Today, I will be sharing with you the entrepreneurial story of one of the richest men on the soil of Africa. This man is young, ambitious and a billionaire by all standards. He was once an Executive Governor of Abia State, Nigeria; the founder of Slok Group and most importantly, a drop college drop out. He is no other person than Orji Uzor Kalu; the business mogul, and he tops our list of celebrated school drop out billionaires. Do you want to know how he attained that status? Then read on.
Orji Uzor Kalu: Nigerian Billionaire and founder of Slok Group
Orji Uzor Kalu was born on the 21st of April 1960 in Aba, Abia state Nigeria. He attended Christ the King School (CKC) Aba and later moved to Government College, Umuahia. He attended Barewa College, Zaria and later switched to attend the University of Maiduguri to study political science.
While studying at the University of Maiduguri, Orji Uzor Kalu became a student activist and got involved in the “Ali Must Go” riots. His participation in the riot led to his suspension. While his fellow students dragged the school authorities to court, Orji Uzor Kalu decided that building a business would be his next move.
He raised N5,000 (approximately $35 going by exchange rate as at 01/06/2010) from his mother and started trading on palm oil; getting his supply from eastern Nigeria and reselling in the Northern part of Nigeria.
In the course of trading on palm oil, Kalu discovered that quality furniture was a thing of luxury in the north and was imported from abroad. Sensing an opportunity, he began sourcing for quality furniture in the east (Aba to be precise) and reselling them in Maiduguri. Before long, breakthrough came and he abandoned oil palm trading; focusing instead on furniture trading.
As business progressed, Orji Uzor Kalu ventured into the manufacturing of the same furniture he was trading on. Within that same period of time, Kalu was granted pardon and the suspension was lifted by the school authority. But Kalu rejected the amnesty on grounds that not all the student activists were granted pardon. Orji Uzor was quoted as saying:
“All of us in the students’ union leadership collectively agreed to embark on the demonstration against the university authorities. When the crises went out of control, the university senate decided to rusticate all of us. Some students went to court to contest the rustication, but I preferred to start trading while waiting for general reprieve for everybody. But in a classical divide-and-rule tactics, the authorities decided to pardon some of us who didn’t go to court and left out some of the others. This was unacceptable to me because it smacked of betrayal of the colleagues in the students’ leadership if I accepted the offer. So, I rejected the pardon on principle.”
This situation alone proved that Orji Uzor possessed the true spirit of leadership and from this humble beginning; he expanded his business and became a conglomerate. His company, Slok Group comprise of:
- Ojialex Furniture Company
- Slok Nigeria Limited
- Slok United Kingdom Limited
- Adamawa Publishers Limited
- Slok Vegetable Oil, Aba
- Slok Paper Factory Aba
- Slok United States Incorporated
- Slok Ghana, Togo, Cotonou, Guinea, South Africa, Liberia, Botswana
- Slok Korea
- Supreme Oil Limited
- Slok Airlines
- Sun Publishing Limited
- The First International Bank Limited, Banjul, The Gambia and so on.
Kalu’s success in business has been attributed to his ability to recognize opportunities around him. In an interview granted, he said:
“A good businessman must have nose for business the same way a journalist has nose for news. Once your eyes, ears, nose, heart and brain are trained on business, you sniff business opportunities everywhere. In places where people see a lot of obstacles, I see a lot of opportunities. At times, there is something instinctive in me that tell me a business opportunity exist even at a place where others see nothing. That is what makes me different, maybe unique. A good businessman sees where others don’t see. What I see, you may not see. You cannot see because that is the secret of the business… the entire world is a big market waiting for anybody who knows the rules of the game.” – Orji Uzor Kalu
“Behind every adversity is an opportunity. If you lament over the adversity, you will miss the opportunity.” – Ajaero Tony Martins
In recognition of his outstanding achievements, leadership skills and positive ambition, he has been adorned with numerous awards. At the age of 26, he became the youngest Nigerian to be given a National Merit Award (MON) by President Ibrahim Babangida in 1986.
He is also a recipient of the Nigeria Chamber of Commerce industrialist of the year, Humanitarian Award by Humanitarian Club of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Volunteer Award by the International Association of Volunteers; and the National Merit Award. Others include: Youngest Bank Chairman Award, Special Award by the European Union in Brussels, Belgium; the prestigious Leon Sullivan Award by the World Bank.
He was also a one time Executive Governor of Abia state, Nigeria and a presidential aspirant. To further silence his critics who call him an illiterate, he obtained a degree from the Abia State University. He holds a Certificate in Business Administration from the Harvard University, USA and also an Honorary Doctorate Degree from the Universities of Maiduguri and Abia State University.
The life and business ethics of Orji Uzor Kalu is really worth understudying. Here is a man driven by ambition and drive to maximize opportunities. Kalu is an entrepreneurial model worth emulating. If only the world can be filled with men who see opportunities instead of problems, it will be a better place.
“Someone asked me, ‘how can I find a good business opportunity? I replied, ‘go and look for adversity.’ If you can handle adversity, you will find opportunity. Adversity and opportunity are two inseparable twins.” – Ajaero Tony Martins