Despite preconceptions, you will find women in powerful roles are more than capable of outperforming their male counterparts across the infrastructure value chain.
As a sponsor of Woman in the Built Environment initiatives and training and career development, my former company, Group Five, led from the front. But it’s the girl power that we unearthed and nurtured that was an inspiration to me.
We committed ourselves to targeted recruitment at student level to attract ladies in all the engineering disciplines, quantity surveyors, construction management, finance and HR, to drive gender and racial transformation. Dedicated gender orientated programs followed.
The success stories are legendary. The 14,000-employee Group Five created an environment where women rose to the highest ranks, including board level and divisional unit directors, through to technical and support roles.
The most incredible stories came from the construction divisions. We placed newly graduated female students to fast track local-based programs and then deployed them to participate on an equal footing with the guys in some of the most remote sites across Africa.
One young lady was a construction management graduate who was bored with building another Sandton office block. So, we sent her to a mine construction site in Ghana. A few years later, she rose to become the successful multidisciplinary construction manager responsible for the complete mine construction project in a remote site in Mali, with a workforce of over 300. She did this while in her twenties!
HR is often a female-dominated field, but not historically in construction, given the robust male-dominated manpower, and remote location, challenges. Group Five changed that and after only a few years many of the most senior human and industrial relations posts were occupied by a group of tough, confident ladies. They dealt with violent labor disputes at home and in Southern and West Africa, but were able to stand as role models for the young recruits and we started to see long-term careers being nurtured across the group after many years of countering the notion that construction is not sexy or rewarding. For the next generation, particularly for females, we changed that perception.
The group won the right to construct the iconic Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital as a direct result of the strong female and demographically representative team that inspired the trustees of the Children’s Fund. The team delivered on every promise made in the execution of the project, which included tough social and transformative targets.
Female leadership in finance and commercial law is an inspiration to the construction industry, from gender activists and shareholders to the many aspirant female accounting graduates who rapidly rose to manage the finances of a suite of highly complex businesses. From basic construction to the securing of turnkey power plant and transport projects across Africa, where the group took an equity stake and executed the turnkey engineering design and construction, or led the debt and equity strategies with financial services partners, females led the way.
Group Five’s CFO won the 2014 Business Woman of the Year award for her leadership in driving business systems re-engineering, transformation, shareholder relationships and women in construction initiatives within the industry, and raised two kids at the same time. How many men can follow that?
In African construction, “if the mossies don’t get you, the taxman will” – some may recall this amusing tale from an earlier column. We nurtured another young star from the finance team who became an industry authority on African tax, the law, and what coercion one might find at a site when the taxman arrives with his own militia. Our team knew more about their tax laws than the taxman himself.
Our protégé was so successful that she became the tax lead for a big branded legal firm.
We attracted and developed skilled females across Africa and beyond – our brand had become synonymous with enlightened attitudes, was recognized as a socially responsible organization in many countries. To drive our geographic strategy, we needed skills from across the target countries. This gave us technical, construction, finance and HR skills from as far afield as the Philippines, India, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe.
Fast forward to 2016 and look at which construction companies are surviving, if not thriving, amid an industry in deep recession. I wonder if it’s the female touch that has made the difference?
Cryptocurrency for Africans
George Gordon is on a quest to revolutionize the financial system. The director of Africa Master Blockchain Company talks digital currencies, blind risks and board games.
What is this new African cryptocurrency you are offering?
Where the majority of current digital currencies are based on speculative models, AfriUnion Coin (AUC) and the AfriNational Tokens (ANT)are designed for a transactional purpose allowing international payments, remittances, foreign direct investment as well as day-to-day transactions at local retail stores and other outlets. While the option for speculative trade is available with AUC, the focus is not around that.
Each African country will have a specially-designed ANT which will allow users to pay for goods and services and bills easily through completely digital means without requiring any bank account. AUC and ANT will be fully interchangeable to one another and there will be no fees for the user.
It’s the natural next step for digital finance from mobile banking which most Africans are accustomed to. The ability to freely have the power to send and receive money locally and internationally will allow the freedom of choice and spending power many Africans don’t have currently.
What is your own investment philosophy?
I am a gambler! I believe in taking risks and putting things on the line. That being said, blind risk or whimsical guesses don’t get you very far. Always acquire enough information to understand to a reasonable level what the thing you are planning on investing is or how it works and then trust your instinct and gut feel.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs wanting to invest in blockchain?
First, do some research in terms of what the blockchain technology is being applied for or created in terms of its application to an industry or project. Thereafter, check the white paper for the design of the platform as well as its functionality and applicability to what it is trying to achieve. If it aligns with your personal investment rules, then go for it,however, remember that blockchain is continuously evolving and thus you need to explore outside the usual and standard.
