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When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Millions

Unfulfilled and selling pharmaceuticals; Seun Abolaji decided to refresh his life with lemonade.

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Healthy drinks have become a booming business in Nigeria. Even Coca-Cola is getting in on the action; the fizzy-drink giant acquired a 40% stake in Chi, Nigeria’s largest juice and dairy company with an estimated valuation of around $1 billion, in February. In the wake of this deal, Nigerian entrepreneur, Seun Abolaji, is determined to turn his lemons into lemonade and liquid cash.

“We feel like the Nigerian drinks market is worth millions if not billions. Look at what Coke did with Chi. It’s a massive industry and a lot of people are looking to invest in this market,” says Abolaji.

Abolaji and his brother started Wilson’s Juice Company about three years ago with $10. Today, the company has a multi-million-naira turnover and is stocked in all the major retail outlets, with a presence in over 13 states in Nigeria. The company also has its own factory with a growing workforce of about 30 people. Their success is a result of Abolaji’s ability to spot a gap in the market, a trait that earned him the nickname Candy Man when he was at school.

“I was buying candy and reselling it to the kids in school. They used to call me the Candy Man because my locker would be full of candies and I had clients who would buy everything. I would buy the candies for like $1 and they would buy it from me for like $20. I don’t know why they would not just go down to the store, but I guess I provided them with access,” says Abolaji.

Born in Nigeria, Abolaji migrated to the United States, at the age of eight, where he obtained a degree in psychology from the University of Colorado. After dreaming of becoming a record producer, Abolaji succumbed to a career in pharmaceuticals to please his parents.

“After I finished undergrad, I used to produce music too. I wanted to be a producer, I told my parents ‘look I want to go to New York, I have been doing this for a long time and I want to go study under someone’. My parents did not agree. They locked me in my basement and they said ‘you need to figure out what you want to do with your life,’” he says.

“I made a list of about five things. There was music producer, doctor, pharmacist, entrepreneur and some other things. So, I asked myself, how can I make this amount of money within this period of time and what will get me there fastest and pharmacy was the one that was at the top of the list because you could make six figures.”

Abolaji worked with CVS Pharmacy in Manhattan for five years. In 2007, he decided to visit Nigeria and did a pharmacy internship with Alpha Pharmacy in Ikeja, a suburb on the mainland of Lagos. That experience taught Abolaji two things. Firstly, he did not want to be a pharmacist; secondly, he could actually live in Nigeria.

It was then that Abolaji decided it was time for a career change.

“So, we went to a farmland my family owned in Osa. My parents had a project they were working on and they had spent so much money on it but we realized that the people stole the money and nothing was done. So my brother came down to Nigeria and saw the situation and decided to fix it. The land was supposed to be a factory for producing ekuru, a local produce made from palm kernel cake,” says Abolaji.

After trying to revive the business for two years, the brothers ran out of money and had to shut down the factory.

“We were selling everything on credit and buying everything on cash and that could not be sustained. We ran out of money because people promised to pay at different times and they didn’t pay.”

Not deterred, Abolaji saw an opportunity for their next business venture.

“We thought to ourselves ‘we are both athletes, there are no fresh juices available, so let’s start making fresh juice to sell’. So we bought a bag of oranges and a plastic juicer and started making juices at Covenant University. We rented a kiosk and then we had a natural progression into smoothies and then one day we saw lemons, and we were like let’s add lemonade,” says Abolaji.

Before long, all their clients only wanted lemonade and they decided to focus on this product. As business took off, they employed more people and Abolaji realized they needed a system to track sales.

“One day, I said to my brother, ‘why don’t we put this in a bottle?’. We had about 11 people working for us and you never knew how much sales you were making because they were squeezing the lemons into cups, adding sugar and selling for cash. It was difficult to track how many cash sales you were making in a day. So I said to myself ‘if we put it in bottles, I don’t have to be here to oversee everything. I give you 10 bottles, I know exactly how much money I should get back,’” says Abolaji.

The bottled lemonade was a hit with their customers and Abolaji realized it was time to take the business to the next level.

“We decided to go to a bottling company and we got a generic bottle. We began thinking that this could be something, and that is when we got the square bottle and began branding it,” says Abolaji.

The next step was to give the drink a name.

