Writing Phenom David S. Fick Talks with Benin Mwangi!
Recently, I had the pleasure of exchanging dialogue with a world reknowned author who has written two popular books about entrepreneurship in Africa. His name is David S. Fick. Because this interview is so detailed and filled to the brim with facts and information, the interview is broken into two parts. The first part we are premering here on beninmwangi.com. The second half, which provides instruction from Mr. Fick on how you can participate in the launch of his upcoming book will be premiered on the African Path.
About David S. Fick
Fick is the author of Entrepreneurship in Africa: A Study of Successes and is currently researching his third book, African Entrepreneurs in the 21st Century, which will feature examples of African entrepreneurs who have demonstrated visionary and strategic entrepreneurial leadership across the continent. Fick generously donates all author’s royalties due to him from the sale of his first – and this, his second – book to Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in support of their medical relief projects in Africa and will do the same when his third book is published.
Source: STE Publishers
What inspired you to become an author and begin writing about Africa’s entrepreneurs?
My wife and I were guests of the people of Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia for two weeks in August 2000. We found ourselves impressed by the beauty of Africa and the hospitality of its people. The Ethiopia of 2000 reminded me of South Korea as it was in 1962 and 1963 when I had the pleasure of serving in Korea as a lieutenant with the U.S. Army’s Transportation Corps. Our suppliers were from the private sector in South Korea, and it was the local entrepreneurs who became the engines of growth for the future development of South Korea. Having graduated from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in 1961 and having spent my business career (1964–1988) as an entrepreneur in Kansas, I found myself becoming interested in the opportunities for entrepreneurs in Africa. Upon returning to the United States, I began researching for this study. In my search for successful entrepreneurs in Africa, I became aware of the opportunities and roadblocks that the cultural, economic, social, political, and physical environments provide in Africa. This newfound awareness has led me to search for actual or proposed projects and policy changes that are or could be of great benefit for the people of Africa and the entrepreneurial environment.
In 1870 my grandfather came over from Europe, which gave my father the chance to succeed in this land of opportunity. My father, Rudy Fick, was associated with the Ford Motor Company first as a manager, and then as a dealer, for his entire business career. He told my brothers and me the story of how in 1914 Henry Ford began paying his workers $5 per eight-hour day, so that they were soon able to buy a Model T Ford ($295) with sixty days of wages. The other manufacturers thought he was crazy for paying so much. Ford replied that it was the workers of America who would provide the market for his cars and that they should be paid accordingly. My father was 42 in 1941 and too old to serve in World War II, and therefore Henry Ford put him to work keeping the Ford dealership network viable during the war, when new cars were unavailable. After the war, my father became an entrepreneur as a Ford dealer in Kansas City. He used to promise his managers that if they excelled he would help finance them in their own dealerships. Many managers became dealers by buying my father out with their share of the profits from the Ford dealerships that my father created or acquired for them to manage.
Currently, America is at last progressively becoming the land of more equal opportunity for all Americans. In Africa, entrepreneurial opportunities are getting better for Africans, Arabs, Europeans, Asians, and Americans, but these opportunities are still not nearly what they could be. Hopefully, in the future, continued and even greater improvements will be made in Africa’s entrepreneurial and social environment.
Has your career as an entrepreneur has given you any special advantages that perhaps some of your counterparts with economic backgrounds may lack when it comes to writing about the same topic?
I am interested in the day to day operations of small to large businesses. I take a micro-economic approach.
Are you still active as an entrepreneur today?
I invest wisely in the stock market. I wish I had as easy access to the emerging countries’ stock markets as I do the American stock market, however, I do invest in international mutual funds.
I read somewhere that you have traveled to 33 countries in six continents, how did you become such an avid traveler?
My wife and I have traveled extensively in the last twenty years, especially by rental car in European countries and staying at small inns and bed and breakfasts (B and B’s).
Was the trip to Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia in 2000 your first trip to Africa? Besides these countries which other parts of Africa have you visited? How long do you normally stay there? What were your overall impressions?
It was our first and only trip to Africa. Since 2000, I Have corresponded extensively throughout Africa and have researched the books African Entrepreneurship, A Study of Successes (2002) Africa Continent of Economic Opportunity (2006), and presently, African Entrepreneurs in the 21st Century (2008).
Why are you so optimistic about Africa’s future?
I remain optimistic about the future. Everywhere I researched and corresponded, I learned how small businesses are creating jobs, transforming economies, and improving the quality of life in the communities.
How do you respond to the skeptics and critics who say that Africa is not a place to do business?
I am a student of the African Entrepreneurs who are successful doing business in their African community, and frequently as they expand, in other African and world markets.
Do you consider yourself an advocate for African entrepreneurship or an author who writes about it?
I advocate it by writing about it so that people can share their ideas and successes with others.
What do you think is spurring the growing interest in bringing about Africa’s further development?
The opportunities that are available within the continent of Africa.
How did the concept for this book come about?
