Why/how he started to work for BAI:
We did it well here in Mauritius, we were growing up and the Americans were paying attention to what we were doing. The chairman of board from America came in 1977, he came back again in 78 and decided that he wanted me at his head office in New York. But it took me 5 years to say yes. I finally agreed and I went in America in 1984. I got promoted and four years later I became the president of the company worldwide, 2 years later I did the management part and I became the shareholder of the group.
Mauritius is going through a phase of transformation from a middle income to a high income country, how do you think this moment needs to be managed in order to keep growing?
If we go back to the history of the country; except for the sugar cane industry (which has lasted more than 200 years), when the country became independent the first move was to go for what they called “import substitution industries” and the Mauritians started to learn. Moving from the 200 years of just sugar and a few retails companies, the textile makes its arrival and again the Mauritius’ government decided to invite foreigners to invest here and set up textile factories. That’s why people from Hong Kong and France came. And what we noticed is that the Mauritians learned quickly and they still have these ability to learn really quickly. So at that time, they understood that they can also run factories, they know how to do it and Mauritian companies and investors started to do the same industries as the foreigners.
Mauritians did it very well. And little by little, few foreigners came by their own. There is this ability in the culture of this country, even if people are coming from different origins and ethnic groups, they all have something in common, its that they learn fast, they copy well.
So now that they have decided to go into a higher income country, clearly again, we have to go for the same moves. That is clear that already in the past, government has over the time made it very easy for foreigners to come and invest here; for foreigners to come and live here, easy to have work permits, easy to settle down here, easy to get resident permits, etc. The government and the private sector, we all have realized that we need new resources, human resources, new techniques, new expertise; we are always looking to attract new people. That is why we were all keen to see you and to invest with you by putting an add, to talk about ourselves, not that we love to talk about us but we realized that we have to do it to attract new persons.
This opening of the country permitted to attract totally new type of investors. Now the very good opportunity, this time for the foreigners, to look at Mauritius it’s because it’s clearly the best way to enter Africa. When you want to invest into Africa, you already have to think about Mauritius. We are part of Africa and we have a lot of multi-natural agreements with many different countries from Africa. And because Africans do appreciate that Mauritius has been a success story, they have no problem to work with Mauritians and to accept them.
Mauritius has a great and stable political system, a good economy and has good resources but the fact that you can also bring your people and let them settle down here, is pretty much in favor of the potential investors who are looking to enter Africa. Mauritius is a small market, we know that, so when I ‘m talking about Mauritius, more and more I ‘m thinking about Mauritius but I always say Africa.
We have opened our company in Africa since 1965. We went in many countries but many of them had problems so we left but we are still in Kenya and we are currently going back to all these countries for insurance and banking. British American Insurance Kenya is going very well; it’s emerging like being the second biggest insurance in Kenya. The bank, in which we are the second biggest shareholders, is the biggest bank in Kenya now. And our company that we named Courts which is a retailer business (it is a bit like a mini Walmart) we already opened two in Nairobi, plus we opened a new business; Bramcom International that helps those who would like to export their goods into Africa, we are doing it for them. Right now, there are Chinese and Indian companies using us to export into Africa. It’s not just for those who want to invest into financial services of Africa ( even if we are doing it too ), but it’s also for the people who want to export their goods into Africa. We are the company you can talk to and Mauritius itself is seen as a home (your home) that offers a wonderful quality of life. Most of the people who come here would like to stay here.
The country is widely recognized for its political and financial stability, last year it appointed number 1 African country in the “World Bank Doing Business” report. What are the main challenges the financial sector is currently facing?
The financial sector is just growing, it has the potential to grow, it’s only that many of the groups here are in limited small markets so they are looking at going into Africa and they already start the process. We are one of the leaders in Africa from Mauritius but the others are doing quite well. They are already stepping into Africa. That the main challenge in Mauritius, it’s really competitive because it’s too small that’s why we are looking to Africa as our market.
British American Investment started to operate in Mauritius when the world’s expectations were low about the country, what do you think Mauritius represented strategically for the group at that time?
British American Company who was an American company, was expanding at the time around the world and there were present in several countries; all the way to Fiji, Hong Kong, Malaysia and South America and other countries … But when I took over the company, I couldn’t ridden many of these so I concentrated myself on Africa, Mauritius, Kenya and Malta.
At the time, Mauritius was a poor country with a poor population. We were selling products that were created on the needs of the poor population. Because most of the population was considered to have low-incomes, we had services and products for the low-income group. We came in at the right time. With the growth and the improvement of the success story of Mauritius, we grew with the population, we merged with the population and we became more a middle class company targeting the middle class. Now we are completely from top to bottom, we sell to rich, to the middle class and to the poor. That the key of Mauritius, we grew with the population, we understood the niche of the market.
Mauritius is becoming a highly developed economy; what is the contribution of the American British Investment in this success story?
Concerning the financial services, we have been able to tap and train the very poor people to learn how to save, otherwise they would have been spent everything. We told them how to save and the saving became bigger and bigger and we started investing in the country. We started setting up buildings and hiring more people. As the country needed jobs, British American came at the right time. We became one of the biggest and today we have more than 4000 employees in Mauritius.
