The mystique of African Billionaire Abdulsamad

The mystique of African Billionaire AbdulsamadWatching Abdulsamad Rabiu, the new chairman of the Bank of Industry (BOI), enthuse with passion about his heartfelt dreams is both captivating and instructive. It reveals years and studious efforts spent channeling purpose and the pursuit of worth, writes Lanre Alfred. Nobody forgets the first time they met Abdulsamad, the chairman of BUA who was recently appointed the chairman of the Bank of Industr. Everyone wishes for an encore. Often it’s not the first meeting that resonates but the first time he inspired them to look inwards and tap into their innate individuality and purposeful clarity cum cheerfulness continuum that is the hallmark of the BUA brand. There is a lot about Alhaji Rabiu that really steals under your skin at your first encounter with him: he is self-assured and yet not given to flightiness, unlike other business moguls.

Interestingly, however, honor is like a match: you can only use it once, said Marcel Pagnol, late French dramatist, filmmaker, and scriptwriter but Pagnol’s assertion, pithy as it is establishes little reality in the world of Abdulsamad Rabiu, widely acknowledged as a man of honour within the business and social circuits, has made use of honor and still makes use of honour like an inexhaustible match. Abdulsamad who made the Forbes World’s Billionaires list last year, is the founder of BUA Group, a Nigerian conglomerate with interests in sugar refining, cement production, real estate, steel, port concessions, manufacturing, oil and gas, and shipping. Rabiu, no doubt, exudes an uncanny mélange of zeal and fervor that becomes his charm. Intellectually, he flaunts a visceral approach that only a few of his contemporaries can rival. Hard work has designed him a wide-grin and leads him across the lane of fame to the realization of his dreams.

Being successful in business is the most fascinating kind of art. And you can see in Abdulsamad’s quiet, forceful enterprise both the lush and tensile strength of his acumen and resolve. According to Forbes’ report, his commodities and Cement Empire, plus his real estate holdings in South Africa and London, are worth $1.2 billion, up from $670 million sometime back. He ranks 23rd on Forbes 2013 list of Africa’s 50 Richest. Born in Nigeria’s northwest state of Kano, Rabiu, is the son of well known businessman Isyaku Rabiu, who made a fortune in trade and industry in the decades after Nigeria’s independence from the UK in 1960. By the 1970s, Isyaku emerged as a key sponsor of the National Party of Nigeria, which became the ruling political party after the country returned to civilian rule following the elections of 1979. A military coup in 1983 toppled the government and led to the arrest of then-President Shehu Shagari and many of his close associates, including Isyaku.

Around this time, the younger Rabiu earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from Capital University in Columbus, Ohio.He returned home to find his father’s business in a precarious state following his incarceration. Barely 24 years old, with little business experience, Rabiu had to lead his father’s business empire during dark days. Rabiu embodies the youth who constitute the rarity of Nigerian society – a young man who excelled and became a respected tycoon. But, unlike many of his generation, he advocates hope knowing that things could change in a society which culture of fear has permeated for decades. Over the past few years, Rabiu began working outside the box to make his peers understand that only their unstoppable people’s power could effect real change. He projects a manic self-confidence in public. He still has his edge: prosperity hasn’t robbed him of his disrespect for conventional wisdom, his spooky ability to see around corners, and his feral determination to make perfect products at all costs.

All in all, success becomes him. But he has this to say, “It was very difficult. When we started, our dad was not there. There was this huge vacuum because of his personality. He grew the business, he did everything, everybody reported to him, and then he wasn’t there anymore. So at a very tender age, I was saddled with so many things. I had to take a lot of important decisions, and don’t forget that this happened suddenly. At the time, there were three ships being discharged, rice and sugar ships. The government agencies tried to seize the goods, so we were discharging. They were taking. We were taking back. It was a big, big issue. The biggest challenge was that there were restrictions on confirming letters of credit because of the coup. Then there was the issue of the planes. There were two private jets and we didn’t know what to do with them. We couldn’t fly them. They actually grounded the jets. We were able to get the big one out and we decided we didn’t need it. I just got rid of it.” The truly prosperous businessman is fundamentally a rebel, a nonconformist who is never contented with the status quo.

