Neil Harvey of Renaissance Capital: Africa Is the New Russia

By Yedder, Omar Ben | African Business, January 2008 | Go to article overview

Neil Harvey of Renaissance Capital: Africa Is the New Russia


Yedder, Omar Ben, African Business


Renaissance Capital is a relatively new entity to Africa. It made a name for itself in Russia and the CIS in the late 1990s and the 2000s becoming one of the region's biggest deal makers and most influential investment banks. Its founder and CEO, Stephen Jennings says that if Russia was the opportunity of a lifetime, Africa is the second opportunity of a lifetime. But the reception to Renaissance has been mixed with some accusing it of being too aggressive. It has also ruffled the feathers of the more established foreign finance houses and alarmed one of Africa's major multinational banks. How does the balance sheet on Renaissance read? Omar Ben Yedder tries to uncover the real Renaissance in this interview with Neil Harvey, CEO, Africa & Middle East of Renaissance Capital.

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African Banker: What is your role at Renaissance Capital and Renaissance Group?

Neil Harvey: I sit on the board of the main Renaissance Group, and I also run the group's businesses in Africa and the Middle East. Also, I have some global responsibilities, global being for us Russia, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Central Asia, Ukraine, Middle East and Africa; that is our world, as it were.

We also have distribution centres in London, New York and Dubai. I have some responsibilities in terms of the liquidity, funding and risk on a global basis for the investment bank, Renaissance Capital, but most of my time is spent on running the group in Africa.

African Banker: Is there a Renaissance way of doing things; a Renaissance model?

Neil Harvey: There is a business model which works in emerging markets. We are headquartered in an emerging market; we are not headquartered in London or New York, and that is the big difference. We started in emerging markets--we didn't take a business model that worked in the US or Europe and adapted it to emerging markets; we actually built our business model in emerging markets. We are able to originate, execute research and structure on the ground--and that makes a big difference.

We do delegate authority, so the businesses we are building in Africa aren't going to be run out of Moscow but out of Lagos, our headquarters for the region. That is a different business model.

Being on the ground is very, very important. If you are researching a company from New York or London you can never really do it in the same way as if you're on the ground and close to the company, close to the market and close to the regulators. So I think that does make a difference.

The fact that we invest our own capital alongside the investment bank, through Renaissance Partners--our principal investment arm--enables us to leverage a lot of the contacts and insights that we have to make profitable, principled investments.

We've also got the best people. Look at our board in Africa and compare that to Goldman's or Deutsche Bank's.

We don't have people who go to the African markets just to retire. We have attracted the best local talents in those markets.

In Africa, we went from zero staff to 100 in 11 months. Very few organisations can move that quickly. The facts are that we can take decisions quickly, we are a private company and we don't have a big bureaucracy. I think all of these contribute to make the Renaissance model unique.

African Banker: Have you been well received by investors and the various regulators on the ground?

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Neil Harvey: Investors definitely. Miles Morland, speaking at our London conference said: 'we have been waiting for somebody to take this market, take the bull by the horns and deal with it'.

There is no other investment bank focusing on the African market across all products with a local approach. Most investors are enthusiastic because we are bringing new products, new companies and we are bringing research that has never been done before. …

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