Africa's Business World Champions: 40 African Firms Enter the Premier League

By Versi, Anver | African Business, July 2010 | Go to article overview

Africa's Business World Champions: 40 African Firms Enter the Premier League


Versi, Anver, African Business


Over the last decade and a half, a crop of elite African companies has been quietly building ambitious businesses that are now not only world class but are outperforming their peers even in developed markets. The US-based Boston Consulting Group, a world leader in management strategy, has just published its study of 40 African companies that have a dynamic international presence and are well on their way to becoming major global conglomerates. African Business Editor Anver Versi reviews the study.

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It is a happy coincidence that when the African Business Awards*, identifying and acknowledging the best and brightest in African entrepreneurship, celebrates its third anniversary, one of the world's leading management consultancies publishes a report showing that African companies are some of the very best in the world.

The study, by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), which has the reputation of being the world's leading advisor on business strategy, says that it has identified 40 African companies--the 'African Challengers'--which not only compete on a global level but are outperforming established players in developed countries.

While we at African Business, charting the performance of the continent's companies on a day-by-day basis have never had any doubts about the abilities of our entrepreneurs to challenge the world, the general consensus outside the continent has been very different.

African companies, like the continent it-self, have been on the receiving end of a very long-standing negative perception, based on little more than prejudice, and the extrapolation of worst-case scenarios to cover the entire continent and its activities.

For those who have been labouring under the impression that everything African must, by definition, be backward, underdeveloped and primitive, the BCG study has come like a splash of very cold water shocking them into hard reality.

For Africa, the study is a welcome acknowledgement from one of the Western world's most important management think-tanks that its hard work and extraordinary achievements over the past decade and a half have not gone entirely unnoticed by the outside world.

While Africa has become inured to the patronising and often sneering attitude from outside and has gone about its business as best as it could, the study will nevertheless vindicate its approach and increase confidence that indeed, this could well be Africa's century.

The study, which, no doubt, will be very widely distributed, will also provide inspiration to African countries and companies collectively. As in other aspects of life, success breeds success. Champions create more champions, whether this be in the field of sports or business.

The ramifications of the study are already being felt. Attitudes are being hastily revised. Organisations that had routinely ignored Africa are now scrambling to take a closer look. Suddenly, Africa is in--in a big way.

The study acknowledges the prevailing dismissive attitude to Africa: "Over the last decade, Africa has begun to emerge. Hidden in plain view, scores of African companies have been competing and rapidly expanding in the global economy. Their ambitions may be larger than their revenues but collectively they are making a mark."

The African Lions

But healthy companies do not grow out of barren soil. The study rightly looks at the national environments that have produced these brilliant companies.

The outstanding performance of the 40 African Challengers mirrors the equally brilliant performances of the bulk of African countries over the past decade, when the continent grew by a sustained average of around 6%, until the global economic crisis of 2007-8 applied the brakes.

The study also lays to rest many current myths about the continent: "The conventional view is that Africa--with 20% of the world's land and 15% of its population, but just 4% of global GDP--has been down so long it will be hard for it to ever rebound", reflecting the view so infamously put forward by The Economist a few years ago when it labelled Africa "The Hopeless Continent". …

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