The days in which business success was contingent upon owning a Y chromosome are ending fast. Across the globe, powerful women everywhere are smashing the glass ceiling with greater force and determination. While we’ve not yet reached the stage of parity between men and women within the business world, it does seem to get closer with every passing year.
Women aren’t just getting promoted to the top of big businesses, they’re creating their own – faster than ever before. While only 30% of all businesses around the world are led by women, female-run businesses are growing 1.5 times faster than any other new businesses, with some estimates suggesting that they are single-handedly providing over five million jobs.
That’s big news!
This list is a celebration of women, especially African women who are not only succeeding in business, but are inspiring and helping others to do the same. While they come from diverse industries and backgrounds, all of them have been chosen for one simple reason; They should be on your radar.
This is the 3rd year we’ve published Most Influential Women in Business list. In collaboration with the Africa Press Organization, our 2020 ranking is comprised of most upper class CEOs, with more promotions and competition than ever. All are newcomers, most of which are chief executives. In fact, there were so many qualified candidates from a record of over 300 applicants, however, for space all cannot meet the list.
This is an exclusive list of the top African business women who are shaping their sectors, helping a new generation of female leaders and improving their firms’ profitability.
Administrator, HGB Holding
Born in Gabes in 1961, Mrs. Ouided Bouchamaoui is the President of UTICA (the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts) and a representative of the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.
In 2013, under the auspices of the G8 Deauville Partnerships, she was awarded with the “Best Business Woman of the Arab World” award. The same year, she founded “The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet”, along with the Tunisian General Labor Union, the Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH) and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers.
Mrs. Bouchamaoui has been named a “Business for Peace Honoree” in 2014. In January 2015, the Tunisian President, Mr. Beji Caid Essebsi made her Grand Officer of the Order of the Republic and His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, decorated her with the Royal Order of the Polar Star in November 2015. She also received in December 2015 the “Legion d’Honneur” from the French President, Mr. François Hollande.
Executive Vice-Chairman, Globacom
Bella Disu wears many hats, among them business executive, humanitarian and a serious art enthusiast. But she is most known for her business prowess. She provides strategic leadership as the Executive Vice-Chairman of Globacom, a foremost multinational telecommunications company operating in Nigeria and Ghana. Bella Disu is also the CEO of Cobblestone Properties and Estates Limited, a leading property development company in Nigeria, serves as a non-executive director on the board of Julius Berger Nigeria Plc and as a director at Abumet Plc.
Director, Saham Assurances, École Centrale Casablanca
The director of Saham Assurances, who heads its health and offshoring units, does not limit her energies to the insurance sector. She is the president of Les Citoyens, a civil society platform to promote stronger communities. She balances all of this with her responsibilities at the École Centrale Casablanca, an engineering school that was launched in 2015.
SAIDA KARIM LAMRANI
Executive VP, Holding Safari, Sofipar and Cofimar
The trained lawyer is making her way in the family business, which was founded by former prime minister Mohammed Karim Lamrani. Groupe Safari has holdings in many sectors, she is the boss of SMEAI, a dealership that has the import rights for Jaguar, Land Rover, BMW and Mazda automobiles. She is on the board of the King’s foundation, Foundation Mohammed V.
The leader of one of Bostwana’s top financial services groups has a tough task ahead after its investment in microfinance institution Letshego proved less profit-bale than initially predicted. Lesetedi has been leading the company since 2016. BIHL reported double-digit growth in premiums in 2017, meanwhile, Lesetedi is lobbying government to work with and strengthen the local financial sector.
CEO, Société d’Articles Hygiéniques (SAS Lilas)
Mezni shuns the spotlight however, her success in manufacturing personal care products has made her an influential member of the Tunisian business elite and she is one of the few women to run a listed company. SAH got a big boost in 2016 when the private equity firm Abraaj acquired a stake, promising to help Mezni expand operations into the West African market.
ANTA BABACAR NGOM
The 34-year-old France and US-trained business executive is taking a family business with activities in poultry and real estate to new heights. She joined the company in 2009 and became its boss in January 2016. In that year Sedima ploughed $29m into two new factories, a flour mill and an abattoir. Sedima has operations in Mali, Equatorial Guinea and DRC and also aims to be a top West African agribusiness within a few years.
Deputy chair, Famfa Oil
Mrs. Folorunsho Alakija is a dynamic Nigerian businesswoman and philanthropist. She oversees several business endeavors such as: FAMFA Oil Limited, her family’s oil exploration and production business as the Vice Chairman, seeing to its strategic planning and day to day administration. She is the Vice Chairman of Dayspring Property Development Company Limited, a real estate company with investments in different parts of the world. She is also the Vice Chairman of Digitalreality Print Ltd: a world-class printing company.
CEO, FC Group of Companies
Grace Amey-Oben is one of West Africa’s most successful businesswomen, she made her fortune promoting products which emphasized the beauty of the black skin at a time when many of her competitors were selling dangerous skin-bleaching formulas. The business empire she started a quarter of a century ago with around $100 (£63) now has an annual turnover of between $20m and 25m.
