Setting up a computer selling business as a high school student, Ashish supplied computers to his friends, school mates and school and soon went full blast into business, though his parents had warned that it was back to school, if the business thing did nt work out. But it did work and now, years later, Ashish is not just at the head of a global business conglomerate, he employs over 5,000 people across Africa, sits on the African Council of the World Economic Forum and has been named Africa’s Youngest Billionaire by Forbes Magazine.
This June, Ashsish Thakkar will be in Nigeria, as guest of wave-making consulting firm, Thistle Praxis. Ashish will be the keynote speaker at the 3rd edition of ThistlePraxis‘ African CEO Roundtable on Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility, which will take place in Tinapa from June 20-21. Ini Onuk is Lead Consultant/CEO at ThistlePraxis, convener of the African CEO Roundtable on Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility. She is engaging, passionate about CSR and fixated with leadership as the fulcrum of sustainable growth, innovation and positve change. This apostle of corporate sustainability spoke about why they are bringing the young billionaire to Nigeria and why transformational leadership exhibited by people like Thakkar is essential for corporate growth and sustainability.
Ms. Onuk agrees that Ashsish Thakkar is the youngest keynote speaker they will be having at the three-year old conference. “Ashish is our youngest Keynote speaker yet, however, he has demonstrated innovation and leadership through his Mara Group of Companies and has been globally recognized as same. Apart from the Forbes Listing as Africa’s youngest billionaire; The World Economic Forum named him one of the world’s global leaders and also identifies his company as a high-growth organisation. Also, he is a thinker and has shown example of how you can be young and be a leader and how you can drive an innovative business with a sustainabilty focus.“ Onuk agrees too that Thakkar is not very popular in Nigeria but is quick to note that the choice of keynote speaker is not usually a popularity contest.
“It is not about how popular he/she is although it is important that such an individual is a recognised leader and/or expert in the chosen field. So, it is really not about where the person is right now but more about the theme and its alignment with his/her professional achievements.“
She goes ahead to note that the African CEO Roundtable & Conference on Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility is a landmark event and one of the events on the African continent’s business calendar that speaks to sustainability and responsibility and one that “looks at bringing together the public and private sectors on issues of corporate social responsibility, on issues of sustainability.“ Returning to the issue of the keynote speaker, Onuk stresses the point that keynote speakers are elected as a means of advancing the argument and the conversation as refelcted in theme.
“We start with finding the right theme. One that captures the essence of the event and aligns with its central objective. Our themes are usually selected from various issues and contemporary trends. After the theme, we then begin to shortlist leaders for the role of delivering the keynote address. A few basic questions guide our checklist: who is credible enough to speak in that field? Who has the knowledge? Who has worked in that area? Who has a superior argument? Who is known and respected as a leader and/or an expert on that issue?“
For the very first edition, Onuk recalls, Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland, was seen as a perfect fit on account of her work on Business and Human Rights, Climate Change as well as Justice and CSR. The focus that year was on the business case for CSR and the African continent For the second edition, Thistlepraxis was focusing on the building of synergy between the public and private sectors to increase the mileage for sustainable development.
For that topic, every one agreed that Dr. Gro Brundtland, a two-time Prime Minister of Norway and one who is popularly known as the ‘mother of sustainable development‘ was the best fit. “So this year,“ Onuk continues, “we have our first male, our first non-politician and the youngest speaker because this year we are talking about driving innovation through transformational leadership, which Ashish Thakkar has exhibited despite his age.“
Ashish Thakkar might be young and relatively unknown in Nigeria, but he has an impressive business resume. Thakkar has one of the fastest growing businesses in Africa. The Mara Group is known as one of the businesses that has unleashed a lot of growth; he has the Mara foundation pushing up serious entrepreneurship among young people. He has a packaging company, which has grown, within two years, into a multi-billion naira business. He has an IT business, which has grown in leaps and bounds. He is starting up a sugar manufacturing company in Africa. He is also starting up a glass company.
According to Onuk, “Mara Group of Companies has done creditably well in such a short time. Ashish is a very smart and formidable businessman. The Mara Group is known as one of the businesses that has recorded sustainable growth. In addition, the LaunchPad and Mara Foundation promotes entrepreneurship.“ Thakkar noted in an interview with Forbes that he believes in giving back and not in an adhoc way but in a sustainable, measurable and incremental way.
“I believe it is imperative for businesses to give back to their communities. I have taken my greatest lessons in business and created the Mara Foundation to help early stage entrepreneurs. We are very proud of the work we do through the Foundation, which is helping to tackle problems in education and providing much needed support to young entrepreneurs at the start of their journey. Mara Foundation provides three different types of support.”