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Africa Transformations and Opportunities: Dr. Komi Klu of EMIGROUP

Part 3: When fees are not bribes. Etiquette. Marketing to the masses.

Dr. Komi Klu

Part Three of our three-part series, with Dr. Komi Klu.

Where can foreign investors earn 10x the ROI than in the US and have immediate access to 400 million people in one part alone? A. Africa, the “virgin territory,” is ripe for all kinds of investments. Dr. Komi Klu, President of EMIGROUP [Emerging Markets Invest Group] which operates in 30 markets, presents little-known opportunities in a young and vibrant continent and explodes many common business myths. For example, online registrations in 24 hours are replacing bureaucratic hurdles in many countries, and corruption is reducing due to the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the risk of audits. He also explores positive perceptions of the US vs. China, ways for power-generation companies to prosper, cultural etiquette across the continent, Francophone / Anglophone differences, product packaging to reach the mass market, and lots more.

Highlights:

Consulting fees: Not always bribes

African etiquette and manners

Differences and similarities between African countries

ECOWAS, SADC, and COMESA: Helping to grow African economies

Dr. Komi Klu Bio:

Dr. Komi S. Klu is currently the Chairman and Chief Risk Officer of EMIGROUP [Emerging Markets Invest Group] which works in 30 African markets. He is a well-respected Financial Services Executive and investment facilitator with over 20 years of proven success in promoting financial and operational efficiency for large global financial institutions. These include Capital One Finance and HSBC Bank where he has held management positions overseeing Corporate Due Diligence, Risk Management, and Claims Processing Operations. Concurrently, as Chief Investment & Risk Officer of EMIGROUP, Komi is providing leadership and consulting services, assisting African companies in building solutions for large-scale, complex business challenges to mitigate risks and drive investment and growth opportunities.

Komi has earned a reputation for the innovative and strategic leadership he brings to the financial services industry, as well as to global humanitarian initiatives. He is currently the board chairman of WAFI CAPITAL, SA a private Equity firm operating in West Africa, raising funds from investors in North America and Europe.
Komi is based in Dover, Delaware, and makes frequent trips to his native Ghana. He is also an active member of the Global Chamber®, both in Anglophone and Francophone countries.

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Full Transcript

Hello everyone, and welcome. This is Philip Auerbach of Auerbach International (www.auerbach-intl.com).

Since today’s guest comes from Africa, I’d like to reprise a blooper that I gave in the early part of our podcast series, which is an article that appeared in a Nairobi newspaper, and it said, very simply, a new swimming pool is rapidly taking shape since the contractors have thrown in the bulk of their workers. 

With that and as illustrating the misuse of words there, I’d like to introduce today’s guest who is Dr. Komi S. Klu.

Dr. Komi S. Klu is currently the Chairman and Chief Risk Officer of EMI GROUP [Emerging Markets Invest Group] which works in 30 African markets. He is a well-respected Financial Services Executive and investment facilitator with over 20 years of proven success in promoting financial and operational efficiency for large global financial institutions. These include Capital One Finance and HSBC Bank where he has held management positions overseeing Corporate Due Diligence, Risk Management, and Claims Processing Operations. Concurrently, as Chief Investment & Risk Officer of EMI GROUP, Komi is providing leadership and consulting services, assisting African companies in building solutions for large-scale, complex business challenges to mitigate risks and drive investment and growth opportunities. 

Komi has earned a reputation for the innovative and strategic leadership he brings to the financial services industry, as well as to global humanitarian initiatives.

He is currently the board chairman of WAFI CAPITAL, SA a Private Equity firm operating in West Africa, raising funds from investors in North America and Europe. 

Welcome Komi.  I’m delighted that you can join us.   

A pleasure to join you today. 

Thank you so much. 

Back to the corruption question…

Yes?

One of the ways that corruption is done is to build in what are called consulting fees into the contract. So, when the United States or any other government authority might audit an exporter’s books, for example, and might find a consulting fee, is that a red flag? Is that perhaps a bribe? Or is it that often legitimate for whatever purpose?   

No. Consulting fees cannot from the get-go be considered as a bribe. Know what you’re talking about and know that some politicians, even in France have done it. Some politicians have had their wives calling consulting fees. That’s a standard practice. 

But the auditor needs to understand the culture and the business culture and they will need to go behind the scenes to understand. If you’re bringing me consulting fees for let’s say $500,000, what did we get for it? 

