Africa – the blind spot of German management boards

A look at the boardrooms reveals this: It is no coincidence that many companies leave future markets in Africa to the left. Supervisory boards should address another diversity category.

Siegfried Russwurm’s message to the young leaders was clear: Africa is a continent of opportunity, said the BDI President in his keynote speech at “AGYLE Week 2021”. The “African German Young Leaders in Business” (AGYLE) must now convince those who decide on investments in the companies. In other words: the management boards.

Siegfried Russwurm has an advantage: he knows Africa because he was responsible for the region as a member of the Siemens Managing Board. Later, the now 58-year-old served as chairman of the North Africa-Middle East Initiative of German Business.

Such Africa expertise is unfortunately the exception in the top echelons of business. Dax board members from Martin Brudermüller (BASF) to Roland Busch (Siemens) have earned their spurs in the Far East. One usually looks in vain for professional stations in Africa in their CVs.

China optimism vs. Africa pessimism

This is not surprising: China has been regarded as the growth market of the future for more than two decades. Ambitious managers are therefore drawn in droves to the Far East to qualify for higher tasks there – often with success.

This has led to a high proportion of Asia experts on management boards. To put it bluntly: Decision-makers know the growth markets of the past and present, but not those of the future. Many people continue to regard Africa as the “K” continent of crises, wars and catastrophes, although in many places an astonishing economic dynamism is unfolding.

The China bias in many boardrooms has already led to dependencies that could take bitter revenge in the geopolitical competition between systems.

Supervisory boards should therefore take a close look at how their board is positioned in terms of growth market expertise. After all, this diversity category is criminally neglected in many places. At the same time, board members should think beyond the end of their term of office. After all, the longer-term the view, the more there is to be said for a stronger focus on Africa. Anyone who doubts this should read the bestseller Factfulness.