The Rationale for Country Specialization in the Frontier

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1 The Rationale for Country Specialization in the Frontier This Schulze Global Investments white paper is intended to consider the question of country specialization in a frontier market context only. Developed markets present very different circumstances. Especially in frontier markets, it is important for LPs to achieve a high degree of country diversification. Each frontier market presents a unique risk profile having to do with the particular country s political, economic, and strategic circumstances. To balance these country risk factors, LPs are smart to assemble a range of different countries into their frontier market portfolio. Schulze Global Investments 65 Chulia Street 48-03/04 OCBC Centre Singapore For more information please contact: LPs have traditionally assumed that the most efficient way to accomplish such portfolio diversification is by investing in regional and global funds such as funds that aim to cover all of Africa or all of East Africa, or funds that cover frontier markets on multiple continents. The idea is that a single investment into one such fund with a larger mandate will provide the desired level of country-risk mitigation. This assumption, though reasonable, is not necessarily accurate. LPs should indeed diversify their frontier market holdings across various geographies; but they must be very cautious about GPs who purport to do the same. In the frontier, funds that are focused on specific countries generally outperform regional and global funds. LPs should, therefore, achieve their multi-country exposure by investing in a selection of funds that are highly specialized in their geographic scope what Schulze Global calls country-specialized funds. (By contrast, we will refer to funds Copyright 2015 Schulze Global Investments Limited. All rights reserved. 1

2 that do not achieve this level of country specialization as noncountry-specialized.) Country Specialized Funds Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In Ethiopia, Schulze Global manages the Ethiopia Growth and Transformation Fund (EGTF), an $86.5 million fund backed by several of the world s leading development finance institutions, as well as Africa-focused funds of funds and U.S. and European family offices. Country-specialized funds develop specific expertise around particular countries. The clearest example of this is a singlecountry fund, in which the fund managers are focused solely on one particular frontier market. But country-specialized funds need not be single-country. Indeed, country-specialization does not preclude regional or even global frontier market funds. Such geographically diverse funds can work very well, but only if the fund manager adheres to the concept of country-specialization and establishes separate, dedicated, locally competent teams within every country covered by the fund s mandate. The basic rules of the road for country-specialized funds will be discussed further below. The Advantage of Country-Specialized Funds In the Frontier, Different Rules Apply Picture this: An American fund based in New York wants to invest in a pharmaceutical company in Germany. The fund s analysts in New York research the market for pharmaceutical companies online and contact investment banks in Germany to identify which pharmaceutical companies might be interested to sell equity in their business. Conference calls are arranged for the fund to get to know senior managers of each pharmaceutical company, and these calls work flawlessly both from a technology and from a language standpoint all German businesspeople speak English. Next, NDAs are signed, virtual data rooms are established, and information is exchanged. The fund hires local counsel in Germany to assist with diligence and advise on deal structure. And members of the fund s management team take several well-organized trips in and out of Germany as they are finalizing the deal. Now let us imagine that the New York-based fund is seeking to invest in a pharmaceutical company in a frontier country like Mali instead. Researching companies online would be challenging at best, as very few Malian companies would have a web presence. No credible investment banking services exist in Mali, so the fund would not be able to rely on such intermediaries for gaining an understanding of the deal landscape. If a suitable opportunity were ultimately discovered, it would be 2

3 difficult to remotely communicate with the management: calls will drop and language barriers will prevent the two parties from properly understanding each other. An NDA might be doable, but a virtual data room would be highly ambitious. Reliable local counsel may also be hard to find. And trips to Mali to visit with the owners of the pharmaceutical company will be hard to plan, as most businesspeople in the frontier do not plan meetings until the very last minute. This example points to several of the foundational reasons why frontier markets must be approached differently from developed markets, and even, to a large extent, differently from emerging markets like China or Brazil where the business culture has matured significantly over the past decade. In the frontier, business is still done the old-fashioned way, and private equity firms that take the time to learn about and build relationships in specific frontier markets will do better than those that try to efficiently attain coverage of a broader sweep of territory. Dearth of Service Providers As the above example illustrates, one of the challenges of investing in the frontier is a lack of qualified service providers. Most frontier markets have a highly underdeveloped service sector affecting everything from investment banking services, to legal services, to accounting and other forms of consulting services. This makes it significantly more difficult to conduct deals remotely and often requires funds to engage far more deeply in all aspects of a deal than would be the norm in more developed markets. Indeed, in frontier markets Schulze Global has often found it necessary to conduct all stages of a deal from market surveys, to sourcing, to diligence entirely in-house and relying largely on the capabilities of our local teams. Unique Cultural and Regulatory Dynamics Ironically, the main reason why country-specialized funds perform better in frontier markets is the exact same reason why LPs should diversify across a range of such markets: namely, the uniqueness of each frontier market. Take East Africa, for example. Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti all speak completely different languages Amharic in Ethiopia; Swahili and English in Kenya; French and Arabic in Djibouti; they are at vastly different stages of development Ethiopia s GDP per capita stands at $470; Kenya s at $860, almost double that of Ethiopia; 3