Now when I visit some of my clients for instance, and they tell me that they have consulted some big-name consulting firm that has done some work for them, I ask them to show me the finished product. What is the final consulting report that the consultant has given you?

Now if you cannot get that document, the final product, and you cannot see invoices, signed and approved by the proper authorities, then you know there’s something fishy happening there. But we cannot just say that all consulting fees or all consulting invoices are a source of corruption. But yes, some have used them just to hide some malpractice if I can call it like that. 

That’s encouraging also, thank you. Tell me a bit about cultural issues. There are many cultural differences between countries. Can you give us some examples? First of all, etiquette. When an investor goes in or a businessperson goes to the continent, what should the person do or expect? And then secondly differences between countries. 

For instance, we Americans are transactional in our mindset.

Right.

You get off the plane, they pick you up at the airport. Once you get in the car of your host, you start discussing business, right? Did you get my e-mail or didn’t you? You review the contract. Where can I get them? Can I sign it in the car? No, no, no. 

That’s not how we Africans do business. Africans are more relational. They want to get to know you. Probably when you arrive at the airport, they’ll pick you up. Maybe that afternoon, you may not conduct any business. Maybe they will take you to dinner. Maybe they will invite you to their house. You get to know their wives, or they get to know the family. And then once they build the level of trust, then they can start doing business with you. Maybe the following day. 

We are now in the US. We say that time is money. Yes, time is money, I agree, but other countries don’t put the same value on time the way we do. I’m not saying that we should not respect our time, but I’m just saying we should respect the way people are posting.

When you walk into your room, you are sitting at a dinner table. In Africa, we still hear respect from authorities and by authorities. It could be the authority that could be confirmed to you. The authority could be conferred on you by way of your title in the company. Or by way of your seniority, we respect our elders. 

So especially if you are dealing with a family health business, for instance, maybe the younger son would be the CEO, but the founder of the company is around and you guys are attending a dinner with that family. You, the American, need to be careful. Don’t start eating before they tell you to start eating. Usually, the elder will start eating or will say a little prayer. Whether you believe in God or not, that’s their culture. You have to respect it. They are going to say a prayer before they start eating for instance. Almost every business will start with a prayer. Whether you like it or not. So, you have to be prepared for that. They start with the prayer and then you see African when they see somebody in authority. 

And most of the time, they are greeting you. Some may bow down to greet you. Is it a sign of respect? And when you go to royalty, you go to like the Chiefs, no matter who you are, you must back down. 

Let me share a story with you. I think it was last year that the US ambassador in Ghana went to visit the King, the Ashanti King in Kumasi in Ghana. He was amazed to wait, which maybe he was not used to, and they asked him to take off his shoes before he was in the presence of the king. So, this could offend you. But you have to be… I mean, mean the ambassador was prepared for that. Maybe he knew what he was doing. 

That’s encouraging.  

So yeah, he did well, what he was supposed to do, but imagine you take your tech investor visiting a  company from Silicon Valley. You got him to Ghana, and you imagine you brought Elon Musk to one of these guys. And you ask Elon Musk to take off his shoes. Maybe he starts sending some tweets, he will send tweets and say something bad. That’s how it is. We need to be aware of the culture and respect the local culture. That’s the only way we can be successful. 

Well, that’s true in any country, but you’re right, and it’s encouraging because I have gray hair, so it’s very encouraging that I could easily do business in Africa. 

Oh yeah, they will respect you. They will show you respect. 

Yes, because I’m officially old and I, well, that’s wonderful. This concept of – you expressed it extremely well – relational versus transactional business practices: This is very common in most of the world. Americans don’t appreciate it, but many of our guests have said this and I’ve tried to emphasize in other podcasts that it’s really important to establish a relationship of trust … of the value of mutual respect before you even think of doing business. Don’t just plunge in as you’re saying; take the time to talk to people, get to know them, their families, what’s important to them, and so forth before you plunge in and do some transaction, because that doesn’t work. 

Is important, yes.   

What about differences or similarities between countries between, say, West African cultures versus East  African cultures or Central Africa? Can you speak to that?  

Yes, there are differences but for the most part they are similar. We Africans can identify the subtle differences between West Africa and East Africa for instance. But overall, for a foreigner, I think you’ll go crazy because Africa has 54 countries. But you go crazy if you want to guess, have your notebook. When I go to Ghana, This is what I do. 

