Folorunsho Alakija is a Nigerian businesswoman, a pastor, one of the richest black women in the world, and a devout Christian.
According to Forbes she is worth $1.1 billion.
She is the embodiment of a Christian entrepreneur.
The question is:
Is it possible for entrepreneurs and future Christian millionaires to learn something from her?
Because in spite of what critics say IT IS possible to be a Christian millionaire (or billionaire), love God and do great things in the world.
And any great thing that needs to be done in this world it will be through the entrepreneur.
What is a “Christian entrepreneur?”
The word “entrepreneur” is from the Old French word “entreprendre,” which means “undertake.” So one definition of an entrepreneur is “one who undertakes or manages.”
“Entrepreneur” is also derived from two Latin words:
“Entre”=========> “Swim out.”
“Prendes”=======> “Grasp or grab hold of.”
So the term basically means, one who “swims out” to the unknown to “grab hold of” unseen opportunities.
A Christian Entrepreneur is one who does this to the glory of God!
A Christian Entrepreneur doesn’t necessarily have to be a business owner. It is someone who simply:
- Swims out.
- Grab holds of opportunities.
- Disrupts monopolies and fosters competition.
- Allocates capital and resources from lower to higher yielding returns.
It is someone who is PRODUCTIVE.
But look here:
The Bible says,
“Much food is in the tillage of the poor, but there is that is destroyed for want of judgement.” (Proverbs 13:23 KJV)
On the surface that Scripture doesn’t make any sense!
If it said, “Much food is in the tillage of the rich…” then that’s more understandable. But how could much food be in the tillage of the poor?!
- Could it be that the difference between the rich and the poor is that the rich KNOW what they have?
- Maybe the poor are not as great utilizing natural resources?
- Or maybe the rich are just greater at using and multiplying their natural resources?
There is another possible conclusion.
Ancient Palestine was a land of small peasant proprietors (or small owners of business), and the institution of the Jubilee was intended to prevent the acquisition of large estates by any Israelite. The result, as intended, was a level of modest prosperity held by everyone.
The word “tillage” is ground worked for the first time. All the abundance the poor man needed was in his ground–not his neighbors. And it was only when he cultivated his ground, his resources, talents, and etc did he find his prosperity.
It was and is God’s intention for His people to have some level of prosperity; and to be productive.
In other words: your level of prosperity will never be found in someone else’s field, but only in the “field” God has given you.
Alakija has proven to be very productive…here are the lessons we can learn from her:
1. Want to See More Success? Go the Extra Mile!
Growing up Alakija wanted to be a lawyer. Her father however didn’t see the necessity of educating his daughter in the field of law. Instead, he sent her to secretarial school.
Even though she was frustrated she was also determined to move up.
She began her secretarial career at Sijuade Enterprises in Lagos for 18 months. Soon after she heard of an American bank opening in Nigeria. She applied and was hired as an Executive Secretary to the managing Director of The First National Bank of Chicago.
She worked there for 12 years and using the extra mile principle rose through the ranks. She moved from secretary, to heading the corporate affairs department, to working in the treasury department trading the banks money.
When asked about the value of “luck” Mrs. Alakija said:
The Power of Going the Extra Mile
When speaking about going the extra mile Jesus said,
“And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.” (Matthew 5:41 NKJV)
He related it’s significance to an oppressive practice in His day. The practice originated with the Persian government under the rule of King Cyrus.
Under this custom the king’s messenger had power to take horses, camels, and men into service against their will. In fact, couriers or messengers were staged in specific locations by the king; if a man were to pass this post an official could rush out and “compel” him into service.
This custom was then adopted by the Roman goverment. Simone of Cyrene was “compelled” into helping Jesus with His cross, when the weight became too heavy.
Rather than quarrel and complain about this oppressive treamtment, Jesus advised us to do otherwise. He not only advised us to comply but to exceed expectations in a spirit of love and service.
But beyond Christian duty the principle of going the extra mile is a POWERFUL promotional tool. The spotlight of comparison always shines favorably on the person using this principle. They become indispensable.
Because in contrast, others don’t even go the first mile; and if they go, they do it with such a bad attitude it were better they’d not gone at all!
