Blog & News

Turnaround Management Association Romania launch, Bucharest, Romania, 2012

Twitter feed

Nigel Davies tracks several feeds from international financial institutions, economists, embassies and other relevant sources specialising in Central and South East Europe, Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Africa. You can read the news feeds and links to interesting articles and publications here.

The Man Who Has Worked in 20 Countries

Our latest guest blog is from Fred Ng, a former restructuring colleague of Wyn River's founder, Nigel Davies. Fred was recently interviewed for an interim executive firm.

 

Fred Ng is a chartered accountant with a Henley MBA and a founding member of the Institute for Turnaround. He is currently a non-executive director of a company awaiting IPO in London, and an advisor to various start-up companies. He is a frequent speaker and commentator on turnaround, and China-related business matters. He is also a council member with Gerson Lehrman Group business experts.

Fred grew up in Hong Kong as a colonial child. He describes coming to England to be schooled in his teens like "being launched into a second culture". He comments:

"At the time it was very strange moving to another continent to be educated; everything was new and I quickly had to learn and adapt to act like a local. But I feel the whole experience has made me naturally bi-cultural, and it provided a firm foundation for my career."

His career as a business restructuring and turnaround expert has seen him work and drive business transformation projects across more than 20 countries, including the UK, Italy, Singapore, China, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Turkey.

Here we ask Fred his views on working effectively across different continents, companies and cultures, and how to drive through performance and business transformation.

Q - What training would someone require if they were looking for a cross-cultural career?

A - Experience is key. For me, the experience I gained in a training job with Ernst & Young immediately after graduating was just the kick-start that my career needed. I was also fortunate to be heavily involved in the Heron restructuring. From an early stage I knew I wanted to follow a career in business turnaround. I then went on to work across a number of multi-national organisations, and - on each occasion - I always tried to seek opportunities for restructuring or turnaround work.

Q - What character traits do you need to drive business performance and transformation? How do you apply this to different companies and cultures?

A - You need to have a passion for getting things changed and for ensuring the proper process is followed through. I'd also argue that most people that follow this type of career are naturally curious, and relish a challenge. And they need to feel comfortable being 'intellectually stretched'. These are useful skills to have and thrive in a modern “disruptive” economy.

Q - How do you get things achieved?

A - At the end of the day, it's about good stakeholder management. You need to gain the trust and confidence of the people you are working with - as quickly as possible. You will be seen as the 'voice of reason'. The 'stakeholders' need to feel reassured that they are in the best hands, so that you can build a plan to move forward with.

Q - How easy is it to adapt from one company and culture to another? How do you ensure the work is done?

A - The principles are the same if you are working in the UK or Uzbekistan. But, as I did when I was a young boy, you need to quickly learn and adapt to the environment you are in and to 'act like a local'. You need to listen and respect the local way of doing things.

Q - What has been your most exciting/interesting project to date and why?

A - There is no doubt working as CFO/CRO at Ferretti, a large Italian luxury yacht builder with sales of €500m, provided the greatest challenge and the greatest satisfaction. I was brought in to manage the complex restructuring and acquisition by a large Chinese group. The stakeholders brought me in because they needed someone with the inter-cultural and restructuring skill sets.

Fred is currently working with a number of Chinese investors, assisting in the post-acquisition management, integration and restructuring of the businesses. Which country he chooses to next conquer is anyone's guess...

A story about Rice and Senegal on World Food Day

Sunday 16 October is World Food Day.

To celebrate the efforts and achievements of farmers, suppliers, processors, distributors and retailers (from field to fork) as well as to highlight the ongoing challenges to meet demand, access and affordability, raise nutition content and reduce waste, we are pleased to bring you a guest blog from Victoria Crandall, who runs a research consultancy focusing on Sub-Saharan Africa's agriculture and soft commodites.

Here Victoria gives her personal story about a recent visit to Senegal, West Africa, discussing local food habits, the legacy and economics of imported food against home-grown, and the associated food security risks across much of the region.  

