Archive Tonye Cole: Winning in the face of business failure

Tonye Cole: Winning in the face of business failure


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Jude Chukwuemeka

Tonye Cole shares his journey overcoming bankruptcy as a young man to establishing the leading indigenous oil conglomerate, Sahara Group. The company celebrates its 20th anniversary, which has seen it establish the corporate social responsibility arm, Sahara Foundation impacting lives all over Africa.

“Failure teaches you a lot. If you are an entrepreneur, you are going to have bad days and if you are a successful entrepreneur, you are going to have even more bad days. It is important to remember the value of relationships and never give up,” says Cole.

For Cole and his friends, there was only one way to solve the problem: approach the man who was able to save them and their investment. Mallam Lawan Buba, Group Executive Director, Commercial and Investment, National Petroleum Company (NNPC). They spent weeks trying to get an appointment to see Buba and when they did, it almost took all they got to convince that man that their sweat was not supposed to drain out for nothing.

Two weeks passed and they young entrepreneurs were able to get their contracts back.

The Group’s strategy is to replicate its successes in Oil and Gas sector in the Energy & Infrastructure sector. To achieve this, Sahara has set out a roadmap for investing in people, processes, strategic acquisitions, principal investments and continuous expansion within, initially, the West African energy & infrastructure space, and then globally.

Cole vowed never to leave his future in the hands of someone else. He had before that time been invited by friends to start a business in the oil industry, which he turned down for favour of a hefty salary.

In the same vein, Cole believes that a business man should not leave his fate in the hands of one country. Today, the Group has about 20 operations across the energy sector with 660 employees. As they celebrate their 20-year anniversary, there is a lot to celebrate as the Group has diversified into utilities, real estate, farming and infrastructure.

The full story can be found in April edition of Forbes Africa.


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