All around us are businesses that have been around for decades, and some even for hundreds of years. The entrepreneurs who built these businesses are long gone, yet the companies continue to innovate by generating new products and services, sometimes expanding into humongous organizations.
Many of the founders would be totally astounded if they were ever to return and see what they started!
How do these companies survive and thrive without their founders?
These companies have been able to re-invent themselves continuously and find new entrepreneurial leadership to take them forward.
As an exercise, why don’t you draw a list of companies that you deal with, or know that have been there for a long time. Ask yourself, “Who started this company?”
All these great companies were once started by young entrepreneurs just like you are right now. Long before they became global economic powerhouses, young entrepreneurs toiled for years to get capital, to hire people… Well, to deal with all the challenges YOU are dealing with right now!
Have you ever stopped to imagine just how much profit companies like Coca-Cola, Barclays Bank, Boeing, Mercedes-Benz, and many others have generated since their founders died?
Where do those profits go now, since some of their founders no longer even have heirs to the great wealth machines they created?
These giant companies are listed on stock exchanges in the country of their founders, as well as other global exchanges. Their shares are now mostly owned by pension funds, and insurance companies, as well as private individuals. You might even be enjoying some of the profits through your pension fund, or insurance policy!
You’ll often hear politicians from the countries where these companies come from talk proudly refer to “our” companies or “our” national assets, or “our” champions… and let me tell you, those politicians will go out and fight for those companies to ensure they’re successful, because they know they bring lasting prosperity and national prestige back to the mother country.
Africa has to build its own, just like China, India, Brazil and many others are now doing. We have to build and support our own wealth creation machines — companies that will fight in the global market place for us, even after the founder has long gone. And we have to do this without protectionism and xenophobia.
There are a number of simple things we have to do. Here are just a few:
1. The entrepreneurs who build these companies must build them for the LONG term. This means we (as entrepreneurs) must first allow the business to become separate from us (as I said in Part One of this series). Then allow the business to become an institution that could function effectively without us (as founding entrepreneurs).
2. We must allow our businesses to hire professionals (some of whom will be entrepreneurs themselves).
3. We must ensure the company has an institutional DNA that allows it to grow even without us as founders.
This calls for citizens to see beyond the entrepreneurs who set them up. This isn’t easy in Africa, because our historical experience was from multinational companies that we saw as belonging to others.
It calls for a change of mindset towards our own companies, particularly by policy makers.
For example, you might not like the flamboyant guy who runs around with a flashy car, but what if he leaves behind your country’s own Apple? (There were a lot of people who thought Steve Jobs was arrogant and anti-social when he was alive, but let me tell you, the American economy is oiled by billions generated today by the company he left them).
We must think beyond the individual who sets up and runs a business (even if we don’t like their lifestyle or political views). Our common “wealth” will come from our ability to support the institutional development of our own African companies!
At the national level, we must start looking at the businesses created by our entrepreneurs, irrespective of their size today, as “national enterprises.” There should be no difference between so called “private” enterprise and a state-owned company. They are both national enterprises, even if they are foreign owned (100%).
(I don’t teach politics; I teach economic national prosperity.)
As an exercise today, I would like you to list some national and pan-African businesses that you believe are or will become our future African champions. I want to see a minimum of 10 such companies from you!
One day you will be as proud of an African company as China is proud of Huawei and America is of Coca-Cola.
To be continued. . .
Author: Strive Masiyiwa