4 and Djibouti another notch higher, at $1,500; and their political, legal, and regulatory frameworks have nothing to do with each other. For a GP managing a multi-country fund without dedicated teams on the ground in each of these countries, it would be almost impossible to effectively understand and invest in all of these markets. Importance of Relationships Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The firm manages the Schulze Global Mongolia Debt Facility (SMDF), an OPIC-backed debt fund. In addition, Schulze Global has also made several equity investments in the country. In addition, unlike more developed markets, frontier markets are highly relationship-centric. Deals are generated the oldfashioned way, by having conversations in the market, meeting entrepreneurs and businesspeople, and finding good companies that require capital; not by contacting investment banks or other institutional intermediaries. Indeed, many of the most attractive investment opportunities in frontier markets are in family-owned businesses. These businesses will not want to accept capital from an equity partner with whom they do not have a relationship of trust and respect the kind of relationship that can take months or even years to develop, and generally requires sustained inperson interaction. The Shortcomings of Non-Country Specific Funds Non-country-specialized funds that do not invest in building out local capabilities within each market covered by the fund s mandate and getting to know their markets inside and out will find it very difficult to develop and maintain such relationships across multiple countries which will result in significant difficulties finding, negotiating, and managing deals. As a result, these funds do not achieve the level of risk mitigation and diversification that is desired and expected of them. Inability to Access Attractive Deals First and foremost, non-country-specialized funds have a difficult time accessing the most attractive deals across their entire geographic territory. In countries where the fund has no presence or only a low-level runner, these funds are not able to do adequate diligence on companies or proper background checks on owners and senior managers, and do not have the relationships necessary to access the most attractive deals in the country. As a result, such funds often invest in the companies that country-specialized funds have intentionally passed over because the company s business is known to be less attractive, or because its owners or leadership do not have good reputations in the market. 4

5 Inability to Monitor In addition, to the extent that non-country-specialized funds are able to find deals in countries where they do not maintain a local team, their ability to properly monitor those deals is also hampered by their lack of an on-the-ground presence. Frontier markets abide by the out of sight out of mind principle of business. If a company does not interact face-to-face with its investor on a regular basis, or if it does not at least know that the investor may stop by unannounced for an impromptu inperson meeting, then the risk of that company acting against the interests of the investor increases dramatically. Indeed, properly monitoring and protecting one s investments in the frontier requires an investor to actively cultivate relationships and maintain frequent in-person interactions with the senior leaders of the companies in which they invest. Narrowing the Focus Because of the above-described considerations, non-countryspecialized funds end up generally falling well short of their regional mandate. Facing the constraints around accessing and monitoring deals in frontier markets where they do not have a meaningful on-the-ground presence, these funds narrow their focus: to play it safe, they end up investing the vast majority of their capital only in those markets in which they have the footprint, know-how, and human resources to confidently deploy capital. LPs investing in such funds think they are gaining broad exposure to perhaps five or six different markets, but in reality end up with exposure only to the one or two. Lower Returns, Less Diversification The upshot of all this is that by investing in frontier-focused regional or global funds that are not country-specialized, LPs will generally end up investing in a fund that appears to be a jack of many trades, but in fact is a master of none. The LP thereby ends up with a lose-lose situation: sacrificing returns through increased deal risks, while at the same time failing to achieve the desired level of country-risk diversification. Example: East Africa Indeed, we have seen all of these dynamics play out in real life. For example, several multi-country funds have launched in recent years that purport to cover all of East Africa. Generally speaking, these funds maintain their offices in Nairobi, Kenya, 5

