What makes African business leaders successful?31 January 2014


Sara Firouzyar

On Wednesday, 29th of January, we had the pleasure of welcoming frontier markets development expert, Jonathan Berman, to an event at the Institute of Directors to discuss his book – Success in Africa – with a diverse group of investors, commentators, multi-national companies and start-ups, some of whom have a long track record of operating on the Continent and some who are just dipping a toe.

Jonathan shared fascinating insights from the CEO interviews which make up the focus of his book – viewing Africa from the perspective of business leaders who are building successful local enterprise. Here are the insights which resonated most strongly with us:

  • Google ads achieves more click-throughs from Africa than all of Europe. A surprising fact for some sceptics, but one that pointedly demonstrates the current reality of the Continent!
  • Jonathan likened leaders operating in frontier African markets today to characters like Rockefeller, Carnegie and JP Morgan at the dawn of the 20th Century in the US economy – entrepreneurs whose ambition was matched only by the scale of the opportunity presented to them
  • To succeed in business in Africa you have to be able to embrace risk – One of the reasons why the Chinese are so successful in Africa as partners to local governments and as suppliers to transforming infrastructure projects is that they have experienced this in their own country first hand within their own lifetimes.
  • There are regulatory uncertainties and there is corruption within Africa, as within many other emerging, frontier and indeed developed markets, but long-term transparent relationships are the best way to negate these risks
  • Successful businesses in Africa earn their ‘license to operate’ from local people by aligning their interests with the interests of their shareholders. Developing your business while also developing local economies and societies is a strategy that all of the CEOs Berman spoke with championed.


We continue to be inspired by African stories and are grateful for everyone that came and contributed to the conversation.