Four South African companies taking on the world

Four South African companies feature in Boston Consulting Group’s list of 100 “global challengers”. To be selected, they need to be of a certain size, with credible aspirations to build truly global footprints. Global challengers are also growing faster than their peers.

Sasol has become a global player in the energy and chemical industries.

Sasol has become a global player in the energy and chemical industries.

How we made it in Africa takes a brief look at each one of these South African companies that have a real shot at becoming leaders in their industries.


Aspen Holdings is Africa’s largest pharmaceutical manufacturer. It supplies branded and generic pharmaceuticals in more than 150 countries across the world, as well as consumer and nutritional products in selected territories.

Aspen has 18 pharmaceutical manufacturing sites on six continents. Four are located in South Africa, three in Australia, and one in each of Germany, Tanzania, Kenya, Brazil and Mexico.

In 2003 Aspen launched the first antiretroviral (ARV) drug developed and manufactured in Africa. ARVs slow down the progression of HIV/Aids. Today Aspen is regarded as one of the leading global players in generic ARVs.

The company was started by current chief executive Stephen Saad in a suburban home in 1997, when he was 33. Saad told BizNews in an interview that he doubts if there is a South African company with a greater global footprint than Aspen.


Founded in 1950, Sasol has become a global player in the energy and chemical industries. In fact some have even accused it of overlooking South Africa in favour of international projects.

Sasol’s activities include converting coal into liquid fuels, crude oil refining, the supply of pipeline gas, and the manufacturing of chemicals. The company is listed on both the Johannesburg and New York stock exchanges.

While about 75% of Sasol’s profits still come from South Africa, its home market is likely to contribute less to its bottom line in the coming years, according to analyst David Shapiro.

Last month the company unveiled Mozambique’s first permanent large scale gas-to-power plant. The project is a partnership between the Mozambican state power utility, Electridade de Mozambique (51%) and Sasol (49%). In the US, Sasol is also mulling the construction of a gas-to-liquids plant in Louisiana, one of the biggest foreign investments ever in the state.