Understanding Success; the Case of the Richest Man in Nigeria

A very long time ago, I remember reading a publication of Daily Trust Newspaper about the richest man in Africa, Aliko Dangote. The two things I remember vividly about that article today were that he got a loan of 500, 000 Nigerian Naira and he was once in Lagos for something. Until recently, I listened to a TV programmer who intends to shoot a documentary about the success of this man. I was not the only one listening to him, other brilliant youths were. Some of them, like me, weren’t interested in the documentary that was not even out, just after listening to a bit of how the programmer intends to narrate Aliko’s story. Reason being that we already heard a lot about him and hearing it again will not give us a fresh impetus of motivation, some said like me. However, others mentioned he is the grandson of Dantata, a very wealthy man of Kano State then. Their premise is that he inherited the great amount of wealth and almost automatically rich at birth.

Listening to their arguments, my memory was immediately called into question, trying to remember whether it was a loan he got or money he inherited to start his business. Whatever it was, many preferred to learn about other entrepreneurs who they haven’t heard from before or who have no rich lineage, except if Dangote’s story is made more appealing with new information.

Last year, my mentor introduced me to an amazing author. He gave me an audio book of his. I played it only when I was in the car. All through, I was hearing the most wonderful analysis of how certain people achieved success, more than others. Ever since listening to that book, I had been interested in always understanding how people achieve success, beyond the ordinary.

Malcolm Gladwell was the author and the book was Outliers. Outliers is a story of success. He discussed how different people achieved their great success beyond what we ordinarily ask. “It is not enough to ask what successful people are like, in other words. It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t”, he stated.

Malcolm persistently argues that there is something profoundly wrong with the way we make sense of success. He touches on the story of the Beatles, Bill Gates, Korean Airlines, Japanese paddy rice farmers, a certain type of education in the US, why Asians are more brilliant than the rest of us, why your birthday will determine if you make it to the National Football team of Canada and so on and so forth. Malcolm has sold the argument to me; there is something beyond effort that makes us succeed. I totally recommend this book to you.

Before listening to the audio book, I thought I have heard all that there is about the success of Bill Gates, Microsoft founder. I was wrong by the time I had finished listening to that book. Bill Gates was not just smart and woke up on a faithful day to start putting together a computer processor. The general story on the street is that Bill had a wonderful idea of a computer, dropped out of Harvard, developed it and became successful. That easy. The same general thinking many of us possess of Aliko Dangote’s wealth. He inherited the money, and so multiplying it should be easier.

But the truth is, Bill Gates is who he is today because had enjoyed nine golden opportunities. He was lucky to be sent to a public high school that had a computer (time-sharing terminal as they refer to mainframe computers then). It was among the few High Schools in America then with such a computer.  He was also lucky to live close to the University of Washington thereafter and he would wake up between 3 am to 6 am in the morning to code on their computer. His proximity to their computer lab offered him the opportunity to visit it more frequently in those odd hours of the morning. After about seven years, he had been programmed for more ten thousand hours, a feat he himself says is difficult to match by more than 50 people in the world then.

If you have ever heard of the ten thousand hour rule, this is where it came from. It was Malcolm’s analysis. To know the other seven golden opportunities that made Bill Gates then, read Outliers.

After more than forty years, Microsoft is still doing excellent today. Dangote Group is in its fourth decade, expanding across Nigerian borders.

Same message someone kept reiterating over the weekend that managing a business for a very long time is a herculean task. Many entrepreneurs fail before they even celebrate their five years anniversary. Like me, I started two businesses with some friends. One was quite successful, earned us profit but we quit after two years. We just lost interest I think.

I know there is more to Dangote’s story than the loan or inheritance or sleeping under trucks. If I can have it my way, I wish to get an outlier’s analysis of the richest man in Africa. I haven’t read any book about him though, so perhaps it is already there. I want to know what he did every day for the past ten years before he took that loan. What type of school did he go and what type of education did he receive? How many hours did he spend doing other business before he got his breakthrough? What was the neighborhood around him like? And the rest.

I remember after I finished listening to the audio book last year, I asked myself if Dangote was an outlier. What qualifies you to be an outlier as described by Malcolm, is a lot and intriguing.

Many people say if Aliko’s business was not in Nigeria, he will not be as rich. Why?

Subscribe to my blog post below to know why and my analysis of what I think of him as an Outlier?

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