 

"During a visit to Dakar, I was on a mission to eat one last tchep before dashing off to the airport. Thieboudienne, or tchep as it is commonly called, is the Senegalese national dish: a simple pairing of fish, rice, and vegetables.

I spotted a tiny hole-in-the wall where I ordered tchep rouge, called red for the tomato paste flavored rice.

I happily tucked into the dish between sips of spicy ginger juice. A fiery and tangy red sauce gave the dish an irresistible bite. But, as I fell into a refined carbohydrate-induced stupor, I regretted polishing off the compact mound of starchy rice. I staggered out of the restaurant, kicking myself for not accepting the complementary mint tea, which would have revived me for the airport.

Senegal is a glutton of the starchy grain

Like many West African dishes, the Senegalese tchep is an excuse to eat copious amounts of rice. Although West Africans are large rice consumers, Senegal is truly a glutton of the grain, with the region’s highest per capita consumption rate of an estimated 90 kg. The starchy grain is filling, relatively inexpensive and easy to prepare, making it a staple food of urban Senegalese.

Rice is the perfect sauce delivery vehicle and provider of calories for the majority of the population who cannot afford costly animal protein. The centrality of rice in the Senegalese diet is apparent in its most famous dishes – tchep, poulet yassa, and mafé – which all consist of a small portion of chicken or fish accompanied by large amounts of white rice. These dishes are renowned for their standout sauces, using local ingredients for truly unique flavors.

Watch out rice traders: Senegalese prefer broken rice

The white rice in Senegal is particular. The grain is finely broken, resembling couscous. According to an almost apocryphal story, the French introduced broken rice (riz brisé) to the Senegalese during the colonial period. French merchants struggled to sell large stocks of Vietnamese rice because the grains had been broken during the milling process. Considered to be of poor quality, the small grain rice was not even fit for human consumption, and was sold as animal feed.

But, enterprising French traders dumped the stocks in Senegal where it found a market due to its low cost. Over time, broken rice gained the favor of the local population. Rice traders that are new to the region struggle to sell long-grain white rice; the grain needs to have a large percentage of “brokens” or it will sit in the warehouse, untouched. Local wholesalers won’t buy it. Cautionary tales abound of clueless traders, stuck with cargos of gleaming polished long-grained rice since they were ignorant of local consumer preferences.

Continue reading A story about Rice and Senegal on World Food Day

Consultant mandate with the African Development Bank

Wyn River founder Nigel Davies has won a competitive bid from the African Development Bank to act as a consultant to their newly formed Special Operations Unit. The Special Operations Unit manages non-performing loans and equity investments across the AfDB's Non-Sovereign portfolio, which is mostly in the private sector.  

Nigel has relocated to AfDB's head office in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, from where he will support the Bank's restructuring and recovery efforts across the continent.  Africa offers significant growth investment opportunities but is currently exposed to a downturn in both commodity/natural resource prices and associated local currency devaluations. 

While the AfDB portfolio will require Nigel's full attention, the rest of Wyn River's associates and network resources remain available in advisory and interim executive roles to address the corporate finance, project finance and restructuring needs of our clients.

Business Culture in Kazakhstan

Business Culture in Kazakhstan

This guest blog is from Ben Godwin, the founder of innovative trading/exporting platform Export Tree, which provides access to customers and local representatives in the markets of Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. You can read the original post and others at the Export Tree Blog. Ben originally started working in Kazakhstan in 2009 when he formed Capital Group, covering corporate training and consultancy services to private and public entities in sectors such as mining, oil and gas and finance. Ben Godwin is Wyn River's associate in Kazakhstan supporting our clients with local and regional contacts to facilitate trade and investment activity.

Every market has its own business culture. Here are ten tips to start you off in Kazakhstan based on our seven years experience in the field. 

1. Confirm meetings on the day: The Kazakhstan work day can be somewhat chaotic. So, no matter how much confirmation you receive ahead of time always confirm your meeting on the day. This will save embarrassment all round. 