“One of my brother’s friends is called Wilson. When were doing it in cups, they came all the way from New Zealand, sleeping on concrete floors, just to see what was going on and that was key for us. Also, my last name is Abolaji and we didn’t think anybody would want to drink Abolaji Lemonade. So we played with different names which a Nigerian, and anyone in the world, can say and we just landed on Wilson.”

The duo soon got their certification to sell drinks in Nigeria and began knocking on the doors of supermarkets. In the past three years, the company has grown organically. Abolaji is now raising funds to build a larger factory. The long-term plan is to be the go-to natural beverage company in Nigeria and expand to other African countries. The company also recently added a second product, called Pink Lemonade, made from hibiscus.

The goal is to expand to the open market, which accounts for about 90% of retail in Nigeria, according to Abolaji. To do that, they need to compete with the locally manufactured drinks, which are a lot cheaper than Wilson’s. However, Abolaji is undeterred; if the sale of Chi is anything to go by, he knows he is exactly where he needs to be, making lemonade out of life’s lemons.

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TikTok Owner ByteDance Continues Expansion Efforts With Music Streaming And Possible Rebrand

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Topline: In order to continue global growth, ByteDance (parent company of the wildly popular social media app TikTok) will reportedly launch a music streaming service as soon as next month and is potentially exploring ways to remake its image in advance of a rumored 2020 public offering. 

  • The Financial Times reported Sunday that ByteDance is in talks to secure global licensing rights from Warner Music, Universal Music and Sony Music, the world’s largest record companies. 
  • ByteDance’s still-unnamed music streaming service will reportedly cost less than $10 per month, undercutting monthly subscription fees charged by rivals Spotify and Apple, and will kick off with initial launch markets in Brazil, Indonesia and India; ByteDance declined to comment.
  • Those countries could be a tough sell⁠—according to a May 12 Bloomberg report, paid music subscriptions are mainly a Western phenomenon, while the most popular music apps in Asia are YouTube and Tencent’s QQ Music, both of which are free.
  • Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Beijing-based ByteDance, facing growing concern from U.S. lawmakers over its user-data storage and content censorship practices, is searching for ways to distance itself from its Chinese roots.
  • Potential rebranding moves include relocating its operations to Singapore and renaming TikTok, which the company denied, according to the WSJ.
  • Both the FT and WSJ reported ByteDance was aiming to IPO sometime next year, which ByteDance also denied to both outlets. 

Big number: $78 billion. That was ByteDance’s last reported valuation, making it one of the most valuable startups in the world.

What to watch for: When ByteDance’s music streaming service actually launches. And if it moves the needle on paid music subscriptions in Asia. China’s Tencent has 800 million music users, but less than 5% of them pay for it. 

Key background: TikTok made a name for itself as the first Chinese social network to achieve success in the U.S with over 100 million Americans as registered users. It surged in popularity this year as teens flock to the app to make lighthearted pranks, comedy sketches and lip-syncing videos. It’s also the third-most-downloaded app in Apple’s App Store, but it came at a price. According to the WSJ, ByteDance poured $1 billion into advertising and flooded rivals Facebook and Instagram with ads. 

Lisette Voytko

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Analysis: The Values That Make A CEO

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As part of FORBES AFRICA’s ongoing eighth anniversary celebrations, we present a CEO Rhetorical Analysis by Harvard University Extension School student, Anahita Negarandeh, on FORBES AFRICA’s founder and publisher, Rakesh Wahi. The CEO Rhetorical Analysis researches and analyzes the rhetoric — the effective messaging or speech — of a CEO and global business leader. The values chosen to explore in the CEO’s rhetoric are a key part of this article.

This rhetorical analysis examines the messaging of Rakesh Wahi, Founder of CNBC Africa and FORBES AFRICA. By consulting with approximately 10 executives from Wahi’s global team, this rhetoric examines four of his leadership values such as courage and determination, collaboration, passion for education, and equality.

Courage and determination

Wahi is a well-respected global businessman based in Dubai and South Africa who has been involved with approximately 20 corporate development projects. He continues to grow his establishments in more than 25 offices around the world. As a leader in media, IT, telecoms, and education, Wahi has built companies in 22 countries, employing over 1,000 employees. Prior to moving to the UAE, Wahi served in the Indian Armed Forces for approximately nine years and was awarded the Vishisht Seva Medal by the President of India in 1985 for distinguished services to the country in peacetime. During his army service, at age 23, he was part of India’s second base establishment in Antarctica where a near-death experience changed his life.

