Africa’s first fully tech-savvy generation, known as Generation Z, is coming of age, bringing to business more innovation and disruption than the millennials (also known as Generation Y, born from the 1980s) before them.
They are the “i-everything generation”, because they are hyper-connected, always plugged-in to devices and daring dreams. These professionals, now entering the workforce, have never known a world without smartphones or social media. As national development plans and Sustainable Development Goals set 2030 as their target for change, the first generation of real ‘digital natives’ that could make that possible, are here.
In South Africa, Generation Z is also the ‘Born Free’ generation, born after the end of apartheid.
These are today’s young adults, born around 1995, who have seen the impact on their parents of the ravages of the global recession and the threats of terrorism.
“It’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to be born between 1996 and 2000 and have a strong, emotional connection to 9/11. Your brain is simply too young to put the event in a cultural, geographic, or other context. From our research-based vantage point, if you were born in the US and 9/11 has always been history to you — something you literally cannot remember — then you are not a millennial but a member of Generation Z.”
These are the well-articulated words of Jason Dorsey, president, co-founder and a millennials and Gen Z researcher at The Center for Generational Kinetics, on the phone with us from Austin, Texas, in the United States (US).
His research has led him to become a specialist in studying millennials and Gen Zers. He has also delivered many TED Talks on the topic.
According to Dorsey’s research, members of Generation Z need to be connected instantly and constantly, to experience stability, and to make an impact on the world. So much so that they have more in common with their friends on social media,who they’ve never met in person before, than with their own grandparents.
“What we find is that an inexpensive mobile device really does begin to connect people to the world and that internet access changes not just how young people see the world, but how they see themselves in relation to the world. That’s what’s so powerful,” says Dorsey.
“It’s pretty shocking when I go to work in some place like India and to see the similarity [to the United States]. The language may be different, but the interaction and the expectation are very similar. The key to this is they’ve got to be younger but old enough to use some sort of mobile device, or have some sort of a mobile experience.”
Not only are Gen Z well-connected, but they show signs of being a generation focused on spending money on experiences; are less accepting of information presented to them; they strive for realistic stability in the job world; are more advanced in searching for information; are curious to experiment on their own.; and demand a personal touch when it comes to buying or selling products.
“[It is a misconception] that Gen Z are big spenders. But the truth is, Gen Z are increasingly savers that are dealing with the aftershocks of the great recession. Many Gen Zers, and this is the quote that they give during our interviews with them, say ‘I don’t want to end up like the millennials’,” says Dorsey.
Linda Ronnie, a Senior Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour and People Management, Graduate School of Business, University of Cape Town, in South Africa, says Gen Z are going to be a dominant force in the world to come. With almost five generations of humans now working alongside each other, Gen Z will take up an estimated two billion worldwide. In South Africa, a third of the population is under 21.
Gen Z are authorities on tech trends. They have never known a world where a question wasn’t able to be answered by Google. So what looks like disruption to older generations is a Gen Z norm. Fundamentally this means that they have a completely different view of technology from other generations.
“What we’ve found recently, is that we looked at how millennials and Gen Z go about ordering food for delivery or To-Go, which is a very big trend that we think is going to reshape the restaurant industry. What we’ve found is that millennials will use their mobile app, or restaurant digital website, to go and place an order. They went there because they knew what they order and it was a fast efficient way to order it. When we talked to Gen Z, we found that Gen Z wanted to see what the restaurant offered.
“So one went to order, the other wanted to search around and see what they had. Again not a huge difference in age, but a very different expectation of the digital experience and what drives them to use that channel,” says Ronnie.
Then there is the fourth industrial revolution. As Gen Z is coming of age, it will mean many will have jobs that have not even been created yet and they will be fighting for jobs with non-humans. We are entering the era where machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) will impact the workforce.
This does not mean parents should panic and teach their kids to program instead of Mandarin, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea.
“There are three things we focus on in Gen Z in particular. First is, we want to make sure we teach kids problem-solving and critical thinking skills, because that helps them everywhere and anywhere. It’s a core thing that we want to make sure we are doing. The second thing we want to teach them is to work technology very well, because technology is the grand connector and opportunity creator. Then the third thing is the idea of creative and open-mindedness. Because we are going to go through a time of transformational change, rapid incredible change, we want the next generation to not be fearful of that change but embrace it, embrace that newness and the unexpected because that’s what’s going to give them an advantage going forward,” says Dorsey.
For the Gen Zer, topics like equality and diversity will become even more important in the workplace. Major life events, like marriage and parenthood, are being pushed back around the world, even though it looks different in various countries. There is also a different attitude toward entrepreneurship with this generation.
“If you ask people ‘are the millennials the most entrepreneurial generation’, people will guess of course they are always starting their own business. In some case this is true, millennials are very much interested in entrepreneurship, they place it top among career paths and their heroes are increasingly entrepreneurs rather than celebrities and sports stars,” says Dorsey.
“But because of the recessionary aftershocks, Gen Z really does seek out stability right now. They want predictability. They want to know when they are going to work and how much they are going to be paid when. At this stage they seem more risk-averse.
“It is a very pragmatic approach to work and making money. So we think Gen Z will continue to be entrepreneurial but they are really serious about building stability. Being an entrepreneur is not the fastest way for that. What we believe is going to happen is Gen Z will build a business on the side but still keep a predictable income rather than what millennials did and went all in on businesses and it didn’t work and they had the safety net of their parents.”
So what does this mean for African business and emerging markets?
“They are going to be the drivers of consumer growth, they are the drivers of trends and they are increasingly the drivers of the workforce.”
In many cases this will mean developing countries, like many in Africa, will leapfrog and skip generations of infrastructure and move straight to the next big thing, vis-à-vis becoming forerunners of disruption themselves.. Look at the impact of mobile telephony in Africa for example.
“You don’t bring the mindset of a laptop or a desktop or dial up or a landline. You’ve both never had that experience nor been limited by it. So you come in a whole different level without being anchored to something in the past, which we believe is very powerful and can springboard you forward,” says Dorsey.
As the world waits with bated breath, hoping this smartphone-wielding generation will bring fresh ideas and profits, Africa must embrace them too. The disruptors, here they come.
Pectin, Polysaccharides And Orange Peels To Combat Drought
Kiara Nirghin, 17
Johannesburg, South Africa
It’s the forward-thinking game-changing idea scientists spend their lives developing and a teenager from Africa beat them to it.
The source of inspiration – powder, found commonly in babies’ nappies that can soak up and retain large amounts of water like a sponge, and that’s now being used to combat drought.
“It’s a low-cost, biodegradable, super-absorbent polymer made out of orange peels and avocado peels.”
It’s not the conventional way to start a conversation with a teenager. While many adults would be left scratching their heads wondering what this means, Kiara Nirghin, the 17-year old science buff, explains.
“The idea came about was when I was looking through newspapers; any media I came across and everything was about the drought in South Africa and what 67% of the world faces. I realized this is a worldwide epidemic and there isn’t really a solution to the drought, or assisting crop survival, and helping poor communities, which it mostly affects, to combat this problem.”
