South African Connections

Small business owners work toward forming strategic alliances

A steady growth rate and respectable investment ratings have made South Africa one of the continent’s political and economic success stories. The National Minority Supplier Development Council Inc. embarked on a mission to explore opportunities to promote business partnerships between African American businesses and black-owned South African companies within the country’s pharmaceutical-supply industry. Last November, the NMSDC and corporate members GlaxoSmithKline, Merck & Co. Inc., and Pfizer hosted CEOs of eight minority-owned companies on a business mission to expose them to the joint- venture possibilities in South Africa. All the companies represented were connected to the pharmaceutical supply industry; several were be 100s firms.

Traveling from Johannesburg to Cape Town, South Africa, the CEOs were introduced to business leaders, trade organizations, and government officials. Such networking is vital to fostering working relationships between U.S. companies and key players in South African industry. More than 600 U.S. companies are already represented in the African nation.

“There’s a very active engagement of the South African government to transform their economy,” says NMSDC President Harriet R. Michel. “We believe that by creating strong and larger black South African businesses we can be part of that solution.”

Frederick E. Burks, chairman and CEO of Atlanta-based The Burks Cos. Inc., a $16.4 million integrated services company that provides commercial cleaning services, including biohazard waste management, pharmaceutical and corporate janitorial services, says the visit was promising; the entrepreneur used the mission to secure offshore opportunities. Major U.S. corporations, such as Johnson & Johnson, Delta Airlines, and Time Warner, contract services from Burks’ firm. He is in talks with a small Cape Town contractual cleaning services firm, Sinako Cleaning and Allied Services, about forming a business alliance. “We share very similar approaches and ideologies, and very similar views on the industry,” he says of the firm’s two black female owners.

Two previous NMSDC-sponsored missions to South Africa have focused on the automotive and information technology industries. One mission spawned a strategic partnership between D.W. Morgan, a Pleasanton, California-based logistics company, and Sebenza Forwarding and Shipping Consultancy Ltd., South Africa’s largest black-owned freight hauler.

The mission effort continues to build momentum, Michel says. Participating minority-owned businesses in both countries, she says, are grateful for the exposure to mutually beneficial joint ventures. Michel and entrepreneurs such as Burks consider global expansion a priority for minority-owned businesses. “Almost every minority business has to think about size, scope, and capacity when determining its readiness to handle global contracts.” she says. “Corporations are looking for suppliers, minority and otherwise, that can meet their needs on a global scale.”

Adds Burks: “It’s a global economy. If you want to be a significant and meaningful player, you’d better play in the market that exists.”

ACROSS THE WEB