6 which is considered a financial hub for the region. After several years of attempting to source deals across the region, most of these multi-country funds have effectively resigned themselves to doing deals exclusively in Kenya. In the case of some of these multi-country funds, over 90 percent of deployed capital is in Kenya. These multi-country funds justify this statistic to their LPs by arguing that there is no deal flow in other parts of East Africa, but that argument simply is not true; the reality is that these multicountry funds have deal teams sitting in Kenya, often comprised partially of Kenyan nationals, and never develop a sufficiently deep understanding of any other East African market other than Kenya. Thus, they are unable to find deals outside of Kenya (even though deals abound), and when they do find deals, they are unable to grow comfortable with the country-risk because they do not feel they know the other market well enough to properly defend the decision to their investment committee. Country-Specialization: Rules of the Road While Schulze Global believes firmly in the well-understood Country Diversification Rule for LPs, it also believes in what might be called the Country Specialization Rule for GPs. The Country Specialization Rule encompasses (in no particular order) the GP s: dedicated, locally competent teams within every country covered by the fund s mandate; overall familiarity with the local environment; relationships with local business and political leaders; knowledge of local cultural norms and practices; ability to source deals through local proprietary networks; relationships with local service providers; understanding of local religious and ethic realities; sensitivity to political hot-button issues; local language fluency; experience with local business protocol; familiarity as to local laws and regulations; ability to utilize local relationships to access unrestricted, but unpublished, data and information; visibility on other private transactions taking place in the market; capability to assess the character and competency of potential sponsors through informal inquiries; 6

7 ability to monitor portfolio companies through face-toface interaction; and intuitive sense as to the market s overall trajectory and developments Tbilisi, Georgia Schulze Global is in the final stages of fundraising for the first close of Caucasus Clean Energy Fund (CCEF), a $100 million fund dedicated to pursuing investment in Georgia s hydropower sector. We believe that country specialization significantly enhances the performance of frontier market funds and therefore is critical in delivering a high rate of return to investors. And the more early-stage, complex, or unique a market is, the more applicable country specialization becomes. Some fund managers might argue that adhering to country specialization is too expensive, given that it requires senior local teams in each market. We at Schulze Global disagree. We believe that the management fees paid to fund managers such as ourselves are sufficient to cover the costs of establishing local resources in multiple markets. We believe that management fees should not be a profit center for a fund manager; rather, they should be used precisely to establish the specialization required to achieve the best outcomes for LPs. Unfortunately, there has been very little formal research regarding single- versus multi-country funds. However, the Dutch development bank FMO recently completed a study of SME funds and concluded, among other things, that singlecountry funds delivered better financial performance on average than multi-country funds. Case Study: Schulze Global in Ethiopia In February 2013, Schulze Global closed its Ethiopia Growth and Transformation Fund I (the EGTF ), a fund focused solely on Ethiopia. The EGTF presents a perfect case study on the critical importance of a country-specialized GP. Investors, even those keen on African investments, have historically overlooked the Ethiopia, dismissing the country as an impoverished backwater with no opportunity. Today that view has changed dramatically, with investors flocking to Ethiopia in search of access to what is, in fact, one of the most dynamic and fast-growing economies in Africa. However, many of these investors are learning the hard way that Ethiopia is a unique country that, despite its attractiveness, is difficult for foreign investors to properly navigate. Ethiopia is culturally, historically, and politically distinct from its East African neighbors. Experience in neighboring countries 7

8 does almost nothing to inform an investor as to the landscape in Ethiopia. The country s culture is unique to the region, a dynamic blend of diverse tribes, deep-rooted Christian Orthodox and Islamic faiths, Marxist scars, intense pride in a colonial-free history, and a fierce determination to build a thriving economy through Singapore-style state-led development. Ethiopia, even more so than most frontier markets, requires a tremendously high degree of country specialization in order to access, engage, and profit from its dynamic economic renaissance. Schulze Global established an office on the ground in Addis Ababa over five years ago, hiring senior investment professionals and building a deep presence in the market. As of today, Schulze Global remains the only private equity firm with a fully-staffed office in Ethiopia, and other private equity firms approach us on a regular basis, seeking to leverage our country specialization. Fund managers from around the region have faced significant challenges in their attempts to deploy capital in Ethiopia. The allure of Ethiopia has grown over the past number of years and with it the number of pan-africa funds and East Africa funds that include Ethiopia in their mandate. The pan-africa funds are very often run from London or Johannesburg, with additional staffing in various locations including Nairobi, while the East Africa regional funds are generally run by a single team in Nairobi only. In either case, these Nairobi-based teams have struggled immensely to transact in Ethiopia, given the significant differences between Kenya and Ethiopia. Despite the fact that the two capitals are only within a short flight of each other, the cultural and business environments are totally different as different as China and the United States. It is highly unlikely that a team based in Nairobi can achieve consistent, profitable investment outcomes in Ethiopia. This is why only very few other private equity firms have been able to deploy capital in Ethiopia. Certainly some multi-country fund managers have and will succeed in putting money to work in Ethiopia. But deploying capital in the country, without the requisite level of specialization, presents significant challenges in portfolio management, local compliance, and eventual exit. We believe that any benefit their respective funds may gain through country diversification will be more than offset by their failure to achieve sufficiently profitable outcomes in Ethiopia due to a lack of country specialization. 8

