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Power Entrepreneur Shatters The Glass Ceiling

The rebuilding of Angola’s infrastructure after its 27-year civil war ended in 2002 means Soraia Neto can expand her food distribution network into the next frontier.

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At popular beach restaurant Coconuts on Ilha de Luanda (Island of Luanda), Soraia Neto arrives with her three-month-old child and her child minder. Instantly disarming with her pretty, youthful features and soft voice, she introduces her two companions. “They join me in the office every day,” she says, smiling.

As 29-year-old Neto sits down to a glass of lemonade, conversation turns to business. Neto set up food distribution company Chimera Lda and truck company V.D.G. Lda in 2009. She now distributes five food brands to various clients, including international marine fuel logistics company Pumangol and plans to expand into Angola’s provinces.

“My prices aren’t more competitive but I try to offer excellent service,” Neto explains when asked how her relationship with Pumangol blossomed this early in her entrepreneurial career.

“I work seven days a week if necessary.”

Neto set up her businesses upon her return to Angola, fresh from France’s Sorbonne University. Her family moved to France when she was four years old. From ages 12 to 15, she attended the French school in Luanda before moving back to Paris where she studied economics and international business. She concluded her third internship at Africa-oriented French brand representative Pierson Export, which asked her to continue working with them in Angola. Soon afterwards, she set up Chimera Lda.

“For Angolans, all it takes to set up a business is three days, plus a minimum investment of $1,000. To speed up the process, you need shareholders. My brother is shareholder of V.D.G. Lda, my husband owns half of Chimera Lda. I’m hoping to build a group of companies in the future to spread my risks,” she says.

Neto invested $40,000 of her own money into her business and borrowed another $160,000.

“My annual turnover is $165,000, while annual profit is just $35,000 due to costs. Annual growth is 35%. I expect to be debt-free at the end of this year.”

Within three years, the number of products Neto sells has grown from one to five. She has eight employees. “This is why I returned to Angola. There are opportunities here that you’ll never get in Europe due to competition. If you’re intelligent, do things properly and have a few connections, you can grow fast here,” she says.

Angola’s food import industry is dominated by Lebanese and Indian importer-distributers, but competition is on the rise. Neto buys her products—McVitie’s biscuits; Grisbi biscuits; Suave toilet paper; Vanans pastries; Jota Food popcorn; Lays; Ruffles and Cheetos chips—from Lebanese importers Fratelli, AngoMex and IMT Trading. Suave, Vanans and Jota Food are Angolan brands.

“The Lebanese are the kings in the food market. No-one has managed to out-compete them. I love them, they truly understand African markets. I don’t import myself yet because of the big risks involved and the fact that you have to mobilize lots of money. I do want to import in the future. As an importer-distributer at the beginning of the distribution chain, you have more power and control over the market,” says Neto.

Neto has her eye on food products from the States.

“That’s dollars for dollars,” she explains. “The cost of euro products are very, very high. And with Chinese or Indian food products, you have to be physically present at the export site to control their quality.”

Neto’s goal is to own and distribute her own frozen food brand.

“I want to buy brandless cooked food in the US then design my own packaging in Angola. My brand name will be Comida da Sara, after my daughter.”

She estimates that it will take her up to two years to turn this dream into a reality.

“I’ve already got the place. It’s an old $400,000 soap factory on Samba road. But buying machines and refrigerators is a big investment. I have to make more money first.”

Neto aims to expand her food distribution network into Angola’s next frontier: its provinces, which are being made more accessible by the rapid rebuilding of Angola’s infrastructure after its 27-year civil war which ended in 2002.

“You can improve lives there with simple products. In Luanda, there is big competition,” she says. Neto already distributes products to MWA, a company that operates outside Luanda. Angola’s coastal provinces offer the best opportunities.

“Many people from the capital work in Lubango, Lobito and Huambo. They were very important during colonial times and are once again growing quickly,” says Neto.

Needless to say it is not all roses in Angola. “Many people here don’t have a professional conscience, even if you pay them a good salary. I’m trying to employ more people but can’t find them,” she says.

“Corruption is an element you have to integrate if you want to make millions and do big business, rather than a stumbling block,” she adds.

“I prefer not to because in African countries political contexts can change suddenly. I have connections with people in power, but prefer to remain independent and grow slowly but surely so that people don’t show up one day and say: ‘Hey, give back that money, it’s not yours’.”

