Mon, Jun 27, 2016

Q&A With Oliver Stern

1. Can you say a few words about yourself and the background to your interest in Africa?

I joined Kroll earlier this year after spending three and a half years in the Business Development and Strategy team at Anglo American. Prior to my time at Anglo American, I worked for DFiD in Mozambique. I welcomed the opportunity to work in many countries around the world with Anglo American but I am really pleased to now be focussing on Africa. The interaction between politics and economics and the opportunities and challenges this creates for business has been a focus of my career.

For me, the defining experience in my Africa career to date, was a two year Overseas Development Institute Fellowship (ODI) in the Ministry of Trade and Industry in Mozambique.
It was an invaluable experience and I still feel very privileged to have had the opportunity. Over those two years I learnt a lot about the way things work and, possibly more importantly, the way things don’t work in capacity and financially constrained institutions in a developing country.

2. What is your own assessment of Africa as a place to do business?

There is a huge variation across countries, regions and sectors. As a starting point, recognising and responding to diversity in the business environment is probably the most effective way of navigating its challenges.

A lot of reporting on Africa’s economy focusses on the ingenuity and innovation that has, for example, brought financial services and telecommunications together to reach ever widening markets. I certainly see that innovation and those positive stories but, overall, there are still clear competiveness and governance constraints which mean investments have to be made carefully.

3. What sorts of trends and themes are you seeing in Africa today?

It is certainly an interesting time to answer that question. In many of the jurisdictions that Kroll’s Africa team work on, there is real dynamism and we are seeing increasing levels of interest from domestic and international firms across a widening range of sectors. Having said that, after a long period of positivity about Africa’s economic prospects the spectre of decline and debt is remerging in some countries. Clearly the steep decline in commodity prices have hit many countries hard. It is also clear that, in some countries, governance and economic management issues are causing some concern within the business community.

I think the central challenge across the continent will continue to be the creation of sufficient job opportunities and economic growth to meet the growing expectations of increasingly urban and media connected societies.

4. What kind of conversations or issues have people wanted to discuss with you since you joined Kroll?

Kroll really is a place where the clients and case work is varied. On any given day, we might be working with a client on an asset trace or investigating the reputational profile of a potential business partner. Of course, many of our clients know and understand the African jurisdictions they operate in well. In the context of greater regulatory scrutiny, clients clearly want to deepen their understanding and make sure they are doing business from an informed position, minimising commercial and reputational risk.

5. What early impressions have you formed of Kroll and its capabilities?

I have been struck by the diversity of skills and experiences within the Kroll consultancy team. When delivering an assignment for a client it is a real asset to be able to call upon experienced investigators, forensic accountants, computer forensics and cyber experts to help cover various bases for our clients.

Kroll’s network of sources across the world and in Africa specifically, is also clearly a tremendous asset. In Africa, where public records have their limitations the insight and intelligence that can be sourced through sources on the ground is often essential.

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