South African born and raised serial entrepreneur, Rob Hersov, is the CEO of Invest Africa, Managing Partner of Sapinda UK, Chairman of the VistaJet Advisory Board, and Chairman of Adoreum Partners. Rob Hersov comes from a long line of successful businesspeople with both his grandfather and father credited as mining giants who founded and successfully ran Southern Africa’s largest mining and industrial company, AngloVaal.
In 2013, Rob Hersov set out through Invest Africa to tell a new investment story of Africa to the world. Through his Invest Africa platform, Rob Hersov continues to help attract much needed investment opportunities to Africa with a drive to change the narrative of the African business space through investments and access to capital markets.
In this interview with Whoot Africa’s Olushola Pacheco, Rob Hersov speaks candidly about his passion for a new investment driven Africa and the future of Africa.
Outside of the press write-ups, business journals and features about your business prowess and impact around Africa and the world, can you share a little with Whoot Africa about who is Rob Hersov, the individual, the businessperson and chairman of Invest Africa?
I was born in South Africa as a fifth generation African, educated there and, when I left in early 1985 to see the world and get international work experience, I always expected to return to Africa. I didn’t expect to make my life abroad (Goldman Sachs, Harvard Business School, News Corp., Morgan Stanley, Richemont, etc. and moving to the US and then to Europe (London, Milan, Amsterdam and back to London). Africa always called me back and I spent most of my holidays somewhere in Africa, giving my children a taste of my beautiful, enchanting continent. But I always missed Africa. Three years ago, at the encouragement of my wife, I decided to add Africa to my business life and set up Invest Africa and then African Capital Investments – these businesses are now the driving forces of my business life and are giving me great pleasure!
What inspires you as a person and what is the inspiration behind Invest Africa?
I am frustrated that many people around the world have the wrong impression of Africa and think that the whole continent is made up of incompetent leadership, corruption, crime, poverty, disease and war. While some of this does sadly exist I don’t believe that it is the norm anymore and that Africa’s “turn” has come – we have the opportunity to show the world we can run our various countries properly, deliver exceptional economic growth and that the continent is an investment destination. And as businesspeople we can do well and do good things at the same time. I founded Invest Africa to sensibly evangelise Africa, and to encourage international investors to consider our continent and not just write it off based on ignorance or prejudice.
You come from a long line of great and accomplished businesspeople, your grandfather Bob Hersov and your father Basil Hersov founded and ran one of South Africa’s largest mining and industrial companies AngloVaal; looking back at such level of excellence and success, do you ever feel pressured to live up to their reputation and did this ever make people doubt your capabilities when you set out in business? Considering the opportunities laid out for you as a Hersov?
My grandfather and father’s shoes are large ones to try and fill! But times are different and the world offers so much more but is now more complex and much more competitive – so we all need to make our own paths in life. I am proud of what I have achieved and excited about the road ahead. But I am also immensely proud of my heritage.
You are passionate about business growth in Africa despite the uncertainty of some of its economy’s, how well would you describe the journey of Invest Africa? What are some of those things as an investor looking in, that you think Africa needs to have to enjoy maximum economic growth and status like the likes of the UAE and the west?
For investors it is all down to leadership and good governance, and a transparent and fair investment and regulatory environment. Rwanda leads the way but there are other countries that are showing that the right things can be done, like Namibia, Botswana, Mauritius, Ghana, Cote Ivoire, Senegal, Kenya and certain others. Some countries are sadly going the wrong way, like my beloved South Africa. We need a new leader there, and quickly!
E-commerce is an emerging market and trend in Africa, goods are exchanging hands from the comfort of a click, but the investments remains at an all time low, would ecommerce be something you would encourage investment in? If not, why?
I have invested in an ecommerce company, Silvertree, which is growing rapidly, so I do believe in the potential of ecommerce in Africa. But the key is the “last mile” delivery. I have no doubt we will find an African solution here.
What are some of those challenges you have encountered since focusing on African investments?
The top management in all the companies we look at are usually excellent but the real challenge is at the second or third line of managers, where skills are in short supply. This is often a result of poor education systems. Financial skills tend to be weak. This limits most company’s ability to scale, or expand geographically. Sadly, bribery and corruption remains a challenge in many countries – just say NO!
How crazy must an aspiring CEO be to capture the pockets of Rob Hersov and Invest Africa for their business?
We see a lot of excellent opportunities all over Africa but have to be disciplined and make sure all right elements are in place. Superb management is THE key.
You are very vocal about sharing your wisdom and business experience via speeches and conferences et al. Do you think upcoming business CEO’s should base their business decision on the experience of business pioneers? Do you buy into the idea of business upcomers needing mentoring?
Everyone needs a mentor, not just up and comers. We can always improve what we are doing and no matter how successful we are, and it is often hard to take a clear perspective of what we are doing as we are too busy or too focused – so outside advice is essential.
Thinking about your love and passion for Africa and its potential for phenomenal growth, in 8 words; how would you describe Africa from your experience?
Tantalising, magnetic, frustrating, exciting, beautiful, compelling, tiring, and wonderful.
How welcoming have African governments and strategic local partners being to the Invest Africa movement?
Most countries are calling us to bring our investor delegations to see their potential. Most countries are keen on foreign investment. The one country which seems strangely disconnected is Angola. They make it difficult to get visas, and force a local partner (always a member of the ruling elite) to get a stake in your company there – not a particularly friendly investment destination.
Local partners are not always necessary depending on country or sector, but in the cases where a local partner is required, choosing carefully is key.
What are some of those business lessons you have learnt from your father and grandfather that you intend to pass on to your children and the next generation of business pioneers?
My grandfather sadly passed away before I was born. I would love to have known him. My father taught me to sail and told me that the best sailors win races when there is no wind! This applies to business – when times are good, business is easy. It is when times are tough that the “real men (and women)” make all the difference.
But he also taught me to be kind, humble, and respectful and to always say thank you. And that love conquers all!
You are successful and changing lives along the way with one investment at a time when you look at your work with invest Africa so far, would you do anything different?
I do too many meetings and then find it hard to do my long-term thinking. Most of my best ideas are on long plane trips, or in the shower (while I am singing). In the future, I would love to do fewer meetings and more planning and thinking.
If you had to share with a room full of aspiring young businesspeople, what are some of those business secrets you’d like to share with them about achieving success?
- Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved.
- Always hire better and smarter people than yourself.
- Read the poem “IF” by Kipling.
- Do what you enjoy, not what pays you the best.
How do you unwind from the cumbersome task of being a global businessman?
I like to play golf, I like to read, I like to swim – these three things make me happy and relaxed. But being with my wife and children is the greatest treat of all!
Lastly, 30 years from now, what would you want the world to remember Rob Hersov for when the name is mentioned around the world?
The person you have to meet – the Mayor of Africa.