FORBES AFRICA has told many spellbinding business stories in its five years. The story of its own difficult birth is one of the most riveting.
The idea of the pan-African business magazine was born in the heart of a financial crisis which wiped out many investors and left businesses lucky to survive. The media suffered the most.
In the depths of the downturn in 2007, soon after launching CNBC Africa, a business and finance TV channel, the two founders, Rakesh Wahi and Zafar Siddiqi, wanted a magazine. It was the worst time to launch.
“The whole publishing market was collapsing around us. To launch a new title at that time; people externally would have said you are foolish. Some of our other shareholders did not want to invest in the publishing business owing to the economic downturn,” says Wahi.
The pair refused to throw in the towel.
“I had a strong feeling this was going to work. When I told Zafar about it, he only asked if how I felt about it and I told him that the brand would be an instant success and after his thumbs up, we ran with it.”
Towards the end of 2009, a meeting in New York sparked the interest in joining the worldwide FORBES family. The magazine has a string of franchises around the world, from FORBES MEXICO to FORBES INDONESIA.
Wahi followed his gut, in the face of scepticism.
“Every time we spoke about FORBES, people’s eyes would light up,” he says.
It was the right time, he believed. The pair waited for the market to turn around slightly and made their move.
“We didn’t like that very few African business leaders had made it into the international version of FORBES… people didn’t understand that there is so much entrepreneurship going on in the continent,” says Wahi.
It wasn’t easy. Building a pan-African magazine was expensive and complicated; but the gap in business and finance reporting in the continent was there to be filled.
It took about two years to complete the legal agreements of the franchise. The most difficult challenge was hiring the right people to steer the magazine to the top. Wahi’s 13 years in the Indian army, where he had become one of the youngest to receive the Vishisht Seva Medal (a military decoration in India) in 1986, helped.
“The army teaches you about looking after people. The core of it is that you have to do things together and you have to inspire people.”
He brought these principles with him to the world of entrepreneurship.
“When we were looking at finding an editor for the magazine, I searched around trying to see who would be the right fit… I was impressed by the experience people brought to the table but something was always missing… Chris Bishop’s name came up because he had done a great piece of work for me a couple of years before that, and impressed, so we took him on… He said he would even do this job for free,” recalls Wahi.
Magazines were in trouble everywhere. In the United States, according to MediaFinder, 152 closed in 2011 and 82 in 2012. In South Africa, Heat, Seventeen, FHM, Sports Illustrated and Shape are a few magazines that shut down because of declining advertising, circulation and competition from online.
Despite this, on September 28, 2011, on a night of glitz and glamour in Johannesburg, billionaire Patrice Motsepe unveiled the historic first cover of FORBES AFRICA.
It turned out that Wahi’s decision to hire Bishop was the right one. In just five years, the team has turned FORBES AFRICA into the leading business magazine in Africa against the odds.
The magazine came out ahead of its competitors in the IPSOS Affluent Survey Africa in 2014 and 2016. The independent research study, released on August 4, shows FORBES AFRICA reached 163,000, or 4.7%, of the 3.4 million qualifying adults, aged between 25 and 64, across seven markets.
“What we have managed to achieve in just five short years is truly remarkable. Our success is attributed to the hard work and dedication of our teams from across the continent,” says Sid Wahi, Executive Director at ABN Publishing (FORBES AFRICA).
The IPSOS 2016 figures show a 7% increase from the 2014 survey.
“As the founding editor of this magazine it gives me immense pride to see our circulation figures increasing; all this at a time when magazine circulation around the world is falling. I think this is a tribute to the hard work and determination of our young band of highly talented journalists,” says Bishop.
FORBES AFRICA’s work has been recognized by various accolades awarded to the journalists and the editor. The hard work is also appreciated by readers. In Zimbabwe, entrepreneur, Blessed Mushamiri, says he drives around the city looking for a copy each month.
“Sometimes I have to drive to five different uptown shops to bump into one but I don’t stop looking. If I can’t find one, I ask people in South Africa to send me some copies. When I read FORBES AFRICA it engages me in an affair of pure pleasure, an exciting brush with business in Africa that shows me, as a young entrepreneur, that I can participate in something rare and thrilling. It is a must-read for every businessperson,” says Mushamiri.
In West Africa, Emeka Akano, CEO and Co-Founder of Jara Mobile Ltd, says reading about entrepreneurs from different backgrounds who make it to the FORBES lists has inspired and motivated him.
“Features in the prestigious FORBES AFRICA magazine have gone a long way in giving me much more exposure to a credible audience, increased my personal profile beyond measure, opened doors for new business opportunities and business connections,” says Akano.
No matter the praises, Wahi says there is still more work to be done. He wants to grow the magazine to an even bigger success story, as with many of his other businesses.
Wahi is a smart entrepreneur and risk taker. An audacious one, five years ago, put this magazine in your hands.