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How to become an African success story: Six tips from Zambeef’s boss

Francis Grogan is the co-founder and CEO of Zambeef, a US$300m-plus business with operations in Zambia, Nigeria and Ghana.

Francis Grogan is the co-founder and CEO of Zambeef, a US$300m-plus business with operations in Zambia, Nigeria and Ghana.

“There was no empire in the beginning I can assure you of that,” said Francis Grogan, co-founder and CEO of Zambeef, a US$300m-plus business with operations in Zambia, Nigeria and Ghana.

Born in Ireland, Grogan arrived in Zambia in 1991 to help a struggling meat factory before starting Zambeef in 1994 with his Zambian-born business partner, Carl Irwin. The company got its first big break when South African retail giant Shoprite entered the market in 1995 and asked Zambeef to operate their in-store butcheries.

Today Zambeef is a market leader in the production, processing, distribution and retailing of a range of meat and agri products – such as beef, edible oils, flour and stock feed, to name a few. In addition to over 110 independent retail outlets and Shoprite butcheries throughout Zambia, as well as three wholesale depots, the group also runs the fast-food brand, Zamchick Inn.

In an interview with How we made it in Africa, Grogan shares some of his tips for growing a successful company in Africa.

1. Working with governments is vital

“It’s absolutely important,” emphasised Grogan. “If you don’t have a good working relationship with the ministries that are particular to your business, I think you are going to have serious problems. If you are going to butt heads with the policy makers, you are asking for trouble. It’s the same with every country. That’s normal.”

He added the Zambian government has been a key stakeholder in Zambeef and advises business people to interact with policy makers and align their interests. African governments want their country’s industries to be developed and employment to rise. If a company can show they are investing for the long term, and can positively impact the economy, governments are likely to see a benefit in creating an enabling environment for the business to grow.

“I work particularly with the ministry of agriculture… and if we can convince them of what is needed to promote the beef industry in Zambia, for example, they will take it very seriously. They work closely with companies like us, and they take us seriously because we are 100% committed to the development of Zambia, in particular its meat and agricultural industries.”

2. Hire local talent and have a training programme to promote them

“We see people running into Africa now with big cheque books trying to do this and that. But you need to have hands-on local experience to know what you are doing,” he explained.

Zambeef has invested in a training programme for its management and staff which aims to develop skills and bring promising employees through the ranks. And according to Grogan, this is the backbone of an African success story.

“The people we have at Zambeef are the reason we are successful. It’s not me in particular, it’s the fact that we have, over the last 20 years, managed to hire and train really good, passionate, hard working, devoted staff,” said Grogan.

He added that a lot of Zambian employees have been at the company for 10-20 years and have an expert understanding of the industry. “Look, no cheque book could buy you that.”

3. Don’t ignore the informal sector

Grogan advises business people not to underestimate the large informal market in Africa. In fact, he believes the sector holds some of the greatest potential for business. “The informal sector in Zambia is massive – it’s probably about 75-80% of business.”

In the poultry industry in Zambia, for example, Grogan estimates that no more than 25% of chickens are sold processed. The rest are sold alive in the informal market. “And our stock feed business is doing very well with selling feed to this informal live bird market.”

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  • selemani

    Excellent Article, very motivational!

  • Luke kayembe

    I have learnt alot today reading through you messages on how you made it in africa. In your prehumble its quiet impressive that you say there was no empire in the beginning i can assure you; says your word. This is real motivating.

    You have a thrilling history out there and for me as an admirer of farm work i tell you i am itching to find ways on how you can help. From 1991 to 1995, i can see within limits and space of time how you were able to move forward.
    Their are key issues i have picked from your points:

    1. you have talked of working with the government, as vital.

    2. Use of local talents and how you have praised your workers as without them, you would not succeed, amazing since its coming from you.

    3. no cheque book you said could buy you good persons, quiet impressing out of this wonderful statements.
    But i have a few reflections on your thoughts; i will begin by thanking you Mr francis grogan and your colleague Mr Carl Irwin a zambian born fellow.
    Many of our brothers and sisters in this nation have a total share of benefit to your business investment and some of whom are employed up to today as in 10 to 20 years of service at your company.
    secondly i would like to ask is the $300m you mentioned million dollars of investment or $300 dollars?
    the other thing is a point by point you mentioned and let me bring them out:
    Working with government which is a fact. Although local young farmers like me with a developing spirit to work and change my life the government can not support. for example i had animals cattle’s for me to transfer them from chavuma district to mufumbwe district in north western became an issue and i had to kill 25 heads of cattle’s because i was denied pass to transfer them. So i still feel i am brought down instead of developing me in some ways and this is a big discouragement.
    Developing local talent for sure this is great, but it takes finances for poor individuals to do this is a great trouble. Am sure in your country there should be a deliberate policy to help develop individuals with developmental agenda. imagine i have farm land of about 180 hectares, last year i grow only 9 hectares, why i could not manage to buy the farm inputs but if i was in a country where the government can encourage and give support, i am sure i could make it.
    You said no cheque could buy you a good person i agree with you very strongly but at the same time i will also partially disagree with you. Your company has been the most out standing company. Zambeef has the most listening boss, you and your friend Mr Carl Irwins.

    Your workers are not among those who complain about being miss used or under payments you are always complying with labour laws and i commend you for that. Surely some companies would rather corrupt certain elements to have there way to total benefit of them selves and not the people that work for them but its not like that with your company.

    Your are an excellent group of individuals. Your meat, milk product cooking oil etc is excellent and clean to all high standard. Allow me to applaud you for this because i am a proud zambian who is proud about zambeef and i can tell the whole world if i was your spokes person about the major benefit of your company. As a student in degree program in development studies i have always reffered to zambeef as the only out standing company in this country.
    May i end by saying you should consider helping developing young farmers like me. May be you can take chance of visiting my land in north western province of zambian and see how i am encouraging my local community on how to trust and rely on farming as the major benefit towards developing a nation free of hunger and economically.
    Its always a sad thing to teach people how to live but not providing solutions. Some times i get a headache out of this.

    I see my local people are willing to go the farming way and to try and help themselves but when it comes to issues of implements its another sad story. My hands are also tied where my financial resources remains a major constraints.
    As you read through this long thoughtful reflections, you should know am a professional RN/MIDWIFE and and under graduate student of bacherous of Arts development studies. I love farming as blood flows in my heart and everything i do, i smell farming. I think i only lack strength to doing it, because this is what my mother taught me when i was young and so i have grown with it. Thank you for providing a forum on how to reach you and talk to you, zambeef, feeding the nation!

    • selemani

      Hi Luke,
      I found your contribution very interesting.
      Please GET in touch, I would like to be exchanging notes with you.
      [email protected]

  • I’m Sam one among the best professional butcher meat butchery consultant 13years experience in meat and food industries I have trained a lot of Company in nigeria on meat processing,steak,chops,display cabinet,manirated I know more about beef,pork,chicken,lamb/goat I plead if I can work as one of your region manager with my experience…

  • kattato garu

    Zambeef appears to be doing well but the share price has plumetted over the last couple of years to new lows. Small investors are hurting and we get very little positive news to lift the stock. When will Zambeef help its investors to realise the growth on investment they deserve?

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