When he was 15 years old, Ashish Thakkar told his parents that he wanted to leave his school in Uganda to build a business. His family gave him a $5,000 loan, but he recalls receiving a stern warning from his father too: “If it doesn’t work out within a year then you go back to school, but you’ll be a year behind your friends.”
Mr Thakkar, now 32, never went back to study. Instead, the precocious young man spent the mid-1990s criss-crossing the continent to establish Mara Group, an African conglomerate that recently gained greater prominence by linking up with Bob Diamond, the former chief executive of UK bank Barclays.
The teenage Mr Thakkar started out reselling computers, which involved flying to Dubai each weekend to buy motherboards and hard drives that he would shift to customers in Africa. Under his leadership, Mara subsequently diversified into a broad range of activities, including call centres, property and cardboard packaging. It has operations in 22 African countries including Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, and Rwanda.