African business women set the benchmark for success

Chamber Trade Sweden (CTS) held its first annual event “Successful Women Entrepreneurs in International Business from Africa & Sweden” on May 27 in Stockholm. The event featured inspiring talks by five successful entrepreneurs from Africa and Sweden, who shared their experiences.

“We have much to learn from successful African business women when it comes to their determination, positive mindset and focus on success, said Charlotte Kalin”, the CEO of CTS. “When it comes to doing business with Africa, I believe the key to success for Swedish companies is to have the determination and courage to enter into local partnerships that enable transfer of knowledge and technology, boosting regional trade in Africa. Women entrepreneurs in Africa play an important role in such partnerships in a wide range of economic sectors”.


Birgitta Wistrand, Researcher at the Centre for Gender Research at the University of Uppsala

Birgitta Wistrand, Researcher at the Centre for Gender Research at the University of Uppsala

Birgitta underlined that women historically have always been active as entrepreneurs. They have just not been very visible. It is time to give women more recognition and appreciation for their role as successful entrepreneurs.

“Entrepreneurs in Sweden are still perceived as men which is unfair since 38 per cent of all companies in Sweden are started by women. The challenge is that many of these women-drivencompanies remain small and therefore more vulnerable.  As mothers, women often organise their small business to fit into the puzzle of balancing work with family life”, said Birgitta.

Birgitta believes that society must change to enable women to play a greater role in business. “Women should work closer together and encourage each other to earn more money, expand their businesses, be more active and assertive.,” said Birgitta.


Watch the interview with Anni Bodington, MD TESA Africa

Anni Bodington, the Managing Director of South Africa’s, is TESA, manufacturing steel structures and infrastructure products for the Information Communication Technology (ICT) and Solar Energy sectors. Anni is also part of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and the South African representative of IWEC.

“I was told by a male competitor that I will not last the first six months when I started my business. He was wrong. If you use your gender as the reason for your failure, you are only eroding the success many women have had. I compete in a man’s world and it has not been easy, everything I have earnt has come at a price. As a child I grew up in a brutally poor community, believing that nothing is impossible and I have learnt it out of necessity,” Anni said.

TESA started operations 12 years ago and has realised a large growth in revenues. TESA is a high volume steel manufacturer, fabrication specialist and passive infrastructure solutions provider, especially for the telecom and solar energy sectors.

The company fabricates base transmission towers, generator cages and antennas for the telecommunications sector. TESA exports products to 20 countries across Africa. The biggest challenge it faces now is the competition from Chinese products on pricing.

“To achieve success I believe that women need to have the right mindset and recognise their blind spots. My wealth lies in the power of the mind and the power and the will to succeed. We have to have the courage and let go of our fears.Even if you fall on your face you are still moving forward.  No matter how big or small your company is, it is your mindset that determines the success you have,” Anni said.

Anni introduced International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge (IWEC) in her speech. IWEC is a global network for successful business women CEO’s and owners running international businesses founded by a group of chambers of commerce from around the world, to inspire women to grow and expand their international businesses.

Anni, herself an IWEC awardee a couple of years ago, said IWEC had opened up great opportunities for her to expand the business. IWEC is all about women led businesses creating employment opportunities and making a difference.


Watch the interview with Divine Ndhlukula, the African Women of the Year and CEO Securico Security Systems in Zimbabwe

Divine Ndhlukula, Founder and CEO of Securico Security Systems in Zimbabwe, said the story of the African business woman is always a difficult one.The economic and cultural environment is difficult in a male dominated society. It is all about thinking out of the box. Divines’s security company employs 3,800 people and 800 of these are women.

Divine has won 16 international awards, most recently the African Woman of the Year under the African Achievers Awardsprogramme. She has been named one of the most successful women in Africa by Forbes magazine, and she is the Chairperson of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) in Harare. Securico is now planning for a regional expansion.

Divine started her company from her kitchen table with just four employees in 1999. Securico now has annual a turnover of $21 million. It plans to expand to Ghana and aspires to become a Pan-African company. For Divine, it was determination and appreciating and developing her own employees that made the difference.

Securico is a learning organisation focused on developing its employees, and educating people about what a community is and what security means to the neighborhood. It has strong communication with local stakeholders and proactively shares its values and vision with people.

“In the beginning people laughed at me when I said I wanted to start a security company, but I believed in myself, and now everyone believes in Securico. My message to young women is that when you decide to do something make it your only option. I chose not to be a player in the game but the game itself,” said Divine.


Pernilla Stålhane, CEO and owner of Pallmax Sweden AB

Pernilla Stålhane, CEO and owner of Pallmax Sweden AB

Pernilla believes that staying focused and continuing to deliver on promises is key to making a business successful. Pallmax with a team of five employees sells 100,000 automotive batteries a yearin Africa. In 2012, Pernilla became the first Swedish businesswomen to become part of the International Women Entrepreneurial Challenge (IWEC) mentorship programme, along with Maud Spencer, COE of the company Svalson from Norrbotten.

For Pernilla and Pallmax business and CSR go hand in hand. The company is involved in supporting a child and mothers healthcare centre in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The centre provides care to children who are victims of abuse and integrates them into local communities. “The women in Africa are hardworking and dedicated, they want to succeed and do well in business. Women entrepreneurs will be playing a major role in the economic development of Africa in the coming years,” Pernilla said.


Watch the interview with IWEC Awardee Signhild Arnegård-Hansen, CEO Svenska Lantchips

Chamber Trade Sweden joined the IWEC group 2012 with Pernilla Stålhane and Maud Spencer as the Swedish awardees. This year, Signhild Arnegård-Hansen, Founder and Chair of Svenska Lantchips, the family-owned snacks manufacturer, is one of two Swedish IWEC awardees. Signhild is also the former Chairperson of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise.

Signhild shared her story about how she and her husband took a great risk when theystarted the business in 1991-92 in the midst of recession in Sweden. “Our unconventional marketing strategy tosell locally made potato chips in brown ecological bags at camping places in the summerworked. Once back from vacation, people started asking for the potato chips in their grocery stores. Our brand became strong almost overnight and 94 percent of the Swedish people knew about Svenska Lantchips within two years, without us having to spend any money on advertising“.

“When we started Svenska Lantchips 21 years ago, our goal was to have time for work and family. The dream was to start a business and become independent through realising an idea of our own. I believe we succeeded in this”, said Signhild.

Svenska Lantchips has been successful internationally and is now setting up a new plant in the US, and plans to build another plant in Europe. It is also looking at the African market through cooperation with a Tanzanian company for a possible joint venture.

“Our six children know no other lifestyle but to be entrepreneurs, they do not talk about what they are going to be but what kind of business they are going to start when they are older. Moving out to the unexpected has opened doors I had never imagined,” said Signhild.


Watch the interview with IWEC Awardee Christina Stark, CEO Väderstad

Last but not least Christina Stark, CEO and owner of the family company Väderstad, which makes farm machinery, was the second IWEC awardee to be announced during the evening.  Christina could not attend the event, but catch more of her in this film.


Watch the interview with Hadija Sserwanga, EAWIBP & Women Cross Border Trade (Arusha May 23, 2013)

Charlotte Kalin, CEO of Chamber Trade Sweden, interviews Hadija during a strategic meeting with the East African Women in Business Platform members with focus on promoting trade in East Africa for women and removing barriers.