The tomorrow called Africa – an interview with Stephen Newton
Stephen Newton, is one of the world’s most dynamic CEOs, a Former MD, Google South Africa, and MIH Internet, a division of Naspers, Stephen speaks with the Hob Post’s Editor in Chief, Chukwukaelo Ajuluchukwu on his newly adopted country of residence, the future of business and startups in Africa and his favorite Nigerian cuisine.
What was it like for you relocating from the US to Africa?
Been living in Africa since 1998/1999. Before then I lived in the UK for a number of years. During my travels from Europe, I had been covering mostly Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
I took more trips to Africa than I realized at the time. Africa is where I felt most comfortable in and also where I saw the greatest opportunities.
Talking about opportunities in Africa, what sector do you think will enjoy the highest boom in the coming decade?
You cannot go wrong with FMCGs. It’s the only thing that caters to the largely emerging middle class. Also, technical stuff, anything that actually helps people get online more efficiently and cheaper like Viber.
Technologies that give you access to as much data as you want with one payment. Hardware technology that helps to actually get people online e.g mobile phones.
Technology that helps to create more local content like information websites, local online stores e.t.c Anything that helps engage with what they want but in a local manner
Anything that helps reduce the complexities of making payment like for people with no bank account who want to shop online or make payments online
People tend to shy away from using the mail service or shopping online because of the fear of non-delivery, so solutions that helps to solve the problem or fear would also be a fast selling one.
What business secret do you know now that you wish you could have advised yourself on 10 years ago?
For me it’s both business and personal. We always say cash is king. However life has its up and downs and when you’re cash flush, put away as much as you can.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
*Laughter* I’m very fortunate because I’m living a life that I enjoy right now so I would say in 10 years, I see myself 10 years older and hopefully setting off one or two of the companies I’ve invested my time in.
Do you think good Internet access is still a myth in Parts of Africa and West Africa?
No. I think the infrastructure is already there. All that is left is implementation. And to be honest with you, some parts of West Africa are doing almost as well, if not better than South Africa in terms of Internet and SA is considered one of the most developed nations in sub Saharan Africa. It’s just a matter of time.
For example the idea Google balloon, which hopefully is coming soon to this part of Africa, is a project where Google releases weather balloons into the atmosphere and the citizens below have access to high speed internet for a certain period.
This has already started in some specific islands so you can imagine what it would be like for the people below having access to free fast Internet. This however could not have happened if the basic infrastructure were not already in place.
So it’s not a myth, just a matter of time and both the local and national government looking at this as a benefit for the long term and not as an expense in the short term
So in terms of business in Africa, you are positive that there is a huge boom coming then?
Oh it’s definitely coming. The only thing I’m not sure of is when it will. I wish I knew when, LOL. I know its coming and I’m definitely planning to be here when it does boom.
If you could interview anyone in the world from any field, who would it be?
Wow! I would like to talk to Steve Jobs and Fela. Believe it or not, I’m a big Fela fan. I just would have liked to speak to him or go to a concert and experience his energy.
Another person who I really respect and have had a chance to speak to and I would like to do it again is Hakeem Bello Osagie.
What exactly do you like about Hakeem Bello Osagie?
I like people who are successful, who can teach you and yet are very humble. He just exudes confidence in a non-showy way.
He is the sort of person who would be a very good mentor, very level headed and strikes you as someone who has been through a lot and has succeeded, obviously has failed a few times but is very humble about his success.
What would you describe as your favorite style accessory?
I guess I’m a bit of a shoe guy, I love shoes. And nice shirts and watches. Those three things
While you were in Nigeria did you go to any memorable restaurants?
Yeah, the Yellow Chilli and another one in Calabar, I don’t remember the name. It was a small Calabar restaurant, the food was so fresh, they had the seafood egusi and it was so fresh. The next time I go I’m gonna ask my friend from Cross River State to take me there.
What were your best moments in Google South Africa?
That would be when we started the project to digitize Nelson Mandela memoirs. I was part of the team who started that and I understand it has now been completed.
It was one of those moments when you can tell that you are doing something that really makes a difference.
What‘s your favorite movie of all time?
One of my favorite movies, maybe not of all time, but one I really enjoyed as a child is “a wonderful life”.
What’s the best birthday gift you’ve gotten so far?
I do remember as a kid, I wanted this bike, it was called the green machine, It was a kid’s bike, like a 3 wheeler. It had these controls; you could tap by the handlebars. I wanted it so bad, you know like when you would look at pictures of it in the magazines and drop all these hints.
I finally got it for one of my birthdays, it was so exciting.