Africa is a continent that is always trying to prevail over challenges: some self-inflicted, while others are due to outside forces. When a challenge is conquered, another springs up. Today, there are numerous challenges, especially in Angola, where I spent my early years. While the country has a history of war, it has overcome many obstacles. Now the country is thriving more than ever and is piquing interest internationally. With this new allure in the eyes of other countries, Angola and other parts of Africa now face new challenges.
Growing up in Angola, I saw firsthand how the country suffered through a civil war that placed children on the front line without military preparation. However, I was luckier than most. My mother was an accountant for an Italian multinational oil and gas company. She worked for the Angolan embassy in several countries for a couple of years. Her work took us around the world. I started first grade in Cuba and spent several years there. Then, we moved to the United States, where I spent six years, including my time in high school. After that, I attended college in Portugal and got my degree in law from Lusiada University in Lisbon.
I had always had the desire to go back to my hometown in hope of helping move the country in the right direction and demonstrate to my community that there are potential successes. After school, I returned to Angola and worked for Sonangol Holdings. For the next few of years, I held several key positions in different sectors and companies, all to eventually become CEO at multiple establishments.
However, in 2014, I had thoughts of doing even more. As the world was evolving with innovation and resources, I needed to delve deep, find these new ideas and bring them back to Africa. Through this, I started ABO Capital with four of my closest colleagues and with our own funds. Today the company is an international investment firm that invests in companies in the energy, transportation, hospitality, healthcare, technology, education and real estate sectors.
African executives have a rough start to begin with, dealing with corruption and an inadequate school system. It is unfortunate to note that out of almost 128 million children in Africa, 17 million will never have the possibility to attend school. Imagine trying to prosper while dealing with being poorly educated. Although this might be the biggest threat responsible for stunting the evolution of African people, there are ways to come out on top. In addition, there are three main lessons that I have learned throughout my years that have helped me become a successful entrepreneur emerging out of Africa.
Make time for solitude.
Entrepreneurs need to work hard, but making time for yourself every day is vital. It is important because in solitude we see clearly and replenish ourselves from our demanding lives. While separating your business from your personal life is hard in any region, I believe it is even more difficult in Africa. As a boss, you are typically expected to form relationships with your employees. This could include inviting them to your home and caring for them and their families in times of needs. My days are completely packed with business activities and business-related social activities, such as long dinners, but I make sure I work out every morning. It is my peaceful time to myself and gives me the energy to focus throughout the day.
Work with partners.
There is a famous saying that states, “Two heads are better than one,” and I stand by that. Collaborating with a partner will only build your capacity. Sharing responsibility with a partner helps you follow through with your goals because you don’t just have yourself to disappoint. You also increase productivity because you are getting twice as much done. You just have to make sure you partner with someone you trust. In Africa, partnerships are often formed on aligned interests and personal connections more than on legal contracts. Finding a partner means you have the opportunity to build a life-long relationship with someone who has the same objectives and vision on how to achieve them.
In my opinion, in business, the most important traits of integrity are reliability, honesty and good judgment. While there is a tremendous amount of opportunity in Africa, there is still a small amount of realized business. This makes it more competitive for entrepreneurs, and business leaders only get credit when they are successful when they drive profit and do things that add value. However, sometimes just focusing on profit leads you down pathways that require you to exercise your moral judgment. I believe that no matter what you need to stay true to yourself and have integrity. In my career, there were times when I was faced with deals that would have made me a lot of money but didn’t align with my moral values. Although they were tempting, I knew I had to trust my gut and stay true to myself. Having this mindset helped me get further in the long run.
Entrepreneurship is never as simple as it seems — no matter where you are from. Most people only see the aftermath of all the hard work — for instance, being your own boss, making the difference you want in the world and shaping your own career. The truth is the path getting there is a windy road for everyone who makes it. The beginning of the cycle is filled with worry, excitement and long hours. There are times when you will feel like there is too much work and not enough resources, but you have to keep pushing forward. You will have sleepless nights where you contemplate giving up, but I promise you, in the end, it is worth it. My advice to anyone going through this beginning phase is to remember why you started out in the first place and think about the impact you will make in the long run.