Jonathan Berman‘s passion lies in global business opportunities. He advises global Fortune 500 companies on entry and operations in emerging and frontier markets worldwide, focusing on the political and economic dynamics that drive shareholder value. Here, he discusses how his work inspired his first book Success in Africa, released today. Congratulations, Jonathan!
What inspired you to write Success in Africa?
Working in and with Africa for the last decade, I realized I was witnessing a colossal transformation. Here was the most compelling business story in the world. Yet it wasn’t being told, or at least wasn’t being heard. That’s because the prior story of Africa was so well established and had so much power, and because the emerging story was being told so poorly. If Success in Africa tells the story well, it’s because the people who are driving that story are very present and their insights are shared.
What was your favorite part of the writing and publishing process?
I enjoyed the discussions with business leaders, many of whom are quoted in Success in Africa. I’ve always had an appetite to talk to interesting people. The men and women who populate Success in Africa are not only successful at business. They are daring, passionate, philosophical, and funny. I learned and enjoyed throughout.
I also enjoyed finding out where my reader is today. That’s actually where I started – talking to business people about their current challenges, how much they knew about Africa, and what they would want to know to invest or operate there. Long before I started writing the book, I would be sitting on a plane coming back from London or Geneva, or in the lounges at transit airports, and just ask people what they know and feel about the topic. I don’t know how anyone writes a book without that.
Who do you hope reads your book? What do you want them to get from it?
Every soul on earth should read Success in Africa. But if everyone who is passionate about international business and finance reads it, that will be a good start.
From Success in Africa, I want readers to take away that Africa is a place of opportunity, and that most of that opportunity is in delivering on fundamental needs of a very large number of people. In Africa, there’s an opportunity unlike any other in the world to build wealth while empowering and enabling millions of people. In that regard, it’s a great proving ground for whatever capitalism and entrepreneurship will become next.
I’d never identify one, since it changes all the time, even over the course of a day. Success in Africa is inspired by those passionate about business for whom I wrote the book. In terms of authors, I like the folk who recognize the big, sexy story that business can be. Walter Isaacson who wrote Jobs, Andrew Ross Sorkin who wrote Too Big To Fail, and in particular Michael Lewis, who wrote Liar’s Poker and The Big Short, among many others.
I also read a couple of authors who inspired me in ways I didn’t expect as I was writing Success in Africa. The popular marketing author Seth Godin writes a short blog every day. Frequently, it is pithy, on target, and inspiring to people who are willing to take a risk. Kit White wrote a book in 2011 called 101 Things to Learn in Art School. It’s about much more than art or school. If you’re creating, I’d suggest it.
What is your favorite book? or What are you reading right now?
Right now, most of what I read is on fast growth markets in Africa, and very little of it is in books. I wake up terrified that I’ll not give readers, viewers, and listeners the best, most recent insight. I’m passionate about it.
I’m also passionate about family. I’m a father making a world of mistakes daily, so I read the Parent Hacks blog, run by Asha Dornfest. My friends will also know I make cocktails (wherein I make fewer mistakes than in parenting). I am savoring The Gentleman’s Companion, Being an Exotic Drinking Book Or, Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask, by Charles Baker. It’s a global travelogue and top-flight technical manual in one. Brilliant writing.