Schulze Global Investments is the longest-established private equity firm in Ethiopia. It is run by a family office and is extremely well networked. It has made several deals, but apparently no exits yet although prospects are improving.
SGI Ethiopia has also not been much in the media. In this interview, Dinfin Mulupi of HowWeMadeItinAfrica.com interviews Blen Abebe, vice president at SGI Ethiopia, who highlights the importance of a local team for successful private equity. For the full story, have a look at the original interview here.
So how has SGI been able to navigate this unique environment?
At Schulze Global, most staff are Ethiopian-Americans and the fact that you look Ethiopian and speak the native language ensures the locals can relate to us. For example, we have closed deals partly because we were on the ground and could relate better to locals than other private equity firms. And it makes sense, because most family businesses have been passed down through generations so they wouldn’t necessarily trust, or be willing to work with, you before they get to know you. That is why Schulze Global ensures it has people who know both the foreign and local culture.
What are some of the challenges SGI faces in Ethiopia?
Well, being the first one on the ground can have both positive and negative effects. For example, when Schulze Global opened its office back in 2008 most people had never heard of private equity. So we literally had to go through a teaching process of what it was we are doing. And to add to that, most companies confuse us with a bank so we must almost always explain the difference between a private equity firm and a bank.
After they understand the private equity structure, then the next challenge is agreeing to the terms that are in the term sheet.
Do you see in the future any likelihood of an exit?
We haven’t done any exits yet, but the future looks positive as we are seeing many entrants into the market. Therefore an exit via a strategic buyer should be attainable.
With more private equity funds coming in, how will things play out?
Competition is definitely increasing. We see it already. In fact, in one deal we are currently looking at, the sponsor is telling us they are also being courted by another fund. But our strength has always been that we have been in Ethiopia the longest, so we know what works and what doesn’t. And that long presence, even a small thing like knowing where our office is and the fact that they can visit us anytime, gives the local sponsors comfort – and at the same time gives us some leverage compared with other funds using the “fly-in and fly-out” model.