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.”
Enterprise And Traceable Tea From Tanzania
How this Tanzanian entrepreneur’s tea startup is weathering the Covid-19 storm.
When Tahira Nizari started her social enterprise Kazi Yetu in Tanzania’s bustling city, Dar es Salaam, with her business partner and husband, Hendrik Buermann, almost two years ago, she didn’t anticipate the sheer scope of her big idea.
But she also didn’t expect that, because of an employee’s exposure to the coronavirus in April, she and her entire team would be quarantining for two weeks, stalling work in a year that she had projected growth for her company. With the pandemic’s onset, she lost most of her customer base in Tanzania, albeit temporarily, and was forced to come up with a game-plan and quickly pivot.
“It’s been an economic recession overnight, more or less,” says Nizari.
With family roots in Tanzania, and armed with formal degrees from Dubai and Canada, and experience in economic inclusion in the non-profit development sector, Nizari aimed to set a benchmark in the agribusiness sector in Tanzania through value-addition and by employing local women in her factory based in Dar es Salaam to produce “a traceable product” for the local and international market.
“Right now, tea is just exported in bulk completely (from Tanzania) and then all the jobs thereafter in that value chain are done abroad. So what we said was ‘let’s redistribute that job creation, let’s bring it back to Tanzania and let’s create a facility in which we can hire workers all locally and have a product that is 100% made in Tanzania’,” says Nizari. After extensive research in multiple target markets, both locally and abroad, building relationships with 250 Tanzanian farmers, setting up a factory exclusively employing local and previously-unemployed women, and many iterations of the seven blends of its flagship Tanzania Tea Collection using local flavors and spices, Kazi Yetu was ready to expand its scope in 2020.
“We were following our business plan… but we were really cautious and risk-averse (in 2018 and 2019). And then, we said, ‘you know what, when 2020 hits, it’s going to be growth’.”
Nizari was planning on reaching up to 4,000 farmers, buy machinery from China, grow the local B2B customer base, permanently employ all the women at the factory and begin to export on a larger scale after the launch of Kazi Yetu’s online store.
But when the coronavirus hit the local and international markets, things started looking very bleak, especially since Kazi Yetu is currently fully self-funded.
Not only did it lose almost all of its monthly income, but the farmers stopped meeting in groups for the training, so the supply chain was disrupted.
“In Europe, people are all sitting at home. They’re looking for products to build their immunity – tea is a great solution.”
The factory also had to introduce safety protocols for employees at work and at home, as well as reduce the number of people working at any given time in order to adhere to social distancing.
An employee’s father also died of the coronavirus, which forced Nizari to ask everyone involved with Kazi Yetu to quarantine at home for 14 days.
“So what we said was, ‘look, we don’t want to risk their safety, but we also don’t want to risk their economic well-being’. So we just paid all of them their full-time salary,” says Nizari.
“Generally, our operational costs have been really hard to cover right now… but it’s okay, because it made us pivot.”
It inspired Nizari to expedite Kazi Yetu’s plans to export, kickstart the online store sooner than anticipated and build up stock to send to Germany, rather than just focus on the Tanzanian market, which is temporarily quite small. Exporting has been an issue, given limited shipping at the moment, but the European market proved to be a pleasant surprise for Nizari.
“In Europe, people are all sitting at home. They’re looking for products to build their immunity – tea is a great solution,” she says.
Slowly, the factory is moving back to normal operations and Nizari is trying her best to ensure a steady income for the employees. Kazi Yetu is also now available on local delivery applications in Tanzania, so people can order tea to their doorsteps.
Looking ahead, Nizari hopes to scale up exporting through the online store and retailers, whether in Europe, or also in markets like South Africa where products from sub-Saharan Africa are popular, and North America where innovative African products are in demand.
“We want our product to be competing with products made in Europe, and for example, Sri Lankan tea, Indian tea and Chinese tea. We want Tanzanian products to be well-regarded,” she adds.
Since the teas are traceable, which is a unique selling point, Kazi Yetu is also working on an app that uses blockchain to allow customers to access data on the tea they purchase, from the farm level, all the way to their cups. This way, they will know first-hand the impact the product has.
In addition, Nizari is working on a farm-hub model to build Kazi Yetu’s supply chain by helping them produce better raw products through a no-interest investment that can be paid back with their final product over time.
“The whole ‘economy versus safety’ debate… it’s something we have to think about moving forward… You can’t just operate as a business that makes money, you have to think about… the well-being of your workplace, the well-being of everyone in your supply chain… And I think this is where social enterprises really come in,” Nizari adds.
And a hot cup of locally-produced tea can certainly help take forward any such deliberations.
– By Inaara Gangji
Farmer Forays: ‘Creating A New Line Of Business’
Nigerian agripreneur Shola Ladoja, the founder of Simply Green, says the pandemic-induced lockdown brought with it logistic adversity, but also more local sales.