In order to contribute in the country’s development, it is important to have good communication between the private and the public sector, what is your relation with Mauritius government and where are you both focusing your efforts on?
I think we have a good rapport with most of the governments (and we have been lucky that we had a very stable political system). Actually we don’t get into politics as a private sector. We do certainly what everybody else do, we are keeping in touch with the ministers and the prime minister and we try to work with the strategies that the government is putting in place. We are looking for growth so for us if the economy does better, we do better.
You have presence across the world in several countries including Madagascar, Kenya, Dubai, France and Malta. To which new markets are you planning to extend your operations?
We are mainly in Africa, on the continent and expanding through from the east coast. We used to be all the way to Nigeria but we had to stop because of the bad situation. Now we have a base in the east African community, which include Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ruanda, etc. and we are well placed.
For us who have been so accustomed to work with poor populations, our expertise will be very helpful to many other African countries. We are applying the same process that we did in Mauritius. Growing with the population, helping them to save, helping them to invest and also, we will invest in the economy that is behind.
Do you have any new countries or markets you are planning to extend?
We just got the license for Botswana and we have been invited by the government of Congo to visit first before we come into. We have been also offered a lot of lands that we have accepted in Mozambique.
In 2012 the group created the “Young Entrepreneur Award”, how did you come up with this idea? What other programs are you currently working on to motivate development and innovation?
I believe that the key and the success of any economy in the world as to do with creating and helping. Creating the opportunity and the base for entrepreneurial to evolve and succeed. I think that the small and medium size enterprises create the employment more than big groups. So I believe in that, I believe in entrepreneurship.
America is an excellent example. When we look at all these new companies as Google, Facebook, Apple, etc. There are all Americans. The system in America allows people to come out and do things and the capital is made available. In Europe, there are too many of the old establishments who is still seating on everything. So except if you are coming from a really powerful family you can’t make it.
I come from a family that has been entrepreneurial for a long time, for example my great maternal grand father brought electricity to a big piece of the island and he concreted building and produced cinema in the country.
Recently we did offers and we did the all process to help young entrepreneurs, we give to three of them money and expertise to help them get their business off the ground. And it was called: success.mu (www.success.mu)
A lot of young people have the ideas and the visions but don’t have the money and they don’t have the expertise to do it. That’s why we support them during three years, until they can buy on their own.
Bramer Bank, a subsidiary of the group got the Global Brand Excellence Award for Banking/Financial Services while Apollo Bramwell Hospital got it in the Health category. What is your secret to succeed with excellence in all the areas you touch?
There are some tired clichés around excellence but for us it is a daily approach. We want everything to be better than before, we want to be the best company, we want to have the best products, it’s just in us. You just have to go to see our hospital or our Mercedez showroom and you will see the way we do things. If you go to visit it you can really understand the essence of British American Investment group in this country. It is the desire to improve what is around us and we do so by going for excellence.
Corporate social responsibility is stated to be part of your philosophy and not just an added value, what has been the contribution of the company to the country?
You just have to go to our hospital and walk through it and you will have your answer. This is our statement; that is why you really have to go and visit our hospital. We really wanted to do such an hospital in Mauritius and we are trying to reach the same level as any hospital in New York.
The Bramwell Bank in Port-Louis is another building that can give you the answer of who we are and what are our standards. It’s an old stoned building but if you walk inside it, again, you will see …
We are really passionate about what we are doing, we enjoy creating. That’s our “secret”.
You have a long career in the financial sector and in the British American Investment Group, and you have also been appointed Worldwide President, looking back at all those years, what do you feel most proud of?
My hospital ! That is something real. When people are at their lowest in their life, when they are sick, it’s important for us to take care of them but also to take care of the rest of their family, giving them the ability to come with them. From the moment they walk through the door of the hospital, we start working and start being there for our patients. We are always very concerned and angry when we hear that the service was not good for our patient. We are really upset and we sanction people, we take it very seriously.
To conclude this interview, Mr. Rawat, our readers are more interested on the leaders we interview than on the company or institution itself. In that context, what message would you like to send to our worldwide readers of HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW?
Again that is a little cliché but it is people, people and people again. I think that the most difficult if you start a business, is to find the right persons. That’s an ever ending search but once you do find them you really should do the most of these wonderful “clichés” that you have. I believe in youth, I believe in the leadership of the young people.
When British American Investment came to close down the company, after only 7 months, because the manager died, they said me that they are going to close the business because it’s not going well and then they asked me if I could do something for them and I said yes and they pointed me Manager. And look what happens to my career.
That is what we are looking for, that what make the company: the good people! But to find them, a lot of money and time have to be spent.
Why do you think American businessman do it so good? America is a wonderful environment for entrepreneurs. And I think that this is the key! That’s a perfect mix between creativity of people and having the opportunity to do want they want. That’s the difference between Europe and America.
I would like to ask you a last question, now that you are turning 70 years old, what is your next step?
Because we never know what will happen tomorrow, I do everything now with a purpose, to ensure that whatever we started, will continue.