“But I realized at that age that life is not something you take for granted, therefore, whatever you want in this world, you have to set out to achieve it. At the end of the day, you are either there or not there; if you are not there, and if there are unfulfilled dreams, they will always be unfulfilled.” (Wahi)

READ MORE: 5 Minutes With Rakesh Wahi

Wahi’s executive team members, who have known him for approximately 20-30 years, believe this statement. Based on four personal interviews conducted for the purpose of this analysis with Wahi’s global leadership team, Wahi “lives this statement in his everyday life” (Martin). Many acknowledged that he is continuously determined to fulfil his dreams. Lars Jeppesen, Wahi’s Co-Founder of Tech One Global, states that “Wahi dreams and then puts all efforts to pursue the dreams… he is still building universities, creating new businesses, and pursues his dreams” (Jeppesen). Wahi is known to thrive on challenges and never gives up on achieving his goals even when faced with obstacles and challenges.

A leader’s personal life experiences and adversities play a major role in one’s values and ethics. In Wahi’s case, facing death at a young age motivated him to pursue his dreams to become realities. This is an admirable value for entrepreneurs, especially the younger generation. As a role model, Wahi teaches them to never give up despite challenges.

Collaboration & Importance of People

Wahi has learned valuable business lessons from his experience in the army, most importantly, the core lesson taught in the military about the importance of people and looking after them. His 2016 autobiography, Be a Lion, dedicated a section to The Importance of People. Books have had a great impact on Wahi, specifically the philosophy of reason from Ayn Rand while he was fighting for his life from the military life-threatening incident. As an advocate in the influence of others, he reiterates in his book, “That it is difficult to achieve anything without the involvement, commitment, loyalty, and assistance of others. When you come across a person with whom you can see a future, you must grasp the opportunity and mutually make the most of it.” (Wahi Ch. 1, location 173, par. 4)

Wahi executes his philosophy in numerous examples throughout his career, especially one with Daniel Adkins who is now CEO of Wahi’s Transnational Academic Group Middle East. When asked to describe a situation reflecting Wahi’s collaboration with and valuing people, this quality has directly been experienced, Adkins states, “I am probably the best possible example of this philosophy.” (Adkins). He describes his hiring experience entering the organization in late 2009 and rise from the most entry level position at one of Wahi’s Dubai-based universities, Murdoch University, to now CEO for the Middle East operations.

“Throughout this entire process, Wahi has provided both direct mentorship and mentorship by example and has made sure that I did the same for my entire team, which has produced fantastic organisational results including no turnover with regret for six years.” (Adkins)

READ MORE: The Most Defining Aspects Of Our Lives

As stated in Lancaster University Ghana’s Senior Management biography, Wahi’s “core focus is on long term corporate and leadership development through building strong management teams”. Adkins reiterates this statement in an interview: “Wahi absolutely lives this philosophy and demands it from his entire management team… the people are the business and there is nothing more important” (Adkins).

Wahi is known to have a special gift and skill to find loyal people and never hesitates to show appreciation to people’s loyalty. Wahi learned this quality from his role model parents, a father who was a military, corporate, and family hero and a mother who was not only Mother Teresa’s friend, but a genuine giver in life. In other words, Wahi is a “go back to your roots leader” (Al Abadilah). Wahi was brought up in a giving family and now gives back as a leader. Because of the people-oriented philosophies followed in his organizations, employee turnaround rates are phenomenally low. Everyone is treated like family and the principles presented in Ken Blanchard’s book, Gung-Ho!, are lived by management.

Wahi’s philosophy about collaboration and importance of people is truly refreshing in a CEO and business leader. In today’s individualistic world, leaders like Wahi who dedicate a major part of their leadership role to importance of people is a rare finding. Such values must be celebrated and promoted in all aspects of business worldwide.