From her home in Johannesburg, Nirghin, who grew up sharing notes on National Geographic and science magazines with her sister, the solution was simple science.
“I thought if you put [the polymer] into the soil of a plant it can absorb large amounts of water and also act a reservoir. [Super Absorbent Polymers] SAPs are already being used in agriculture. But I realized they were very expensive and not low-cost and, were chemical-based and not biodegradable. Being expensive, it didn’t solve the problem because most of the time, drought is affecting poorer countries,” says Nirghin.
Nirghin’s invention, titled ‘No More Thirsty Crops’, was so cool she was awarded the grand prize as well as the Africa/Middle East regional Google Science Fair Community Impact Award at the Google Science Fair at Google’s headquarters in California. Apart from giving her instant international credibility, it also gave Nirghin a chance to take a selfie with one of her heroes, Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google.
“I knew if I didn’t take a selfie with him I would be really upset,” says Nirghin.
To her, the science behind the invention was more cool than the prize. She entered on a whim, having researched months before she even knew about the competition.
“[My research found oranges] have over 60% pectin and also polysaccharide, which if you cross link it in a polarization process become the qualities of a super absorbent polymer. I was very surprised nobody else hadn’t thought about it this way. So I took a lot of orange peels and started to heat them and see what cross linking would come up.”
Once she broke the science down, it was time to begin testing. Nirghin looked at water absorption in a basil plant for three-six months. Like any budding scientist would do, she used controls and other SAPs to compare her mixture. It meant spending months measuring the soil moisture daily, every three hours, for accuracy.
“The thing that surprised me was I didn’t add any water to these crops, this was for a period of 60 days and these crops were still alive. That was the main thing, keep these crops alive without constant water supplements.”
It was all worth it as the data she meticulously recorded brought exciting results.
In November, Nirghin signed a contract with an agriculture company to begin research and development of her invention on a mass level. The research could take two years; by 2020, it might be ready to roll out and start helping people.
Apart from orange peels, which Nirghin admits she’s getting tired of seeing, she is also done a TED Talk.
“When I was 13 I had bacterial meningitis, that’s inflammation of the membrane along the spinal cord. When I was in hospital, I realized if this is the strength of the brain to endure such immense pain, how can the brain’s strength be used for something else. That’s really what got me interested in science.”
She is also a strong advocate for women in science.
“Why shouldn’t girls be doing science? It shouldn’t be something we are talking about because everybody should be doing science and the fact that we aren’t emphasizing that is discouraging girls,” says Nirghin.
Among her many other interests, Nirghin enjoys watching Masterchef Australia, cooking and coming up with ways to prevent rhino poaching – her other pet passion besides orange peels.
“It’s a misconception that just because you are young doesn’t mean you can’t stop something, you don’t have to wait till you are older.”
Having finished matric with eight distinctions and ranking in the top 5% of IEB candidates for six or more subjects, Nirghin has a slew of universities that have offered her a spot including Harvard, MIT and Stanford in the US.
“My top priority is education in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and understanding these fields I am innovating in… That’s the amazing thing about South Africa, it’s untapped. Everything is very saturated in Silicon Valley. To come back with knowledge would present so many opportunities in South Africa.”
A strong message from the Gen Zer inspiring Africans to peel off their layers and experiment; age is no bar.
Paid To Play Heroes
Tayla Barter, 24
Johannesburg, South Africa
It has to be one of the strangest hobbies to come out of the internet – Cosplay or dressing up as your favorite comic book character.
For Barter, who goes by the name Kinpatsu, it’s not only a way of life but a way of earning a living. This is because Barter is part of a generation of entrepreneurs using the internet to turn their hobbies into a profession making them R50,000 ($4,300) a month.
“It comes from the word costume play and that’s the core of what cosplay is,” offers Barter.
It was a photo posted on the internet in 2013 that changed everything for Barter. A selfie of herself dressed up as character Jinx from the popular game League of Legends went viral. It was the first time people started taking notice.
Back then, Cosplay was just beginning to take off in South Africa. Barter was one of a handful of Cosplayers climbing out of cars and assembling their outfits in a parking lot before entering conventions. It was a fun thing for her to do on the weekends.
“We didn’t even think we would be leaving the country for Cosplay, getting international Cosplayers in over here so it wasn’t something we thought would be a business model in any kind of sense,” says Barter.
Fast forward to 2018 and a quick Google search later, and you will find Barter in hundreds of other cosplays. She now has 177,000 followers and counting on Facebook, 23,000on Twitter, 223,000 on Instagram. It has meant she’s now able to travel as a guest celebrity to geek conventions and compete in international cosplay competitions.
From her home in the leafy suburb of Northriding in Johannesburg, Barter has a whole business dedicated to the profession. In 2017, she finished 36 cosplays with an armory of drills; shelves of foam armor and a photo studio in her garage.
Key to her success has been selling her cosplay designs on crowdfunded Patreon, the hobbyist version of Kickstarter. Supporters pledge money and based on the money you put in and the tier, you are given a reward.
Barter found a demand to show how you could turn the characters from screen grabs into cosplays and teach others to do it. Cosplayers spend thousands building each outfit from EVA foam and PVC piping. Even more reason for hobbyists who need direction on tight budgets.
“I thought I’d give it a whole year and see where it’s taking me. By the end of 2017, I was almost completely booked for 2018. Conventions and Patreon picked up and now I can do it full-time,” says Barter.
As businesses migrate toward more online profiles, channels like Facebook have become smarter about making their own money from them. One way is to shape posts, or limit posts to your audience unless you pay to have the reach extended.
In Barter’s case, with thousands of followers, she is only getting 1,000 to 2,000 likes on each post, whereas a few years ago she could hit numbers in the tens of thousands. Another issue is what they call being ‘soft-blocked’. This is when a channel, like Youtube or Instagram, uses algorithms and machine-based filters to identify keywords and block your account.
Shaping and being soft-blocked can severely hurt a social media-based business, especially when those businesses make money from the hits on the internet.
Barter is a hero in her own right among the South Africans who dress as superheroes.
They Both Want To Be The Next Elon Musk
Lethabo Motsoaledi, 24 & Matthew Westaway, 26
Cape Town, South Africa
It was an unlikely partnership that brought two engineering students, who grew up worlds apart, together. Lethabo Motsoaledi grew up idolizing scientists wanting to be one, even though she was afraid of breaking computers. Matthew Westaway grew up in Rondebosch, programming computers and doing little else.
“My whole family was doctors, I wanted to figure out what can I not do that’s the same. It was something that needed maths and science, and then I chose engineering. I didn’t choose it because I wanted to program, I hated computers. On reflection it’s because I didn’t want to break them and have to fix them again,” says Motsoaledi.
“I was an internet person. I would always know how to fix any problem on a computer, going deep into the registry. That’s what I would spend a lot of time doing, finding viruses and where the files are. From a young age I was able to fix computers and know what you could do from the internet, solving challenges,” says Westaway.