2. Use a local representative: Your local representative can liaise with partners to organise meetings, give you good insight and advise on the questions you should be asking. Most importantly, however, they can follow up once you have returned home. Use the Export Tree database to find a local partner in your sector or use our consultancy services to plan your entry. 

3. Be formal: Kazakhstanis tend to wear expensive suits, have the latest iPhone and be keen on trading fancy business cards. Often meetings are run in large conference rooms by a senior figure surrounded by people that never say anything. Be prepared to meet this level of formality in order to win the respect of your partner. 

4. Don’t confuse friendliness with familiarity: In a cringeworthy scene one of our associates witnessed a British visitor try to take a selfie with a government official after a meeting. While Kazakhstanis tend to be very friendly it is important to remember that they value a respectful distance. 

5. All meetings are positive: Business meetings in Kazakhstan are often more like diplomatic affairs where ‘cooperation’ is discussed at length and memorandums - non-binding - are signed. While this all sounds positive don’t let it distract you from asking the questions you need answers to

6. Start with a meeting at their premises: While the international community is comfortable with the practice of business lunches and dinners in Kazakhstan this comes at a later stage in negotiations in Kazakhstan. Usually some trust has to be built first.

7. Plans change rapidly: When you are given information on plans for an upcoming project expect them to change - or not happen at all. This is very much the case with government bodies and state-owned enterprises. To establish how far down the road your partners have got we advise asking these key questions

8. Decision-making stays at the top: While heads of department or managing directors and may seem authoritative figures decision-making is often made right at the highest levels of the organisation. Don’t be afraid to ask who the decision makers are and about budgeting.

9. Don’t expect follow up: Kazakhstanis are famously bad at follow up. This is often due to an aversion to email and a lack of clarity about plans. It is almost impossible to to this at a distance. This is why Export Tree handles follow up locally or advises clients to appoint local representatives to do so. 

10. Email and telephone conversations are not binding: According to most Kazakhstani contracts only official correspondence is binding. This is usually official letter or fax. Email, telephone conversations and meetings that are not minuted do not count. So while you may receive promises verbally or by email do expect them to be considered binding. 

If you want further assistance planning your visit to Kazakhstan drop us a quick line here and we’ll get back to you within 24 hours. Or why not check out our Kazakhstan country profile or our tips on exporting to Kazakhstan?

Croatia is moving forward

Wyn River's managing director, Nigel Davies, is also the head of the infrastructure focus group of the British Croatian Business Club.  Nigel visited Zagreb again at the end of June to assess where Croatia's economy and opportunities stand now, some two years after the country became the latest member of the European Union.

Tourism including health tourism, hotels and real estate, offshore oil & gas plus onshore renewable energy, food and agribusiness, shipbuilding and general engineering, infrastructure – a long list of trade and investment opportunities to consider!  

Nigel's article on Croatia includes links to the latest views from the IMF, recent business successes and an informative interview with HE Dr Ivan Grdešić, Ambassador of the Republic of Croatia to the United Kingdom.  This piece was published as part of a wider regional review of the Mediterranean country members of the Council of British Chambers of Commerce in Europe, COBCOE. 

UPDATE: The revised July 2015 eCatalogue of investment opportunities referred to in the article (both state owned and private) has just been published by the Agency for Investments and Competitiveness (AIK) and can be accessed here.

The Croatian Embasssy hosted an EU celebration on the Thames in July 2013

Wyn River associate assists with the funding of an innovative heat exchange system

Richard Mort is a UK-based Wyn River associate specialising in municipal utility Public Private Partnerships and sustainable energy projects. Richard was part of the in-house finance team for SHARC, an innovative heat exchange technology company, which has recently secured €2 million of equity funding from the Green Investment Bank, to fund a series of investments in Scotland. The pilot project will see heat extracted from waste water intercepted from Scottish Water’s Galashiels network. The heat will then be sold under a 20-year purchase agreement resulting in energy and cost savings and a reduction in carbon emissions. 

