- Mother-of-four, Folorunsho Alakija, 65, started her career as a secretary in a bank then studied fashion and launched a label but her big break was oil
She threads where angels scamper for cover. She roughens it with men and is giving them a run for their money. Welcome to the world of Folorunso Alakija. The amazon who won’t is giving hope to the womenfolk that they too can reach for the skies. She is the vice chair of Famfa Oil, a Nigerian oil exploration company that has a 60 per cent participating interest in block OML 127, part of the larger Agbami field, one of Nigeria’s largest deepwater discoveries, about 70 miles offshore. Its partners include Chevron and Petrobras.
But many might not know: Folorunso was not always an oil and gas buff. She was a clothier, even if it was for the crème de la crème of the society. Her first company was a fashion label that catered for Nigeria’s elite women which including the wife of former military president, Ibrahim Babangida, Mariam. It was from this relationship that fortune smiled on Folorunso and she was awarded an oil prospecting license. Though at a point, Alakija was the richest woman in the world. But her net worth has fallen in the past year as a result of lower oil prices. But her status as richest woman in Nigeria has remained.
Born on July 15 1951 in Ikorodu, Lagos State, Folorunso came from a large family where she was the second surviving child of her mother who happened to be the first wife. She and her younger sister were sent to school abroad when she was seven years old. They went to a private school for girls in Northern Wales, and they were the only coloured (black) girls in the school. And because their fellow mates couldn’t pronounce their names, they coined names for them. She was being called Flo (Folorunsho) and Doyle for Doyin, her sister. In 1976, Folorunsho Alakija got married and the couple has four kids, all boys. All of them schooled abroad and are all engaged one way or the other in the family business.
IN HER OWN WORDS
“Many have asked how I got to where I am; many have wondered what makes me tick and from where I draw my strength. Though many have claimed that I have become their role model, I assign all the glory to God”
Life In The Corporate World
I started my corporate career as a Secretary with Sijuade Enterprises at the prestigious Western House, Broad Street, Lagos shortly after completing a Secretarial Course at Pitman’s Central College London.
I later joined The First National Bank Of Chicago (today known as Finbank PLC) as the Executive Secretary to the Managing Director.
With diligence and hard work, I became the new Head of the Corporate Affairs Department of the International Merchant Bank of Nigeria (Formerly First National Bank of Chicago) and subsequently, rose to the position of an Office Assistant to the Treasury Department. I had a wonderful career spanning 12 years in the banking world.
Success In The Fashion World
Shortly after my career in the corporate world, I took up a new challenge driven by my passion for Fashion to study fashion design at The American College in London and the Central School of Fashion.
My return to Nigeria saw the birth of my first fashion label, Supreme Stiches which was later renamed The Rose Of Sharon House of Fashion in1996. In 2001, We started mass-producing tee-shirts and thus changed its name to The Rose of Sharon Prints and Promotions.
As an indigenous company, Famfa Oil made its first application for an oil exploration and production licence in 1991. In collaboration with Texaco Nigeria Ltd (later taken over by Chevron Nigeria Ltd), it commenced full operations in 1996.
A true family business with Mr Modupe Alakija (my husband) as its Chairman, I, the Executive Chairman and my four sons the Executive Directors.
The Grace of God
The drilling of the first Agbami well commenced on my birthday on the 15th of July, 1998. The exploratory well was 4,700 feet under water, the deepest water depth in Nigeria at the time. The recoverable reserves for the field would later be appraised to rank amongst the largest single finds in deep water West Africa.
From Famfa’s application for an oil licence in January 1991, it took 17 years to reach ‘first oil’ where production commenced from its 17 million year deposit ( A very risky venture that later paid off).
The Government of the day saw fit to forcefully “take” 50% of our company’s participating interest, but on the 22nd of May, 2012, after 12 long years in the law courts, Famfa’s shares were restored having gone through years of prayers and fasting.
To the Glory of God
The God that made all this possible, who gives without adding sorrow, also used Famfa and its Agbami partners to give scholarships to almost 9,000 medical and engineering students nationwide. We have also donated 21 chest clinics for the treatment of tuberculosis (TB) in 21 different states in Nigeria and 21 science laboratories in 21 different states (including 9 in the Niger Delta region and Lagos State). In addition to these, we have donated 4 E-libraries and 2 school libraries in different states of the Federation.