In 2015, Africa Advisory Group sought to gain more insight into the priorities and principles guiding senior executives in Africa and the institutions they lead. In particular, we explored the connection between the overall organization strategies and the core talent strategies they pursued. We also sought to understand the leadership challenges they face and the personal leadership styles they bring to bear in leading organizations in an African context. We are excited to share our preliminary findings from this research initiative as we continue to discuss these issues with our clients and the broader community of executives and business professionals in Africa.

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Image: Performance Management Partners


Private equity firms emphasize the importance of competent management in driving portfolio value creation. In a previous article examining leadership challenges in the private equity space in Africa, Africa Advisory Group (AAG) spoke to private equity leaders who singled out the challenge of evaluating the capabilities of management teams to execute investment strategies in their portfolio companies. Standard Chartered Private Equity, for example, sought to mitigate this challenge by engaging with its human resources department and industrial psychologists to develop a proprietary assessment tool for senior leadership teams at investee firms.

In this article, we seek to understand the strategies and approaches that firms have in place to ensure robust assessments of management teams. How do firms conduct these assessments, both in terms of process and individuals or teams driving the process? How are recruiting and talent-related activities handled, and what are the biggest challenges in managing these activities? We spoke to a number of senior private equity professionals, particularly in the small to medium enterprise investment arena where investors tend to be even more involved in operational matters than in the larger investment firms, to answer these questions. Our overall findings, based on these discussions and our experience of working with a wide range of private equity firms, indicates that while there is no universal strategy, several key factors shape an approach including deal size, ownership stake, and specific elements of an investee business such as scale, stage, and whether the business is family or professionally managed.

In smaller businesses, the quality of management is even more important, because these organizations have not had the time or the need to establish formal systems and ways of workingTom Adlam - Managing Partner, Pearl Capital Partners

Toward a structured approach

Private equity firms use both formal and informal approaches to assess the management capabilities of senior teams at their portfolio companies, typically during the due-diligence process before capital is deployed. A common strategy involves investigating whether businesses have established management teams with the competence and depth of experience to execute investment plans.

Musa Capital, which focuses on mid-market Africa private equity, utilizes scorecards to grade companies and identify leadership gaps to be filled. In addition to human capital, the scorecards contain several factors which are of equal priority to the firm, including financial, operational, and Environmental, Social and Governance metrics. Importantly, potential portfolio companies are made fully aware of these factors at inception to ensure a clear alignment of interest.

In contrast, Tom Adlam, Managing Partner at Pearl Capital Partners (PCP), observed that his firm carries out leadership assessments more informally than formally, and generally follows the aforementioned common strategy. PCP is a specialist investment firm focusing on investing in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the agriculture value chain in East Africa. Noting the vital link between the quality of people and implementation of investment plans, Adlam acknowledged the potential benefits of a more structured approach. “In smaller businesses, the quality of management is even more important, because these organizations have not had the time or the need to establish formal systems and ways of working,” Adlam explained.

Mustard Capital Partners (Mustard), a private equity fund management company focused on investing equity and debt in SMEs, has a set of consistent practices and metrics that they follow when evaluating senior leadership teams, allowing the firm to identify areas to add value. According to Christian Opoku, Partner and Team Leader at Mustard, the evaluation covers both senior teams as well as the board. Mustard’s geographical focus includes Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Recruiting as a core component of investment management

For a majority of private equity investors, recruiting and talent management in investee companies is considered part and parcel of core investment activities. AAG’s experience and engagement with larger private equity firms as well as the SME focused investors highlights a common agreement that talent management and investment execution are inextricable. Therefore, in many firms, investment professionals and portfolio managers actively drive and manage talent-related activities, including overseeing leadership performance.

When it comes to the profiles of investment professionals and portfolio managers handling recruiting and talent engagement activities, Richard Akwei, an Executive Director at Musa Capital, emphasized a combination of financial, people and operations management skills. “They have to be mature and have a strong understanding of how to manage people and deal with different personalities to achieve desired financial results. They need to have worked with different kinds of people and be able to recognize areas of sensitivity,” Akwei stressed. “We see the development of human capital as a core function and as important as any operational or financial metric we focus on,” he reiterated.

Investment professionals and portfolio managers need to have a combination of financial, people and operations management skills. They need to have a strong understanding of how to manage people and deal with different personalities to achieve desired financial results.Richard Kwei - Executive Director, Musa Capital

It is also important to have teams composed of individuals with specific industry experience and a proven track record. Based on the experience of one firm, it is not unusual to find teams that include former CEOs with extensive experience in industries that are central to the investor’s focus.

It is worthwhile to note that firms with relatively large assets are financially positioned to have a specific value creation or technical assistance team in addition to an investment execution team. In this situation, regular contact and effective communication between the two teams is paramount. According to an investor AAG spoke with at one of the larger pan-African focus multi-sector firms, the value creation team should be involved early on in the deal process. When it comes to talent and performance management, the investor stated that his firm typically seeks to assign the task to a well-balanced group of people, including individuals familiar with P&L responsibilities.

External support

Even as firms develop in-house capabilities to manage the performance of senior investee teams, they still turn to third parties for additional support and advice under certain circumstances. Firms seek external advice in situations such as recruitment and selection, remuneration reviews, rightsizing and review of competences, and when tackling transition of businesses from family-led to professional management.

