Freddie Achom – African Interview (April 2015)
We caught up with British-Nigerian serial investment entrepreneur Freddie Achom, who founded the private investment firm Rosemont Group Capital Partners in 2003. His investment firm has invested in a wide range of sectors including Mumbai listed renewable energy company CPEC LTD, biotechnology to tech based companies, and has most recently invested in the UK’s number one parking app, AppyParking. In this interview Freddie discusses his latest plans to expand his investment focus into Africa, reveals his Nigerian roots and explains why it’s important for Africans in the diaspora to adopt the growth mindset.
In your social media you mention the phrase growth mindset, what is the meaning of that term?
Growth mindset is adopting that pass-on mentality. A lot of Africans in general shun the idea of building for tomorrow; instead many only look to build for today.
The growth mindset is taking on the attitude of building for our children, building for our grandchildren, so that our grandchildren will build for their grandchildren.
This is the only way to build generational wealth, core family values, and a lasting legacy. The Jewish, Asian and Europeans have understood this concept of growth mindset so why shouldn’t we. Not to get to religious on you but even in the book of Proverbs in the Bible highlights the important of growth mindset in the verse that says “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.”
Would you encourage aspiring African entrepreneurs in the diaspora to venture into business there?
Anyone who claims to be an entrepreneur would be shortsighted to disregard Africa. I believe Africa is the way forward, the resources, and the growth over the next ten to fifteen years will surpass any other continent. Entrepreneurs should look at Africa as an option to conduct business or explore in general.
How often do you visit Africa?
As often as my time allows, I love going, I love the energy.
What countries do you usually visit in Africa?
Nigeria, Ghana, Morocco, and Kenya. Previously I went for mainly holiday purposes but now it’s more frequent due to my business relations there.
What business are you doing there?
In India we’ve built large-scale solar power plants and a few years ago was presented with an opportunity to replicate our model in Africa. So for the past year or so we’ve been planning to get into the solar sector in Ghana and Nigeria, which is going smoothly now that the policy changes have worked in our favour.
Nigeria has just privatised the power sector by offering various licenses, from power generation licenses to distribution licenses, which is good news for us as well as those looking to enter this market.
The Rosemont Group mainly invest in tech companies in the western world, what do you think of the tech space in Africa?
I think it’s evolving, I would say the only reason why it’s not grown as fast as tech start-ups in Europe, Asia, Israel and America is not because of less talent but simply because of the lack of investments in that direction and inabilities to monetise. At the moment many investment firms find it safe to invest in traditional businesses within the private sector like agricultures, infrastructures, oil and gas because it seems more like a secure proven option.
I strongly believe that it’s only a matter of time until the digital tech space in Africa will begin to evolve more rapidly due to the rising growth in population, which will soon translate to larger demand for tech services that will give birth to more e-commerce and social media platforms similar to the rapid rise of telecoms in Africa.
In your opinion what would you say is the difference between an African entrepreneur and a western entrepreneur mentality wise?
A lot of African entrepreneurs are not bound by sectors, not bound by particular industries or sets of rules, they have this mentality that they will learn on the job.
You’re typical African entrepreneur can walk by a mountain of metal and decide he will take those and sell them, he doesn’t say “I’m in the marketing business so I’m not touching that”. You can approach him and say, “I have a consignment of microchips that need selling”, and he’ll say “I’ll sell them” and he will find a way to get the job done.
With western entrepreneurs, they tend to be more structured, more rigid and stay in the confines of what they know, they don’t really cross into another sector.
Who are some of the African entrepreneurs you admire?
There are many business people that I admire from Aliko Dangote, Wale Tinubu, to Ashish Thakkar.
I like how Aliko Dangote has played the long-term strategy in business. He is very pan Africa, investing a lot of his resources and capital in Africa. I understand from a good source that he banks all his money in Nigeria, which a lot of entrepreneurs and businessmen do not do. A lot of African entrepreneurs will show faith on the front end but on the back end they tend to safeguard themselves by investing and looking outside the continent.
I also admire Wale Tinubu for his business professionalism and how he built up his company from the ground up.
What business opportunities would you say there are in countries in Africa like Nigeria?