So let me ask you this:
- Are you not where you want to be in life?
- Are you not seeing the success you want?
Learn to go the extra mile.
2. Want More Motivation? Keep a BIG Vision in Front of You!
After 12 years at the bank Alakija noticed that newer people were being promoted over her. According to her:
She saw bigger for herself and hit a wall:
She ultimately wanted to go into business for herself and started looking for new opportunities.
She noticed a rising trend in Nigeria–a renaissance of African fashion. Fashion was her passion and she felt it was the right time to capitalize. But she wanted to do it right. So with the support of her husband, she quit her job, moved back to England, and studied fashion for a little over a year.
After that she returned to Nigeria to start Supreme Stitches, a premium fashion line catering to high end Nigerian women. Within three weeks of opening the line she was invited to compete in a fashion competition.
After the win the new notoriety caused her business to boom and flourish.
True Christian Entrepreneurs are visionaries.
Regardless of field or occupation they see bigger than their current situation. It’s that vision that pushes them on to do the improbable and/or impossible!
When God commanded Moses to build the Tabernacle He told him to build it after the pattern he (Moses) had seen:
“Be sure that you make everything according to the pattern I have shown you here on the mountain.” (Exodus 25:40 NLT)
And so it remains: you can only build your life after the pattern you’ve SEEN for your life. Christian entrepreneurs–like Alakija–were pushed, propelled, and I dare say even dragged into great achievement because of a lofty vision. This method of “grand vision first” is a reoccuring pattern of God:
- God gave Abraham a grand vision of his many descendants even while he was childless.
- Joseph saw a grand vision of his life BEFORE he actually had it.
- Reinhard Bonnkhe was given a grand vision of evanagelism in Africa when he was 10; he was given an even grander vision of a “blood-washed Africa” when he was a struggling evangelist.
- John D. Rockefeller had a grand vision of being a great businessman even as an assistant bookkeeper. According to his biographer, he was always “getting ready for something big.”
Here the point:
Do you have a grand vision?
Is it bigger than your current capabilities?
Does it cost more than you have?
Is it further than where you currently are?
That means you’re on the right path. Pray about this vision, seek God regarding the vision, work towards the vision, and set goals in the direction of the vision.
Whatever you can’t do God will pick up the slack. He wants more for you than you realize:
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)
3. Want Supernatural Success? Be Diligent to Hear and Follow God’s Instructions.
One of the great strengths of Christian entrepreneurs, millionaires, AND billionaires is their ability to hear and obey the Voice of God. They work hard, are dilligent, are strategists, and team builders. But their ability to obey the voice of God, the promptings of God, and the desires of God have aided them well in their success.
For instance, when Do Won Chang arrived in L.A. with his wife, Jin Sook, from South Korea he had nothing but opportunity on his mind. Fleeing South Korea after the assassination of military dictator Park Chung-hee he thought he would make it big in the coffee business.
When he landed on Saturday he wasted no time: he looked through the classified section for jobs, landed an interview at a coffee shop, and by Monday he was prepping meals in that coffee shop for $3/hr.
To supplement his income he pumped gas, started an office cleaning business, and his wife worked as an hairdresser.
Still it wasn’t enough.
While pumping gas he noticed all the fashion retailers drove the nicest cars.
He immediately got a job at a clothing store.
Around the same time Jin Sook went to a mountain to pray. She wanted answers to their financial situation. On that mountain God told her they should open a store and it would be successful.
She came home and told her husband what God said.
And the idea for Forever 21 was born.
In their first year they made $700,000 in sales. By 2016 their company had sales of $4.4 billion, employed 43,000 people, and gave the couple a net worth of $3 billion dollars.
Even now business decisions are made through intense prayer. Linda Chang, one of the couple’s two daughters who runs the marketing department, had this to say about their prayer life:
“Every decision that they made has been with thoughtful prayer…I think they get a lot of business ideas and insight during early morning prayer time.”
“I have been disobedient and learnt my lessons the hard way.”–Folorunsho Alakija
While Alakija was in the fashion business she wanted to start another business. According to her, she wanted a new challenge and was getting bored of the fashion industry. So she ventured into printing.