In Nigeria, such remarkable men abound. And they seem to have discovered that while it is unarguably resourceful and sexy to make all the money they can, it’s even more applaudable and humane to deploy their fortunes to the development of their immediate society. Rabiu fits the bill. The story of his life is the stuff gallant dreams are made of. In utter deference to his extraordinariness as a businessman and philanthropist free verses, couplets and the most ornamental rhymes would simply not do to eulogize the personage of this top businessman. According to Forbes, In 1988, Rabiu set up his own business, BUA International, with the blessing of his father. He imported rice, sugar and edible oils, as well as iron and steel rods. His big break came in 1990 when a friend informed him of an opportunity with a government-owned steel company. Production at the Delta Steel Company had been beggared by the Nigerian government’s decision to reduce grants. The company was considering approaching private business to finance the procurement of raw materials and Rabiu saw the promise. The deal needed approval from the government.

After approaching the minister of steel, who hailed from Rabiu’s home state, he was asked to finance the project. “We were able to get the business, which was worth almost $20 million at the time, but the idea was that we were importing their raw materials to the tune of 25,000 to 30,000 tons per month, and instead of them paying us back in cash, they gave us the processed products. We didn’t want to collect money because at the time you would sometimes never get it. I think it was around $6.30 from the company, but around $90 in the open market. So it was quite a good opportunity for us and we made quite a bit of money,” By 1992, a regime change came with the substantial profits he had made from the steel venture, Rabiu invested in Tropic Commercial Bank, which operated in Nigeria. He became the chairman of the bank after buying a majority shareholding. In 1995, BUA acquired Nigeria Oil Mills, a peanut processing company in Kano, for more than $20 million.

Two years later, BUA Flour Mills’ first factory was established in Lagos. The Kano flour factory was launched in 1998. Thereafter, BUA set up its sugar refinery in Lagos. The 2,000 million tons per day capacity plant is the second largest sugar refinery in West Africa, after the Dangote Sugar refinery, which produces an estimated 2,400 MT per day. It is as much as a result of his adventurous spirit that he perpetually seeks to initiate new socio-economic trends in the country. For instance, Rabiu believes that African manufacturing industries will soon be in a position to compete with major global suppliers to the sport. Rabiu’s love of cars transcends the trope of obsession or ordinary fleeting fascination. His vehicles’ garages in his palatial mansions across the world stock the best of state of the art automobiles. He Rolls Royce, Bentley and Aston Martin parked in his garage in central London.

The highflying entrepreneur believes that the home depicts the quality of soul possessed by a man, hence his acquisition of choice apartments and mansions in the most highbrow areas across the world. He owns expensive and tastefully furnished homes in the most exotic locations n the world. According to a report, his BUA Group, rakes in annual revenues estimated at $2 billion. Very few people know that Rabiu has a weakness for the good life. In fact, one would have to get very close to him to know that he never dithers from acquiring the finest luxury money can buy. According to Forbes, Rabiu owns property in Britain worth $62 million, and in South Africa, worth $19 million. Among his properties is a house in Gloucester Square in London worth nearly $16 million and a penthouse at The One & Only Hotel, in Cape Town, worth $12.6 million. Rabiu’s taste for good living is plain to see; he has bought homes from Eaton Square to Avenue Road, also known as Millionaires’ Row. Rabiu jets around the world on an 8-seater Gulfstream G550 worth $44.9 million, powered by a Rolls-Royce BR710 turbofan engine, as well as an $18-million Legacy 600 aircraft. However, despite his simplicity and overwhelming inclination to play meek, it may not be out of place to describe him as the best thing to happen to the Bank of Industry.

Culled from Thisday.

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August 2014Edition 70

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