Tonye Cole – Co-Founder of Sahara Group

Writing down my thoughts, ideas and personal philosophies has enabled me to maintain a focused approach to business, while impacting lives has given me a sense of purpose.

As the co-founder and managing director of the Sahara Group, Tonye Cole has enjoyed the type of international business success that even the most optimistic entrepreneurs never even dream of. Mr. Cole began the Sahara Group out of a very small office and focused solely on trading excess fuel oil from 2 refineries, building a foundation upon which the company could enjoy significant growth over time. The Sahara Group is now an energy conglomerate operating in eight countries and is involved in every aspect of the energy chain.

It was Mr. Cole’s vision for growth that allowed the Sahara Group to become what it is today, as he correctly identified a number of global trends that enabled the company to prosper in a very meaningful way. Drawing on the success of the Sahara Group, Mr. Cole has made sure that the work of his company also benefits those in need. A devoted philanthropist, Mr. Cole has supported countless charitable organizations and has been an outspoken advocate for the youth of Africa.

Mr. Cole’s company regularly generates billions of dollars in revenue each year, and his efforts have supported 680 direct employees, excluding the 2,600 employees in their power company. The success of Tonye Cole and the Sahara Group is a perfect example of how even the humblest of beginnings can lead to overwhelming financial success through hard work and solid entrepreneurial principles.

Where did the idea for the Sahara Group come from?

My co-founders and I recognized that there was an opportunity to fill a need in the energy industry, and we seized on that opportunity in the best way we could. We did not have a great deal of capital in the beginning, so we commenced business as brokers and had to be extremely diligent in our efforts to ensure continued growth.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I wish that I had what I could call a typical day. I have a very busy travel schedule and each day is filled with unique challenges that I must properly address. Wherever I am and whatever I am doing, I always take time to reflect on what goals I would like to accomplish and how my actions that day helped in moving me closer to accomplishing those goals.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I am a long term strategist so I use a small notebook to keep track of the many ideas that I have each day, and at the conclusion of each day I look them all over and discuss them with my team. We are then able to sort through ideas that are worth developing and those that we will return to at a later date.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

There is so much innovation in the energy industry and competition is intense which means that there are going to be a wealth of interesting opportunities you must take ahead of others for the Sahara Group going forward.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I feel very lucky to have such wonderful talent made up of young people much more intelligent than I am around me. They are able to bring my thoughts to life and implement them which encourages me to find new challenges to persue. As a younger entrepreneur, I made sure we had very clear business objectives and that all of our efforts were focused upon achieving those objectives.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

This is a difficult question for me as I have been running my own business for the past 19 years. Prior to that I had 2 jobs, both of which I enjoyed and learnt a tremendous amount from. I may have had trying experiences while on those jobs but I can’t categorize any as ‘worst’.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

There is not a thing I would change. The way we grew this company is what ultimately shaped our current success.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I write, reflect and set out to impact a life positively every single day. I have been around other successful businessmen who never find time to write down their thoughts and ideas, and they always seem to lose sight of what it is they want to accomplish. Writing down my thoughts, ideas and personal philosophies has enabled me to maintain a focused approach to business, while impacting lives has given me a sense of purpose.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

We started out very small, so we had to make sure each expansion involved very little risk because we had almost no room for error. This caused us to conduct a thorough analysis each time we expanded, and we still do this today. This practice has served us very well, as there is no benefit in taking risks just for the sake of doing so.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Diverting away from what is core to the business was a failure lesson I learnt from early in the business. Supposing our industry was akin to a mechanized one, I sought and secured the agency to sell SKF bearings. The effort was a disaster and adter two years, we shut it down and stayed purely focused on our original mandate.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I would begin researching all of the emerging technologies in energy and try to identify the one that is most likely to be adopted on a widespread basis in the future. There is an opportunity to create a business that fills a niche in the industry now but will enjoy widespread demand in the future.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I am fortunate that my business ventures have been successful enough that I am able to donate a great deal to charity, and any time I see a stranger in need I make sure that I help them in any way that I can. Sometimes that means giving them some financial assistance, and other times it is a meal or warm clothes. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing the grateful smile from someone you know can never pay you back.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

Sahara operates the Oracle platform as a common software for our operating units. More importantly, I have an outstanding technology team that is constantly developing software that is specifically designed for our purposes.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I just read “Better Under Pressure” by Justin Menkes. It is a good read for CEO’s and entrepreneurs who feel that they need to understand how to take advantage of an ever dynamic and changing business landscape.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

I have always enjoyed the work of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his emphasis on social entrepreneurship. He preaches that we are all connected and are so much more than just individuals, which is why our work should benefit society as much as possible and we should engage in philanthropy frequently.


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