Prior to the new venture she was given a dream for offset printing, unfortunately she went into large format printing. The venture did well before the Nigerian Government clamped down on billboard printing because they were clogging up the skyline. Sales for the new company plummeted.
It wasn’t until she went back to the SPECIFIC instructions that things began to turn around:
But look here:
Alakija wasn’t the only Christian, entrepreneur, or billionaire to veer away from the intended path. David Green also had to learn the hard way.
Green is the founder of Hobby Lobby–a retail company with revenues of $4.6 billion in 2016. Green, himself a billionaire ($6.4 billion net worth), is known for his generosity and stewardship. He did this by sticking to his “why” and glorifying God in business.
But in the 1980’s he got off track.
During the 80’s there was a prolonged oil boom with free flowing cash. With the free-flowing cash people could sell almost anything and make a profit.
According to Green:
“We had become successful through the years as a crafts store. It was what we knew and what people wanted us to be. We should have stayed in our sweet spot. Instead, we got off track. The attraction of bigger profits in a strong economy made us veer into realms we should not have attempted to be in. For example, we started selling expensive luggage, grandfather clocks, ceiling fans, and even signed and numbered lithographs for high prices. We didn’t stop there. We sold gourmet food for a while and even offered a whole line of miniature brass oil rigs.” (Giving it All Away…and Getting it Back Again, loc 925 on Kindle)
Then came the oil bust of 1985. Money dried up. By the the end of the year, he had lost nearly a million dollars.
Things got even worse:
- Their bank threatened to call their note.
- Suppliers started cutting them off.
- And he didn’t know what to do.
Every day he crawled under his desk crying out to God for help–day after day, week after week, month after month. According to him, God was humbling him and his pride. In time he did get direction:
“I went for lunchtime walks in the park across the street from our offices, pleading with the Lord to give me direction. In time, He did. He helped me see that we had to get back to our core business and we had to tighten our belts in every way. We got busy. We found a different lender, worked out deals with our suppliers, and got back to the business we knew best. By the end of 1986, we were out of the red and earning a profit.” (Giving it all Away…location 950)
With all the “voices” out there how do we accurately hear the Voice of God? Alakija herself offers some keen insight:
God has GREAT plans for your success, why don’t you seek Him for it?
4. Want to Guarantee Your Success? Never Give Up!
Alakija has very great qualities necessary for a Christian entrepreneur:
- She is creative.
- She is driven.
- She is goal oriented.
- She knows how to seek God.
- She is resourceful.
And yet with all the above resources her main quality for success is her pitbull determination.
She. Does. Not. Give. Up.
For instance, when she ventured into the oil business many doors were shut in her face.
She kept knocking.
When she looked into securing some kind of contract in the industry she was told her suggestions were not needed.
She kept investigating.
She applied for a license to get an oil bloc, her application was put to the side.
She kept applying.
After three years her application was approved and she was given an oil bloc that no other company wanted.
She took it anyway.
After her original technical partners (the company with technology, expertise, and capital to start the process of exploration) pulled out, she and her husband used their life savings to secure the oil license, and had to start the process of finding new technical partners.
It took three more years but she found new technical partners.
And after a few months they struck oil in commercial quantity!
Now isn’t that awesome?! She was allocated an oil bloc that the “builders rejected,” persisted in the face of seemingly impossible circumstances, and found success. Isn’t this how a story is supposed to end?
It didn’t end that way.
Once word got out they struck oil the unthinkable happened: the Nigerian government snatched a 40% stake! Later, they took an additional 10%. The government at the time was known for its corruption and the revenue from an “unwanted” but now profitable oil bloc was too much for them to pass up.
Alakija was devastated.
She considered her options:
- Leave it alone like other companies who were similar victims of the government’s greed.
- Or fight back standing on constitutional rights.
Close friends, advisers, and governemt officials warned against the latter. “How could you win against the government,” they argued. “Why aren’t you happy with your 10% stake?” According to her:
So what did she do? Rollover and die? Or fight back?
You already guessed it. She fought back!
She took them to court.