They saw opportunity where other entrepreneurs see the internet and disruption technologies like 3D printing and machine learning as treacherous rocks rising from stormy waters. They also both want to be the next Elon Musk.
It led them to open their business, Motsoaledi & West (M&W), a Design Thinking consultancy that launched in January 2017. In just one year, they made R1 million ($86,000).
Now, the two graduates work through the night until 4AM to build their ideas. From their offices at the innovation hub, Rise, in Woodstock in Cape Town, they are infamously known as the post-it kids, leaving reams of the sticky squared blocks of paper in their wake as they bounce their ideas off the glass walls.
“Innovation comes exactly in a pack of post-its,” says Motsoaledi.
In their words, they help companies fast-track innovation through applying accelerated design thinking methodology. In an environment that’s so volatile a 17-year-old teen can make your business irrelevant, organizations need to equip themselves.
This is because those companies that are best able to adapt and embrace uncertainty and find creative solutions are growing faster and have higher profit margins than their competitors.
“People tend to think you buy the new technology and then you become innovative, but that’s not the case. The mistake is thinking that you just need to apply a whole lot of technology and algorithms in order to fix the problem. The first thing is solving the problem – what do the people need? Then you can start with using technology to improve the challenge,” says Motsoaledi.
Design thinking is the latest strategy for driving innovation in business. What they do is get companies to understand their customers’ actual needs and desires rather than focus on bottom-line profits. The duo believe that in order for businesses to thrive they need to transition toward customer-centricity.
This is where their self-designed machine learning can help. Using algorithms, the duo can analyze and automate transcribed text and pick up on the keywords from interviewees. It brings the data to life and can aggregate insights in minutes, saving companies thousands of hours.
“When you are using this kind of software and programs, sometimes you don’t know what it is you are looking for, or you didn’t know if it would have meant anything. You have to analyze it and let the data tell you what it is it is finding,” says Motsoaledi.
They can tell you firsthand how powerful this data can be. Using their own design thinking the duo established their 3D printing business in 2014, from which successful projects emerged; Printing a 3D ultrasound scan called Hello Baby 3D Prints; and The Hourglass Project, an interactive design piece that helps corporates encourage and track participation in Employee Volunteerism Programs.
“You pick up on a new technology and you figure out what it is that you can do to leverage it. When we were running 3D power we picked up a much more pertinent need that we needed to focus on the – design thinking,” says Motsoaledi.
And should we be teaching our kids to program?
“Girls have a lot of unlearning to do…Where I grew up, girls didn’t program. The way we think about maths and science, we should start thinking about programming…Thinking about all these innovators and inventors, as a kid, I always loved them. Back then, scientists were the celebrities. What I don’t like about society today is that a celebrity is not considered a thought leader or a celebrity is someone who only does acting. I like that Elon Musk changed that. I hope that in South Africa, people become ingrained in the culture of making entrepreneurs our heroes,” says Motsoaledi.
Maud Chifamba, 19, Zimbabwe
At the age of 14, Maud Chifamba, unable to afford high school and having taught herself at home, became the youngest student to enrol at the University of Zimbabwe. Four years later, she became the University’s youngest graduate walking away with an honors degree in accountancy.
There were signs of her proficiency from early on. Chifamba was pushed up a grade when she accidentally was given a Grade 4 exam and scored 100%. That same year, she requested a Grade 5 test paper and was pushed up even further.
When she was seven years old, her father passed away and she fell under the care of her step-brother living on a plot in between Kwekwe and Gweru, Zimbabwe. Having been unable to afford high school, Chifamba home-schooled herself, where her work and innovation earned her a scholarship of $9,993 to go to university. Online searches show her as “Africa’s youngest university student”.
Currently, she is completing both a Zimbabwe Certificate in Theory of Accounting at Chartered Accountants Academy, and a Masters in Accountancy at the University of Zimbabwe.
Abelwe Ndiki, 17, South Africa
At 16, schoolgirl Abelwe Ndiki, noticed many of her peers were overwhelmed with their future career choices. She saw that many young people, especially those that grew up in underprivileged communities, were unaware of the entry requirements for universities. So Ndiki built the Guide Me app to help them find their way.
“I noticed that there was no application that was currently catering to the students’ needs. My app is different from other programs that try to tackle this problem because as a student I am able to efficiently communicate information in a language high school students understand,” says Ndiki.
“My inspiration moment came earlier in 2017 when I noticed a trend of senior students not having a clear idea of what they are going to do in universities or how wide the options are for those seeking financial assistance.”
Along with courses, the app lists bursaries and their requirements. A move which Ndiki hopes will improve the quality of life for students by opening them up to financial assistance options.
“It is also beneficial to students who cannot afford to regularly commute to town to access internet cafés, the fact that they can access the information from their phones was my main focus,” she says.
In matric this year, Ndiki took the app down off the GooglePlay Store while she focuses on her own education. She is on the lookout for a mentor who can help guide her career and business.
Rebecca Andrianarisandy, 21, Madagascar
With just $15, this team of four young women from Madagascar started GasGasy, a bio-compost and bio-gas company. They wanted to tackle the rising issue of deforestation in the region of Itasy in central Madagascar, devastated by charcoal makers cutting down tapia forests.
“What is sad about it is that eight trees have to be cut out in order to have one bag of charcoal,” says Rebecca Andrianarisandy, one of GasGasy’s founders.
Taught by foreign volunteers who specialized in biotechnology, the friends thought this would be a sustainable and environmentally friendly solution for people instead.
“Now, I am 21 and the business has been running for two years now. Up to now, we have sold 27,000 liters of bio-compost considering that one liter equals $0.5.”
The bio-compost becomes a fertilizer combined with an insecticide. Andrianarisandy claims compost not only stops farmers using chemical fertilizers but also stops the soil from becoming infertile for years after, compared with chemical fertilizers.
“FamBIOlena is already proven to have improved 38 farmers’ lives by increasing their harvest from 10% to 65%. As a result, the product will create food security for the farmers and their community as well. ”
While the bio-compost is already being sold to agripreneurs, the team isn’t going to stop there. By 2019, they plan to sell bio-gas as well, having tested their cooking fuel in three households.
A true green innovation first for Madagascar from a young team of teenagers who believe they can change a nation’s ecological destiny.
Sharon Waison, 25, South Africa
Imagine a job that pays you to play computer games. Well Sharon Wiason, is doing just that. Fresh off a plane from a tournament where she competed alongside South African all-girl team Leetpro in China, Waison is part of a growing industry that plays computer games as a profession, known as esports.
“I started playing competitively at around the age of 14-15, I am now 26, so yeah, you do the maths,” she says with a smile.
“I think esports helps innovate my community as it provides job opportunities. I have made a fair amount of money, not enough to live off but a decent amount. I remember in matric it’s how I had money to go out with my friends… just won little tournaments here and there was great.”
These days, ShazZ, as she is more commonly known, has been kicking ass even against men. She is part of the Pulse-Gaming’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) team and is a brand ambassador of ASUS South Africa.