9 Many regional funds have wrongly concluded that there are noinvestable companies in Ethiopia. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, investment opportunities are available in abundance, thanks to the country s pace of development and limited capital sources. While the average deal size is smaller, in the range of $1m to $10m, Schulze Global benefits from a seemingly unlimited pipeline of deals to choose from and very little in the way of competition. Ethiopia is the fastest growing non-energy-based economy in Africa, double-digit annual real GDP growth on average in recent years. The private sector, previously stamped out by a Marxist economy, is booming despite the many challenges that remain. These companies, presented with a large and growing marketplace for their goods and services, need capital. But the banks, like many banks in frontier markets, generally only engage in asset-based lending and even then maintain a preference for large and often state-affiliated companies. Thus, equity capital becomes an attractive option a space that Schulze Global dominates. As noted above, investors have historically overlooked Ethiopia and only recently have begun piling into the market. But Schulze Global remains the only foreign private equity firm with a full team on the ground in Ethiopia, and is well known among the leadership of the business community and government. Despite the aggressively escalating interest of other fund managers, it will be quite a while before these firms are able to establish a local presence and build a reputation sufficient to present any credible competition to Schulze Global s quasi-monopoly on private equity in Ethiopia. 9

10 About Schulze Global Schulze Global is a private equity firm focused on the world s most dynamic frontier markets. Founded by Gabriel Schulze and the Schulze family, Schulze Global has developed a unique approach to successfully investing in frontier markets. That approach combines rigorous financial analysis, a deep understanding of the local culture and business community, and strong in-country relationships. Schulze Global looks for frontier markets that are undervalued because the global investment community either overestimates the risks related to the market, or underappreciates the market s growth potential. The scarcity of capital in these markets means that Schulze Global is able to generate high risk-adjusted rates of return while at the same time making a valuable, double-bottom-line ( DBL ) contribution to the country s development. Singapore 65 Chulia Street #48-03/04 OCBC Centre Singapore (f ) Mongolia Suite 601, City Center Tower 5 Altangerel Street, Baga Toiruu Sukhbaatar District (f ) Georgia 34 Rustaveli Avenue Tbilisi 0108 Georgia (f ) Ethiopia The SGI Building Bole Kifle Ketema, Bole Medhanialem Kebele 03/05, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (f ) China 1037 East Tower, Twin Towers B-12 Jianguomenwai Ave Beijing PRC (f ) Brazil Av. Antonio Carlos Comitre, 525 sl.55 Pq. Campolim Sorocaba São Paulo Brazil (f ) IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: THIS DOCUMENT HAS BEEN PREPARED BY SCHULZE GLOBAL INVESTMENTS LTD ( SGI ) SOLELY FOR THE PURPOSE OF INTRODUCING THE INFORMATION SET OUT HEREIN. THIS DOCUMENT DOES NOT CONSTITUTE ANY OFFER, SOLICITATION, RECOMMENDATION OR INVITATION FOR, OR IN RELATION TO, ANY INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES, SECURITIES OR INVESTMENT FUNDS MANAGED BY SGI, NOR DOES IT CONSTITUTE INVESTMENT ADVICE OR CAUSE THE RECIPIENT TO BECOME A CLIENT OF SGI. THIS DOCUMENT MAY INCLUDE INFORMATION OF A PROPRIETARY NATURE TO SGI. THIS DOCUMENT DOES NOT PURPORT TO CON- STITUTE ALL THE INFORMATION THAT THE RECIPIENT MIGHT REQUIRE, IT IS LIMITED IN ITS ANALYSIS OF RISK ISSUES AND IT IS NOT INTENDED TO FORM THE BASIS OF ANY INVESTMENT DECISION OR CONTRACT. SGI DOES NOT ASSUME ANY LIABILITY OR RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE ACCURACY OR COMPLETENESS OF THE INFORMATION CONTAINED IN THIS DOCUMENT, FOR ANY FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS (WHICH MAY BE SUBJECT TO NU- MEROUS ASSUMPTIONS AND KNOWN AND UNKNOWN RISKS), OR FOR CORRECTING ANY ERRORS HEREIN. PAST PERFORMANCE IS NOT A RELIABLE INDICATOR OF FUTURE PERFORMANCE. RECIPIENTS OF THIS DOCUMENT ARE SOLELY RESPONSIBLE FOR MAKING THEIR OWN ASSESSMENT OF THE MATTERS HEREIN, AND FOR CONSULTING THEIR OWN PROFESSIONAL ADVISORS. 10

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