According to Neto, being a woman is not an obstacle. “There are not many female entrepreneurs in Angola and the ones that do exist, are appreciated and respected by the other sex. As a woman, you have more power over men.”

Her femininity facilitated the start of her entrepreneurial adventure.

“It was easier to meet potential male clients and arrange meetings. They were more flexible, welcoming, talkative and less aggressive. The way you relate to people is the key to success in this business.” Neto prefers to work with men. “I think men are more serious,” she says. “Girls get pregnant and have too many responsibilities at home.”

Entrepreneurs

Leaving Airplane Middle Seats Empty Could Cut Coronavirus Risk Almost In Half, A Study Says

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A new research paper from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates that blocking out the middle seat on airplanes could cause the likelihood of passengers being infected with coronavirus to drop by nearly half, just as some airlines are starting to book flights to capacity again.

KEY FACTS

  • According to the MIT paper (which has not been peer reviewed) the chances of catching coronavirus from a nearby passenger on a full airplane when all coach seats are filled is about 1 in 4,300.
  • However, those odds drop to 1 in 7,700 when all the middle seats on board are left empty, the paper states.
  • Taking into account a 1% mortality rate according to the statistical model, the likelihood of dying from a coronavirus case contracted on a plane is far more likely than dying in a plane crash, which has odds of about 1 in 34 million, the paper stated. 
  • In “Covid-19 Risk Among Airline Passengers: Should the Middle Seat Stay Empty?” the author of the study, Arnold Barnett, wrote that his analysis aims to be “a rough approximation” of the risks involved in flying during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • “The airlines are setting their own policies but the airlines and the public should know about the risk implications of their choices,” Barnett told ZDNet this week.
  • The paper comes just as more flight carriers, like American Airlines, begin booking flights to full capacity despite surges of the virus across the country. 

KEY BACKGROUND

The coronavirus pandemic has been disastrous for the travel industry, and has especially hurt airlines. Major American carriers including American, Delta and United have asked employees to take buyouts and early retirement, Forbes reported, in a bid to cut costs as the pandemic causes them to bleed cash. United Airlines warned this week that it could be forced to furlough 36,000 jobs, or nearly half of its American workers, starting in October if travel doesn’t pick up. In April, the airline estimated that in the first quarter it lost $2.1 billion pre-tax, Forbes reported, and was losing $100 million a day in the last half of March. Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said in May he expects a major airline to go out of business in 2020 as a result of pandemic pressure.

NEWS PEG

American Airlines announced two weeks ago it would begin booking middle seats again starting in July, although the carrier will allow passengers to switch from a full flight without any extra cost, Forbes reported. United is also selling tickets for middle seats. American Airlines took flak earlier this month when Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) tweeted a picture of his crowded flight

WHAT TO WATCH

If airlines continue to extend their policy of keeping middle seats blocked off or if they’ll be forced to book to capacity to turn a profit. Southwest and Delta have both committed to keeping their middle seats blocked off until at least the end of September, while JetBlue will do the same through July, according to the Washington Post.

Carlie Porterfield, Forbes Staff, Business

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Entrepreneurs

From The Arab World To Africa

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Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi; image supplied

In this exclusive interview with FORBES AFRICA, successful Dubai-based Emirati businesswoman, author and artist, Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi, shares some interesting insights on fashion, the future, and feminism in a shared world.

Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi wears many hats, as an artist, architect, author, entrepreneur and philanthropist based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). She currently serves as the CEO of Paris London New York Events & Publishing (PLNY), that includes a magazine and a fashion house.

She runs Velvet Magazine, a luxury lifestyle publication in the Gulf founded in 2010 that showcases the diversity of the region home to several nationalities from around the world.

In this recent FORBES AFRICA interview, Hend, as she would want us to call her, speaks about the future of publishing, investing in intelligent content, and learning to be a part of the disruption around you.

As an entrepreneur too and the designer behind House of Hend, a luxury ready-to-wear line that showcases exquisite abayas, evening gowns and contemporary wear, her designs have been showcased in fashion shows across the world.

