By Forbes calculations ($660 million), Folorunsho Alakija, is not wealthier than Oprah Winfrey. But the Forbes calculation has been disputed, with the number $3.3 billion replacing it and topping Oprah’s $2.7 billion.
Now here’s the deal, I honestly don’t care who has a higher net worth. I am just proud to highlight another woman, of color, a Black woman, who has used her God-given gifts, talents, and intelligence to make it to the top and stay there. I’m sure starting out she didn’t have an immediate goal of being a multimillionaire or billionaire, she probably just wanted what most of us do, to carve out her own place and space in life.
Some would argue that since Alakija does not have a rags-to-riches story like Oprah Winfrey, that her story is not newsworthy and one to be celebrated and highlighted. Alakija comes from a wealthy family and received education at quality schools, but let me chime in and say this, she started off as a secretary and then after quitting her job she left Nigeria in the 1980’s to study fashion design in England. She later returned to Nigeria to launch her own fashion label. Her fashion label grew in size and value, and while making money from that industry she then expanded into oil and other industries. Why isn’t that newsworthy and reason enough to celebrate? Daddy didn’t hand her a job, she went out and built a career and developed companies.
Let me also add this point as a wakeup call to anyone who doesn’t get it—anyone with wealth (or who has had wealth) knows that it’s not getting there that counts, it’s the longevity after getting there that matters.
There are numerous inheritors of wealth who have squandered it. Just as there are a great deal of rags-to-riches-back-to-rags stories that will make you cringe.
Alakija is not some young 25-year-old recent billionaire who made her bucks through the funnel of nepotism. This is a hard-working, highly intelligent, skilled business woman who is calling the shots and making moves at the young age of 61. She’s a wife and mother of four children. She’s balancing career, family, and personal needs—-something many women, including myself, find as an enormous challenge. I salute her.
But then there’s other people out there who say that since she’s Nigerian that her wealth is questionable, and argue that with so much personal wealth in a country with so much poverty, that maybe Alakija should not be highlighted, even at $660 million in earnings. To those people I say, she is a business woman, not a government official, politician, or public servant.
Zoom in and slam down those who are so-called public “servants” who are living the high life off the backs of those they claim to serve. Broadcast these so-called “servants” for accepting or demanding compensation for a job that should have meager earnings, yet they are making hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars annually barely living up to their job description or the claims they made to get their jobs, while the people they “serve” are impoverished and holding on by a thin string of hope.
Ethical entrepreneurship should always be celebrated, and now we have another example of a successful woman who has earned her way to the top not in the stereotypical ways and also not in the traditional ways perceived by most.
Alakija is not a singer, dancer, actress, athlete, or other entertainment professional, she’s not even a doctor or lawyer—she’s a business woman with a mission and vision that should be celebrated and used as an example for women and girls worldwide. I’m not demeaning, mocking, or limiting the value of these other professionals—I’m merely highlighting a career where the path is never clear and all of the schools in the world combined cannot truly prepare you for—and that is the creation, development, and economic sustainability of a business—one of the loneliest careers on the planet—entrepreneurship.
Think if Alakija’s family had lowered her standards and forced her to assume a different role in life— now smile and salute a woman, a Black woman, who no matter which financial calculations you accept, is doing huge things, making huge moves, and is helping to raise the bar of excellence while kicking down the barriers that keep women worldwide “in their place”.
We should make it a point of highlighting female entrepreneurs so that the world can see the power of a woman who see no limits.
Copyright 2012. Natasha L. Foreman. All Rights Reserved.