The decision of whether to use individual experts, local firms or global firms hinges on the size and the scale of the investee business and transaction. For example, Opoku noted that Mustard uses local firms and individual advisers with a good grasp of the regions that constitute Mustard’s investment focus. According to Akwei, Musa Capital typically turns to local firms for recruiting support as these firms are better positioned to find people who understand and are connected to the local environment.

Key challenges and way forward

Recruiting and managing performance, whether driven by in-house teams or external parties, is accompanied by a unique set of challenges. A dominant challenge underscored by several investors is resource constraints on the part of both investors and investees. Investees, and in particular small businesses, cannot always afford to hire and retain the necessary talent.

Investors also reiterated the oft-expressed challenge of scarcity of skills and inadequate training in Africa. “It’s extremely difficult to source good quality people in East Africa, especially outside Kenya, and then to retain them, particularly for smaller businesses which require a hands-on approach,” expressed Adlam. According to Adlam, there is no shortage of raw talent, but there is a dearth of proven, experienced people.

To mitigate these problems, PCP is placing an increasing importance on assessing investees’ willingness to invest in people. Adlam stressed that the benefits of offering long-term incentives, both financial and non-financial, should not be understated. A readiness from portfolio companies to accept and implement leadership changes is critical especially in cases where businesses are family-led and may not have had formal recruiting and performance management systems in place.

Musa Capital encourages interaction, knowledge-sharing and cross-fertilization of ideas among portfolio companies. Akwei mentioned that the firm holds an annual event that brings the companies together. He also pointed out that firms benefit from increasing investment in training and developing talent internally within a group. Akwei accepted that this in itself is challenging given the pressure for investors to deliver results quickly.

Another challenge that emerged is finding good leadership advisors and search partners who fully understand investment priorities and specific investor needs. Drawing on AAG’s experience working with private equity clients, it is important for investors to work with firms or advisers who not only have a deep knowledge of the Africa private equity landscape, but who also have an expert understanding of leadership implications both from an investor and portfolio company perspective.

Given the importance of management teams in determining returns on investments, Africa-focused private equity investors ought to regularly assess their own strategies for influencing and engaging with leadership teams to drive portfolio value creation. Structured and systematic approaches are beneficial and more effective in detecting weaknesses early-on during the pre-investment stage. Investors also need to have the flexibility and expertise to tailor approaches to address specific leadership situations. Although the private equity industry in Africa presents distinct leadership challenges which may not be resolved in the near term, these challenges are not insurmountable. The ultimate test for both investors and investees is to focus on mutually beneficial ways to invest in management teams while maximizing value creation.

Africa Advisory Group conducted an analysis of 100 chief executive officers running companies based in Africa. The analysis provides a snapshot of CEOs who have an MBA. The survey found that 29% of the chief executives have an MBA.

The analysis included the top 20 biggest companies by market capitalization in four segments—banking, telecommunications, consumer goods, and a combination of natural resources and construction businesses. The top 20 companies were selected from a ranking done by Africa Business Magazine. Additionally, several large multinational businesses were included in the study from the four sectors.

The chief executives from the 100 companies are based in 10 different countries in Africa including South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Morocco and Cameroon. Five went to U.S. business schools, 14 to European business schools and nine to African business schools. There was one CEO who attended an Australian business school. More than half of the CEOs who have an MBA are local hires and about a third are expatriates.

AAG MBA analysis-2

Global comparison

To compare the 100 Africa-based CEOs to global trends, AAG looked at a study done by the Financial Times in 2014 of the top 500 listed companies globally by market capitalization. The Financial Times study, which contained a larger number of companies,  found that 29% of the companies are led by an MBA graduate. The Financial Times data also showed that amongst U.S. companies, 46% have chief executives with an MBA and of the U.K.-based companies 37% of the CEOs have an MBA.

Looking ahead

The number of students from Africa taking the GMAT, necessary to attend business school, has declined in the past five years, according to figures from the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the GMAT. The drop is inline with global trends.

A report by the Association of African Business Schools and the Association of MBAs in 2015, says students in Africa are less interested in traditional finance roles and are seeking others ways to make a difference and be involved with innovation-driven fields at home instead of going abroad. There are currently only around 100 fully operational business schools in Africa, a continent of 54 countries. That compares to 4,000 in India.

“The traditional MBA, with its high costs and less flexible structure, will become less relevant to business in Africa, particularly as it is likely to remain unaffordable or inaccessible for most students,” the report says.

That doesn’t mean students won’t seek an MBA in Africa and that companies won’t want executives who have one. Indeed, many companies, especially those who want to hire a CEO from outside the country of location in Africa, do ask for candidates with an MBA.

The Association of African Business Schools and the Association of MBAs say “business schools in Africa will continue to evolve…New models of delivery will emerge that are more economically sustainable and that offer greater access to different types of learners.”

Research conducted by Akua Ampah and Devon Maylie.

The African Leadership Network team recently sat down with mi-Fone chief executive officer Alpesh Patel. He talked about the next steps to grow the first African-branded mobile device, how he wants the company to maintain its hustle and the power a corporate backer can provide.

We have always been a David amongst many Goliaths, but now with this muscle behind us, we are well placed to be a Goliath amongst Goliaths over the next 5 years.Alpesh Patel, mi-Fone CEO

mi-Fone currently has a footprint in over 15 countries in Africa.

To see more of this interview, visit ALN.