10 thought-provoking quotes on doing business in Africa

We feature 10 inspiring quotes from leading business people, entrepreneurs and thinkers.

Erika Amoako-Agyei

Erika Amoako-Agyei says there is a marked difference between business cultures in Africa and the West.

On building sustainable businesses

“It doesn’t make sense to want to try and keep all of the gains for yourself. You have a much more viable business system when you have partners along the value chain who have a vested interest in the long-term survival of your business because they derive a living from your business system. That is the ultimate formula for sustainability on the continent.” – Bill Egbe, President, The Coca-Cola Company South Africa

On entrepreneurship

“I think today’s youths are highly innovative but have been inhibited by, among other things, the lack of capital. Ignorance and the usual ‘thinking-inside-the-box’ have crippled the entrepreneurial desires of many youths. Most have succumbed to pressure from family and friends to go for job opportunities and have a stable life as opposed to taking the rough terrain of entrepreneurship. Education should foster innovation. To succeed they should take the risk. Youths should not wait to have a lot of money before they can venture into business. They should think big, start small and start now.” – Eric Kinoti, MD, Shade Systems East Africa (Kenya)

On the transformative power of ICT

“Whenever you take a large population and connect it, you start to see rising standards and the expectation of rising standards. And that is where I think Africa is today. As a result we start to see improvements in governance, not because we have a sudden magical transformation of leadership, but because we have different expectations of leadership. We are seeing a growing coherence, a growing confidence of the continent speaking as a continent. Less insecurity, less preoccupation with the past and a growing focus of what is possible in the future.” – Mark Shuttleworth, software entrepreneur

On attracting venture capital funding

“When assessing an SME for finance, the primary focus is first on the nature of the entrepreneur. Are they involved in all aspects of their business and do they possess the commitment and drive to make their business a success? Next, we look at the business’ chances of success. We define success as the business’ ability to generate a profit year on year. Bearing this in mind, we ask entrepreneurs to approach us with a business plan that illustrates how they intend to grow.” – Rishi Khubchandani, GM, GroFin (Kenya)

On emerging markets

“The intense media coverage of the problems in developed economies (better called ‘stagnant economies’ now) continues to mask the potential of the rest of the world. The irony is that 90% of the media’s 24/7 coverage is concerned with the West, whereas 90% of the opportunity is in emerging markets.” – Stephen Jennings, CEO, Renaissance Capital

On new project ideas

“If you have a project or an idea and you want to invest specifically in Tanzania, the first thing that I suggest is that you look at the wealthy African and Asian communities living in Dar es Salaam, and ask yourself, ‘Why hasn’t someone else done it yet?’ Certain communities have access to a great deal of capital that doesn’t involve banks, there are no stringent investment criteria and therefore they can take advantage of opportunities quickly. So taking a deeper look into why someone else has not invested in the project you are interested in, could save you time in the long run.”  – Micha van Winkelhof, MD, Newport Corporate Advisory (Tanzania)

On managing work and personal life

“The term ‘work life balance’, is an anomaly in itself. It means that we see the two roles as very separate. I identify myself not through roles but through what I achieve in life as a whole – I am a mother, country manager, daughter, wife, sister and friend. My intention is to always do a fantastic job at all roles that I fulfil. In doing this it is important for me that in whichever role I am engaging that I give a 100%. I may not be able to do this in parallel for all roles and at all times, but my intention is set and the people in my life know that I am sincere in whatever I say and do. I plan a lot and I set up my environment to be able to support my needs at all times.” – Videsha Proothveerajh, South Africa Country Manager, Intel

On corruption

“The problem with corruption is it totally immobilises everyone. Just imagine you are a young [person finishing school and] you have to decide on a career. If you are in China you look up and you see who is making money, it is the entrepreneurs. They have an engineering degree . . . and are billionaires in dollars. That is the people they want to emulate. In many countries in Africa, you look up and you see no engineers, you just see people that play the political system and make money, and you are so discouraged, and you say, ‘Why should I study for five years to be an engineer, when there is no one making money this way?’ The way to make money is to go and study a BA for three years, go into politics and milk the system.” – Koos Bekker, MD, Naspers (South Africa)

On staying focused on the opportunities

“This is the place to be . . . with all its challenges. Let’s go and work hard. I know there are hurdles and [conditions in Africa] are not every day the way we would like it to be, but look through that [and] see the opportunities because they are ample.” – Johan van Deventer, MD, Freshmark (South Africa)

On the difference between business cultures in Africa and the West

“The Western need to produce quick and tangible results, for example, can clash head on with the African slower pace and longer-term outlook. The fact is, many North Americans focus on product presentation from the moment they arrive. Their interest lies in closing the deal as quickly as possible. In the time-driven cultures of North America and many parts of Europe, people pride themselves on conducting business at lightning speed and favour a quick and individual approach to decision-making. Conversely, many African firms strongly believe in tapping into the collective wisdom of the entire team, even though there is a great degree of hierarchy. The African approach to decision-making does not mean that local business people are unable to take quick decisions or get things done individually. Rather, it represents the cultural significance of consensus and consultation, which tends to guide the decision-making process in Africa’s group-oriented cultures.” – Erika Amoako-Agyei, business consultant (USA)