Mostly there are more similarities than differences between the countries. 

Now, for instance, when you go to Nigeria for instance, and I think the Nigerians are a little more aggressive, the Nigerians are the typical American in Africa. They are business-minded. Don’t like to waste time. So that’s the difference between a Nigerian and a Ghanaian businessperson. 

So, an American investor who is on they go, they go, then they go and they and they go when they get to Nigeria they want to get … they will feel more comfortable doing business in Nigeria as opposed to Ghana. And Daniel will slow you down a little bit. The biggest difference is between the Anglophone and the Francophone countries in Africa. The Francophones overall…   

And I’m sorry, let me just interrupt you for a moment. Sorry, for listeners who don’t know, Anglophone means English-speaking, Francophone means French-speaking, and the word Lusophone means Portuguese-speaking. 

English-speaking Africa versus the French-speaking Africans. English-speaking Africans, the Anglophones are more business minded. They are closer to the American transactional mindset. The Francophones on the contrary, though they like business, they are more bureaucratic. They like a lot of administration, and a lot of paperwork, so it is something that you can get done in the Anglophone country in two days and it will take you two weeks to get done in the Francophone country. But overall, let me qualify this by saying. Thanks to technology, things are changing across Africa, but you see this difference in culture once you move from an English-speaking to a French-speaking African country. 

It’s very encouraging and I’m laughing because France, of course, has a reputation for being very bureaucratic with forms, the right stamps… 

Yeah, exactly.   

Yes, and of course, the Africans learned it from the French, the French colonists.

Africa has various economic communities, shall we say. There’s ECOWAS, which is the Economic Community of West African States; SADC, the Southern Africa Development Community; COMESA, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, and so forth. Are these groups helping to increase the African economies, or are they organizations in name only? 

No!

OK, now these very efficient economic organizations are helping also. On commerce. Also, the one I know the most, it’s ECOWAS from West Africa. Currently, If in Africa… They talk about the African Union, talking about the free movement of people and goods. But it just exists on paper.  

If you’re Ghanaian you want to travel to Cameroon and the Central African Republic, you have to wait for many days to get a visa to go there. However, within the ECOWAS 15 countries, with your national passport, and sometimes even with your national ID like your driver’s lesson that we have in the US, you can travel across all 15 countries, which is successful. You can move your goods. You can travel across all 15 countries. That’s the success story. 

And there is a free movement of goods also, but that one is only on paper. The reality is something different. One is the free movement of goods and people from the people’s side. They have successfully done it for the goods side. Normally you should take your goods and you should be able to take your goods from Ivory Coast and go to Lagos, Nigeria without anybody driving you crazy. Reality is something different. 

Currently, it is very hard for you to do that seamlessly, so that’s the challenge. The idea is good. The implementation is a little hesitant, but these are good organizations that we need to encourage. They just need to improve. They need to get their act together. 

It is very encouraging. At least the free movement of people. Does that mean for visiting only or within the labor market as well? A lot of these countries have tremendous unemployment, so they may not want foreigners coming in from other community members. 

Yeah, no, no this is not for employment. This is just for labor and to do business. In Africa, I feel like 85% of our economy is in what we call the informal sector, right? So, most people do trade cross-border trades. So, you can take your goods from Ghana from every good and go sell them in Lagos and come back. This does not give you the right to settle there and become a foreign worker there. You have to go to them, there are local rules and laws for a foreigner to work in that country, yes. 

Very interesting, so it’s a temporary, let’s say for example, a ten-day pass to go sell your goods and then come back home.

Back yes, yes, I think I think it goes after too many days, right? 

Better, yeah, not necessarily the right to work, not the right to work and settle. 

No, not the right to engage in formal employment.  

Formal employment. 

Yes, because remember the economy. Our economy is informal, so if you take your goods from Lagos and you go to Africa. You start selling them on the side of the street. Nobody’s going to tell you that you are a foreigner you cannot sell. So, it’s formal employment that what we’re talking about. That’s the difference. 

Formal employment, for the benefit of our listeners, means you’re employed by an actual company that pays your salary and may pay you benefits such as vacation time and the rest of it. Informal employment is the people who set up, as you said, on the road and in kiosks and booths selling whether it’s candy or shampoo or goods or clothing, whatever, that’s more informal. There’s no corporate structure to it. 

