"Opportunity in Africa is infinite," says Luché Joubert of Remgro Management Services
There is overwhelming public sentiment across the globe that businesses be held morally accountable in how they conduct their dealings. Nowhere is this more true than in Africa – and South Africa particularly – where there is an outcry for a return to basic ethical principles of transparency and honesty, says Luché Joubert, head of legal services for Remgro Management Services.
Remgro is an investment umbrella based in Stellenbosch near Cape Town and was established in the 1940s by Dr Anton Rupert. It is listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and incorporates more than 30 investee companies.
“What we have learnt (in South Africa in recent months) is that when you (as an international investor) buy political favour there is nowhere to hide when it all goes wrong. The lesson is to avoid the shadows at all costs. The irony here, through all the political turmoil, is that the public outcry for a return to simple moral values has become more pronounced.”
Public anger at corruption, everywhere in the world, was being fuelled by fast changing technology and the speed of communication, he said. “It means there are no more secrets and, no matter who you are, what you do will come out in the end.”
Fluctuations - from currencies to politics to the weather - were becoming more severe, unpredictable and faster, Joubert said, as evidenced in the vote for Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. But these fluctuations also brought opportunity.
It was with this in mind that investors coming into Africa, where opportunities were big, should do so with humility and take time to listen. Media-fuelled preconceptions that the continent was beset by famine and war were wrong but business people needed to make the effort to understand the dynamics of where they wanted to put their money.
“Across the continent people are warm and extremely eager to engage. But, only up to a point. If you come in arrogantly or wanting to impose something on people, you will be disregarded and then you might as well leave,” he said.
“Africa is an incredibly diverse place with substantial economies (Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Egypt) and from an investor perspective many countries have the balance right but these balances differ. If you have the right investment, do your homework, you will do well. Formulas that work elsewhere in the developing world don’t fit everywhere in Africa which is why you can’t force something to fit and then criticize the country for biting you when things go wrong. For instance if you are going to invest in Zambia you need to understand that all consumer-based business is driven by the copper price. In Angola it is oil. It’s different everywhere.”
Before joining Remgro in 2016 Joubert was senior legal counsel for the British American Tobacco Group. Here he headed a team of lawyers delivering legal services to nine countries in southern Africa. Among his focus areas was commercial and companies law, intellectual property management, competition law and regulatory management.
“This was a time in my life when I was able to travel a great deal in Africa and which I really enjoyed. Nowadays, at Remgro, travel is mostly between Europe and home.”
Joubert is married to Michelle, also a lawyer, but who has switched focus to facility management. They have two children, a daughter of 10 and a son of three. The family’s annual highlight is a trip to the remote coastal village of Umngazi on the Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape near Port St Johns.
“It is so a place that is so typical of Africa that I really look forward to spending time there,” he says, “The Umngazi river flows at its own pace into the sea; you cannot make it hurry up and that is what I love.”