Robert Hersov Interview |

Robert Hersov Interview

Published On: January 12th, 2016

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Q – You are known as Mr Africa, could you tell us how you got that title and also briefly about your experience in life as an entrepreneur and investor?
A – I grew up in Africa and I’m fourth generation African. I left South Africa in 1985 to join Goldman Sachs New York, go to Harvard business school and begin my international career, with the aim of always returning to South Africa and joining my father in our family business AngloVaal which is one of the biggest mining industrial companies in Southern Africa certainly at that time. As with lives, they go in strange directions. I had opportunities that were extraordinary, to work directly with Rupert Murdoch and to run the Morgan Stanley Media Investment banking team. When the time came to return to South Africa, things had changed back at home, politically and with the family business so I decided to stay longer in Europe… and I never left. I have been here since 1985 and I am the only member of my family to live outside of South Africa. I always go back there on holiday and I do love Africa, which is how I set up Invest Africa because I wanted a way to remain connected.
Q – Your Journey as an entrepreneur it began in Africa?
A – Yes.
Q – Why did you choose London to settle down in?
A – I didn’t; I was living in New York at the time and Morgan Stanley said would you go to London and set up our European media investment banking team? So I really had no interest in coming to live in England and I loved America, my choices were really to stay in America and go back to South Africa, but I came over here and in the beginning England is quite difficult to get your arms around but very soon you realise what an amazing country this is, but what an amazing city London is. So far the last 23 years I have been trying to leave London and I haven’t been able to… it’s just too great.
Q – So we know that you have done a lot of investments in Africa as it is close to home and your heart, would you tell us from a business side what the opportunities in Africa are like?
A – Every country and every continent has a time when things change and they change fast, so when the wall came down in Berlin Eastern Europe was freed and things happened quickly. In Glasnost in Russia it opened up, China opened up there were the South East Asian tigers and very few people remember that South East Asia used to be very poor and forgotten and it turned in one generation into leading countries around the world. That time is for Africa now! And I know 54 countries is too many to generalise so there’s North Africa, West Africa, East Africa, Central Africa and Southern Africa. I look at it this way, West Africa is the present, Southern Africa is the past and East Africa is the future but across the board you have seen better governance more and more trained people returning to Africa, more opportunities, younger people being taken seriously women having a bigger role in society, more democracy, a bigger middle class all the positive attributes of economic growth, freedom, democracy and investment opportunities are happening now. If you take a 10-15 year review Africa is a great investment opportunity.
Q – Are your investments only in West Africa or are they all around Africa?
A – No, we like Senegal, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia and we’re quite confident about the DRC. There are other countries too that are great, but that is our focus
Q – Have you invested in North Africa? In Arabic speaking countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt?
A – Yes we like Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt. We’ve got a kind of watching brief on Algeria and for the moment that is it.
Q – Has the Arab spring affected your ideas on investing in North Africa?
A – Well Tunisia is an extraordinary country because that is where it began and it seems to have taken hold. I went to Tunisia two years ago and I met some of the most impressive business and government people I have ever met anywhere in the world. Funnily enough that year Tunisia was voted country of the year by The Economist. I met the head of parliament, head of finance and economy and the president. They were three of the most impressive people I had ever met and they’re the kind of people that really can take any country and make it a success. I think that the shooting on the beach was a great tragedy and I think that we should support Tunisia, invest in Tunisia and go on holiday in Tunisia. It’s a great country. Egypt too, Morocco has always been a great country. I think North Africa is a very interesting climate good people good businesses and good opportunities.
Q – What about any involvements in other Middle Eastern countries, such as Dubai, Qatar and Saudi Arabia?
A – Well I have my UAE citizenship and I spend a lot of time in Dubai and Abu Dhabi I really feel at home there. I do quite a little travel to Lebanon and Jordan. I’ve been to Saudi Arabia a few times and it’s less about investing there and more about evangelising Africa to Middle East Investors. To me the cities outside of Africa that are the most important for Africa are London, Dubai, Paris and I suppose Washington.
Q – What is your opinion about business in the Middle East in general, is there potential there?
A – Huge. I mean we don’t look at the Middle East as inward investment we look at the Middle East as investing in Africa. So that’s more from that perspective but you know people are very business savvy they’re great investors obviously there is a lot of money there, but very savvy when it comes to connecting India and South Asia with Africa you know there’s no better place than Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Equally for investing in Iran, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are no capitals for investing in Iran so it’s such a great centre.
Q – So we saw that you have invested in Media and Marketing as we are a media company we would love to hear what your experience in Media and Marketing was like?
A – You know that’s Media and Marketing, private aviation and Africa have been the themes in my life. So even though I’m not specifically in media and marketing right now it’s been such an important part of my life I can’t help myself I’m interested I love it and it is changing, technology and the internet is changing that industry in a more meaningful way than most other industries. Africa it’s happening now.
Q – Do you have a message for upcoming entrepreneurs?
A – It has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur than now, because two generations ago if you took England two generations ago you had to go to Oxford or Cambridge to be a leader in this world. The next generation there were many more universities and companies you could join and now you can do anything in life. I mean it’s a much more competitive world but you can actually achieve your goals if you want to. I think there are huge opportunities now, it’s still important to get formal training. So I would always encourage people out of Universities or schools to try and work for a company or an individual that you respect. So work for a great company that will train you or work with a great individual or entrepreneur that you’ll learn things from and then when you’re ready start a company. Some people start a company and they’re 16, 17 or 18 and get lucky and make a fortune but most don’t. It’s a lot better to get some training and then take the risks. Africa offers huge opportunities for entrepreneurs.
Q – What do you think about Arabisk London Magazine being the only Arabic and English written magazine in the UK which covers Business lifestyle and news?
A – I think it’s fundamental because the UK and the Middle East have had a long strong relationship, and people genuinely have affection for one another so there are a lot of Middle Easterners living here and a lot of British people living there. There’s a very strong and positive link which goes back centuries so Arabisk feeds in to that and your distribution I hope is Middle Easterner’s and foreigners and it’s a beautiful magazine. The final thing is we named our daughter Inara which is an Arabic word for Illumination and light. My wife chose that name because she thought it was a beautiful name, so our daughter has an Arabic name.

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