HOW TO GET A HEAD IN AFRICA

Your success is their success–and they’re determined to make a success of that. This, in a nutshell, is the philosophy behind John Fogwell & Associates (JF&A).

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It’s a philosophy that is reaping rich dividends. Not only has the company played an active part in trade in excess of R300 million over the past years (with the near-term goal of increasing that to R 1 billion), but it has also parented a second successful venture in the form of AfricaOne Holdings. CEO John Fogwell reveals how it’s done.

From specialising in corporate legal services and Africa business development, JF&A has metamorphosed into a full corporate and business advisory firm, with a uniquely human touch. Fogwell explains: “Our focus lies on providing medium-sized corporate companies with a holistic approach to management consulting by providing our support services to clients with the explicit aim to have maximum impact thus guaranteeing a long-term return on investment. By blending targeted coaching and mentoring with high-impact consulting and development and further providing the relevant technical training, we can add great value to any company or entrepreneur.”

The ability to deliver on these promises has enabled JF&A to build a formidable reputation for specialist expertise founded on a symbiotic approach to business development.

“We have over the last 12 years been incredibly fortunate to have been able to contribute to some extremely exciting entrepreneurs and to enjoy their growth journey with them,” says Fogwell. “This has empowered us to have a strong base of reference as well providing us with the opportunity to rub shoulders with key leaders in their selective fields. We also believe it is our passion towards adding value in different spheres of our client’s business that has made us a preferred partner in South Africa, Mauritius and Zambia.”

Practice, not theory, lends the company’s its competitive edge. As Fogwell puts it: “Simple, honest, direct advice and services based on in-the-trenches experience accompanied by academic muscle, constant research, a strong trusted network and a passion that makes your business obstacles our business obstacles.”

A unique aspect of JF&A’s multi-pronged delivery of services is combining coaching and mentoring with high-impact consulting, then finishing a project with fit and proper training. In this way, the intellectual capital is passed on to the client.

Fogwell illustrates this win-win attitude with a success story (one among many): “About eight or nine years ago, a client approached our firm with his business partnership in tatters. Although the business was healthy and doing well enough, the partners were having an out-and-out boxing match and the lawyer letters were flying.

“Today that company is still one of our larger clients and is not only a healthy business with a dynamic partnership, between the same partners, but it has grown its business ten-fold, operates in three different industries in four different countries, and employs close to 1 200 staff.”

AfricaOne rising

As JF&A’s clients began to expand onto the African continent, the need arose for a specialist vehicle to help them achieve their ambitions. JF&A and Group R Mining & Exploration Ltd, then based in the Seychelles, entered a joint strategy to rapidly empower the development of Group R onto the African continent. This was the genesis of AfricaOne Holdings, which has subsequently provided advisory, planning, financing and execution services for 30 companies across Africa. It has also been instrumental in Group R’s growth into one of the most respected mining contractors on the continent, with operations in Mauritius, Zambia and Botswana.

Innovation and empowerment are key to this success. Fogwell elaborates: “Innovation does not only lie in technology development and deployment but equally in pre-adapting to market conditions and addressing needs of clients pro-actively.

A simple example of innovation in a non-technical way is changing your billing style to profit-share basis from the traditional hourly rate. We have revamped HR departments for a share of the CCMA settlement reduction budget year on year, for example.

“We drive innovation in our group by empowering every person that we touch to contribute an idea, strategy or even a simple tip. From this, we find that one can develop massive differentiators and insure longevity in your company.”

No fairy-tale

Doing business in Africa requires the chameleon-like ability to adapt to different languages, legislative frameworks and business models. Fogwell advises the aspirant entrepreneur:

“Many business people storm into a country believing its citizens have little to no access to products and services and wallets bulging with dollars, just waiting for you to give it away. This fairy tale has caused many people to lose out big time.

“One must remember that most of all the big players are all over the continent. You can have lunch in Kampala (Uganda) at the Spur just after you bought Clover milk at the Game or Shoprite before going to meet G4S security for a meeting. This should clearly show you that you are not the first to bring a product or service to the market.

“Political risk, poor infrastructure and power shortages are also huge obstacles to large-scale investment. That said, I have found that effective partnerships and an innovative approach can turn your business into a massive success.”

If that sounds daunting, Fogwell reassures: “At AfricaOne we can help you from researching to developing your strategy right from incorporating your local company to assisting with in-country legal, tax and HR issues. We also boast a comprehensive network of allies on the continent, which helps reduce that initial emotional strain.”

With the right approach, the opportunities are there for the taking.

“Africa truly holds a plethora of business opportunities for the astute businessman,” Fogwell enthuses. Review virtually every sector and you will find a need that can be addressed by a solid entrepreneur. Africa has a vibrant young population that needs products and services. Africa is creating billionaires daily and Africa is open for business.”

Lessons in leadership

It goes without saying that exceptional management and leadership skills are required for any one business to succeed under African conditions, let alone two or more. Fogwell’s take on these matters is modest and direct:

“One has to understand that you cannot serve two Gods and that a business is an extremely jealous lover. I’ve found that the only way to steer two companies is to align the management contribution as close as possible to your role in your current business.

“I currently act in senior or director positions in several operational companies in four countries, and I am no superhuman. I use my platform within JF&A to contribute to my role in AfricaOne and the other firms, whilst recruiting and partnering with individuals I regard as my superiors. This way, you consistently learn from trusted people and develop robust corporate structures.

“Managing your time effectively is key as well as being honest with yourself on how much your fork could truly hold. In a nutshell, I contribute personally what I am great at and get people to assist me in my short comings.

“A good leader is a builder. You create the vision, the strategy and draw a roadmap. From there you must focus on building the people, structures and systems around you. You invest your time in working on the business and let the staff work in the business. It is difficult and most days the noise of everyday business draws you in and you end up managing mundane tasks. But a great leader always remains focussed on his desire to build the next thing or to better something in this business.

“I also believe steadiness is key for any great leader, especially when it feels like the wheels are coming off. When everyone else starts to panic, they must be able to see steady and visible leadership. This empowers them to focus on their duties in the business.”

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