A Sahara Group desktop calendar sits on my desk as I clatter away at the keys of my computer. I actually glance through it, marvelling at all the claims contained therein. International trade it says, Tank farms, Agro-Business, Aviation support, Dreams and Inspirations….REWIND!!! Dreams and Inspirations? Is that a product or a service? That’s not all. Next I see Team Spirit, Focus and Pursuit? Oh I see, Sahara Group is not just about the products and services; it is about the people!!! [Wow I am good!!! I should be paid for this wonderful Ad I just put together; what do you think?]
The man to whom I will send my bill is Tonye Cole; offspring of Patrick Cole; wife of Sylvia Cole and father of …three children. He is the Managing Director and Co-Founder of Sahara Group; a conglomerate which is present in over 13 countries and whose interests cover trading, storage, energy and power resources, aviation, farming and real estate. From an office in 1996 which “was slightly bigger than a cupboard” to use the innovative man’s words, and the core business of trading excess fuel oil from the Port Harcourt and Warri refineries, the Sahara Group has expanded its tentacles to offices in Geneva, Switzerland -which actively trades in crude oil, gas oil, Jet A1, mogas and bitumen in global markets; Ghana, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Cameroon, France, Singapore, Dubai and Brazil. The success of this enterprise is simply astounding, more so because it is a 100% indigenously grown company, competing with established giants in the energy industry. This is a story of three young men who were determined to turn their perceived disadvantages, namely youth, and ‘Nigerianess’ into advantages.
Tonye Cole was born in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. He attended Corona School, Victoria Island and later King’s College, Lagos before proceeding to King’s School, Ely, Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom. He is also an alumnus of the University of Lagos and Universidade de Brasilia, Brazil. An Architect, he worked in a Brazilian architectural firm Grupo Quartro SA in Goiania Brazil from 1990-92. He was involved in the design and implementation of the urban planning and city development of Palmas, the capital city of the newly created state of Tocantins in far-away South America.
Tonye returned to Nigeria in 1993, and was quickly employed as the Director of Operations EMSA S.A., a Brazilian Civil Engineering Company- allegedly the 7th largest engineering firm in Brazil that was awarded a World Bank-financed water project valued at about $58m for the Lagos State Water Corporation-. To paraphrase the Bible, a man who is faithful in little, will be given even more, and a man who is diligent in another man’s business will be blessed with his; and vice versa.
In 2011, Tonye Cole launched the ‘NEHEMIAH PROJECT ‘, a project patterned after Nehemiah’s reputation as the rebuilder of Jerusalem. Tonye is doggedly positioned to empower and inspire Nigerian youths to discover, explore and realize their full potential. He is a frequent speaker at forums, meets and conferences. View one of his speeches here.
Of his company’s mission, Tonye says “We see ourselves as ambassadors to show what can be done as an indigenous Nigerian company, but we want to be seen from a global perspective and not just as a local player.” His CEO advice? “We learnt a long time ago to never make promises that we cannot keep and to never oversell and then fall short in expectations.”
Under-promise and over-deliver; tis the way to go folks.