A man rides a donkey along the seaside of Lamu town, Kenya. Xinhua/Sun Ruibo
Cape Town - African chief executives are looking at getting the balance right between realism and optimism, as well as opportunity and risk, as they search for growth in the continents fast changing markets.

This is according to the latest survey conducted by professional services firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

When asked which countries outside their home base they would mostly invest in, Kenya was the most preferred investment destination. Fourteen percent of the respondents said that they would be investing in Kenya in the next year.

South Africa came in second with 13 percent of the respondents having said they would be investing in the country, while 11percent preferred Nigeria.

The territory senior partner for PwC’s East, West and South market regions in Africa, Hein Boegman, said many African businesses were set to expand their operations across the continent, despite the difficulty of doing business there.

“It is reassuring that African chief executives are still looking beyond their home markets for growth, with countries in all regions of the continent featuring among the most important to their companies’ growth prospects in this year’s survey,” Boegman said.

The Africa Business Agenda results are based on a survey of 80 chief executives in Africa. It drew on the survey questionnaire used in PwC’s 20th annual Global CEO Survey of 1379 chief executives worldwide.

Sixty nine percent of the chief executives said they were concerned about inadequate basic infrastructure and that expanding power supply was required to solve one of the biggest challenges in the business environment.

According to the World Bank, about $93 billion (R1.25 trillion) was required annually to be able to fund Africa’s infrastructure for the next 10 years.

Read also: Kenya private sector activity slows

Eighty two percent of the respondents worried about overregulation. Seventy four percent of the African chief executives said that more closed national policies were already making it harder to compete. Seventy six percent of the executives cited an increasing tax burden as one of the most pressing matters impacting their growth prospects.

Sceptical

Guy Hayward, chief executive of Massmart, said when he took over the reins in 2013, he was initially sceptical of the seemingly “irrational exuberance” for unchecked Africa expansion, but has since had a different outlook on prospects on the continent.

“Our South African home market remains challenging. Retail is growing cautiously and we are watching costs and digitising where we can in the broader African market retail is growing aggressively, but sensibly. We back ourselves with great retail brands, a good operating model and relevant African local knowledge,” Hayward said. Zambia, Ghana and Nigeria were the top three markets for the company, followed by Kenya and Mozambique.

The company has 412 stores in South Africa and 12 other sub-Saharan countries.

Fifty three percent of African chief executives said that they were considering exploring the benefits of humans and machines working together in the workplace. And 80 percent of the respondents saw the availability of key skills as the biggest threat to growth, while 61 percent were saying that they were completely rethinking their HR function to fit into the digital era.

BUSINESS REPORT