11 September 2013

Success in Africa: CEOs share their insights

What does it take for a business to succeed in Africa?

To answer that question, Jonathan Berman spoke with the people who are doing business on the continent. Presently, there are 150 companies valued at over $1 billion in Africa and more than 500 companies with annual sales above $100 million. CEOs from foreign and domestic companies weigh in with their lessons on how to leverage the rising continent for success.

Success in Africa: CEO Insights from a Continent on the Rise recounts the conversations that Berman has with leaders ranging from GE’s Jeff Immelt to James Mwangi, CEO of the Kenya-based Equity Bank. Berman uses his experience in analyzing and working with the private sector to try to get at the heart of how businesses are having an positive impact.

“Success in Africa reveals a place where business is transforming millions of lives for the better, while generating wealth for those willing to lead. The power to transform lives is a driver for men and women passionate about business everywhere,” says Berman.

I spoke with Berman about the book and the debate over whether or not Africa is a rising continent. He also addresses some concerns that people have about the private sector entering African markets. Previous discussions with Berman have revealed a person who is a strong believer in what the private sector can accomplish, but is not blind to the potential negative impacts if companies exploit regions and/or people.

The idea that Africa is rising turns out to be a heated topic. Why does your analysis and experience lead to the conclusion that the continent is rising? In what way are current views on Africa and its countries distorted? What can be done to change those errors in judgement?

That it is a heated topic at all is a reflection of how strong Africa’s presence is in the world’s consciousness. The rapid change underway in Africa challenges a lot of treasured mythology about Africa as solely a place of happy animals and miserable people. You can see media outlets from CNN to HBO have a hard time breaking out of that mythology. See HBO’s current hit Newsroom, in which Africa is so tragic it drives poor Maggie insane. The development professionals I know have worked hard to reduce or eliminate African tragedy, and they recoil from that monolithic portrayal.

Of course, Africa’s a large and differentiated continent, so both the growth data and the related optimism vary. Even in a single country, growth is not linear. Nonetheless, the data of the last decade clearly support the assertion that Africa is among the fastest growing places on earth, and also the continent with the greatest optimism among polled businesses. I think about what Vimal Shah, the head of the Kenyan Manufacturer’s association, said to me recently. “All the ladders I see are pointed in the same direction.” They are of different heights, and not everyone is on that ladder yet, but I see what Vimal sees.

continue reading the interview on Humanosphere...