First cash-less, now card-less. What is the future of online banking?
If we are looking into what is currently science fiction, I would say the future is digital contact lenses that will be able to connect you to all your social media accounts, internet, news as well as make payments by just looking at QR codes or specialized barcodes to approve and accept payments.
Now, realistically we are not far off from such innovation and technology, but for the time being, I think the next step is scanning of QR codes at retailers and having the transaction automated from your wallet to the retailers digitally.
What is your most prized investment and why?
My mind. I believe that the work I have put into developing my mind, and continue to do so every day, is the number one investment that I have ever done. It allows me to look at things in a unique perspective as well as provides me with the tools to push boundaries and create new opportunities.
Money, success, fame? Which is most important to you?
I would have to say success… because it is most likely going to bring the other two as well, right? But success in the form of starting something and letting it grow and succeed and knowing that something new exists because of your efforts.
What do you spend your money on mostly?
Board games. I love board games and believe it’s a fantastic way to expand your mind as well as have fun with friends.
King Price CEO On Why He Invested On Insurance
King Price Insurance’s CEO Gideon Galloway, who built an insurance company in South Africa worth over $226 million in six years, talks investments, industry trends and how self-driving cars will change the entire car insurance landscape.
Offering The American Dream
Gar Lippincott and Daniel Ryan of Atlantic American Partners were in South Africa recently looking for high-net-worth individuals wanting to invest in the US.
It’s a warm spring day in September, and Gar Lippincott and Daniel Ryan have just arrived in South Africa. It is Lippincott’s first time in the country, and he is jet-lagged.
A little over two months ago, he was booked to fly here from the United States (US) but was turned back at immigration.
“At Atlanta airport, the lady looked at Daniel’s visa and let him through and she looked at my visa and she said ‘I am afraid you can’t get on the plane because you have to have a blank page on your passport’. I said ‘I have three blank pages’ and she said ‘no, it’s supposed to be the one that says visa on it’. She said it’s the rules in South Africa so I had to sadly go back home… now when I was coming, I was told that’s not an issue anymore so I am happy they have made traveling into the country easier,” says Lippincott.
With a brand-new passport, he’s here with Ryan looking for people who want to invest in the US in exchange for a green card.
Lippincott, the Managing Partner of Atlantic American Partners, says he has always been keen on South Africa for its growth opportunities and prospects.
“From what I understand, the things that are causing short-term decline in the economy in South Africa are set up to provide long-term growth and hopefully people will understand this,” he says. Ryan, the company’s Managing Director of Emerging Markets – Africa, agrees: “I lived in Malawi for 12 years and South Africa is still considered the shining one throughout the continent. Even with all the problems, everyone still wants to come here because of the opportunities.”
According to an AfrAsia Bank report, South Africa comes second to Mauritius in boasting the highest number of high-net-worth individuals.
These are the kind of people Ryan and Lippincott target through their work at Atlantic American Partners. The company has real estate investors and professional private equity fund managers that manage money for banks, insurance companies, and pension funds. In addition, they help people get US green cards and ultimately US citizenship through the US government’s EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program.
“Basically we look for people who want to move to the United States and we help them do so legally by investing and the nice thing is, with our program, they are also able to get a nice return on investment,” he says.
According to Lippincott, for a $500,000 investment that creates 10 jobs for American workers, you could get a green card in about two years and be a US citizen in about six or seven years. “Twenty seven countries have an investor visa program but with most of them, it’s essentially a fee you pay, or you need to be actively engaged in the day-to-day operation of a business. For example, you invest $1.5 million in Australia, but you need to hire employees and generate a certain amount of revenue. One of the biggest advantages with our program is you actually invest the $500,000 into a fund. We act as a trustee of that money and within five to seven years, they get that money back with a bit of return on investment and you are a permanent citizen in the US.”
Atlantic American Partners invests the money in real estate developments like hotels, apartments and student accommodation.
“What’s nice about the program is it doesn’t only cover the investor; it covers the spouse and children under 21. Our biggest family was a Hungarian family with seven children so they got nine green cards for $500,000,” says Lippincott.
The company says it has had positive response in South Africa. “Two months ago, we were here and we had scheduled six presentations for 100 people and we ended up speaking to 450 people. Most were business people, people worried about the economy, people worried about the political future of South Africa and people concerned about the education future of their children,” says Ryan.
According to Lippincott, despite the news of the clampdown on immigration, the US economy is booming and will perish without immigration. In the era of Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant views, that’s heartening news indeed.
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