“It was very hard in the beginning for me, because you are a girl in a very male-dominated industry. I had to prove myself for a few years. I got a lucky break where someone took a risk and it kind of paid off,” says ShazZ.
At the age of 10, ShazZ was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease lupus. She was unable to play sport outside, so she took up computer games instead.
“Games make me forget about everything. You go into another world, you focus on that game and you become the character in that sense,” says ShazZ.
Edgar Edmund, 17, Tanzania
After seeing floods sweep away mud houses in his country Tanzania, Edgar Edmund, then 15, wanted to make a change. He not only wanted to provide an alternative solution to the problem of expensive cement materials, which many people could not afford, but also solve the matter of pollution that was causing a wide range of diseases due to poor waste management.
“Tanzania is a developing country, hence most of the people here are low income earners, hence there is a high demand for affordable products which could at least enable many people to own their own houses regardless of their low incomes,” says Edmund.
The answer hit like a ton of bricks: make building blocks from the very waste causing the problem.
In 2015, during school holidays, he experimented by melting plastic waste in a homemade gas cooker. By mixing the molten plastic with sand he was able to mould durable long-lasting bricks, paving blocks and roof tiles. Edmund also came up with a way of filtering out the toxic chemicals, produced in the process, by engineering a dioxin filter using cooking oil.
The business is still young like Edmund, but he has high hopes for the future. By 2017, GreenVenture Recycles is a full operation with five employees. With more than 15,000 bricks made from more than 1.2 million plastic bags that would have otherwise gone into the environment, Edmund celebrated a turnover of $1,500 in December. The company is putting its profits toward expanding. He says his business has created 100 indirect jobs.
“Plastics are regarded as unwanted materials, that means we get them at a low price and that makes our products affordable but also on the other hand plastics binding sand makes a strong mix and this gives it a long life since plastic takes a long time to decompose,” says Edmund.
In 2017, Edmund was awarded the winner of the Children’s Climate Prize, sponsored by Swedish renewable energy company Telge Energi.
How mogul Abdulsamad Rabiu has become a billionaire again
Nigeria’s business mogul and third richest man, who cemented his return to Forbes’ African Billionaires List this year since dropping off it in 2015, says he owes his $1.6 billion net worth to being a disruptor – and to being stubborn.
The inside of Abdulsamad Rabiu’s office, on the corner of Churchgate Street, in Victoria Island’s commercial district in the heart of Lagos that is notorious for chaotic, rambunctious traffic, is marked by a serious lack of clutter.
The expansive room is tastefully decorated in cream and black hues. Rabiu’s desk is organized in a manner that seems as though everything is exactly where it should be; completely spotless and devoid of any distractions that will hinder the 58-year-old founder of BUA Group from managing his vast empire, a conglomerate spread across southern and northern Nigeria.
A firm believer in strategy, the cement and sugar tycoon boosted his fortunes by a whopping $650 million this year when he merged Kalambaina Cement, a subsidiary company of his BUA Cement, with the publicly traded Cement Company of Northern Nigeria (CCNN), where he was a controlling shareholder.
That calculated move has made him the third richest man in Africa’s largest economy, with a staggering net worth of $1.6 billion, according to the latest Forbes African Billionaires List, which he dropped out of.
“Nigerian cement mogul Abdulsamad Rabiu, who runs and owns the BUA Group, returns to the list for the first time since 2015. He merged his Kalambaina Cement firm into publicly-traded Cement Company of Northern Nigeria, which he controlled, in late 2018. Rabiu now owns 97% of the list entity,” Forbes reported.
He says his fall from the coveted list was due to the devaluation of the Naira, which meant that the exchange rate went from N190 against the dollar, to N300.
“That was the main reason I dropped off the rich list. Also, most of our other assets were not being considered because once you are not listed, it becomes more challenging to get an accurate valuation.
“Our assets, in the cement industry alone, are worth more than $2 billion, but that is because Obu Cement [Plant], which is our biggest cement plant, is not listed,” Rabiu says.
His return to the billionaire boys’ club is due to five years of strategic expansion and a much more stable Nigerian economy. However, it is about more than just numbers for Rabiu.
“It is a good feeling to be on the rich list, the most important thing is not about how much money you make, but the impact you make. Touching people’s lives is more important because money is a number. What you need in terms of your day-to-day is not that much.”
One of the secret ingredients to his tremendous success is that Rabiu is a firm believer in delegation.
His phone purrs only occasionally, but this is also because his plants run with clockwork precision in an environment that is chaotic at the best of times.
He has a calm and soft-spoken demeanour, a trait which is, quite frankly, unconventional for someone who has fought his way through hell and high water in business.
“I am quiet but I am very stubborn. If I want something I go for it and if I don’t want it, no matter how much I’m pushed, I don’t do it. If somebody is stubborn, sometimes it’s seen as arrogant but I don’t think I am an arrogant person,” Rabiu says.
It is also immediately clear that he is not a man who rushes into things. He would rather move methodically, with clarity and precision, a skill he picked up in the early days learning the ropes from his industrialist father. Case in point is how he built his empire brick-by-brick from the early days as an importer.
“In 1988, I started my own business and founded BUA International Ltd. At the time, the in-thing was importation of rice, sugar, fertilizer, agriculture etc. So the challenge was that, if there was scarcity of any product, everybody would now go and import the same thing. This pushes the price up and everybody will say the price of fertilizer has doubled, so everyone would now go and import fertilizer and within a short time, the product would now come down to half price and everyone would lose money,” Rabiu says.
He decided to break the mould and instead adopted a value-added approach. He focused on bringing in raw materials to process it locally.
“We started with oil in Kano. We were processing crude palm oil to refine it. We were also getting peanuts from Kano and then crushing and processing, and that was a good business at the time because it was adding value and people were not used to adding value to anything at all. They were importing everything.”
In 2000, BUA acquired Nigeria Oil Mills, which was a peanut processing company in Kano. In 2005, he set up the BUA Flour Mills factory in Lagos. Rabiu saw very early on that he had to be distinctive in a sea of importers who simply followed the trend.
It is this measured philosophy of value that has allowed BUA Group to innovate and expand capacity to about 2 million tons of cement per annum with its new merger. Rabiu says with the consolidation, BUA Group has a market valuation of about $800 million. A far cry from the company’s humble beginnings.
Returning to Kano as a newly-minted graduate with a degree in economics from Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, in the United States, a lot had changed while Rabiu was away.
The country was being run by a military leader and there were severe shortages in foreign exchange which made the business of importation extremely difficult. Following his new ethos of adding value to the production line, Rabiu set his eyes on the sugar business by establishing the 2,000 metric ton (MT) per day capacity plant in Lagos which is the second largest refinery in West Africa, after the Dangote Sugar Refinery.
But the BUA story isn’t without its share of trials and tribulations. The fight began in the early years of business, when the Nigerian government introduced the backward integration policy in the sugar business.
“This is where you were allowed to import raw sugar and process into refined sugar and you must have a sugar refinery facility. So, if you have the facility for a sugar refinery, you were able to import sugar and pay a duty of 5% to 10%, while everybody else was importing refined sugar and paying 50% duty,” Rabiu says.
