11 May 2017

Africa: Thoughts On LSE's 'Companies to Inspire Africa'

With the new report released by the London Stock Exchange on 'Companies to Inspire Africa', experts admit that the report has further affirmed that Africa's burgeoning population holds the key to the region's economic fortunes.

Indications that the future is looking bright for Africa, emerged recently when the London Stock Exchange in partnership with Africa Development Bank Group, CDC Group, PwC, and FTI Consulting revealed Africa's most inspiring small & medium-sized enterprises. The report, 'Companies to Inspire Africa', showcases outstanding stories of innovation, bravery and growth across the continent. It brings Africa's entrepreneurial spirit to an international audience. For its relevance to future economic calculation, captains of industry and top management officers of both LSE and Nigeria Stock Exchange, who witnessed the Lagos event congratulated all the companies featured for their vision, ambition and tenacity.

Among other things, the landmark report identifies fastest-growing and most dynamic private businesses across Africa as well as demonstrates breadth and diversity of African businesses with 42 countries across seven major sectors represented. The sectors include; consumer service, industry, technology and telecoms. Others are; renewable energy, agriculture, healthcare and pharmaceutical.

In the report, data shows robust average annual compound growth rate of company revenues of 16% over three year period 2013-2015. It also highlights strong company performances and the potential for these firms to become the next corporate champions powering Africa's future economic and social development.

Significance of the report

In her opening comment to the report, the Secretary Of State, Department for International Development, the Rt Hon Priti Patel MP pointed out that it is the success of the identified companies that will drive Africa forward to a future of prosperity, and away from a reliance on international aid.

She also emphasised the place of entrepreneurship in economic development of the continent. According to her, entrepreneurship is the cornerstone of any vibrant economy.

She said: "It is the motor that drives investment, job creation and economic growth. Throughout history, sustained, job-creating growth has played the greatest role in lifting huge numbers of people out of grinding poverty.

It is entrepreneurship that delivers the life-changing progress that comes from growth in developed economies, and it is entrepreneurship that is beginning to deliver the same in Africa,"

Speaking on what informed the publication, the Chief Executive Officer of London Stock Exchange, Xavier Rolet, said LSE sits at the heart of the world's most international financial market, to play a central role in bringing together ambitious, growing companies from around the world with globally-minded investors.

He stated that key to that role is a continual effort to raise awareness in emerging markets of the unrivalled investor base that exists in London seeking exposure to new geographies and opportunities. He added that the LSE works to educate and introduce investors to the opportunities that these companies and countries may offer.

For the first time ever, we offer the market a definitive report identifying hundreds of Africa's most inspirational and dynamic private, high-growth companies - ones which have come to the attention of major global investors. The motivation behind researching and publishing this report was to demonstrate what we instinctively believe -that these companies are fundamental to the successful future of the African economy, with enormous potential for growth and high-quality job creation. The companies we list and profile boast an impressive average compound annual growth rate of 16%. On average, each firm employs nearly 400 people.

FTI position

In bringing the Lagos event to the right perspective, a panel of discussants, including the CEO of Diamond Bank, Uzoma Dozie; partner at PwC, Andrei Ugarov; Managing Partner at FTI Consulting, Joel Kibazo and another partner at PwC, Kwabena Asante - Poku spoke on 'Future Growth Opportunities in Africa. Among other areas, the discussants spoke on whether there is room for more of the same, the role of technology and the challenges of governance, politics and FX.

In a unanimous voice, they reasoned that the new report demonstrated that high-growth; private companies are fast becoming the driving force behind

African economies: developing skills, creating high-quality jobs and driving economic growth.

Kibazo, whose consulting firm - FTI Consulting has traversed the continent in the area of offering strategic management and consulting, public relations and communication Advisory for major multinationals, told THISDAY that the fact that biggest contingent of the companies come from Nigeria spoke volumes for the potentials of the market. He added that the biggest thing is that the report has given hope, excitement and the fact that Africa has a good story to tell as Africans.

He said: "Nigeria has been going through a difficult economic situation over the last two to three years. It looks as if the country is now coming out of it. But what this publication really shows is the strength of companies across the African continent, particularly the biggest contingent coming from Nigeria. It shows that there is hope. It shows that there are companies that are doing good work. It shows that there are companies that are managing to succeed in spite of all the challenges that you find in Africa. These are audited companies, these are companies that have been scrutinised and yet they have come out on top,"

Speaking on why FTI, a global firm that is reputed to have worked with different companies, signed a partnership deal with Nigeria's Caritas Communications Limited recently, he said it was part of the firm's plans for international growth.

