“You have to do something that you like, that you love, more than that, something that you have to think about all the time.”
WINDHOEK, Mar. 9 – Worth an estimated US$ 2.7 billion by Forbes Magazine, Angola’s Isabel dos Santos is the definition of the modern African woman: resolute, hardworking, ambitious, trend-setting, and her success represents a shift from the traditional child-rearing stay-at-home wife, to billionaire-wife.
Dos Santos is seen as a positive example of African entrepreneurship, providing Angola with much-needed jobs in a country with a 24 percent unemployment rate, according to a 2014 census.
But she is more than just an African Entrepreneur, she is the banner of the successful African woman, thus making her a role-model for millions of African girls, while her influence on women extends throughout the Globe.
Last year, she was listed in Forbes Magazines top 100 most influential women in the world at number 74, making her the only African in that list. She is currently Africa’s richest woman, and ranks 9th in Africa’s billionaires.
In a 2014 interview at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES), dos Santos talked about how her journey began. “When I started working back in the 1990’s, late 1980’s communications in Africa was still at an incipient stage so we had some fixed lines.”
Most cities in Africa, at the time, had give or take 100 000 fixed telephone-lines.
“If you were doing a business that required constant communications with your staff; for example in our case we had trucks that had to be on time on deliveries so walkie-talkies where a must. That’s where it started; setting up a walkie-talkie company that then evolved into become a satellite network.”
Over the past two decades, the dramatic improvement of African markets, coupled with technology, had a direct bearing on her business expansion.
She highlighted that technology was evolving on a global scale and many mobile operators were set up at that time, even in Europe, hence “we mirrored what was going on in Europe and America and elsewhere and did it in Angola to solve an issue that we had which was ‘how do we communicate and and how do we improve the business environment?'”
At the time, she was asked what it was like being a woman in a masculine world.
“It is true that business is opening more and more to women. Women are naturally entrepreneurs. When we go look in Africa at markets its mostly women selling. Not only in the markets but if we go to shops, services such as catering, women are heavily involved. So now its a question of us reaching the next stage, more complex businesses. Businesses that require structuring that sometimes is not available to women, for example financial structuring. So that is our big challenge as women.”
She also said that it was not all about size when it came to business, adding that as long as it performs, one is on the right track.
“What drives the investment strategy in our group is creating job opportunities and development for our country and our region. Even if your business is small, it has to be performing. its not about size. You have to put something forward that not only makes sense to you, but to others. And that sense has to come from facts like your revenue. You have to have a sustainable business, and once you go that and you go out explaining your case and getting them interested and to understand what you are doing is extremely key,” she told a GES interviewer.
The daughter of former Angolan President Eduardo dos Santos, Isabel attended the all girls boarding school in Kent, Cobham Hall in London before studying electrical engineering at King’s College in London.
In the early 1990’s she joined her father in Luanda and started working as a project manager engineer for Urbana 2000, a subsidiary of Jembas Group. After that, she set up a trucking business, where the use of walkie-talkie technology gave rise to the rise of an unprecedented empire.
In the past 20 years she has held management positions in a number of companies listed on European stock exchanges, several holdings, in Angola and mostly abroad, making substantial investments in high-profile entreprises, especially in Portugal. She also has interests in the Namibian banking sector.
Her fierce drive has earned her interests in telecommunications, media, retail, finance and the energy industry, both in Angola and in Portugal.
In addition to her commercial interest in oil and diamonds, she also owns shares in the Angola cement company Nova Cimangola.
She has manged to interact with people from all walks of life and is a fitting example of what an empowered woman may achieve, as we celebrated International Women’s Day yesterday; a strong woman, young and African. – Musa Zimunya