And let me add something there, so what this is doing for you, for our audience. If you’re an American investor, you come, you invest in Ghana, or you invest in any other country within the ECOWAS. Your goods are not for the Ghanaian population alone. Your goods are being produced for 300,000,000 or maybe now 400 million people in the ECOWAS market. I mean, Nigeria alone is over 200 million.

I’m sorry, what’s 200 million?

I said Nigeria alone has a population of over 200,000,000

ECOWAS has about 400 million, yes. And ECOWAS again is the Economic Community of West African States. Yes, it’s very encouraging. 

One of the factors that FDI, foreign direct investors in this case, need to know is how to reconfigure products for the African markets. Yes, so for example in the United States we have Costco which buys these enormous packages of toilet paper and dish detergents and whatever it is, that can last you at least ten weeks or ten months if you’ve got a small family. And of course, you have to have a very big storage room in your house to put it there. 

Most Africans may not have big houses, of course, but the issue is that they may not have the money to pay for very large quantities. It used to be, and I presume it still is true, for example, that a shampoo manufacturer instead of selling a huge bottle of shampoo as one would do in the United States, would sell a little sachet, a little packet of shampoo that may last a day or two and it may cost $0.05. People can afford $0.05. They couldn’t afford $5. Is it still the case that this is one of the ways that manufacturers have to scale their products? 

Yes, so this is a very good example. 

So, any manufacturer who goes into a new market needs to know the ways of the market. 

So, this is a very good example of shampoo. For this, I’ll give you another example of milk. Milk like powdered milk or canned milk. So, what they do in Africa is if you don’t have money to buy the whole can of milk they’re making, they’re putting the milk now in a small sachet that you can buy for maybe 10 cents. And that way, everybody can afford it. As opposed to only the rich who can afford it. The manufacturer comes to Africa and needs to ask themselves the question, am I building my products for the masses, or am I building for the few 1 or 2 percent who can afford it? If you can conclusively answer that question for yourself, then we can help you in whichever direction you want to go. But my advice for you is no matter where you’re building or no matter where you are manufacturing, if you manufacture it and sell it to the masses, you have more money. 

I have big companies like Nestle. Nestle, they’re making a profit. They’re like every year in Africa. We have Kentucky Fried Chicken in Africa. They all have come to Africa, know the African way, and have adapted their product to the needs of the market, which is what everybody needs to do. 

And that’s true in any market. But it’s a wonderful example. There’s also the wonderful example of Gerber. Are you familiar with that story? 

Yeah, no, I don’t know the story, I know the company. 

So, Gerber came to Africa. I think it was in Ethiopia. I don’t remember. And traditionally in Africa, until perhaps recently, most people didn’t know how to read or didn’t have a high standard of literacy, and therefore companies or manufacturers put on the label a picture of what’s inside the can or what’s inside the packet. 

Of course, Gerber came to Africa and had on the label, as they did in the United States and Europe, the pretty white baby, which meant, of course, that the product was a puree of a white baby. It didn’t sell very well. So, they then had to redesign the product or redesign the label so that it was very clear what was inside. 

That’s very good. That’s a good example, yeah. 

In what other ways do companies need to reconfigure their products? Perhaps by color? By design? Pricing is the example that you also mentioned. Are there other ways that people should know about serving the African masses?  

By design also, but I would say by the business interaction as we call it customer experience, by adopting the customer experience. 

For instance, if you go to Africa and you want to create a power grid, like a renewable energy power grid, for instance, because of the economic conditions in the country, I would advise you not to build a power grid where you sell power to people and bill them at the end of the month. 

I’ll advise you to do a prepaid system, for instance. So, before you buy, before you can use the power, you go, they have a card where you buy the amount of power [electricity] that you can afford for the week. And when you come home, you put it in your meter. Then you use that power for that week. Maybe you don’t have enough money, so at the end of the week if your power finishes maybe you can live two more days without power until you get paid again, then you come and buy more power.  

And you put this, you put this on a card, did you say?   

Yeah, it’s like a credit card. 

Like your credit. 

The credit card.

Prepaid card.

Yes, prepaid cards. So, you come to the power generator office, right? You say I want to buy it for $10 right? They put $10 on your card and then you come home and put the card in your meter. Your meter reads it. And we’ll call it cash. Power your meter, read it and your meter gives you power for $10.00. When it finishes, when you have money, you go and buy more. 

