Martin has made a significant impact on the small and medium business environment in South Africa, steering the business and industry through challenging economic times since commencing his term as MD at the end of 2008, and leading the company to new levels of success.
Martin says his years spent as MD were both interesting and challenging, primarily due to the turbulence and volatility post the global financial crisis of 2008, the 2009 recession and the subsequent protracted period of painstakingly slow economic growth. “However, it has been extremely rewarding to be there in support of entrepreneurs to, on the one hand, help them save their businesses in trying times, and to help them start and grow their businesses on the other. BUSINESS/PARTNERS has over the past few years regained its mantle of being the true champion of entrepreneurs in South Africa, and it has been very rewarding to be part of this process.
“The troubling times experienced by the South African economy and the ensuing period of low economic growth meant the job of financing SMEs was a challenging task. Simply surviving as a risk financier for SMEs during those tough times was in itself an achievement, yet the company managed to perform progressively better every year since 2008, simultaneously growing operational activity (deals approved and advanced for SMEs) and profits.”
Under Martin’s leadership, the company’s investment portfolio has grown from R1.9 billion at the end of the 2008 financial year to R3.5 billion in 2015. The average size of an approved deal in 2015 was approximately R2.6 million.
Martin says that a highlight during his tenure as MD was BUSINESS/PARTNERS’ growth and expansion into Africa. “In 2008, the company had a presence in Kenya and Madagascar. Since then, we’ve expanded our SME financing and mentorship activities into Rwanda and, more recently, into Malawi, Namibia and Zambia. In addition, we have commitments from international investors to set up a permanent capital vehicle to finance SMEs in East Africa – extending our reach into Uganda this year, and Tanzania and Ethiopia in the coming years, to meet the growing demand for access to finance and technical assistance (mentorship) from SMEs on the continent.”
Martin says that BUSINESS/PARTNERS’ success is a direct result of its business philosophy – doing good (having a positive development impact) and doing well (making profits to ensure sustainability). In addition, a committed, remarkably talented staff complement who believe in and live the company philosophy, and the home-grown systems and processes – imbued with international best-practice – all of which have been geared at empowering entrepreneurs specifically and SMEs in general, have also played a role in the business’ success.
Martin says that he is confident that the MD-designate of BUSINESS/PARTNERS, Ben Bierman, will continue to pursue the path of driving, uplifting and unleashing entrepreneurial talent in South Africa and elsewhere on the African continent. “Having spent more than 25 years with BUSINESS/PARTNERS, his vast knowledge of the business and industry as well as financial skills and experience make him the ideal candidate to lead the company to new heights and success,” says Martin.
Bierman says that BUSINESS/PARTNERS has become the leading enabler of small businesses in South Africa, and he is proud to have been part of the company’s journey. “BUSINESS/PARTNERS is a mature, effective and successful company. Continued and increased success will only result from providing SMEs and entrepreneurs with innovative and relevant funding solutions, and excellent client service. This can only be achieved with motivated and inspired colleagues who believe in our purpose to empower SMEs.
“Although economic conditions are still not ideal, there is still an appetite for SME finance in South Africa and Africa at large, which is positive for economic growth and job creation on the continent. South Africa and indeed Africa has huge untapped potential, and if the drivers for growth are nurtured and sustained, SMEs can and will thrive,” says Bierman.
After his long tenure at BUSINESS/PARTNERS, Martin says that he is looking forward to a short sabbatical – the first ever he’s taken in more than 30 years – and spending quality time with his family before he starts the next chapter of his career – work in endeavouring to uplift the community on the Cape Flats which spawned him.