The Report Company: Could you comment on the group’s major activities?

Arnaud Lagesse: While property management is quite important for the group, our main activities are in industrial and financial services and the hospitality business. We have a 50:50 joint venture with British private equity fund Actis, and we are promoting a couple of developments in the north east of the region. Once of the most important developments is the Azuri IRS. It’s doing well because we’ve pitched it at the right price and we’re selling a lot of IRS and local residences.

TRC: What geographical markets are you targeting for this development?

AL: Worldwide. We sell a lot to France, we’ve been on road shows to England and South Africa, and there’s a team heading to China in the weeks to come. Everybody wants to run from heavy taxes and Mauritius is a good place to invest.

TRC: You’re looking to consolidate your activities. What have been some of the challenges in doing so?

AL: It’s been a long process. The group, going back to my father and grandfather put money in virtually every little company starting or going on in Mauritius. As a result, we ended up with a portfolio of hundreds of companies. Very often those companies are in the same sector. For example, in the sugar industry we have investments in two main sugar groups and we’re busy putting those together to try and create synergies in order to build a powerhouse to go to Africa. We’re doing the same with commercial activities, putting our two industrial engineering and commercial clusters under the same roof. The same amount of management time is spent on a small company as on a big company, so we want to go big and put as many intellectual and financial resources as possible behind those groups, because the business challenges we foresee are now more regional than local so consolidating is a target for us in the years to come.

TRC: What do you see as some of the regional challenges?

AL: Africa is very important for us. Mauritius is very small, with only 1.2m inhabitants and when you are the size of GML you can’t grow very much bigger organically. We employ 12,000 people with a direct contribution to GDP of around 3-4% and an indirect contribution of approximately 6-7%. Therefore, we need to go abroad and it has not been a very easy task. Going out of your comfort zone often means you make the mistake of not putting adequate human and financial resources behind those challenges, and you run the risk of ending up with a mess like we did some time ago in Mozambique. It’s not easy, we lost money, and we’ve learned from that.

Going regional is important. Africa is opening up in a big way and there are a lot of opportunities in the food, telecommunication, hospitality and financial services businesses.

TRC: Can you give us an idea of the countries in Africa that you’re looking at?

AL: We’ve been investing in financial services in South Africa. We have also just bought Kingdom Bank in Zimbabwe, as while there’s a big question mark as to which direction the country is moving, we’re betting on the fact that it’s going to change eventually. We’ve been investing in Tanzania and Mozambique and we are looking for other opportunities in the eastern region of Africa in financial services, sugar and distribution.

TRC: You have a UK partner. How important is the UK market for you in the future?

AL: The partnership with Actis is more of a capitalistic partnership than a market partnership. Using Mauritius as a platform for commercial centres is an opportunity for the UK market.

TRC: What are your priorities and goals for the next 3-5 years?

AL: Other than bringing down my golf handicap to below 20, there’s a lot to do. I would like to do more business regionally, with at least 30% of the investment of the group being done regionally. People are key to the success of the group, so we are spending a lot of time trying to hire smart resources. Training is important, and we have just bought a HR company. We’re trying to embed a more logical and direct strategy for human resources for the years to come. We aim to maintain our role as a group leader both in turnover, asset backing and hopefully in terms of bottom line in the years to come.

TRC: Where do you see Mauritius’ potential with regards to becoming a hub for Africa?

AL: I’m pretty confident that we can make it happen. Mauritius can become to Africa what Singapore is to China. We’ve got the skills, and as Africa is on a growth path we can help Asian companies to go to Africa. The challenges we see are political instability in Africa, corruption and too much of a push from China. It’s very difficult for us to compete against China, but if we can take a small chunk of this business we’ll be smiling in the years to come.

The government is doing a good job in trying to position Mauritius as a centre for the region and putting us on the map. I believe there is a brighter future for us than many other countries may have right now.