Charming, committed and passionate, Jens Rötzel's vision is to uplift and develop the immense potential of the African market. A living cultural interface, Jens is half-Ghanaian, half-German. He is fluent in German and English, of course, as well as several key native languages. A true entrepreneur, Jens founded his first company at age 18. He is CEO of JRX Ghana, a company which specializes in connecting non-African companies with African firms to create win-win business for all. Beyond this, JRX Ghana is the door-opener to the vastness of the African market, linking the rich talent pool of Africans to the established markets of the East and the West.
O'Brien: Jens, I get the "JR" in your company name (!), but why the "X"?
Jens: (laughing). JR is a representation of myself and the aspiring visionaries and entrepreneurs who share the dream of seeing Africa fulfill its potential. The "X" is that missing element -- what we wish to transform together with our non-African friends.
O'Brien: Got it. Everybody's talking about the rise of the "African Lion." What does this mean for global investors - simply Nigerian oil, telecoms and Chinese-funded roads?
Jens: Oh, no, the "African Lion" is roaring louder than that! What investors need to recognize is that we are one of the largest and most attractive business destinations at the moment. Currently, we are one billion people (a staggering number), and the consumer market is growing rapidly. New industries are being created and more opportunities are popping up all over the place. I advise investors to take advantage of this before they miss the boat!
O'Brien: So, from your perspective, what are the growth sectors in Africa?
Jens: There's so many! We're seeing a lot of innovation and growth coming from the ICT sector. One of our most notable inventions is the mobile money sensation. It allows anyone to have banking on his or her mobile device -- absolutely game changing! With the ingenuity coming out of these countries, Africa will lead the way in technology and innovation in the near future. And then there's agriculture. More than one quarter of the world's arable land lies on the continent, however it only generates roughly one tenth of the global agricultural output. This will expand dramatically.
Energy and infrastructure are important growth sectors as well. With more than 200 million people joining the middle class, we are going to witness a lot of development in those markets.
O'Brien: You talk about "impact investing." What does this mean?
Jens: Impact investing is about creating viable business solutions with a positive social and environmental component. Even though Africa shows promising growth, we still have many social and environmental challenges. There is still a high level of poverty and income inequality. With impact investing we can create a skilled workforce and an enabling environment for more entrepreneurs to thrive.
O'Brien: What advice can you give businesspeople seeking entry into African markets?
Jens: Firstly, don't make the common mistake of viewing Africa as one single market. We are 46 sub-Saharan countries with unique cultures, different mindsets, language groups, jurisdictions and political structures. Secondly, in order to successfully penetrate these markets, businesspeople should adapt the strategy of "network orchestration". This means they must form strong partnerships and relationships with established players in the industry they choose to enter. JRX advises clients to look beyond local business partners to customize their products and services to meet market demands.
O'Brien: Jens, your mother comes from Ghana, West Africa, and your company focuses on introducing non-African firms to the Ghanaian market, right? So how can you speak of "African opportunities" on a continent as diverse as, for instance, Muslim socialist Algeria, war-torn Congo and western-oriented, multi-cultural South Africa?
Jens: That's a great question. We are a very mixed basket, but the one collective characteristic that unites us is the sense of optimism we share as Africans. However, we must not be naïve about the risks and challenges each country faces.
In my opinion, to truly speak of an African marketplace, it is imperative that the public and private sectors create a stronger working relationship to enable more businesses to flourish. Happily, we are starting to see a change in governance and transparency.
O'Brien: Hmm. So is there an "African" mindset, an "African" way of doing business?
Jens: I wouldn't say there is a specific mindset, but in my experience, the "African business mindset" is this: flexibility and adaptability.
O'Brien: Jens my man, I love the power of your passion, and the vitality of your vision for Africa, the Motherland of us all.
Jens: Thank you! Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first president once said, "We face neither East nor West; we face forward." It is evident that the motherland is on that path!