There are so many opportunities in the private sector in Africa generally – its incredible because usually the majority of international businesses that go into Nigeria are tied to governmental contracts.
There are so many opportunities that we take for granted here everyday that will be brand new in Africa, for example offering new developed marketing services, new advertising formats, and offering peer-to-peer business solutions even something simple as lifestyle improvement services like delivery or mail box rental services.
If you look you will see so many examples of Africans In the diaspora succeeding by realising the untapped potential, Jason Njoku who started IRoko TV is one example of out of many.
What are the practical steps that entrepreneur can take to venture into Africa?
I would say, you must first become part of, and understand, the culture and also have a passion to find uniquely innovative solutions that you can solve the everyday African problems. When the British went to China and Asia they first learned the culture and the business traditions, Africa is no different.
I agree, it’s impossible to succeed in business without integrating with the culture you anticipate to do business in?
Yes I have associates that failed to break through into business in Africa due to not taking the time out to get accustomed to how things work there.
So the culture of Europe and Africa is different, let’s say you book a meeting with someone in Europe at 11 in the morning; you’ll usually arrive there early at 10:45 or even 10:30. In places like Nigeria if you book a meeting for 10 in the morning, it will not start by 12 or even 3pm. The reason for that is because they have this mentality that if you really want this business; you have to hang around for it.
So, I would really advise entrepreneurs or professionals to visit Africa and familiarise themselves with how things are done.
When did you decide that going into business was the career path for you?
I became a businessman by default due to my background growing up in Nigeria. My dad built up one of Nigeria’s biggest independent insurance companies in the 70s and 80’s from scratch and I would say that influenced me in a major way.
It’s very natural for a child to follow in their fathers or mothers footsteps, especially for me, seeing how my dad was able to start with virtually nothing but determination and the support of my mum. So from a young age I always had an inclination that I would either own my own business or work in a financial profession like banking.
What made you choose a career in business instead of banking?
There were many factors.
First of all I moved from Nigeria to London at age eight, but by the age of seventeen I got myself in a position where I had to fend for myself due to a disagreement with my father which drove me to search for a job.
The first job I had was in sales and marketing for a large stationery firm, months after that I moved on to a high-paid commission sales job selling financial services. To cut a long story short, I excelled in that job and ended up being head hunted, moving firms and then becoming the regional sales manager, but then decided to start-up my own business development agency.
What age where you when you started your first business?
I was twenty-four when I started my first business (City Business Partners).
What did your business do?
We provided business development services to small to medium sized businesses.
What made you make such a bold move at such a young age?
I guess when you are younger you are much more fearless and you tend to defy conventional wisdom. I basically knew
What keeps you grounded in business?
My children do. I always make time to spend with family and closest friends; I think where many entrepreneurs go wrong is placing too much emphasis on work and neglecting their family. Unfortunately not everyone one is as fortunate as myself to be able to spend time with the family, but they should at least aspire to.
Have any books by African authors inspired you in life or business?
The books written by African authors that have affected me are books like When Things Fall Apart, The African Child, Half of a Yellow Sun – to name a few.
What did you like about the books?
The Half of a Yellow Sun was particularly meaningful too me because I’m originally from the Biafra where the story is based. It was reading the book that allowed me to appreciate where I am from even more.
Before reading the book I heard through my parents and older relatives snippets about the war, and the turmoil it caused emotionally and physically, but prior to reading the book I never envisaged the magnitude of war by just being told about it.
My mother, who is a very strong woman, almost never speaks about that time; if she does it was always in third party form. So when I read the book I now know why they preferred not to speak about it, because it was so traumatic I guess.
This was a typical scenario that happened I am told, anyone who was perceived to be from the east, if found, was killed. So my mother and her brothers changed their surname, but they changed their name during the war and never reverted back to their original names because if they where seen travelling and were stopped and had a name from the east they would have been shot on sight immediately and left for dead on the streets. My mother told me that many times she was stopped on the streets and asked her name. I didn’t realize how close she was from never really having any children – she was only a young girl at the time.
So this book is part of my history, even though I only read the book five years ago. It has made me more appreciative about life and gave me a clearer understanding of what my parents and family went through.