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Private equity pioneer: Helios CEO Tope Lawani on his career journey, the future of fintech, impactful investing, and so much more

March 23, 2022

Private equity pioneer: Helios CEO Tope Lawani on his career journey, the future of fintech, impactful investing, and so much more

Tope Lawani

Co-Founder & CEO of Helios Investment Partners

An inspiring discussion takes place on this episode of the Walker Webcast between Willy and his guest, private equity pioneer Tope Lawani.

On this week's Walker Webcast, we’re joined by Willy’s Harvard Business School classmate, private equity pioneer, Tope Lawani. Tope’s firm, Helios Investment Partners, is the largest private equity firm in Africa, focusing on technology, infrastructure, and sustainability. Tope and Willy discuss his upbringing, education, and career journey as well as investment opportunities in Africa, the future of fintech, and so much more.

Tope begins by telling his origin story, which seems to be a perfect preparation for his immense contributions today. Surrounding his childhood home were neighbors from Taiwan, Israel, Korea, Jamaica, and Sierra Leone – learning and interacting with people from different parts of the world. Tope shares, "I grew up in an extremely multicultural environment. From the get-go, I was always comfortable with everyone coming from different backgrounds. I went to school with the kids from all strata of society. They were children of the president, the vice president, all the heads of the armed forces. But equally, a decent percentage of my school kids were probably the first kids in their entire family history ever to go to school. They turn up to school with all their belongings in a sack of rice." Tope adds that his unusual childhood can be difficult to replicate in this just the way the world is these days. 

Working for TPG Capital from 1996 to 2004 taught Tope to be creative, entrepreneurial, hard-working, and empowered. He later moved on and started his own firm, Helios. Raising that first fund exclusively focused on Africa was no walk in the park. "There was some benefit of just naivete, which helped to be honest, because I think a first-time fund in a pretty niche market is either impossible or it's easy. There's no such thing as it's in the middle. It's either just it won't happen, or you might stumble into some blind luck, and then it happens."

From telecom towers, undersea cables, oil and gas, fintech, and more — there's so many to start for Tope where everything he touches seems to turn to gold. Helios is a 6-time award winner for Firm of the Year for Africa by Private Equity International. It's amazing how substantial the capital they've raised for infrastructure investments is. "There are many great things, and I think better about investing in Africa. We've pioneered and have been first in discovering many things. The economic infrastructure needs to exist at some point, and we have to build it now as opposed to buying it."

Links:

Learn more about Tope Lawani and Helios.

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