CEO Circle chooses seven BEE firms to build into ‘national champions’

7th August 2019 By: Terence Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

CEO Circle chooses seven BEE firms to build into ‘national champions’

Adrian Gore

The CEO Circle has selected seven medium-sized black businesses, from an initial cohort of more than 140 nominated companies, to be nurtured over the coming five years into “national champions” with yearly revenues of greater than R500-million.

The companies named on Wednesday as winners of the inaugural CEO Circle Entrepreneurs 2019 Award included BT Industrial, InnoVent, TSK Interiors, Signcraft Africa, Siyeza Fine Chemicals, Sentio and Kele Mining Solutions. All have yearly revenues currently of between R50-million and R100-million.

The businesses were chosen following a “rigorous” selection process conducted by Endeavor ScaleUp, under the aegis of the SME Fund, another CEO Circle initiative that supports small business development. The CEO Circle is made up of South Africa’s 50 largest companies.

A total of 143 black-owned firms were nominated when the scheme was first launched in March. The nominees were initially whittled down to 49 after the first round of interviews. Two more rounds followed, during which the number of firms fell to 33, then 13, before the seven finalists were selected.

The selected companies were unveiled at a function in Sandton, hosted by Discovery CEO Adrian Gore, who is also chairperson of the SME Fund.

The event featured a Dragon’s Den-like final-interview process, during which Gore, Investec joint CEO Fani Titi, Sasol joint CEO Bongani Nqwababa and Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub asked the leaders of the selected businesses to outline their corporate visions and strategies and make a pitch for further support from the CEO Circle.

Titi said he had been impressed by the calibre of the nominees and the award recipients: "These entrepreneurs have, through sheer hard work and perseverance, already built solid companies. With the CEO Circle as a catalyst, these businesses are poised to become significant players."

While some of the entrepreneurs listed access to capital as key to their future growth, the majority said that access to markets and mentorship would be considerably more beneficial.

The SME Fund’s Lisa Klein said that to transform the seven firms into “national champions” the CEO Circle would provide them with access to decision-makers across its shareholder base.

In addition, they would be paired with top-level mentors, including some of South Africa’s most well known business personalities such as Stephen Koseff, Michael Jordaan and Norman Mbazima.

The seven finalists would also receive access to debt and equity capital and tailored business support.

"Each recipient will benefit from a personalised pathway of support to help them scale into significant companies of R500-million-plus in value," Gore explained.

He reported, too, that the selection process had been a humbling and uplifting experience and had demonstrated that, despite a hostile economic and political climate, South African businesspeople and entrepreneurs remained resilient. The CEO Circle intended, therefore, to repeat the awards process in 2020 and turn it into an annual event.

“Mid-sized companies are an important engine of economic growth. We will leverage the enormous power of the SA SME Fund’s shareholders (top 50 corporates) and fund managers to help grow these businesses into significant players in the South African economy,” Gore concluded.