Over the past 5 decades, Folorunso Alakija has made her mark on everything from fashion to oil to philanthropy to religion. As the richest woman in Africa, her personal wealth is staggering, made even more so by the fact she started life as a humble secretary. At the age of 68 years old, she’s still as active in her ministry, business, and charitable endeavors as ever, and shows little sign of slowing the pace anytime soon. Discover more with these 10 quickfire facts.
1. She was educated in the UK
Folorunsho may have been born in Ikorodu, Lagos, but she spent a good portion of her formative years in the UK. After attending nursery school in Our Ladies of Apostles, Lagos, she spent 4 years at the Dinorben School for Girls in Hafodunos Hall in Llangernyw, Wales. After completing her secondary education at Muslim High School Sagamu, Ogun State, Nigeria, she returned to the UK again to study secretarial skills at Pitman’s Central College, London and fashion design at the American College, London and the Central School of Fashion.
2. She was one of 58 children
Folorunsho was born into the family of Chief L. A. Ogbara on 15 July 1951. Her mother was one of eight wives, while she herself struggled to find her place among 58 siblings. I thought he hated me,” she told Vanguard of her relationship with her father. “Understandably, he was having problems managing domestic affairs. Fortunately, throughout his life, all his children always loved each other and coped with one another as best we could.” Her father, who had the privilege of living to see his daughter become the richest woman in Nigeria, died in 2009 on the same day as President Barrack Obama’s inauguration as the 44th President of the US.
3. She started her career as a secretary
Folorunsho‘s first steps on her path to becoming Nigeria’s richest woman may have been humble, but they certainly put the secretarial skills she learned at Pitman’s Central College to the test. Her first job was as an executive secretary at Sijuade Enterprises, Lagos, a position where she no doubt put her speed typing and shorthand skills to very good use. After working at the company for several years, she moved into the banking sector with a position at the former First National Bank of Chicago (later to become FinBank and now operated by FCMB (First City Monument Bank).
4. Supreme Stitches made her supremely rich
After breaking away from the First National Bank of Chicago, Folorunsho launched the tailoring company, Supreme Stitches, which quickly diversified under the banner label of “Rose of Sharon House of Fashion”. Within just a few short years of inception, the brand had become one of the biggest household names in Nigeria, cementing Folorunsho’s status as one of Nigeria’s leading entrepreneurs (a status that was given further credence when she became a lifelong Trustee of the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN) after serving several terms as its president).
5. She’s founded a Christian Ministry
As a committed lifelong Christian, Folorunsho has sought to use her faith for good by founding a house fellowship alongside her husband. The fellowship has since grown into a fully-fledged ministry known as the Rose of Sharon Glorious Ministry International. Today, the ministry has its own website, a monthly newsletter, a massive social media presence (which even includes its own YouTube channel) and a communion large enough to support an annual 3-Day National Crusade.
6. She’s a philanthropist
Driven by her commitment to helping those who haven’t been quite so blessed in life as herself, Folorunsho has founded the Rose of Sharon Foundation, a private, voluntary, non-profit, faith-based NGO with the mission to help widows, children, and orphans through a program of scholarships, educational opportunities, and business grants.
7. She’s not the only famous name in her family
Folorunsho and her partner, lawyer Modupe Alakija of the Adeyemo Alakija family, married in 1976. The couple currently live in Lagos, Nigeria with their four sons and multiple grandchildren. The most prominent member of the wider Alakija family is Folorunsho‘s nephew, Rotimi Alakija, better known by his stage name of DJ Xclusive. DJ Xclusive started his career in 2003 performing at night clubs such as Aura Mayfair, Penthouse, Funky Buddha and Jalouse. Since then, he’s won numerous awards (including the prestigious title of World Best DJ at the 2010 edition of the Nigeria Entertainment Awards) and worked with the likes of Ne-Yo, Rihanna, Mario Winans, Brick and Lace, Nas and Fat Joe.
8. She’s a billionaire
Folorunsho is no common, garden variety millionaire. According to Forbes, Africa’s richest woman is worth the equivalent of a jaw-dropping $1 billion USD. Her net worth makes her the 19th richest person in Africa and the 1941st richest person in the world. In 2015 and 2016, she also ranked as one of Forbes’s most powerful women in the world.
9. She’s the Executive Vice Chairman of Famfa Oil
Since her eminent rise to the top of the fashion pile, Folorunsho has diversified into numerous other fields of business. The most notable addition to her arsenal is the oil company, Famfa Oil, one of the largest Nigerian owned exporters of crude oil in Nigeria. The company’s success lies in its large stake in the Agbami Oilfield, a prolific offshore asset its been operating since 2008 (with plans to continue its explorations until 2024). Folorunsho currently serves as Executive Vice Chairman of the company, whose many partners include Chevron and Petrobras in their mix.
In addition to her numerous business and philanthropic activities, Folorunsho has somehow found the time to write numerous highly regarded books. The majority of the publications are faith-based (see Alone with God, Growing with the Hands that gives the Rose, His Name is…, Scriptures for Husbands, Scriptures for Parents, and (you guessed it) Scriptures for Wives as some of the key examples) while several others are more biographical in nature.