couldn’t be more sure of himself. You may choose fancy words to describe his business acumen, but one will suffice; entrepreneurship. This is the story of a born businessman.

Delano was born-and-bred in England to parents he calls part of a generation of unsung heroes. He might easily pass for a full-blooded Brit, with an accent you could cut with a knife, but he is as much a Nigerian. As we sit at his homely residence in a leafy Lagos suburb, overlooking the gray ocean, Delano is as warm as his sofas; his memory, as fresh as a daisy.

“In my household, London started when you walked out the front door and Nigeria started once you walked back into the house. We had three square meals of Nigerian food everyday and spoke lots of Yoruba,” he says.

Delano’s grandfather, Isaac Oluwole Delano, is a Yoruba novelist who compiled a dictionary of his mother tongue. Despite growing up in London, rather than Lagos, Delano’s Yoruba is far from shabby.

“I was born to parents who essentially sacrificed everything in order for their children to have a better chance and start in life; because they gave up everything they knew in order for us to access better opportunities,” he says.

One opportunity was a head start in business. Delano’s father is a corporate executive and MBA lecturer.

“Growing up with my father was incredible because the time we spent together, were literally MBA classes. Most of our conversations were on dissecting businesses, understanding how they work and how different products come to market. We would have CNN on in the background and Business Today would come on. Our two biggest pastimes were Michael Jackson, we went to two concerts together, and business. As long as I can remember, that was our thing,” he says.

The path may have been well lit, but hardship lurked around the corner. In his student days, Delano found he suffered from mild dyslexia and deafness in one ear. Learning became more and more difficult and the idea of school waned. Despite this, with the help of extra lessons, Delano made it to a top university on a day he describes as glorious. The novelty soon wore off and academia became Delano’s nemesis. In his second year of a political science degree, he made up his mind.

“It became quite clear that I didn’t have a passion for my course. I think that lead to me being easily distracted and that, ultimately, culminated in me thinking that rather than flogging a dead horse, it would make more sense to do something I was more comfortable with. There are two types of education and each form of education is equally as valuable. The academic approach to education is vital, no business can operate and be successful without those who have spent the time to understand the academic side of anything. However, that approach to education is not necessarily for everybody. And in my case it wasn’t. So, I decided to withdraw from university,” he says.

Delano’s decision didn’t go down well at home, but there was no stopping him. At least university had planted the idea of becoming an entrepreneur.

“We wanted to look at things like career advice for students, get recruiters to advertize their industries to students and M-commerce retail structures where students could use their mobile phones to make purchases,” says Delano.

Think again. In six months, Delano had lost the thousands he had borrowed.

“I was 19, I was confused. I knew my degree wasn’t for me, I knew college wasn’t for me. I tried my hand at the only other thing I knew I could do, which was business, and this happened. I was extremely upset, disheartened and discouraged,” he says.

Delano had always had a fascination with Asia: his father’s family home had a Bruce Lee poster; one of the London homes the family lived in was in a predominantly Japanese area and he had used chop sticks at a very young age.

So, with a plane ticket, a clouded mind and very little money, Delano flew off to figure out life—in Asia.

“I moved around, worked in bars mainly to earn some cash and fund more travel. I was being exposed to a lot, meeting lots of new people and learning more.”

Delano traveled from Thailand to Malaysia and Hong Kong, for eight months, before joining his family in their new home in Chicago.

In the States, it was time to find a job. He called cinemas, record stores, and department stores. His parents encouraged him to go back to college.

“It dawned on me while I searched, that I met this guy while I was in Hong Kong. He was a Goldman Sachs broker and we had struck up a casual conversation—he told me that when he came out of high school, he went into the city and knocked on every single door until he got an apprenticeship, from which, he worked his way up to being a stock broker and he’s been in banking for many years ever since. This made me think to myself, I don’t want to work in a department store. I thought I’d emulate what he did. So I started calling every single investment bank in downtown Chicago for weeks. After about three weeks, I got an interview for an internship with Merryl Lynch,” he says.

In Chicago, Delano felt at home.

“This was the most interaction I had ever had with any type of financial institutions in my life. I was consistently reading the Wall Street Journal all this time, to beef up my day-to-day business knowledge,” he says.

Soon he was cold calling investors to free lunches for wealth plan pitches—a task he found boring. After a couple of weeks, he decided to approach his bosses.

