At the recent World Economic Forum on Africa, held in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, Heineken CEO Jean-François van Boxmeer emphasised the importance of local African “captains of industry”.
“Capitalism cannot be built only by foreign direct investment. It is a blend of national investment and foreign direct investment,” he said.
Van Boxmeer pointed out that over the years more powerful African business leaders have come to the fore, highlighting the example of Nigerian cement tycoon Aliko Dangote.
“When I was a young boy I started to work in Africa for Heineken in Cameroon and Rwanda and the former Zaire, and I remember there were some business leaders who were Africans but they were at the most wholesalers. Today, Aliko is an industrialist and one of the biggest ones. And that is the evolution that I have seen in the 30 years.”
Last month Dangote, Africa’s richest man and the founder and CEO of industrial conglomerate the Dangote Group, was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the world for 2014.
Dutch-based Heineken, the world’s third largest brewer, has operations in 20 African countries.
Africa currently accounts for close to 20% of Heineken’s revenues, and the region has been the fastest growing part of its business over the past decade.
Van Boxmeer said Nigeria is the brewer’s second biggest market globally. In Nigeria, Heineken’s majority owned subsidiaries are Nigerian Breweries and Consolidated Breweries, producers of beer brands such as Heineken, Star, Gulder and Turbo King, and malt drinks Amstel Malt and Maltex. The company recently announced plans to merge the two businesses.
Speaking about Nigeria’s security challenges, Van Boxmeer noted that leaving the country is not an option for Heineken and that he is predominantly concerned about the safety of the company’s staff. However, this is a worry Heineken shares with many other companies in the country, he said.
The Heineken chief urged the international business community not to overlook Africa’s potential, calling the continent “the best preserved secret”.
“Don’t be afraid to invest,” he said.
According to Van Boxmeer, foreign appetite to invest in Africa has grown since the financial crisis.