At the time, it was only the Dangote Group that had the refinery facility, so Rabiu decided the lack of saturation made sugar a viable business to go into.
The government’s backward integration policy is a well-known competitive strategy which allows an organization to control more of its supply chain in order to bring down the costs.
It means that a company is allowed to purchase or internally produce segments of its supply chain. This is done to ensure the supply, along with securing bargaining, leverage on vendors.
To take advantage of backward integration, a company needed to have its sugar refinery at the ports in order to import raw materials in bulk, which made having a terminal at the port a prerequisite.
“At that time, everything was owned by [the] Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), so you had to go and lease land from them, together with the storage. This was a huge capital investment, and to make matters worse, there was no land at the time because everything was taken.”
Luckily, Rabiu was able to find a company that had a facility that was not being utilized.
“We paid a lot of money to that company, got all the designs, bought all the equipment, we were about to start the company, then the lease was revoked and we could not go there. This was during the [Olusegun] Obasanjo regime. Most of our money had been spent on getting the land and equipment and they revoked the lease and gave it to somebody else. It took us a year and almost $50 million in cost before we were able to start all over again,” he says.
Incidentally, that site was given to Rabiu by his father. Once they took off, the business worked out so well that they were able to recoup their money within a very short period of time. The sugar venture was a cash cow.
The company was able to reap huge margins due to the difference in duties for imports of raw sugar, and, yet again, Rabiu found validation in his strategic approach to business.
Even in those early days, his penchant for success was apparent. The sugar refinery is still operating at capacity and Rabiu is in the process of commissioning another refinery at Port Harcourt in Nigeria. They say the apple does not fall far from the tree, and this is true for Rabiu.
His father, Isyaku Rabiu, was a renowned businessman, who also made his fortune in trade decades after Nigeria’s independence.
His wealth grew significantly until the 1983 coup which toppled the government and led to the arrests of President Shehu Shagari and his close allies, including Isyaku, leaving his business empire in a precarious state.
But where his father lost his footing in trade, Rabiu was destined to find his in cement. Opportunity came knocking in 2007 when the price of cement was so high that the Nigerian government decided to introduce yet another backward integration in the cement industry.
The idea was simple. You could only import cement into Nigeria, if you had a cement factory. At the time, there were only two multinational organizations in the country with the capacity to build their own cement plant.
Local companies like the Dangote Group and Flour Mills of Nigeria were the only two other companies that had signed contracts to build cement factories in Nigeria.
“Nobody else was allowed. So President [Umaru Musa] Yar’Adua was alarmed that the prices of cement was going up every day and he called for a meeting when the price was $300 per ton. He said it was too much, so what do we do? He was briefed on the reason nobody else could bring cement into Nigeria and told that there was a policy in place that only those building factories could import cement into Nigeria, and we did not have enough capacity in terms of manufacturing to meet Nigerian demand.”
There were only three or four cement plants in Nigeria at the time producing about 4 million MT per annum against what the country needed – almost 10 million MT.
The president ruled that the existing backward integration policy could not be continued and established a committee who came up with the idea that the policy should allow companies outside manufacturers who were building plants, in order to bring prices down.
“So they selected six companies to be able to import cement and we were chosen as one of the six companies,” Rabiu says.
But there was a big challenge.
“How do you import a million tons in a year or even 100,000 tons a month in bags? That will be like five or six cargos a month, to be able to take the bags out and transport them all over the country, so nobody could actually do it.
“The other guys had terminals, which means they were discharging the cement in bulk and taking it to their warehouses and bagging them in the warehouses and they had been in the business for a long time,” Rabiu says.
In order to reap the rewards in the lucrative cement industry, all the new six companies who had been granted licenses needed to secure terminals at the port. But the barriers to entry were significantly high.
Rabiu decided on a disruptive approach. “So I now came up with the idea of the floating terminal. It is like a factory on a vessel, so it moves. It is a big ship with a terminal in the ship. It was an idea I read about a long time ago and I decided to be innovative.”
He approached the only terminal at the time that was free in Greece and agreed on a price.
Fearing the size of the competition, Rabiu knew he needed to get protection for his business, if he stood a chance of competing favorably in the new venture.
“I knew that we had tough competition from the people who had factories and they were not happy with the government giving us the license because they were making so much money they did not want anyone to come into the business.
“So they were doing everything to frustrate it [the process]. I knew that there would be a problem. So before I bought my vessel, I came to Nigeria and sought an appointment to meet the president who granted me an audience and I explained everything to him.”
Rabiu made an impassioned plea to President Yar’Adua — he knew he could drive down the price of cement from $300 per bag to $150 if he had his own terminal.
However, building the terminal would take more than a year to complete, during which time cement prices would continue to rise, which would be detrimental to the Nigerian economy.
A floating terminal meant that the timeline of going to market was significantly reduced but more importantly, without the blessing from the president, the other giants in the industry would muscle him out of the game.
Once approval from the president was secured, Rabiu purchased his floating terminal and was ready to reap in the millions of dollars awaiting him in bags of cement.
It was logistically impossible for Rabiu to set up shop in Lagos. These circumstances pushed him to explore other means through which he could realize his goal. He approached Port Harcourt and this move proved to be fortuitous for him because all the eastern markets were coming to the port as there was nothing in the east.
However, not everything was ideal as he was allowed only one week in a month after which point he had to leave the port, making it difficult to offload his cement.
Rabiu was faced with more hurdles but eventually, was forced to consult the highest authority in the country to explain the barriers he encountered.
It was only after an order from the president that the impediments to Rabiu’s business stopped and, with that, came the growth of the BUA Group, to become one of the leading conglomerates in West Africa. As the monopolists gradually loosened their grips on the cement industry, Rabiu used the opportunity to build capacity. The company has five plants now.
“That experience strengthened my resolve because it was not easy. I never thought I was going to quit. If you don’t fight back or if you are weak, you will never survive. You have to understand that this is not personal but business and you have to keep fighting. When they see that you are fighting and not giving up then they let go because most of these things are illegal anyway,” says Rabiu.
BUA Group steadily expanded to cover new ground. With the new merger, Rabiu has seen an opportunity outside Nigeria’s borders. The demand between Sokoto and Niger through to Burkina Faso is estimated to be about 4 million MT of cement per annum.
Coupled with the fact that these countries are landlocked, there is a need to import all their clinker, the raw material needed for making cement.
His new merger with CCNN will create the second largest cement company on the Nigerian bourse after African mammoth, Dangote Cement.
Rabiu believes in Nigeria’s ability to produce its own products without relying on imports from other countries and in so doing, create tens of thousands of jobs for the Nigerian economy.
As the avenues to expand in Nigeria get limited, BUA Group has consistently sought to broaden its reach to new territories.
The fighting days are long gone and BUA under the aegis of its bold leader is ready to conquer new turf in Africa.