“I went home and polished up a presentation of a business I had been working on, called—the Minority private client initiative ( MPCI)—This was a strategy to target high net worth ethnic minorities and talk to them about moving aspects of their private wealth portfolios and businesses to our team. My bosses loved the idea and gave me an opportunity to do it. I traveled around the United States trying to make this materialize,” he says.

Delano returned to London, with a burning desire for a radical career change.

“I had an idea, I didn’t have a laptop and I had to spend a lot of time at the internet café not too far away, where I spent time writing my business plan. I just had to get it all out. Myself and two friends went to raise £216,892—we raised this money through a group of high net worth individuals I had been fortunate to know. After all my travels and time spent in bars, I had realized and identified the need for an independent alcohol brand; my mates saw this too,” says Delano.

Delano was 21. Out on the streets of London a vodka revolution was taking place; Delano and his mates wanted to supply the shots.

“So, that’s how we started our vodka brand—we had no idea what we were doing but we all shared the same vision. I was the commercial guy, my friends, the operations and creative guys, respectively. It took us six to seven months to put the product together and get our first consignment… It was to a certain extent, trial and error, but we were lucky enough to have more successes than errors at the beginning.”

By the eighth month, Solid XS vodka was ready. Delano hopped from bar to bar in London, for a year, selling the new drink from a bucket. The brand prospered, but the business proved bittersweet.

“We had managed to identify a niché and introduced the first Magnum Vodka in the world which subsequently opened a whole new area as we now started selling in Paris, St. Tropez to high end clientele and clubs. We now had a team of 16, but it was clear that our margins weren’t healthy as we were spending a lot of money on marketing. Our bottom line just wasn’t there. Although, we were alive, every month was difficult and every quarter even tighter.”

There was only one way out—duty free.

“I got on a plane and went to Orlando, Florida, for the biggest duty free trade show in the world, where I met the former country head for the largest wine company in China at the time. He told me about this fantastic place called China where volumes are high and costs are extremely low. He was starting a new distribution company and asked if I’d be interested in bringing our product on his portfolio. The next six months were spent on a Chinese strategy. It took almost a million pounds from investors and launched within a year.”

Delano took language lessons and traveled the country to sell. After six months, volumes were not rising but the marketing budget was dwindling. It wasn’t looking good.

“One of my team members in London and I, packed up our bags and moved to Hong Kong where we opened an office and started to figure it all out by ourselves,’’ he says.

In three years, they had six provincial offices around the country,  staff of 200, the vodka was sold in 33 cities, controlling up to 70% of the market in China.

Business boomed as China drank vodka like water. This was encouraging, but Delano had other interests and sold a chunk of his shares so he could invest. He opened a night club, a restaurant, and was opening a hotel in Shanghai. The vodka business was expanding, as the world economy contracted.

“I underestimated the impact of the global financial crisis and what that would have on all my businesses. On the real estate side, all the commitments for project finance became e-mails of no appetite, all the negotiations became unanswered e-mails and phone calls. The world just came to a stand-still and to top it off, there was a spike in oil prices and as we were importing our vodka and our glass bottles were hand blown in a different location so our costs just skyrocketed. There was a great amount of uncertainty and that translated to less disposable income which subsequently meant less people were going out and less vodka was being bought. Our volumes dropped, costs went up and by the time we realized what was going on, it was too late,” says Delano.

“Always prepare yourself for the storm.”

China may have ridden the storm, but the business didn’t. Troubled times saw Delano move to Indonesia; from here, he took trips to Nigeria, over two years, where he saw opportunities.

“It became very clear to me that Nigeria is not too far behind on the developmental curve. Natural resources, light and heavy manufacturing until you get to the point where you have a very diversified economy. I said to myself, it is time to go home—I was 29 and I just knew it. I was ready and willing to do it. I had also witnessed the impact the Indonesian diaspora had on its economy,” he says.

“I went back to Asia and pulled together a consortium of investors made up of high net worth families and some financial institutions in the private equity space. My pitch was: ‘Nigeria is the new Indonesia’.”

With a promising consortium of investors, Delano went into Nigeria. The skills shortage proved a new thorn in his tender side. Delano sought a partner to bridge the gap.

The Bakrie family and the Bakrie Group make up one of the largest conglomerates in Indonesia. Through a joint venture with Delano, the Bakrie Group will invest $1 billion, over five years in Nigerian mining, agriculture, oil and gas.

“Ladi has a charming, gently-spoken manner. However, this is underpinned by a strong work ethic and a careful and rigorous approach to understanding the issues that underlie commercial decisions,” says Richard G. Blunt, a partner at Baker McKenzie in London.

