At the start of our interview, Michiel Hillen, founder of EMSA Emerging Markets Africa, put a quartet of different business cards on the table. ‘Not only have I given advice to dozens of companies, I am now actively participating in a number of companies active on the African continent’, the NABC member explained.
Although the assignments taken on by EMSA have been very diverse, the typical client served by EMSA is a company that wants to invest to expand its business. ‘Like a company producing consumer goods who thinks: ‘I should get a foothold in an African country,’ that is where we can be most effective,’ Mr. Hillen explained. ‘So we help the client to develop its ambition into an investment proposition, for which we find co-investors. Our commitment ends with overseeing the implementation of the project.’ After 17 years in business, the entrepreneur, who started his career in consulting at a predecessor of PwC, has been engaged in projects in 33 different African countries. He also served as a board member of the NABC.
Business in Africa is always subject to changing circumstances, and the business climate is harsh. ‘As a consequence, making mistakes sometimes seems to be your core business’, he says. ‘My biggest one was when I forgot to work my own golden rule: if something looks too good to be true, it usually is’. We discuss the changing narrative around doing business in Africa, that seemed at an all-time high in the mid-2010’s when the slogan ‘Africa Rising’ became popular.