With the marauding coronavirus disrupting lives and businesses in Nigeria, the financial stability of a majority of the country’s 200 million inhabitants has been severely affected.
The significant toll it has taken on economic activities has forced many small and medium enterprises to reimagine new ways of staying afloat. Covid-19 is also set to radically aggravate food insecurity in Africa. In spite of Nigeria’s dependence on oil, agriculture remains an important cornerstone for its economy, providing employment for millions especially in the informal sector.
The threat of starvation is so present that in a public address in May, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, urged Nigerian farmers to produce enough for the country to eat, saying that the country has “no money to import” food.
But every cloud has a silver lining. The food shortage has presented some agripreneurs in Nigeria with serendipitous opportunities.
Shola Ladoja is the founder of Simply Green, which is a farm-to-table company specializing in vegetables, fruits, juices, spices and herbs. The border lockdown has meant that many of the retail and supermarket chains can no longer import foreign produce into the country.
But this hurdle created a new opportunity for Ladoja.
“[Previously], I tried to get my juices into local stores in Nigeria but they all turned me down and most of them wanted to buy imported juices. The lockdown meant that they had to buy a local brand like mine because they could not get them from abroad anymore. We are now able to sell a lot more during this time than previous years,” says Ladoja.
On the logistics side, however, Ladoja has also felt the pinch of the pandemic like most business that require consistent movement of goods and services. The lockdown scenario prevented his workers from coming in and as a result, the company’s daily delivery of juices, has come to an abrupt stop.
Ladoja has had to start thinking outside the box to make ends meet.
“We have come up with a fruit and vegetable box, which we sell directly on our website to our customers. So, they can now buy lettuce, kale and carrots, which we have never done before. So, this period has forced us to think about how we can expand the business and this time we actually created a new line of business, which was not in the plans for this year,” says Ladoja.
According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), even before the Covid-19 crisis, farmers had not been able to satisfy the demands of Nigeria’s population.
“I feel like the government should give out grants and loans and support for small businesses so that they don’t crash. I have friends who have complained they are going to shut down their businesses because they haven’t been paid for two months. A lot of people cannot sell their produce in Lagos because the markets are closed which is going to affect a lot of farmers at this time,” says Ladoja.
Nigeria used to import over a million tonnes of rice from Thailand annually. That number has been significantly reduced with the implementation of high import taxes. This has led to an abnormal increase in food prices in Nigeria since the onset of the coronavirus with the UN estimating the number of people facing acute food security stands to rise to 265 million globally in 2020 as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic.
Nigeria has substantially increased domestic rice production in the pandemic but is still a long way from reaching the levels needed for the country to sufficiently feed itself. Coupled with the decline in global oil prices, it is safe to say the adverse economic impact of Covid-19 on Africa’s most populous country is going to be felt for a long time to come.
All For Grooming Future Leaders
Katlego Thwane has had to dip into his own savings, with the Covid-19 crisis, to fund his noble cause, teaching the underprivileged in a South African township.
He is in his twenties, yet turning around the destiny of underprivileged young people around him.
Katlego Thwane, a 28-year-old born and bred in South Africa’s lively township of Soweto, is an educator and founder of the Atlegang Bana Foundation here that caters to primary school learners who struggle to keep up at school and need additional help.
“Our foundation also provides for needy learners from underprivileged backgrounds. One of my biggest campaigns at the foundation every year is to give confidence and motivation to learners for the year ahead,” says Thwane.
He has bagged numerous awards and accolades for his work, as a 2017 Young Community Shaper, 2018 Lead SA hero and featuring on live television show Big Up on SABC Mzansi in 2018.
Growing up, he was a “naughty boy”, as he describes himself, but says many are now astonished at the serious, ambitious young man he has become.
“Teaching has always been a passion of mine. I love seeing change, transformation and grooming leaders, and value their education while being innovative in taking our country forward.”
Thwane has recently established a clothing brand, BANA, under the Atlegang Bana Foundation. He is also currently handing out food parcels to the needy in his community, in partnership with Hollywoodbets.
“The virus has affected us immensely with many parents losing their jobs or taking salary cuts, we are not receiving the financial support as before. This has led to me [dipping] into my own personal pocket and [using it] to buy tutors data for teaching virtually,” says Thwane.
Most schools continue operating online because learners haven’t as yet returned to school, however, this has come with its share of setbacks.
Makosha Masedi, a parent of a Grade 4 learner, says her challenges come with network issues and understanding the tasks given to the child.
“Some of the programs that the work is loaded on to is not friendly for all devices, so submitting and retrieving becomes a problem, as also understanding some of the work,” rues Masedi.
But Thwane powers on, hoping for a better tomorrow, for himself and his country.
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