In April 2012, Delano moved back to Nigeria—a country with 60% of the population under the age of 35 and a youth unemployment rate sitting at 43%.

“I just love Nigeria… I want to provide jobs and help the youth develop themselves. It’s an honor to be able to contribute to the economy in this way,” he says.

The first contribution will be made through a mining asset acquired in May.

“We now have $100 million to spend on the asset in order to get it to production. We anticipate that the asset will be in production within the next year or so and we’re hoping that this will kickstart the mining revolution in Nigeria,” he says.

“We recently advised Ladi on completing his first mining deal where he energetically drove the process and discussions with multiple stakeholders through to a successful outcome. Ladi is already focused on several opportunities and we see him doing very exciting things going forward,” says Raj Khatri, head of metals and mining for Macquarie Capital, Europe.

From London, to Chicago, to China and West Africa; through vodka, mining and hotels; it has been a roller coaster ride for Ladi Delano in his first 31 years and you get the feeling he has only just got started.

Entrepreneurs

Leaving Airplane Middle Seats Empty Could Cut Coronavirus Risk Almost In Half, A Study Says

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A new research paper from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates that blocking out the middle seat on airplanes could cause the likelihood of passengers being infected with coronavirus to drop by nearly half, just as some airlines are starting to book flights to capacity again.

KEY FACTS

  • According to the MIT paper (which has not been peer reviewed) the chances of catching coronavirus from a nearby passenger on a full airplane when all coach seats are filled is about 1 in 4,300.
  • However, those odds drop to 1 in 7,700 when all the middle seats on board are left empty, the paper states.
  • Taking into account a 1% mortality rate according to the statistical model, the likelihood of dying from a coronavirus case contracted on a plane is far more likely than dying in a plane crash, which has odds of about 1 in 34 million, the paper stated. 
  • In “Covid-19 Risk Among Airline Passengers: Should the Middle Seat Stay Empty?” the author of the study, Arnold Barnett, wrote that his analysis aims to be “a rough approximation” of the risks involved in flying during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • “The airlines are setting their own policies but the airlines and the public should know about the risk implications of their choices,” Barnett told ZDNet this week.
  • The paper comes just as more flight carriers, like American Airlines, begin booking flights to full capacity despite surges of the virus across the country. 

KEY BACKGROUND

The coronavirus pandemic has been disastrous for the travel industry, and has especially hurt airlines. Major American carriers including American, Delta and United have asked employees to take buyouts and early retirement, Forbes reported, in a bid to cut costs as the pandemic causes them to bleed cash. United Airlines warned this week that it could be forced to furlough 36,000 jobs, or nearly half of its American workers, starting in October if travel doesn’t pick up. In April, the airline estimated that in the first quarter it lost $2.1 billion pre-tax, Forbes reported, and was losing $100 million a day in the last half of March. Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said in May he expects a major airline to go out of business in 2020 as a result of pandemic pressure.

NEWS PEG

American Airlines announced two weeks ago it would begin booking middle seats again starting in July, although the carrier will allow passengers to switch from a full flight without any extra cost, Forbes reported. United is also selling tickets for middle seats. American Airlines took flak earlier this month when Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) tweeted a picture of his crowded flight

WHAT TO WATCH

If airlines continue to extend their policy of keeping middle seats blocked off or if they’ll be forced to book to capacity to turn a profit. Southwest and Delta have both committed to keeping their middle seats blocked off until at least the end of September, while JetBlue will do the same through July, according to the Washington Post.

Carlie Porterfield, Forbes Staff, Business

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From The Arab World To Africa

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Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi; image supplied

In this exclusive interview with FORBES AFRICA, successful Dubai-based Emirati businesswoman, author and artist, Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi, shares some interesting insights on fashion, the future, and feminism in a shared world.

Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi wears many hats, as an artist, architect, author, entrepreneur and philanthropist based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). She currently serves as the CEO of Paris London New York Events & Publishing (PLNY), that includes a magazine and a fashion house.

She runs Velvet Magazine, a luxury lifestyle publication in the Gulf founded in 2010 that showcases the diversity of the region home to several nationalities from around the world.

In this recent FORBES AFRICA interview, Hend, as she would want us to call her, speaks about the future of publishing, investing in intelligent content, and learning to be a part of the disruption around you.

As an entrepreneur too and the designer behind House of Hend, a luxury ready-to-wear line that showcases exquisite abayas, evening gowns and contemporary wear, her designs have been showcased in fashion shows across the world.

