Africa: Avenues to Growth

IESE Insight builds on ties with Africa to offer tips for doing business there

25/03/2015 Barcelona

IESE Insight
Africa is streets ahead of where it was a decade ago. Navigate the complexities of the continent with IESE Insight / Illustration: Olalekan Jeyifous

Ever since helping to establish Lagos Business School in Nigeria and Strathmore Business School in Kenya, IESE has worked to encourage reciprocal knowledge-sharing and closer ties with Africa. Issue 24 of IESE Insight magazine is fruit of the latest collaborative effort.

The executive dossier was guest edited by IESE’s Lluís G. Renart and Africa Ariño, two of the driving forces behind the IESE project known as The Africa Initiative. In her article, Africa Ariño shares the collective wisdom of business leaders on the do’s and don’ts of internationalizing across the continent, based on interviews she conducted during a research sabbatical there.

Writing with Robert Mudida of Strathmore Business School, IESE’s Alejandro Lago highlights the main macroeconomic trends and presents a road map for companies planning to enter sub-Saharan African markets. Lago has been a visiting professor at Strathmore and worked as a consultant in East Africa since 2007. He is the acting director of The Africa Initiative and the academic director for IESE’s Overseas MBA Module on "Doing Business in Africa," accompanying groups of students to Strathmore where they gain on-the-ground experience interacting with Kenyan students, professors and executives, and work on consulting projects for local companies.

Franca Ovadje of Lagos Business School describes the leadership qualities needed to succeed in sub-Saharan Africa. She also reflects on whether the same principles hold true for the Millennial generation, whose shifting preferences represent the African leadership of tomorrow.

Whether you have business interests in Africa or not, the issues the authors raise are relevant for whichever market you’re in:

  • the importance of digging beneath the hard numbers to get at the soft variables;
  • the impact of cultural, administrative, geographic and economic distances on internationalization strategies;
  • the need to adapt leadership styles for diverse contexts and different generations of workers;
  • the pursuit of long-term objectives that prioritize job creation and sustainable development.

Preparedness, rapid response and community engagement are other relevant lessons, as shown in a feature on Ebola, whose spread, some say, has been facilitated by globalization. Yet it would be unfair to blame our connected world for such problems. Another article by Pankaj Ghemawat and Steven A. Altman reveals that the actual level of global connectedness is much lower than one thinks. On balance, greater trade, capital, information and people flows bring more advantages than disadvantages.

Continental Grain Company CEO Paul Fribourg makes a similar point regarding risk and volatility: these are not necessarily bad for business, he says, provided you know how to manage them well. In an exclusive interview, he stresses the importance of taking the long view – something he should know, as the sixth-generation CEO to run his 200-year-old family agribusiness and investment firm.

Elsewhere, IESE’s Evgeny Káganer envisages the need for a new organizational figure – the data experience designer – to help companies make sense of the vast amounts of personal data they are accumulating on their customers. Spotify is an example of a business that is leveraging data to create a powerful streaming music service. Yet as an IESE case study shows, Spotify may need to adjust its business model to remain viable in the face of growing competition.

Members of the Alumni Association and subscribers to IESE Insight – a quarterly research-based magazine, published in separate English and Spanish editions – can read all these articles using their membership credentials.

Those who are neither Alumni nor subscribers can access the premium content either by subscribing to the magazine or buying the articles.