3 CFOs on succeeding in Africa

For many South African companies, expanding successfully through the rest of the continent is a sort of Holy Grail. Many have been burned in their efforts and some abandon their plans completely after failing to negotiate difficult terrain. Here are three financial executives’ advice on doing business in Africa from our interview archives.

Damain Matroos, CFO of SacOil, a South African-based independent African oil and gas company, said that it was crucial that local firms abandon any sort of superiority complex when moving across the continent.

"The fundamental thing is, if you try to exploit the other African jurisdictions to the benefit of South Africa, you'll come unstuck. If you go into rest of Africa with the mentality that there are good opportunities and good people to work with, you have a chance to succeed. This is definitely the approach that we adopt and it has been successful for us thus far."

Seyi Bickersteth (pictured), National Senior Partner KPMG Nigeria & Chairman KPMG Africa Practice, highlighted the importance of playing the long game when attempting to participate in growth opportunities in Africa.

"You've got to have the capacity, and this involves many things - setting up a good structure, ensuring you have the financing, ensuring you've got the people. I think you've got to have a horizon that is medium to long term. And you have to be willing to participate fully. To benefit yourself and government it's a two-way street."

Seithati Bolipombo is CFO of Chancellor House Holdings, a privately held investment holding company with investment interests in various industries across Africa. She said it was critical that firms gain an in-depth understanding of the regulatory and cultural environments in which they are looking to operate.

"The more you move outside of the SADC region in particular, the more different the business environment becomes. One of the first challenges is the different regulatory environments. The manner of doing business is also different; there are cultural and somewhat intangible nuances that you can't really quantify, and if you get that wrong you can compromise or even lose a large business prospect.

"Most African countries, much like ours, are focussing more and more on promoting investment that is inclusive for their own people. So a lot of time when we speak to the decision-makers in the various countries the message is the same: they are willing and open for investment, but they need us to ensure there is participation from local companies in our supply chain or at an investment level or so on. It's important, especially because we know our own history and the strides that we are trying to make in terms of BB-BEE and transformation, so we have a strong appreciation of that."