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A Pure Coincidence

This alumnus became a successful, international entrepreneur at 24 years old.
Yacoub Sidya
You could say that Yacoub Sidya discovered Northern Kentucky University by accident. 

Sidya, who was born and raised in Mauritania, Nouakchott, moved to the U.S. and originally began his college career in Miami, Florida. During a trip to Cincinnati while visiting a childhood friend, he ended up at the Town & Country Sports Complex in Wilder, Kentucky. 

It just so happened that NKU’s men’s soccer team was practicing there that day. Sidya, a lifelong soccer player, jumped in to play with them and was surprised to be recruited on the spot. 

“The best part of my upbringing was playing street soccer all day. It was the first thing I did every day after school,” he says. “I thought this was just a fun pick-up game, but Coach Toebben asked me afterward if I went to school at NKU. He found out my story, and our conversation turned to, ‘Would you want a scholarship?’ It was pure coincidence, and I’m so thankful it happened.”

"NKU greatly shaped my life. It’s a great place to get an education, and I want others to have an experience like mine."

Once Sidya enrolled at NKU, he became a general business major and chose finance as a minor. It was quite the adjustment for Sidya as an international student—especially because English was his third language. 

“Communicating with people, teachers and anyone new I met was challenging,” he says. “Trying to keep up and be at the same level of comprehension as an American freshman while also still trying to be a ‘cool’ college kid wasn’t easy. I remember my freshman year… I used to spend most of my time translating or looking up definitions of words.” 

However, Sidya adapted quickly and made several friends on the soccer team and in between classes. 

“NKU truly is a tight-knit community, which was very helpful for me to adapt to the U.S. college experience as a young guy from Mauritania who not only didn’t speak the language nor had been away from his hometown but also had no clue about the American way of life.”

After graduating from NKU, Sidya coached young kids and refereed games at the very Town & Country Sports Complex where he was recruited to play soccer. A few months later, he found himself in West Africa working as a French-speaking employee for Discoverytel, a U.S.-based telecoms company. 

Things changed for the budding entrepreneur in June 2003 when there was a coup d'état attempt in Mauritania. For 48 hours, the country did not have a functioning government. Robberies happened all over the country, and Sidya’s sister was one of the robbery victims. When Sidya told her to find a more reputable security company, she told him there was only one in town. Sidya, who had been looking for a business idea, decided to launch his own security company—originally named Mauritania Security Services (MSS)—and began pitching to big companies in town. 

“When I started, I had no clue about security,” he says. “I had to do my homework and learn the business quickly. I was the CEO, but I was also on the ground as a supervisor. I had to do everything myself.” 

When MSS began providing security services for big clients like the United Nations, it put them on the map. And by 2008, MSS became the largest, private employer in Mauritania. As the company expanded its geographic reach to other countries in West Africa, Sidya adjusted the company’s name to Managed Security Services. MSS was later approached by a junior mining company that owned the Tasiast gold mine, one of the largest gold mines in West Africa, and wanted MSS to provide security services for its executives. Sidya became interested in the gold mining industry and began investing his own funds into gold mining.

And in 2015, he founded Phoenix Precious Metals (PPM), a Dubai-based mining and gold trading company.  Even though it’s been more than two decades since Sidya graduated from NKU, his connection to the university is still quite strong. 

“Many of my teammates are still my close friends today,” he says. “Some are even my business partners. Soccer at NKU was a time I’ll never forget—the mentorship, the friendship, the coaching. Those who believed in me and built into me helped shape the rest of my life.” 

Sidya says he’s forever grateful for the connections he made on campus as an international student, and that’s why he created the Yacoub A. Sidya Endowed Scholarship. 

“NKU greatly shaped my life. It’s a great place to get an education, and I want others to have an experience like mine,” he says. “NKU helped me get my first job and opened up my horizons. If it wasn’t for certain professors, faculty members, coaches, nurses… I wouldn’t be where I am today. Everyone played a huge role in shaping me during those influential years. Not only did it equip me with some of the best tools to prepare me for the business life I dreamt of having, but also the campus environment helped build self-confidence, especially as an international student. Not every foreign student gets the chance to be accepted in the ordinary campus life at other universities across the country. And I wanted that for other Africans like me. I want to help young students from Mauritania, my home country, and eventually other countries in Africa.” 

Learn more about Yacoub’s journey on the Ask NKU podcast:

About This Article

Lizzie Kibler
Jayna Morris
Editor, NKU Magazine
Published May 2021
Photography provided by Yacoub Sidya

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