For 12 long years she fought the government in court. The stakes were high. The government argued (item 23) if Alakija and family were allowed to keep their bloc they stood to make $10 million a day!
There were sleepless nights, up and down battles, and isolation from “friends” who thought she should be happy with her 10% stake.
Still she persisted.
In the end she won. She won because she was right, had justice on her side, and the favor of God. But it was also because like any bulldog she refused to give up her bone!
True Christian Entrepreneurs Know the Value of Persistence
“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” (Galatians 6:9 NLT)
No outstanding achievement can be won without continuous effort. The wheel of fortune turns slowly and it turns toward those who’ve proven through persisitence they deserve its rewards. Before ANYBODY meets with ANY success they meet with misfortune, mistakes, delays and temporary defeats.
But there is something about a persistent spirit that makes God smile.
I mean someone who will kick, claw, scratch, fight, and encourage themselves in the face of seemingly impossible odds. Don’t get me wrong: there are times when all we can do is stand still and look to Him for help. But then there are those other times He opens doors as we forward…and persist:
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Quit praying and get the people moving! Forward, march!'” (Exodus 14:15 TLB)
Sometimes the answers come in a moment and sometime they comes through endurance.
Case in point: Strive Masiyiwa
Strive Masiyiwa is Zimbabwe’s first billionaire. The London based Zimbabwean businessman has various international holdings and a networth of $2.1 billion. He is a devout Christian respected for his social conscience, philanthropy, and mentorship of other budding entrepreneurs.
But before the accolades, recognition, and respect he was an idealist fighting a very uphill battle. His opponent: a corrupt Zimbabwean government.
In the 80’s he had his own electrical contracting firm–a multimillion dollar national company, with close to 500 employees.
But soon he noticed a problem…and an opportunity.
Masiyiwa recognized the potential for wireless telephones. The reasons were many:
- The region had only two fixed-line telephones for every hundred people
- Wireless networks would be quicker and less expensive to build than land based networks
- Wireless telephone services would also be less vulnerable than traditional landlines to the theft of copper wire for resale.
He went to ZPTC (Zimbabwe’s phone company) about forming a mobile telephone network in Zimbabwe. They weren’t interested saying the mobile phone had no future in the country. But another reason was: the government was corrupt. Under Robert Mugabe, the government didn’t want private citizens to have access to private communications
Here was the dilemna:
Masiyiwa had the right to start a mobile company. Under the “Freedom of Expression” provision in the African constitution every person had the right to receive and impart information without hindrance. However, if he proceeded, the government threatened to prosecute him. In addition to that, the government was his company’s biggest client and would sever all contracts with the firm.
He decided to move forward.
When asked by his wife, Tsitsi, how long he thought it would take to win he told her:
“Honey, don’t worry. Three to four months it’ll all be done.”
It took nearly 5 years.
The decision had disastrous consequences:
- The government did call off their contracts–within months he could hardly pay salaries.
- He had to sell off company assets to finance the legal battles against the government.
- Before long funds had dried up and according to Tsitsi they were so broke they couldn’t afford to give visitors tea.
It was a true wilderness journey.
But by December 1997 the Zimbabwean Supreme Court awarded Masiyiwa’s company–Econet–a license to set up a mobile telecoms company in Zimbabwe. The Court ruled that the government’s monopoly on telecommunications was in violation of freedom of communication.
Econet launched its services in Zimbabwe in 1998 and within a few months became the leading mobile telecoms company in the country!
Rest if you have to but do not quit!
5. Want to Amplify Your Success? Learn the Value of Partnership!
In 1993 many Nigerian businessmen and military heads were allocated blocs of oil. Because they had no technical knowledge in operating a bloc they flipped them off to International companies for a profit.
Alakija could’ve gone the same route but she instead chose to find partners. And even when her first partnership fell through she persisted until she could find new partners. She had the vision but she needed their technology, expertise, and capital to make it work.
In fact, the business itself was a family partnership. She realized the power of partnership in accomplishing so great a task an it paid of handsomely.
When you look into the lives of Christian entrepreneurs, millionaires, and billionaires you realize this:
No man (or woman) is an island.