"We have four thousand seven hundred employees working in 29 countries. The reason why you have partnerships locally is because you can't always be on the ground in everything and sometimes even if you are on the ground, you will have specialism you may not be able to meet may be sitting in London, New York or Washington . So we have a wide circle of partnerships across the African continent and so Caritas falls within that. We have been working with Caritas on quite a number of clients and businesses that are pertaining specially to Nigeria,"

He however stated that Caritas is not the only consulting firm the company has worked with in Nigeria but pointed out that Caritas in the context of the work FTI does in Nigeria has shown that it has the ability to execute the assignments to the level that the global company is able to feel comfortable and meet international standards.

"We are a global firm so at the very least, what we look for in a partnership with local consultancies is the competence to deliver to the level at which our clients want. Caritas falls within that group,"

On how Nigerian government can manage its poor perception by using Public Relations, Kibazo admitted that issues related to poor understanding of the importance of PR in perception management is not unique to Nigeria.

"I work across the African continent and I have worked in many of the countries that have the same challenge of public relations. Governments just need to realise that communicating to their populace and them being able to be understood in terms of legislation, regulation and the systems is necessary. There is need to have professionals do the job. As a law, many of these offices have a PR officer so it is not by mistake that they have that. If you look in many western countries, what they have is an internal Public Relations Officer and then they also have the external Public Relations Officer who assists with the various programmes that you have to execute.

"Sometimes, they assist but sometimes the person on internal communications also helps out in the external communications. There are different combinations that can work. But I think slowly as we as a continent grow, and get to know a lot more different things, we can also change,"

To this end, he warned against taking Nigeria out of Africa while discussing issues related to peculiar challenges faced in businesses with regard to communication.

"I don't like taking Nigeria out of Africa because the challenges that you face here are not that different to my own country of Uganda. For instance instability of power means that the business costs are much higher and if you are competing internationally, there is no way you can do it because your cost is much higher. So whether it is power, whether it is in an environment that is fully regulated or the regulations are not yet in place, these are some of the challenges. However, these challenges are not only being faced by Nigeria, they are also faced by many other countries on the African continent. I think there is need to ensure that there is a conducive environment for businesses to operate whether it is taxation or regulation,"

Narrowing his discussion to how FTI affiliation with Caritas Communications benefits companies such as the ones listed among 'Companies to Inspire Africa', the expert simply said the sort of companies to inspire Africa are all potential clients at some point. He called on PR practitioners to look at them like that, adding that as these businesses grow, there will be need for PR services whether in the area of communications and public affairs.

"No doubts, they (Companies to Inspire Africa) would want to use consultancy services. So, that means that while we are happy that the publication is there, we are also hoping and thinking that some of them might want to use our services. So that's the way in which I see it.

Nigerian perspective

Adding a Nigeria's voice to the discussion on the importance of the report to the economic growth in Africa, the Chief Executive Officer of Caritas Communications, one of the continent's leading reputation management consultancy firms with specialist services for all sectors, including power and energy, telecommunications, and public sector, Adedayo Ojo corroborated the views of the Managing Partner, International, PwC, Warwick Hunt, who observed that the report clearly shows there is a proliferation of fast growing, innovative and dynamic private businesses in Africa.

In an interview with THISDAY, Ojo said the companies identified in the report have a real opportunity to help change the markets, economies and communities they touch, not just within their local borders, but well beyond them.

Speaking on his firm's partnership with FTI, he pointed out that there are lots of benefits that collaboration can bring when a local agency works with a group such as FTI.

"There's a lot of benefits that collaboration can bring when you work with a Group such as FTI. A cursory look at the breadth of services that FTI Consulting Group offers will show that they are not a typical public relations, advertising and communications company. They have specialists in technology, Corporate Finance, Strategy, Communication and in diverse areas within the Group. When you attempt to learn more about the company, what you see will amaze you. The kind of work that they have done across several sectors has continued to improve the repertoire of knowledge that they have, which now becomes available to any new client that comes on board.

"So it's a great privilege to have a company like that. It's a multi-cultural environment, an environment where you have people with diverse background. If you look at our environment in Africa, most of our communication consultants in Africa comprise largely of communication specialists and that is one significant difference with a Group like the FTI Consulting. It is indeed a Group because you have people who are specialists in diverse areas. All of these guys come to work together depending on what needs to be delivered to the client".

Contrary to the belief that companies tend to cut down marketing budget during recession, Ojo said emphatically that it is almost impossible for any strong brand to be built without marketing communication support.

"I doubt that is practicable. As I always say, the time when good work spoke for itself is gone. Today, more than before, you just have to engage people because technology has made life much easier. If you are talking, conversing and engaging people, your competition is doing as well and you are going to be drowned within a short period. It's even more important today to build your strategy; how you will communicate, engage and understand your publics and your stakeholders. Brand building can't be done successfully, without investment of resources in talent and funding, otherwise you will find out that the exercise is futile".

For Nigerian firms willing to offer supporting services to 'Companies to Inspire Africa' the Caritas boss advised them to step up their game and operate in line with global best practices to have competitive edge.

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