I found myself becoming interested in the opportunities for entrepreneurs in Africa during our 2000 visit to East Africa. Upon returning to the United States, I began searching for successful entrepreneurs who were creating jobs and improving the quality of life in Africa. In my search for successful entrepreneurs in Africa, I became aware of the opportunities and roadblocks that the cultural, economic, social, political, and physical environments provide in Africa. This newfound awareness led me to also search for actual or proposed projects and policy changes that are or could be of great benefit for the people of Africa and the entrepreneurial environment.
Why did you feel the need to focus on the successes in Africa, rather than the failures?
I wanted to be able to share the stories of successful entrepreneurs in Africa so that other potential entrepreneurs could learn from them.
I have read that this is one of the best selling books on Amazon.com, concerning microeconomics and entrepreneurship in Africa, what do you think is the reason? How do you think that this book compares to its competitors?
I have searched for books to read concerning microeconomics and entrepreneurship in Africa, there are very few.
I would recommend:
Viva South African Entrepreneurs (1995) by Peter Bagshawe
Also see, Gordon B.K. Wavamunno: The story of an African Entrepreneur (2000) by Gordon B.K. Wavamunno .
I would appreciate your recommendations for my reading list.
As of this writing where is this book in terms of sales?
Did well in the United States.
What type of people would you say typically buy this book?
Professors of economics interested in the future of Africa, entrepreneurs doing business in Africa, non-governmental agencies involved with the economic development of Africa, and journalists and people in general, who are interested in Africa’s development.
In writing this book were you able to make any conclusions as to what type of policy changes would help to further bolster entrepreneurship in Africa?
Please see Chapter One of my second book Africa, Continent of Economic Opportunity which is published in South Africa (www.ste.co.za) and is available thru Amazon.com in Africa, Europe, and North America
Africa Continent of Economic Opportunity
Who does entrepreneurship benefit in Africa benefit?
It is the SMME’s (small, medium, and micro enterprises that create the majority of jobs in Africa, Europe, and North America.
Is there anything, in particular, that you want readers of this book to think after completing the book? Is there anything that you hope that we do after reading it?
Please read my second book, Africa Continent of Economic Opportunity
Africa: Continent of Economic Opportunity (November 2006)
The title of this book suggests an abundance of opportunity in Africa. What type of people will get to take advantage of this opportunity?
In Africa, entrepreneurial opportunities are getting better for Africans, Arabs, Europeans, Asians, and Americans, but these opportunities are still not nearly what they could be. Hopefully, in the future, continued and even greater improvements will be made in Africa’s entrepreneurial and social environment.
What is the difference between this and your first book?
Covers all 53 countries of Africa, plus more pages.
How did you select the entrepreneurs, professors, NGO spokespersons, and journalists that you interviewed in this book?
I searched through Web sites, books, newspapers, and periodicals for entrepreneurs who have been successful in Africa, for the projects and policies that improve their road to opportunity, and for expert commentary on the best ways to accomplish the economic and social development of Africa.
What role do Africa’s small and medium sized companies play in both the economies and the overall wellbeing of Africa? How is this different from the roles of Africa’s larger companies?
It is the SMME’s (small, medium, and micro enterprises that create the majority of jobs in Africa.
In paraphrasing something that I recall reading in this book, you said that encouraging dialogue and new ideas about Africa would help not just Africa, but also the rest of the world too. Can you elaborate please?
The world can learn from African entrepreneurs, just as African Entrepreneurs can learn from entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe and North and South America.
One of the things that you seem to emphasize in your writing is the importance of education and training for Africa’s entrepreneurs. What types of training and education are you referring to and why do you feel that it is so important?
Good education and good health should be available to all children so that they will grow up and contribute in a responsible way to improve the quality of life in Africa. We then need successful entrepreneurs to create jobs for them.
After interviewing the African entrepreneurs that you cited in this book, were there any hurdles that were more predominant than others?
I would say that basic infrastructure like roads and electricity are important so that business can produce in a dependable way for the markets of the world.
What type of advice would you offer to American entrepreneurs or any entrepreneurs from outside of Africa who were considering doing business there?
Move to Africa for a period of time, work there and get to know the culture and the people. Then become partners with an African entrepreneur.
Based upon the feedback that you received from the professors and journalists, mentioned in this book, would you say that there are some countries in Africa that offer better opportunities for foreign investors and business people than other countries? If so, which countries?
Those that have better infrastructure have an advantage, however, the opportunities might be greater in a less developed country with progressive leadership and freedoms.
How did you choose the book’s cover?
My friend Nuwa Nnyanzi, a successful and talented artist from Uganda, painted the batik “African Connection” that was used for the front cover art. Nuwa presented “African Connection” to my wife and me as a present during a June 2005 visit to our home in Kansas.
Well, I certainly hope that you have enjoyed this first installment of our interview with David Fick. And, again the second part of this interview, which I believe comes across as more personal will be available shortly on the African Path.