Meet Africa’s Youngest Millionaire, Ashish Thakkar, Founder of Mara Group of Companies

I go out and see what others are doing and I get back to working. I have never settled

Ashish Thakkar

I have written the story of Larry Page of GoogleMatt Mullenweg of WordPressMark Zuckerberg of FacebookJeff Bezos of Amazon and others: all of these people took a huge risk at certain points in their lives to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.

This is the story of another brilliant billionaire changing the way business is done in Africa.

Ashish Thakkar is just 32 years old; and he is the Founder of Mara Group of Companies – a wildly successful company that runs businesses in IT services, agriculture, manufacturing, real estate and hospitality.

Currently, Mara Group of Companies employs over 10,000 people and has operations in 22 African countries, and these include Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. The annual turnover of Mara group of Companies is over $100 million, and the group is valued at over $1billion.

This makes Ashish Thakkar Africa’s youngest dollar billionaire.

The Story of Ashish Thakkar …

…before Mara Group of Companies

Ashish Thakkar was born in the United Kingdom, grew up in Uganda and now lives in Dubai, UAE.

His first leap towards starting a business was at the age of 15. He made a whooping $100 from reselling a computer to a friend of the family and then decided to borrow $5000 to buy and sell computers. He told his parents he wanted to drop out of school to do business. His dad agreed and gave him an ultimatum of one year to either be successful or return to school.

Guess what! He never returned to school since then.

Was his business instantly successful? No, so what happened?

He persisted through the hard times…

Ashish Thakkar has a story to tell about his first ten years in business. He said,

Every business was leaning on each other and that’s how you grow, initially you don’t have a choice … I really took a large risk . . . to fund it I just basically leveraged everything I could …

But there was light at the end of the tunnel.

Ashish Thakkar noted that in the early 2000s, Africa began to experience stronger economic growth and better governance; and he was able to take advantage of this trend and his vast network to quickly grow his business.


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Wisdom Nuggets from Words from Ashish Thakkar

Ashish Thakkar regularly reveals the secrets of success in business in interviews and talks. On Standard Media, he said,

On the advice of my elders, I took the right steps, such as registering my business and being part of the formal sector. I paid taxes; I started building a track record so I could get loans. Thinking short term is futile, I learnt; think long term

… I was persistent even when they refused to offer me credit; I questioned this and refused to accept the norm. If I had got comfortable, I’d still be a small-time businessman trying to grow

… I don’t juggle, I just pretend to be smart, yet I don’t run anything. I oversee my fantastic team of smart, empowered individuals who help me run the organisation. I’m involved in strategy and spearheading growth.

.. I can genuinely tell you that I wasn’t tracking my wealth; I was focusing on the challenges as I was new in business. I didn’t have mentors. I didn’t track it or celebrate, I was cautious. I’m very impatient, I want everything done yesterday. I reinvested everything in my business. The only way you are going to grow is if you keep on planting.

At an interview with Forbes, Ashish Thakkar said,

I believe a strong sense of perseverance, always thinking big and aiming high, and of course positivity, has allowed me to realize my vision. We have a truly motivated team and take pride in our energetic, flexible and long-term approach to relationships with employees, partners and clients. This, combined with astute leadership and a can-do culture built on motivation and people, is what pushes Mara onwards and upwards

… We are very active and fortunately we have built a strong network of contacts both in government and in business. Business at the end of the day is about people and relationships and we are very good at developing both.

… If you have the idea, the business plan, the team and the leadership to execute it, the funding will come more easily, but key to all this is a mentor to guide you! The advice I would give is to be persistent and never give up, challenges are a part of the process, take them on head on.

… Ten to twelve years ago, the mistake I made was whenever I started a new project I wouldn’t focus on existing ones. That was a huge mistake. You must always keep your eyes on all the balls, no matter how small or big those ventures are.

Four (4) Core Principles of Mara Group of Companies

Ashish Thakkar mentioned 4 core principles of Mara Group of Companies

He said,

  1. Whatever we do has to be game changing. It has to break the mould.
  2. It has to have a positive social impact. We’re not an NGO [non-governmental organisation], but we would never get into mining and exporting minerals as they are, just to make a quick buck. We don’t automate processes unless it’s necessary
  3. Whatever we do has to be Pan-African, something we can replicate.
  4. Whatever we do has to be Mara branded.

How Mara Group of Companies is Doing Business in Africa

Talking about barriers to business in Africa, Ashish Thakkar said,

The key thing to understand is that we’re not India or China; we’re not one country of a billion people. We’re 54 different countries as a continent and as sub-Saharan Africa, we’re 46 countries. So how do you truly plug into the local state and then replicate it to make it multicountry?

I think that’s where the opportunity lies.  Everything is doable. The skill sets and the infrastructure in Africa are better than what people envision.

… That’s how we’re operating every single one of our companies. We combine global partners with subject-matter expertise and local expertise, along with capital. It’s a winning combination.

Mara Group of Companies Gives back to the World …

As a young man, Ashish Thakkar is already giving back to the world through their foundation – Mara Foundation.

Mara Foundation provides mentorship and funding to entrepreneurs in Africa.  As part of their offerings, they run a mentorship program, Mara Mentor, designed to link upcoming African entrepreneurs with business leaders in Africa for advice and network.

Ashish Thakkar revealed his reason for setting up Mara Mentor. He said,

I know that for entrepreneurs at the start of their journey, fear of failure can be a very real obstacle to their progress. For me, the best way to overcome that fear is to access guidance from real business experts.  That is why we have developed Mara Mentor – the tool that every entrepreneur needs in their pocket.

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