Her FC Group of Companies – which includes a beauty clinic, a firm that supplies salon equipment and cosmetics, and a college- which has eight branches in Ghana and exports to Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Togo, Ivory Coast, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
Mrs. Amey-Obeng has won dozens of accolades and industry awards for her skincare beauty products and marketing. One of the things that makes her extremely proud is her FC Beauty College which, since its opening in 1999 has trained more than 10,000 young people, majorly women.
Founder, executive director of Wiphold and CEO of Wipcapital
A member of various boards such as Sasol Mining and South African arms manufacturer Denel, Serobe is known for her contribution to the empowerment of black women. She founded Wiphold (Women Investment Portfolio Holdings) in 1994, which its majority of ownership is black women.
Managing director, Sothema
Trained as a pharmacist, Lamia Tazi went on to head Sothema, the Moroccan pharmaceutical company founded by her father, Omar Tazi. She has restructured the company’s exports division, while supervising the Dakar factory and launching the production of cancer medications. She is also the secretary general of the Moroccan pharmaceutical industry association.
Founding partner, Tugendhaft Wapnick Banchetti & Partners
Sharon Wapnick has built her empire both through her father’s wealth and her own hard work. A real-estate mogul, Alec Wapnick founded City Property, of which Wapnick is now a director. She is also the head of Octodec Investments, a JSE- listed real estate investment trust and an attorney and senior partner of TWB.
RITA MARIA ZNIBER
CEO, Diana Holding
As CEO of the spirits and agribusiness company Diana Holding, Zniber started off strong, becoming the majority shareholder of French spirits company Marie Brizard Wine & Spirits. Her aim is to internationalize Morocco’s oldest wine and spirits company, while keeping the whole value chain, from production to distribution under control.
CEO, Smile Telecoms
The chief executive of Smile Telecoms is a born organizer, with a trade-union background. Charnley started in the world of business with the creation of the National Empowerment Consortium (NEC): a body aimed at empowering those who apartheid excluded from the commanding heights of the economy. A brief spell as the unpaid chair of the South African Broadcasting Corporation in 2009 – where she uncovered scandal after scandal and displayed her continued interest in public service. Note, it was not politics that Charnley pursued after stepping down as executive director at MTN in 2007; Instead, telecoms remains Charnley’s core passion. As chief executive of Smile Telecoms, Charnley has continued to push for expansion. Smile now claims one of the largest 4G networks in Africa, operating in Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania and soon in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Creative Director, Nikki Khiran Couture
Nikki Khiran is one of Nigeria’s foremost fashion designers and the Chief Executive Officer of Nikki Khiran Couture, a fashion and lifestyle brand.
Nikki Khiran spent most of her adult years in England, where through the influence of an artistic mother she took interest in fashion design. Born in Scotland, schooled in USA, Nigeria, and London, her confident and free spirited approach to design is reflected in her clothes, which plays with contrasting textiles and sumptuous colors. The London College of Fashion graduate pays special attention to every detail and spends a lot of time sourcing fabrics to ensure the quality of each piece.
HEND EL SHERBINI
CEO, Integrated Diagnostics Holdings
Excelling in the fields of medicine and business, El Sherbini successfully listed the firm she founded, Integrated Diagnostics Holdings, on the London Stock Exchange in 2015. The initial public offering put a value on the firm, which provides diagnostic services in Egypt, Jordan and Sudan, at $668m. In late 2017, IDH partnered with Man Capital and the International Finance Corporation to buy Nigeria’s Echo-Scan. To succeed in business, she told reporters: “You have to have a lot of self-confidence’’.
MD, Telcar Cocoa
Fotso was half of a Cameroonian business power couple with the late André Fotso, who headed the country’s biggest business lobby. She runs Telcar, a joint venture with agribusiness giant Cargill and the firm controls about one third of the local market for cocoa exports. She is a shareholder of Eco bank Cameroon and on the board of the Port Autonome de Kribi: Cameroon’s deepsea port.
Chief executive, LADOL
As CEO of Lagos Deep Offshore Logistics Base (LADOL), Amy Jadesimi is overseeing the growth West Africa’s largest logistics and engineering facility operating in a free trade zone. LADOL is utilizing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, expanding service to sectors outside the oil industry and creating tens of thousands of jobs. Jadesimi is an Oxford-trained medical doctor who worked at Goldman Sachs and attended Stanford Graduate School of Business prior to working her way up the ladder at LADOL, which was founded by her father Oladipo Jadesimi in 2000.
JANINE KACOU DIAGOU
CEO, Groupe NSIA
Running francophone sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest insurance company is not enough for Diagou. In November 2017, she was named head of the former West African subsidiaries of Nigeria’s Diamond Bank, which NSIA purchased. The daughter of NSIA’s founder, Diagou said that she used to be in her father’s shadow but will not be defined as ‘a daughter of’: “I make progress through the strength of my work and my results’’. Investors like the National Bank of Canada, wants to see if NSIA can compete with its Moroccan and South African peers.