The Madhvanis: The Industrialists Who Have Tasted Sucrose And Success
The Madhvanis started with sugar and now lead diversified global businesses. In a rare interview from their home base of Kakira in Uganda, Mayur and Kamlesh Madhvani, the Joint Managing Directors of the Madhvani Group, share a century-old tale of extraordinary family enterprise and how they are continuing the legacy of their forefathers.
It’s a bumpy 100km drive from the Ugandan capital of Kampala to the town of Kakira in the east. Past the swaying sugarcane plantations and green hillocks and roundabouts intermittently featuring the words ‘Madhvani’ and ‘Sugar’ that announce you have arrived, a tranquil avenue, immaculately lined by pine trees and acacia, leads to Kakira.
From this little town, an international empire was built, with a reach in far and distant lands. To this little town, have many a cavalcade, bearing presidents and global business tycoons, made its way.
At the sugar factory that is the pulsating heart of Kakira, the quiet of the verdant landscape rapidly gives way to the deafening sound of production.
The sound of enterprise, the sound of African industry.
Close to the equator and Jinja, the source of the Nile, I am in the ‘cane yard’ of Kakira Sugar Limited, watching giant machines noisily swallow up truckloads of sugarcane and crush them into pulp.
READ MORE | Uganda Sees 11% Growth In Sugar Output This Year
Under the sweltering African sun, these monsters, also known as feeder tables, are four in number around me, relentlessly chopping tons of sugarcane fed by a long line of at least 400 trucks piled high with unruly cane stalks gathered from the fields in this eastern corner of Uganda.
This is the back-end and the beginning of a well-oiled factory process that will eventually turn sugarcane into foamy rivers of juice and finally sugar.
The entire process, from feeder table to sugar crystal, is completed in eight hours, resulting in bags of refined sugar at the other end.
Inside the factory, even the air is calorific, with the saccharine-sweet smell of sugar – and success. The factory is the soul of the 14,000-hectare Kakira Sugar Estate, which provides a livelihood to some 9,300 direct employees, and sugar to the rest of Uganda and East Africa.
It is the core business of The Madhvani Group, Uganda’s biggest sugar producer. And everything within a 10km radius from here, belongs to the group.
Generations of the Madhvani family have been based in Kakira, and much has happened here over the last century: success, strife, destruction and resurrection.
It all started in 1908, when at the age of 14, the family’s venerable patriarch, Mujlibhai Madhvani undertook the long and arduous journey from India to Uganda, to join his uncles Vithaldas and Kalidas Haridas in their shop in Iganga. By the time he was 20, Mujlibhai was tasked with opening and managing a shop in Jinja, a town at the source of the Nile River.
The waters ran deep in his veins as he was determined to make a success of his enterprise. He was appointed the Managing Director of Vithaldas Haridas & Company, which in 1918, bought around 800 acres of land in Kakira. The sugar factory subsequently started operating here in 1930, with a cane crushing capacity of 150 tons per day.
Mujlibhai built his empire on sugarcane, and laid the foundation for Kakira’s development, also empowering the communities within. Kakira grew around the factory and family home.
Soon, Mujlibhai Madhvani & Co. was also manufacturing sweets, soap, cooking oil, ghee, tea, margarine and pastry shortening. It also made cotton and became the agents for imported goods such as Goodyear tyres.
The late Manubhai, Mujlibhai’s second son, writes in his book, Tide of Fortune, an account of the family’s tale, with British author Giles Foden: “My father was the first person in Jinja to own a radio, which he bought in 1938. He purchased a record player in 1940 and soon afterwards, he became the proud owner of a 9.5mm film projector. His love of cars led him to purchase an extremely expensive powder-blue Buick, as well as an Oldsmobile.”
After Mujlibhai’s death in 1958, his eldest son, Jayantbhai, took over the business. Manubhai worked closely with him. By 1970, the Madhvani Group, according to Tide of Fortune, was at its peak with rapid annual growth of at least one new manufacturing unit a year. Manubhai says of his brother Jayantbhai: “I admired his humility and his commitment not only to serve the family, but also the community at large.”
And he further pens: “How did we select the industries we were expanding into? It was a combination of two or three policies, really. The first was to seek vertical integration. If you make beer, you will need bottles, so why not manufacture them and some plastic crates as well?”
Unfortunately, for the Madhvani family, tragedy struck when Jayantbhai died of a massive heart attack in 1971.
Politically too, Uganda’s destiny was changing.
When Idi Amin came to power in 1971, Manubhai was thrown into the Makindye military prison, an infamous hell hole, by the ruler for 21 days. The Madhvanis, along with the rest of the Asians living in Uganda, were notoriously expelled by Amin in 1972. The family relocated to London and then Kenya.
The sugar mill operation, which was producing 83,000 tons of sugar and contributing to 10% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), was destroyed, looted and run down.
“Production had been at a standstill since the end of 1983 and the great hangar where sugar had once been produced was now a home to birds and animals,” says a line in Manubhai’s book.
When Amin was toppled, the Madhvanis returned, to the vestiges of their farm and factory, and a family squabble, with a segment of the family taking over the business in 1980.
The property was returned and the process of recovery started in 1985, with Manubhai and Mayur, Mujlibhai’s youngest son.
“When you repossess assets that are completely destroyed and run down, there is obviously a great emotional side to this,” says Mayur, the Madhvani Group’s Joint Managing Director, when we meet him in his offices at the Kakira sugar factory on a sun-filled afternoon in March.
The offices he shares with his nephew and Joint Managing Director, Kamlesh, Manubhai’s elder son, are adorned with tasteful MF Husain paintings, family memorabilia and redolent with the smell of incense. The British-educated Mayur, wearing a crisp white linen shirt, warmly invites us to his office space.
“For us, it was not so much a business decision, I think it was more of an emotional decision but it ran into the business arena because we knew that once the industry would come up, there would be growth,” continues Mayur about the challenging 1980s.
Kamlesh, 64, who joined the business a few years later, and is the younger of the two, chips in: “Kakira is where the roots of the family are. What we learned very quickly was that it is far easier to build something new than to rehabilitate something that is in total disrepair. It is not only the physical assets but also the mentality of the people.”
They had to work hard to return it to the glory days of the past.
“When we were here before 1972, we had connections with a lot of leaders. Mrs Indira Gandhi visited us, and also the Kennedys; they all used to visit Kakira. Martin Luther King was here, to meet my brother. My father of course is the pioneer. I mean if you look at the way the estate is laid out, it was this man in the early 1950s that laid it out,” recalls Mayur.
Today, the Madhvani Group is one of the biggest diversified private-sector businesses in Uganda, with assets of $750 million for the Kakira sugar business, producing 180,000 tons of sugar, 74,000 tons of molasses and 22 million liters of ethanol.
The sugar factory also makes green electricity. Very little of the sugarcane is wasted. The fiber from the process, or the bagasse residue, is burned in large boilers to generate steam that drives the turbines.
The facility also generates 51MW of electricity daily and of that, sells 32MW to the national grid, “enough to light up Kampala”, says Mayur. This is one of the biggest bagasse co-generation power plants in Africa.