As opposed to your competitor who will be generating power, selling the power to people’s homes, and figuring out in time to bill them. Now the postal system is not that reliable, so you send the bill. They say I have not received the bill. So and then waiting for them now to come to the office and pay. The bill: you see? How much is it? See how many things can go wrong in that process? 

Of course. 

So, the prepaid power system is a good example of somebody adopting the service as a better service to the needs of the people. And it is working. 

And, amazingly, more power companies don’t do that. It seems so obvious.   

Exactly.

When I used to work in Africa, there was one paycheck at the end of the month, vs. say, bi-weekly or semi-weekly in the United States, is that still the case that people are paid monthly? 

Yes, and that is another challenge of poor underperformance in Africa. In African business. Let me explain. 

When they hire you, they give you… they promise you a salary, let’s say $1000 at the end of the month. So, you know that no matter what your performance is, no matter how many hours you work, your guarantee is like some type of entitlement mentality. Which we Africans have to change. We have to adapt. Maybe a hybrid of the African guaranteed salary and the American paid-for-performance methods. 

That guaranteed salary has created lazy underperforming people. In African administration, especially in government offices, people come to work. They said it’s a government job. Nobody is going to ever fire me. I’ll be there for 30 years, but then I’ll retire. So they do not perform. That’s a big challenge for an African country. We need to change.   

And I believe the same is true among the teachers, in the teaching sector. 

Everywhere,

Fascinating points.

Tell me about your humanitarian initiatives. What do you do or what does your company do? 

What I do personally and then I will tell you what my company does. What I do personally is because I’m a Christian, I work with a lot of Christian organizations. And we go to Africa, and we help them with their basic needs. For instance, clean water and health care, and then if they need maybe some church building to be built. We can help them with that. We do not put the church building before their basic needs because we believe that you need to take care of the people’s immediate needs before you start working on the spiritual one, so that’s why we do. Yeah, I belong to the Middle Smithfield Evangelical Presbyterian Church based in the Poconos.

Yeah, so I used to be their director of outreach, so I’m still connected with them and we’re still doing a lot of things in Africa.

My organization… it is our policy to give back to the Community. We do not want to give back to the community in the areas of financial assistance; the people will take the money. They will just spend the money and come back for more. I believe in teaching people how to fish as opposed to giving them the fish. So well, every year my organization finds a different… woman…. an economic cooperative that we give grace to. For them to put that money into good use so that they can build something for themselves and empower their group, and by doing so, the income that they are getting from it will trickle down to their family to other members of their group. 

So that’s what my company does. That’s every year we give greatly to a women’s cooperative or women’s economic group. Whether they are traders, they want to make use of whatever they do, we give them grants. 

You give them grants?

Yeah, this is both. 

It sounds like micro-finance. 

Yes, but this is a gift we don’t want back. They are to pay back grants. They need to report whether they are making progress and we help them with training, coaching, and advisory. But this is a great gift. We don’t want it back.

That’s truly wonderful and very generous. And of course, humanitarian, Excellent. 

Yes, yes.   

Is there anything else you’d Like to share before we close? 

No, the only thing I want to share is as I have told you about where I was born. I was privileged to go to school in France in the US, so I feel personally that I’m a blessed person. I have been blessed. I don’t take anything I have for granted. 

So, because I have been blessed so much. It is my desire and my duty, I would say, to help others. My business model is to find a need and bring a solution to the need. Whether the need is in Africa, somebody needs some advice or some coaching to improve their business. 

Or the need is in the US. Somebody wants to invest in Africa. Somebody is thinking about doing business in Africa but doesn’t know how to do it, and here is what I’m offering … Helping people be successful, helping people solve their problems. While doing that, if I can make money, that’s good. The money is not what I’m looking for in the beginning. My purpose is to help people the way other people have helped me to reach where I am today, I must help other people be successful. That’s what I have to say.  

That is wonderful. What a wonderful, upbeat note to close on. Thank you so much!

Thank you for the honor of the opportunity. 

This has been a wonderful talk with Dr. Komi Klu. His contact information can be found on the episode of our Global Gurus website. Thank you so much, Komi.    

Thank you, friend.

It has been great speaking with you. This has been Philip Auerbach of Auerbach International  (www.auerbach-intl.com).   

Thank you.   

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