Passion for education

As a sought-after speaker at educational institutions on leadership and entrepreneurship, Wahi received an Honorary Doctorate Degree of Science from the International University of Management by the Minister of Education of Namibia. He was also appointed as an IATF2018 Goodwill Ambassador by The Trade Finance for Africa. He personally learned and continuously teaches patience to other entrepreneurs in emerging markets. In an interview with CNBC Africa, The Entrepreneur’s Entrepreneur: Rakesh Wahi,about his book Be a Lion, Wahi shares he is “extremely passionate about education”. His vision is to set up educational centers of excellence across Africa incorporating new innovative industries such as online and hybrid aspects of education with traditional classroom environment. He has mentored many people in his leadership journey, but believes mentorship benefits both parties as he states in an interview with CNBC Africa: “Within a group, you always learn from each other. Mentorship is not a one-way journey, you learn every day from your peers, subordinates, seniors… If you are a student, you will remain a student all your life. You must be like a sponge, no matter your age.” (Wahi)

According to Adkins and Martin, executive partners at Wahi’s educational business sectors, Wahi lives his statement daily. Not only does he mentor his staff, he also learns from those on his team whether they are junior level or senior. Wahi has created a business culture amongst all sectors in a way that everyone learns from one another.

“There is no rank in the discussion. It is both intuitively understood and explicitly expressed that everyone’s ideas deserve equal consideration and we have made company-altering decisions based on input received from junior team members when those ideas turned out to be the best… It is absolutely the culture.” (Adkins)

Jeppesen, now Co-Founder of a tech enterprise with Wahi, states in an interview, “Wahi has been my mentor since we met 17 years back… Later, when we co-founded Tech One Global, he was leading our board and mentored me personally as the CEO.” (Jeppesen).

The culture of learning and mentorship from one another has saved the business in an example of a termination deal of one of Dubai’s university partnerships with a junior member of the team’s approach. This is proof that critical decisions are made, as a group despite rank levels. An important aspect of Wahi’s work is helping the leadership team rise to the next level.

Equality

Wahi’s decision to launch FORBES WOMAN AFRICA was to provide a platform for women entrepreneurs’ stories and the overwhelming waitlist of these stories in FORBES AFRICA.

“The main reason was that as a startup magazine, FORBES AFRICA was overwhelmed with a waiting list of stories from 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa; by virtue of women having a late head start in the business world, the stories were largely dominated by men who had done great things to transform Africa.” (Wahi)

In a short period of time, the magazine has risen to be the material of choice for inspirational women stories, with fantastic content being produced. Equality is discussed in an article by FORBES WOMAN AFRICA, Celebrating Five Years with The Founder and Publisher: Rakesh Wahi.

“We have discussed the trials and tribulations of women in the workplace and become a champion for equality. The word ‘equality’ is a living value for us at the ABN Group and I am so proud that we have been able to personify our values through affirmative action.” (Wahi)

READ MORE: Equality As A Living Value

According to a partner of over 35 years, Rajiv Podar, “Wahi has always respected and admired hard-working women and a firm believer of equality at workplace and home… Most of his senior colleagues are women too” (Podar). In an example from a former female executive at one of Wahi’s first ventures 20 years ago in Dubai, Maha Al Abadilah discusses the value of equality she experienced as a woman working with Wahi. “I have never experienced anything that distinguished a man and a woman, nothing but full respect and treating us with our pure qualifications and titles.” (Al Abadilah.14:19).

Wahi repeatedly demonstrates his firm belief in his statements amongst his team members. When a decision is to be made for an important matter, all team members discuss as equals. “It is both intuitively understood and explicitly expressed that everyone’s ideas deserve equal consideration.” (Adkins). Evidently, not only the value of equality is present within his ABN Group amongst women in the workplace, but also amongst all employees. Gender and rank are clearly not considered in any team discussions and decisions.

Conclusion

Wahi’s leadership approach and personality embodies unique values such as a life-changing incident, the collaboration and importance of people, a passion for education, and equality. As he was personally approached for research purposes of this analysis, he promptly welcomed connections with over 10 executives and partners of his global team who were all eager to help. Research results and personal interviews with warm responses from his team members and partners portray all qualities examined in this analysis positively. Wahi lives his statements and is a true people-oriented leader.

Works cited:

Adkins, Daniel. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.

Africa, Forbes Woman. “Celebrating Five Years With The Founder & Publisher: Rakesh Wahi.” Forbes Africa, 27 Sept. 2018, www.forbesafrica.com/woman/2018/09/27/celebrating-five-years-with-the-founder-publisher-rakesh-wahi/.

Al Abadilah, Maha. “Phone Interview, Rakesh Wahi Analysis” Voice recorder. 18 Dec. 2018.

