Having spent decades working with Africa, Harry Sutherland drew a natural path to Mauritius, a nation he calls the “jurisdiction of choice for inward investment to Africa.” As Chairman of CrossInvest, a corporate services specialist for Africa, he sees Mauritius potential as rising above and beyond the African continent. Sutherland reflects on why he ended up in Mauritius and what he believes the country can achieve.
Now that Mauritius competes at the top of Africa, what is needed to bring it to the global stage?
Mauritius has ample ability to rival Singapore, but it is clearly more than just a question of branding. If we are to continue to attract first-grade investors to the country we need first-grade connectivity, education and healthcare sectors. This will attract and retain world-class expertise from abroad, speed up the transfer of knowledge and continue to raise standards.
Why did you choose to base CrossInvest in Mauritius?
I chose Mauritius for four principle reasons. First, for the regulation. Mauritius is the jurisdiction of choice for inward investment into Africa. The financial services sector is supervised by the FSC, who regulate the licensed ‘Managing Agents’. If you wish to operate a company from here, you are obliged to use a licensed agent, appoint two resident directors, and demonstrate that your business is effectively run from Mauritius, through bank accounts, audits, board meetings, employment, payroll, etc.
Secondly, for banking. There are some 20 banks, including Barclays, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Standard Bank, Investec and Standard Chartered. The Mauritian banking sector provides security and continuity; these are vital ingredients for the ever-changing continent of Africa.
Thirdly, for the workforce.There is a generally happy, talented workforce to choose from. Highly numerate, bilingual and keen to learn. Mauritius is a cost-effective location – not cheap – but very good value.
And finally, because Mauritius is a nice place to live. There is great weather, wonderful environment for families and good internet connectivity. There is also a phenomenal diversity of landscape, sports, people, culture, arts, and food.
Can you tell us about your long history of doing business in Africa?
I come from the other side of the tracks and have spent my career creating, managing and raising finance for businesses principally in Africa. I started my first company, a robusta coffee production and trading business in Guinea (Conakry) in 1985 in West Africa, subsequently moving to work for Tiny Rowland (Lonrho) all over the continent, from Mozambique to Angola to Ghana, where we built the five-star Labadi Beach Hotel in Accra in a record 11 months. In 2000, I moved to London and began working on raising funds and listing companies on the London Stock Exchange for mining, oil and gas and other businesses in Africa.
In 2009, Reuters rated my company Harland Capital one of the top 40 companies worldwide for M&A transactions with UK involvement. I realized however that I wanted to be closer to the action, and I moved my whole family here to Mauritius in 2010. Having consulted our global partners, I looked for direct investment into a sector where we could make a difference, and invested in the birth of CrossInvest Global Management Services. CrossInvest is today licensed by the FSC as a corporate and administration services specialist for businesses registered in Mauritius.
How do you set yourself apart in such a competitive African nation?
With increasing global regulation and common standards across the industry, I think it comes down to sector knowledge, efficiency and trust. We take new clients on referral from existing ones and like to build personal and enduring relationships with African entrepreneurs and investors. We pick staff that are highly motivated and want a challenge in their career, we train them in the basics and then let them develop their natural abilities. We don’t want robots; we train for initiative and competence and understanding and we hope to get the same from our clients.
CrossInvest delivers a bespoke service that provides the ‘substance’ required under the regulations, but we go much further than that and our close to real-time response to clients is I believe second to none. In addition, our obvious regional and sector knowledge creates significant added value. Many businesses of this nature, with outside shareholders, have as their target a valuation driven by multiple clients who create multiples of earnings. In my view, this is rarely in the clients’ interest. We prefer to remain ‘boutique’, provide an exceptional service and continue to ‘punch above our weight’, rather than the reverse.