Flying into West Africa

Emerging markets investor Actis has hired former Go and Virgin Nigeria Airways founder Simon Harford to pilot its Nigerian operation. Robert Venes talks to Peter Schmid, Actis’ managing partner for Africa, about Harford’s appointment and the firm’s activities in the region.

Actis, an emerging markets private equity investor, has gone for company-building experience with its new hire for Africa, Simon Harford.
Harford, the founder of Virgin Nigeria Airways and co-founder of low-cost airline Go, has joined Actis as head of its activities in West Africa.

Harford: flying in to head up Actis in West Africa

Harford replaces Hywel Rees-Jones, who has returned to the firm’s London office. Rees-Jones, previously principal economist for the Ministry of Agriculture in Vanuatu, helped set up Actis’ office in Egypt in 2001 and led the firm’s first investment in the country – also the first MBO in Egypt – with the buyout of food producer Rashidi El Mizan from Unilever.
Predominantly focused on Africa, China, Malaysia and South Asia, Actis has invested $513 million (€409 million) in 34 deals in Africa since 1998. Last March, the firm sold its 9.3 percent stake in pan-African cellular network provider Celtel in a transaction valuing the company at $3.5 billion, providing Actis with a more than five times return. In January this year, the firm partnered with the AIG African Infrastructure Fund to invest $43 million for a majority stake in Starcomms, a fixed wireless operator in Nigeria.
Harford began his career at investment bank UBS Warburg and as a strategic consultant working for Boston Consulting Group in North America, Europe and Asia for clients in the banking, consumer services and natural resources sectors.
Harford’s ties to the airline industry date back to 1996, when he joined British Airways. While there, he served on the executive board as global director of e-business and was co-founder alongside Barbara Cassani of Go, the low-cost airline subsidiary of British Airways. He was subsequently involved in creating and implementing the airline’s global internet strategy.
After leaving British Airways, Harford worked with low-cost airlines in Germany and served as an advisor on aviation and tourism to a Middle Eastern government before founding Virgin Nigeria Airways and becoming CEO. The business was launched with an initial investment of $50 million from local Nigerian institutional investors and Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic Airways in 2004. Harford stepped down from his position late last year.

[Harford will] strengthen the local representation of our teams and to up both our investment rate and deal sizes in West Africa.

Peter Schmid, managing partner Africa, Actis

Peter Schmid
, managing partner for Africa, says Harford’s appointment was designed “to strengthen the local representation of our teams and to up both our investment rate and deal sizes in West Africa”. Schmid says the firm currently looks to invest approximately $100 million per annum.
“In order to carry out this strategy, we clearly wanted to bring on board someone with strong operational experience, which Simon has in his previous life as a CEO, and his corporate finance and consulting experience will also stand in good stead our Nigerian partners, who we invest alongside.”
Harford will focus on deal origination and will “add and create value by sitting on the boards of portfolio companies”. In addition, Schmid says he will provide long-term value by mentoring a number of young Nigerians as the office increases its local staff, which comprises four investment professionals and four support staff.