Personality of the week:Isabel dos Santos

Isabel dos Santos (born 20 April 1973) is an Angolan investor considered by Forbes to be the richest woman not only in Angola, but the whole of Africa. In 2013, according to research by Forbes, her net worth had reached more than three billion US dollars, making her Africa’s first billionaire woman. She is the daughter of Angola’s President José Eduardo dos Santos, who has ruled the country since 1979.

Family and education

Isabel dos Santos was born in Baku, Azerbaijan SSR, the oldest daughter of Angola’s President José Eduardo dos Santos and his first wife, the Russian-born Tatiana Kukanova, whom he met while studying in Azerbaijan. Her father’s parents came from São Tomé and Príncipe. She studied electrical engineering at King’s College in London.

There she met her husband from Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo), Sindika Dokolo, a son of a millionaire from Kinshasa and his Danish wife. There were reports that when they got married in Luanda in December 2002 the wedding ceremony cost about US$4 million, with a special choir flown in from Belgium and two planes chartered to bring food from France. About 800 guests were present at the wedding, half of them relatives of the couple, and also several African presidents.

Business activities

In the early 1990s, Isabel dos Santos returned from London to join her father in Luanda and started working as a project manager engineer for Urbana 2000, a subsidiary of Jembas Group, that won the contract for cleaning and disinfection of the city.

Following that, she set up a trucking business. The widespread use of walkie-talkie tecchnology paved the way for her subsequent foray into telecoms. In 1997, at the age of 24, she started her first business by opening the Miami Beach Club, one of the first night clubs and beach restaurants on the Luanda Island.

Over a period of nearly 20 years she expanded her business interests, leading to the creation of several holdings, in Angola and mostly abroad, and to make substantial investments in a series of prestigious entreprises, especially in Portugal.

In December 2014, the Togolese magazine Africa Top Success named Isabel dos Santos as “African of the Year”. The Angolan businesswoman competed against five opponents, namely Angélique Kidjo, Lupita Nyong’o, Daphne Mashile-Nkosi, Fatou Bensouda and Koki Mutungi.

In November 2015, the BBC named Isabel dos Santos as one of the 100 most influential women in the world.

As part of the BBC series 100 Women, which elects women who every year made a difference in their area of operation, Isabel dos Santos was chosen for the list for her leading role in the economy and development of the African continent.

In an interview with British public service broadcaster, issued on BBC World News channel, Isabel dos Santos stated that we are seeing a change in the way investors look at Africa, and that education remains a big gap in Angola’s development.

Isabel dos Santos was also asked about the role of women in politics and business, stating that “there’s a young generation of African women who are highly educated and also are very exposed to the world and (…) they want to change History. And that’s our dream, make Africa a place like anywhere else in the world.”

In 2016, Isabel dos Santos participated as a speaker at the “Leader del Futuro” meeting, within the 42nd edition of The European House – Ambrosetti Forum, one of the most influential think tanks in Europe. Speaking about “Leadership and Business” in a panel on Africa, Isabel dos Santos said that “an idea and the ability to innovate is at the heart of any business” and “we must never let expectations or stereotypes hinder our way.”

Investments in Portugal

Since 2008 she has had relevant interests in telecommunications, media, retail, finance and the energy industry, both in Angola and in Portugal. In addition to her commercial interest in oil and diamonds, Isabel dos Santos also owns shares in the Angola cement company Nova Cimangola. Jadeium, a company held by Isabel dos Santos, acquired 4.918% of ZON Multimedia shares from Spain’s Telefonica.

Through the Netherlands-based Unitel International Holdings BV, a company controlled by Isabel dos Santos, the Angolan businesswoman is the main shareholder of ZON Multimédia with 29% since July 2012. She is member of the board of Angolan bank in Lisbon, Banco BIC Português, and through Santoro Holding she holds 20% stakes at Banco Português de Investimento.

She has other major stakes with the Angolan state oil company Sonangol through their mutual European Law holding, based in the Netherlands, named Esperanza Holding, in Portuguese Galp Energia. Isabel dos Santos is a founding member and Board member of Banco BIC Português, which recently acquired Banco Português de Negócios, a nationalized bank.

Since November 2012 Isabel dos Santos is a non-executive board member of ZON. In December 2012, Isabel dos Santos announced the invitation for a merger of ZON with Sonaecom, proved in March 2013 by the General Assembly.

Eight months later, after the green light from the Competition Authority, the merger of the two companies was formalized on August 27, 2013, with the transfer to ZOPT, a special purpose vehicle created to advance the operation which became the owner of more 50% of the capital of the new group, the shares that Isabel dos Santos and Sonaecom hold on Zon and Optimus respectively.

There was a capital increase of ZOPT through contribution in kind from 50 to 716 million euros, while Sonaecom subscribed 358 million shares of the company, by delivering 81.8% of its stake in Optimus.

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