Wilfred-Sam King

Wilfred-Sam King

Business can be tough at times, but one pioneering entrepreneur has literally escaped the jaws of death and still came out shining the other end.

Meet Wilfred Sam-King. Sam-King is a famous businessman from Sierra Leone and by the tender age of 33, he had earned and lost a fortune three times over. During times of turbulence and civil war in the country, he had built a business from nothing only to see it torched or looted during a rebel invasion or coup.

In 1999 he had a close shave with death after rebels laid siege to an area called Freetown in his country where he lived. Not only were they going on the rampage, but they were actively seeking him out because he was Sierra Leone’s famed businessman.

Their intention was to take his money – and unfortunately for Wilfred they managed to capture him.

Thinking quickly, he had disguised himself in shabby clothes, pretending to be his own cook. He made soup for the rebels for three days before escaping.

During the civil war, his wife and children managed to seek refuge in Canada but he stayed put, determined not to leave his homeland.

With an almost supernatural sense of resolve and determination, he steadfastly rebuilt his fortune again, and today has created a small empire of hotels, retail shops and other businesses worth $20 million.

He is now one of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs. Born from a poor family, Wilfred went into business, buying and selling kerosene and palm oil, often lugging it five kilometres from the nearest town. He didn’t know how to count, so he marked notches on a box to count the coins.

Eventually, his parents managed to scrape up enough money to send him to school, where although he was behind because of his late start in education, he developed a fascination with reading and paid older students to tutor him.

He then went on to study at university, where he paid his way by mopping floors and washing dishes for Peace Corps volunteers and visiting professors.

At night time, he would sleep in classrooms due to the high cost of accommodation. With the money that he earned from his work at university, he bought a cheap camera and became the first photographer at his university to offer colour prints – which he accomplished by sending the negatives to Britain for printing.

As a result, he was then able to finance his own business. After a while, he was selling vegetables and other supplies to local mining companies. He built it into a $1-million business – and then saw it all stolen by rebels in the early years of Sierra Leone’s civil war.

He moved to Freetown and opened a stationery shop and office equipment business. Three years later, he lost everything again in the chaos of a coup. And when he rebuilt it for a second time, it was destroyed again in 1999 when the city was invaded by rebels who looted and killed indiscriminately.

Once the war came to a close in 2002, Wilfred then began to sell office supplies, he also started a construction company, managed a container port, built roads and hotels, and branched into tourism with beach resorts.

He explained how there wasn’t much competition due to people giving up on the idea of their homeland.

Now he plans to go public with a share offering on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. He told the Globe and Mail: “I want my company to live on. Most African companies die with their owners. But this country is definitely going to grow. I’m a strong believer in Sierra Leone.”

Wilfred also helps to fund 100 disadvantaged schoolchildren in his country, by paying their school or university fees. He still lives frugally, rising at 5:30 every morning to begin work.

But one of the most important reasons for success he said, was because he never gave up on his country.

In the same interview with the Globe and Mail, he explained: “When material things cloud your vision, you can’t be successful. My passion is to finish what we’ve started in Sierra Leone. Migrating to another country would jeopardize the whole effort.”

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