APO Group is the largest media relations' consulting company in Africa with clients ranging from Silicon Valley giants like Facebook and Microsoft to technology multinationals like Orange and Nokia to Fortune 500 management consulting firms like PwC and Ernst & Young. Headquartered in the city of Lausanne, the Group operates primarily in Africa and, to some level, the Middle East consulting firms on their media strategies and providing them with its press release distribution platform. The 'Group' in the name is a reference to APO Communications, APO Consulting and APO Technologies, the three divisions that make up APO Group.
It was also founded and is chaired and 100% owned by one man - Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard.
Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard is a 43 year old married father of 3 with both French and Gabonese nationalities who grew up in the Southwest of France. He studied law there and went on to become a journalist for a regional publication. But it wasn't until his job as a European correspondent for Gabonews that his focus on Africa and its media environment started taking shape. Working at Gabonews, he was responsible for European news related to Africa. Statements from European leaders, cultural exchanges, sports, etc. that concerned Africa, he had to know and for that he was in contact with diplomatic missions, governments and institutions all over the continent. He also had to collect as many press releases as possible from these bodies and through that process realized that it was extremely difficult to get European news about Africa including press releases from European governments and institutions on Africa. But he then found getting press releases of African governments and institutions was even harder to access by a long shot.
Pompigne-Mognard says that was when he realized that the voice of Africa was 'struggling to be heard'. 'There were statements, there were releases' adds Pompigne- Mognard, but they never reach the target audience. Soon after that he had a series of meetings with the then president of the African Development Bank, Donald Kaberuta. In one of those meetings Mr. Kaberuka told him that there was good news in Africa but that no one was listening and added that the dissemination of economic information about Africa would contribute to the actual growth of the continent because it encourages companies and investors to think about investing in Africa.
Pompigne- Mognard claims that was a very significant moment in his career. He set out to solve the problem of African misrepresentation in the media after that. He contacted all major African organizations and asked them to send him their press releases. It took a few months after that, but he started getting the press releases albeit in all sorts of different formats. His first job, therefore, was to standardize these press releases he was getting and making them available. It didn't earn him money during the first stages and he claims that he didn't start it as a way of making money. In fact, he had no plans to start any sort of company or become an entrepreneur then. He then made a deal to provide his feed of press releases to Bloomberg Terminal, and then to Dow-Jones' Factiva, LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters all big names in news aggregation and with that APO was born.
Pompigne- Mognard has been the CEO of APO until December of 2018 when he stepped down and hired Lionel Reina, a former executive in Orange Business Services. But he is still 100% owner of the company he founded and its chairman. He was asked about these unusual arrangements for such a business to business focused large company by Addis Standard in an exclusive interview held in Addis Abeba. He claims that he is not a 'finance guy' and that his company's growth is purely organic. Owning 100% of it stems from the fact that he started the company with money he saved up and didn't borrow anything from family or banks. In fact, he says APO has zero debt today and that is because the growth of his company is directly tied to the value he is adding to his clients businesses and not to any perception of returns it would have in the future. He says this is the best way to do business as opposed to the credit and debt run mechanism seen all over the world.
He attributes his success to hard work and 'some luck'. While the hard work part is evident in the 60% growth his company registered just last year, the luck part, Pompigne-Mognard claims, is largely Africa itself and the opportunities available if one is willing to do the work to take advantage of it.
Pompigne- Mognard significantly improved his English after he realized that he could do business with only about half of Africa speaking just French. He also encourages Africans to speak at least these two languages as 'we are lucky to live in a continent where speaking two languages allows you to do business with at least 80% of the countries'.
A fan of the Castel Winery produced 'Rift Valley' wines in Ethiopia; Pompigne-Mognard now works mostly on consulting some of the largest clients of APO Group and setting up a fund. He also spoke of his interest in joining the agriculture sector in Africa, as well as the local art industry. The self-characterized 'simple man' has found success in following his own way of doing business and looks set to repeat it in his ventures to come; a good lesson for African and global entrepreneurs alike. AS