Understanding the distinctions between the various regions of Africa is necessary to grasp what success means in this part of the world. Many business leaders aware of these distinctions integrate a comprehensive vision of Africa.

This holds true for the most obvious reason: economies of scale. Tom Gibian discovered this in Asia before coming to work in Africa:

“In Africa, it’s all or nothing. Asian shipowners and carriers have already realized this. Their businesses weren’t profitable if they gave up mass logistics for last-mile transportation. So they decided that if they were going to Africa, they all had to go. They made sure they could ship goods to every major port. It’s the same in my sector. We realized that to set up an internationally significant investment fund, we couldn’t do things halfway. To attract the right capital and the best talent, we had to go all out. We had to target the entire continent.”

Tim Solso adopted the same reasoning when looking for a new promising track of development for Cummins, a company specializing in industrial engines and generators. A robust giant with a square jaw, Tim was born in the coastal state of Oregon, but he’s a pure product of the Midwest. After studying in Indiana, he earned an MBA at Harvard, then returned to Indiana to work at Cummins in Columbus.

Tim climbed the ranks at Cummins, becoming CEO and then chairman in 2000. “In the last five years of my career in the company,” he says, “I set out to find what Cummins’ expansion zone would be in the next decade.” After intense investigations, Tim decided that this zone would be Africa. That’s when I met Tim, and together we met with around twenty CEOs from all corners of the continent. (Tim was very clear that he wanted to target the whole of Africa.) A few years later, I asked him why he hadn’t chosen to focus on two or three large national or regional markets. “I always ruled that out,” he says in the dry tone of a man who doesn’t like to waste time.

“My goal was to revolutionize Cummins. We had to be consistent with that perspective.” Like Tom, he found that thinking at a continental scale helped attract the talent needed for Cummins’ success. “The person I appointed in Africa is someone with phenomenal talent and skills in our company, who previously led distribution in Asia. For him to come and be able to attract the team he wanted, there had to be a substantial opportunity: all of Africa.”

Economies of scale are certainly appealing, but much of it could already be achieved at the regional level. Working on markets like EAS (140 million people) or COMESA (380 million) would already yield sufficient economies of scale to be competitive while focusing on a market…

This text is an excerpt from the book “These Businesses That Succeed in Africa“, written by Jonathan Berman.

We invite you to read the following article “AFRICA LACKS EVERYTHING. WHAT LUCK!“.

The Right Vision: A Fragmented Whole.

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