Successful Entrepreneurs in Nigeria – Their First Jobs (Part 15)

Business everywhere is full of ups and downs. For any individual to succeed in business, they must prepare adequately for all eventualities, besides having innovative plans to navigate through uncertainties.

Even in tough times those with the tenacity to push ahead will always thrive and excel. Mitchell Elegbe and Theophilus Danjuma are two great individuals in Nigeria that have shown remarkable examples of resilience successful entrepreneurs should possess to thrive in Nigeria.

Mitchell Elegbe — Sold Cassettes He Dubbed to Survive

Mitchell Elegbe is one of the most successful tech entrepreneurs in Nigeria. He is the founder of one of the biggest tech company in Nigeria and Africa — Interswitch.

As an undergraduate, Mitchell Elegbe struggled to make ends meet by making a business out of dubbing cassettes he borrowed from friends. Today, Mitch or “Mr. Cashless” as he is fondly called is the founder and Group Managing Director of Interswitch Limited, a top payment processing company.

mitchell elegbe
Michell Elegbe

A funny encounter with an ATM inspired the idea of Interswitch. His first encounter with an ATM was in Scotland (then no ATM existed in Nigeria) where the machine seized his card. He developed an idea to create a system infrastructure that would enable electronic payments in Nigeria while working on a project to implement SWIFT. On his final return to Nigeria, he was reemployed by Telnet. He pitched the idea of the transaction switch to his boss successfully and was authorised to execute it, but the process did not go according to plan.

Read Also: Successful Entrepreneurs in Nigeria – Their First Jobs (Part 13)

He started off by selling the software for switching but most players he sold to were not interested and this led him to create Interswitch to meet his targets. With the assistance of Accenture, Mitchell and his team were able to establish the company but faced the challenge of finding a CEO to run the company because of finances. He was left with no choice but to become the CEO of the company, four years after his NYSC Year.

Interswitch group is the owner of Quickteller, another major tech brand. Verve, one of Nigeria’s most used debit card is also owned by Interswitch group.

His net worth is not public but it should be close to or slightly higher than $100 million after Visa invested $200 million in the company for 20% stake.

Elegbe is a graduate of Electrical and Electronics Engineering from the University of Benin. He is also an alumnus of the IESE/Wharton/CEIBS Global CEO Program.

Mitchell has won several awards including the CNBC/Forbes All African Business Leader (AABLA) for West Africa; Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award; and the Harvard Business School Association (Nigeria) Leadership Award in the General Management Category.

TY Danjuma – A Soldier

General TY Danjuma was born in Takum, Taraba State on 9 December 1938 into the family of Kuru Danjuma, a farmer who also specialised in metal production for farm equipment. He is a retired soldier, businessman, and philanthropist.

Danjuma’s birthplace, Takum, is a farming community, where crops like rice, yams, and cassava are widely cultivated all around the neighbourhood. His father was a highly respected, hardworking, and dedicated peasant in Takum.

The young Theophilus Danjuma first started his basic education at the St. Bartholomew’s Primary School, in Wusasa. Later, he moved on to study at the Benue Provincial Secondary School, located in Katsina-Ala.

TY Danjuma

He had to leave the college halfway in 1960 to enrol in the Nigerian Army, where his military career started.

Theophilus Danjuma was a second lieutenant, as well as the platoon commander when he was sent on a peacekeeping mission with other soldiers to the Republic of Congo in 1963. Three years later, he was promoted to the title of captain. 1966 was the year when Captain Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma participated in the Nigerian Counter-Coup that brought in General Gowon. He was leading the fourth battalion in the town of Mokola, Ibadan.

Just a year later, in 1967, Danjuma was promoted to the position of lieutenant colonel. This was the time when the civil war campaign started and he was part of those that fought around Enugu until the city was later captured. He rose to the position of Lieutenant-General and was the number three man in the government of General Obasanjo before he retired.

After he retired from the army, TY Danjuma took up entrepreneurship and developed many profitable businesses which are still thriving. In 1979, he established the Nigeria America Line (NAL). This is a sea trade business that has grown bigger over the years. Initially, it started with the lease of the ship named “Hannatu”, which was used to trade between Lagos and the Brazilian city of Santos when the trade agreement in Nigeria opened the main economic sea routes to the markets of South America.

Later, NAL received huge patronage from NNSC (Nigeria’s National Supply Company) making a huge profit from it. The client base of NAL kept expanding throughout the years, including Nigerian and international customers.

Read Also: Successful Entrepreneurs in Nigeria — Their First Jobs (Part 14)

NAL started out with just a staff of twelve people in 1979 all of whom were Nigerians. In 2009, the staff strength was close to 250 people. Nowadays, it is called the NAL-COMET Group, and it has the main office in Lagos and the branch offices in Port Harcourt, serving the seaports of Calabar, Onne, and Warri.

In 1984, Danjuma also established COMET Shipping Agencies Ltd. The first purpose was to act as the agent of NAL. However, with time, COMET grew and expanded. In 2005, this operator managed to acquire the “roll-in, roll-out” port in Lagos, and this made COMET the largest port operator in Africa which acted almost independently of the Nigerian Port Authority.

TY Danujuma established South Atlantic Petroleum Ltd (SAPETRO) in 1995. This is a company that specialises in exploring and producing oil in Nigeria. In February 1998, the company was awarded the Oil Prospecting License 246 by the Nigerian Ministry of Petroleum Resources. Danjuma is one of the richest entrepreneurs in Nigeria as his South Atlantic Petroleum company, has assets in Nigeria, Republic of Benin, the Central African Republic, and Madagascar.

NatCom Development and Investment Ltd is another company that was created in 2016 with the General as chairman. This is a telecom company, which provides internet connectivity and related facilities in Nigeria. It is also called Ntel.

TY Danjuma is equally the owner of Notore Chemical Industries which specialises in manufacturing fertilizer. He is a renowned philanthropist as his foundation is very active, spending billions of naira in healthcare, education, and various entrepreneurial programmes every year.

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