Several of Wyn River’s associates and affiliated firms are engaged in innovative sustainable energy project finance. We combine our access to risk capital and debt with a deep understanding of energy and utility Public Private Partnership funding and operations.  Our geographic presence in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Africa enables to identify and realise both niche and mainstream innovation opportunities for our clients.

UK launch of the Israel Lithuania Technology Hub

Len Judes is Wyn River's associate for both Cyprus and Israel.  Here he writes about the London launch of the Israel Lithuania Technology Hub, of which he is a director. 

On 13th of March, the Lithuanian Embassy in London hosted the first UK seminar of the Israel Lithuania Technology Hub in front of a diverse audience of technology and life science businessmen, members of the Lithuanian expat business community, professional service providers, law firms, tax specialists, and corporate and M&A practitioners.

The Israel Lithuania Technology Hub (ILTH) is a platform launched by the Israel Lithuania Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ILCCI), a non-profit association. The prime purpose of the Hub is to promote economic growth and technological innovation in both Israel and Lithuania by creating a strong partnership between the two countries.

Israel is a phenomenal source of innovation with more start-ups per capita than anywhere else in the world.

Lithuania has an excellent wealth of talent and skilled labour which is cost effective, an interesting geopolitical position bridging Eastern and Western Europe, an understanding of cultures and access to Russia, the CIS markets and of course EU membership, as well as complementary strengths in technology emerging out of excellent academic institutions.

The UK as a whole, and the City of London in particular, are ideal global financial centres, with strong ties to both Lithuania and Israel. The professional legal, accounting and corporate standards of practice are high and are in fact the accepted international standard. England and Wales law and jurisdiction is often applied as governing in such cross border transactions. In light of the above, we have decided to develop the “British dimension” of the Hub activity and intend to run a series of seminars in future months to match UK funding to Israeli and Lithuanian innovation opportunities.

Len Judes and Ronen Gruber, directors of the Israel Lithuania Technology Hub, with seminar delegates at the Lithuanian Embassy in London

Continue reading UK launch of the Israel Lithuania Technology Hub

Non Executive Directors - "Likened to the Baubles on a Christmas Tree"

We are pleased to include a guest blog from Frank Lewis, an experienced Chairman and Non Executive Director with a deep track record spanning 25 years as either Finance Director, CEO, Non Exec Director or Chairman within a wide variety of sectors and cultures.  Frank is a successful entrepreneur who co-founded and grew South Africa's largest retail computer chain which he listed on the Johannesburg stock exchange.

He now succesfully manages a diverse portfolio of Non Exec Directorships which include rapidly expanding AIM quoted SMEs in the UK along with overseas ventures. He is actively involved in mentoring CEOs and SME Boards and working with entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.

Frank is an example of the type of Interim Chairmen and Non Executive Directors who Wyn River can access for our clients, especially but not exclusively those with operations in Africa. We hope you enjoy his assessment of the role of NEDs, and the personal attributes that are needed to fulfil the function successfully. 

"The late “Tiny” Rowland once described NEDs as “baubles on a christmas tree” which revealed how little dominant chief executives expected to be questioned by fellow directors.

Since the glory days of the maverick empire of Mr Rowland between the 1960s and the 1990s, it would seem that nothing much has changed. He considered that many members around the board table were like baubles, doing nothing more than decorating the table. A non-executive director who challenged a powerful CEO such as Mr Rowland was not expected to remain a non-executive for very long.

This story is not over. The test for non-executive or independent directors is to prove wrong Lord (Michael) Grade, who once observed with characteristic wit: “A non-executive is a bit like the bidet in your bathroom: nobody is quite sure what they are used for, but they add a touch of class.”

The commitment and engagement required, especially in big businesses, is vastly greater than some might imagine. You are not there to be a bauble, have lunch, make polite conversation and pick up a fee. There is a job to do: a vital and challenging one.