A tour of the sprawling factory is rounded off with a visit to a storage warehouse with mountains of 50kg sugar bags, stacked from floor to ceiling at any given time, ready to be hauled onto waiting trucks.
At an altitude of about 4,000ft, Kakira is lush, fertile territory offering year-round harvest. The sugar factory stops only for a month every year for maintenance. It processes its own cane but also buys from the farmers, or the out-growers, living outside the nucleus of the estate. This is an association built from Mujlibhai’s time.
“There was a genuine affection when we came back [in 1985]. But it was very nice to say the Madhvanis are back but the Madhvanis are not magicians,” recounts Mayur. “It takes a lot of hard work and strategizing, and with government support (President Yoweri Museveni was newly elected at the time), we managed, through our small efforts, to instil in him, the aspect of business not necessarily being a bad thing. He was the one that allowed us to move forward and put this company right and pay taxes.” Fast forward to now, and the group’s focus continues to be to build its core businesses.
It is commencing a new $150 million sugar project in the northern district of Uganda named Amuru, working closely with the government. It has a sugar project in Rwanda, and projects in South Sudan and Tanzania are also on the cards.
“If you are manufacturing food commodities, it’s going to grow and this is the bread basket of the world. The Ugandans went through hell with Idi Amin but you never heard about famine because we can put anything in the ground here. We are so blessed,” says Mayur.
Cashing in on the salubrious climate and natural resources, another focus area for the group is tourism. There are nine lodges that it currently operates in Africa including in Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya.
One of the ways in which it opts to stay relevant is with partnerships.
“In the past, we used to think we can run [the business] ourselves and have those old-fashioned conglomerates. Those days are gone. You need to tap into the international market and get good world-class partners to work with and work with the right value for the African context,” offers Kamlesh.
And this applies to management as well, to further professionalize what is a family-run business.
“Most businesses that have started have been family businesses, if you look at Walmart, Ford, etc. But what you have to do is move away from the family business and let it become a little bit more professionalized,” adds Mayur.
“You want to avoid falling into the trap where the first generation creates, the second generation enjoys and the third generation destroys. We are the second generation moving to the third. The Madhvanis have broken the mould, but now [it’s not] for us to think we are infallible. We need to set up something that other family businesses can emulate, and follow other families that have succeeded in this. For that, you need to have a business that is professionally-run, yet have the family involved to give direction and not lose total touch or control.”
For this reason, the group mandatorily organizes three meetings a year in Bermuda, attended by family members and stakeholders.
But why this location in the Atlantic Ocean, far from Kakira? “We set up our companies in Bermuda in 1958, so we have been there some serious years now,” says Mayur. “In those days, perhaps it’s correct to say Bermuda was a tax haven, but now, the corporate tax structures have changed. Bermuda becomes a good venue because it is one of those tax havens that is also respected by various jurisdictions and for us, it is a historical fact that we were based in Bermuda. Our boards are all there.”
In Bermuda, the family also meets with members not actively involved in the business. Even the youngsters who are a part of the business have to report on their activities.
“We present our reports to the family and I think the secret that myself and Kamlesh are looking at is that the business has to be such that it survives this turmoil of create, enjoy and destroy and there is transparency. The secret is transparency. The more transparency you have in a business, the more likely it is going to survive the long-term because then individuals are not allowed to mess up the day-to-day control systems,” says Mayur.
“Leadership is something that you grow into by an accident of life. I am not the oldest of this family. I have two brothers but they are much older. Kamlesh’s dad, and my elder brother Jayant, sort of had the experience of my father. So did Pratap and Sur, my elder brothers and then things changed. We came back here and I worked closely with Kamlesh’s father and he had a lot of knowledge and I had the advantage I had. We got on as a team wonderfully, and in any business, you always need the ying and the yang. Kamlesh and I work very closely but you will find that each one of us is very good in certain aspects of the business. That is so important.”
As Joint Managing Directors, their offices are adjacent to each other.
“We have this little window and we shout at each other or talk to each other whenever we want,” laughs Mayur.
“We are more like brothers, but he is still my nephew. As children, when we were at boarding school in the United Kingdom, his mother was always worried and I had to look out for him.”
Looking ahead, the Madhvani Group plans to produce rum, vodka and gin, predominantly for the export market. All of these are by-products of the same crop – sugarcane. The distillery at the estate produces 22 million liters of Extra Neutral Alcohol or ethanol a year.
“Sugar is the main product, [but] it’s quite possible in the time to come that some of these other activities from the by-products will become the main product. Such as electricity and alcohol… We are even putting up a plant for carbonated waters coming up next year,” says Mayur.
But Uganda, a part of the East African Community (EAC), has a population of about 45 million and a poor rating score in the EAC when it comes to corruption. Surely, that’s discouraging for investors?
“The biggest problem we have in Africa is nearly 58% of the population is below the age of 30 and these individuals really do not want to hear about the wars because it is history. They are looking to see Africa catapult itself to another level. What the businessman needs is political stability and structured legal systems so that you feel comfortable doing your activity and I think [that is the only way] you will see Africa grow,” says Mayur.
“And yes, we do have corruption; it is endemic, you have corruption in every country. You have got to stop it. You have to have the right systems in place and you have to have total transparency on how businesses are conducted. Countries have gone through these stages and I think you have got to make an effort to try and eliminate corruption actively, without lip service. Now, action needs to be taken. If you look at Rwanda, it has progressed amazingly. As a businessman, what I have seen is the efficiency in which the government works, and the government takes decisions very pragmatically. That is the kind of model one needs to follow.”
At this point, Kamlesh interjects to say decisions taken must be implemented too.
“It leads to frustration. In Uganda, you have the President who has tremendous vision, and his vision towards the private sector driving the economy becoming the engine of the economy is absolutely spot-on, but there is no follow up,” agrees Mayur.
As in other countries of the EAC, in Uganda too, private-public partnerships may be the way forward and it takes effort from the private sector to lead that charge.
“The politics of Africa is very similar. Leadership is important but then [you have to] have growth cycles driven by the private sector. I remember there was a time when in Uganda, prior to the expulsion of the Asians in 1972, to do business was criminal. If you were a businessman, you were regarded as a crook. Today, it is instilled that everyone should do business; business is a good thing. There are positive changes.”
The Madhvani Group’s sugar project in Amuru, in northern Uganda, for example, will be owned 51% by the government and 49% by the group and it will be managing it.
“Eventually, the government will offload the shares to the general public, but I think it is important for all private sector businesses to try to involve the community, the population around you,” says Mayur.
“Kenya’s President Jomo Kenyatta gave a good analogy when we left Uganda. He said ‘in the case of you Madhvani, you are the tree and the tree has fruit and if you share the fruit with the local community, the tree will get water’… For instance, we make the products, but we don’t do the distribution, we allow the others, we have our out-growers.”
