Tunji Olowolafe, chairman, GZ Industries (Nigeria)
Meet the Boss is a How we made it in Africa interview series in which we pose the same 10 questions to business leaders across the continent.
1. What was your first job?
I was a medical doctor. I decided to stop practicing medicine in 1988 and I went into private equity just out of interest. I found it interesting.
2. Who has had the biggest impact on your career and why?
My grandmother. She lived with us and she always told me about hard work and ethics. Actually, the way she said it was three H’s: hard work, humility and honesty. She could not speak English so she said it in our local language (Yoruba) all the time. She sang it in different ways and told it in stories in different ways. She brought me up and was my role model.
3. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
Trying to achieve what I want to do tomorrow. I am always awake because I want to achieve all the time.
4. What are the top reasons why you have been successful in business?
Honestly, I am not sure. I just do my best every day. Honestly, I have not discovered myself yet. I don’t even know what my talents are. But I just know that… most people that I collaborate with are smarter and deeper than me.
5. What are the best things about your country, Nigeria?
Vibrance. Nigeria is the best place to be in the world. There are very creative and sociable people. They understand life and they live life.
6. And the worst?
We have not taken our potential to where it should be. That is a pain but it will happen.
7. Your future career plans?
I want to continue to invest in Africa. Nothing more.
8. How do you relax?
I do exercise. I jog. I do yoga. I run and I read.
9. What is your message to Africa’s young aspiring businesspeople and entrepreneurs?
Hard work and diligence are standards they need every day. They should collaborate with others to accomplish their goals. They should pursue what they find interesting, not what parents think they should do. They should also be diverse and open-minded to embark on different things when opportunities emerge and the call of nature beckons.
10. How can Africa realise its full potential?
By ensuring we have democracy, rule of law and quality education. We need to educate all our people. That way we will achieve true freedom and prosperity.
Dr Tunji Olowolafe is the chairman of GZ Industries (GZI), West Africa’s only aluminium can manufacturer. The Nigerian company manufacturers 1.2bn cans annually for sale to Guinness, Coca-Cola, Heineken and SABMiller. Olowolafe quit medical practice to venture into private equity.