CEO, Keroche Breweries
Taking on the entrenched multinationals to create the only Kenyan-owned brewery is no small challenge. After a debut in fortified wine, Karanja launched Summit Lager, whose popularity allowed the company to build a $29m factory expansion at their Naivasha headquarters; Now producing 10m liters, the company will be able to produce 110m liters. Fighting local market leader East African Breweries, owned by global drinks giant Diageo, has proved tough. Distributors are unwilling to take on small producers like Keroche, however, that did not stop Karanja from spotting a gap in the market for low-income drinkers, who often swallow cheap and dangerous homemade concoctions.
Managing Director, Cadbury Nigeria PLC
In April 2019, Oyeyimika Adeboye assumed the role of Managing Director of Cadbury Nigeria PLC, leaving her position of Finance Director and Executive Director of the Company. A Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and a Member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Nigeria. Adeboye is the first female Managing Director of the Cadbury Nigeria PLC.
BINTA TOURÉ NDOYE
Managing director, Oragroup
The Malian banker led the Malian and Togolese subsidiaries of Eco bank before arriving at Oragroup, owned by Emerging Capital Partners. Ndoye’s main goal is to amplify the bank’s growth and to widen its customer base from small and medium-size enterprises to individuals through the digitalization of its services.
Regional CEO, West Africa, UBA
She grew up in a typical Zongo community where parents placed more premium on education for the boy-child rather than extending similar opportunities to girls. Notwithstanding these setbacks, she was stimulated to make it to the top in order to silence those who advised her father to find a vocation for her rather than ‘waste’ his money on her education and development.
She is Mrs. Marufatu Abiola Bawuah, the Regional Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of United Bank for Africa for six countries comprising Ghana, Republic of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
JOANA GYAN – CUDJOE
CEO, Golden Empire Legacy Limited
Joana Gyan Cudjoe is a self-accomplished, successful Ghanaian entrepreneur. She is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of GOLDEN EMPIRE LEGACY LIMITED. She comes from a royal family whose tradition of mining has contributed immensely in building Golden Empire into one of the largest international dealers in Gold in Ghana. Mrs. Gyan Cudjoe started as a small-scale miner and has gradually worked her way up, competing favorably with the men in a male-dominated business. She is an inspiration to many women in the artisanal small-scale mining sector and strongly believes in linking mining to the shared global commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 5 which focuses on gender equality and Goal 8 on decent work and economic growth.
Founder, AD Consulting Limited
Olajumoke Adenowo is a prominent Architect and Philanthropist. At age 14 she enrolled to study Architecture at the University of Ife, where she also completed her postgraduate studies, gaining an MSc in Architecture. In 1994 Adenowo founded AD Consulting, of which she is now Principal Partner. In parallel to founding AD Consulting she also founded and ran Advantage Energy; an Oil and Gas services firm as well as Awesome Treasures, founded 1999 an intercontinental philanthropic foundation recognized by the United Nations with a mission to raise 1000 leaders by 2030 working with Women and Youth. She is also known as an author, broadcaster and public speaker.
CEO, Building Support Systems
Offiong Ekanem Ejindu aka Princess Fifi Ejindu is the CEO of Building Support Systems and the Principal Partner of Starcrest Group of Companies. She is a Nigerian Neo-traditional Architect, a fashionista, an entrepreneur and a philanthropist. Fifi is the founder of The African Arts and Fashion initiative and has been identified as one of the leading female architects in Nigeria.
How does one go from being a yogurt seller and hairdresser with a take-home of between $30 to $40 to owning and running a $173 million company touted as one of the leading Internet Service Providers in East Africa? Well, you might need to ask Njeri Rionge; who has been described in several circles as one of Africa’s most successful serial entrepreneurs. As she likes to reiterate time and again, being successful in business is not entirely about financial rewards, it begins with creating real value. The financial rewards just happen to always accompany value addition.
Devine Ndhlukula tackled a male-dominated industry head on, inspiring countless women on the continent to pursue their dreams despite the odds. Divine is the founder and Managing Director of SECURICO: a security company she started in the late 90s in her cottage with four employees and very little capital. Today, SECURICO is one of the largest security firms in Zimbabwe, with more than 3,500 employees.
BETHLEMEN TILAHUN ALEMU
From the humblest of beginnings, Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu has built soleRebels into the planet’s fastest growing African footwear brand. She has created world class jobs, empowered her community and country while presenting a galvanized, dynamic face of African creativity to the global market. A trailblazer in every respect, Bethlehem has shifted the discourse on African development from one of poverty alleviation orchestrated by external actors, to one about prosperity creation driven by local Africans maximizing their talents and resources.
Founder, Akwa Group
Salwa Akhannouch is an ambitious woman, She ventured into business in 1993 when she established a distribution company for floor laying materials. Her determination and hard work made her become one of Morocco’s prominent entrepreneurs. Today, Salwa is the head of Akwa Group, a distributor of petroleum products and the founder of Aksal Group: a Moroccan giant in luxury goods, retail, department stores, and shopping malls. Her company has a 50% stake in Morocco Mall, one of the largest shopping malls in the continent. Salwa also holds the exclusive license to sell high end fashion brands such as Zara, Gap, and Massimo Duti in Morocco.