In African business circles, very few businessmen embody more charismatic traits than Africa’s richest man, Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote (worth $13.8 billion in the Forbes World Billionaire’s list). Dangote is indeed an unassuming, refined and civil businessman.
Lesson # 1: Business is war. Crush the competition, completely.
“A prince must have no other objective, no other thought, nor take up any profession but that of war.”
Forget the small talk: The sky might be big enough for all the birds to fly, but when it’s overcrowded, the journey becomes less pleasurable. It’s usually better to enjoy the airspace all alone. Dangote knows this. Over the years, he has skillfully devised creative and unorthodox means of thwarting his competitors. A favorite tactic: Price crashing. Dangote has thrived sufficiently through dropping prices of major commodities like sugar, cement, salt and flour, leaving competitors struggling to keep up. By and large, he has created a near monopoly in several key commodities in Nigeria. Learn from Dangote: By whatever means necessary, crush the competition.
Lesson # 2: Fortresses are dangerous. Don’t isolate yourself
Isolation is deadly. According to Robert Greene, “Isolation exposes you to more dangers than it protects you from-it cuts you off from valuable information…” Never isolate yourself in business; mingle with the crowd. Make acquaintances. A good businessman is always in touch with people. Dangote is a regular at social gatherings in Lagos and elsewhere. He is a member of Nigeria’s most exclusive country clubs where he enjoys the acquaintance of, and hobnobs with many of Nigeria’s most successful people (even competitors), subtly learning their secrets and strategies, their intentions and their weaknesses. And like a seasoned chess grandmaster, plans his subsequent moves.
Lesson # 3: Make friends with powerful people
“As princes cannot help being hated by someone… they ought to endeavor with the utmost diligence to avoid the hatred of the most powerful.”
When you’re successful in business, you’ll develop new enemies. Think of them as trophies. But never incur the enmity of powerful people. Dangote has skillfully courted Nigerian political leaders, donating colossal sums to their election campaigns and funding several political parties. Dangote donated millions of dollars to the campaign of Nigeria’s incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, in the run-up to the 2011 presidential elections. Today, he has friends at the topmost echelon of political society and unfettered access to the President. You can never go wrong when you’ve won the friendship of the powerful.
Lesson # 4: Do Good, Sometimes.
“Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to … appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite.”
Dangote might be cunning and ruthless in business, but he knows just when and how to do good, and how to publicize it enough to win pubic affection. He has given away millions of dollars to charitable causes in everything from education to health, the arts and small scale enterprises. When you succeed in business, always give back. You win public affection with your grand messianic gestures, and build emotional capital for yourself and your brand.
Lesson # 5: Work With Intelligent People
“The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.”
Mediocrity is infectious. A smart business leader surrounds himself with the smartest and brightest brains. During a recent interview with a local Nigerian newspaper, Dangote said of himself: “I always make sure I hire people smarter than me.” Only hire the very best, for a general is only as good as his lieutenants.