I am sure most NEDs have come across many boards who are not tolerant of challenge and if someone speaks up or asks too many questions, they are branded as part of the “awkward squad”.

Lord Walker in a speech once said:- “The ability of NEDs to stand up to executive management is more important than the qualifications those directors hold.”

While there has been a whole lot of discussion about the need for NEDs with relevant experience, that knowledge is little more than useless if it is not accompanied by a willingness to challenge the executives.

In my opinion, my definition of a good NED is that he/she should:

Continue reading Non Executive Directors - "Likened to the Baubles on a Christmas Tree"

EBRD President's speech on joint investments with Israel coincides with Wyn River's own country coverage expansion

The President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has just given a speech covering both the latest expansion of its operations into North Africa and parts of the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as several co-investments into technology operations with Isreali companies across much of Eastern Europe.  You can read President Suma Chakrabarti's interesting presentation in EBRD's press release.  By coincidence, Wyn River is pleased to confirm this week that Len Judes has joined as the Wyn River associate for both Cyprus and Israel, also bringing his own deep connections via Israel to technology investments in Central and Eastern Europe, noticably Lithuania.  Len is the founder of the Lithuanian Israeli Technology Hub as well as having considerable engagement over the years with several associated Chambers of Commerce, including the British Israeli Chamber.  As has been pointed out by many commentators, for Eastern Europe and other nations to grow their economic wealth, they cannot rely solely on increasing domestic demand, which often results in increased demand for imports.  They must also leverage their work force's skill and cost advantages alongside an innovative culture which can create quaity goods and services which are competitive in the export market.  

There are several examples of innovation in both the Baltics and the Balkans, either in terms of the development of new ecommerce applications in the North and the growth of complex Business Process Offshoring capacity in the South.  We will return to this topic in a subsequent blog.

In the meantime we welcome Len into the team and look forward to working with the new growth enterprises of the future.  Cyprus is a key offshore jurisdiction frequently used to host an intermediate funding vehicle both for efficient tax structures but also a more predictable, UK-law based judicial system.  The domestic market in Cyprus is also encouraging as it emerges from the troubles encountered in its financing industry.  EBRD's newest country of operations is Cyprus.  You can read more about Len's background in our Team and Experience section.       

Wyn River contributes towards enhanced restructuring initiatives in the modified European Insolvency Regulation

On 4 December 2014, the European Commission announced that Justice Ministers had agreed significant changes to the European Insolvency Regulations which have been in place since 2002.

One of the main objectives in the revisions is to promote more use of business rescue and restructuring solutions consistently across all 28 member states, to preserve jobs in potentially viable businesses that until now have often entered slow and inflexible formal liquidation processes.  There are also proposed changes to simplify the insolvency provisions covering both groups and cross-border corporate failure.  

The EU has been developing a framework for changes for around two years, starting with a suggested package of measures proposed in December 2012. In Juy 2013 it launched a public consultation on attitudes towards rescue and the stigma attached to both personal and corporate insolvency.  In October 2013, the representative organisation for insolvency and turnaround specialists, Insol Europe, won a tender to conduct a comparative study into the existing pre-insolvency, restructuring and insolvency processes across all 28 member states.  The report on the findings from that study was published in April 2014 (A New Approach to Business Failure and Insolvency).  Wyn River is pleased to confirm that our local associate, Ieva Strunkiene, contributed the study inputs for Lithuania in the Insol Europe study and Nigel Davies, with close support from Michael Glazer, the head of our local affiliated firm SEE Regional Advisors d.o.o., contributed the inputs for Croatia. The revisions to the European Insolvency Regulations are expected to come into force in May 2017, according to the EU press statement recently released.

For those interesed in this area, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has recently published its own analysis into insolvency and restructuring frameworks across many countries of its operations, not just on legislative content, but also on key enabling areas such as insolvency practitioner licencing, remuneration, ethics and case supervision.  You can read the interesting findings of the EBRD study here.

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