Isabel dos Santos is an Angolan engineer, entrepreneur, and investor. She is Africa’s first female US Dollar billionaire and the richest woman in Africa with assets and stakes in several businesses in Angola, Portugal, and Europe.
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At age 24, Isabel established her first business, Miami Beach in Luanda, Angola. Thereafter, she ventured into other businesses including telecom; Unitel, Zap and made investments in Angolan and Portuguese companies. In 2013, Forbes named her the richest woman in Africa.
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Isabel dos Santos Background
Isabel dos Santos was born in April 1973 in Baku Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic SSR where her parents had met. She is the eldest child of former President Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola and his first wife, Tatiana Kukanova, a chess champion. Her father being the second-longest serving president in Africa led Angola from 1979 to 2017.
After her parents divorced, she moved to London with her Mum and attended the Cobham Hall School, and did A-levels at St Paul’s girls’ school. Subsequently, she attended King’s College, London and bagged a degree in Electrical Engineering. After graduating, she worked at an accounting firm, Coopers & Lybrand now PwC.
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Isabel is married to Sindika Dokola, a Congolese businessman and art collector. Sindika owns the biggest collection of African art in the world and is the son of a Kinshasa business tycoon. They met while studying at King’s College in London.
They got married in 2002 in Luanda and their union is blessed with three children. She is also fluent in English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.
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Isabel dos Santos Early Career
Dos Santos returned from London to Angola in the 90s at a time when the Civil war was almost over. She joined her father in Luanda and started working as a Project Manager Engineer in a joint venture by Jembas (Angola) and Rodiek (Germany), leading a waste management and recycling facility. In 1997, she established her first business, Miami Beach, one of the clubs and beach restaurants on the Luanda Island, Angola.
Next, she built a beverage logistics distribution company, then set up a walkie-talkie and tower relay system. Also, she invested in Unitel in 2001 – the biggest mobile phone provider in Angola revolutionizing Angolan telecommunications and introducing international call services and 4G Internet access.
Additionally, in 2015, she founded a retail chain Candando with hypermarkets and shopping malls in Angola. Aside from that, her business empire include assets in cement, diamond, oil, telecoms, banks, supermarket network, and brewery in Angola, across Africa, and Europe.
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Investment And Shareholdings
Isabel dos Santos has investments in several companies. For instance, aside Unitel, she also holds shares in Bianco BIC, ZON Multimedia, Bianco BPI, Nova Cimangola 16, Santoro Finance, Trans Africa Investment Services, Esperaza, Condis, Eurobic, Efacec, Galp Energia and many others.
However, there have been allegations levied against her in Angola and Portugal. They include; embezzlement and money laundering which led to her account being frozen by the two governments.
Isabel stated that the allegations are misleading and untrue. According to her, “this is a very concentrated, orchestrated and well-coordinated political attack. I have engaged lawyers to take action against inaccurate defamatory reports and allegations.”
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For more than 2 decades, Isabel held management positions in several companies listed on European Stock exchanges. For instance, in 2016, her father appointed her, the chairwoman of Sonangol, the Angolan state oil company. But João Lourenço, the new Angolan President removed her on his assumption to office in 2017. However, she still holds position in the following companies;
- Chairman of the Board of Director, Unitel
- Board member and shareholder at Nos SGPS (formerly Zon)
- Founding Member and Shareholder, Bianco BIC and
- Member of Board, Bank EuroBic and Efacec
- Board Member and Shareholder, Bianco BPI
- Founder, digital satellite Tv Operator, Zap now Angola’s number one TV distribution company
- Chairwoman, Angolan Red Cross
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Awards And Recognition
- Africa First Female US Dollar Billionaire, Forbes, 2013
- One of the 100 most influential women in the world, BBC 2015
- 1513 Billionaire in the World, Forbes 2020
- 13 Africa’s Billionaires, Forbes, 2020
- 74 Power Women 2017, dropped off in 2018, Forbes.
- Prestigious Global Financial Award, 2020
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Isabel Dos Santos Quotes
“I think there are a lot of people with family connections but who are actually nowhere. If you are hardworking and determined, you will make it and that’s the bottom line. I don’t believe in an easy way through.”
“Creating opportunities and employment for women means betting on the progress of the communities themselves. When they thrive, women invest their income in the family, health and education. I value this as a sense of duty, commitment, and dedication. The impact that women create around them is powerful and transformative.”
“Leverage your pre-existing talents and knowledge. If you’re going into a field that you know or have past experience with then you have a competitive edge.”
“I believe that goals are achieved when ambition is combined with skill and determination.”
“Be willing to assess yourself and determine exactly what it is that you’re capable of doing best. If you have weaknesses in certain areas, develop them into strengths.”
“Extraordinary times requires extraordinary measures, and extraordinary people.”
“I believe that we must start giving the prominence that girls truly deserve, because, one day they will be mothers and they will be the education book for their children.”
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Lessons From the Life of Isabel Dos Santos
Think Beyond The Present
After founding Unitel and Zap, Santos did some sort of forward-thinking; taking her time to analyse where the world will be in about two to three decades. From her thought, she clearly understood that though mobile companies are thriving, it’s not enough. And soon there will be a world beyond mobile, giving rooms to fintech, contents and several digital training platforms.
As a result, she invested in banking i.e Banco BIC, a retail supermarket chain, Candando and other platforms she believed will still be relevant in the future. These financial investments sustained helped her attain the richest woman in Africa position.
Everyone especially entrepreneurs needs to be forward-thinking and future centric. You need to be able to think about your product or service if they are future proof. Will they be relevant in the next decade?
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Isabel’s passion for business began at a very young age. She disclosed “I’ve had business sense since I was very young. I sold chicken eggs when I was six.” Having known what her dreams were, she began early.
On her return to Angola, she implemented most of the experiences and initiatives she saw in Angola. She was keen on driving the private sector at a time the influence of public investment was huge with little to no room for the private sector.
Instead of venturing into politics, she was keen on providing economic opportunities and being a business leader. As a result, at age 24, after much experience in the private sector, she began her business.
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Leverage Your Strength
Talking about some of the reasons for her success so far, Isabel dos Santos made some pinpoints.
Firstly, leverage on your pre-existing talents, networks, and knowledge. If you’re going into a field that you know or have past experience with, then you have a competitive edge.
Also, you need to know your capability and what area your strength lies in. Once ambition is combined with the right skill set, and determination, success is guaranteed.
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