Amir Ben Yahmed,
Founder, The AFRICA CEO FORUM.
The AFRICA CEO FORUM, one of Africa’s most prestigious business meetings, attracts more than 800 influential top government officials, business leaders and experts from both Africa and around the world including over 500 CEOs. AFRICA CEO FORUM, a Groupe Jeune Afrique event, made its debut in 2012 in Geneva, and has since become a major African business event earning reputation as “the foremost international meeting for African CEOs, bankers and investors”. Amir Ben Yahmed, scion of French media aristocracy who founded the forum in 2012 has since become an important figure in Africa since he founded the forum in 2012.
In 1993 after graduation from Institut des hautes etudes économiques et commerciales (INSEEC) Paris, Amir joined the New York based investment banking and brokerage firm Gruntal & Co before heading back to Paris to get involved in family media business (Groupe Jeune Afrique, publishers of The Africa Report and Jeune Afrique). In 1995, he was made Executive Publisher of Paris based Jeune Afrique, the French language weekly news magazine co-founded by his father Bechir Ben Yahmed and a group of Tunisian like-minds in 1960. Thereafter, Amir Ben Yahmed took the position of Group Development Director, initiating business oriented publications such as Jeune Afrique’s business section, and two special annuals Top 500 African Companies and Top 200 African Banks.
In 2007, Amir Ben Yahmed was made Managing Director, Group Jeune Afrique where his remit was to propel the company’s 3-pronged development policy on Internationalization, Diversification and Digitization. Taking a much bolder step in 2012, Amir Ben Yahmed convened the AFRICA CEO FORUM.
When you started the Africa CEO Forum in 2012, did you envisage that the event would turn into a global brand within the short period of its existence?
Even if it can sound presumptuous, it was our objective from the very beginning to create the best event dedicated to African private sector. We observed through our publications, especially Jeune Afrique’s TOP 500 African companies ranking, the extent to which African CEOs from different countries were not connected and didn’t know each other. They needed a place to gather and network. A place to exchange best-practices and to learn from each other. A place where African CEOs would promote economic integration and intra-regional investments all together. There was also a need for dialogue between public and private decision makers. No such platform existed before. Because we were responding to those growing needs in Africa’s business spheres, the success was immediate. And we are just getting started; we are growing and improving year after year.
At the time you started, what were the signs that signalled your first success?
The resounding and unanimous positive feedback. Whether from CEOs or media. We introduced something different. Something that they couldn’t find at other forums, either because they were too sector specific or too focused on the public sector. Based on the success of the first forum, our participants have requested unanimously that the discussions initiated in this Pan-African setting – which is particularly conducive to business networking – be continued every year. Now that the forum has gained so much success, countries are competing to host future editions.
How has the forum performed since inception?
With more than 1300 companies represented since the first edition, The AFRICA CEO FORUM has now established itself as the unparalleled international event dedicated to promoting African private sector. As such, the event brings together an increasing number of top African and international CEOs and investors. The results of this growth and success are illustrated by the statistics of each edition.
What are some of the issues and challenges faced in organizing the forum?
Bringing together Anglophone, Francophone and Portuguese speaking African top CEOs, as we did, is a real tour de force. The challenge is to find a way to address their challenges and strategic priorities in innovative and new ways every year. But that’s also the main key performance indicators for the forum which makes it successful: We aim to bring CEOs from neighbouring countries together that were not connected in the past, even though they have a lot in common. This allows them to explore new synergies which might not have been possible before.
How do you plan to grow the forum to retain its position as a foremost gathering of top business executives from the continent?
We plan to keep our standards high because they are critical for the forum’s success. These high standards depend on the quality of our participants (only CEOs can attend the event) and our programme, which focuses on African CEO’s strategic priorities. In this regard, the forum is a place for cutting-edge discussions, where CEOs can engage with new concepts and ideas that will help them develop their businesses. Also, innovation is key to maintaining our competitive advantage.
One example is introducing new formats such as the “CEO Roundtables” that were appreciated by our participants last year. Another example is developing new tools to enhance the on-site experience. For the next edition, we will unveil a brand new mobile app that will make the networking experience even better.
What are some of the examples of how the forum is different from other events of its kind?
Most forums and conferences focused on Africa have a strong emphasis on the public sector. The Africa CEO Forum is different because 90% of our participants are CEO’s. Yet, it is true that more and more business events are taking place in Africa, but few of them can claim to gather as many high-level international, Anglophone and francophone top CEOs in one place. Besides, the quality of our programme is our main competitive advantage.
You double as the Managing Director of Group Jeune Afrique, the media empire established by your own father.
Since it was first established in 1960, Groupe Jeune Afrique has played a key role in every major stage of African development and has promoted Africa’s progress worldwide. It is the leading publishing Group with the two biggest-selling international magazines dedicated to Africa: Jeune Afrique and The Africa Report. We are also the number one in digital media in Africa, with over 2 million unique visitors per month on Jeune Afrique’s web sites and over 1,7M followers on Facebook and 1M followers on Twitter.
In 2011, Groupe Jeune Afrique started to diversify its activities to become not only a major player in event management (AFRICA CEO FORUM since 2012, Investir en Côte d’Ivoire in 2014, Investir au Congo and Sino African Entrepreneur Summit in 2015) but also in photography (Jeune Afrique Pictures) and audio-visual production with the creation of “Galaxie Africa”, which aims to create content programmes for Francophone African TVs. It works two ways: The forum reinforces Group Jeune Afrique and Groupe Jeune Afrique reinforces the forum.
The forum embodies the Group’s expertise in addressing African decision makers’ challenges and needs. It also reinforces brand awareness of the Group amongst some of our participants who are not aware of the Group before attending the forum. People used to come because they knew Jeune Afrique. Now they come because of the forum and they can discover everything Groupe Jeune Afrique has to offer.