c14 January 2014


Jonathan Berman

“It is Africa’s ambition and no-one else’s that leads Africa. Africa is not a place that success is landing on; it is a place creating success for itself and others.”

I was glad the team at Gong plucked this phrase from my book Success in Africa as the banner for their upcoming event in London. For in London, as in my native New York and my current home, Washington, I find many understand that Africa is succeeding. Few understand why. Almost none acknowledge it’s mostly because of Africans.

In March of last year, a general election campaign was underway in Kenya. Western leaders urged the people of Kenya to refrain from violence. It seemed reasonable, as Kenya experienced horrific violence in its 2007 elections. But no one knew that better than Kenyans. They didn’t need foreign heads of state to tell them about it.

At their best, successful managers of global capital and global businesses do much better in this regard. Their practices allow them to transfer skills, networks and corporate cultures that work in the African context, and are welcomed there by capable partners and stakeholders. I asked some of the CEOs who lead those global companies to participate in Success in Africa, and they shared their perspectives alongside mine.

Of course, no one knows better how to succeed in Africa than Africans. That may seem an obvious point, but consider how often, in any medium, you hear management wisdom from an African? I have worked with corporate leaders in the US, Europe, Asia and Africa. In my view, some of the most visionary and accomplished business men and women anywhere are the ones leading the current transformation of Africa. Emerging continents have been the wellspring of transformative business leaders before. Rockefeller. Carnegie. Tata. From the US in the 19th century to Africa today, frontier markets have given rise to business leaders uniquely capable of managing uncertainty, generating disruption, and leading breathtaking growth.

Those are skills in demand not just in Africa, but the world over.