“The farmers benefit more, we have a very successful joint venture NGO with them,” adds Kamlesh. “Essentially, we convinced the farmers to contribute a certain amount of money which we will also contribute and this money goes to finance roads, clinics, health facilities and orphanages. This is one quite unique experiment. The farmers have voluntarily sort of parted with money.”
For farmers like 48-year-old Naitema Godfrey, who owns 48 acres of land and has been an out-grower for the Madhvani Group for the last 15 years, sugarcane is everything. Calling himself a “sugarcane millionaire”, he says: “The food crop has given us money, power, sugar and electricity.”
Another out-grower, Robert Waako, who has been supplying sugarcane to the Madhvanis for the last 26 years, says he has been able to put his six children through school and college; four of them are software engineers today.
On the cards for the Madhvani Group is a possible listing in the future. The group also operates properties in India, and is big on religious tourism with hotels in famous pilgrimage sites.
“Indians are very religious, they go to these sites, but don’t have a good place to stay. We built a beautiful four-star hotel in Tirupati. We are now opening one in Bodh Gaya, and we have in Rajkot. At Rishikesh, we have the land, and we are looking at Shirdi and Benares. They are all in the pipeline.”
Back home in Uganda, the group are also big in packaging and steel.
The discovery of oil in the country has made investors and the private sector sit up to the opportunities to fund development.
The Madhvanis are also keen to hop on to the bandwagon.
“We are looking for good partners to work with. We have our infrastructure companies, also working on the logistics side,” offers Mayur, but says Africa’s real strength is the green economy.
“I think oil is overplayed, and is not going to solve our problems. I think oil brings problems in itself, from an environmental point of view and the point of view of not becoming too reliant on this one product. Look at Nigeria and Saudi Arabia; they are all looking at alternatives now. The one thing you have got to remember in Africa is we have the weather, and we have vast tracks of land that are fertile. I think Africa can be a great grain basket for the world.”
The next generation of the Madhvanis are in line to take the company to the future. Mayur’s 34-year-old daughter Tanya, who is based in Rome, is responsible for managing the hotel business.
His nephew Ronnie was tasked with reviving the packaging business and he has built it into “a multi-million enterprise through his creativity and marketing efforts”.
The caveat is that family members who are involved in the business must contribute to its growth. Kamlesh and Mayur too came up learning the ropes the hard way.
“We have enough youngsters in business. But just employing family members for the sake of employing them and giving them a posh office is totally wrong and it hasn’t worked. What you have to do is contribute, and when you do, you also get a share of the success as an individual,” says Mayur.
“Basically, we are all fortunate we had good role models to follow. If you read my father’s book, you will know we had our own turmoil in the family. Kakira did not come to us and say ‘here is the key’; we had to fight for it. We had to fight for it from other family members as well. We are not the perfect family; we had to prove ourselves [in addition to] the passion we had [for the business]. That is the type of determination that made it work,” says Kamlesh.
“We started at zero…” adds Mayur.
Today, the family members all have their own businesses too, and in different countries. “I have my own companies. Kamlesh has his. I have vast real estate in Orlando, we all have assets in Europe, North America and India. But we have been taught to be low-profile,” says Mayur.
The family live in bungalows near the factory in Kakira, minutes from each other. There is nowhere else they would rather be. They have their own airstrip and private planes.
“This is utopia for us,” says Kamlesh.
Succession planning is key in ensuring the Madhvani legacy lives on. Mayur is cognizant of this truism.
“We have reached an age where we know the inevitable is coming. We have to witness the change so we can actually guide that change to some extent, rather than create a vacuum and arrive at a situation where there is no smooth handover,” he says.
“We will have to leave that to the next generation. The important thing is to make sure that whatever business that we have, we maintain a world-class lead in them. Today, our sugar factory is the most modern in the world, and more and more we are moving towards automation, and everybody is going to still need sugar,” says Kamlesh.
“In the end, you don’t work for the money, you work for the passion of it all.” The bags and packets of sugar that go out of this little town of Kakira are testament to the fertile bounties of the land, and the story of a family from India that, through enterprise, resilience and industry, found its fortune in the fields in a beautiful corner of Africa.
Businesses Of The Future: 20 New Wealth Creators On The African Continent
The New Wealth Creators is the first of its kind list by FORBES WOMAN AFRICA. Herein is a collection of female entrepreneurs on the African continent running businesses and social enterprises that are new, offbeat and radical.
These 20 women have been selected because they have created significant impact in their respective sectors by transforming a market or company, or innovating a product or service, and are pioneering their organization(s) in generating new untapped streams of income.
These women come from across the continent, from the villages and the suburbs, and are in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. They have all adopted sustainable development initiatives in one way or another to help solve Africa’s problems.
They may be wealth creators but their businesses, ironically, did not stem from a need to make money, but rather from the need to solve Africa’s persisting socio-economic challenges.
Economically empowering women has shown to boost productivity. It increases economic diversification and income equality, in addition to other positive developmental outcomes.
Simply put, when more women work, economies are likely to grow.
FORBES WOMAN AFRICA put in months of rigorous research, searching near and far for these inspirational entrepreneurs.
We took into account their business model, new ideas, potential, struggles, social impact, growth, influence, resilience and most importantly, their innovation.
Speaking to FORBES WOMAN AFRICA last year at the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, said: “Innovation [is] becoming the cornerstone for our economy going forward.”
As Africa’s population is reported to increase by 53% by 2100, according to the United Nations, new solutions must be created in order for us to keep up.
One question remains: can Africa translate its significant population growth into economic development, and invest this wealth to improve the quality of life?
Entrepreneurship could very well be the answer, or at least, one of the answers.
Last year, the Founder and Chair of the Alibaba Group Jack Ma paid Africa a visit to discuss tangible investment and technology development.
He encouraged African entrepreneurs to take giant leaps in solving the challenges facing the continent and to take advantage of the digital economy.
He said that opportunities lie where people complain.
And these women, through their businesses, have identified just that.
Vijay Tirathrai, director of the Techstars Dubai Accelerator, shared the same sentiments with FORBES WOMAN AFRICA.
“The new wealth creators, for me, are entrepreneurs who are very conscious about finding solutions in the market place, but from a lens of having social impact or having impacted the environment,” he says.
Tirathrai believes that while servicing consumers, new wealth creators are also “making a safer and a greener planet in the process, eliminating diseases, improving health conditions and advocating for equality for women”.
Women on the African continent have been making headway as drivers of change, and in many ways, they embody new wealth.
They are the true wealth.
As FORBES WOMAN AFRICA, we seek to celebrate such women.
Through this list, money is no longer the central indicator of new wealth creation.
It is about job creation, contributing to healthy societies, recycling waste, giving agency to those who are financially excluded and developing solutions for some of the socio-economic problems we grapple with.
These women may all come from different places but they are bound together by one common thread, and that is the thread of new wealth creation.
This compilation is innovative, exciting, inspiring and shows what businesses of the future may look like.
Meet the FORBES WOMAN AFRICA New Wealth Creators of 2019.
The list on the pages that follow is in no particular order.
-Curated by: Unathi Shologu
Making Up For Millions
Pain, Poison And Potential
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