Bandyopadhyay, Somshankar. “Military Lessons in Entrepreneurship.” GulfNews, 15 Mar. 2017, https://gulfnews.com/entertainment/books/military-lessons-in-entrepreneurship-1.1994221.

Bishop, Chris. “Re: Chris Bishop CNBC Africa.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.

CNBC Africa. “Rakesh Wahi Reflects on CNBC Africa’s Decade of Broadcasting.” CNBC Africa, CNBC Africa, 1 June 2017, www.cnbcafrica.com/videos/2017/06/01/rakesh-wahi-reflects-on-cnbc-africas-decade-of-broadcasting/.

CNBC Africa. “The Entrepreneur’s Entrepreneur: Rakesh Wahi.” CNBC Africa, 4 Nov. 2016, www.cnbcafrica.com/news/special-report/2016/11/04/be-a-lion/.

Jeppesen, Lars. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.

Lancaster University Ghana. “Rakesh Wahi Chairman.” Lancaster University Ghana, www.lancaster.edu.gh/our-faculty-details.php?id=45. Accessed 8 Dec. 2018.

Martin, Gary. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.

Naicker, Roberta. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.

Podar, Rajiv. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.

Vettath, Malavika. “Global Entrepreneur Rakesh Wahi: ‘I’ve Been a Very Bad Personal Investor’.” The National, The National, 25 May 2018, www.thenational.ae/business/money/global-entrepreneur-rakesh-wahi-i-ve-been-a-very-bad-personal-investor-1.733606.

Wahi, Rakesh. Be A Lion. Penguin Books, 2016. Kindle eBook file.

Wahi, Rakesh. “Re: Business Paper Inquiry – Harvard University.” Received by Anahita Negarandeh, 12 Dec. 2018.

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Forbes Africa | 8 Years And Growing

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As FORBES AFRICA celebrates eight years of showcasing African entrepreneurship, we look back on our stellar collection of cover stars, ranging from billionaires to space explorers to industrialists, self-made multi-millionaire businessmen and social entrepreneurs working for Africa. They tell us what they are doing now, how their businesses have grown, and where the continent is headed. 

Since its inception in 2011, and despite the changing trends in the publishing industry, FORBES AFRICA has managed to stay relevant, insightful and sought-after, unpacking compelling stories of innovation and entrepreneurship on the youngest continent, in which 60% of the population is aged under 25 years.

 Many of those innovations have been solutions-driven as young entrepreneurs across the continent seek to answer questions that have burdened their communities.

 Always on the pulse, FORBES AFRICA has chronicled and celebrated those innovations – prompting the rest of the globe to pay attention and be fully engaged.

 A prime example of this is the annual 30 Under 30 list, which showcases entrepreneurs and trailblazers under the age of 30 from business, technology, creatives and sports. In 2019, we had 120 entrepreneurs on the list, finalized after a rigorous vetting and due diligence process to well laid down criteria.

 We have always maintained the highest standards of integrity in all our reporting.

 As we transition into the next milestone, FORBES AFRICA reflects on the words of civil rights activist Benjamin Elijah Mays, who once said: “The tragedy of life is not found in failure but complacency. Not in you doing too much, but doing too little. Not in you living above your means, but below your capacity. It’s not failure but aiming too low, that is life’s greatest tragedy.”

 With the transformation in the media landscape, the recent awards given to the magazine for the work done by a hard-working, determined and youthful team, serve as a reminder that we are doing something right.

 Early this year, FORBES AFRICA journalist Karen Mwendera received a Sanlam award for financial journalism as the first runner-up in the ‘African Growth Story’ category. In January, FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil, received the ‘World Woman Super Achiever Award’ from the Global HRD Congress.

 In reflecting on the last eight years, this edition revisits a few of the strong, resilient men and women who have graced our covers.

For some, fortunes have literally changed, as witnessed in the fall of gargantuan African empires such as Steinhoff. Of course, there have been massive moments of triumph too, which have seen some new names feature on the annual African Billionaires List. There have also been moments of tragedy with former cover stars passing away.

 Africa is ripe for the taking and is seen as the next economic frontier. The unique position the continent finds itself in will no doubt give FORBES AFRICA plenty to report on. Here’s to more deadlines and debates for the next eight years.

– Unathi Shologu

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