The Promise of 100% and Finding Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid

Sanjeev Gupta
Updated: Jul 24, 2014 09:01:05 AM UTC

Sanjeev Gupta has lived and worked across the emerging markets of Africa, the Middle East and India over the last 24 years. During his career, he has developed extensive experience in the conceptualisation and execution of innovative and customised solutions for successful business models in emerging economies amidst the challenges of transformation and policy changes and the complexities of managing paradigm shifts. He has been actively involved in the Private Equity & Corporate Advisory sector and has established a strong reputation for strategic business development and implementation of hitherto untried models in new and fast changing markets. He was the CEO of South African financial services giant Sanlam Investment Management`s Emerging Markets Business till December 2010. Sanjeev is currently the Managing Partner of Emerging Opportunities Consulting , a firm he set up to focus on working with fast growing, consumer facing, family owned businesses looking for strategic and financial support . He is a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Chartered Accountants, a Member of the Investment Analysts Society of South Africa and holds an AMP from Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, UK. His hobbies include writing on business and macro-economic trends and playing golf. He enjoys presenting papers and is an active public speaker in various forums.

“100%, yes I am telling you…100%. The deal is ours. 100%!”

The guy sitting next to me in a Dubai-bound Emirates flight from Lagos barks on the phone, much to my dismay. It is 10 in the night; I am not quite looking forward to the 8-hour journey, and craving for some peace and quiet. There are times in a traveller’s life when the mind just gives way and the spirit drops. The act of lugging oneself from one dismal place to another, flight after flight, lounge to lounge and time zone to time zone gives rise to lassitude that the mind doesn’t want to get over. I call it ‘numbness energy’ when nothing makes sense anymore.

It was one of those moments — the end of a long day and the start of a long flight — and the knowledge of another impending long day after arriving at the destination. Returning from Africa’s most populous city — and the heart of its fastest-growing economy — after four days of meetings, bad traffic and long hours, is tough.

Business booms in Lagos, the commercial capital of Africa’s largest economy. But when was the last time you saw a businessman, particularly from my part of the world making a 100%-commitment on the phone to some distant, trusting business partner? It was too much to handle, especially when it ended with an assurance like this: “Our friends are 100% with us, and their guru has given his 100% blessings.”

Guru, who?


It’s no secret that airline seats and airport lounges are a treasure house for collecting market intelligence. So, after ‘Mr. 100%’ switched off his phone, I decided to befriend him. He accepted readily and then went on about how tough it was to get funds for a project that was offered to him on a platter.

He wanted to manufacture products of essential use (soaps, toothpastes, detergents, baby wipes, lotions, cereals) and sell them to the masses at subsidized rates. He had spotted a business opportunity in the fact that people could not afford products sold by the MNCs, and had to make do with inferior Chinese ones, which were often spurious and resulted in ailments.

I turned advisor for the man and sought to find investors for him. It however occurred to me that his biggest challenge wasn’t price or demand; he needed to get his distribution strategy right. He needed support in logistics, warehousing and a local backing to build a robust business model. Emerging markets reward those who do not take the indigenous environment for granted. And good ideas don’t lead to anything unless the ‘last mile’ is sorted.

Mr. 100% needed guidance to work with indigenous businessmen, before he approached investors for funds, and I offered to help. He was impressed. We exchanged cards and then dined together on board. I came to realise that the man was a 100% true entrepreneur who needed a bit of direction.

Today we have an exciting collaboration and are looking to make a difference in a country full of hope and opportunities. Here’s a dynamic Indian brand backed by local players and funded by long-term global investors. A 100% recipe for success in Africa!

There indeed is fortune at the bottom of the pyramid. And it will be found by those who dig deep and tap their own market through service and delivery.

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