The Middle East is known for retail, but not typically, as a fashion hub in the same league as Paris, New York or Milan. Yet, she has changed the narrative of fashion in the region. “I have approached the world of fashion with what the customer wants,” says Hend. In this interview, she also extols African fashion talent and dwells on her own sartorial plans for the African continent.

In September, in Downtown Dubai, she is scheduled to open The Flower Café. Also an artist using creative expression meaningfully, she says it’s important to be “a role model of realism”.

She is also the author of The Black Book of Arabia, described as a collection of true stories from the Arab community offering a real glimpse into the lives of men and women across the Gulf Cooperation Council region.

In this interview, she also expounds on her home, Sharjah, one of the seven emirates in the UAE and the region’s educational hub. “A number of successful entrepreneurs have started in this culturally-rich emirate that’s home to 30 museums,” she concludes. 

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Entertainment

Kim Kardashian West Is Worth $900 Million After Agreeing To Sell A Stake In Her Cosmetics Firm To Coty

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In what will be the second major Kardashian cashout in a year, Kim Kardashian West is selling a 20% stake in her cosmetics company KKW Beauty to beauty giant Coty COTY for $200 million. The deal—announced today—values KKW Beauty at $1 billion, making Kardashian West worth about $900 million, according to Forbes’estimates.

The acquisition, which is set to close in early 2021, will leave Kardashian West the majority owner of KKW Beauty, with an estimated 72% stake in the company, which is known for its color cosmetics like contouring creams and highlighters. Forbes estimates that her mother, Kris Jenner, owns 8% of the business. (Neither Kardashian West nor Kris Jenner have responded to a request for comment about their stakes.) According to Coty, she’ll remain responsible for creative efforts while Coty will focus on expanding product development outside the realm of color cosmetics.

Earlier this year, Kardashian West’s half-sister, Kylie Jenner, also inked a big deal with Coty, when she sold it 51% of her Kylie Cosmetics at a valuation of $1.2 billion. The deal left Jenner with a net worth of just under $900 million. Both Kylie Cosmetics and KKW Beauty are among a number of brands, including Anastasia Beverly Hills, Huda Beauty and Glossier, that have received sky-high valuations thanks to their social-media-friendly marketing. 

“Kim is a true modern-day global icon,” said Coty chairman and CEO Peter Harf in a statement. “This influence, combined with Coty’s leadership and deep expertise in prestige beauty will allow us to achieve the full potential of her brands.”

The deal comes just days after Seed Beauty, which develops, manufactures and ships both KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, won a temporary injunction against KKW Beauty, hoping to prevent it from sharing trade secrets with Coty, which also owns brands like CoverGirl, Sally Hansen and Rimmel. On June 19, Seed filed a lawsuit against KKW Beauty seeking protection of its trade secrets ahead of an expected deal between Coty and KKW Beauty. The temporary order, granted on June 26, lasts until August 21 and forbids KKW Beauty from disclosing details related to the Seed-KKW relationship, including “the terms of those agreements, information about license use, marketing obligations, product launch and distribution, revenue sharing, intellectual property ownership, specifications, ingredients, formulas, plans and other information about Seed products.”

Coty has struggled in recent years, with Wall Street insisting it routinely overpays for acquisitions and has failed to keep up with contemporary beauty trends. The coronavirus pandemic has also hit the 116-year-old company hard. Since the beginning of the year, Coty’s stock price has fallen nearly 60%. The company, which had $8.6 billion in revenues in the year through June 2019, now sports a $3.3 billion market capitalization. By striking deals with companies like KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, Coty is hoping to refresh its image and appeal to younger consumers.

Kardashian West founded KKW Beauty in 2017, after successfully collaborating with Kylie Cosmetics on a set of lip kits. Like her half-sister, Kardashian West first launched online only, but later moved into Ulta stores in October 2019, helping her generate estimated revenues of $100 million last year. KKW Beauty is one of several business ventures for Kardashian West: She continues to appear on her family’s reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, sells her own line of shapewear called Skims and promotes her mobile game, Kim Kardashian Hollywood. Her husband, Kanye West, recently announced a deal to sell a line of his Yeezy apparel in Gap stores.

“This is fun for me. Now I’m coming up with Kimojis and the app and all these other ideas,” Kardashian West told Forbesof her various business ventures in 2016. “I don’t see myself stopping.”

Madeline Berg, Forbes Staff, Hollywood & Entertainment

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