Freddie Achom does not look like the stereotypical investor or entrepreneur. Sporting dreadlocks that tumble to his shoulders, he is dapper, yet relaxed, in a blazer over a shirt and jeans. Achom is articulate and humorous as he recounts his journey to the pinnacle of global enterprise. He might not have got there if he wasn’t encouraged to take a chance while moving from studying medicine to business while at university.
“I started working for a stationery company and it was then that a more senior member of staff said to me, ‘you are really good at business development. How long have you been doing it?’ And I said, ‘this is my first job. I’m just here for the summer and when university starts again, I’m off.’ Then he said to me ‘you should consider it. Your bosses are not telling you that you are doing something really special.’”
“There was a commission sheet where you recorded what you brought into the company and for me it was never enough so I had to flip it over and fill it out all the way to the bottom of the next page. I did that week in, week out. He said ‘I’ve been here five years and I’ve never seen anyone do that, so you should consider it.’ He actually encouraged me which is strange because here’s a man getting all the accolades of training me and he’s telling me, ‘you need to get out of here.’”
Aware of his talent, Achom moved to work for a surveying firm. While there, he was headhunted to join a professional business development firm, an experience which he credits for developing his self-confidence.
“The director was pretty quirky but he had a lot of faith in me. I think I got most of my conviction and belief there because he was self-made; an interesting guy from up north (of England)… He said I could do whatever I wanted. He said ‘you should set yourself a target where you can touch things.’ And he said to me ‘what watch are you wearing?’ I said ‘just some regular watch.’ So he said ‘buy yourself a Rolex watch. How long do you think it’s going to take you?’ I said ‘I don’t know.’ He said ‘just set yourself that target and do it.’”
Six weeks later, Achom saw the director sitting in his office and showed him his watch.
“He went ‘you’ve bought the watch already!’ I said ‘yes, I bought it a couple of weeks after I saw you.’ I set my target and I checked how much it was and I think I bought it about a fortnight after he told me. He was genuinely impressed.”
The next phase of the journey saw Achom establish his first company in partnership with a group of associates. They built a consultancy and strategic funding agency and sold it after three years. Cash in hand, Achom went on to explore other ventures that led to the establishment of his private fund and flagship company, Rosemont Group Capital Partners. Achom serves as the chairman of the group which holds a diverse portfolio of companies including Communication Power Engineering Company (CPEC), a renewable energy service company and one of the oldest listed companies on the Bombay Stock Exchange.
Other companies under the group include BWC Management, a wine brokerage company and Hershey Pascual Fashion, a high-street women’s fashion brand. Achom’s interests also reach into the restaurant and nightclub industry where he holds stakes in a number of leading spots, including Jalouse in Mayfair and the famous Scotch of St. James in Westminster.
Recently, Achom has diversified his interests by switching his focus to the technology industry. Never one to play small, he announced plans to invest in 20 start-ups by 2017, an excursion that will see him invest around $9.2 million. Considering the skyrocketing valuations in the industry, he is aware of the pitfalls that lurk beneath opportunities.
“The technology space is almost like back in the Wild West where everyone has got their tools out searching for gold. And we all know that though everyone went out, only few came back with lorries of it. Everybody wants to be the next Google and Facebook, but that is not going to happen. But, if you have the right kind of mechanisms in place, if you are looking at the market with your entrepreneurial brain fully on it, I think you’ll do ok,” he says.
“What I find is that the early technology entrepreneur success stories are stumbled upon. Those guys are always guilty of labeling themselves as entrepreneurs and they then embark on this continuous journey to replicate their success, disregarding the fact that the first one was an accident. It just doesn’t work. The people that are really replicating success within the tech space are those that are genuine entrepreneurs and have criteria that they follow and a philosophy that really works for them.”
Achom is also keen to have an impact in Africa where he believes there is significant opportunity.
“We specialize in is renewable energy, so we are looking at Ghana, Nigeria, because West Africa will be our focus. Secondly, technology. We look at what we are learning here in the tech space and at some point it will be our ambition to create an incubator where we nurture ideas at the early stage. The telecommunications infrastructure has laid the foundation. The fundamentals and the user base are there, so this will be hugely profitable.”
Achom was born in Nigeria in the 1970s and moved to Britain in 1982. His parents ran an insurance firm together and sent all four siblings to boarding school. Achom credits the love and support shown by his parents with imbibing a sense of responsibility. They often flew to visit the children at short notice. With two children of his own now, Achom is determined to raise kids with these strong values.
His sense of responsibility extends to society. Achom recently launched the Rosemont Group Foundation. His aim is to encourage young people to believe in their dreams and focus on their passion despite potential distractions.
“About six years ago, I was driving a Lamborghini and I was at the petrol station filling it up. These kids came past on their bicycles and they were like ‘wow!’ I thought to myself, ‘ok, kids love cars,’ but I didn’t think there was anything special about the guy driving the car until they asked me what I did. I said ‘I’m an investor.’ They went ‘wow! How did you get into that?’ And I said to them ‘study hard, stay in school.’”
“They asked me again, ‘you are not a footballer?’, and I said ‘no’. And I thought to myself, ‘is that the only way they think you can drive a car like that?’ That’s when it hit me and I started to think I could do something to change that perception.”
“I wanted people to learn from my experience doing business in the UK, where the cards are stacked against you, where the pitfalls are, how you maintain your focus, your dignity, your true God-given character, because I come from Africa and we don’t succumb easily.”
“I’ve experienced prejudices doing business, where people had preconceived ideas of me but spent a few minutes with me and those perceptions changed. The foundation was about letting people know that people exist that you can look up to and call up if you need to and draw from and learn from their experiences, and I hope I can contribute a little towards that.”
Download issues of Forbes Africa
- Single Digital Issue: African of The Year - Forbes Africa December 2020 (special issue) R50.00
- Single Digital Issue: Nigeria 60 - Forbes Africa Oct/Nov 2020 R50.00
- Single Digital Issue: James Mwangi Cover - Forbes Africa Aug/Sep2020 R50.00
- Single Digital Issue: Forbes Africa June/July 2020 R50.00
- Single Digital Issue: Forbes Africa April 2020 - 30 Under 30 R50.00