The Middle East is known for retail, but not typically, as a fashion hub in the same league as Paris, New York or Milan. Yet, she has changed the narrative of fashion in the region. “I have approached the world of fashion with what the customer wants,” says Hend. In this interview, she also extols African fashion talent and dwells on her own sartorial plans for the African continent.

In September, in Downtown Dubai, she is scheduled to open The Flower Café. Also an artist using creative expression meaningfully, she says it’s important to be “a role model of realism”.

She is also the author of The Black Book of Arabia, described as a collection of true stories from the Arab community offering a real glimpse into the lives of men and women across the Gulf Cooperation Council region.

In this interview, she also expounds on her home, Sharjah, one of the seven emirates in the UAE and the region’s educational hub. “A number of successful entrepreneurs have started in this culturally-rich emirate that’s home to 30 museums,” she concludes. 

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Kim Kardashian West Is Worth $900 Million After Agreeing To Sell A Stake In Her Cosmetics Firm To Coty

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In what will be the second major Kardashian cashout in a year, Kim Kardashian West is selling a 20% stake in her cosmetics company KKW Beauty to beauty giant Coty COTY for $200 million. The deal—announced today—values KKW Beauty at $1 billion, making Kardashian West worth about $900 million, according to Forbes’estimates.

The acquisition, which is set to close in early 2021, will leave Kardashian West the majority owner of KKW Beauty, with an estimated 72% stake in the company, which is known for its color cosmetics like contouring creams and highlighters. Forbes estimates that her mother, Kris Jenner, owns 8% of the business. (Neither Kardashian West nor Kris Jenner have responded to a request for comment about their stakes.) According to Coty, she’ll remain responsible for creative efforts while Coty will focus on expanding product development outside the realm of color cosmetics.

Earlier this year, Kardashian West’s half-sister, Kylie Jenner, also inked a big deal with Coty, when she sold it 51% of her Kylie Cosmetics at a valuation of $1.2 billion. The deal left Jenner with a net worth of just under $900 million. Both Kylie Cosmetics and KKW Beauty are among a number of brands, including Anastasia Beverly Hills, Huda Beauty and Glossier, that have received sky-high valuations thanks to their social-media-friendly marketing. 

“Kim is a true modern-day global icon,” said Coty chairman and CEO Peter Harf in a statement. “This influence, combined with Coty’s leadership and deep expertise in prestige beauty will allow us to achieve the full potential of her brands.”

The deal comes just days after Seed Beauty, which develops, manufactures and ships both KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, won a temporary injunction against KKW Beauty, hoping to prevent it from sharing trade secrets with Coty, which also owns brands like CoverGirl, Sally Hansen and Rimmel. On June 19, Seed filed a lawsuit against KKW Beauty seeking protection of its trade secrets ahead of an expected deal between Coty and KKW Beauty. The temporary order, granted on June 26, lasts until August 21 and forbids KKW Beauty from disclosing details related to the Seed-KKW relationship, including “the terms of those agreements, information about license use, marketing obligations, product launch and distribution, revenue sharing, intellectual property ownership, specifications, ingredients, formulas, plans and other information about Seed products.”

Coty has struggled in recent years, with Wall Street insisting it routinely overpays for acquisitions and has failed to keep up with contemporary beauty trends. The coronavirus pandemic has also hit the 116-year-old company hard. Since the beginning of the year, Coty’s stock price has fallen nearly 60%. The company, which had $8.6 billion in revenues in the year through June 2019, now sports a $3.3 billion market capitalization. By striking deals with companies like KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, Coty is hoping to refresh its image and appeal to younger consumers.

Kardashian West founded KKW Beauty in 2017, after successfully collaborating with Kylie Cosmetics on a set of lip kits. Like her half-sister, Kardashian West first launched online only, but later moved into Ulta stores in October 2019, helping her generate estimated revenues of $100 million last year. KKW Beauty is one of several business ventures for Kardashian West: She continues to appear on her family’s reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, sells her own line of shapewear called Skims and promotes her mobile game, Kim Kardashian Hollywood. Her husband, Kanye West, recently announced a deal to sell a line of his Yeezy apparel in Gap stores.

“This is fun for me. Now I’m coming up with Kimojis and the app and all these other ideas,” Kardashian West told Forbesof her various business ventures in 2016. “I don’t see myself stopping.”

Madeline Berg, Forbes Staff, Hollywood & Entertainment

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