The Bible says,
“Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 KJV)
It was because they valued partnership that cause many of them to flourish. Many Christian entrepreneurs, millionaires, and billionaires may have started on their own but soon saw the wisdom in fruitful partnership.
Enter Steven K Scott.
If you look at the background of Scott it would be impossible to fathom that he is a Christian multi-millionaire, with companies that have achieved over a billion dollars in sales.
Prior to that he was a below average wage earner who flunked out of nine…count it…nine jobs in his first six years after college. Here’s his “resume:”
On his 9th job he created a marketing campaign that doubled the company’s sales.
His boss offered to double his salary, promote him to vice president of marketing, and give him a company car.
Instead of accepting the promotion, Scott resigned so he could start a business with a partner. Within nine months sales of the new company grew to nearly one million dollars…a week! Scott swears by the value of “right” partnership in his success:
“In my first five years after college, I worked for eight different employers. In all these jobs, I was ‘on my own.’ None lasted very long, and my work on these jobs was never much above mediocre. My income never topped $1,000 a month. On job number nine, I recruited the help of a part-time mentor. My salary jumped to $1,500 a month, and together we doubled the company’s sales from $30 million a year to $60 million a year. On job ten, I enetered a full-time partnership with my mentor; within a year, we added four more partners.”
He also warned about the turmoil of “bad” partnerships:
“Three times in my life I have had investment opportunities that seemed like ‘can’t miss’ moneymakers. I was so confident that they were ‘sure things’ that I refused to listen to my financial counselors and made the investments against their advice. I forgot what Solomon warned in Proverbs 13:18–that the person who refuses instruction or counsel will experience both poverty and shame. Each of these three times, I lost every penny I had in savings. Each time, I was driven to the edge of bankruptcy. Each time, I was humiliated in front of my family and friends. Fortunately, my own business was such a productive partbership and so undeservedly blessed that I was able to recover and gain back most of my losses.” The Richest Man Who Ever Lived (affiliate link)
Partnership is always essential even if there has been success in the past. We all need someone who can complement our weaknesses and lead us in new territory.
Case in point: Bishop T.D. Jakes
Bishop Jakes recently had a very open and insigtful interview on the James Altucher show. On that show he discussed the failures he endured and the partnerships that led him to success. Altucher asked what was his biggest “midnight blunder:” (started at 41:38)
Bishop T.D Jakes: I’m trying to figure which one to tell you about first. They repossesed my car, my oldest daughter was born on WIC, we couldnt keep our utilities at one time in my life. When we started doing films (plays) much later in my life the first three plays we did we lost our shirt…
James Altucher: Did you feel shame like “here’s Bishop Jakes and he’s doing this thing and he might get in financial trouble?” Were you able to be vulnerable about it?
Jakes: I felt shame. I was angry. I was embarassed. I was humiliated. I hate losing….
Altucher: Were you scared?
Jakes: I was scared to death. I was scared to death. But I’m not the kind of person to walk away from a fight. And that’s something you have to know about me. I went back and got with other people who were doing what I was trying to do better. And I formed a partnership. And at that time that partnership was with Tyler Perry. And we formed a partnership and he was just getting started. He wasn’t who he is now. He was just right outside of sleeping in a car. But he had figured out a way to do the plays better than I could. We partnered together and we started doing some plays together. I learned somethings…
Altucher: How did you partner? Did you say, “I have an audience that I can help bring to your plays?…”
Jakes: Yeah. Yeah. It’s like a potluck dinner. I have some influence and you have some influence. I have a story that needs to be told and some credibilty behind that story. And you have some craftsmanship. And you have some partners out here that you know how to rent out the houses, and go on the tours, and do that sort of thing. That’s what I mean about partnerships. You want to build partnerships with people who are strong where you’re weak. And then your contribution is to be strong in areas where you have weaknesses.
Now it’s your turn.
I hope this post showed you some amazing strategies, habits, and principles to take you to the next level in your entrepreneurial career.
Now I’d like to hear your take:
- What strategy are you going to implement first?
- Are you going to go the extra mile?
- Are you going to work on not giving up?
- Are you going to find the right partner?
Either way let me know in the comments section below.