Gepubliceerd op 4 maart 2019

Talking African cities of opportunity with Edo Offerhaus

Having historically been at the forefront of doing business abroad, the Netherlands has decided to further increase its ambitions when it comes to trading with the world. The new body NLinBusiness has been set up to achieve this goal. CEO Edo Offerhaus explains why cities play a crucial role.


‘We have identified where the economie opportunities for the Netherlands are in the coming years and even decades,’ says Offerhaus, who previously worked with Dutch multinationals like Unilever and Friesland Campina. ‘Therefore, we have compiled a list of the 40 cities that are economically interesting, 4 of them located in Africa: Nairobi, the Marrakesh/Tanger region, Cairo and Lagos. Although Lagos isn’t the political capital, business­ wise it is the place to be. That is the reason why we look at cities rather than at countries. Companies don’t think along geographical lines.’


You define ‘golden’ and ‘silver’ cities and place the four African cities in the second category. Why is that?

‘All cities are expected to grow and thus are all interesting for Dutch businesses. The golden cities are the places where there’s already sizeable business going on with the Dutch private sector. Silver on the ether hand means that this is less developed but that there are excellent opportunities to increase business there. At the moment we cannot compare Lagos or Nairobi to places like Hamburg, Shanghai or New York City ; that’s why they are considered silver cities.’


The Netherlands is renowned for its agriculture, which regularly takes place outside the cities…

‘True, of course we also consider the hinterland. We view the cities more like regions. They remain the main points of entrance for companies. It is where the banks, the accountants and the customers are. Cities also present a tremendous opportunity for agriculture, because their populations have to be fed.’


What are the key drivers for success in doing business abroad?

‘Most importantly: preparation. The need for good and secure preparation is our most important advice to companies . Another useful aspect is what we define as ‘human intel’. CEO’s are usually inclined to make business decisions based on data, like financial information and statistics. But in markets where such information is less available, you rely a lot more on this human intel, which basically means gathering information from  talking to people and weighing that information, which is a necessary and valuable skill that entrepreneurs need to learn to succeed in foreign markets.’


11 cities present a tremendous opportunity for agriculture, because their populations have to be fed. – NLinBusiness CEO Edo Offerhaus


You worked in Ghana as General Manager for Friesland Campina. What did you learn there?

‘First of all, some modesty. I worked for a company that is very established in the Netherlands, but in Ghana our brand was much less known, meaning you had to work on that a lot. Another thing we had to deal with was the situation in C6te d’Ivoire, for which I was responsible. During those years a conflict developed there. But what struck me was mainly the  resilience.  Despite the conflict, people still had to eat and drink. So, the business community strove to let things continue as normal, meaning that the port was still running and business was ongoing.’


Do you encourage Dutch companies to set up local establishment rather than export goods?

‘lt is a misunderstanding that exporting to Africa doesn’t lead to jobs. I worked with sales teams in Africa which employed many people who gained decent salaries, selling imported goods. So, to them it doesn’t matter that much where the products come from. That being said, it is obvious that when you start selling products in large quantities, you will  have to start looking at local production sooner or later. First you have to explore the market by importing and selling, and once you have seen which products are in high demand you can think about upscaling. Countries that protect themselves with very high import tariffs are actually shooting themselves in the foot.’

Do you expect to set up offices in all 40 silver and gold cities?

‘No, we would like to rely on existing networks and work closely together with Dutch and locally based partners.  In  Ghana  for  example, I used to lead  the  organization that is now known as the Ghana­ Netherlands Business and Cultural Chamber, GNBCC, which serves as a hub for Dutch companies that are active there . They help each other, they can council new companies trying to enter the market and there is a Dutch school as well. We want to tap into such existing networks and use technology to link them together more easily.’


What is your expectation of Africa Works! held in April 2019?

‘We strive towards Africa Works! that can serve as a bridge between the strengths of the Dutch economy and the growth diamonds in Africa. We would like to see successful businesses of the future link up so they can grow together.’


Thank you to NABC for the interview. Interested in visiting the Africa Works! event?

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